It is paradoxical for us marketers that, despite technology such as apps, geo-fencing and mobile devices having the potential to make interactions between consumers and brands more meaningful, in many cases the customer experience has not improved. Still too often consumers complain that their interactions with brands (in stores, online, in branches) are not as fast, pleasant or integrated as they have come to expect and in many cases even their most essential requirements are not met (for example, 6 out of 10 shoppers leave stores without finding the information they were looking for.)
This is what I call the engagement divide; the contrast between consumers’ expectations of their interactions with brands and the reality of how these transactions are often delivered. Such a divide is caused by not providing what consumers need, which from our conversations and studies across industries and countries can be categorised into four fundamental requirements; integration, relevance, personalisation and connection.
Being integrated is about consistency; receiving the same message and living the same experience across all channels and transactions. This is where technology can really make a difference and create a truly omnichannel experience. With the proliferation of channels, media and devices available to consumers, one of the most important information needs for marketers is to understand the consumer journey to purchase, which is immensely more complicated and less predictable than ever before.
Being relevant is about adding value to consumers’ everyday life. This can be done in a functional way, by making transactions (such as those with contact centres) as seamless as possible. In a more fundamental way, though, I believe that brands have the opportunity to become relevant by redefining their interactions with consumers. For example, rather than only managing policies, an insurance provider can decide to define itself in a broader sense as managing its customers’ relation with their health. This is what AIA and Great Eastern have done in Asia – and they have immediately multiplied the opportunities to be relevant in their customers’ lives.
Being personalised is about brands showing that they know their customers. Technology can facilitate this (with geo-targeting or providing recommendations based on past purchases). At another level, personalisation can be used to inject a sense of fun to differentiate brands, as Fendi shows by allowing customisation [http://www.richmediagallery.com/galleryDetail/?id=35727] of its bags.
Being connected is about creating an emotional bond. It is sometimes said that today’s media fragmentation and consumers’ limited attention span deprive brands of opportunities to engage. I find that the opposite is true; the desire for emotional connection is as strong as ever and consumers will make time for compelling and relevant content, as proved by many examples in unexpected areas (a case in point, an insurance ad viewed by more than 20 million consumers in less than 10 months: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaWA2GbcnJU). Brands need to bring many elements together to achieve these levels of engagement (such as being authentic and open) but one of the key factors in my opinion is the need to clearly articulate what the brand stands for and what its main reason for being is.
While there are differences across industries and countries, these four requirements are consistent among most consumers - in our hyper-connected world, consumers expect brands to create emotional narratives (connection) which create benefits to their lives (relevance), make them feel valued (personalisation) and are delivered in a coherent manner (consistency). Some brands manage to deliver this but in many cases this is not what consumers experience consistently, hence the engagement divide.
There are two key lessons for marketers. Firstly, all of these dimensions need to be in place; an integrated experience without an articulated reason becomes functional, while a brand whose compelling story is not delivered in an integrated manner simply does not live up to its promise. Just as important, bridging the engagement divide is not just a problem for marketing or advertising alone. It is not a technological problem either. Instead, it requires close co-operation between different business units within an organisation. This is where marketing needs to work closely with operations, so that technology is used to meet genuine consumer needs.
In the end, only through a deeper understanding of consumers (their needs, aspirations, concerns and pain-points) will brands bridge the engagement divide and create deeper connections with consumers.
This article is a summary of a paper that Luca presented at a conference on consumer engagement in Singapore in January 2015. Talk to Luca about how to create more engaging connections with consumers.