Marketing Accelerates Customer Engagement in its Drive for Loyalty

BMW shifted its marketing efforts into high gear this summer by engaging customers in a once-in-a-lifetime initiation. The campaign, designed to deepen customer loyalty, produced more than 500,000 YouTube views, a customer-driven video ad spot, and even tears of joy.

“Customers’ loyalty to a brand depends on their emotional connection with the brand, and that’s what we tried to achieve with this project,” Janine Ingala, BMW of North America CRM Marketing Manager, says regarding the “M Initiation” video her company and its agency KBS created to announce the release of the new BMW M4. The brief spot shows the new vehicle tearing through a race course that consists of BMW M vehicles owned by enthusiasts. The video’s final reveal, a shot from above, shows that the customers’ cars were arranged in the shape of the BMW M Series logo.

Other B2C and B2B marketers share Ingala’s interest in finding ways to increase customer loyalty through engagement-oriented marketing. “Customer engagement and customer loyalty are very important for how we bring our products to market,” says Bridget Kulla, digital marketing manager for James Hardie Building Products.

Many marketing organizations are wading deeper into customer engagement activities, for two good reasons: More than 2,900 marketing messages bombard consumers daily, and online commentary influences more than 50% of all purchasing decisions, notes Marketo CMO Sanjay Dholakia. “A marketer’s most significant challenge is simply breaking through the noise,” he says. “Marketing now requires a new model of customer engagement around conversations, not campaigns.”

Here’s how three companies have come up with their own models for building loyalty by integrating customer engagement into their marketing activities.

BMW initiates customers into advertising
BMW North America sent emails to M vehicle owners who planned to attend the annual East Coast Bimmerfest gathering, the largest BMW car show in North America (there’s also an annual Bimmerfest on the West Coast). The invitation asked them to join the company in initiating the M4 to the BMW family. Roughly 300 owners responded, and 37 were selected through follow-up calls. The fans didn’t know what their cars would be used for, only that their vehicles would be involved in the initiation. They were ecstatic to learn that their cars would be featured in a new ad spot. Ingala identifies three steps that helped BMW generate an engaging response:

Enlist customers as marketers: To promote the video spot, BMW North America initially produced a 16-second teaser that it shared with participants, who in turn shared that post with their own social networks (where the video accumulated 10,000 views). Five days later the company posted the final, official video, which attracted more than 470,000 views in less than six days. During the event the 37 owners were also informed of the “#Mrated” hashtag, which they tweeted a total of 750 times throughout the day.

Be considerate: The video shoot required a full day of work. Ingala and her team recognized that, and created another experience for participants to remember: giving them rides on the track in BMW racing cars piloted by professional drivers. “They put on their helmets, and got a once-in-a-lifetime ride in this race car,” Ingala reports, adding that after the ride, “some of them cried, some of them smiled, and a lot of them jumped up and down. It was very, very cool to see their response.” The final cut of the video concludes by crediting each owner and his vehicle, which appears in a photo captioned with its model and year.

Let it soak in: Besides being cool, it was also instructive for Ingala and her team to witness the humanity. These emotional responses are “not generally something you see when you send out email or direct mail,” she says. “Seeing that reaction on their face is not something you get to see as a marketer too often. When you do get that opportunity, you realize that it’s very meaningful for the brand.”

James Hardie’s experiential marketing plank
James Hardie, a global provider of fiber cement technology, has a unique customer base (a blend of B2B and B2C) and a long sales cycle (one that typically stretches 18 to 24 months). The challenge that Kulla and her team face is keeping customers engaged with the brand, its HardiePlank siding, and other products over that extended period of time. “Our job is not necessarily to speed up that buying cycle,” says Kulla, “but to remain the top of mind throughout it.”

Sending email messages based on where prospective customers are in the purchase cycle is how James Hardie keeps its prospects engaged. The company uses Marketo’s customer engagement platform with marketing automation and Marketo’s real-time personalization solution to distribute its email campaigns to prospects in different decision-making phases. For more top-of-funnel prospects, the emails contain links to content that’s aspirational and educational, such as a refinancing guide. “Once we get homed in on that final call-to-action at the bottom of the funnel, we are very targeted,” says Kulla, who reports that customer interactions have increased by 200% since her company began taking this targeted approach using the Marketo solution about 18 months ago.

Kulla points to three other actions that help drive engagement and loyalty:


Publish: James Hardie operates an ambitious content marketing program. The company places and sponsors content on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and home-design-themed outlets such as, Southern Living’s Inspired Communities, “This Old House,” and Good Housekeeping magazine. “We want to have a solid presence and engage with consumers when they’re not on the James Hardie site,” says Kulla, who reports that traffic from Facebook,, and Pinterest back to the Hardie site has increased substantially in the past year as a result.

Network: Along with engaging directly with consumers, James Hardie developed a network of preferred building contractors who sell the company’s products. “We provide them with homeowner leads that we collect through our consumer advertising,” Kulla says. These preferred contractors in turn do the legwork of meeting with the homeowners. “And they record what happens,” Kulla says. “We enter what they tell us about their interactions with consumers and that drives our marketing activities,” including the decision-phase-based email campaigns.

Innovate: James Hardie took its engagement activities to a new level by engaging with neighbors of customers installing its products during renovations. Company representatives in some U.S. cities visit neighbors of remodeling customers to apologize for any inconvenience and to ask if they can provide any help during the renovation. “We do that for two reasons,” Kulla notes, “to help improve our homeowners’ experience in the hopes of generating higher loyalty. And to open the door for potential customers.”

The hallmarks of qualitative engagement
Hallmark Business Connections (the B2B arm of the B2C brand) transformed how it analyzes its long-time annual customer survey. Rather than looking only at quantitative data from the survey, the company decided to examine, organize, and share the qualitative response, as well.

Doing so, says Director of Customer Engagement Rhonda Basler, has been extremely valuable from a customer experience and customer engagement perspective. The key steps in making the change included:

Adapting: “As marketers, we often get confused by thinking that we’re advertisers: We create a one-way communications stream that we push out to the customer base, and then hope for a result,” Basler says. “But when you move into customer engagement, it really requires a two-way, continuous communications loop.” Hallmark Business Connections’ effort sends qualitative customer feedback to the relevant business functions so they can take action and follow up with customers.

Organizing: The marketing team collects, reviews, and organizes comments from the customer survey and sends them to the functional areas of the business that can exert the greatest influence in correcting the issues. Those teams are responsible for developing a plan to address common issues that customers identify. “When you dig deep into those comments you discover that some of your most satisfied customers also give you the best clues about what you can do to further improve their experiences,” Basler says.

Reporting: To inspire their business colleagues to execute their improvement plans, marketing reports year-to-year changes in the comments as they relate to areas targeted for improvement. Basler says her team’s position is straightforward. “We say that marketing can’t change this, but you have the power to change this,” she explains. “We also say that we’re going to keep reporting the results of what’s changed and what has not changed in the eyes of the customers.”

It’s that type of customer-centric approach that’s helping marketers build engagement and loyalty. Indeed, as marketing intensifies its customer-engagement activities, we can expect to see more “nontraditional marketing efforts, focusing on events, content, and social experiences to deepen relationships over time,” notes Tom Buontempo, president of content lab Attention/KBS. “It’s clear the customer is in the driver’s seat and we need to think about how we’re delivering value, not just telling them what we want them to hear.”

Rhonda Basler (below), director of customer engagement for Hallmark Business Connections, describes the “human-to-human moment in which a company employee and a customer directly interact” as the “ultimate form of customer engagement.” Creating engaging marketing moments—real or virtual—requires the following competencies, notes Loni Stark, director of product marketing for Adobe Experience Manager:

1. Become channel blind: “As humans and customers, we are blind to channel,” Stark says, noting that marketers who drive initiatives centered on customers rather than on channels will achieve greater long-term engagement success.

2. Share a powerful, yet simple story: “Deep engagement is driven by shared meaning,” Stark notes. “Have a brand and a mission that’s powerful enough to transcend the deluge of daily distractions, yet be simple enough to communicate in a single tweet or meme.”

3. Achieve data and content velocity: Marketers must quickly capture customer data and create and deliver relevant content, Stark adds, because expectations around response times will continue to shrink.

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