Future marketing: engaging the individual customer
Suppose that, instead of marketing your brand to millions of consumers, you could market it to just one. Would it change your brand strategy, or your communication methods, or even your marketing philosophy? Of course it would, and that's a key challenge for marketers today, according to Rusty Warner, vice president of product marketing for Alterian.
Today, Warner argues, the individual consumer drives brand marketing. Sweeping changes in technology and society itself have shifted the focus away from mass marketing strategies toward models that recognise the importance of engaging consumers as individuals.
In response to these changes, forward-thinking businesses are redesigning their branding philosophies to accommodate the needs and desires of individual consumers. Although mass marketing still plays a role in the new marketplace, companies that fail to emphasise individual engagement do so at their own peril.
The bottom line is that companies must become adept at reaching their customers at the individual level if they are to have any chance of rising above mediocrity, maximising ROI and achieving their strategic growth objectives.
Looking backward - mass marketing In the past, traditional mass marketing was the most common method for brands to communicate messages to their audience. Consumers were treated as a collective. Market segmentation might have been a consideration, but the communication method was a one-way conversation in which companies dumped truckloads of information on groups of consumers.
This approach was effective because of the assumption that information being fed to consumers by businesses was reliable and accurate. Consumers had no reason to doubt the messages they were receiving and no effective mechanisms for initiating individual dialogues with corporate brands, so they accepted the content marketers pushed at them.
Looking forward - the changing consumer The twenty-first century has brought with it an erosion of consumer trust. Emerging technologies enable consumers to question the value of traditional brand messaging strategies, creating an environment ripe for the transition to individual engagement.
Despite the continuing popularity of mass broadcast channels, technology clusters today are centred around individuals. Laptops, mobile devices, iPads, and so on facilitate unique user experiences. Consumers no longer take in information as much as they interact with it and, in many cases, create it for themselves and others.
Changing social attitudes have reinforced the role of the individual. It's important to dispel the notion that social networking and other technologies are the cause of shifting social attitudes. Instead, they are symptoms of social shifts that have already taken place.
The end result is that consumers are empowered and fully aware of the influence they wield as a collection of individuals. They understand their options and have higher expectations about the ways they interact with the companies that are competing for their purchasing pounds.
Engaging with individual consumers Engagement begins with relationship-building initiatives that forge connections between your company and your customers. Today's consumers are prepared to exchange personal information with brands if they believe that the information will encourage the development of brand relationships.
Brands are also engaging with individual consumers by providing dynamic and interactive content. For many consumers, the new norm is to interact directly with the content they receive from companies rather than being passive recipients of corporate messaging.
One of the most productive ways businesses can engage consumers at the individual level is by initiating dialogues through social media and other online connection media. These dialogues open clear channels of communication with consumers and go a long way toward dispelling the attitude of distrust that continues to plague brand messaging initiatives.
But to be successful, dialogue has to exist in a multi-channel format. When dialogue is established in multiple spaces (or channels), consumers gain the ability to interact with the brand in the way that suits their personal preferences and circumstances. Monolithic attempts at dialogue are doomed because they push the consumer into the same corner they were in with mass broadcast technologies, confined to information gathering through a one-size-fits-all communication source.
Today's consumer also expects companies that initiate dialogue to display a high degree of transparency. Brands that participate in dialogues with consumers need to be clear about who is doing the talking if they want to maintain consumer trust and loyalty. Consumers like to know there's a real human being on the other end of the conversation. Companies that attempt to create consumer dialogues by transferring old marketing strategies into new technologies have no chance of connecting with savvy consumers - it's no longer about pushing a message out but rather engaging in two-way dialogue.
Another way many businesses are gaining a foothold in the struggle for personal customer engagement is through co-creation strategies, i.e. strategies that involve individuals in the process of developing products and services.
Although the idea of co-creation isn't necessarily new (e.g. focus groups), current technologies are convenient platforms for co-creation activities. In addition to enhancing the development of products and services, co-creation fosters personal engagement and recruits brand advocates, many of whom use technology to promote the brand among their friends and acquaintances.
There are several things brands can do to jumpstart the process of engaging consumers as individuals:
- Acknowledge the limits of mass marketing Mass marketing strategies continue to play a role in the current marketplace, but they can no longer carry your brand's message by themselves. They need to be integrated into a larger marketing strategy that emphasises the value of personal engagement.
- Establish multi-channel dialogues A customer-as-individual approach mandates clear lines of communication with your customers and multi-channel dialogues. Avoid transferring mass marketing strategies into your social media efforts and other online dialogue initiatives. Instead, find ways to create dialogues based on transparency and co-creation activities.
- Leverage expertise Personal engagement is becoming an increasingly sophisticated brand marketing strategy. CRM integration, email, web and social media marketing can be highly effective tools for individual engagement, and brands tend to experience the highest ROI when they tap into the expertise of qualified, third-party providers.