For all of our marketing efforts and creative handiwork, sometimes engaging customers can be a real challenge. Even when our user profiles and psychographics hit the proverbial nail on the head, our work can miss the mark. This is not because of a lack of knowledge, but simply because the paradigm of customer engagement is shifting. Online channels, the new model of constant presence, and the need for creativity to cut through the din, are all contributors in an age where customer engagement can translate into better sales, better relationships, and a better marketing strategy. In this post, we’re helping you understand how to build your online engagement engine.
Starting the Conversation
Engagement comes in many forms, but perhaps the most effective means of doing so comes in the form of conversation. This doesn’t mean simply communicating with your customers; your marketing does that every day. What it means is leveraging the new rapid-response and feedback capabilities of the Internet to create a continuum of advertising and marketing that includes the customer in the process. While they certainly won’t be writing copy for you, the notion of involving your customers in the way your business presents itself allows your efforts to resonate in a way that drives both sales and return visits.
With Facebook and Twitter providing ample opportunities for communication, the greatest benefit to brands in the newly interconnected age is constant presence. When store hours are over and customers are sitting at home, you can still be a part of their experience by replying to comments on social networking, presenting informational and entertaining videos, and sharing photographs that strike an emotional chord. In this way, your brand never leaves the minds of the people you need most, which translates into better sales and increased advocacy.
The key to achieving this lies with owned media channels. Creating new opportunities for engagement is important when more conventional wells run dry, but using your existing social networking accounts and advertising spots to break new ground is fiscally prudent. Take a look at your social networking posts. If you don’t have any, make some. Reach out to customers with positive and helpful information and a human touch, gauging reactions and modifying activity based on what works. Doing so makes media responsive, and customers appreciate being listened to far more than sitting through an ill-conceived sales pitch.
But in order to start a conversation, it’s necessary to know what to talk about. As a business, the topics of your discussions and social media posts can’t be listless at the risk of wasting valuable time and money on fruitless endeavors. Your goal in engaging customers should be simple: further your business. This occurs in multiple ways, but the most effective among them is building associations that paint your products, business, and presence in a positive light.
What you’d like to accomplish is a perception that your brand is as much a part of a customer’s life as the products you sell. Pushing product out the door is one thing, creating repeat customers and ensuring future business is another entirely. For that reason, use your engagement to build the understanding that your business is a source of valuable information and helpful individuals. If you sell drills, talk about tool maintenance and provide DIY tips. If you offer pool-cleaning supplies, talk about safety and how pools can provide a family activity. In every breath, focus on establishing your reputation as a company who cares and wants deeply to help the customers that keep it open.
Keep in mind as you do so that customer love is predicated on choice. In no way can marketers force brand perception (otherwise the art would’ve been perfected long ago). This choice lies not only with the acceptance of your presented image, but also with the content provided. When utilizing a business blog, provide a range of topics that engage your core audience without pigeonholing your reach. Even choice built into ads, such as those that allow individuals to choose a different story or product to view, give the perception of engagement and control, which translates into dividends with potential and current customers.
In doing so, however, it’s necessary to consider the law of diminishing returns. While Facebook is a fantastic vehicle for engagement and distribution, your business is not the first, or last, to utilize it. What this means is that your company will need to innovate in order to reach its audience more effectively than the competition. This can come both in the form of adjusting current campaigns, and by changing the way the game is played altogether.
Social media and other modern engagement channels work for multiple reasons. As we’ve discussed, actual conversation is a big part of that. But what lies beneath this exterior is the capacity to rapidly gauge customer sentiment and reactions to particular campaigns/pieces and make adjustments on the fly. If, after months of attempting to blog unsuccessfully, you finally publish a post that goes viral, look at the topic and the method of presentation and apply that model to other content. This creates a perception of listening to consumer wishes, and means less wasted marketing dollars as content is better tailored to the desired audience.
And while these tried-and-true methods of engagement certainly have their place, never rule out the possibility of throwing a curveball. Traditional channels of marketing aren’t what they used to be; television ads, print ads, and books. Now, businesses are looking for ways to incorporate digital in a world of increasingly blurred lines between media. Grocery stores with QR codes to recipes and clothing retailers with digital try-on capabilities are changing our understanding of customer engagement every day, and making hay in the process.
When building your engagement engine, laying a foundation based on established methods is a great place to start. Use owned-media channels in order to listen to customers and start the conversation. Create a feeling throughout all interactions and materials that your company cares about their well-being and wants to be a part of their life through informative content. Finally, get creative and look for new ways to reach out once your foundation is established. Talking to customers is no longer a luxury in the digital age, and a little elbow grease and some Facebook comments can increase sales, perception, and market-share, all thanks to the ubiquitous interconnection that drives our lives, and now, our businesses.