Business: Customer engagement

A recently unveiled study by research consultancy Hall and Partners suggests that up to two-thirds of an organisation’s profits may rely on effective customer engagement.

Since the start of the current economic downturn, it’s never been more important for companies to communicate with its target audience. More power is in the hands of the customer and engagement has never been more difficult, more complex or more fragmented. What do we mean by engagement?

According to the Advertising Research Foundation in 2008, engagement is ‘Turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context’. In other words, customer engagement encompasses awareness, interest, and desire to purchase, customer retention, and brand loyalty. How can customer engagement be achieved and maintained?

Terry Smith

Terry Smith, senior lecturer in marketing at the Universityof Chesterand author of Marketing Communications: A Brand Narrative Approach gives us some insights into how successful companies can sustain brand attachment through effective marketing communications by promoting intangible values.

Know Your Customer: Customer insight comes from findings, observation, analysis of sales figures, experience, and other internal and external information which help you to serve those customers better. As a result of research, Pampers unblocked sales inertia inGermany by changing to a more acceptable eco-friendly bio-degradable formulation of its product. Their ‘dry layers’ innovation came as a response to the customer need for better sleep than merely water capture.

Help Build a Brand Story Together: When consumers add their own experiences, associations, symbols and images to the brand, they ‘co-create’ meaning. It is fair to say that until this co-creation has happened that consumers are not truly engaged with the brand. Organisations like Unilever have helped co-create the Dove brand narrative or story by ‘widening the definition of beauty’. When company and customer are locked together in the creation of the brand’s story, this is a powerful way to maintain engagement.

Understand the New ‘Terms of Engagement’: Social Media is the all-pervasive route to connecting with your customers through communications. Following some simple rules of thumb will help you build valuable relationships, increase brand loyalty and encourage customer advocacy:

  • What is the personality of your brand or organisation? What does your brand mean to your customers? What voice could it have?
  • Listen to online conversations and learn about what they think of you. Monitor customer attitudes and perceptions. Search engine analytics like Spiral16, Google Blog Search and can be an effective way to ‘listen in’.
  • Follow the alert systems on these tools to optimise the opportunities to engage online.
  • Where are your customers interacting online? Are positive engagement or negative impressions present on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or blogs?
  •  Become part of the online community and its conversation. Monitor the responses and feedback to give insight and possible action.
  • Recognise the ‘opinion leaders’ in these networks. Who are the most influential and can affect the purchase behaviour of others?

Ensure all communications and all company communicators speak with ‘one voice’: Integrating all messages across all media is critically important. This will avoid confusion of message, reinforce brand image and offer a more coherent identity to both customers and staff. Make sure all staff are fully briefed and ‘on the same page’ in order to project confidence and consistency.

Have a ‘customer engagement plan:

The process of product purchase tends to be a cycle of activities: brand awareness, consideration, inquiry, purchase, and retention stages. Sashi (2012) promotes the idea of a ‘virtuous circle’ which comprises: connection, interaction, satisfaction, retention, commitment, advocacy, and engagement as depicted in Figure 1.

This brings us back to the most important question: how are you going to achieve and maintain engagement with your customers? This is an important question because if you don’t, your competitors will!


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