When customers talk, prospects listen

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Azita Martin, GetSatisfaction
Azita Martin, GetSatisfaction

The proliferation of mobile devices and popularity of social networks have made today's consumers savvier and more discerning about their purchasing decisions than ever before. Brands and the marketers behind them are now realizing that traditional methods of one-to-one marketing have become hopelessly outdated. What's more, brands turning to newer methods of direct marketing via social media aren't achieving what they had hoped, which was to draw in, engage, and build long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Recent research done by The Incyte Group found that there's a growing gap between the ways in which consumers want to connect with the brands they love and how brands are actually using social networks to connect with their customers. The Incyte Group's study found three key points that all marketers need to know:

  • When making purchasing decisions, consumers prefer to research products of a specific company on that company's branded website, not on social networks.
  • When researching products and services, more than 50 percent of consumers are willing to join a branded customer community, to connect to other consumers who are using the products they're researching.
  • Social media interactions and referrals are the preferred way of learning about a brand's customer community.

More and more, companies are realizing that there's only one way to develop passionate, life-long brand advocates who promote and build trust in your brand, offer free feedback to potential customers, and proactively respond to technical questions with personalized answers. The way to develop these brand advocates is by creating an environment in which customers themselves are free to gather and interact in a way that builds an authentic, engaged community devoted to your brand.

What we're experiencing is a rebirth of true word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing with the potential for thousands of consumers to essentially volunteer to advocate for and educate the marketplace on behalf of companies and their offerings.  And unlike more aggressive outbound marketing campaigns that are often filtered out through email spam filters or caller-ID in the case of cold calls, consumers trust and even seek out feedback and referrals from their community.

Community-generated groups created around brands are great for consumers because they provide a fast way to get and share unbiased information about products and services. They also provide invaluable insight for brands to learn more about their customers,  uncover common issues or problems users are dealing with, and even tap into upcoming consumer trends and preferences in the marketplace overall. These organic communities, developed around brands, give companies an insider's look into what their customers really want.

Today, thousands of smart companies are using branded communities to drive significant business results. For starters, these branded communities are scaling support, building dynamic knowledgebases around common questions and answers, decreasing the number of support tickets, slashing customer support costs, and getting deeper insight into consumer preferences.

StumbleUpon, a discovery engine that recommends relevant content, began using branded customer communities after launching a new version of its service to provide customers with a place to discuss, ask questions, and learn about the company's updates. As a result, while StumbleUpon doubled its user base from 10 million to 20 million monthly users, peer-to-peer support through the branded community helped the discovery engine scale its customer support efforts and reduce associated costs.

Another company Mindflash, an eLearning software company, uses its customer community to connect prospects to customers to drive revenue, as well as get customer feedback on what future products or capabilities to build.  This is a highly effective way to get insight into the products that customers want to buy.

True customer engagement is not about direct marketing campaigns to convince consumers that they want a product or service you're selling. To truly foster engagement, brands and marketers need to build relevant spaces where consumers can freely discuss issues, offer praise, and provide feedback. With this type of open dialogue, brands can effectively engage with their customers, optimize offerings based on their preferences, and drive growth.

Azita Martin is vice president of marketing at GetSatisfaction.

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