How to Integrate AI Tech Into Each Step of the Customer Journey

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

While the models and names of stages may have changed through the years, many agree that it can be boiled down to four simple components:

Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Loyalty

The No. 1 goal for most businesses is to generate more conversions (which primarily consists of sales). This can be through their marketing efforts, sales tactics, brand communication, conversion rate optimization, and other methods. Of late, many companies have developed critical competencies in using AI to nudge customers towards sales, and have improved their numbers drastically as a result.

AI, machine learning, and big data technology can all work hand-in-hand to improve the customer experience and support an optimized customer journey, which leads to more conversions in several key ways.

Let’s talk about how you can start using AI tech in each stage of the funnel.

Awareness

Marketing strategies these days are often heavily focused on the top of the funnel to build brand awareness and attract new customers. For many businesses, recognition is nearly equivalent to the value of their brand. Elena Veselinova and Marija Gogova Samonikov explain in their book Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices that brand impact is a continuous process that insures purchases, cash flow, revenue and share value. Brand communication and experience creates and builds a loyal base of customers that do not consider any other brand.

Creating a strong level of brand awareness takes time and strategy. Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns and advertising to increase their reach and recognition, but AI tech is able to take the guesswork out of these strategies by analyzing huge volumes of consumer data for more targeted campaigns. For example, predictive analytics software can collect, track, and analyze datasets from past customers to determine which strategies or tactics performed well. These datasets are turned into reports with insights to guide marketing efforts and place relevant content in front of the most interested eyes at the right times.

With AI-assisted marketing, advertising strategies can be backed with data to optimize ad placement. Machine learning systems can even identify the best influencers for brands to partner with in order to reach relevant audiences and grow brand familiarity.

Credit: Venturebeat.com

Consideration

The next step of the buyer’s journey is often overlooked by marketers because it can drag on for a long time, depending on the product and the customer’s needs. During the consideration phase, a customer is already familiar with a brand or product but are unsure of whether or not to actually purchase. Customers will typically research the product’s reviews, compare prices to competitors, and look for alternatives during this stage. Due to this, the number of potential customers tends to narrow down considerably as they move from this step to the decision phase.

Brands must work to combat each customer’s concerns and questions standing in the way of a purchase decision. One of the best ways to do this is by offering personalized content that is relevant to each person, making it easy for them to find the information they are seeking.

AI systems can be used to predict a customer’s needs based on consumer data and previous online behavior, and then encourage conversions with a tailored UX or even a completely customized landing page that displays content relevant to that customer.

For example, if a site visitor has viewed a certain product page and played a video demonstrating its features, these actions can trigger an AI system to target them with personalized content that prompts a conversion if they don’t proceed to buy immediately. This content could be something as simple as an email message with more information or a display ad with a special offer for the specific product.

Credit: Personyze.com

Then there are platforms that use conversational AI tech (such as chatbots and voice assistants) to power automated, text- or audio-based interactions between a business and its customers. These platforms can understand speech, decipher intent, differentiate between languages, and mimic human conversations with great accuracy. Increasingly, they are advanced enough to even understand individual context and personalize the conversation accordingly.

Based on data insights, AI tech can curate content that matches up with the issues that are most important to that person, whether it be product features, immediate delivery, long term savings, etc. Customers respond quite well to personalized offers — an Accenture study reported that 91% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that sent them targeted deals or recommendations.

Decision

Once a customer moves from consideration to action, AI tools can be used to support a positive sales experience and eliminate any bumps along the way. If a customer encounters an issue while browsing the site, or during checkout or payment, it could be an instant sales killer, if it isn’t handled immediately by something like live chat.

According to multiple studies, one of the most frustrating parts about online customer service is long wait times. By using AI-enabled chatbots, companies can instantly answer common questions and resolve issues or roadblocks affecting the progression of the buyer’s journey. And customers certainly appreciate these quick response times. AI systems can significantly increase conversions with effective personalization and swift customer service.

Credit: AIMultiple.com

Loyalty

The last step of the customer journey is possibly the most valuable. Over half of customers reportedly stay loyal to brands that “get them.” Returning customers also tend to spend more money than new ones, and an oft-reported stat says that on average 65% of businesses’ revenue comes from existing customers.

Businesses (and customers) can benefit greatly from loyalty programs that are backed with machine learning technology. Starbucks famously uses AI tech to analyze customer behavior, improve convenience, and identify which promotions would perform best based on that person’s drink or food preferences, location, and purchase frequency. Their loyalty program uses this data to send out thousands of offers each day for the products their customers are most likely to buy. Their customer loyalty program grew 16% YoY last year as a direct result of their Deep Brew AI engine.

Credit: Starbucks app

While a positive shopping experience and great products are certainly important factors in a customer’s decision to buy again, data-driven marketing campaigns that encourage loyalty can also help a company to grow their numbers of repeat sales. Again, AI-assisted personalization techniques can boost the chances of a customer coming back for more, especially if they receive targeted offers or shopping suggestions based on previous interactions.

Credit: Accenture.com

The Wrap

AI is proving to be the tool of the future for marketers. It allows marketing teams to use predictive insights and analytical data to encourage and assist every micro-decision taken by consumers. AI systems not only help customers move along the buyer’s journey, they can also provide a more meaningful experience along the way, leading to more conversions and brand loyalty down the road.

Should Marketers Be Taking a Pass on Hard-hitting Sponsorships?

As a healthcare marketer, you wear many hats. One is “generate brand awareness.” How and where you choose to elevate your brand — including sponsorships — is a reflection of your organization, your audiences, a strategic analysis of pros and cons, and shifting societal perspectives.

As a healthcare marketer, you wear many hats. One is “generate brand awareness.” How and where you choose to elevate your brand — including sponsorships — is a reflection of your organization, your audiences, a strategic analysis of pros and cons, and shifting societal perspectives. So when Children’s Health of Texas put its name on a high school football stadium, the sponsorship raised some eyebrows.

Football is a huge part of life in Texas. Having grown up there, I understand the proper construction of a three-day weekend: Friday is high school game day, Saturday is for college, and Sunday/Monday is pro-ball. Putting your brand name on a stadium is a marketer’s dream. I’ve had that dream, too.

A few years ago, the decision to put a healthcare brand on a football stadium wouldn’t have attracted much attention. Since then, however, the connection between football concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has become clear. The NFL uneasily acknowledged such a link in 2016. Other studies have shown that younger players are also susceptible to brain injury from contact sports at the college and high school levels. And parents are paying attention. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports participation in high school football has declined by 6.1% over the last decade, even as participation in other sports has grown. Other studies show even sharper declines in participation in youth football. Some of the decline is attributable to rising parental awareness about the link between hard-hitting contact sports and CTE.

So is this where a children’s healthcare brand should invest $2.5 million for a title sponsorship?

I am certain the decision to brand a football stadium was made with the best of intentions. It’s a high-visibility play, intended to create an affinity for the health system among parents as it expands its footprint. But in addition to securing eyeballs and mentions, brand placement is also about telegraphing organizational values and being mindful about clinical evidence. Will this sponsorship be paired with an equally visible effort to educate the public about how to minimize concussion risk?

To be sure, football is not going away. Athletes who excel at it become local celebrities, can get into stellar college programs and even dream of being in the NFL. Those who choose to play it should be able to do so. Brands associated with it, and other sports, often do well by association. But this is a tricky landscape for healthcare marketers.

Societal norms evolve. What would have been an easy decision a few years back may no longer be your best fit for a multi-year contract, moving forward. Ideally, brand placements position your organization as an exemplar of heightened conscience, as well as enduring core values. Only time will tell if the decision by Children’s Health of Texas struck the right balance with its audiences.

As you evaluate contract renewals or new sponsorship agreements, look beyond the sheer number of eyeballs who might see your brand. There are many ways to draw those eyeballs to your organization.

A marketer’s job is not to seize upon a high-profile promotional opportunity just because the cost-per-impression pencils out and you have the budget. The job is to choose sponsorships through a strategic lens.

Sponsorships, especially title sponsorships, should be chosen in the context of longer-term societal shifts and the values of the workforce in your organization — especially in healthcare.

Use Market Research to Tie Brand Awareness and Purchase Intent to Sales

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc.  But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement.

Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc. But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it.

And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

That’s where market research can help.

Consider the following word equations in light of how awareness contributes to sales for the top direct marketing companies:

Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + need = purchase intent
Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + immediate need = purchase

So it follows that if we can monitor awareness and reputation over time and index it to sales, then we can quantify the effects of those elements on sales revenue.

Start by surveying your prospects blindly—either through mail, email or search ads using relevant keywords. Offer an incentive that’s consistent with your product offering, e.g., “Save $$$ on cell phone accessories.” Ask respondents the following questions to determine the levels of unaided and aided awareness:

  • Which brands first come to mind when thinking of “category X”? (unaided awareness)
  • Which of the following brands (list) have you ever heard of? (aided awareness)

Get a better picture of the respondents’ product usage by asking:

  • Which brand(s) within category X do you “regularly” purchase?
  • Which brand is your favorite?
  • Which brand did you last purchase?
  • How often do you purchase this type of product?
    (Light, medium, heavy user?)
  • What percentage of “category X” purchases that you’ve made (within a certain timeframe) were “brand A”? (your share of customer)

For those who have used your brand, quantify purchase intent with the following question:

  • The next time you need this product, how likely are you to purchase “brand A”?

Next, index awareness levels to sales to sales revenues. Be sure account for category sales within the same time period. Your actual sales may have gone down, but the entire category may have gone down as well, and you may in fact have gotten more than your previous share of the category sales.

As you track these metrics over time, you will be able to quantify what a point of unaided awareness is worth in sales revenue. It’s one tool that will help you understand the effect that your communications have on sales beyond the responses that you can count directly.

How ‘Frienemy Marketing’ Can Save Your Online (and Offline) Business

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads. One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads.

One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

You can look to this niche for opportunities to help grow your list and add extra revenues to your bottom line. Even better, this can be done for virtually no out-of-pocket cost.

This is a great way to leverage your content and increase market share, enhance brand awareness, grow sales and leads, and establish credibility with a new, yet synergistic list.

As a consultant, and even back in the days when I was leading the marketing efforts at top publishers, it’s important for me to be “strategically creative” and deploy as many no-cost online marketing tactics as possible for greater return on investment (ROI).

I like to concentrate on the marketing and editorial relationships I have forged with fellow publishers and aggressively pursue ad swaps, guest editorials and joint ventures (JV). I’ll explain a little more about these three opportunities in a moment.

With “frienemy marketing,” the idea is to develop synergistic relationships that are mutually beneficial—to look for areas of deficiency in your competitors and think of ways your company can fill the void.

One potential partner may have a great front-end product (e.g., a low cost e-book) but no up-sell (e.g., a higher-priced related kit containing DVDs, CDs and workbooks). Another potential partner may have an innovative back-end product but no cost-effective front-end product to bring new customers in the door. Still others may have large, qualified lists but need editorial to bond with their lists.

Some tips to keep in mind when looking for partnerships with friendly competitors:

Do your homework. Find out, in advance, who will be at industry events that you’ll be attending. (Check the program for speakers, vendors and participants.) Sign up for their e-newsletters. Read their promotional emails. Maybe even purchase some of their products.

Look at EVERY opportunity as a way to maximize your company’s brand during presentation breaks, lunch time and cocktail parties. When you go to industry events, don’t eat dinner alone in your hotel room. Go to functions. Mingle. Network. Have a genuine conversation with a potential partner … then, if there’s a synergy between your two companies, exchange business cards.

Before you contact a potential partner, get familiar with his products and target audience and figure out how your company may be able to dovetail with his product line or marketing efforts.

So, once you’ve made the connection, now what? You need to look at potential marketing and editorial opportunities …

Ad swaps are a form of revenue sharing. Typically, this can be a text or graphic ad two publishers place in each other’s e-newsletters and each keep 100 percent of the sales they get from their respective ads, no strings attached. Other things to know: Both list sizes should be close in circulation size, hence the reciprocity. You both keep any sales or email addresses collected, and call it a day. Know your “opportunity cost”—the “cost” you will incur for running an outside ad to your list instead of your own ad. If you normally sell ad space in your e-newsletter, this cost could simply be the flat rate fee you typically charge. Or, if you know the average revenues an issue brings in, you could calculate the potential “missed opportunity” of letting another ad run to your list on a given day. You should also agree to share important information with your partner. Before his ad runs in your e-newsletter, point out any creative issues. Provide your partner with your e-newsletter’s sent and deliverability sizes, open rate and ad click rate. Exchanging performance data is critical to a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It has to be a win/win situation for the partnership to work.

Guest editorials are offering content (editorial) that is relevant and targeted for an external publication and reciprocate. This is a great way to get introduced to a new list with the “implied” endorsement of the publisher. His endorsement gives you credibility. And if you provide his readers with good, solid, useful information, they will bond with you quickly.

This is a soft-sell approach that may or may not yield results on its own. At the end or beginning of the article is an Editorial Note or Byline, which can have author attribution, back-link to your website and short sentence for cross-selling, which help with sales, traffic generation and link-building efforts.

Joint ventures are similar to affiliate relationships, with the difference that instead of an affiliate program that is openly marketed, this relationship is more personal—it’s usually a company that you’ve built and cultivated a relationship with and are looking forward to a variety of ongoing business ventures down the road. There’s more of a vested interest. This is a quick and cost-effective way to make money with your list even if you have not yet developed any products.

To determine the viability of a potential JV product, there are several strategic marketing variables to consider. I like to think of them as “PPPGS”:

P = Product quality
P = Price point
P = Performance (when promoted to your potential partner’s house list, as well as to outside lists)
G = General market demand
S = Subscriber interest (when promoted to your list, as determined by feedback, surveys, etc.)

Remember, with “frienemy marketing” you’re looking for long-term partners, not one-hit-wonders. So carefully select the people you approach, making sure their products, brand and message make sense to your business … and, together, you can reap the unlimited profit potential of this underutilized business builder.