May 20, 2014

The Importance of Customer Preference In a world filled with endless consumer choices, too many marketers still push out one-size-fits-all messages. Very few CRM cadences are self-directed by consumers, which might account for generally flat or low response and engagement rates. At a time when everybody is a gamer used to picking characters or avatars, setting game play levels and making choices of all kinds, marketers rarely give their customers and prospects the option to set preferences for content, channels or cadence. Too many acquisition, lead generation, usage stimulation, loyalty or adherence programs are serial fulfillment exercises rather than genuine expressions of customer relationships. They are one-way streets masquerading as two-way relationships. And while it’s much easier for marketers to decide what to say and when to carpet bomb their lists, it is counterproductive. The “R” in CRM needs to be more prominent in the thinking, programming and infrastructure of marketers. There is a reluctance to ask consumers for more information based on a generalized anxiety about privacy. But this is a fake-out. Greater data yields more personalized, relevant and useful content, which, in turn gives customers greater value and a stronger connection to the brand. Study after study has shown that when consumers perceive genuine value they are ready, willing and able to share personal information. This value exchange is the core of all CRM programs. Similarly, when consumers set preferences and brands execute on them, research suggests that engagement, purchases and customer satisfaction soar. The trick is incorporating preference as a highly desired element with a CRM architecture or environment. A brand without a preference center is partially faking CRM. Ideally customers should be steered to a preference center early in the relationship; when their interest and intentions are high. They should be asked for basic contact data and the requisite opt-ins and then be given some choices about what kind of information or incentives they want, how frequently they want them and which communication channel is best to reach them without annoying them. Setting up a preference center requires a modest amount of database preparation and an infrastructure to securely capture and transmit the data provided. In some cases, this data can be stored in ESP tools and used to inform triggers and business rules for email. You can’t really create a preference center unless you have a database architecture in place. The challenge is the investment. Too many clients see even modest infrastructure costs as “non productive” since there is no immediate ROI. That view is myopic. Giving customers choices and in so doing binding them to their favorite brands pays off again and again over time. When it comes to preference, brands need to step up to honor and accommodate customer preferences.
Are Websites Obsolete? If information and engagement are business goals, websites, the ultimate icons of the Internet age, are quickly becoming obsolete. Consumers now engage and interact with mobile apps, social networks, text messages, email and dynamically loaded loyalty cards much more than they do brand websites. In fact, for the vast majority of brands, consumers visit the site once; get the information they want, opt-in and never return. That’s why savvy marketers are looking carefully and skeptically at added investments in complex websites. Many are de-emphasizing the role of a website in a brand’s digital ecosystem preferring instead to use more agile and cheaper channels to maintain on-going relationships and generate sales. The rapid adoption of mobile and social media has changed the marketing calculus about the content and the role of branded websites. Once the cornerstone of a brand’s online identity, today the function of a website is just a small part of an overall brand experience. In the beginning there were web pages, a way for brands to stake a claim on the newly invented World Wide Web. Consumers expected every brand to have an 800 number and a web page. Next site builders embraced interactive technologies to engage customers. Flash, video, SFX, bells and whistles and keeping up with the Joneses was the norm. Having a cool website and getting on a Top 10 list mattered. After a technology shakeout, websites were focused achieving business results. ROI was king, or at least talked about as if it were king. Encyclopedic websites were built. Governance was split between marketing and IT. Brands consolidated assets. Metrics trumped show biz. After a period of corporate consolidation, individual brands felt oppressed broke out by creating mini-sites and syndicating to drive traffic and attract broader audiences. Video, photo carousels, animation and games were ubiquitous. Social sharing was introduced. And brands began to orchestrate messaging, traffic and content between brand sites and Facebook and place branded content on allied sites or in places frequented by most likely prospects or customers. (This is now called native advertising.) But many marketers never gave customers reasons to return to the site after the first visit or registration. Websites now are accessed primarily using smartphones and tablets. Websites compete with and/or compliment native apps for content and tools to spawn repeat customer engagement. Some sites are also interconnected with branded social network assets. Some are not. But websites are no longer a sole or even principle destination. Rather they are an element in an evolving brand ecosystem structured to engage customers over time and achieve measurable business goals. Marketers have to discern what customers want and how they want it and then decide what kind of experience they want to offer. The design and array of digital assets requires an understanding of customer needs and a data-driven customer engagement strategy. The current thinking is that a branded site should drive consumers to take a specific desired action(s). Design and content should be organized strictly to achieve that objective. Upgrading or building a website today can’t be done in a vacuum. It has to be part of a customer engagement plan that anticipates customer needs for information, validation, incentives and/or repeat purchases over time. Creating a website today requires a relationship context that integrates the attitudes and likely day-to-day behaviors of your brand’s best customers.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

The Typepad Team

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