Editor’s note: Isham Colosetti is co-founder and chief marketing strategist of Creative Mischief, an Atlanta-based marketing agency.
Most companies understand that they need to attract customers to products and services with relevant information, desirable offerings, brand visuals and content that speaks to what the audience values and what motivates them to purchase or participate. Too often, however, those one-off customer transactions with your brand are considered “won and done,” with little-to-no thought about the ultimate goal of creating an enduring relationship with your customer built on trust, opportunity and recognition.
What often gets left out of our plans is what to do with the customer after they’ve connected or made a purchase. How can you turn your customer’s one-time purchase or participation into a repeat engagement and, ultimately, into advocacy and brand evangelism?
Research itself provides a great basis for understanding what your audience wants. You must plan and provide for what your audience needs throughout their relationship with your brand. What are the triggers and the pulls that will move your customers from one engagement point to the next, leading to an ever-deepening relationship and ultimately have them crowing to their networks about their experience with you?
The goal is to anticipate your customers’ needs – arriving at just the right time with just the right thing – like the waiter who fills your glass or brings the water to your table without having to be asked. It boils down to capitalizing on the critical decision-making moments of your customer and answering the question, “How do I make taking the next step with my brand as easy and beneficial for my customer as possible?” Trust and appreciation grow from these crucial moments and help to form the foundation of a solid customer-brand relationship.
Marketing engagements should always include an audience life cycle research exercise that is designed for this very purpose – to capture each engagement point, both live and virtual, that leads from awareness through consideration and purchase, to advocacy and brand evangelism, as well as the necessary triggers and tools your audience needs to take those next steps.
This exercise assists in creating a holistic marketing strategy and helps identify the necessary technologies to support the strategy. Better yet, the resulting snapshot can be a powerful change agent with internal stakeholders and leadership in its ability to dispel the perception of marketing as a one-off activity into one of continual, connected efforts to achieve brand evangelism and advocacy.
When working through this customer engagement life cycle, I recommend the following considerations:
Know the engagement points
If you haven’t already, take the time to brainstorm and consider every engagement opportunity along your audience’s life cycle. A typical life cycle follows the customer through the following stages: awareness, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy.
For instance, the awareness stage may include advertising, public relations or radio. The purchase stage may include a Web site or store. The retention and advocacy stages could include things like reviews, forums and/or communities. Do you have the necessary engagement points in place and available at all stages along the life cycle? If not, is there an engagement activity you could create to allow your customers to exist at this stage with your brand? If your answer is no, you may be missing a key phase in the customer life cycle.
Determine the triggers
In between your points of engagement are the triggers that move people along the path of engagement. What are the links, the questions, the follow-up e-mails, the phone calls and the offerings you need to get customers to the next level of engagement and relationship with you? Identify each of these and begin to build the pathways of engagement with these supporting triggers at hand. Ensure that you are capturing additional information along the way that will allow you to better understand your customer.
Capitalize on the moment
How quickly you follow up and capitalize on a customer interaction is crucial to successful conversion. After just 24 hours, your conversion rates can drop by more than half. It’s critical to capitalize on the positive experience, the good feeling and the convenience of the moment. At that critical point, you can leverage a great purchase or experience into a moment of capturing a testimonial – gathering survey responses, brand ratings or reviews – and springboard that moment of newness into the next phase of engagement. Investigate automated responses, trigger e-mails and forms that allow you to act quickly and with ease after a transaction.
People tend to like to connect with other like-minded individuals and to have their opinions validated by others. Are there places where your customers can share their experiences, photos, thoughts and meet virtually or in person? Social media provides numerous easy-to-access platforms for these communities to operate.
Consider giving these communities names that resonate with consumer beliefs in your brand, values and what community members will aspire to be. In addition to connecting with their community, are you giving your customers a place to be heard? Encourage your customers to brag about their engagement and share their experiences on their social networks through social badges and swag.
Don’t forget that giving your audience a community voice carries with it the risk of negative response. Be sure to include a process for immediately addressing those potentially negative reviews with thoughtful responses.
Nurture evangelists and reward the dedicated
Commit to regularly identifying evangelists, those who are using your products and services, sharing your e-mails, posting and reviewing your products. Be ready to provide these individuals with the next step of engagement. The following are great ways to encourage these individuals to be more deeply committed to your brand: a simple thank-you; a discount; a special club made just for top advocates that gives them the power to preview and review; or highlighting those individuals and their thoughts in customer communications.
Converting customers to advocates begins with a clear understanding of what your audience values. Marketers and researchers should leverage that knowledge to take the customer beyond the purchase stage. Creating a clear engagement pathway that adequately meets all stages of engagement along with the triggers and calls to action that will move your audience to a deeper relationship is the foundation for building advocates and brand evangelists.