Putting the brand at the core of the customer journey.
One of the fundamental challenges for brands in today’s digital, customer-led business environment (where loyalty has been replaced by price, value by ease of access and recommendations from being an individual conversation to a social media announcement) is involving themselves in the experience of customers and prospects in a manner that ‘absorbs’ rather than annoys.
Customers dance across multiple channels (that is why it is so hard to create effective and considered true user journeys), from viewing a piece of marketing collateral on a train, to visiting a campaign website to tweeting about a bad level of customer service - they can connect with a brand in any way that they choose.
Historically brands have responded to this behaviour - creating and resourcing Twitter accounts, WhatsApp or LinkedIn groups and Snapchat channels – all in answer to where customers are.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this.
They then create marketing campaigns driving traffic to these platforms – with the mindset being ‘you now come to us’. From these platforms, they can then follow historical marketing techniques to engage with customers – all under the cloak of ‘customer engagement’ in the belief that they are creating an immersive experience.
Their work done – they then invest considerable marketing budgets and resources pushing content (be this video, images, articles, infographics) onto these platforms, measuring return on investment in terms of ‘views, likes etc.’ - under the misinterpretation of this being an accurate measure of success.
I think that such examples - highlight an issue with brand thinking and planning - insofar as brands are engaging with customers and prospects on a pure marketing as opposed to a customer experience level, resulting in brands missing out on creating a true relationship with customers.
This is easy to highlight, easy to discuss but not so easy to address.
Clearly, brands need to focus on generating engagement at the ‘top of the funnel’ through advertising led marketing efforts – be this PPC, SEO, focused multi-channel product campaigns and to an extent this will always remain the case. However, by flexing brand messaging, content and overall proposition to a ‘moment in time’ and specific channels - we can start to influence and reinforce brands and what they stand for.
This is not just a case of investing and enhancing user experience (the task of completing actions online as efficiently and easy as possible). Indeed, the whole emphasis on UX is moving more and more towards automation and away from engaging and memorable experiences. For example, today we see websites and apps benefiting hugely from machine learning and AI, understanding our behaviour so well and blending user journeys with personalisation – that many times, if you do remember you completed a specific task online – something must have been wrong with the experience.
Blandness and following the same path is being celebrated - with the knock-on effect that everything looks, feels and behaves the same – resulting in brand messaging and individuality being lost in a sea of uniformity, with occasional colour, image and font variations.
Therefore, a core question arises - how can brands connect more effectively with the customer experience and stand out as a brand?
I think that an overarching answer could be provided by focusing on the wider experience and touchpoints that a customer may have with an organisation and empowering staff, prospects and customers to create individual relationships with a brand. Taking this approach may start to identify opportunities to cement brand relationships, some examples are;
· Empowering staff to use digital channels to make decisions to enhance service delivery – why have a one-way Twitter conversation? Allow staff to support customers – providing refunds (in the case of poor experiences), one to one advice and value-added services via social.
· Consider digital channels as pure commodities – simply as enablers within the wider customer experience. Why focus all your attention and expense on a website if more of your customers are starting their user journey and engagement via your Facebook page?
· Creativity – look, behave and act differently. Creativity is – in my mind - the next stage of digital development – create some ‘space to think’ digital experiences. Sure, create a swift purchase funnel, but include some creative thinking in pre-and post-purchase stages of engagement – real aspects of beauty and creativity that make users stop and admire.
· Use digital - the speed and ease of engagement - to provide you with the time to enhance offline experiences – as with Mr Porter, where products are hand delivered with free personalised add-ons.
These examples will enable brands to influence and become enablers to an engaging customer journey – additionally they provide multiple opportunities to test different tone of voice, visuals, messaging etc.
You may think that this is all very well and good in theory, but does it work?
Well forward-thinking brands are already trying and testing wider customer experience enhancements that support, blend with and even extend their brand reach. In the US, Nordstrom allow customers to return unused goods bought at any retailer – increasing loyalty, creating a new marketing and engagement angle, all for a minimal operational impact.
This highlights a well thought out, considered approach which shows a great understanding of delivering an excellent customer experience whilst enhancing the brand.
So, put simply - understanding the experiences your customers and prospects have (and importantly, want) and identifying where and how you can best deliver your brand message and making sure that it enhances the overall customer experience (online and offline) can pay huge dividends in terms of effective and engaging marketing and memorability for customers and prospects.