Do you remember the launch of Google+? Way back in 2011, when it was invite only, the social network gained over 10 million users in the first two weeks. It seemed almost certain to replace Facebook, or at least give the social media giant some serious competition.
Fast forward 6 years. Although Google+ isn’t as “dead” as some suggest, it’s community of active users seems fairly small. Meanwhile, Facebook has recently turned 13 and reported 1.86 billion active users at the end of last year. Of course, Google+ isn’t alone in its failure to become the next social media sensation – many hyped-up social networks have gone the same way over the years.
So what of the brands that poured time and energy into these networks when they first launched? Was it a waste?
Beacons have a slightly different story. Once one of the most talked about trends in 2014 and ’15, the Bluetooth-based tech has been hovering on the edge of mainstream success since its launch. Most marketers haven’t completely given up on the idea, but few brands have found a consistent, profitable use for it – yet.
Now, AI is receiving the celebrity status beacons and Google+ once held. But, unlike it’s predecessors, we’re already seeing many more implementations of AI by big brands – from Amazon’s Alexa to Domino’s pizza-ordering chatbot.
There’s something to be said for being first, especially in the crowded marketing space. At the same time, smart brands know they can’t throw time and money at every shiny, new thing. Sometimes it’s worth the risk; sometimes it isn’t.
So, as a marketer or loyalty manager, how do you decide when it is time to invest in a new channel? And how do you build it into your loyalty marketing strategy effectively?
There are two key things to consider when deciding whether to pursue a new way of connecting with customers:
- Relevance – of the channel itself, but also of what you’re saying through it
- Consistency – of your brand, of the customer experience, etc.
Is it relevant?
The single most important question to ask when adopting a new channel is: Is it relevant to my customers? This should be obvious – why invest in something your customers aren’t using? Yet in the excitement (and hype) of new tech, many businesses feel the pressure to be first, and jump in to a new medium before their customers even get there.
So before you invest, ask yourself (or better yet, ask your customers): Do they care about this channel? Is it relevant to their needs, or to the way they buy from your business?
Of course, being relevant doesn’t stop there. Make sure your messages are well-suited to the medium as well. A consistent approach (which we’ll go into more in a moment) doesn’t mean using each method of connecting with customers in exactly the same way. Some channels are for selling, others are simply a chance to be useful. Being helpful and relevant to your customers builds loyalty better than simply delivering a well-crafted marketing message.
What you need:
To do this well, you’ll need a deep understanding of your customers – who they are, where they spend their time, and what motivates them. Are they early adopters of new technology? Are they willing to share their data with you or are they more security-conscious?
Customer personas are a useful tool for this, as they’ll help you group customers by behaviour, interests and preferences, without getting too granular. You might find that certain channels work better for certain personas. The segment of customers you’re focusing your efforts on may help you prioritise which channels to invest in.
For example, recent research has found that slightly older generations, rather than millennials, are the biggest adopters of smart watches and wearables. If your key customer persona tends to be Gen X, you may want to consider integrating your loyalty program / app with these devices.
Can you be consistent?
The way you incorporate new channels into your approach is as important to success as the channels themselves. Poor implementation can cause efforts on even the most popular of channels to fall flat.
A consistent approach to every medium of communication – new and old – is key. Any channel you add to your marketing mix / loyalty strategy must integrate smoothly with your existing touchpoints, to a create a seamless experience for customers.
Wherever your customers interact with your brand – whether through email, an app or a chatbot – they should feel recognised and valued. For example, if a customer is in the middle of sorting out an issue or complaint with your support department, your loyalty app shouldn’t pop up with a message inviting them to review a product or refer a friend.
What you need:
Once you’ve decided a channel is relevant to your customers and worth pursuing, you’ll need to think about the practical side of implementation. Ask: Does your team have the technology they’ll need to support this channel? Can you deliver personalised customer experiences that are consistent across touchpoints?
The simplest and easiest way to manage this is to have one system powering all your omnichannel experiences. Many organisations split their teams and tech by channel – but this makes consistency difficult to achieve. An innovative and flexible software platform that integrates with all of your channels – and uses the same data to deliver personalised experiences on each – will create a more seamless experience for your customers and less work for your team.
The importance of an omnichannel approach
New channels are cropping all the time, and to make things easier on yourself, it’s a good idea to be future-focused. This means being agile – both in terms of your strategy and the technology you use. You’ll need to be able to update your strategy quickly and test new communication options with minimal risk.
Avoid splitting up your marketing and loyalty teams based on channel – this usually makes for a less-than-seamless experience for customers. Cultivate a customer-centric approach across your organisation, to ensure that customers needs and preferences – not the hype of new technology – is driving decisions.
And when it comes to the software you use, look for a platform with a robust API that can easily integrate with new channels (even ones that haven’t been invented yet). This will minimise risk the next time you want to try out a new medium.
A seamless omnichannel approach is essential to success, whether you’re incorporating new touchpoints into the mix, or simply optimising what you’ve got. Read more about the importance of omnichannel to the future of loyalty – and steps to start your omnichannel journey – in our article here.