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Win over your customer’s head and heart

By Glenn Burkins
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting CharlotteĀ’s African American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.

Like most folks who start a small business, I created mine in 2008 with dreams of unmitigated success. I imagined that the Internet would practically implode with eager hoards rushing to devour the online news and content we produce.

In the years since, the business has seen solid gains (despite a sour economy), but every step forward has been hard fought and hard won – hardly the “shock and awe” I had envisioned.

Why do some businesses explode while others grow at a more measured pace, if they survive at all?

For insight, I went to Kevin Toomb, who directs the certificate in entrepreneurship program at UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business. Before Toomb took up teaching, he spent 24 years in marketing, helping banks devise strategies to grow market share.

Toomb has an interesting saying: “To gain a share of customer wallet, a business must first gain a share of mind, and then a share of heart.”

Put simply: Customers must first know that a business exists. Then they must care that it exists.

The first part is easy. It’s simply a matter of hanging a sign or buying an appropriate ad. The harder part, Toomb said, involves an emotional connection.

“Just because they know about you,” he said, “doesn’t mean they are necessarily going to purchase things from you.”

After talking with Toomb for nearly an hour, it took some doing to get my head around his “share of heart” concept. Because every business is different, it defies a one-size-fits-all approach.

In short, Toomb says, consumers often make choices based on how a product or service makes them feel. So if a business owner can identify and fill that need, he or she stands a better chance of being successful.

As an African American male growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, I never missed a chance to read “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines. Looking back now with 30-plus years of journalism behind me, I am convinced that the magazines’ legendary founder, John H. Johnson, knew instinctively the type of aspirational publications that black Americans needed in those turbulent days. In other words, he understood the void and filled it. In response, readers and advertisers made Johnson enormously rich.

But “share of heart” goes beyond mere branding, Toomb said, using the example of a restaurant. Fancy slogans and great customer service mean little if the food is bad.

As Toomb sees it, gaining “share of heart” is about seamlessly uniting a quality product, customer awareness, smart messaging, efficient delivery and constant monitoring for subtle shifts.

After talking with Toomb, I thought long and hard about how “share of heart” could apply to my business. I went back and found some of the early documents I wrote as part of my business plan. I found my mission statement. I found my statement of values.

I was actually surprised by what I read. After four-plus years of what often feels like hand-to-hand combat, I found that I had lost touch with the idealistic entrepreneur who dreamed not of growing rich but of making a difference. There, within those documents, lay perhaps my best hope for gaining “share of heart.”

I ended my conversation with Toomb by asking for advice. Here’s what he said:

Know your customers: “I think it’s important to put some money aside sometime to do the research,” he said.

Observe the competition: If a competitor is eating your lunch, find out why. Make a clandestine visit to see what all the fuss is about. (One summer when I worked in a furniture store, the manager actually sent me on such a spy mission.)

Expect change: As situations evolve, so must businesses. What customers want tomorrow will be different than what they want next year. Change is what allowed me to launch an online news site, and change is the factor that will fuel tomorrow’s growth.

Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African American community.
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