Your customers have become channel-agnostic. They do not care when or where they engage – all they expect is that, regardless of the touchpoint, they receive the same experience and story. So brands seeking to drive successful customer engagements in a world driven by digital and social media now need to do so across multiple paid, earned and owned media channels.
But, of course, as brands operate across more channels and platforms their message and reputation is at the mercy of many factors. Therefore, to succeed, brands need to be able to adapt their message in real time while staying true to their purpose and story.
As consumers, we are becoming increasingly savvy with regard to how and when we engage with brands. First and foremost, we expect transparency, honesty and credibility, but we also expect branded content to offer value, whether it is by entertaining or informing. In short, if a brand fails to deliver against these requirements, it risks losing our interest and custom.
Brands have no choice but to adapt to the new norm of customer engagement.
I’m not suggesting there is a Holy Grail of customer engagement that all brands should be aspiring to. As new platforms and channels emerge, the end goal will always shift. That said, there is a clear path of evolution that brands must travel if they wish to drive more effective and meaningful engagement with their customers.
It is for this reason that we are seeing an increasing number of brands spend time and resource developing and broadcasting content, while building an ecosystem around digital and social channels that supports an increased level of engagement with existing and prospective customers. But as these brands rush to keep up with the pace of engagement, many key principles are being lost.
Relevance is one of the first principles of customer engagement, yet it is where brands begin to falter. On first read of that statement I’m sure you are thinking, “What sort of brand would create content that has no relevance to its target audience?”
Yet so many brands struggle with this and, as a result, default to talking about themselves rather than the topics that matter to their customers. And even when brands make the decision to talk less about themselves, they often struggle to identify the right kinds of conversations through which they can tell their story. Consequently, they lack the ‘right to play’ in many of the conversations in which they do take part, meaning the content they push out seems insincere and discordant.
Differentiation can also prove a challenge: that is, creating content that helps a brand stand out and cut through a crowded marketplace. As more brands up their efforts to engage ‘in real-time’, you will find organisations trying to take advantage of the same story or moment in time. It is at these times that brands need to dial up creativity. That means quality must remain high at all times, even if it there is less content.
But it is not just about the content brands create, it’s also about how they ensure their customers enjoy the same experience, regardless of their touchpoint with the company. This is why the ability to scale customer engagement across an organisation is so important. If a brand can get scalability right from the beginning, customer engagement through multiple touchpoints becomes far easier in the long term. In turn, brands increase their reaction speed.
While consistency is critical, the work should not end there. The next challenge for brands is adapting their business operations so that they deliver the meaningful interaction their customers need. Since this approach often involves multiple teams and business units working together, it can, on paper, appear daunting. But it is far more digestible if broken down into four core areas.
Four steps to success
Listening and learning is the obvious starting point. Insight and analysis need to be shared across all areas of the business, from customer support to new product development to the senior executive teams who shape the direction of the business. This should be a two-way process. What can ecommerce provide? What insights do customer support staff have?
Once you get this pinned down you need to apply the insight gained to your creative process. This will help you to create the sort of compelling content with which your customers will want to engage.
Insight is crucial to answering the questions: why would our customers care, and why would they share? If you can get this process embedded, you will be on the path to success.
It is not only creating compelling content that is important; being able to react and respond with authenticity and agility is also key.
Unfortunately, many brands are stifled by risk-averse lawyers. As a result, they are unable to react quickly to external forces and gain the ‘mind share’ and engagement of their audiences. Sound familiar? Then you need to reorganise how and when you create content. The easiest option is to work with relevant teams to secure advanced sign-off on content that can be used to respond to the most pressing customer questions or issues.
But this is only a short-term solution. In the longer term, multiple teams – including legal – need to be trained to understand the needs and wants of customer engagement so that new rules of engagement can be agreed that do not require a 48-hour sign-off process.
Talking the same language
The final piece of the puzzle relies on an organisation pulling together disparate teams and getting them to talk the same language. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with improving communication between teams and sharing customer learnings. Then focus on the systemic challenges: is your team structure what you need or a quirk of history? Are you structured to best reflect what your customers want and need? Finally, engage senior executives within the business, who can ensure that other teams are supporting and delivering what your customers want.
Head of Studio D
Waggener Edstrom UK
Tower House, fourth floor
10 Southampton Street