Apple. Starbucks. Google. The biggest and baddest companies have great marketing track records. Of course there isn’t necessarily an exact equation to their success, but one thing each of them do is essential to what they’ve accomplished: they immerse their customers through personalized and targeted user experiences.
Create an Immersive User Experience
But what is an “immersive user experience”? I would define it as the use of web design and marketing to provide consumers just that – an immersive experience – through innovatively presenting company products and services through visual and social means. When it comes to the virtual experience of a company, this is usually done through the environment that a brand cultivates on their website.
One great example of a company with immersive web design is Airbnb. Airbnb’s main page is a one camera video clip that fills the entire background, usually using videos of travelers appearing to have the time of their lives, living “locally” in a host’s room or entire home rental. Any viewer of the site is fully immersed in this clip, thereby producing an experience where they, themselves, can feel part of that reality.
Immersive web design is very similar to a film, TV series, or videogame; it takes the viewer outside of their own world and into another without the feeling of looking through a screen – it becomes a window into the new world. It’s like Oz, only the curtain is never pulled back to reveal the man behind the spectacle.
With internet marketing being one of the most important channels nowadays, this type of virtual reality immersion is almost required to engage your customers, no matter what you’re selling – clothes, travel, products, what have you. Immersive online experiences are becoming increasingly popular, making creative design a necessity for any business to compete on the playing field of online marketing.
Personalize and Target Communications
What connects a company with its customers? Is it the product, itself, or is it how the product is sold?
Hopefully, both! But some companies underestimate just how important the latter is. Communicating effectively with your consumer base can mean the difference between a one-time customer and a loyal brand ambassador.
According to cmswire, “The Disconnected Customer surveyed more than 6,000 British and American consumers about their engagement with various service providers and found that many providers failed to consistently recognize the specific preferences of the customers, were inflexible in the way they sent information and were unwilling to meet the general needs of users.”
The survey found that customers across nearly all sectors experienced dissatisfaction, with many noting that providers often ignored their communication preferences, opting to connect through their own preferred channels. In doing so, these companies get off on the wrong foot with their potential customers and upset their current ones.
So how do you get off on the right foot?
Positive, personalized, targeted communication will help meet the wants and needs of your customers. By communicating through the right channels and delivering your message in the right tone and with informative and creative content, you’ll earn yourself a following. You may even create an environment where your customers actively reach out to communicate to you in return.
This is customer engagement, in a nutshell: cultivating a dialogue with your customer – an open line which enables them to voice their criticisms, along with their praise for your product or service. According to the research previously quoted by cmswire, a lot of the time, consumers aren’t asked about their preferences regarding the method or channel by which they receive communication from their providers. “In the US, only 31% said that they were asked, while in the UK, 60% said that their service provider communicates with them on its terms, rather than theirs.”
The key to personalized and targeted communication is to make your customer feel like an individual, rather than a number; a name, rather than a face in the crowd. By reaching out to each customer on a personalized level, you gain loyalty. And if your customer has a complaint, handling their concerns in a conscientious manner will win you more hearts than being defensive about your product or service. In fact, according to the survey, “Sixty-five percent of respondents would be willing to go back to a service provider after a negative experience, if they received an apology.”
In order to provide more personalized and targeted customer communication, companies across all sectors are refocusing their attention to engaging customers through their preferred channels and by crafting messages that connect with each individual customer. While the process is still often automated, using specialized computer software, targeted marketing does produce communications that can appeal personally to each individual consumer through customer-focused recommendation engines.
Another way in which targeted marketing can appeal to consumers, apart from through promotions and communication, is through the customization of product specifications to ensure that they meet the individual’s wants/needs. If the customer can choose the color of their product, let them. If they can choose the design, let them. If they can choose any product specifications at all, make it theirs. Those businesses who can deliver consumer products exactly as they want them will convert online window-shoppers to buyers.
Which Type of Consumer Does Personalized Marketing Work for?
In theory, targeted personalized marketing has a single consumer in mind (unlike mass marketing), which makes it an effective sales pitch to each individual. In reality, effectively personalizing for each individual customer depends on what information you have about your customers. In order to be able to communicate with individuals on their level, these customers must be willing to share information.
The good thing is that in the age of social media, more often than not, people will share this information. In general, they want a more intimate experience with their brands. Privacy has gone the way of the past, while personalization is the way of the future. Of course, being so familiar with technology and social platforms, millennials are more often willing to share this information than older generations.
Developing a Personalized Marketing Strategy
A personalized marketing strategy can be implemented in your email and direct mail, internet marketing, business-to-business, and social media campaigns. Some information you’ll need from your consumers in order to personalize your message include the customer’s name, their communicational channel preferences, and their purchase or search history; these will all help you anticipate their wants/needs, in order to create interactive communication with your customers.
- Email and direct mailcan first be personalized by using the customer’s first name instead of the generic salutation, “Dear customer.” Further, lead data will direct each individualized mailing to highlight the offers and products that are relevant to each customer. While this is much more simple to do through email, it’s possible to do this through physical mailings as well. If your customer database includes your consumers’ previous purchases, the mailing list you produce will recommend future purchases, catering to an individual’s wants and needs by generating specifically targeted lists.
- Internet marketing takes personalized suggestions a step further. Based upon your customer’s purchase or search history, you can design your web page – and even whole landing pages – to show the content they care about. Then when your customer navigates to your site, their locale, purchase history, and the referral source will all impact what is displayed to them.
- Social media marketing allows you to interact with your customers and engage them, personally responding to their questions and making them feel valued. This is where your customer service will shine! An automated message leaves any consumer feeling as though you don’t have time or care enough to address their concerns, but when an agent responds personally to any questions or criticisms, customers will share this interaction with their friends, and the customer service you’ve given them reverberates. The good press will echo in their social media sphere.
- Business-to-business marketing relies on a collection of lead intelligence regarding the conflicting issues agents and managers are coming up against in their roles. This allows your business to create pitches. Moreover, you might search your mutual contacts on LinkedIn in order to use them as referrals or contacts to help you network. You can find a great article about using LinkedIn here.
Communicate Fresh and Accurate Information
Communication is key to any relationship, and customer relations is dependent upon trust and a sense of value. That’s why relevant, fresh and accurate communication should be high on your list of priorities. It will determine whether your customers care to keep you around or discard you with yesterday’s newspaper (or other dying mediums).
So how can you keep it fresh?
- Have foresight about customer questions or concerns – if you can anticipate your customers’ potential questions about your product or service, you’d better be able to communicate the answers freshly and accurately. For instance, if you’re selling a product that’s similar to something already in the market, your customer will ask themselves (and you), “Why should I buy your product, when your rival already delivers?” You must be able to differentiate your product or service and tell them why you’re better than your competitors.
- Account for differences in tech knowledge – You should be aware that your customers are not necessarily as educated in your product or the technical knowledge that accompanies it. When you explain your product or service, skip the use of acronyms or at least identify their meaning. However, you should also address your customer as though they’re intelligent. Don’t talk down to them, simply be attentive. If you’re communicating with your customer face-to-face, use visual cues to note if they’re understanding your explanation. Body language and facial expressions can serve you, but you can also ask your customer, point blank, if they’re picking up what you’re throwing down.
- Analogies are your best friend – a good analogy goes a long way to communicating your information accurately and in a fresh way. Unheard of ideas and terms can be explained better with ideas and terms that a customer is already familiar with. Calvin Sun, of techrepublic, says, “One of the best analogies I ever heard compared a firewall to a bank teller. When you enter a bank, you don’t just go into the vault and get your money. Instead, you go to a window, where the teller verifies your identity and determines that you have enough money. The teller goes to the vault, brings it back to the window, gives it to you, and then you leave.”
- Avoid using blame words – if you have a customer concern or complaint, avoid using “you” in your response, as it makes the customer feel as if they’re at fault. For example, instead of saying, “You must come into the store to receive that information,” you could say, “I can better assist you in the store.” “You” statements sound accusatory, which can make a customer defensive. And when you provide the requested information, make sure it’s absolutely accurate. If a customer comes to you with a complaint and finds you’ve provided them inaccurate information out of laziness or to cover your own butt, they will no longer be your customer!
In order to provide your customers a standard of service or product that’s consistent across the board, you must know what service you intend to give them and why.
For instance, if your customers are the type that prefer quick, easy and impersonal service, you’re not going to give them quite the same standard or quality as a customer that prefers a personalized and targeted experience. Regardless, your entire organization must design and provide a standard that fulfills your customers’ needs. The standard must also be adaptable if customer needs change.
Micah Solomon, a customer service author and speaker, suggested in Forbes a three-tier approach to designing standards for your company’s services: First you should decide as a business “why the service is of value” or why you’re doing it to begin with; second you should know “the emotional response you’re aiming to have the customer feel”; and, lastly, you must nail down “the expected way to accomplish the service”.
By outlining these basic points, you’ll design service standards that are more meaningful to your employees and will motivate them to deliver. Answering these questions will give your service and product standards purpose which, in turn, makes them much more worthwhile to sell than a cardboard service or product that has nothing behind it. Like your customer engagement, your company culture must also have heart in order to connect with your employees and create the kind of customer exchange and engagement that your business needs to succeed.