Build to engage: Customer engagement strategies for the 21st century

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By Anees Merchant
Senior Vice President, Digital, Blueocean Market Intelligence

In today’s 24/7 digital era, developing and nurturing long-term relationships with consumers is becoming more and more difficult. With free and easy access to information on the web, and powerful social and search networks fueling consumer demands, companies worldwide need to create new ways of capturing a customer’s attention while they browse through complex digital ecosystems.

Accordingly to a 2012 study by Digital Clarity Group, marketers today are undergoing urgent, seismic shifts while addressing needs of an emergent “attention economy.”

  • New business case for content: It’s no more a question of assigning traffic and revenue metrics for site visitors. Focus should be on creating more point-of-sale opportunities driven by customized content, identifying cross-sell and up-sell programs, catching the visitor early in the online ecosystem and re-marketing the same product multiple times if necessary.
  • Focus on technology platforms: While marketers may feel overwhelmed with new technology platforms, companies are increasingly looking at investing in cloud, big data and advanced visualization platforms to identify and fill gaps in their acquisition process.
  • New blend of multi-dimensional, cross-functional teams: Earlier enterprises often met the challenges of growing their e-commerce business by increasing the number of siloed teams. Not anymore – in an age of specialization, companies are realizing the need to create more cross-functional teams to ensure there are not ensuing turf wars of ownership.

Dawn of a New Digital Era in Customer Engagement

Businesses of all scales are rallying to engage, retain and enthral their customer bases with rich content and contextual advertising in a subtle manner without creating a sense of being stalked in the minds of target segment.

Today’s average customer is over-saturated with information about products, lifestyle, holiday destinations, etc., and hence showing non-contextual banners on interstitial pages doesn’t really guarantee any valuable attention. Marketers need to think out of the box with new themes, methods and opportunities to connect with a customer.

Nowadays, consumer attention is earned and not purchased. Traditionally, product kiosks or retail chains were marketed in places where the intended target customer resided. This is changing – with internet users crossing 2.8 billion last year and slated to cross 5 billion by the end of 2014 – customers are increasingly buying online, and the traditional target segments are vanishing. How do marketers overcome the challenge of capturing this online behavior in a timely fashion by creating non-intrusive experience?

  • Spend wisely: While paid media still remains a favored option of acquiring new customers, budgets are difficult to come by. There needs to be more decisive and visible “calls to action” on the website designed to draw customers towards an experience and not just asking them to fill out a form. Media plans have to be aligned with specific site goals and every penny needs to be assigned an ROI “dollar” value.
  • Content is king: Advertisers and marketers need high quality targeted content so engagement with customers is fresh in a 24/7 environment.
  • Focus on earned media: According to Jonathan Mildenhall, VP Global Advertising Strategy for Coca Cola, 92 percent of global consumers say they trust “earned media,” such as word-of-mouth and recommendations across social networks. Less than half of global consumers say they trust paid advertising, which has decreased by more than 20 percent per year for the last three years in a row. Nearly 60 percent of global consumers trust “owned media,” such as company web sites and email messages.

Customers are very discriminatory about information, so marketers need to work hard to earn the customer’s trust. It’s not enough to simply purchase advertising space. Companies need to adopt new methods of engagement (such as highly personalized banners and contextual advertising, depending on the age group, or pre-recorded user behavior) to entertain, disseminate information, retain site visitors and ultimately influence consumer behavior.

Attracting ‘Attentive Customers’

Traditionally, business reviews have been about a green PnL. With any kind of digital program, companies need to look beyond assigning success metrics to visitors. Companies need to create customer experiences that translate into “customer attention.”

Newer models are being created worldwide that tap into the associated networks that customers engage with regularly to share experiences. By doing this, companies can focus on greater value created from attentive customers.

  • Quality of engagement: Most companies during the inception stage start from near to ‘zero’ awareness of customer behavior (due to lack of customer insights), and as they progress in the analytics value chain, they are able to create a brand-conscious experience for their customers. Organizations embrace advanced processes of generating customer insights over a period of time, mainly because they take time to accept and use new technology that drives these insights.
  • Lifetime value of a customer: As time passes, a more engaged customer is a more valuable customer. A 2012 study from Chadwick Martin Bailey found that about 60 percent of consumers are significantly more likely to recommend and/or purchase from a brand they have previously been engaged with through social channels (to the point of a follow or “like”).

Supporting Technology is Essential

Picture this: a global company wants to capture entire customer journey – from the customer clicking on a Facebook link to eventually converting online. The company decides to invest 1 million on three disparate systems. They invest in a radian6 account to tap social media sentiments, buy a digital marketing module to capture online user behavior, and develop big data infrastructure to capture fulfilment. What happens next? Do the stakeholders get what they had planned for?

The answer to that would be… no! Here’s the reality check: the company had business intelligence teams running around trying to find which customer submitted the online lead for its new notebook, Extraction Transformation and Loading Process (ETL) teams trying to figure out why the revenue in billing systems does not match revenue of digital module, and a social media analyst trying to figure which of these customers actually clicked on the Facebook link and converted.

With such glaring disconnects, it’s important that as customer engagement deepens, technology accompanies the digital landscape of a company to ensure such mapping processes are facilitated. This would include setting up playbooks for each technology function, coupled with a vetted business intelligence system to ensure user-friendly reporting services-. If the complexity is not addressed early, marketers will revert to legacy systems like Excel spreadsheets which do not generate the required results most of the time. Unless used properly, technology may eventually turn enterprises into cobwebs of multiple platforms, poorly supported by an already stressed out IT function.

There is an increasing need to invest in analytics solutions that help anticipate customers’ every move (predictive) without overwhelming them. The last decade saw new solutions deployed for automation, content testing and optimization, segmentation, social publishing and sentiment analysis, offering marketers new capabilities and providing technology teams with a cohesive IT strategy.

However, marketers should not overdo it. They can keep it simple by utilizing one platform for one function, such as online behavior, social media and fulfilment, with business-vetted data as the key to success.

New Marketing and Technology Ecosystem: Harbinger of Change

In Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT, author Geoffrey Moore explains we are in a new era of IT. What he calls “systems of record” (the large backbone IT systems) are now being supplemented and extended by “systems of engagement” that are structured to facilitate communication and collaboration.

Moore says enterprises worldwide need to merge content management and business intelligence applications as one single entity, bringing stakeholders under one roof and encouraging collaboration across business boundaries, global time zones and cultural barriers.

An ideal solution should incorporate the following key pillars:

  • Core data management practices: This is the foundation and storage of consumer, content and transactional data serving the global enterprise. It is usually supported by complex extraction, transformation and loading of data into databases that are globally accessible.
  • Engagement Management: This layer of technology interfaces with a physical infrastructure and provides optimization ideas based on user data and recent purchase history, so the eventual experience is contextual to the customer’s needs.
  • Content Channel/Experience Management: This top layer should be flexible, portable and/or disposable. Content channels such as YouTube, Facebook or blogs are the marketer’s new “media buy and part of this group.” Optimized spends and attribution is the key to success.

Marketers today are spoilt for choice but need to eventually find the right balance between personalized content, seamless online experience, paid media spends and owned media – to catch customers early when they interact with various touch points during a journey through a robust analytics implementation integrated with other business functions.

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September 15, 2014

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