When someone asks if you know what customer engagement is, you say, “Sure, that’s the goal of marketing. Engage the audience.”

And does customer engagement include conversions?

You answer, “Of course, everything we do is designed to get customers to buy from us.”

Okay, but do you use engagement to drive conversions?

“Probably. But why shouldn’t we focus on conversions and sprinkle in customer engagement where we can?”

Because that won’t work anymore.

You have to keep your audience thinking about your brand while all the other brands are trying to steal their attention away from you. True customer engagement marketing is a deliberate marketing strategy that focuses on increasing the engagement your customers have with your brand by delivering personalized messages across preferred channels. What’s more is that customer engagement marketing is quickly becoming more important than conversions.

This post takes a look at why this is so important now and what the best components and strategies are for building a long-term relationship with your customers.

What Has Changed About Customer Engagement?

Brands used to have all the power in the transactional relationship. Marketing and advertising were once a brand’s way of telling the customer how, where, and when to buy a product.

Then the internet came along and changed everything in the brand-customer relationship. Today customers determine when and where the sale happens. Technology, namely mobile, has significantly changed the e-commerce and retail landscape. With so many brands accessible through a simple search, a brand’s power has moved from channels and reach to treating customers better than any segmentation ever could have.

Regular Marketing vs. Customer Engagement Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Traditional marketing relied on blasting one message at everybody, and over time, the scatter-gun mentality of throwing a bunch of messaging at the market and seeing what stuck became the norm.

However, that’s an enormous waste of resources, and all you really learn is that some portion of your audience responds to your marketing efforts. We still see many brands employing one-to-many strategies, but the technology solutions we have today and are building for tomorrow will allow us to fine-tune personalization and get us one step closer to the Holy Grail of marketing: true 1-to-1 marketing.

In some ways, customer engagement marketing is more like nurturing than a typical sales-only-focused strategy. It’s a way for marketers to keep customers interested in their brand even when they’re not looking to buy something.

You do this by delivering relevant, personalized content for both active customers and prospects at every touchpoint. Educational and insightful content keeps your brand in the customer’s mind and may pay off with repeat purchases or word-of-mouth recommendations.

What’s at stake if you do your engagement right: “Companies who have improved engagement increase cross-sell by 22%, drive up-sell revenue from 13% to 51%, and also increase order sizes from 5% to 85%.” (Constellation Research).

Why Engagement Matters More Now Than Conversions

Traditional marketing relied heavily on segmentation, the crudest form of personalization, but segments have always sucked. It’s just a way to split your audience into vague buckets that marketers then relentlessly speak to without knowing what works or why.

Technology allows us to go beyond that now, but you have another challenge to overcome. We live in an era where marketing technology is available to everyone. This means your competitors have a similar tech stack they use to market to customers. When brands seem like a dime a dozen, customers will move from one to the next, mainly looking for discounts and never develop a long-term relationship with your brand.

So how will your brand stand out in such an oversaturated market?

What’s different now is that we’re using technology to shift away from contact lists, traditional segmentation, and basic data collection and storage in favor of engagement marketing.

Customers are not buckets. Our campaigns should target individuals, and some campaigns should have no intention of encouraging a sale. We’re learning that campaigns don’t engage customers like carefully curated content for the individual customer.

The customer gets a top-quality customer journey and experience, and your brand gets more reliable and efficient revenue growth, plus an all-encompassing strategy optimized for omnichannel.

The Customer Experience — The Engagement Battleground

In a 2018 State of Attention report, Prezi surveyed business professionals about what they considered engaging and found three primary answers:

  • 55% Story matters most in capturing the reader’s attention.
  • 41% Engaging dialog draws in readers.
  • 33% Visuals keep readers interested in content.

It should be no surprise that story, dialog, and imagery reel the reader in better than one-too-many messaging. All of this comes together in the customer experience, which is no longer a purely transactional journey.

Customer Engagement Foundations

Customers expect a few things to qualify any journey they take through your site as a good experience (see the list below for what U.S. customers consider a great CX).

Experiential marketing. Your customer experience is made up of a range of tech and channels that you’ll use to deliver a satisfying CX, but there will be forces — some of which you have no control over — that will cause marketers to re-evaluate their customer experience.

Along with the evolution of customer engagement marketing, marketers have found that customers and what they want are changing too.

An Econsultancy survey shows that 93% of marketers believe a growing number of their customers pay for experiences as opposed to just products and services. There’s data to support the benefits of a great CX — a personalized experience can spurn spontaneous purchases for up to 49% of customers in some cases.

That doesn’t mean you have to create an unparalleled spectacle. Customers have practical expectations of what a good experience should be. Often, they want speed and personalization — this combination is bringing marketers closer to real-time marketing — anything that allows them to browse as quickly or as slowly as they like and provides a frictionless checkout.

What U.S. Customers Want in a Good CX

  • 73% say that customer experience is an important influence in purchasing.
  • 65% are influenced by a good experience with a brand over great advertising.
  • 86% will pay more (up to 16% more for products and services) for a great customer experience.
  • 63% will share more profile information with brands that provide good customer experiences.
  • Nearly 80% value speed, convenience, and knowledgeable and friendly service as the most impactful parts of a good customer experience.
  • 32% will permanently leave a brand after one bad experience.
  • Only 49% say brands are currently offering a good CX.

(Source: PwC report)

Omnichannel communication. You’ve got to ensure the customer experience is consistently good in every channel where you interact with customers. According to an Adobe study, brands who marry a strong omnichannel presence with engaging content strategies can see:

  • 10% increase in YoY growth
  • 10% increase in AOV (average order value)
  • 25% increase in close rates

If omnichannel automation was ever a secret, that secret is out now. PwC’s 2020 report states that brands investing in omnichannel have risen from 20% to over 80% this year.

Mobile, of course, is the most critical channel for you to communicate with customers — 57% of customers will not recommend a brand with a poorly designed mobile site — but you’ll want the best point solution for all your channels.

Tip: Many brands are finding that partnering with a marketing platform company that includes all the necessary point solutions and integrations is the best solution.

Self-serve automation. An MIT Technology Review report found that automated journeys take care of between 25% and 50% of customer issues. Back in 2018, AI-driven automation took care of 25% of all customer engagement. Gartner found that 90% of brands are seriously planning to invest in AI within the next three years, and they predict that 25% will rise to 40% by 2023.
Automation also encourages customers to journey through your site however they like, but if the customer wants something self-serve can’t give her, then it’s good to prominently include a live chat feature somewhere on your site.

A FAQ page that answers the top questions customers have can improve the customer experience and reduce the rate at which visitors exit your site.

Live customer service. Normally this means live chat, but it could be a call center as well. A 24/7 customer service line is one of the most crucial pieces of customer engagement. This is an opportunity to prove how much you care about serving customers by listening and then resolving their concerns. This is one of the few cases where negative feedback can be used in your favor… as long as you really listen and then resolve the problem.

Content Strategies for Engagement

In the Econsultancy report, 50% of those surveyed said they’re requesting 50% more content today than they did two years ago. But the number-one rule here is that you don’t want to add to the noise of all the other brands also blasting email, SMS, and social messages. That means that, at a minimum, your content has to do the following:

  • Tell stories. 89% of respondents in the Econsultancy report said their brands are increasingly experimenting with greater personalization and story-driven content. Lots of visuals help drive the engagement, but you can go further: Think about how you can include interaction of some kind in the telling of these stories.
  • Inspire. Writing about how to use a product in a special way can catch the audience’s attention. One of the most effective approaches a brand can take here is to talk about a cause that customers believe in. Or go that extra step and donate to a charity that resonates with your audience.
  • Inform and educate. This kind of “how-to” content resonates in a big way with customers who may need a little more assistance than standard product documentation offers. Rather than leaving your customers to fend for themselves and head over to YouTube — a Google study showed that 48% of smartphone shoppers are more likely to purchase when a brand’s mobile site includes instructional video — beat the competition to the punch by providing all the how-to tips they’ll need.

Generally, your content has to add value that typical marketing and sales pitches do not. Offer insight into a challenge associated with your product or service. Let your customers know what you as a brand are committed to, whether that’s a customer-centric helping hand, a charity, or cause. This is the fastest way you can set yourself apart from the competition… and maybe start a trend of your own.

Final Thoughts

We are on the cusp of the customer engagement marketing era. A Walker study predicts that the customer experience will win out over price and product as a competitive differentiator by the end of 2020.

A Gartner survey also found that more than two-thirds of brands are competing against each other purely on customer experience — up from 36% in 2010.

Are you ready for the shift?

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