Marketing Mantra: Make more customers

True Value’s David Elliott is probably someone you should follow on social media.

Engaged: True Value customers shared their selfies in hopes of receiving a $1,000 True Value gift card.

True Value’s Facebook page recently displayed a collection of more than 100 happy customer selfies taken at True Value stores across the country — the result of a $1,000 gift card giveaway contest.

At last count, more than 8,600 people pressed the like button. But more importantly, the post reflected some of the big ideas of the co-op’s new SVP of marketing, David Elliott, who took on his role on April 10. Among those ideas are understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various media, adapting to changes in medium and message as audiences change, and embracing the value of the independent.

“The business of marketing,” he told HBSDealer, “is to make more customers, and to do it cost effectively.”

Take Facebook. Gone are the days, Elliott said, when small businesses could view this social media staple as an effective, free tool to broadcast information to followers. He pointed to stats showing a basic post will be seen organically by an average of 3% of a business’s Facebook audience. So, a post on Monday to a group of 100 followers will probably reach 3 of them.

Facebook’s free advertising angle shifted about a year ago, he said, with a Facebook move to encourage users to “boost” posts at a price. Elliott estimated it would take $15,000 or more to effectively reach audiences through Facebook with messaging. That can be effective on a national level, he said, but the name of the Facebook game now is engagement. And you can expect to see more interaction — such as customer selfies — on True Value’s pages.

Elliott came to the Chicago-based co-op from New Zealand’s Mitre 10 home improvement chain, the same company where True Value CEO John Hartmann worked as CEO. At Mitre 10, Elliott oversaw an advertising shift over the past couple of years to more than 50% in the digital realm.

“That’s not to say we’re going to stop everything we’re doing in a traditional sense, but we just have to be reflective of what customers are doing,” he said. “We have to look at the cost-effective ways of reaching our customers and adapt ourselves to move in that direction.”

One enduring message in Chicago is the value of the independent. Elliott said he was encouraged by the “overwhelming” community support for the local hardware store in recent social media posts. And he describes the mission of supporting the local business as a high calling.

“There is a real future in local hardware,” Elliott said. “Right across the country, customers put their trust in local staff and local people. That’s what consumers value — smaller local hardware stores. And you can’t make that point enough.”

Elliott said there haven’t been many surprises in his first two months on the job, and that there are surprisingly similar dynamics in home improvement around the world.

“Quite often when new marketing people come in, they change things. And it’s often just to buy themselves some time,” he said. “But I don’t really care about that. It’s more a matter of referencing how we’re traveling, referencing what customers are doing and how they’re changing, and adapting our business to that.”

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