Written by: Dan Ratner, managing director of uberbrand
Thanks to devices like smartphones and tablets, consumers are constantly connected with on-the-go access to email, social media and websites. Organisations that can create genuine connections with their customers through these channels and provide highly-targeted communications will inevitably stand out from their competitors. These days, one-way, mass communications rarely engages your audience effectively. As a result, interactive marketing is fast becoming a vital channel for organisations to connect with consumers on a much more personal level.
However, interactive marketing is much broader than sending a personalised email offering a discount. It is about moving marketing from being transaction-based to creating genuine dialogue. As brand preference becomes more and more about lifestyle and attitude, it is also a way for organisations to grow relationships with customers, getting them directly involved in building that brand. It’s a kind of ‘crowd-sourced branding’, if you will. No longer is it enough to speak with customers for the first time at their point of purchase. It is better for brands to be continuously connecting with target customers long before, to ensure they are ‘front of mind’ when the time comes to buy.
There are several stages to building a connection with your customers. It starts with getting them interested in the brand, then moving them through the purchasing cycle and ideally results in the customer becoming an active brand advocate. Used well, interactive marketing helps push prospects and existing customers through each of these stages.
Start your conversation before customers enter the consideration buying mode
It’s commonly accepted that target customers will not purchase until they are in the ‘consideration buying mode.’ Interactive marketing can ensure that a brand is front of mind when the time comes for customers to buy. A brand must connect with a person to become part of their consideration.
The key is to find ways to enter people’s mindsets. For example, universities need to attract future students. They can only do this by starting the conversation with the prospective students when they are ready, for example talking to potential students before they finish school, right at the beginning of their decision cycle.
Understand how your customer wants to feel
Ultimately, in order to drive a purchase you must fulfil a customer’s needs at the right time. This means understanding their purchase drivers. In a fast-moving consumer goods environment, where multiple brands fight for market-share with similar products, purchasing decisions are no longer just about features and price. They are about how a brand connects to customer attitudes. For example, customers may want to feel emotional rewards like they are part of an exclusive club, they are cutting edge, they are ‘giving back’ to society in some way or that they are expressing themselves in the kitchen.
The reasons your customers choose you over other brands is communicated by not only what you say but also how you say it – through your ‘brand personality.’ It is this brand personality that influences the purchasing decision rather than the category as a whole or any particular product features. Who your customer is and how they want to feel should inform all your interactive messaging.
Reflect these feelings in all communications
While many brands consider the channel they communicate through (e.g. SMS, Facebook etc.) the message is just as important as the choice of channel. Many organisations believe interactive marketing is about sending personalised emails offering loyal customers daily discounts. Organisations should only do this if it fits their brand personality.
For example, luxury brands are less likely to offer discounts via email because it could reduce the brand’s exclusive status in the minds of its customers. Designer labels still conduct interactive marketing but in a way that is unique to their brand, such as offering a limited edition gift with purchase or a personalised invitation to a fashion show. Always consider how what you are doing creates the perception of your brand in their mind.
Create the right customer touch points
An important step in reaching the people who are likely to engage with a brand is recognising where they are and what’s important to them. For example, are they professionals who catch the train to work? Or are they busy mums, university students or wealthy retirees with time on their hands? Once you begin to understand your customers’ profiles, including where they are likely to be and what’s important to them, you can then start the interaction process.
When you understand these things, you can entice customers to speak to you and learn more about your brand. Whether it is signing them up for competitions, giving out promotional merchandise or simply talking to them – start the conversation to build a personalised interactive marketing approach.
Treat customers as individuals
This sounds simple but is often forgotten. In the world of big data, consumers don’t expect to have to explain their personal situation more than once. Once a business has connected with its target audience it is important to strengthen the relationship by engaging with customers at a personal level.
This could be by offering them individual offers. For example, a cinema might offer loyal members a free ticket on their birthday, a luxury car brand might offer all CEOs a sports car for the day or an airline might offer first class tickets for returning customers. It is also about remembering each individual’s preferences and history. From a hairdresser remembering a client prefers tea to coffee to a financial institution having a record of all previous conversations with a customer, remembering a customer’s preference helps build trust and an emotional connection with a brand.
These kinds of gestures can be instrumental in building a brand – establishing lifetime customers and turning them into brand advocates. Many organisations fail to make individual customers feel special, a vital ingredient in building brand loyalty.
Remember, everything the brand communicates leaves an impression. Interactive marketing is onlyeffective if you know who your target audience is, where you will find them and what’s important to them. From there it is about finding opportunities to enter their mindset so that when they are in the ‘consideration buying mode’ you are front of mind.
Post-purchase, organisations must continue to connect and interact with customers in a way that ultimately delivers on what's expected, by living their brand and personality.