Customer Engagement: Unlocking and Activating Human Behavior

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BMW offered new owners the opportunity to pick up their vehicle at BMW headquarters in Germany
BMW offered new owners the opportunity to pick up their vehicle at BMW headquarters in Germany

Every marketer knows that the ground is moving beneath our feet. Today's consumers are empowered, smarter, better connected, and more informed. As a result, it's become increasingly challenging for brands to break through the clutter—and even tougher to create an enduring, meaningful (and profitable) customer relationship. A lot of brands, and a lot of agencies, are struggling to adapt. For some marketers and their agencies, customer engagement is the answer.

So, what is customer engagement? It's a personal connection between a customer and brand that's strengthened over time, resulting in mutual value. It's an enduring two-way relationship that simultaneously delivers relevant experiences to your customer and greater profitability for your brand.

Let's break that down even further.

What it is: A personal connection

Customers engage when they feel a genuine, emotional connection to a favorite brand. This connection is built when a brand delivers a series of experiences and interactions that have personal relevance to its customers, not just meeting their expectations, but surprising and delighting them, as well.

Automaker BMW sets the stage for new owners to develop a personal connection with their car by offering the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for owners to pick up their vehicle at the BMW headquarters in Munich, Germany, according to the “Intelligence-Driven Loyalty” report by Forrester Research. It includes free companion airfare, VIP tours, a “victory lap” around the office, and 14 days of European auto insurance to “make your BMW's first drive as memorable as it deserves to be.”

A senior leader at one of the largest craft brewers in the U.S. described a similar approach to building engagement. He explained during an interview with us, “Our brand's appeal to customers goes well beyond the taste of our beer. Our marketing is an inch wide, but a mile deep. Customers can come to our brewery, taste our latest creations, and meet the brew master. Our festivals bring the brand to life and engender community.” All of this creates an enduring connection between the consumer and brand (and the brand's marketing).

While BMW submerses owners in the luxury of fine German engineering and the craft brewer creates a feeling of community and celebration, both go well beyond satisfying basic product expectations. They offer customers the experiences necessary to build an emotional connection with their brand.

How it's built: Strengthened over time

Not unlike human relationships, a customer and a brand must “get to know” one another over time, learning from each other and strengthening their bond. It's cyclical. As a brand understands more about a customer, it can recommend items that the customer might want and share useful information to help that customer more efficiently shop. For example, by leveraging browsing data a brand can predict where the customer might want to navigate next, and in return the brand feels relevant. And relevance is the key, as it causes the customer to pay attention. The customer is then increasingly likely to purchase or recommend the brand, again providing yet more information, continuing the feedback loop.

For example, Zappos demonstrates a clear ability to build positive relationships with customers over time. It collects typical data on its customers—including addresses, payment, purchases, reviews, email interactions, and browsing history. More important, however, it uses that data to personalize recommendations—suggesting products, sending targeted emails, and offering quick checkout. Beyond that, if there's ever a problem, Zappos call center employees are highly empowered and trained to make customer satisfaction their top priority. It's Zappos' focus on delivering a delightful experience across all channels that keeps customers coming back for more.  

What it generates: Mutual value

Last but not least, this personal connection, strengthened over time, results in the goal of shared, increased value: value for the customer and value for the brand.

Retail grocery chain Kroger demonstrated this when it teamed up with manufacturers to distribute Loyalty Customer Mailers (LCMs) to more than 10 million U.S. households. Each LCM was unique and customized generating value to the customer as evidenced by the astounding household coupon redemption rate of 70%. And the value to the brand was evident in the $10 billion of incremental revenue attributed to this program since 2005, as cited in DunnHumby's report “Putting the P in Personalization.” Kroger's commitment to continually learning about each and every customer over time enables an unparalleled level of personalization, and, in turn, an increased number of satisfied and loyal consumers.

Delivering successful customer engagement is critical in today's fast-paced, evolving marketing landscape. Customers expect brands to create meaningful, relevant experiences that simplify their purchase decisions. For brands, customer engagement offers more than enduring profitability. It can serve as the unifying internal strategy, uniting employees across departments with a shared view of what success is. Customer engagement brings to life the belief that building personal connections with your customer will ultimately drive the greatest value for your brand.

Jay Lichtenstein is managing partner, marketing strategy and insights at Rosetta. Chetna Bansal is associate partner, marketing strategy and insights at Rosetta.

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