The experience is the brand
According to a Gartner survey, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator. Largely due to the fractured media landscape, the social-media-inspired shift in share of voice from brands to consumers, and the general disaggregation of content, today’s marketers can no longer craft a fully self-contained brand image through advertising alone. Brands aren’t created explicitly, but rather they emerge from a morass of multiple exposures—some created by the brand, but many coming from word-of-mouth and social sharing. That doesn’t mean, however, that marketers have no means of telling a story or engendering loyalty. It simply means that if brands are built less from a predefined narrative and more from collections of experience, it is incumbent on marketers to approach their brand building and promotional efforts from this new, decentralized perspective. So, what should marketers do to build their brands today? Read on.
Take the ride yourself
Most marketers live in an ivory tower of their own creation—assuming the idealized customer journey they imagined and built their marketing around is actually the journey their customers take or want to take. The problem with this purely intellectual approach is that by not taking the time to investigate the reality of what actually happens to customers throughout their journey leaves little understanding of what to do or where to go if the conversions don’t measure up to the expected outcomes. Marketers can avoid this by becoming a secret shopper. Open an incognito browser window and start going through the search and fulfillment path for yourself. Better yet, occasionally conduct formal or informal ethnographic research with your customers to understand all of the points of friction in your customer experience, even those you don’t directly control. You’ll have a better understanding of the underlying motivations and pain points that affect your customers’ ability and desire to convert, and even more importantly, may uncover unexpected opportunities to create and even better interface.
Focus on the micro-interactions
It’s been said that it takes years to acquire a customer but just seconds to lose them. Focusing attention and effort on small moments along the customer journey where the greatest number of defections occur can yield big returns. For online portions of the journey, many of those points can be uncovered through basic analytics. Look through the data for points of uncharacteristically high exit rates. Create your hypothesis as to what makes that point is too complex, too confusing, or simply undesirable. Then create alternative designs or solutions and A/B test them against the original until you arrive at a solution with more desirable outcomes. For physical portions of the journey, see the paragraph above. Use detailed documentation of your customers’ experiences to uncover any point that is of universal frustration, pain or indifference. Look for ways to make bad experiences more satisfactory, or, if possible, to make average experiences great.
Multiply and simplify your on-ramps
The classic lead generation and sales models used a funnel metaphor to describe the conversion path from the total universe of potential customers to a converted sale. While still a useful metaphor when discussing the numbers involved, it no longer represents the majority of companies’ actual sales/conversion paths. Where companies used to have more direct lines between marketing and sales tactics and a converted customer, the current networked media environment provides and requires, companies to manage and optimize multiple points of entry. The more paths you can create, and the more streamlined those paths are, the better your chances of filling the proverbial funnel and converting more customers. In practice, it could mean increasing partnerships and enhancing backlinks to your website; increasing your use of conversion-specific SEM marketing which connects customers directly to dedicated landing pages or conversion forms; creating dedicated service layers that allow you to syndicate your conversion process to partners’ sites; and removing sign-up or login barriers to content. There are innumerable tactics any business could choose, but the underlying idea is that the more direct, frictionless paths you can create between your customers and the desired conversion, the better.
Minimize the distractions
The most profitable retail space per square foot by far, are Apple stores. They have some of the lowest product counts per square foot—a testament to disciplined restraint. Whether your business offers customers a physical experience, like a retail space, or a purely digital experience, like a mobile app, or some combination, there is a good chance that, over time, a collection of opportunistic decisions or demands from varying business units has cluttered your customer experience. Like an extra pile of impulse merchandise stacked by the cash register or that carousel of “important” things continually flipping across your home page, any attention being directed away from your most important conversions should be stripped away. Say less but say it more personally. Do less but execute flawlessly. Remove rarely used channels from your web navigation and kiss the carousel goodbye. Audit all of your marketing messaging and materials, processes, and digital properties with an eye for what verbal, visual or physical clutter you can selectively prune. Then, as you update materials or digital properties, eliminate it.
Formalize the follow-ups
According to a lead response study by sales training firm LeadSimple (leadsimple.com), the close rate on a warm lead was inversely proportional to the time elapsed between acquisition of the lead and the first contact made, from a 40% close rate for leads contacted within an hour down to a 10% close rate for leads contacted within 24 hours. The average response time cited in their survey was more than 30 hours. Further, it took an average of 10 emails or calls to gain a conversion—though most businesses in the survey stopped contacting prospects after two attempts. The Internet has trained us all to believe instant gratification is not simply preferred, it’s expected. With the CRM and email marketing solutions available today, delivering on that expectation can be automated while still being personalized. It creates a better customer experience and it improves your conversion rates. A win-win, for sure.