Thanks to smartphones and social media, customers are incredibly informed even before visiting a store or talking to a sales rep. But thanks to marketing technology, companies also know their customers better than ever. What does all this mean to marketers?
In the past, the customer’s journey was a sequential process. Consider the sports bike buying process. Once upon a time, marketing messages were pushed to the consumers by manufacturers and bike shops through various channels such as targeted advertising, direct marketing and sponsorships to create brand/product awareness. Consumers started with an initial consideration set based on brand awareness and previous experiences with the brand, and then visited stores to view the models on their short list.
Today, customers seize control of the process and actively pull the information they need from websites, reviews, word-of-mouth, blogs and social media to create an initial consideration set. Even after a customer visits a store to view a shortlisted brand/model, they add newer brands and models to their consideration set, influenced by additional online and offline experiences.
A recent McKinsey study indicated that over 37% of influence during the active evaluation process came from consumer-driven actions such as online reviews and peer/friend recommendations and another 10% from past favorable experiences, including having borrowed a friend’s bike or having owned that brand previously.
Consumers are looking for a more fulfilling user journey, hence the rise of forums, communities, social and gaming-inspired platforms for customers to share their experiences and concerns. Companies need to find a way to engage consumers through the entire journey from marketing, sales and ecommerce into the post-sale service phase.
On the other hand, as companies embrace increasingly complex and changing customer touch points, staggering amounts of information about their customer’s behavior is becoming accessible that was never available before— profiles of users, what they are browsing, where they are coming from, the path they follow inside online properties, where they abandon the site, what else they are purchasing or clicking on etc. This information can be used to optimize and personalize the online content to raise conversion rates, as well as improve customer’s overall experience to increase share of the wallet through more cross sells and higher retention.
As the amount of customer behavior data available skyrockets and analytic methods become more sophisticated, opportunities of a new order of magnitude become available to those who take advantage of it.
The Omni-Channel Factor
Each of these channels—websites, social marketing, consumer reviews, ecommerce sites, in-store, sales, call centers, customer service—have their own tone and rhythm. Each must work well individually and together as customers weave in and out of online and offline channels.
Innovative brands are blending these separate tunes to make beautiful music and leaving the laggards behind. Let’s look at five examples:
- Target allows consumers to research a product on their site and see if the product is available for pickup at a local store. Some retailers take it one step further by using customer’s offline purchase history to present offers while they are browsing on their ecommerce site. Such practices can significantly increase share of the wallet.
- Kellogg’s Special K cereal has launched MySpecialK.com to dish advice to customers on diet, exercise and overall well-being. Their goal is to reinforce the brand with loyal customers and to introduce it to new customers who might be interested in a healthy cereal option.
- Audi has built a successful marketing initiative called the ‘Land of Quattro’. The interactive experience featured cool videos and social media discussions, and allowed viewers to create their own Audi commercial. Whenever Audi had an ad on TV, searches online went up really steeply on iPads. Search engines made this content visible to future buyers, allowing the brand to be included in the consideration set more often. The campaign increased the number of Audi test drives by 28%.
- Luxury fitness brand Equinox has leveraged social channels across its house of brands to foster engagement with current and prospective members. By creating compelling content and sharing via platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Equinox’s editorial site Q, the brand is changing the conversation and starting new ones in the health and wellness space.
- McCormick and Company’s FlavorPrint site engages customers through everyday interactions. Users can tell the site what they like, what food ingredients they have and cooking equipment, and it recommends recipes. Since the site launch, users have doubled repeat usage, increased time spent on the site nine fold, and McCormick has reported double-digit growth in spice purchases with this user group.
The Big Battle in Marketing: Big Data
As more and more customer journey’s start weaving through online and offline channels, businesses are forced to provide seamless engagement experiences. However a key ingredient in providing such capabilities is being able to combine vast amount of data from website/ecommerce site, social media sites and offline channels to get actionable insights to continuously improve the customer experience.
In addition, innovative marketers are using analytics in very creative ways to grow revenue. For example, WeatherFX, the Weather Channel’s in-house advertising agency, combs through 30 years of weather data, matching it with sales data from thousands of products, and sells its discoveries to its advertisers. Using highly specific insights from this data, Michaels Stores started promoting rainy-day craft supplies by offering coupons in local markets and reminding parents a few days in advance. Pantene started running location-specific ads on the Weather Channel’s mobile app, offering free “haircasts” that would tell people how flat, fried, or frizzy they could expect to look during the next three days. Sales of Pantene’s advertised products jumped 28%.
Marketing: Not an Evolution but a Revolution
Marketers often feel overwhelmed by the huge wave of technological advances crashing at their shore. A few basic principles can help navigate these unchartered waters:
- Move aggressively beyond traditional push-style communication and implement a marketing framework that seamlessly combines web, social, ecommerce and push-style communication. Brand awareness still matters, but so does word-of-mouth to help future customers build an initial consideration set.
- Go where the conversations are about your product category and brand—social media, consumer review sites etc. If your brand is not a part of those conversations, it is less likely to be included in the active evaluation set.
- Retool your loyalty program to focus more on active loyalists. They are also your active promoters and help drive word-of-mouth.
- Supplement your online efforts with a very compelling in-store or sales experience. Merchandising and packaging have become very important selling factors, a point that’s not widely understood. Consumers still often want to look at a product in action and are highly influenced by something they see or learn such as packaging, placement, or interactions with salespeople.
- As you make the transition, integrate digital teams and offline teams only after the former has reached critical mass and have got some wins under their belt, so you can maximize the value from integration. Eventually these two teams need to integrate, so you can provide seamless cross-channel experience to your customers and share infrastructure, such as supply-chain networks.