In today's hyper-connected world, shoppers are using all channels—mobile, digital, social, physical—to interact with brands throughout the purchase journey, but marketers are having trouble connecting with customers at the right time in the right channel.

Fully 50% of companies are struggling with this issue and with understanding their customers, recent research from Forrester finds. Forrester cited key challenges, including lack of information about new buyers and an inability to make use of customer data effectively.

To address those barriers, marketers can tap into the full potential of online communities to engage with users during the shopping lifecycle and ensure a seamless experience.

Online communities offer multiple ways for consumers to engage with each other and the brand with discussion boards, Q&A sessions, and other resources. However, according to Forrester, this channel is one of the last methods used to gather customer data:

Base: 279 marketing and e-commerce professionals involved with online marketing strategies

Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of SAP,
August 2016

Information from online communities' results in an open dialogue that can be mined for consumer insights and feedback. In fact, Forrester also found, 87% of companies consider customer communities to be important for driving better customer engagements. Communities can also be used to host user-generated content, which can be influential for consumers throughout their purchase journey.

This data derived from online communities can be used to do more than improve the customer experience; it can also be analyzed to drive marketing decisions and foster ongoing customer loyalty.

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image of Steven Hamrick

Steven Hamrick is VP of product management at SAP's Jam Collaboration software.

LinkedIn: Steven Hamrick

Twitter: @SocialHamrick