How social media supports a one-to-one marketing model that encourages loyal customers

Gary Edwards, Executive Vice President, Empathica.

In todays economy, brand loyalty often takes a back seat to low cost alternatives.  Attempts from brands to spend their way into the hearts of consumers have become increasingly difficult, with eyeballs rapidly darting away from traditional television and print, to a myriad of social media and Web alternatives that cater to individual tastes.

Mass customisation of content to every niche customer segment brings with it a great deal of irony for retail. Its impossible to control. However, social media does allow retailers to partially return to their roots, harkening back to a time when every successful merchant knew their customer and gave him or her what they wanted.

Going forward, its all about returning to this old-fashioned retail approach and one-to-one marketing that promises there is something for everyone. The tables have turned from brand loyalty to consumer-side loyalty. Todays customers have made their message clear: Be loyal to my needs or Ill abandon you.

For merchants seeking loyalty, relevance is the currency that holds the promise of differentiation, of profitability by sustaining loyal customers. No less important, in an increasingly fractionalised world of media, brands are challenged to create reach in broadcasting their message.

Because relevance rules today as consumers desire a tailored solution that quickly meets their needs, most retailers struggle with how to engage them in a social-media driven world. So how can brands use social media to maintain and increase their loyal customer following?

Relevance Think Like a Customer: Whats Convenient?

The growth of the Internet has created a right now type of society. Your brand needs to be cognisant of this change and respond appropriately.

Customers require easy access to information, whether in the brick-and-mortar establishment, online, or at their fingertips on a mobile device. Is something advertised, but not on the shelf? Its no longer acceptable to give your customer a list of phone numbers of other stores to call to see if they have it. Bring inventory management to its next and proper level, and make that information available through a mobile device, with only a few clicks.

Have customers requested more help in finding merchandise via your online store? If so, consider click-to-chat technology that personalises the experience and helps drive customers to the check-out process. Do you find that your to-go food orders are on the rise? Have you made your brand more accessible, through mobile-ordering?

Its all about convenience and adapting to customer desires to enhance their experience. Brands that are able to successfully answer questions and target the consumer in their time of need will be best positioned for growth and most likely to maintain a coveted loyal following.

Relevance Bring Authentic Responses to Publicly Visible Complaints

As one-on-one marketing concentrates on identifying and meeting individual customer needs, it sets the tone for forging some pretty powerful relationships. It allows the customer to recognize that your brand is more dedicated to providing a great product or service rather than simply pushing that product on them. So when complaints occur, a company concentrating on relevance will strive to handle them in a timely and personalised manner.

Social media offers brands an excellent opportunity to connect with customers directly to handle complaints, as customers are actually much more likely to express their dissatisfaction online than in person. When problems occur, Tweet your way back into the hearts of customers. Though brands always strive for positive feedback and customer recommendations, they must be equipped to handle the bad along with the good. Customer complaints are a reality, no matter what business youre managing.

With the power of the Internet, just one unhappy customer can spread a negative message like wildfire. Companies need to prepare for this by identifying a strategy that lays out how to approach negative material about the brand and respond quickly to satisfy the customer. The individuals who criticise can be more loyal to your brand in the long run assuming you appropriately handle the complaint than customers who dont voice their opinions at all.

Participating in an online discussion to show customers that the brand is accessible and listens to what they are saying can reap tremendous benefits. A simple validation that customer suggestions are appreciated and acknowledged will earn their respect, and most likely, their future business. It will help to confirm how your brand truly hopes to enhance their customer experience further down the road.

 Reach Leverage Social Media for Positive Viral Exposure

While online relevance should certainly be growing in the marketing mix for todays retailers, the unfortunate reality is that most brands cant cater to all individuals all of the time. Therefore, reach is also important, and social media helps facilitate it like never before.

As the No. 1 most successful means of advertising is through word-of-mouth, social media now enables a customers message to be broadcast via a powerful series of online networks. It is critical for brands to have a presence via social media channels where their customers often frequent. This will help not only to identify complaints not specifically driven through a companys Web site or retail survey, but also lead to positive, viral exposure. Engage in dialogue through the online space; dont just passively wait for it to happen:

         Detect conversations that may prompt new ideas for what consumers desire in your product or service, actively encouraging these ideas.

         Make it easy and accessible to become a raving, online fan with positive comments posted to your Facebook wall or Web site.

More than half of Empathicas 100-plus retail brand clients had social networking as part of their initiatives in 2009. An emphasis on the online community and increased interaction with customers online is becoming more than just a side-project to implement when there is available time. Its becoming crucial to business success.   

But lets face it, even with more and more brands embracing social media, its no surprise that many companies believe its difficult to find their particular niche audience via social networks. As with all spend activities, brands prioritise initiatives based on their ability to enhance company profitability. In this light, social media often gets overlooked with the preconception that it will provide little to no return on investment.

Although it can be difficult to measure, the benefits of social media can be great. From Twitter to Facebook, social networks are used by a multitude of consumers today. Facebook alone boasts more than 57 million users in the United States alone, which is roughly 19% of the population. A brand that engages consumers online via its Facebook fan page, for example, increases its exposure to potentially millions of individuals. Not taking part in a channel that so many current and future customers use on a daily basis positions your brand to be left behind.

Reach Put Net Promoters to Work

One specific way to leverage the potential viral exposure of social media is to put your brands biggest fans to work. While customer service is often reactive in nature handling complaints and adapting products and services to meet demand it can and should be much more. A brand must also be proactive by converting that customer feedback information into an effective marketing strategy.

Many companies use a metric known as the Net Promoter Score. It has long been lauded as a simple way to gauge customer loyalty by asking, How likely are you to recommend our company or services to someone else? While it is often good to know this, too many companies simply do nothing with the information. Instead of sitting on the stats and just hoping those who said theyd recommend your brand actually will, put the net promoters to work!

What It All Means

Whether you approach brand loyalty via relevance, reach, or a little bit of both, social media is a critical tool in helping communicate your brand message, connect with your target audience and provide better service that will keep customers coming back.  The online landscape is a constantly evolving arena, and to successfully meet the demands of todays choosy consumers you need to integrate yourself into those digital conversations. By putting in place the right strategy to address your detractors, encourage your promoters, and deliver to the needs of the rest, you can build the loyalty that every brand craves.


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