Eyetracking research shows us that visitors evaluate a web page in a fraction of a second and will often click within a few seconds. So, in many senses, success in digital marketing is down to how well you craft your digital communications to engage the visitor on your site and third-party sites.
So how do you approach engaging your online customers, is there any research to back up your approach and who is doing this well? In the first of my E-marketing Excellence interviews, I interviewed Richard Sedley, then Director of the Customer Engagement Unit at design agency, cScape.
The imperative of customer engagement
Q1. [Dave Chaffey] The customer engagement concept isn"€™t new. Why is there an increased focus on it today both in the US and in Europe?
[Richard Sedley] The increased importance of customer engagement is a result of a number of things dovetailing together including:
- Media fragmentation, at least in the short term, has led to reduced customer loyalty because there is so much choice. It also makes initiating the relationship tricky since you have to deliver instant relevance, credibility and trust to show the experience is going to be worthwhile.
- Broadband has provided us with increased opportunities for delivering and measuring interactive experiences, and at the same time raised the expectations of our audiences. Probably most important of these expectations is the ability to choose when and how we access content and services.
- The rise in importance of interactive media to the marketing mix (Latest research in the US indicates that the 18-26 age group now spend more time online that watching TV)
In these circumstances even customer who rate themselves as satisfied will not necessarily remain loyal to a brand. An engaged relationship is really the only indicator you have of future performance. Digital media allow customer experiences to be truly engaging, interactive, memorable and highly measurable, something that has always proved difficult through the more traditional media.
Definition and scope of customer engagement
Q2. [Dave Chaffey] Some might see improving customer engagement initiatives as shorthand for increasing conversion rates? I believe it is more than that, but how do you see the scope of customer engagement across traditional and digital media, strategically and tactically?
[Richard Sedley] Don"'t get me wrong, conversions are still vitally important but what customer engagement does is place those conversions into a longer term, more strategic context. There are a number of definitions of customer
engagement bouncing around at the moment, my own is:
"Repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand".
The two key words here are "repeated" and "investment". A simple focus on maximising conversions can, in some circumstances, decrease the likelihood of repeat conversions. Think of that pushy door-to-door salesman. You might buy something from him but what is the likelihood that you will repeat that purchase, or recommend his services to a friend?
Customer engagement places the strategic emphasis on the creation of valuable relationships and encourages both parties to see mutual advantage in that relationship. Frequently this will mean that your tactics require a multi-channel approach incorporating the best of digital and traditional media. I see the ability to effective blend media in its type, quantity and timing (known as Right-touching) as one of the key challenges for those interested in engagement in the coming years.
Customer engagement pyschology research
Q3. [Dave Chaffey] What research is available to underpin the psychology of customer engagement which marketers can learn from to improve their engagement programmes?
[Richard Sedley] Wow, where do I start? My current preoccupation is around the psychology of motivation. Engagement demands our customers take an action, to both initiate and maintain an engaged relationship, but how do you encourage action? An understanding of the principles and subtleties of the psychological of persuasion can be invaluable. Our ability to ethically use concepts like scarcity, consensus and reciprocity can help immensely when trying to engage audiences. For example we know from study after study that loss is a considerably greater motivator than gain. How often do our product descriptions include what we would lose if we didn't buy?
The psychology of credibility is equally rich in opportunities for marketers. An understanding of the four types of credibility; presumed, surface, reputed and earned can help us refine our messaging, particularly online where taking short-cuts to making decisions (decisional heuristics) is commonplace. Indeed research last year in Canada indicated that customers make up their minds about the quality of websites in just a 20th of a second.
Finally it is important to understand buying patterns for your particular audience. Why is it that so many people buy at both ends of the product spectrum, expensive and cheap? Yet will avoid mid-priced goods? An understanding of customer engagement psychology can help here as well.
If people are after some initial reading around the psychology of customer engagement I normally recommend some of the following:
- How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer by Michael Silverstin
Example of customer engagement
Q4. [Dave Chaffey] Apart from the usual suspects like Amazon, Dell and eBay, which UK and US companies exemplify customer engagement approaches?
[Richard Sedley] There are a lot of interesting things happening at the moment on many fronts and frequently in places that you might not have expected. However it"€™s not always embodied within any one single company or
I had the opportunity to talk with a marketer working at the Barbican Arts Centre in London
The work that they have been doing to build and segment their audiences in order to engage was very impressive. Their use of "cultural seasons" in which they prioritise existing customers at different times and in different ways to
new customers is something that a number of companies might be able to benefit from.
Yahoo's portal based approach is not without its problems but I can see plenty of advantages as well, and their ability to integrate Del.icio.us and Flickr holds massive opportunities. They are already doing some interesting things with their camera finder (http://www.flickr.com/cameras/)
Aggregating to leverage user generated content in this way is more natural and trustworthy than the normal user reviews we are so familiar with on Amazon.
Some organisations in the Not-for-profit sector have been the most adventurous at embracing Web2.0 attributes and using them to engage. I think that the Greenpeace "Green My Apple" campaign is a particularly strong. (www.greenmyapple.com/) I especially like their emphasis on advocacy, which I think shows a deep understanding of their audience. The tone the site sets complements the customer evangelism associated with Apple and naturally builds upon it.
Future developments of customer engagement
Q5. [Dave Chaffey] How do you see the development of customer engagement approaches for different marketing initiatives in the future?
[Richard Sedley] The effectiveness of any marketing initiative needs to be seen in the context of a strategy that builds from campaign to campaign. The most successful of these develop existing relationships and utilise them to reach and engage new customers. Customer advocacy has always been a goal for marketers but the rise of online user generated content has the potential to take advocacy to another level.
There is an understanding developing that you really don"own" the customer, and in many cases you don" even "own" your own brand. So I see an increased emphasis on developing engagement opportunities on other people"s websites. This could take many forms but the principle is that you need to be where you audience are rather than always trying to drive traffic back to you.
In the long term I suspect that those people that have placed an emphasis on customer engagement will see their reliance on search and affiliate marketing decline relative to the importance of their existing customers. Simply put, you want visitors to bookmark your site or search on your brand, not continually invest to draw them in again.