Creating and maintaining a brand used to be very simple – think “Mad Men”. Companies contracted an agency, who created a bunch of artful and interesting ads, then put them on television and in print media (newspapers and magazines). That was where they were seen and absorbed by the consumer, who didn’t exactly have a wide variety of media options; they simply took what they were given (we all need something to read, right?). There was no two-way “dialogue” between brand and customer, no real public forum - the company completely controlled the brand narrative.
But today, the digital world has given consumers enormous power over the public’s perception of any given brand – or probably more accurately - those consumers have embraced the type of real-time, high-visibility digital mediums that have allowed them to take that responsibility unto themselves. God forbid a company “gets it wrong” - punishment is now meted out in mere seconds, and the penalty is brand death - a customer’s bad experience flashed virally around the world for anyone and everyone to see, a negative perception of the brand, and no reset button to start over and make it right.
So obviously, this makes creating customer experiences that always deliver on “brand promise” a pretty big deal – I’d call it mission critical. Unfortunately, many companies (maybe even most companies) continue to struggle with this. In a joint study recently conducted by the CMO Council and Pegasystems called Predicting Routes to Revenue, the associated results are not encouraging. Only 16 percent of marketers feel their organizations are delivering customer experiences that truly fulfill their brand promise. Two-thirds say their efforts are hit or miss, and 14 percent say they are completely missing the mark.
Digital Channels Demand New Strategies and Tactics
The problems is companies can’t adapt fast enough to changing digital conditions. Digital channels have increased the velocity of the customer-to-company relationship, and introduced new requirements for audience engagement. It’s no longer viable to plan a marketing campaign months in advance, wait, and spray that campaign to see what sticks. In that time, customers are likely to have:
- Viewed your product - and your competitors’ products – on the web.
- Compared pricing, bundles, and offers with what’s on Amazon – next to cheaper alternatives.
- Abandoned an online shopping cart, and gotten a 3-touch email stream for 20% off.
- Gone into your store to touch it (which you never knew about, even though it’s YOUR store).
- Gotten a competitor mobile message about it on the way to/from the store.
- Been stalked relentlessly by competitor digital ads as they navigated the web.
- Scoured Twitter, Facebook, or ecommerce reviews to find out what other people think about it.
- Posted multiple times about their experience, and to poll their network.
- Made a decision, made their purchase, and simply moved along with their lives.
So again, obviously – you need a better plan. And that plan has to be digitally-focused. Using digital channels to support your brand isn’t about pushing out self-promotional company tweets, spamming customers with 13 irrelevant emails a day, or sending weird stalker messages just five seconds after someone abandons an online shopping cart. It’s about using all of your inbound and outbound channels every day to listen to what your customers say (explicitly or implicitly, through their actions) and crafting appropriate and targeted responses, with a cadence and timing that centers your customer as an active participant in the conversation.
But still – most companies still fail on this point. I can’t believe how often I tweet about a brand and simply get crickets – never hearing a thing back. It doesn’t exactly endear me to that company; I’m much more likely to buy from (and remain a customer of) those brands that treat me like a human being, by listening and respond to my opinions and experiences.
Start Pulling Your Weight in the Customer / Brand Equation
If you want to get serious about delivering compelling customer experiences, here’s what you need to be focusing on. You don’t need to do all of these, or try everything at once – each incremental step will increase your ability to “read and react” to changing customer needs:
- Analyze your Transaction Data – this is table stakes for marketers, as your customer transaction data is your single best marketing resource (bar none), but many organizations are still really terrible at using it. Transactions inform preferences, timing, targeting criteria, and enable message selection for inbound interactions. It’s essential – and you’re crippling yourself if you aren’t embracing it.
- Understand Each Customers Viewing History – when a customer hits your website, you can gather immense amounts of high-value data. Incent them to register so you know they are, have their email, and can identify them when they return – then map what they do back to your CRM. You need to know what products they’re looking at; (or not) this gives you the ability to see “between” transactions, determine their interests, and understand how to personalize.
- Connect Your Call Center with Marketing – your marketing and call-center “decisioning” must be centralized, or at least aligned. A customer expects to the same experience across channels, as its painful they’re out-of-synch. For example: when a customer on the phone with an agent can’t get information about the offer they’re currently looking at online (“you just showed this to me!”) Terrible experience – and your organization looks like you don’t have it together.
- Study Your Social Sentiment – firms have the social listening thing backwards; they listen for big problems, so they can react and protect the brand… but that’s way too late in the game. You have to fix the problem before it’s broken – your marketing platform should analyze consumer feedback, log sentiment and keywords as actionable events for analytics, and identify trends. You can avoid the “#epicfail”, by making small adjustments in the experience, incrementally over time – and right-channel your efforts towards the right situations.
- Build, Deploy, and Promote a Mobile App – generally speaking for marketers these are games, ecommerce, or loyalty-based applications; the app can provide data about when a customer enters your trade area / store or your competitors, allows you to collect preferences, and to push mobile messages when appropriate (such as a nearby event or new promotion). As the “Internet of Things” becomes more mainstream for marketing and business in general, this will become a fundamental requirement for customer interactions.
Above anything else, remember that your responsibility in the customer / brand relationship is to adapt to what your customer needs, and provide them with a compelling, streamlined experience. You can be sure that they will be doing their research about you– as marketers and brand leaders, we owe them the same kind of due diligence and investment, in return.
Read the entire CMO Council and Pegasystems study, Predicting Routes to Revenue, here.