3 Lessons My Move Taught Me About Marketing

This is the last article about my move, I promise! The interesting thing about a move is that it forces you to step outside your comfortable bubble of everyday life. Suddenly you’re forced to navigate new situations, often on a tight timeline.

Recently I orchestrated a cross-country move, shifting 19 years of my life in the course of a week. When you’re in a high pressure situation like that, customer service experiences are make or break. I’m always on the hunt for luxury goods and experiences, but it’s been a long time since I’ve viewed a brand experience through such a high-stakes lens.

Unfulfilled Promises = Customer Resentment

Adding a pandemic-related banner to a website or a COVID-19 reference in the hold music seems to be a common recommendation, but it’s vital that those messages be based on transparency and the desire to communicate useful information to the customer.

While I was trying to get my wifi set up, I spent what felt like a lifetime on hold with the Internet provider, Spectrum, and its droning hold music that reassured me they were “keeping me connected” during COVID. Meanwhile, I had to wait 17 days for installation and wait on hold (with no callback option!) any time I needed help.

Big communications utilities are notorious for fueling absolute resentment and anger, but all brands would do well to remember that it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver. And hey, reminder to check your client experience so you’re not infuriating them with messages that they matter and you’re keeping them connected when you’re not.

High Functioning Service Beats High Tech

In my previous post I mentioned brands’ increasing reliance on tech solutions, often at the expense of customer experience. It’s only becoming a bigger issue as companies turn to tech for help adjusting to the pandemic landscape. While some companies are more well suited to replacing in-person services with tech solutions, what customers really care about is whether they get what they need.

One of the standout brand experiences during my move was surprisingly low tech. I set up a business account with FedEx to manage shipping my 20 boxes from NYC to LA. The website felt absolutely antiquated, but the customer service was exceptionally smooth. Could they benefit from revamping their customer portal? Of course. But I got exactly what I needed. I’m not even close to a luddite, but providing great service is always going to be more important than keeping your tech looking cutting edge.

The Net-Net and Inspiration From Being an Airbnb Host

At the end of the day, the moving experience really helped me think about how I counsel my clients on their customer experience. I think what happens is that brands develop a service or product, pay a ton of attention in the development phase, think they have it all sorted out, and then just set it and forget it. What this taught me is that brands need to actually go through their own customer experience.

Call customer service and try and get a new install. Wait on hold and hear messages about keeping you connected or taking advantage of the brand’s latest tech. Ship packages and see how jarring the experience is when you have to jump back and forth between old and new platforms. By walking in your customers’ shoes, you’ll discover what’s working with your brand experience and what is not.

This whole experience reminded me of Airbnb. I have a vacation home that I rent out on the platform. To get to super host status and become Airbnb Plus, I tried to walk through the customer experience by reminding myself what makes me happy when I check into a 5-star hotel: cookies from the bakery on the counter, bottles of water next to each bed, and making sure the essentials (like milk for a.m. coffee) are always stocked. Then I would sleep in every single room to see what it’s like at night. Does the TV work? Does the AC blast cool enough? Does the street light peep through the blinds? By walking my guests’ walk, I was able to see the areas of friction and create a great customer experience that resulted in only 5-star ratings.

Brands need to walk their customers’ walk.

Brand Experience and a Tale of Two Startups

As if there isn’t already enough happening in the world right now, I’ve been taking on one of the most stressful endeavors at regular times, amplified during COVID: a move! Not just any move — a cross-country move. The thought of being by myself all summer long in this strange pandemic version of New York was making me feel a little unhinged, so I departed for sunny California.

Selling my NYC condo is about as much real estate woe as I can handle, so I turned to specialty startups to help soften my landing in CA. It was like living through one of my very own presentations about brand experience do’s and don’ts.

It all boils down to what I tell my clients all the time:

Customer Service Is the Original Creative Branding Solution — Don’t Overlook It.

Brands are increasingly relying on tech like slick websites and flash apps to appeal to customers. Those things are great, but they only go so far. Great tech is worth nothing if the brand is not thinking about the end-to-end customer experience and all the different touch points that can affect a customer’s perception. Big-picture customer service just isn’t being talked about anymore.

Case in point — the startup I worked with to set up my new place. They specialize in doing all the boring, time-consuming condo tasks, and marketed themselves as having beautifully furnished corporate apartments so that I could “simply show up and start living.” The opportunity to test out an interesting building before I choose exactly where to settle sounded perfect. But what would happen after the marketing has done its job and it’s time to follow through? Nothing good, it turns out.

Just to get the contract signed I was passed around from person to person. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my experience. I’ll spare you the full horror story that awaited me when it was time to check in to my new place. Let’s just say there wasn’t even a bed ready to sleep in. I had to use all my negotiating experience to back out of the agreement, and didn’t receive so much as an apology.

I seek out a great customer experience wherever I go, and this particular experience was a powerful reminder that too many brands are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to marketing and customer service.

Reach out to me if you want to know the company I am talking about so you can avoid the same headache.

Problems Are Universal. Problem Solving Is What Sets You Apart.

Enter the next startup, Feather. I moved to a different unit in the same building, and picked a different startup to work with on furnishing. You get to rent anything you want from their inventory of stylish furniture, which they deliver and set up — it’s more of subscription service versus the good old-fashioned Rent-a-Center model. Everything happened on a sleek app. When I signed up, there was a credit card issue. I got an immediate phone call from a real person who solved the problem. I received follow-up calls to check in and offer help all throughout the process. When a delivery went wrong, they made me feel like fixing it immediately was a priority to them. They even honored a promotion I received after signing up.

As a global brand strategist and a picky consumer of luxury brands, I’ve seen it all, and I promise that old-fashioned customer service isn’t going to stop being important any time soon. Fabulous brand events and other cool experiences you create are quickly forgotten when someone has a bad check in experience at a hotel, or the internet doesn’t work in your Airbnb rental, or a luxury car dealer makes a busy executive come into the dealership to sign paperwork. Never, ever underestimate the basic and fundamental human experience along every touch point of the customer journey.

Get More From Your Advertising While Spending A Lot Less

At a time when there seems to be a new national crisis daily, it is hard to justify moving forward with big marketing spends not knowing what the purchasing climate will be one day to the next. Clever copy, relevant content, and big promotions just can’t overcome the hurdles of spending freezes and cut backs many of your target customers are experiencing. When this happens, its really tough to make marketing pay off. At least the kind of marketing you might be used to executing.

Fortunately, marketing platforms today give us the opportunity to manage our marketing spend to be accountable for every dollar, and to eliminate waste by paying only for results, be it impressions, clicks, likes, contact information, and so on.

Regardless of COVID-19 economic challenges, and civil rights protests that disrupt business as usual in every sense of the term, spending dollars on performance marketing programs that are highly measurable is smart marketing under all circumstances. Such programs enable you to reach only who you want to reach, and only cost you money when they perform. This makes sense in good times, certain times, and the reverse.

The key to getting more from these media channels (e.g., Google Ads and LinkedIn ads) really boils down to two things:

  • What you say and how you say it
  • How you use them to spark a multi-step journey to YES for the leads you generate

Here are some considerations.

What You Say and How You Say It

Emotional and psychological relevance is more important than ever. It’s fair to say that most of us are operating from a perspective of fear, anxiety, and doubt most of the time. Every day there’s another setback to our respect for humanity, our belief in governments, our sense of security, and a lot more. So ads that appeal to just about anything but the above are likely to go unnoticed or unacted upon. Copy that directly appeals to a solution vs. boasts a brand’s expertise is likely to influence and persuade, the goal of all marketing. Yet so many ads across all platforms are still brag sheets that are meaningless to purchasers seeking solutions to the fears and anxieties that consume them.

You need to use powerful words that speak to how you can add confidence and security to those struggling to find both in their jobs and personal worlds. Even with the strict word counts for Google Ads and LinkedIn Ads, you can do it. The best way to identify the words or issues that move your customers the most is to ask them. Use your website, social media pages, and email programs to ask one to three questions that identify the greatest concerns and needs on customers’ minds today.

If you find fear of job loss or the great unknown to be top of mind among your customers, use words that speak directly to these fears in your Search Ads. Back up the promise implied by these words with all the other touch points you prepare to keep them on a journey to YES.

How You Spark a Multi-Step Journey

Its amazing how many marketers spend a lot of money on PPC and other performance marketing programs and then stop there. The intent of these programs is most often to create a lead or get people to a website where further engagement takes place. Yet many marketers don’t plan well for the next touch point.

This is why Customer Experience (CX) strategies and plans are so critical. And putting a strong CX plan in place is really quite simple. Some tips:

  • Map out the steps that take place from first introduction to your brand to closing the first sale and then what you do to keep them purchasing.
  • Document the triggers that keep customers moving from one step to the next. Was it a price incentive? A free trial? Content or actionable information? Was it simply a phone call or additional email?
  • Promote these triggers in a carefully concerted customer journey, starting with your website.

Once you get people to your website from your digital advertising campaigns, keep them there by making these same triggers or offers the first thing they see on your home page. Use them as reasons to go deeper in your site, sign up for a demo, download a paper, and so on.

The next step to doing more with less is to train your customer service and sales team members to follow up with each lead that lands on your website or responds to an email. As you are already paying for these people, having them follow up with a personal touch does not cost you a lot more, but most often gives back a lot more in terms of getting customers to take the next step in that critical journey to the first sale. Quite often it’s the phone call or personal email that makes all the difference, and yet this is often overlooked.

While it may seem like advertising is a big waste right now with all the uncertainty we face daily in this new normal state of the world, if you use the right emotional appeals, and keep engaging customers with a strong workflow and customer journey plans, you can actually achieve a great deal at a fairly low cost.

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.

Great Customer Experience Starts With Your Marketing

How your brand engages prospects sets the tone for the entire customer relationship. Here are three things your marketing must do to show prospects that you understand how to treat them as customers.

How your brand engages prospects sets the tone for the entire customer relationship. In fact, the customer experience — especially before purchase — is influenced more by when, where, and how you talk to them than by your website’s or app’s UX polish (although, bad UX can certainly still ruin the experience).

Here are three things every brand must get right to lay the foundation for a great customer experience.

1. Customers Must Be Interested in What You’re Saying

How often do you see marketing that you’re just not interested in? Is that a good experience for you as a customer? Do you think it’s a good experience when your brand’s marketing has the same impact on its potential customers?

The ability to control where and to whom your message appears is the core of successful omnichannel marketing, but brands get it wrong all the time.

It starts with knowing your current customers. Knowing what your audience wants to see in your marketing is a function of how well you understand the data around your current customers and how you apply those insights to prospects. For example, building look-a-like models based on your current customers allows you to target demographic and behavioral features in prospect audiences that make them likely to be interested in your messaging.

Once you understand the data points that will allow you to target prospects, your marketing must be able to put those insights into action. That’s where your omnichannel marketing strategy comes into play. Each channel has its own, unique ways to target audiences, and you need to be able to use those channels to deliver your messages to just the people who want to see them.

On social media, for example, you can target people by interests, likes, and follows that match what you know current customers are interested in. Online display advertising can target website visitors based on browsing profiles. Search ads target based on the search terms you buy.

There are a thousand ways to get there, but targeting your omnichannel messages is essential. Once you see engagement and know that marketing is on-target, then you can expand the customer experience strategy to reach new target audiences based on broader profiles.

By talking to prospects about things you know they’re interested in, you’re showing them that you understand what they need and you’re not going to waste their time.

2. Customers Must Be Open to Engaging on That Platform

Many brands put their marketing in front of people wherever they can and whenever they can, and the result is a generation of people who tune out marketing as little more than background noise.

It’s this simple: If your ad annoys people, it’s not a good customer experience.

The secret to providing consumers a good marketing experience is to be there when it’s helpful and not be there when it’s annoying. If your marketing is annoying, prospects will just tune it out — but they won’t forget that you annoyed them.

Many TV and online ads fall into this trap, but there are times and places for good marketing to create positive brand experiences. Direct mail is one channel that customers interact with on their own terms. Direct mail marketing is there when customers want it, not when they don’t. Even online marketing, despite the annoying nature of so many digital ads, can create a great customer experience if you put the ads in the right places at the right time.

Paid search, again, is a good example of advertising that works hand-in-hand with its platform to provide a positive experience. There’s no better time to promote your solution than when someone is actively asking the question.

Good omnichannel marketing doesn’t just focus on where leads may be found, it focuses on where leads have been found and where they engage and convert with the kind of marketing you’re doing. By positioning your marketing in the channels where your prospects want to engage with that kind of content, you start a customer journey that can make customers fall in love with your business.

3. The Time Must Be Right to Have a Customer Experience

Timing is everything. All the demographic and interest-based targeting in the world won’t turn bad timing into a good customer experience.

The timing of your marketing is affected by several cycles, some of which are universal, like seasonality, while others are unique to each customer or to your brand. Great omnichannel brands identify these cycles and use them to deliver great experiences.

There are important points in individual customer lifecycles, such as identifying when a known prospect will be ready to buy or an existing customer will be ready to repurchase. When a brand recognizes those moments and acknowledges them with a positive message, that creates a good customer experience. These milestones matter to your customers, and so do birthdays and other important dates in their individual years.

This is where customer journey maps can come in handy. By sketching out the entire customer journey from initial consideration through repurchase and (hopefully) product evangelism, you better understand what customers are doing at each step of the way. This helps you identify which messages are needed at milestone points in the lifecycle as well as the kind of experiences that will help nudge people from being just customers to true brand evangelists.

In the end, all of this work isn’t just about making marketing that converts more, it’s about creating marketing that connects with your target audience on a personal level. If you get these three things right before the purchase, you lay the foundation for a great customer experience throughout the post-purchase journey.

How to Make Actionable Sense of Customer Sentiment Analysis

Creating a better customer experience is a top priority for most businesses, with 72% of companies saying improving CX is their No. 1 goal, according to data from Forrester. However, figuring out what drives a better user experience is a total guessing game, unless you take a deep dive into customer sentiment analysis.

Creating a better customer experience is a top priority for most businesses, with 72% of companies saying improving CX is their No. 1 goal, according to data from Forrester. However, figuring out what drives a better user experience is a total guessing game, unless you take a deep dive into customer sentiment analysis.

Understanding the responses and reactions that customers give out after using your products can help your brand immensely. Of course, conducting market research and surveys, and gathering feedback from customers are all small but essential steps toward improving your product or service, as well as its user experience. However, these reports are mostly a whole lot of confusing numbers and statistics; they offer no action plan or recommendations, or even insights on what to do next.

Making actionable sense of the numbers can be tricky, especially if there are no clear problems or opportunities that were identified through your research.

So, what should you do? Let’s go step-by-step.

Pinpoint Common Threads in Customer Reviews

While it’s typically a company’s first reaction to try to remove negative reviews that could deter future customers, these actually may be your best resource for fixing hidden issues.

About 25% of consumers have left a review for a local business because of a bad experience, but this doesn’t mean that 100% of these reviews are helpful to either companies or other customers. It’s best to turn to a reliable system here that can sift through emotionally exaggerated (and practically useless) or downright fake reviews and uncover valuable information that could point you toward better solutions.

A review platform, such as Bazaarvoice, allows brands to collect genuine ratings and reviews from customers, respond to their questions and concerns about their products, display moderated content created by customers on social media, and even implement a product sampling program based on the reviews you’ve collected.

Similarly, an interaction management tool, like Podium, gets you in the game earlier, helping you connect and interact with prospects on multiple channels. It enables team collaboration on lead generation and nurturing, as well as solving customer problems, leading to a consistent customer experience.

Customer Sentiment Analysis image
Credit: Podium.com

More customers tend to leave reviews with brands that use customer review management tools. This results in more data for your sentiment research, eventually ensuring better targeting and success of your product marketing campaigns.

Watch out for repeated keywords throughout these reviews, such as issues with customer service, packaging, delivery, or pricing. Looking for patterns in your customer reviews lies at the core of identifying the problems and coming up with solutions.

Use Smart Segmentation

Customers never fit into the one-size-fits-all category. Even if you cater to a small niche or if your product has a very specific use, there will be subsets, segments, and cohorts, all influenced by varying demographics and regulations, who could affect opinions of your business. This is why smart segmentation is important when reviewing customer sentiment analysis.

Again, these segments may need different targeting strategies, depending on whether your company is a B2C or B2B entity.

B2C

B2C marketers need to look at the:

  • age:
  • location:
  • income: and
  • in-the-moment needs of their customers.

B2B

B2B marketers, on the other hand, need to address non-personal variances, such as:

  • company size:
  • budget; or
  • objectives.

By pairing demographic and quantitative data, customer sentiment may make more sense and provide even deeper insight than before. For instance, customers who are motivated by finding the best deal may say that your shipping costs are too high; whereas, customers with FOMO may be ready to pay extra for next-day delivery. When you have multiple datasets of behavioral data that you can compare against one another, your team can understand how to cater to various customer segments by understanding their motivations.

Note that customer “segments” vary from “profiles” or “personas.” They are not as specific, and typically only focus on one or two variables rather than a list of unique qualities. There are countless ways to segment your audience, so be sure to find the segmentation model that best fits your business.

Customer Sentiment Analysis photo
Credit: MeaningCloud.com

Identify Engagement Intent

Understanding the “why” behind your customer’s actions will shed some light on their sentiment reactions. Your expectations always influence your experience, so a customer’s engagement intent could play a part in their response.

The rise of search as a marketing channel has made it clear that there are essentially four engagement intent categories that consumers fall into today:

  • informational;
  • navigational;
  • commercial; and
  • transactional.

Each of these steps correlates well with the traditional AIDA sales funnel model.

Informational

The first is searching for information on a particular subject that may or may not be a problem for them. These are typically prospects who are just entering the marketing funnel. They simply want to know more, so if your website does not offer the information they are looking for, their interest in your brand or product will not develop at all.

Navigational

People in the navigational category are looking for a specific product, service, or piece of content. This group knows what they want, and they will be easily frustrated if they can’t find it.

Commercial

The commercial investigation intent group is interested in buying, but they just aren’t quite ready yet or aren’t convinced that your product offers the best solution for them. They fall just above the action segment of the sales funnel and are often looking for the last bits of information before they make a purchase.

Transactional

And finally, the transactional group has the intent to buy. They have already made their decision to buy a specific product; however, any hiccups in the buying or checkout process could deter them.

Identifying Engagement Intent

Of course, identifying their engagement intent is a little tricky, especially after the interaction has been completed. But with some digging and martech tools, there are ways to figure out the motivations behind every brand-customer engagement.

One of the clearest ways to identify engagement intent is through carrying out intent research, attribution modeling, and analyzing their behavior on your digital property. If they just read a post on your blog, chances are they were looking for more information on a topic related to your industry. If they clicked an ad and filled up a form on your landing page, they are probably interested in availing themselves of your service.

Once their intent has been identified and understood, it will be much easier to understand their sentiment post brand engagement or product usage.

Experiment With Changes

Finally, the only way to make customer analysis actionable is to, well, take action. However, just switching things up without constantly analyzing the results will only put you back at Square One.

Many marketers rely on A/B/n or multivariate testing strategies to compare different changes, whether it be in the design or layout to an entire product or service experience. However, A/B testing can be a long and arduous process that yields murky results. It may even mislead you, if you over-rely on seasonal or contextual variables. Unsurprisingly, AI technology has been a huge help in the A/B testing realm by improving the accuracy and reliability of the process, resulting in few conversion opportunities lost.

AI-based algorithms are able to gather and analyze massive amounts of data at a time. They can compare results of multiple tests against each other simultaneously at various interaction points along the buyer journey.

Tools like Evolv use machine learning (ML) to find which experiences and customer journey paths work best (make profits) for you and nudge customers down those paths accordingly. You can set up experiments on your landing pages with goals and KPIs, and let the algorithm tweak the UX for each customer by presenting various combinations. The data from these experiments help you understand how satisfied the customer is with the interaction, and also develop new hypotheses to keep testing further or make decisions related to product development or service delivery.

The Way Ahead

By understanding the root causes behind your customer’s reactions and feelings, you can go as far as to influence sentiment, improve brand loyalty ,and encourage advocacy. Always be looking for overlaps and commonalities among complaints. This will help you avert PR disasters, deliver exceptional customer service, and stay ahead of the competition.

Use sentiment analysis to understand where your customers are coming from by segmenting them and uncovering their intents at every interaction. Finally, track the effects of all your initiatives and take action responsibly to ensure they stay delighted at all times.

Why Pulling Out of Amazon Is the Smartest Decision for Your Brand

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Partnering with Amazon undoubtedly has benefits — namely, a built-in audience and speedy delivery options. However, it’s crucial to consider what you’re jeopardizing in exchange. You’re losing control of how your brand is presented. Even if you’re lucky enough to benefit from Amazon’s search algorithm — another thing brands have no control over — you essentially have no say in how your brand experience is delivered.

Last year, Nike partnered with Jet.com, and given what Jet’s chief customer officer said, I’m not surprised. David Echegoyen told Footwear News, “the way in which people find, discover and use your product is as much part of the experience as the fact that you buy them and use them.” Echegoyen explained that Jet’s focus would be on delivering an experience that would allow both brands to utilize customer insights to enhance their experience. And because Nike products would only be sold direct from the brand on the Jet site, the confusion and brand dilution that shoppers often experience on marketplace platforms would effectively be eliminated.

What every brand should seek in its retail partners — and, really, all partners, to the extent that it’s possible — is recognition of the importance of delivering a cohesive brand experience at every touchpoint, and the desire and capabilities to do so. The advantages of owning your brand experience are abundant.

Control Your Customer Journey

By limiting the channels where your products are available, you’re better able to deliver the best experience to your customers. This includes everything from product recommendations to delivery preferences, the physical unboxing experience, and more. This controlled approach also serves as a preventive measure against counterfeiting issues that could otherwise tarnish your brand’s reputation.

Own Your Data

Amazon traces every shopper’s step, utilizing that data to make product suggestions based upon its own algorithm. These are insights that would be incredibly valuable to brands, arming them with information that can help to deliver a better experience across all platforms, ultimately earning loyal customers. The problem is Amazon owns that data and doesn’t share it with brands. Now, selling direct to consumer on your own channels provides you with 100 percent of your data, the benefits of which warrant its own article. With a compatible, focused retail partner, there may be more room for a discussion about data sharing.

Secure Better Profit Margins

It’s difficult to predict revenues when the sales process is out of your hands. Going direct to consumer gives brands the most control over profit margins. However, as a new or emerging brand, third-party channels are commonly part of the mix. Profit margins are dependent upon the type of partner and the value they bring to the table — or in this case, the cart. Amazon controls the market, so the terms of merchant agreements are almost certainly dictated. However, when you have a like-minded partner dedicated to delivering an experience, the terms may be subject to negotiation.

Shatter the Delivery Myth

Thanks to the “Amazon Effect,” brands and retailers have had to figure out how to meet delivery expectations. My company conducted a 2019 study that revealed online shoppers weigh shipping costs and delivery speed more heavily in their purchasing decisions than ever. Consider that 58 percent of respondents said shipping costs greatly impact their decision to make an online purchase, and 62 percent said free shipping was the most influential factor in their decision to make future purchases. By utilizing sales and transportation data from your fulfillment team, you can map your customers’ journeys and customize shipping pricing and delivery speed to meet their unique expectations.

Selling through partners can be a huge asset, but it means there will always be an intermediary between you and your customer. If your sales channels include third-party retailers, make sure you’re all on the same page. Amazon can bolster brands in the short term, but to build a sustainable business, you must control how customers experience your brand, wherever they are.

Maria Haggerty is CEO and one of the original founders of Dotcom Distribution, a premier provider of B2C and B2B fulfillment and distribution services. 

4 Mistakes Multichannel Marketers Make and Lose Customers

Most businesses today understand the importance of multichannel marketing. They invest in SEO, PPC, social media, and even trade shows and conferences. However, if your hard-fought marketing budget is not able to increase your customer base or pool of prospects consistently, then you can be sure your funnel has developed a few holes in the wrong places.

Most businesses today understand the importance of multichannel marketing. They invest in SEO, PPC, social media, and even trade shows and conferences. However, if your hard-fought marketing budget is not able to increase your customer base or pool of prospects consistently, then you can be sure your funnel has developed a few holes in the wrong places.

Unfortunately, both B2B and B2C businesses are guilty of making sales-killing mistakes again and again; oftentimes, putting off customers without realizing it. These simple blunders could cost your business big-time, hurting growth opportunities and diminishing returns from existing customers.

Here are four pitfalls you should be wary of while implementing an integrated, omnichannel marketing strategy, so that you don’t lose any targeting opportunities. All of these tips apply to the technology, methods, and tactics that are currently used by entrepreneurs, companies, and marketers, cutting across industries and geographies.

Preferring Safe Over Sorry

Taking risks is a big part of running a business, and something that many entrepreneurs are used to. However, once they start experiencing success and growth, many begin to shy away from taking chances.

In the long run, many business owners admit that playing it safe was one of their biggest mistakes. In terms of marketing and sales, going the safe route can actually hurt your brand. Why? Because it is simply boring.

According to a study by Adobe, 54% of marketing experts know that they should be taking more risks, and an alarming 82% of companies believe that they need to reinvent their branding in order to succeed. Remember, your customers’ needs and mindsets are constantly changing. If you rely on the same tactics, the same advertisements, and the same marketing messages, people will eventually get bored and your results will diminish.

multichannel graphic
Credit: Adobe on SlideShare.com

Reassess the methods and tools you use for audience analysis, and take a look at how the demographics have shifted over the years. Compare your past results with your current numbers to see if there are any noticeable differences. It may be time to take some risks, try something new, and see what happens.

Relying on Imperfect Bots

Saving on customer support by passing on the majority of your customer service workload to an automated chatbot system sounds like a dream come true. If used correctly, these bots answer customer inquiries, resolve issues, and even make sales. This is why the AI-powered chatbot has exploded in recent years, with 15% of consumers reporting that they have used one to communicate with businesses over the past year, according to Drift’s 2018 “State of Chatbots” report. (Opens as a PDF)

However, just because this customer service channel may be working for some businesses, it does not mean that it is a one-size-fits-all solution. When creating a chatbot, the overarching goal is to solve the cognitive puzzle that fills in the gaps between a bot conversation and a human conversation. When a conversation is initiated, in any capacity, there is an exchange of data that sheds light on emotional engagement between the two parties. Take away the emotional exchange, and empathy is unachievable.

Programming an online bot to handle all sorts of customer queries and interpret exactly what someone is looking for does require a bit of technical knowledge and understanding, despite what off-the-shelf chatbot sellers will have you believe. A poorly programmed chatbot could easily result in lost revenue.

Just one bad or frustrating experience with a chatbot will likely push away 73% of customers forever. If a bot is simply not answering their question or simply offering irrelevant information, then it is doing your business far more harm than good.

multichannel chatbot
Credit: SherpaDesk.com

In order to determine whether or not your chatbots could use some help, take a look at some important metrics. Has your sales cycle lengthened? Are fewer leads moving down the buyer’s funnel? Are you facing an increase in helpdesk escalations, despite an improvement in response times? An effective sales bot should be boosting conversions — or at least micro-conversions — so if numbers are shrinking, that’s a definite red flag.

You can also try adding a short satisfaction survey at the end of each chatbot conversation to gather some customer feedback and help identify any weak points that are killing the customer experience.

Ignoring the Micro-Influencer

It seems like everyone and their grandmother is “leveraging” influencer marketing these days, trying to reach the promised (read, purported) 11-times ROI of other digital marketing methods. It is easy to get blinded by the numbers; especially in terms of “reach” and “engagement.” Just because an influencer has a huge following doesn’t necessarily mean that their promotion will help your business.

Micro-influencers (accounts with 100,000 followers or fewer) actually perform better, in terms of audience engagement and actual “influence” — purchase rates. In fact, these smaller accounts generate over six times more engagement than influencers with massive followings. Customers are also more likely to buy a product that is recommended by a micro-influencer than they are to purchase something recommended by a person they know. Additionally, the cost per lead and cost per acquisition is lower than paid ads and regular influencer marketing.

multichannel chart
Credit: Mavrck.com

If your brand has dabbled with big-name influencers in the past, it may be time to consider a partnership with a micro-influencer to reach more relevant audiences. Because these accounts have smaller followings, they tend to be niche-focused, meaning that their content is highly pertinent to their audience’s needs and interests.

Obsessing Over Any One Stage of the Sales Funnel

Marketers love to talk about the importance of the sales funnel and creating marketing plans designed to “nudge” customers through it. While the sales funnel is definitely a great blueprint to guide your strategies, getting caught up in any one phase could spell disaster for conversions.

Remember, every visitor, prospect, lead, or target must go through several steps, go back, forward, and run around in circles before they become a full-fledged customer. They must be introduced to your brand during the awareness stage, learn more about your business and products during the interaction phase, get interested and place their trust in you, and ultimately make and stick to a decision to buy from you.

However, many marketing teams tend to forget this trajectory and get caught up in either building brand awareness so potential customers grow bored, or spend too much time promoting sales jargon that people totally disengage, due to advertising fatigue. If your customers are unfamiliar with your business (thanks to a lack of top-of-the-funnel marketing), the pressure to “Buy Now” will be ineffective.

Keep in mind, it might take up to 13 interactions with a brand before a lead can even be classified as a sales-qualified lead (SQL). Focusing on any one section of the sales journey can narrow the funnel significantly, meaning that fewer people flow through.

Focus a good chunk of your efforts on educating and raising brand awareness. Once people start tuning in, give them more specific information about your content and everything you offer. As you gain serious interest, then it’s time to start talking about price points, deals, and how potential customers can take proper action.

Most importantly, you need to place emphasis on the transitions between stages. They need to be smooth and organic if you want your sales funnel to function properly.

Fix Your Strategy, Fix Your Sales

Selling is an art form that no one has truly perfected. There are so many ins and outs, little details, and psychological factors that play into it — making it a deeply complex and ever-evolving practice. Online sales add another layer of complication by removing that up-close and personal factor. However, once you’ve plugged the leaks in your sales funnel, you’ll see a larger number of customers coming in and coming back. Good luck!

3 Customer Experience Tips for Marketers to Reduce Churn

Here’s the backdrop for our customer experience story. It takes most organizations months to onboard new employees to get them to full productivity. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, an effective onboarding program can take 12 months.

Here’s the backdrop for our customer experience story. It takes most organizations months to onboard new employees to get them to full productivity. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, an effective onboarding program can take 12 months. (Opens as a PDF)

Onboarding, defined on Wikipedia as “organizational socialization,” is the process by which employees gain the knowledge and skills to succeed at their jobs, and assimilate into the culture of the organization, becoming valued and contributing members of the “tribe.”

Without carefully planned and executed employee onboarding programs, employee attrition goes up, and so does corporate waste, as it costs about nine months of an employees’ salary to terminate and start over again.

This same principle applies to customer loyalty and the very high cost of losing even just one customer. Yet it’s hard to find “onboarding” programs for customers that are as robust as those for employees. Even with the cost of losing a customer being much higher than the loss of a middle management employee. When you lose a customer, you lose not just the cost of acquiring that customer, you lose the next transaction you were counting on, and you lose their entire lifetime value, which can be pretty substantial in the B2B world.

This is where a carefully concerted and executed customer experience becomes mission-critical to any businesses’ success. Interestingly enough, Qualtrics-owned Temkin Group, which conducts regular customer experience rating studies, shows that customers’ satisfaction with brand experiences is dropping. Those rating customers’ experiences as “good” or “excellent” has dropped to 38 percent, or 7 percent lower in 2018 than in 2017.

customer experience graph
Credit: Temkin Group

David Morris, CMO of Proformex, marketing advisor to Resilience Capital, and respected authority on SaaS marketing, has founded and led many businesses to exceptional growth by focusing on customer experience above all else. His mantra for success is really one simple step that if neglected could put any business out of business:

ONCE YOU GET A CUSTOMER, DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO FURTHER ENGAGE THEM.

This simple mandate seems like one of those no-brainers for most of you reading this article; yet, if you really did an audit of your business, you’d likely find, like most businesses today, that many of your team members are so focused on getting more and more customers to meet those sales quotas that they are not all that engaged with whom they just sold.

Per Morris, “We spend thousands of dollars and huge amounts of time marketing to customers, and in some cases, a year or more to convert a lead to a customer. And then we lose a customer in a matter of months. When this happens, you spend a lot more money getting customers than you get back in revenue, and that is not a sustainable way to operate a business.”

To stop the craziness and profit bleeding from the above cycle, Morris suggests some simple tactics to re-engage customers through experiences that create the kind of partnerships and added values that take competitors and price out of the equation.

Make Sure Your Customers Are Actually Using Your Product

Nothing kills customer satisfaction ratings like customers who have not gotten around to using the products you sell them. Again, this sounds obvious. But it’s not. Professionals often sign up for SaaS licenses, marketing tools, and systems that they don’t get around to using or put off when training becomes more timely than planned. And quite often, they never get around to telling you. So when it’s time to renew, they go elsewhere.

Utilize the Tool of Face Time

And Morris doesn’t mean online. Get out to your customers office, take them to lunch, talk about the weather, sport teams, your kids. Just get out there and establish some positive energy in real time. In a world where time is one of the most valuable assets we have, giving time to someone is often more valuable than anything tangible you can offer. Customer satisfaction goes up when customers feel they are appreciated, valued and recognized for their achievements, roles and needs. Spending “real time” in the “real” vs. digital world is one of the strongest methods for building long-term customer relations, as Morris teaches his staff and uses himself.

Establish Reciprocal Transparency

Ask customers the tough questions, suggests Morris. And his definition of tough does not include, “What is your budget,” or “How quickly can you buy?” Tough to him includes, “How are we doing? What can we do better? How do we compare to others you’ve used? And how do we need to change to earn your loyalty?” Its tough when someone points out your failures and shortcomings, but until you face them and buck up to change them, you cannot succeed in securing customer loyalty, and frankly many other areas of business and life, in general.

Conclusion

To succeed in business today, you must have a plan for a customer journey that addresses every step of the way, every touchpoint, and is aligned with KPIs across your business. Creating customer journeys and experiences that result in customer satisfaction is really a simple process, as Morris points out. The key is commitment. Get commitment to a consistent process, experience and outcome for every customer, every day, vertically and horizontally within your organization. Start small, grow big and enjoy long-lasting relationships that generate sustainable revenue streams and strong ROMIs.

1 Big Pitfall to Successful Demand Generation Digital Transformation

As marketing leaders, we sometimes inadvertently lead our teams astray. When we delegate the outcomes we want, and simultaneously drive a sense of urgency, our teams may skip important steps in their drive to achieve the outcomes.

As marketing leaders, we sometimes inadvertently lead our teams astray. When we delegate the outcomes we want, and simultaneously drive a sense of urgency, our teams may skip important steps in their drive to achieve the outcomes. Here is a classic example we see all too frequently with clients.

The Scenario

We start with the desired outcomes, of course. In demand generation, this is usually marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) or sales-qualified leads (SQLs), bookings and revenue. If this desired outcome was somehow unexpected, then a sense of urgency invariably accompanies it. So, in turn, we light a fire under our teams to quickly get some leads in the door, generate MQLs and SQLs ASAP.

The Result and the 1 Big Pitfall

We need to generate leads and MQLs? Let’s create a campaign! Yay! Design it this week, build it next week, QA and launch the end of the week, and leads will start pouring in subsequent to that. Oh, dear. If only it were that easy. Going straight from “we need MQLs” to “let’s create a campaign” means going from Step 1 to Step 8 and skipping six important steps.

  1. Generate new MQLs and SQLs
  2. Create a campaign!

Here are the six intervening steps you will want to ensure your team takes if you are to have successful demand generation campaigns and succeed in your digital transformation.

Preventing the Pitfall

Step 2. What Buying Stage Transition Are We Targeting?

Once we understand the outcome desired in Step 1, we must determine what customer buying journey stage we are targeting. Are we moving people from unaware to aware, or from aware to consideration, etc. If you haven’t defined the customer buying journey, stop and define at least one.

Step 3. What Persona Are We Targeting?

Don’t have any defined personas? Stop and define at least one. Having a clear picture of who you are targeting is a critical step to successfully achieving your outcome. Now that you have the persona selected, the team gets to review what channels the persona prefers, and the content preferences. Step 2 and Step 3 are interchangeable. I.e., there will be occasions where you perceive your funnel conversion rate from one stage to another is low, and you make the buying journey stage decision first. There will be other times where you recognize your funnel volume is low on a particular persona, and you make the persona decision first and the buying journey stage decision second. Regardless, you need to take both steps.

Step 4. What Problem Does Your Persona Have at This Stage?

The next question to answer, now that you have selected the target persona, and the current buying journey stage, is what problem do the members of it have at this stage that can be solved with your content?

For example, if you are targeting the Aware stage, and want to move them to Consideration, what information or education will trigger the buyers to sit up, realize they have been ignoring a pain in their sides that is curable, or that they have an opportunity to do something they have not done before, and they need to finally take action? The ideal content you send is most likely NOT product-centric. It will be customer-centric and it will have the buyer‘s challenge or the opportunity as the primary theme. It will be very narrowly focused around that theme.

We are looking for the trigger that will move this persona one step forward in the buying journey. We are not trying to move them all of the way to “closed won” with a single piece of content, or a single campaign.

Step 5. What Message or Content Addresses That Challenge or Opportunity?

Okay, we have the target persona, the buying journey stage they are in, the trigger we feel will tip them forward into the next stage in the buying journey. So now the question is, what content do we have that directly addresses this issue? Ignore the medium it is in for now, as repackaging it may not be hard. Focus on which Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can or have already produced in terms of educational pieces of content that will be most effective in engaging the targets and moving them forward.

Step 6. What Is the Appropriate Medium for the Information?

All too often, we have clients ask us: “What is the hottest medium to use these days — video, white papers, webinars, slide shares, infographics, what?”

This is totally the wrong question! The answer depends on the message itself, and the persona and, to some extent, the buying stage they are in.

For example, if your target persona is a technical influencer, and uses a smartphone frequently to read email on the commuter train in the morning, sending a white paper would be silly, but a 2-minute video could work great … depending on the message you are trying to send. And the medium may also depend on the channels we pick in Step 7. Because more and more campaigns are becoming multichannel, it is likely you will end up choosing multiple media for the message, to match the multiple channels you use to engage the targets.

Step 7. What Combination of Channels Will We Use to Communicate That Content?

Next, we have to determine which channels will work for this persona. It is a good idea to use more than one channel to convey the same message to the same individuals. The results will simply be better, and the level of effort is not significantly more.

Some firms erroneously believe that paid media ads are only for top-of-funnel, new-lead acquisition. This is not true.

For instance, you can upload a list of email addresses into Facebook, or LinkedIn, match them against their data to create your new target list, and then do nurturing campaigns through those channels very economically only to your existing leads.

Step 8: Put It All Together

Now you are finally ready for Step 8. Let’s design a campaign based on all of the decisions made in Steps 2-7.  Now the cynics among you will say, “Hey, steps 2-7 are really part of basic campaign design, how can people be skipping them?”

The Pitfall You Just Avoided

Well, many firms don’t have defined personas and buying journey maps and here is what happens:

Step 1. CMO: We need more MQLs, urgently

Step 8. Team: Let’s design a campaign

  • An Email campaign, right? Blast everyone who is not a customer in our database, right?
  • 4 touches, check
  • 2 weeks apart, check
  • What offers can we put in there, a case study, an infographic, a research report and the last email is the call to action — “request a demo.” Check
  • Great, code up that campaign, we can get this out in under two weeks. Yay.
  • Count all the MQLs.

Conclusion

So, the message is this. If you urgently discover you need more MQLs, update your resume, not your campaign calendar. If you want to be successful in digital transformation, become more customer-centric, and approach customer engagement from the buyer perspective:

Think about what information they need first. Secondly, determine what content contains that information and then lastly, what channels and campaigns can convey that information to the recipients. And understand that one campaign does not produce a meaningful flow of MQLs or SQLs. Nurturing is a process, it requires commitment and it must be sustained over a longer period of time