You can check out many of our previous blogs on the topic of customer engagement for more detail and statistics, but for now, it almost goes without saying that customer engagement is a hot topic in marketing. Some have even called it the New Marketing, including Inc. magazine, and the Journal of Advertising Research.
However, organizations implementing customer engagement strategies seem to be missing the mark. They either interpret customer engagement as purely a marketing communications initiative (and especially around social media) or they see it as a way to drive revenue through increased customer purchases. While both of those are certainly part of or a benefit of customer engagement, neither of those addresses the foundational element of customer engagement.
Customer engagement is a business strategy that encourages a deep, emotional connection between customers and a product or brand. Engaged customers are emotionally invested in your company. As such, they want to engage and interact with your products and services and with your brand. They want to give you feedback and help you improve. They want to participate in your brand promotions. They are willing to invest time in you, because of the emotional payback they receive.
As Adrian Swinscoe writes in Forbes, “When it comes to customer engagement, it is no longer good enough to just think about the monetary value of the relationships that we have with customers and how we can increase spend and frequency of spend. To stand out, firm’s need to go deeper, be braver and think differently if they are to develop the sort of relationships with their customers that they want.”
So, is customer engagement an opportunity or a challenge? It is both.
Creating and maintaining a positive emotional engagement with customers is difficult. It may be that your leadership is not quite bought into this whole emotional piece. It may be that your organization is not structured optimally to create those connections with customers. Alternatively, it may be that your performance metrics are misaligned, more to drive operations than to encourage customer engagement. Whatever the reason, here are several tactics to try (from Forbes’ John Rampton):
- Create Actual Human Interactions. The importance of humanizing your brand cannot be overstated. People like to interact with real people. When customers interact with real people, their connection to the brand grows stronger. So, whether your connection is in-person, by phone, or online, make it human – introduce yourself! Moreover, be sure to personalize the message, even if it is automated.
- Use Team Member Images. On your website, in your emails, in responding to customers’ posts – use an image of the team member who is communicating. If your team members write blogs – include their bio and photo. Your customers already know what your corporate logo looks like – it will be far more effective for your customers to see the people behind the logo.
- Build a Community or Forum. It takes time – and usually a dedicated person to manage it – but an online customer community or forum can be a great way to interact with your customers. Whether you are asking for product evaluations, competitive information, process improvements – customers who are willing to join your forum have a lot to share with brands. And of course, you have a lot to share with your customers, as well: answering questions, keeping them up-to-date, and sharing relevant product or category information. Whether you use proprietary community management software or one of the popular social media sites, this is an investment that can pay off.
- Create an exclusive event. Both online and in-person events can be very effective in creating an emotional connection with customers. Hold a contest, conduct a product tour, share professional advice, host a webinar or speaker – all of these can be ways to tie yourself to your customers. Moreover, of course, you will post about it on social media, further spreading the word about opportunities for your customers.
- Make Your Customers Feel Special. Exclusive offers and discounts, seeking opportunities for customer to share their unique brand-related stories, celebrate milestones and anniversaries. If your customers are investing in you, you pay them back by recognizing their contribution and value to your brand.
Customer engagement, if not the New Marketing, is certainly a different way to think about Marketing. If you look at this list and think “We could never do that,” you need to re-evaluate the role of customer engagement in your business. If you are not willing to make the changes needed to create emotional connections with customers, you can be sure your competitors will be. If customer engagement is indeed the New Marketing, then you need to get on board.
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