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By Loren McDonald

A recent joint study conducted by IBM and Econsultancy titled, The Consumer Conversation, is shining new light on a growing gap between the messages marketers are sending out and what their customers are actually receiving.

In the old world of marketing, the path-to-purchase was straight and narrow. Marketers based communications on their own marketing calendar, not necessarily on what was best for the consumer. But today’s path is far more complex, with marketers and entire organizations tasked with engaging an increasingly elusive customer when it’s best for the customer. Succeed at this, the theory goes, and every interaction is relevant, targeted and personalized.

The trick is pulling it off, and it’s much harder than it looks. Consider this: a key metric revealed in the new study found that four out of five people surveyed felt that the average brand does not understand them as an individual.

So, how can companies start to bridge this gap and provide customers with an awesome experience, while also increasing brand loyalty and most importantly, revenue? It’s time to shift from a customer-focused to a customer-centric mindset. The former concept centers on what you want to say to your customer in each message, while the latter instead views every piece of a marketing plan or program from the customers’ perspective.

Keep in mind, a customer’s journey with a brand does not only encompass every place in which they come in contact with the company, employees or brand divisions. It can also include retailers, partners, review sites and more. Mapping the customer experience means understanding all those possible and potential stages, from researching to buying to loyalty, as well as the potential obstacles on that path. This can be a complex process, especially for companies with multiple brands or product lines, but placing this kind of focus on the customer can not only revolutionize your marketing programs, but deliver a better experience to customers and your bottom line.

To do it, companies must start by aligning departments and teams. Marketing, Customer Support, Sales, etc. can no longer operate in silos, with each team leveraging its own ways of customer engagement. Executive buy-in is critical to making this happen. Company leaders must understand the importance of understanding every way in which a customer can interact with the brand, and ensure that their teams are aligned to make each customer’s experience as seamless and unified as possible.

Not only do departments need to be aligned, but technologies do as well. Department leaders should ask themselves where they are storing customer data, how they are using it and if synching it with other departments would benefit the overall customer experience. Don’t forget, an abundance of data and analytics on customer behaviors and actions is a nice-to-have, but it’s even more important to act on this data, providing a personalized experience when it’s most relevant for the customer.

Different stages along the customer journey might require different messaging strategies. For example, an individual looking to make his or her first purchase is different than a loyal customer, or someone who has made one purchase but has never re-engaged with the brand.

Loren McDonald, Vice President, Industry Relations, IBM Silverpop

Loren McDonald, Vice President, Industry Relations, IBM Silverpop

Keep an open mind when it comes to content and channels; even though your brand probably has an email marketing program, you might find it’s best to communicate with customers at one specific stage via a strategically timed push notification from a mobile app, for example. Call centers, SMS, direct mail, in-store experiences or direct contact also can be factors at different points on a customer’s journey.

Once there is a better understanding of how different marketing communications and channels can drive customer actions, each specific channel’s role in the journey will reveal itself. Mapping the customer journey uncovers the trigger points along the way, using the data and signals customers are sending to respond with helpful messaging.

Brands that don’t make these types of changes will unfortunately be left behind, while companies that put the customer first will succeed in this ever-changing buying world.

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August 6, 2015
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[…] version of this article appeared on IBM’s A Smarter Planet […]

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