As marketers, we read, think, and talk a lot about Web presence—whether social media, content marketing, search, or other digital medium—and we put a lot of time and effort into perfecting our brand's image, messaging, and positioning. As we should. However, when was the last time you considered "phone presence" during your branding refresh exercises and marketing brainstorms?
Traditional telephony may not be one of the first agenda items that come to mind in a content planning meeting, but perhaps it should be. More than half of consumers still prefer to pick up the phone and talk to a person when they decide to interact with a business, according to Actionable Research's June 2014 survey of consumers in the US and seven other countries. That's huge!
Also, although soaring smartphone penetration makes apps a viable channel, many consumers still find it more convenient to use their mobile phone to talk with an agent than to peck out their contact information and questions on screen, the Actionable Research survey finds.
So, why is it that so many marketers tend to overlook the branding opportunities in voice communications? Is it simply because telephony is not the hot, new craze that gets all the buzz these days? Are traditional voice communications lacking PR to advocate for this older channel?
Regardless of the reason, phone presence can be as important as a business's Web and mobile presence for expressing a brand and attracting customers.
Phone presence can be particularly critical for small businesses that are just getting established and forming a brand identity.
Marketers should have the following three considerations in mind when they're developing their communications strategy for the voice channel.
1. Pick the right phone numbers for your business
At first glance, you might think this is a no-brainer: You'll find a catchy vanity number—such as (800) TECH DOC—to make it easy for current and potential customers to remember your number when they need it.
But be aware of the downsides. Vanity numbers cost significantly more, and the chronic short supply is making it more and more difficult to find one that matches your brand or value proposition.
Standard-issue numbers can be highly effective, particularly if you know how to wring the most value from them. For example, consider getting multiple numbers so each one can be assigned to a separate campaign; that makes it easy to track each campaign's reach and effectiveness—and thus its ROI.
If you're targeting a large geographic area—such as an entire state or multiple states—consider getting a local number for each market within that area. Those can help attract consumers and businesses that prefer to work with a company that has a local presence, or those who have phone plans that charge extra for long-distance or international calls.
The reverse also can apply. By choosing one or more toll-free numbers, a small business can create the impression that it's larger than it is. That perception can help attract customers who believe that larger businesses are better able to meet their needs.
2. Align every touch point in your phone presence to your brand
Two-thirds of small businesses (66%) consider phone calls the most valuable source of incoming leads, according to BIA/Kelsey. So, what first impression and business image are you conveying to those prospects when they make their phone call?
First, there are the basic best-practices. For example, the greeting should be concise enough so callers don't feel as if it's standing in the way of getting what they want. Your automated phone system also could include the ability for callers to dial a particular salesperson's extension, directly or by his or her last name, so they don't have to sit on hold. An alternative is to give each salesperson, or group of salespeople, their own phone number that goes through the cloud and rings their mobile phone.
Then there are the key image considerations in your greeting and automated phone system prompts: They should reflect your corporate voice and branding goals as much as possible. So although an accountant's greeting could be formal to make callers feel confident that they can trust that firm with their money, a marketing consultancy or design firm might come up with a catchy message that shows creativity, and a dentist might choose a soothing message to pacify callers who are fearful or in pain.
Also consider the voice you select for your greeting: The depth, tone, and gender can say different things about your brand, as well as resonate with callers differently. Think about whether hiring voice talent to record those messages may make sense for your brand. You can even consult with your telephony provider to see whether they've worked with one and can recommend voice talent.
Finally, consider using hold messages to educate callers about offers, products, and services, or to reinforce your branding in a way that's helpful (as opposed to irritating). Sometimes less repetition and more creativity is a direction to go—a great topic for the marketing team to discuss in the context of the business's marketing and branding goals.
3. Be prepared to scale up to maintain a professional image
Mobile search will generate 73 billion calls to businesses by 2018, up from 30 billion in 2013, BIA/Kelsey estimates. That's just one example of why it's important to ensure your IVR, trunks, and other phone systems can scale up to meet the demand that a successful campaign can generate.
Hosted phone solutions could provide the additional flexibility and cost-savings when a calling campaign ensues or there's rapid employee growth. With on-premise PBXs and other systems, businesses risk overpaying for too much capacity or buying an undersized system that can't keep up when a campaign lights up the phones more than expected. With hosted solutions, they pay for only what they need, when they need it. And when money isn't wasted on unneeded phone capacity, it can mean a bigger budget for marketing.
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Your phone presence remains a regular touchpoint for your brand, so it's important to plan your voice communications content, style, and customer experience a way that reflects your image and marketing goals.
To maximize that effectiveness, make sure to include your phone presence in your ongoing branding reviews and brainstorming exercises, and update accordingly.
The traditional voice channel is not going away any time soon, so spend time considering your options and planning, and be strategic about the branding and marketing opportunities your phone presence affords.