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In their latest Global CEO Study, IBM found that engaging customers as individuals, rather than broad market segments, is a key factor to future success. As a strategy, that approach makes sense. Engaging with individuals will help brands meet consumer needs, innovate, and bring new products to market faster. Simple, effective tools are readily available to reach individual consumers through the web, social media, apps, over the phone and in person. And by using data, businesses can make what they say to consumers more relevant and increasingly effective within the medium.
Yet, as brands make the move towards engagement over mass media, one critical value hangs in the balance: Trust -- the thin silver thread that connects consumers to brands -- and is all too easily severed when one-to-one communications aren’t scaled or strategized well.
In 2013, my clients’ individual-focused communications will include; Social Media, Email, Phone Customer Service, Live Chat Customer Service and Audience-Segmented Websites. Here’s why these will be commonly used: According to a late 2012 nRelate study, 48% of online shoppers trust brand or manufacturer websites. The website must meet consumer needs for information that will help create sales, wow and retain existing customers, and provide service. And speaking of customer service, over 62% of consumers use social for that purpose, and 80% of companies plan to add a response team this year.
If trust is important to make a sale, as it is for some durable and emotional products, one-to-one communications need honesty and a depth of information. If trust catalyzes at the point of product use, as it might for consumer-packaged goods, brands need resources in multiple channels to rebuild it if the product fails.
In short, if individual communications, in any channel, are part of your 2013 marketing plans, here are three key factors to build in:
- Scalability with online growth. Social network and Internet use continue to grow globally. Analyze your current customer base and plans for growth, and be sure you have the staff in place or can hire and train as you grow. Also: Can you create content relevant to the audience in each channel that will grow sales, boost retention and engagement, and provide service?
- Sustainability in a crisis. The easiest thing to do, when things go wrong, is hide behind a veil of corporate-speak and mass media messages. While mass vehicles may be necessary, depending on your crisis, don’t forget who your current customers are – and that you stand a better chance of keeping them, or maintaining a shred of your reputation if you reach out to them first, individually. 48% of US companies who’ve experienced a data breach say that it caused customers to leave, en masse. How might that number change if companies took an individual-focused approach to crisis communications?
- Corporate commitment to an authentic, customer-centric approach to problem solving and interactions. Many brands say they want to move forward with a more individual approach to communications. And even if they’ve solved issues 1 and 2, an additional challenge is likely to remain: convincing the corporation to embrace the approach on all customer-facing teams. It’s hard to do in regulated environments...but it’s even harder to do if you can’t get corporate support.