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As marketing professionals, we learned a lot in 2020, whether we wanted to or not. The consumer landscape experienced an extraordinary tectonic shift, as we moved into a fully digitized realm of sales and marketing. Our strategies changed. Our focus became less about traditional methods (like the dreaded batch-and-blasts) and more about rethinking the entire digital customer journey, and, most importantly, the customer experience.
One thing is sure: As unpredictable as 2020 turned out, there is a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel heading into 2021. The opportunities for a completely evolved approach to marketing are, all hyperbole aside, endless. 2021 is the year of the customer.
According to a recent study by professional services firm PwC, 54% of U.S. consumers say the customer experience at most companies needs improvement. Another telling data point: 80 percent of consumers care more about their customer experience than the products they actually buy and are willing to pay more for an excellent customer experience. This is a direct result of a more sophisticated buyer landscape in which consumers have many digital resources at their disposal to conduct easy research and provide immediate feedback to their digital communities. If you aren’t prioritizing each touch point, you are likely missing out on opportunities to delight through an optimized customer experience. Brands will win in 2021 when they focus on one fundamental truth: Great customer experience breeds brand loyalty. Marketers have a unique opportunity to play a key role in up-leveling from a great brand to an unforgettable one by embracing this change in buyer behavior.
Data is the key to the kingdom
As marketing professionals, we obviously want to hit more than we miss, but we can be prone, at times, to being reactive in situations that call for better planning and proactivity. Traditional methods rely heavily on gathering historical data from open rates, click-through rates, etc. But, those are surface-level pieces of data. The evolution of marketing calls for digging deeper into the data by segmenting, defining parameters and running analytics to get the “why” behind the “what.”
When we market to consumers with products they don’t need, already have and aren’t asking for, we miss and become irrelevant. All marketers know this. So, why have so many in the industry hung onto antiquated methods that prioritize a shotgun approach rather than a curated, targeted rifle approach? The simple answer is data, or lack thereof.
Customers are providing data all the time — it just takes better and more advanced analytics in the right platforms and systems to make sure that you are gathering and using that data effectively. Your company should be creating processes to drive highly personalized experiences like customer behavior, detailed preferences and a better understanding of individual life cycles.
With that data-driven approach, you can better develop the kinds of unique and personalized experiences that your customers want and will drive more effective results. You can personalize your messaging based on where your customers are in their journey. You can keep tabs on their needs and the offerings they’re most engaged with; you can effectively send them useful, insightful communications that help while also helping you to grow your bottom line. Your marketing automation platform should track each click your customer or prospect makes, which, in turn, gives you insights into the personalized content or promotion message that will resonate. Making data-driven decisions will set you apart from competitors who treat customers like dollar-to-dollar transactions.
Your data should be able to tell you exactly when is the best time to engage with your customers. Use smart outreach strategies to find the most effective times. Start with the basics, like segmenting your emails according to geographic location so you avoid targeting customers when they’re offline and least likely to engage. You are already tracking open rates, but how detailed are you with your demographic breakdown? Your marketing automation platform should be customized to ensure that you aren’t wasting your time chasing all audiences, but specifically targeting your audience. Timing is everything, and if you whiff once, you may not get a chance to bat again.
Creating critical customer feedback loops
No brand is perfect, and that’s OK. Constant iteration is key to staying relevant in your markets. You should be running regular temperature checks with your CX to ensure it’s easy to use and evolving with the needs of your customers. It’s time to get obsessed with the satisfaction of your customers and use their feedback to guide the evolution of your brand and your offerings.
First, you need to make sure you have effective avenues for your customers to reach you. From surveys, to focus groups, to contact forms, you need to establish a line of communication for your customers to tell you what you are — and aren’t — doing right. Constantly monitor the feedback to ascertain valuable insights about how you can improve. Your data pipeline should be full and varied, leveraging customizable and scalable options to drive more and detailed information on your customer personas. Your channels for generating feedback should be precise, removing guesswork and making customer feedback actionable.
Once you’ve established your methodologies, use data and customer feedback to generate new strategies. Your brand is about creating trust and familiarity with your customers, and putting thought into how your analytics and engagement strategies complement each other will form a critical relationship between you and your customers. At the end of the day, great brands don’t just ask for feedback on their products — they act on it continuously.
Drive value and educate your customers through the lifecycle
Because the buyer journey is constantly evolving, your ability to adapt is paramount. This means anticipating when your customers might need additional value-adds or new insight and education into the industry landscape (or about your product specifically, if you’ve added new functionality based on feedback, for instance).
With today’s highly digitized environment, there are several kinds of value-adds that can help drive brand engagement. Instructional customer webinars, testimonial/advocacy programs and executive insights can bring better brand visibility and engagement, which means more data, more familiarity and more trust. By investing in long-term product or service education, you send the message that your customers are part of your team. Make them experts in your brand, and incentivize them to advocate for you by rewarding return customers with special promotions and acknowledgements. All of this simply feeds into the brand ecosystem that ensures continuity.
Managing your relationships for a brighter future
The customer experience is the key to unlocking marketing in the new year and beyond. Marketing teams are bouncing back with renewed focus and better tools at our disposal. Think constantly and creatively about ways to continue to build a better brand. Your data, personalization and targeted automation should be the most important tools in your toolbox. In 2021, the best brands will make their customers proud by treating them like invaluable assets to their success. And just like in our personal lives, managing relationships will be the key to ongoing and explosive growth.