Six principles that will help you better interact with your customers

Every brand, from the smallest start-up to the mightiest multinational, wants to increase engagement with its current and future customers. Although this has long been the case, achieving this aim has become an ever more complex challenge over the course of the last decade. While the digital revolution introduced many new ways for brands to communicate with customers, this constant contact has left customers jaded and unresponsive. On top of this, many established marketing techniques have lost their potency and distrust towards brands is at an all-time high. We now live in a world where nearly one third of online consumers trust a stranger over a brand.

Even in these trying times, there are steps that every brand can take to better engage their audience. I’ve helped some of the largest brands in the world effectively connect with their customers and I’ve achieved my goals by following a number of principles, which I’ve listed below. Some are old, others are new, but they’re all proven to increase customer engagement.

Purpose

Why do you exist? Many brands find this question surprisingly difficult to answer. What you do and how you do it is important, but why you do it can often be the differentiator for consumers choosing between brands. Consequently, your brand needs a strong identity and a loud voice. Almost every market is saturated with multiple brands hawking the same products and to make yourself heard you can’t afford to sit on the fence. Brands need to have an opinion and they need to stand by it through thick and thin. Sometimes even a disliked brand can engage consumers, as long as it gets it point across. It is worth remembering the Mr Whipple advert, that despite been hated, sold billions of rolls of toilet paper and made Mr Whipple the third most recognised man in America.

Personalisation

Today, brands have access to astonishing amounts of data about their current and potential customers and even smaller organisations can afford the tools they need to build a clear picture of the individuals they’re trying to target. However, any brand can collect data; it takes an intelligent brand to apply this information effectively.
In my experience, knowing when to personalise in the buyer journey is the key consideration. Personalise content too soon and you’ll seem intrusive, but if you leave it too late you risk alienating customers with content that isn’t relevant to them. The ultimate goal is to create more natural interactions with consumers that are non-invasive and ideally welcomed.

A great example of the power of combining intelligent data use and perfect timing is Secret Escapes’ ‘Teaser’ email marketing campaign. It creates tantalising examples of potential escapes based on the browsing data it holds on its members. The fact that Secret Escapes sends these emails on a Monday is no coincidence, at the start of another working week, who isn’t thinking of booking a holiday?

Experience

Creating an engaging experience across all customer touch points is no mean feat. However, you can make the load lighter by involving those you’re trying to target.

Inviting customers to develop and curate your brand’s content can generate sustained engagement with those developing and sharing content but it can also result in a more rewarding experience for the rest of your customers. In fact, studies have shown that, not only do millennials trust user generated content over brand generated content, they tend to find it more memorable.

To the same end, gamification is worth considering. Although the concept is currently languishing in the trough of disillusionment on Gartner’s Hype Cycle report, some early adopters are already effectively ‘gamifying’ consumer activities to grab attention, make themselves more memorable and, of course, increase levels of engagement.
A particularly noteworthy example is Starbucks, which has developed the ‘My Starbucks Rewards’ system that rewards users with a gold star every time they use the mobile app to pay for a transaction. When the user reaches milestones they receive awards. For example, when a customer reaches the 5 star mark they achieve “Green Level” status and are offered free refills on coffee or tea purchased that day.

Multiple touch points

Although most brands are keen to stress how accessible they are, few maintain a consistent level of customer service across all of the channels they use. Even when reaching out across digital media, customers still want to feel a human connection when they engage with a brand, rather than an impersonal, corporate response.

All too often this isn’t the case, but a handful of brands are redefining customer service with digital in mind. Perhaps the best example is Amazon, whose Mayday service gives consumers access to live face-to-face support from a member of the customer services team when and where they want it, albeit through an iPad or desktop.

Transparency

Brands are under surveillance at all times and any dishonesty or deception in their communication with customers will be instantly spotted and flagged in the media, or on social networks. Brands should have nothing to hide and they should be ready and willing to prove it on a daily basis. What’s more, this transparency should filter down from boardroom level to the shop floor.

In an effort to dispel any doubt about the way its food is handled and produced, US chain restaurant, Chick-fil-A recently started offering free behind-the-counter tours for customers at all of its restaurants. Patrons can contact their local branch to arrange a visit to see first-hand how food is prepared and meet the staff creating Chick-fil-A meals. Although it’s arguable that the restaurant chain has taken transparency to the extremes with this initiative, there’s no denying that this campaign exudes confidence.

Utility

The top five most popular free apps in the App Store are utility applications. Facebook, Pandora, Instagram, Youtube and Skype all provide a useful service and I believe many brands can learn from these mobile mavens. By placing a reliable, quality service at their users’ fingertips, these brands can quickly form a connection with their audience and, if their app is useful enough, users will return again and again. Before long they’ll form a habit that can be tough to kick, as anyone with Facebook knows. Slowly but surely these organistaions build a loyal band of followers and their brand names become synonymous with efficacy and utility. Although not all brands can offer an app to rival the likes of YouTube, most organisations can build an application that make their customers’ lives easier.

Similarly, brands can do more with the promotional materials they produce. Typically, marketing messages interrupt the course of consumer’s lives only to present them with a thinly veiled sales pitch, which more often than not is irrelevant to the recipient. Although this approach may shift a certain amount of product, in order to build a long term bond with consumers, brands need to offer value every time they interact with a customer, not just at the point of sale.

The benefits of doing so don’t just flow one way, by providing useful information to customers on a regular basis organisations can raise awareness of their brand, drive sales and stimulate usage of their products. A particularly brilliant example of truly useful promotional material is IBM’s ‘Smart ideas for smarter cities’ campaign which saw the company reimagine typical billboards as benches and shelters.

As I’ve highlighted above, there’s no shortage of ideas and innovation in the world of CRM and the brands that are willing to take risks and experiment with new initiatives will be rewarded for their efforts. For these brands, even the most trying times will always present more opportunities than challenges.

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