‘Evolutionize’ Customer Engagement

A close second to strategy as an overused word in digital marketing is engagement.  It can spark near religious debate amongst brand owners and managers.  Some hold it so close they smother it, others are so cavalier they miss opportunities to impact customer experience. My colleague and team member Emily Alvarez wrote a post not long ago about an engagement effort that Morton’s performed.  Over the top? Yes.  Good PR? Of course.  Meaningful? At least to one person!  Although we suspect the audience at large took notice of the engagement. The key to this event was Morton was listening to their customers and acting on what they learned.

Build a preference center

We work with marketers who love the idea of big data, but aren’t sure where to find actionable insights. But, as if it were being sung from a hymnal, marketing teams are completely harmonious with preference centers.  When I ask them why (not to challenge, but for context) the responses vary, but all have a single refrain: preference center data is explicit, not obscured.  In other words, preference center intelligence is so obvious, the obstacle of abstracting value is nearly fool proof.  It is also a passive listening behavior.

The idea of a preference center remains small enough to wrestle with yet so obvious it can obscure real opportunity.  Most preference information collected is simply ‘communication preferences’ also known as email frequency and topic. We’re all for any system which promises and then delivers on respecting consumers wishes, but we believe brands should be digging deeper with explicit data requests if they hope to have a real impact on customer experience.

One brand which is doing this well today is Hearst Magazines.  A media conglomerate with a couple dozen publications, Hearst has made the communication preference center a breeze to use.  One is able to manage all preferences for all of their magazines in a single location and view a rolled up presentation of what they are subscribed to. Users can also indicate frequency preferences.  A responsive user experience allows the user to manage on any device with the same ease of use.  Most importantly, Hearst is paying attention to and respecting the information their customers are providing with sophisticated data management.

Understanding Table Stakes

All brands want to catapult beyond their competitors in engagement and brand ambassadorship.  You can’t fault the intent, but you can the approach. Overshooting is dangerous on several levels and if not considered carefully, can do more brand harm than good.  At minimum we need to ensure our businesses approach the strategy with best practices in mind.  If not, the net result will be a complex engagement model with more common and noteworthy customer disappointment.  An important note is that best practice isn’t a single decision you make, it is ongoing attention to behaviors and actions.

So how can we figure this out?  Let’s make email marketing a litmus test and poke the bear:

  • How many customers have asked to unsubscribe more than once?
  • How many black lists is your outbound email addresses on?
  • Have you had to change email distribution domains in the past to bypass black listing?
  • Is your global open rate increasing, decreasing or steady?
  • What sort of hate email does your brand receive?
  • How strong a voice do your consumers have socially about how you engage with them? What is the sentiment?
  • Do you have a structured ‘listening team’ internally? How much latitude to they have to engage?

If the answers to any of these questions are startling, you may have found rock bottom. A byproduct of good customer engagement is good will. What’s nice thing about good will?  It can be built up if it’s low and exponentially grown if it is strong.

Building open and honest relationships

If a brand struggles with best practices regarding a long standing marketing practice, what expectation should you have when engagement becomes more robust? At the core of customer engagement is human-to-human connection.  As marketing technologists we desire to automate as much of the process as we can.  Not because we are lazy (ok sometimes we are…) but to positively affect as many of our customers as we can. We look for efficiency.

Brands that are strong digital exemplars are finding ways to constantly collect and curate information from their users.  It is a change in how companies are doing business.  Digital is not about revolutionizing your website, thinking mobile first or building apps.  The spirit of digital is adapting your business operations to better serve your customer where they are – which all statistics tell us, is online.

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