Relevance creates affinity or how you shape relations in the digital world

In the past, companies invested heavily in channels and processes – thus partially losing the individual customer from sight. They have built structures that can address nearly everybody in a universal manner. However, customers expect ever more personalised experiences – irrespective of the channel they are moving in.

It is about time for those created structures to be filled in with value for the individual customer, and time for companies to provide contents and offers that are individually relevant. This article is showing how you can link together your contents, customer needs and the customer context to create a relationship that brings value for both parties.

Networking, unique, multioptional, demanding

The customer behaviour keeps changing. Different socio-cultural factors and their interplay permanently change the way in which customers source information on how to purchase and use products and services. In this way the following drivers crystallise which have a significant impact on the customer behaviour these days:

I do networking therefore I am:

the networking trend includes a technological and a social component. Currently with the increased availability of mobile devices the contemporary customer is permanently online. On the other hand, the individual customer has become embedded in various networks, and he or she will look there for information sharing and value rating.

I strive for uniqueness:

customers tend to increasingly enjoy their individual approach and their own style. Everyone wants to be unique and also be perceived as such.

I am a channel hopper:

during their journey customers each time choose the Touch Point that is right for them in a very individual and situational way. They will simultaneously use online and mobile shops, physical stores as well as print media, and will not so rarely change the Touch Point during one phase of the purchase process.

I feel overwhelmed by the information flood:

although with the technical networking the customer has gained on market power, nevertheless in many cases the accompanying flood of unrated information overwhelms him. In the abundance of excitement he can hardly sift out information which would be individually relevant for him.

In the light of these factors, customers are discerning, well-informed, dynamic i.e. unpredictable, multioptional yet also headstrong. They are looking for relevance, and expect in particular such experience in the area of high-involvement products

  • that is personalised: so that the contents, offers and relations are relevant for them;
  • that is contemporary: since the customers’ readiness to wait for offerers is low: “I want it and I want it now”;
  • that is emotionally appealing to them: so that they feel they are cared for and esteemed;
  • that is simple and convenient for them: since customers are increasingly less and less prepared to go through complex and elaborate processes.

Engagement Marketing: linking the Contents, Needs and Context

In the recent years companies have built a portfolio supporting different channels and processes in order to have presence wherever the customer looks for them. With the variety of Touch Points created in this way the challenge is not to lose the customer and his needs from sight.

It is necessary for companies to always know where their customer is, what drives him and what matters to him. You can only link your contents with the customer’s situation if your information is relevant. Relevance is achieved by way of linking the individual needs of the customer with the situational context and the available content (cf. illustration 1). If a company manages to convey the relevant information to the customer at the right time via the right Touch Point, the information will reach the customer, and he or she will feel understood and cared for. At the same time, apart from the current needs, it is worthwhile to take into account historical behaviour, too. Relevance produces affinity, security and added value. Affinity, security and added value in turn create loyalty. Hence the companies increasingly face the question how they should shape a unique and individual experience for the customer throughout his/ her overall journey while employing context-oriented information. The objective is to support the customer in taking the next step (conversion).

Illustration 1: Linking Contents, Needs and Context.

Show a real understanding of the Customer Journey

It is pivotal for companies not to perceive the customer experiences as isolated instances at a particular point in time but put them in the overall context of the Customer Journey and the Customer Lifecycle and deposit them through the Touch Points with the company. (1).

Relations can be established only through continuous interactions that bring value on both sides for the offerer and the customer. The English literature speaks in this context about “Customer Engagement“: “Customer engagement is a personal connection between a consumer and a brand that is strengthened over time, resulting in mutual value. It’s an enduring, two-way active relationship that simultaneously delivers on your customers’ needs and generates greater profitability for your brand…. Highly engaged customers have a personal connection to a brand, built on experiences that drive affinity with its ethos. Highly engaged customers recognize when a brand understands their personal needs. They believe that the brand reflects their personal identity – both how they see themselves and how they want others to see them. For highly engaged consumers, the tangible and intangible value they receive from the brand outweighs the effort and cost they expend as loyal consumers.” (2)

The basis for Customer Engagement is a systematic, organised collection of data at all Touch Points along the Customer Journey. Initially, a differentiated observation of the customer behaviour (Behavioural Analytics) in each phase of the Customer Journey and linking it with historical data enables companies to break down the needs of their customers and react to them in a specified manner. The Customer Journey helps put the different, collected data into context – irrespective of the channels:

  • information about the usability context (device, location, time, need, purpose)
  • information about sentiments (Emotion Analytics, driving factors, objectives, involvement, status in the customer life cycle)
  • information about specific behaviour (click rate, consumed contents, length of stay, conversion path)
  • information about activities stored before and after (the origin, subsequent information search)

Illustration 2 Behavioural Analytics concerning the entire Buying Cycle and all Touch Points throughout.

2016 focus on the subject of Customer Engagement

Intensify your discussion in 2016 on the subject of Customer Engagement in order to strengthen your relations: involve your customer in an interaction – in this way you will get to know your customer better. In doing so take into account the overall Customer Journey and not just the individual Touch Points. Accumulate data over time. Collecting data is just the beginning. Use the data to align your actions accordingly: personalise contents, offers, communication time points, and the interaction rhythm in order to reach the customer with content that is relevant for him. Test and make use of the outcomes in order to learn from them.

The following reference framework will help you approach the subject of Customer Engagement step by step:

  • Define the scope and the specific objectives that are relevant for you (Conversion, Customer Lifetime Value etc.) within Customer Engagement. Identify clearly the limits of the application scope in the beginning, and gradually expand your scope. As a starting point, application areas that are particularly interaction-intensive will be most suitable to be taken into account, such as your Website or campaigns.
  • A culture that lives on continuous and permanent improvement is a condition for the Organisation to be oriented towards the subject of Customer Engagement. Do you have the courage to try out new things and learn from them?
  • The following instruments within Customer Engagement will support you on the way to strengthening relations with your customers on a long term basis and thus ultimately to generate more turnover:
    – Conversion-oriented objective and measurement concept (Leads, Micro-Conversions, Conversions)
    – Comprehensive Touch Point path analysis (Customer Journey Analysis)
    – Conversion-oriented reporting (Conversion Funnel Cockpit)
    – Segmentation, automation and personalisation (see diagram below)
    – Short IT release cycles and continuous integration

Illustration 3 Segmentation, automation and personalisation.

(1) https://hbr.org/2010/10/understanding-customer-experie
(2) http://www.12ahead.com/why-engaged-customers-are-your-best-customers-facts-figures-value-engagement

2017 – Trends, business cases and strategic steps

Customer expectations are higher than ever before: In the course of purchase decisions, the experience factor is becoming more important than the price or specific product characteristics (Customer 2020, Walker). Therefore, we are convinced that in 2017, in order to increase commitment to their brand, companies will have to take a closer look at how they inspire their customers in the digital world.