Brands should take care not to assume that consumers will automatically engage with content placed on the internet.

It is important to ensure content is attractive enough to encourage people to view it and then share it with others.

This includes developing a clear understanding of different customer groups and of assessing results in a way that moves beyond simple click-through rates and behavioural metrics to assess attitudinal data as well.

Improving digital engagement can take a number of forms and businesses can work with technology such as customer relationship management (CRM) software to boost their understanding of different groups of consumers.

As Millward Brown client director Leonie Gates-Sumner wrote recently in Marketing Magazine, "too many brands still believe that content put online will automatically go viral". However, she explains this rarely happens organically, with monitoring and measuring owned, earned and paid content essential to understand how successes is made.

CRM software can assist with better measurement and understanding of how to enhance digital engagement by automating some elements of the marketing process and delivering comprehensive and accurate data.

According to Ms Gates-Sumner, the phrase "what gets measured gets done" applies particularly to digital marketing, with vast scope for measuring data and improving the effectiveness of customer engagement strategies.

However, the media and communications specialist added brand strategy can be distorted by myths regarding digital measurement and it is important to get the process of evaluating results right so that potential successes are not undermined.

The article highlights the differences between TV and online marketing and the expectations consumers have of online content, as well as the importance of having clearly articulated goals when it comes to a web presence in order to maximise brand impact. As years come and go, customers demand more and more consistency across all your digital channels. Having a clear strategy should be your first step to achieving this goal.

Establishing objectives and measuring outcomes in order to evaluate success "is vital to deliver significant return on your digital investments", the expert claims, pointing out it is essential to assess the creative strength of online content and adapt it for the medium.

Digital engagement is becoming more important than ever, with social CRM now an accepted norm with consumers and companies looking for new ways to understand their social media audience and encourage them to interact more fully with brands on the internet.

Click here to learn more about how CRM can drive up customer engagement levels through the use of mobile, social and more.

Customer engagement white paper

All parts of a customer journey should have appropriate advertising content to guide people through the process, it is claimed.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Pete Young of Mediacom i-Lab stated: "Content is king. Fact."

He went on to explain digital consumer engagement is reliant upon providing target audiences with content that is of "genuine value and interest".

According to the digital media planning expert, marketers need to create a brand persona that people want to spend time with and get to know better. He said they should deliver content that is "rich, rewarding, informative, entertaining and all manner of other things that consumers increasingly expect of brands".

Mr Young, the Mediacom i-Lab board director of search strategy and social director, points to the increasing competition and noise in the online marketplace, urging brands to become authors and provide an experience that extends to every aspect of the media environment.

Advertisers can employ customer relationship management (CRM) technology to identify target audiences, develop a greater understanding of what sort of content would best suit them at each stage in their customer journey and measure the success of campaigns.

Highlighting the growing importance of digital consumer engagement, Mr Young said: "It's more or less a certainty these days that all forms of content will find their way online through one channel or another."

Marketers need to be able to respond to changing online behaviour, which is where CRM software can provide them with a competitive edge, as it can provide improved management and oversight of the whole customer journey, from using a search engine to research a brand to completing a purchase.

In recent comments on engaging consumers, Google's consumer marketing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Graham Bednash declared brands should find out what makes their customers tick and gain "deep insights" in order to develop ideas and content.

He told Marketing Week effective CRM can capture "their imagination and interest", with more and more channels for digital engagement opening up opportunities to engage with consumers and experiment with new methods of advertising.

Click here to learn more about how CRM can drive up customer engagement levels through the use of mobile, social and more.

Customer engagement white paper

A new report has highlighted how UK insurers should perhaps be paying a little more attention to how they approach customer experience, after it was revealed only 16 per cent of customers feel it had improved over the last 12 months.

The KPMG Customer Experience Barometer suggested personal interaction, embracing digital channels and considering a new way of thinking in terms of retail could be three ways to go about bolstering clients’ experience.

Such recommendations were made after it was revealed that e-retailers performed better in the index, with well over half (53 per cent) of clients having extremely positive things to say about their experience of this. Not to mention that better customer experience actually contributes to lower cost-per-acquisition.

UK head of insurance at KPMG Phil Smart explained how addressing customer experience was indeed a challenge for insurers, not least as the market is continually evolving. Furthermore, with so many different rivals competing for the same market space, it can be hard for one insurer to stand out from the crowd over another.

Nevertheless, he went on to say: “Commoditisation hasn’t held online retailers back and insurers have much to learn from this sector.” Global head of insurance at the organisation Gary Reader reiterated Mr Smart’s about the value of being flexible, adding that insurers would need to be able “to deliver a high-quality and differentiating customer experience”.

A reconsideration of the approach taken by insurers in the UK is arguably needed after the report showed the UK’s figure to be notably lower than those of other countries. For example, in China almost two-fifths (39 per cent) of insurance clients felt there had been an improvement in their experience of working with insurers.

What’s more, Association of British Insurers’ figures show the UK’s insurance market to be the largest in Europe and third largest in the world.

The full KPMG report was based on a survey of 5,000 customers from 160 general insurers, leading banks, life insurers, utilities and e-retailers in the UK, the US, Australia, China and Germany.

The financial services sector has not, it would be fair to say, done much to polish its reputation for customer engagement over the last few years. Given the storm of negative media headlines it has attracted for bad behaviour such as the mis-selling of complex insurance products, this is understandable.

However, if the sector is to recover from this malaise, financial services – especially those with retail and business lending functions – are going to need to develop their customer engagement strategies.

A host of potential approaches have been suggested, with the water somewhat muddied by the fact that high street banking is beginning to fall away to be replaced with online, phone and mobile services.

CRM will be vital in this new development, as marketers and customer service teams work hard to stay in touch with consumers despite there being less physical touchpoints with which to do so.

But how is engagement likely to develop over the coming years? A new report from KPMG has cast some light on the changes expected to take place.

Customer experience – a great opportunity

Jeremy Anderson, KPMG’s global chairman for financial services, said that one of the greatest opportunities for sustainable revenue growth in what is still a complex market lies in improving the customer experience.

“Those that get it right will not only capture a greater share of new customers, they will
also be better placed to keep their customers and extend their existing relationships,” he explained.

He admitted that many service-based organisations are going to need to work hard to “scrub off the reputational stain” they have developed through recent mismanagement and bad decisions, but argued this only makes the opportunity bigger for those firms that can improve along this metric.

CRM and digitilisation will play a role in this development, argued Mr Anderson.

“Those heading down the road of automation and online services must continue to pay close attention to ensuring that their digitally-focused services are not just market leading, but that every customer interaction that underpins those services and relationships are the best they can be and support the brand values,” declared the KPMG chairman.

Ultimately, CRM solutions can’t be one-size-fits-all or badly implemented if firms are to see a strong return on investment or an uptick in engagement levels.

Working closely with a firm to ensure your customer relationship management software is tailored to your needs will help deal with any issues that arise.

Technology can also play a role in helping employees fulfil their potential and in ‘choreographing’ interactions efficiently, KPMG’s report found. However, training staff to utilise such systems effectively is also key.

“While data, analytics and new technologies will be key, it will be those that are able to integrate their culture, business operations, data and technology that will be best positioned to create a truly customer-centric organisation,” concluded Mr Anderson.

Four insights

KPMG revealed four main insights that service industries, particularly those in the financial sector, should bear in mind if they want to succeed in attracting new customers and retaining their existing ones.

Placing clients at the heart of how they operate is a good start, while understanding that a customer-centred approach will lead to an improved ‘lifetime value’ is also crucial, the consultancy giant posited.

The report also claimed that digital technology can play a big role in transforming the consumer experience, which makes sense as CRM technology becomes more sophisticated.

Finally, it reminded businesses that any engagement strategy will live and die on the quality of the people asked to carry it out, which is a good rule of thumb with any campaign planned by business executives.

A global issue

Customer experience and engagement is a global issue – Chinese consumers, for instance, recorded a rapid growth in their happiness with brand interaction as their market becomes more westernised.

Worryingly, British respondents recorded some of the most negative sentiments around engagement, especially for the banking and insurance sectors.

Customer engagement white paper

When they were first created, contact centres were seen as a major leap forward in customer service. Rather than having to find time and often have to travel long distances to see someone face to face – always within limited opening hours – access was suddenly greatly extended.

However, what should be a means of reducing inconvenience and hassle has become a source of unnecessary stress, according to 82 per cent of the consumers interviewed by ICT firm Damovo UK & Ireland.

Among the findings were the inflexibility of such centres, with long waiting times during peak hours being a concern for 80 per cent of those polled. Inconsistency in service standards between different contact tools was also a common complaint, cited by 79 per cent.

Head of client solutions at Damovo Jennie Cleal said: “Nobody expects to enjoy dealing with customer service teams, but these findings clearly show that organisations are adding insult to injury with poor contact centre operations.”

She suggested centres could help with more staffing during busy hours, with more flexible working helping to cover for periods of unusually high absence

The study also found there are ways in which businesses can use new communications channels to improve user experiences. This is a sensitive issue for consumers as 72 per cent said they believed automated greeting pointing people to other channels were simply designed to get them off the line. At the same time, 62 per cent of consumers were frustrated that some organisations could only offer one or two means of contact.

Managers seeking to use devices such as CRM technology to bolster the customer experience could benefit from using this to establish the ways in which customers would like to be able to contact them.  

A means of communication neglected by many contact centres is the use of mobile apps, further research has found. The Call Centre Helper research paper, sponsored by NewVoiceMedia, found that 43 per cent of them neither offer a mobile app, nor plan to do so in the future.

Of the remainder, 30 per cent do offer an app and the rest plan to do so in due course.  

Customer engagement white paper

Phones and internet routers are common fixtures in 21st century homes and it is only when they are not working as they should that we realise how much we depend on them.

Consumers therefore want to sign up with a telecommunications provider that offers not only top-quality products, but also excellent customer service.

As a result, telco providers need to make customer relationship management (CRM) a priority at all times. 

But it can be particularly crucial during the first three months of their relationship with a customer, or else they could risk losing them to a rival firm.

Beata Kovacs, head of international CRM and loyalty at Deutsche Telekom, is one industry figure who believes companies have to pay close attention to a customer during the initial period after they have signed up.

This, she stated, can ensure that any problems are dealt with and ironed out before they escalate into something more serious.

"If the customer selects the wrong price plan for them…and they get a bill shock in the first three months, then they'll think that whatever we do for the next 18 months [of their contract] will be wrong and they won't ever be satisfied," Ms Kovacs commented.

Nora Merenyi, a senior CRM expert at Deutsche Telekom, added that once the first three months have passed, a telco firm can then start making predictions about the behaviour of their customer.

As a result, they will be able to promote special offers that people might find useful and make more of a point of upselling.

Ms Merenyi insisted that the cost of retention can be lower if a business actively stays in touch with customers.

She added that a good relationship with a customer is similar to a healthy marriage, with each party being willing to listen and prepared to give and take when required.

Understanding and anticipating customer needs is critical in any sector, but with the telcos market being so competitive and people having so much choice about who they should sign up with, CRM must be firmly at the top of the agenda here.

Customer engagement white paper

Brands that are keen to achieve genuine customer engagement have been urged to find out "what makes them tick".

According to Graham Bednash, consumer marketing director in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Google, there is no "magic bullet" for engaging with audiences.

Instead, he believes it is vital to gain "deep insights" into the people they are trying to bring on board, so they genuinely understand their tastes, preferences and priorities.

This, he stated, can put brands in a position where they are able to develop ideas and content that "captures their imagination and interest".

The frontrunners

Speaking to Marketing Week, Mr Bednash noted that the growth of digital platforms over the last few years has opened up lots of new opportunities for companies to engage with consumers in interesting ways.

"We're at an exciting time where the opportunity to experiment has never been greater," he said.

Mr Bednash was speaking after Aesop and OnePoll carried out a study to identify which brands come out on top when it comes to telling stories.

More than 2,000 people in the UK were asked to measure how they rate in several categories, such as credibility, purpose, memorability and brand personality.

Apple, Cadbury and McDonald's came out on top, with IKEA, Walkers and Coca-Cola following close behind. Virgin Media, YouTube, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Red Cross made up the rest of the top ten.

This is an interesting cross-section of organisations and demonstrates that groups in a wide variety of sectors can successfully engage with their audience, from tech firms and fast food outlets to charities and social media platforms.

While each of these names was measured in accordance with various criteria, Aesop has speculated that the sheer ubiquity of some could partly explain why they are ranked so highly.

"There are normal laws of brand physics at play here, in that if you are not communicating, you are going to start dropping because you are not salient and top of mind," said Ed Woodcock, head of narrative at Aesop.

“Some brands stay high in the rankings because of legacy imprints, but that needs to be topped up, and perhaps those brands that have dropped down haven’t been communicating in a way that has been enough to counteract the decay.” 

However, he stressed that simply communicating with people on a regular basis is not enough on its own, as organisations must also put across a clear narrative when they are telling brand stories.

Trendspotting and storytelling

Mr Woodcock argued that adopting a narrative approach helps to ensure all the different platforms are coordinated and convey a coherent and consistent message.

He went on to point out that brand storytelling is important because of the "oral effect of social media".

This, he said, means that chatter on sites such as Facebook and Twitter is analogous to stories being told at the pub or around the campfire, albeit on a massive scale involving millions of people.

"It's that function of social media and the predominance of it in our lives that makes storytelling more relevant than it was in the broadcast era," Mr Woodcock observed.

He added that Apple's success in the rankings is partly because the perception of it as an innovative brand has become ingrained in people's minds. Cadbury, meanwhile, was commended for embracing pioneering methods of engaging with customers and for ensuring its campaigns are associated with joyous moments in people's lives.

Understanding the thought processes and behaviour of customers can put organisations in a good position to come up with engagement strategies that really resonate and have a positive impact on their target audiences.

This means they must go beyond simply gathering large quantities of data on their audience, and make sure they have a system in place that allows them to identify trends and patterns.

By using CRM software to garner meaningful insights from their data, they can work to ensure they are able to consistently engage with their audiences in a relevant and timely way.

Customer engagement white paper

Customer relationship management (CRM) software can really help your marketing efforts by providing a number of intuitive, easy-to-use tools that will not only allow you to create and manage effective marketing strategies, but enable you to analyse the results, quickly, as well as get a real insight into what your customers really want.

Knowing your customer

All this leads to an increased understanding of your customers (so improving your relationship with them); who your target market is; and, overall increased sales and productivity.

CRM marketing software can support you throughout a whole campaign, from idea and goal setting to campaign e-mail outs; from the use of embedded mail merge to the automatic capture of landing page data; from analysing sales data to automating trigger responses based on individual customer criteria; and, from creating reports to campaign follow-ups.

Watch this video to see how Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps your customer support:

Data can be exported, imported and shared among colleagues, with each customer having all their details accessible from one place. This means that you can effectively profile your customers – this also improves their experience, because they only hear from you when it is something of real interest and/or value to them, rather than being part of a mass, general, mail out.

The effectiveness of your campaigns will be greatly enhanced with tools that enable you to create campaigns based on what your customers really want – by using rules that can identify their interests.

This builds a good relationship between you and your customers, thereby increasing their brand loyalty.

On the move

Customer relationship management software is a way to have an extra member of staff who can give you any data and run a campaign – as soon as you need it – even if you are the move.

While traditionally, CRM’s have been online or in the back office, technological advances mean you can still access everything you need, whether it’s extracting data or setting up and running a campaign, while on the move. All you need is a web-enabled device such as a smartphone or tablet.

CRM’s give you everything you need to create, manage and analyse an effective marketing campaign, no matter where you are.

A recent survey by the CMO Council came back with a resounding yes when they found that 87% of B2B customers were either heavily (27%) or moderately (60%) influenced by online content in their buying decisions and furthermore 35% believe that online content highlights the vendors that best understand their needs.

This being said it begs the question if B2B buyers are influenced so heavily by online content what characteristics of the content influences them the most? The CMO survey asked this question and according to the report, the characteristics most valued in B2B content are:

  • Breadth and depth of information (47%);
  • Ease of access, understanding and readability (44%);
  • Originality of thinking and ideas (39%).

The report also asked what B2B customers liked least in online content and found that brands should avoid the following characteristics:

  • Too many requirements for download (50%);
  • Blatantly promotional and self-serving (43%);

The CMO survey went on to ask the type of content that influences B2B buyers the most:

  • Professional association research reports/whitepapers (67%);
  • Industry group research reports/whitepapers (50%);
  • Customer case studies (48%);
  • Analyst reports and whitepapers (44%); and
  • Independent product reviews (40%).

So it can overwhelmingly be seen that B2B buyers are most impressed and will make the best buying decisions when the content provided by a company is not just an online brochure about how good the company is. What inspires a B2B customer to buy is when a company engages with current research from its own professional associations and industries, enables current customers to be seen and heard online and can provide product reviews that are verifiably independent.

This information is gold to B2B vendors and could easily form the basis for a content marketing strategy that will produce real results because it is based on sound data of what B2B customers believe in and want to see online.

Marketers everywhere are trying to limit the risk of being blacklisted by the major e-mail providers as well as the e-mail users, because they know it is much harder to fix a bad reputation than it is to watch out and behave.
As a result, the internet is full of advice on how to prevent getting blacklisted. The more obvious ones are: avoid using certain risky words (free, buy, win, etc.); balance the amount of text and pictures; send e-mails from a reputable e-mail provider; send only to people who gave you their permission; include the Unsubscribe link; ask them to white-list you etc. Of course, we expect that you’re a legitimate business that just wants to get to their customers rather than a dodgy trickster who’s not afraid to use more cheeky tactics.
For tricksters, there is a whole different range of advice available out there, but because we’re a legitimate business too, we’ll stay away from that.
So let’s get to the less superficial advice now. This advice is not as commonsensical and tends to be technology-based.

  1. Targeted campaign
  2. Use marketing technology that helps you segment your customers precisely and target them with content they’re likely to utilise. Segmentation criteria based on which you can divide your customers can be everything from their stage of readiness, interest in a particular topic, size of an organisation, budget, recent purchases etc. – or any combination of these factors. The more specifically you target, the more chance you have of getting through!

  3. Spam checks
  4. There is technology on the market that scores your e-mails for spam on a scale of 1 to 10. By spending a bit more time adjusting the content, you can optimise your message so it passes the spam filters and still evokes positive reaction. Who knows, maybe you can stuff in way more than you are doing now!

  5. Track campaign deliverability
  6. Finally, after segmenting your leads and checking for spam, use campaign monitoring technology to see which e-mails get opened by whom, how many times and whether the links in your e-mails were followed by every individual lead. This way you can test multiple campaigns at once, see which tactic harvests more success and optimise the rest of the campaign accordingly.

Some say e-mail is dying and the main reason that it’s too impersonal – hence spamming. Others will argue that if you keep making it personal, it’s here to stay. What do you say?