This series explores how digital has changed the fundamentals of marketing (see list at the end of this article for previous and upcoming articles).
Traditionally, brand experiences were the result of messages conveyed via broadcast mediums; audiences could only form relatively vague impressions of what those brands represented.
Today, the brand experience is deeper, fragmented, and more complex and fragile. More than ever, a brand is shaped by experiences and not just perceptions. Perhaps delivering one bad experience with a customer service rep after five good digital or product experiences won't kill your customer relationship, but three in a row might be enough to do it.
In other words, a "brand bank account" exists, and every experience—advertising, digital, customer service, social media, community—carries a positive or negative perception with it.
That has a significant impact on organizations that build brands without advertising. In those organizations, brand is built primarily via word-of-mouth—i.e., what customers, partners, media, and industry people say about working with that organization. Such companies that venture into the digital realm face risks, but they face much more potential benefits.
Consider the following four key elements to building and managing a brand online.
1. Laser Focus on Customer Behavior and Needs
Clients and prospects will find unexpected routes to your information and content. What are they really using Facebook for? What information are they sharing on Twitter, and why? How does that relate to your brand's online properties?
As a marketer, you must understand the motivations, needs, and behaviors of your customers—not what you want or hope for them to do, but what they actually do. And by having a deep understanding of your audience's information needs and digital behavior (and how they shift over time), you can create digital experiences that combine optimal content with the best channels.
2. Cross-Channel Customer Experience Planning
Use the insights gained from your digital behavior research to build customer narratives. Map out the most popular online paths customers take, and plan customer experiences across those channels. A tweet can lead customers to a blog post with more in-depth information, which could link to a buyer's guide to help them research their purchase decision and prompt them to pick up the phone and talk to a rep.
Marketers should build content chains that align customer needs with the channels they use drawing from digital behavior insights from those channels when planning customer experiences. Marketers need to reach across the organization to bring Sales, Customer Service, Legal, and other departments into the customer experience plan.
3. Real, Meaningful Value in Your Content and Experiences
Don't waste your digital visitors' time being cute when they're exhibiting a strong readiness to buy. Or don't weigh them down with 17 questions on a form when they are in research mode. Understand the differing information needs at different stages of the buying narrative, and manage your brand properties to offer experiences that provide real value.
Many marketers focus on providing information about their brand's products, but there are many opportunities before that point in a customer's digital journey for the brand to serve up content that is purely educational, or even entertaining.
4. Program Measurement That Integrates Follow-Through
Measure your program results both qualitatively and quantitatively, and use those results to modify your marketing strategy and tactics. Ask your visitors for feedback and opinions, but only if you have a process for integrating that feedback. A brand that has structure and follow-through built into its feedback process assures its customers that it is paying attention—not giving lip service. Augment feedback with additional customer-insights research on a regular basis.
In addition to qualitative feedback, measure relationships by what actions digital consumers take with your digital properties and content. Focusing on the number of retweets or on sentiment analysis is not enough. Instead, consider what themes are most popular, and how long your brand's content has value. Measure what generates the most conversions when you put a call to action on Twitter, Facebook, or your online community.
Filter and separate "talk" from "action," and use that information to create more effective customer experiences.
Articles in this series:
- The first article explored how the role of long-ball big-idea marketing is shifting amid the rise of "small-movement" marketing—how marketers are starting to shift away from trying to hit only home runs and are instead trying to foster deeper brand and relationship interactions online at the beginning of the customer relationship process.
- The second article discussed the death of the so-called funnel and the birth of the measurable customer narrative.
- The third article focused on content versus messaging and what brands and marketers need to do with content to keep their customers' attention.
- This article, the fourth in the series, looks at the shifting role of brand management in the new, fragmented environment.
- This five-part series will conclude with an article focusing on the interplay between content and community and the role of community within the sales and marketing cycle.