As businesses have created more ways to reach out to customers, deciding how to reach out has become increasingly complicated. In the days before newspapers, proprietors simply hung a sign on the front of their shop indicating what you could expect to buy inside. Unfortunately, only people passing in front of the shop were able to see the message. When newspapers came along, so did advertising and the ability to reach more people. The ads, of course, were aimed at drawing customers to the shop. As magazines, radio, and television were added to the mix, the ability to reach ever larger audiences increased as did the complexity of the decision of how to spend marketing dollars. The age of personal computers opened up the entire world to businesses and companies that are now wrestling with how best to divide marketing dollars to support multi-channel sales.
Until recently, the larger the audience that a business wanted to reach the more impersonal advertising became. Advertising campaigns had to have broad appeal since they were simply being scattergunned into the marketplace. Perhaps one of the most ironic things that has occurred in recent years is the fact that businesses now have the opportunity to advertise in a more personal way than has been available since the end of the door-to-door salesman era. What allows businesses to get personal with consumers is the collection and analysis of data. Unfortunately, targeted marketing wasn’t possible in the early era of personal computers and consumers were blasted with an infinite array of advertisements (mostly in the form of unsolicited emails) that quickly became labeled “spam” or “junk mail.” Almost as quickly, spam filters were created to keep annoying solicitations from ever reaching computer screens. To overcome the challenge of getting through junk mail filters without annoying consumers, reputable businesses eventually engaged in permission-based advertising.
Today, big data analytics can help businesses stay engaged with consumers by ensuring that the ads they send them are relevant to their lifestyles and preferences. Because this kind of brand engagement is so critical, Navin Nagiah, President and CEO of DotNetNuke, believes that companies should be keenly aware of the data that is being used to create targeted marketing campaigns. [“In The Age of Big Data – Data Is Power,” Huffington Post Blog, 16 May 2013] He writes:
“It is imperative that you and your company understand which side of your bread is buttered and keep what’s important (the data) closer to home. To build a successful company, you must own the customer and the prospect. You must own the engagement. You must control or manage the conversation and where it happens. It is critical that you own every aspect of the data as it relates to your prospects, possible buyers and customers, and that you are able to mine this for your own benefit, as you wish. … If you do that, you will collect data that will you give leverage & power in the marketplace. If you settle for anything else, you are likely frittering away your competitive advantage as both the online world and technology changes around you. To keep the advantage, to stay competitive, you need to own the data.”
Although I’m not convinced that you “need to own the data,” I do believe that you must understand where you obtain data and ensure that it is the kind of data from which actionable insights can be gained. Although Nagiah focuses on a company’s website as being its most important asset for gathering data, many companies believe that if the customer won’t come to them they must go to the customer. One place they know that customers hang out is on Facebook. A recent MIT study noted that the types of corporate posts that were “liked” on Facebook “were often also shared.” [“How to Create Brand Engagement on Facebook,” by Arvind Malhotra, Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra and Alan See, MIT Sloan Management Review, 18 December 2012] Both “liking” and “sharing” are desirable types of consumer engagement. This kind of engagement is often prompted by what Laurent Faracci, the U.S. chief strategy and marketing officer for packaged-goods giant Reckitt Benckiser, labels “calls to action.” He states that if he had his way, “100% of our digital media would have a call to action.” [“Years After Ditching the Click, CPG Marketers Embrace Web Ads With ‘Calls to Action’,” by Jack Neff, Ad Age, 25 February 2013] Although a “call to action” might sound like a significant activity, it can be as simple as getting someone to enter a contest, answer a question, download a coupon, and so on.
Malhotra, Malhotra, and See report that lengthy a Facebook wall post “decreases the likelihood of [it] being ‘liked’.” Surprisingly, however, “length did not influence whether a post was shared.” They continue:
“Additionally, there were no negative effects on ‘shares’ for posts announcing contests, advocating social causes or asking questions. There were two types of posts that drove ‘shares’ more than ‘likes.’ First, while posts with video content were not ‘liked’ more, they were shared significantly more than non-video posts. Second, whereas posts announcing deals did not receive high ‘like’ totals, these posts were shared much more often. It seems as if consumers chose to share attractive deal information rather than indicating appreciation. Regardless of whether a Facebook fan ‘likes,’ comments, shares or does some combination thereof, engagement through Facebook is becoming a critical element of any organization’s marketing strategy. An opportunity exists to leverage wall posts more effectively to generate greater propagation and richer conversation — and to convert more consumers into brand advocates. In the highly networked social world we live in today, such brand advocates are priceless.”
Jason Acidre believes that “the perceived value” that customers get through online engagement helps build trust and, as a result, stronger branding. [“How to Increase Conversions through Brand Strengthening,” Kaiser the Sage, 20 May 2013] He writes:
“These processes involve content and strong brand indicators that a site builds to promote itself such as highly-informative blog posts, design/presentation/ experience, reviews and mentions from other people/sites, and a lot more. … The truth is, it’s easier to sell things when people (especially your target consumers) are already aware and fascinated by what your brand is putting out on the web. … Basically, by building a strong online brand presence, you’ll be able to acquire more qualified traffic that can easily be converted into leads and/or sales.”
Acidre goes on to discuss a number of ways that brands can be strengthened through engagement, including: awareness, differentiation, and perceived value. He writes:
“Awareness — Letting your target consumers know how your brand can help solve their problems – through education – is an important aspect of online branding, as it can influence buying decisions and brings them a step closer to your goals.
“Differentiation — Brand attributes such as unique value proposition and pricing, can also increase a brand’s chances of getting more interested users/consumers than its competitors. Highlight how your brand is unique or different in your space through your branding activities. …
“Perceived value — The way how people see or think about your brand or the quality of its products/services can extremely affect your site’s conversions. It also scales your brand’s marketing process, given that it naturally generates endorsements from satisfied users/customers, which then raises your brand’s credibility.”
Acidre is a proponent of getting your message out through as many channels as possible, such as, “brand mentions, links, social shares, endorsements, brand impressions, traffic – which all can help build trust, authority and conversions.” He agrees with the MIT researchers that social media can be a powerful way to engage with consumers. He concludes:
“Offering the best experience possible for your users/visitors is imperative in this age of online marketing. Aside from helping your site perform better in search (as most of Google’s algorithmic updates are based on usage), it can also help make your site become more remarkable to its users. It’s easier to get endorsements when people are sticking around and getting remarkable experience from your site. Areas of your site’s pages that you can continuously test to improve experience and visitor engagement are:
- Call to action
- Content structure
- Thematic internal linking
- Accuracy of headlines and meta tags
“Improving your site’s engagement rate can definitely increase its conversions, since people are more willing to take the next necessary action.”
Marketing technologist Scott Brinker agrees with Acidre that providing the consumer with the right experience is important. Brinker believes that in the era of big data engaging with consumers should provide a big experience. [“The big data bubble in marketing — but a bigger future,” Chief Marketing Technologist, 21 January 2013] All of the pundits discussed above agree on one thing, engaging with the consumer is essential in today’s marketplace.