7 Ways to Take Your Marketing Strategy to the Big Leagues

Tonight marks the first game of 2014 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. Making it to the World Series is no easy feat—as players who’ve never reached the great stage can attest to. It requires athleticism, determination, strategy, and synchronization among teammates—skills that can’t be acquired over night. As retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter put it, “You don’t just accidentally show up in the World Series.”

Today’s marketers are forced to play a big game, too. Consumers demand that brands step up to the plate and connect in-store and online baselines to create holistic experiences. In fact, 54% of connected consumers expect a brand experience that’s seamless across physical touchpoints, according to “The State of the Customer Journey 2014” report by Kitewheel. This 54% segment isn’t far from the 60% of consumers who expect seamless experiences solely across digital channels, points the consumer engagement technology provider’s VP of marketing Jeff Nicholson, proving that the gap between the physical and digital worlds is closing.

“All too often [marketers are] lured into the belief that if we just get our digital touchpoints to work together… we’ve somehow achieved an omnichannel strategy,” he says. “To consumers, they’re not using terms like ‘omnichannel’—much less ‘digital only.’ They’re just looking for their needs to be met whatever the channel or channels.”

This demand for omnichannel experiences forces marketers to possess the same types of skills as the World Series ball players: agility, determination, strategy, and synchronization among departments. But when it comes to actually producing these game-winning experiences, many marketers strike out. Just over one third of brands surveyed (36%) can orchestrate individual customer journeys across channels, according to the report. And although 63% of brands would like to generate more seamless experiences, they lack the capabilities.

To truly knock customers’ experiences out of the park, marketers must develop omnichannel strategies that are seamless, synchronous, and symbiotic, Nicholson says. Here are seven tips—one for each of the World Series’ games—for helping marketers include these elements in their omnichannel marketing strategies and win the greatest game of all: customer retention.

Seamless

1) All channels should play for the same team: When customers win, brands win. Therefore, companies must ensure that all of their channels play in a seamless fashion for the same team: team customer.

Customers like to communicate with brands via a variety of touchpoints—both digital and physical. Although 85% of connected consumers say websites are their most common form of communication with brands, 75% also connect via traditional call centers—beating out the 65% who interact via email and the 32% who correspond via the mobile Web.

Still, providing these channels is only half of the game. Organizations also need to ensure that the data between these channels flows freely, giving marketers a holistic view of the customer. Failing to do so can result in shopper frustration. Seventy percent of consumers say that having to repeat information they’ve already provided makes them frustrated, according to the report, and 25% get annoyed by a company’s inability to recognize them as past or current customers.

Synchronous

2) Stop asking who’s on first and who’s on third. When referring to touchpoints, these questions don’t apply. Today’s consumers often engage with brands’ physical and digital channels simultaneously. For instance, 42% of connected consumers have accessed a company’s website while talking to someone from the call center at the same time, according to Kitewheel’s report. In addition, 67% of respondents have compared prices online while shopping in-store.

However, marketing infrastructures don’t always support this simultaneous usage. Many technological ecosystems are a hodgepodge of old and new systems that were designed by different vendors and never meant to work together, Nicholson says.

“No wonder it’s so difficult for most brands to move at the speed of the customer,” he says.

Marketing vendors are beginning to override this game-challenging curse by introducing new technologies. For example, some companies are introducing customer engagement hubs, Nicholson says, which are systems that sit in the cloud and connect disparate channels and data sources for one consumer at a time when she interacts with a brand.

3) Speed counts. There’s nothing worse than watching a runner slide into home only to find out that he’s too late; he’s out. The same holds true for marketers. Sending an offer to a consumer who’s already made a purchase somewhere else is a tough loss. Unfortunately, this failure to score happens all too often. Nearly half of the consumers surveyed have received a shopping cart abandonment notification after they made a purchase elsewhere. In fact, 40% of these respondents have had this happen at least half of the time they’ve received such a message.

Therefore, it’s important for marketers to deliver as close to real-time experiences as possible. Tapping into consumers’ moment of intent can also have big payoffs. For instance, 91% of consumers surveyed say “in-the-moment” offers from brands can influence their purchase.

Photo Credit: 2013 World Series at Fenway Park (U.S. Air Force photo by Rick Berry)

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4) Remember, there’s no “i” in team. Companies can’t succeed without their customers. However, many businesses are still under the impression that loyalty programs are meant to show how loyal customers are to companies rather than for companies to show how loyal they are to customers. In fact, 66% of brands believe that loyalty programs are designed to put the company at the center and provide ways for consumers to proclaim their brand loyalty, according to the study. However, 73% of consumers believe that the customer is number one and say that loyalty programs are for brands to display their loyalty to their customers.

“What brands need to do is wake up and recognize that loyalty today is different,” Nicholson says. “Loyalty today requires it being a two-way street.”

With all of the commoditized choices consumers have today, brands have to do everything they can to retain their customers’ business. So, while it’s great to reward frequent buyers, it’s also important to acknowledge customers who build up the brand other ways, such as through social mentions or e-commerce interactions, Nicholson says. One way to do this, he adds, is through surprise-and-delight tactics.  

“When you do [something that’s] unexpected, that can be something that really does resonate and does last,” Nicholson says.

Symbiotic

5) Don’t rely too heavily on a single player: Social has been a real power-hitter for marketers in terms of gauging consumer sentiment. About 60% of consumers talk about their brand experiences on social platforms, according to the report. And these social savvy shoppers expect brands to respond. Actually, one in three consumers expects a response within 24 hours after directly tweeting a company.

This social shift has its positives and its negatives. On the one hand, social engagement has forced companies to dedicate more attention to customer listening, Nicholson says. On the other, it’s possible that they’ve gone too far. Some brands are so fixated on responding to consumers’ social posts that they’ve given other channels the cold shoulder, resulting in what Nicholson refers to as  consumer backlash. Indeed, half of the consumers surveyed are frustrated when the only way to receive a speedy reply from a brand is to complain via social.

“These are the examples where the consumer has tried to email the brand and they’ve tried to talk to somebody in a physical store or a call center, and [the brand] can’t help them. But all of a sudden, they tweet about it and they’re important,” Nicholson explains. “The tide is turning. Consumers are now expecting a consistent experience across all of the touchpoints, regardless of which one it is.”

6) Humans and robots shouldn’t be rivals: Marketing automation and human interaction often appear to be members of opposing teams; however, the leading companies are the ones that leverage each player’s strengths, Nicholson says.

Indeed, the big leaguers look at social streams, use analytics to “funnel and filter” comments, contextualize posts with real-time additional information, and then respond via a combination of triggered and human interactions, he says. For example, if a company identifies that a consumer has a question, it may use analytics to determine whether to send an automated response or route the inquiry to a staff member who can address the matter further, he says. 

“Social media is not about audiences and it’s not about segments. Social media is about individuals and it’s never been more so the case,” Nicholson says. “Marketers have to change their mind-sets on how they interact and harness the opportunity of social media by now getting their heads around [the ideas] that it’s all about the individual and [marketers] need to be informed about that individual and what they really want.”

In addition to leveraging automated and human responses, it’s important for marketers to reward customers’ positive social interactions instead of just constantly trying to squash negative ones, Nicholson adds.

“Social media is about empowering consumers, frankly, to talk about your brand—whether good or bad,” he says. “If it’s good, great. You want to encourage that type of thing. If it’s bad, great, as well. They’re voicing these things out and that’s opportunity for you to help satisfy them and turn it around—not to put it down. You want your consumers to have a voice.”

7) A consistently good team has more than one play: Consumers want a consistent brand experience, but that doesn’t mean that they want the same experience across every touchpoint, Nicholson explains. Fifty-five percent of connected consumers feel frustrated when they download an app that doesn’t offer any functional differences than a brand’s mobile website, according to the report. This frustration may partially stem from the idea that consumers are offering their personal information without receiving any value in return, Nicholson says.

“The same data has to power the experience behind the scenes, but it doesn’t mean that the experience has to be identical,” he adds.

To avoid irritation, marketers should put themselves in the customers’ shoes and try to understand what their goals are for taking a particular action, like downloading an app, Nicholson advises.

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