Database: Tuning In
Consumers today are more empowered than ever, largely thanks to the growing number of available and accessible channels, many of which put them in the driver's seat as initiators of marketing connections.
In addition to what are considered to be the traditional direct channels—print, mail, television, telemarketing, radio, etc.—digital channels are omnipresent and there seems to be no end to the emergence of new ones. Internet, email, social and mobile options are becoming ingrained in how consumers become aware of, engage with, and ultimately purchase products and services. In reality, the always-on, always-connected consumer has many ways to communicate, buy products and services, and relate to a brand 24/7. These consumers are no longer targets at the end of a sales funnel or information push. They're at the center of—and often the beginning of—a brand dialogue.
This constant communication, increasingly held digitally, yields information that empowers the marketer. Data becomes the link—the constant flow of information about the consumer that results in highly personalized and appealing marketing messages.
It's important for marketers to create an environment where consumers determine and control how and when to communicate. Combined with the marketers' own efforts, this creates a dialogue and flow of communication rather than a static sales transaction.
Marketers must make it easy for consumers to select channel and frequency preferences at their convenience. Overall, you should ensure consumers are aware of all your contact options—including those for gathering information, getting questions answered/issues resolved, learning from peers and making purchases. Use a variety of communication channels, both traditional and digital, so purchase decisions are at the consumer's discretion.
Get the Data
Proper data capture is critical to building an effective communication or interaction strategy. Consider these three points where data capture is particularly important:
Perception: Knowing how a customer or prospect feels about your brand and its promises can go a long way to knowing how often to communicate and through which channels. Some marketers overlook the value of measuring consumer perception and would do well to utilize survey tools to measure overall satisfaction with a product, service or brand. Satisfaction surveys can also be used to determine prospects' overall awareness of the brand. Survey again three months after the initial survey to determine how existing communication affected perception of the product, service or brand. This will be your basis for making program refinements.
Engagement: Measuring customer/prospect interaction—or engagement—with your product, service or brand also helps determine how and when to communicate. Observe where customers and prospects decide to engage with you: How much time have they spent on your website? Did they participate in blogs or other social media channels? Who is speaking with their peers about your company? Which prospects responded to your mail piece? What do your email open and clickthrough rates look like? A comprehensive analytics program will allow you to look at engagement by deciles and clusters to get a more complete picture of engagement.
Purchase Behavior: Use primary research—such as a series of surveys or focus groups—to capture purchase intent data, then track actual purchase behavior as you measure conversion rates. Bring it all together by creating a correlation model that connects the dots between perception, engagement and purchase behavior. How do these impact each other? What does that mean for your communication strategy?
How can a marketer combine pervasive online and offline channels with valuable data insights to know which channels to utilize, and how often, to communicate relevant and timely messages that prospects will welcome? Consider the following steps:
Step 1: When designing the strategic concept or program, first assess possible audience participation across likely points of interaction and determine the potential ROI for the campaign.
Steps 2-3: Once you've pinpointed the most likely ROI scenarios, you're ready to discover the best ways to reach out to your target audience in an effort to achieve those desired results. This means conducting primary research to determine what channels to use and how often to interact with individual consumers. The main objective is to capture each individual's preferences for channel type, frequency of contact, and types of offers and messaging. Seek an answer to this specific question: "How often, and through what channels, does this person want to interact with and experience my brand?"
Step 4: An important aspect of understanding how and when to communicate is to observe the decision paths. A decision path incorporates everything a person does and how he or she behaves on the path from awareness to consideration to a final purchase decision. You need the ability to capture the right data in the right way.
Step 5: With that data, you can set up a pilot program to target a representative market sample and test what was gleaned through primary research. Primary research may indicate, for example, that Cluster A wants to hear from your company early and often in an educational tone. Maybe Cluster B prefers to interact only with peers. Develop a communications strategy that aligns with those learnings. Evaluate key metrics so changes can be made easily based on what was observed and where ROI was optimized. Properly measure activities in all channels to know what channels consumers are using, in what instances and how often.
A large insurance carrier historically had mailed hundreds of millions of pieces to its prospect audience. The company wanted to see if it could successfully change its communication cadence from a one-step mailing (application only) to a two-step process (lead generation followed by application) while generating a positive impact on response. Insurance is a complicated, intangible product, so it was critical to offer prospects preferential ways to get additional information and answers to questions.
The insurer gathered and analyzed perception, engagement and purchase behavior data—including policy holder conversion and lifetime value —and implemented an integrated process that allowed prospects to reach a contact center or visit a website to gather additional product information. An uptick in calls to the contact center and visits to the website—where consumers were now able to apply for coverage directly—translated into an overall lift in response. By listening to what customers preferred and offering alternates for gathering information and responding, consumers were satisfied while bottom-line revenue improved.
While it's true that consumers have more places to learn, engage and ultimately buy, knowing when and through what channels to reach individuals shouldn't be a daunting task for marketers. Going back to the basics—asking consumers what they prefer and monitoring what they do in order to apply what has been learned—helps ensure you make the most of every communication effort. The answers to optimized communications are right there in the data!