How Can Communities Solve Marketers' Conundrum?
Customer wants brands to show them they are understood and cared for
The customer of today is a master puppeteer — it is the customer who has access to all the strings. Businesses can no longer afford to assume a brand-centric view. The customer is armed with multiple digital channels, and brand loyalty is hard to find commodity. Companies need to be where customers are, understand their world and provide intuitive solutions to their problems. The role of a brand has gone from being reactive to proactive, and a step ahead, to predictive.
Customer Feedback for an Enhanced CX
Customers, on their part, are now not just consumers but enablers who share their experiences on multiple channels. They are the real CEOs, as they lend directly to a business by determining whether a product/service works or not. Customer feedback and user-generated content, therefore, is of the essence. Social media engagement, tracking reviews on third-party sites, online and IVR surveys all help understand customer sentiment and gather feedback. A lot of businesses today use self-self-service options for customer interaction. This means customers may interact on a live chat platform or with a bot rather than a human. However, this doesn't mean feedback and customer sentiment can't be captured. Firms can use analytics to understand for instance, what are the most searched elements on an e-commerce site.
As a Forbes Insights/Pegasystems survey explains, "customer engagement is not a one-off endeavor." it requires a strategy wherein a brand engages with a sense of purpose (lists out its business goals and aligns feedback from customers accordingly), creates a culture and organization for customer engagement and delivers consistent customer experiences, the Insights study further explains. Responding to feedback immediately, and offering to right any wrongs in good time, and following up to close the loop matter a lot. The immediacy and real-time responses are of the essence in a hyper-connected world. If a brand can do so and respond to either positive or negative feedback in quick time, it is likely to boost customer loyalty. As a Salesforce study of over 6,700 consumers and business buyer's world over points out, "64 per cent of consumers said they expect companies to respond to and interact with them in real time." Consumer feedback is crucial for new product development and not just for loyalty. Before designing a product or service, businesses can ascertain what problems of customers can be solved through them. Early feedback can also help tweak and make important course corrections or introducing a new line of products altogether.
A KPMG Global study, "Tomorrow's experience, today' delves into the mind of the customer, who says, "Help me solve life problems through your partner ecosystem." Also, the study says the customer wants brands to show them they are understood and cared for. Actively looking for customer feedback is one way of doing so. Another proactive and predictive way of understanding customers and gaining feedback is to help them feel a sense of belonging. Creating online communities where customers have peer-to-peer sharing, connections, feeling a collective sense of joy, pain or any other emotions can be a win-win for brands. These communities are not explicitly about brands but are more geared towards understanding what ticks and providing a space for consumers to interact.
Online Communities to Foster Brand Awareness and Loyalty
An excellent example of predictive and intuitive engagement is that of Unilever's online video channel called "All Things Hair'. The company in association with Google analyzed over 11 billion searches online across the globe on all aspects of hair care. The video channel fosters a sense of community and shared experiences and is a great example of a branded experience. This example was cited in The Economist Intelligence Unit report to illustrate the "evolving role of data from just recording what happens in a relationship between a customer and a brand to actually making things happen in that relationship."
Another example is the community of bikers revolving around a specific bike such as a Bullet from Royal Enfield. The product perse becomes less important as the cult associated with owning one and sharing the joys of ownership; bike maintenance etc. become more important. Communities boost brand awareness, create a sense of trust among members and also a great source of insights and feedback for brands, that too all under one roof! The greater the time and effort a person invests into these communities, the greater they are bound to value the brand that created it. An engaged community will thus lead to enhanced products, innovation and eventually growth for a company. To sum it all up, think of the Harley-Davidson story. The motorcycle firm was on the brink of bankruptcy in the early Eighties. And then, the turnaround happened. How? Harley created a brand community — of consumers who would participate in activities around the motorcycle. The company merely gave them a space and a sense of belonging. The rest followed. Today, it is a shining example of how companies can turn it around by harnessing the voice of the consumers. Go where your consumers are.
All that talk about the importance and positive impact upon building a brand community must be making you think about how you can get there too. Well, a successful online community does not have to be the exact copy of the other successful examples. Technology today gives marketer, the power and flexibility in developing more touch points with their consumers and listen to them. Likewise, there are tools and software that can assist even a non-tech-savvy marketer in creating and building a brand community that can be used for discussion, polls, candid feedback et al. and brands can leverage such tools for active or passive listening. This can go a long way in helping marketers craft or enhance their products or services. Tools and software that are available today allow brands to communicate and connect with their loyal customers in more ways than we can count. And what's more, they are customizable to the marketers' requirements, giving brands more power and control.
Building a brand community is a must for all businesses, to stay close and connected with their consumers, no matter where they are from. It is critical for any brand's success. Having said that, do you have a brand community for your business?