Brand managers and their bosses have often been accused of obsessing about trivia at the expense of effectiveness. Hardly surprising when every shred of advantage had to be extracted from the content in a marketing strategy.
Now these managers have a new set of challenges as the rise of digital commerce and shifting consumer expectations wipe out many of the assumptions behind the old strategies. It is online where consumers make their most significant connections with a brand, which demands a substantial shift of mindset away from the old conventions that governed sales and marketing for decades. Brands have to realise that in the changed digital-first world the consumers themselves are now their best advocates.
Digital boosts consumer choice
The dominance of digital channels has given consumers incredible choice and the ability to compare prices and specifications as never before, thanks to comparison websites and the enhanced features of search engines. Potential customers also have access to tips and advice on a huge range of niche websites and platforms that address the concerns and dilemmas of consumers considering a purchase, whether it is a new pushchair, hammer drill or set of dental veneers.
The advent of GDPR has also led to a major reappraisal of how marketing departments should use personal data. The new regulation ended the free-for-all approach, putting more power into the hands of consumers about how their information is used. Yet consumers who trust that their data will be employed to benefit them directly are more willing to share it.
In the GDPR era it seems obvious that increased personalisation is the most effective route to keeping those customers happy and by extension, to successful outcomes from marketing tactics. Consumers will not only welcome what has direct relevance to them as individuals, they will remain engaged because such content makes their lives easier without being intrusive.
Declining faith in traditional marketing
Meanwhile, marketers also face attitudinal changes, such as the yearning for greater “authenticity” and the growth of scepticism about claims made by major brands. Those with more disposable income, for example, aspire to artisan products, whether in cheese or furniture, and even the global drinks manufacturers have competition from the proliferation of small craft breweries.
The problem for brands in this new digital-first era, is that consumers are inundated with messages around the clock and have less and less faith in traditional advertising or content that comes straight from brands. Younger age-groups already find third-party online influencers and vloggers more compelling and persuasive.
It is clear that personalisation is now essential for all retailers and service-providers if they are to compete in a very tough market. With just one click, a consumer can leave a brand’s website and head straight to a competitor’s. What will keep consumers interested and lead to greater revenues and greater loyalty is not an unpleasant level of familiarity that means you are followed around the web by a sanitation company because you are thinking about a new bathroom. It is being treated as an individual, rather than just one of a million numbers on a sales sheet.
Almost every business is personalising its communications, but with artificial intelligence (AI), the personalisation of content goes to the next level. Amazon, supermarkets and major travel companies are just the most obvious retail giants using advanced data-crunching technology for personalised, continuing engagement with consumers. Their use of technology allows them to remember who the consumer is, their habits and probable next purchases. As AI learns more about each consumer, the brand can market to them in helpful ways that make life less stressful.
Smart insight platforms boost trust
This is where customer feedback is frequently overlooked. Smart, agile, invitation-only review platforms plug into a consumer-facing organisation’s systems and provide two important capabilities. One is to deploy machine learning and natural language processing to comb through thousands of pieces of feedback, providing a retailer or services company with rapid and otherwise unobtainable insights into what may be fast-moving trends among its customer-base.
This may uncover surges in demand for particular products, problems with delivery in certain areas, as well as the particular concerns of individual consumers to which a response or resolution can be provided very quickly and publicly. When a brand responds publicly on such a platform to an individual, everyone can see that it takes personal concerns very seriously.
The power of AI behind platforms boosts the speed at which insights are delivered for brands and consumers alike. Consumers can use search terms to find out anything from whether a model of car is practical for a large family, or if the waterproof they are contemplating has the durability or the number of pockets they need. We know that reviews are now remarkably influential, with more than 90% of consumers saying they read them before making a purchase.
The second and very substantial advantage of leveraging customer insights is that each consumer who contributes becomes a brand’s best advocate, offering a far more persuasive and authentic voice than hired bloggers and vloggers. Since only real customers can leave feedback on an invitation-only platform, consumers trust what they read and have more faith in the organisation. They can see that a holiday company or recruitment agency is prepared to accept the posting of negative reviews and is far more transparent and honest. Consumers are much more likely to stick with a brand that continues to be open about customer feedback and acts on it.
The best engines of authentic personalisation
Customer attitudes and habits are changing, and marketing has to adapt. It has to be more personalised, more authentic and maintain consistency across every channel – mobile, app and website. By embracing smart, agile insight platforms, consumer-facing organisations can leap forward to meet the more sophisticated expectations of contemporary consumers. They will use the power of consumer advocacy to speak to current concerns and changing demands in concise and highly personalised ways.
This is critical when potential customers have access to so many information sources and are bombarded with marketing content that makes them deeply sceptical. Through the power of AI, customer feedback is turned into hugely valuable insights that are highly potent tools of personalisation.
Steph Heasman is director of customer success at Feefo