Talk, Don’t Shout, Along the Customer Journey

Talk, Don’t Shout, Along the Customer Journey

(This article was co-authored by Steve Halsey, Managing Director, Business Consulting, and Emily Bunce, Director, Insights)

Remember the old communications formula? Identify the shiny new thing, hit it hard with a big campaign, then move on to the next thing.  It was a constant search for the fresh and the new. The game was won by which brand could bring more shiny things to market and shout louder than the competition across its markets.

Pentium, Xeon and Celeron are but a few of the names that Intel has used to classify newer versions of its Intel Inside computer processors. Some would argue that shouting names—and so many names—isn’t always the right way to capture the attention of customers.

This “push” model worked well when communications was a one-way dialogue and brands owned the pace, flow and volume of their messages. By sheer force, brands could attract and drive customers through their sales funnels. But times have changed.

Power Shifts to Customers

Consumer and B2B audiences alike have seized the power of the Internet and social media to fundamentally shift power away from brands and decide when, where and how they will engage, and what type of information they want. New levels of transparency mean that a significant part of the purchase decision is already made before a customer ever walks in a store, meets with a sales rep, calls an 800 number, or accesses an online sales portal. Brands no longer decide the rules of engagement. Customers do.

This shift in power is not necessarily negative for communicators. In fact, it is simply a change in the way key audiences interact with brands, and is a tremendous opportunity for companies that can adapt their communications strategies to interact with customers on their terms.

Part of the reason for the power shift is that customers can seek more information and have more conversations in a wider variety of channels. For marketers, more touchpoints offer the benefit of more data. The sheer number of potential touchpoints available now offers the ability to gain deeper and richer insights than ever before – and often in real time. The trend toward digital interactions means more trails, breadcrumbs and use patterns that can provide behavioral insights at specific points of customer interaction. Metrics such as trackable links and online downloads make it easier to identify and evaluate progress toward a sale.

But too many organizations miss the opportunity by failing to understand how to use the data to deliver consistency and continuity of communications across touchpoints.

Continuity of Communications Across Touchpoints

Many organizations collect data but then inadvertently misuse it in their customer relationship management (CRM) programs to push sales and marketing promotions that are based on customer characteristics rather than customer experiences. It is far too easy for different groups overseeing the sales and marketing functions to pick and choose slices of CRM data that drive their own content, without ever really stepping back to consider the previous messages and interactions that customers encountered to bring them to where they are along the journey to purchase.

If interactions with the CRM system are not placed into context along the extended journey, then brands may miss the chance to really hear the customer. And in this day and age, listening is the foundation for developing impactful communications and sales strategies.

Communicators should consider the various touchpoints and develop strategies for delivering specific yet consistent messages across them. It is also important that the right stakeholders in the organization are imparting the right messages to the right customers at the right times. Otherwise, communications across the journey can appear disjointed from the customer’s point of view.

This is why mapping the customer journey, sharing it across the organization and layering in sound communications strategies at each touchpoint is such a fundamental step for winning the game. If communicators can visualize a customer’s path from awareness and consideration through purchase and then find ways to boost loyalty and advocacy at points of interaction, they can build closer, more meaningful customer relationships. In essence, we must create an ongoing two-way conversation where brands effectively engage with customers along every step of the way.

As the chart below shows, moving from a “shout” to a “talk” model of communications based on a carefully thought out customer journey allows us to make the brand experience much more personal and effective.

Mapping the Customer Journey

So, how does a company get started on the path toward building a communications strategy based on the customer journey?  Other than finding the courage to begin, the keys to success are to:

  • Visualize your customers’ journey. Prioritize the perspective of their experience, not the perspective of your internal processes, so that you’re building empathy and understanding.
  • Reflect the variables. Realize that customer goals, needs and engagement levels are different at different points in the sales funnel. Use insights about each touchpoint to develop the most relevant and timely content.
  • Don’t avoid tension. Identify key pain points and “moments of truth” that may need extra attention.
  • Educate your organization. Communicate to various stakeholders in the organization the context in which their efforts are playing.

Just like in our personal lives, where relationships with other people are built on getting to know them better through conversations and shared experiences over time, relationships with customers are built on dialogue and understanding perspectives across touchpoints. Building effective relationships requires empathy, so understanding customers’ perspectives as they move through the sales funnel is important. And keep in mind that relationships with customers, like personal relationships, evolve over time, so the process of adapting the dialogue must be continual.

To talk to a crowd, you have to shout. With very few exceptions, when you shout, people tune you out. To have a more meaningful interaction with an individual, you have to talk – and listen. By engaging in a more thoughtful conversation with customers at each step of the sales funnel, and building systems and processes to ensure a consistent experience across touchpoints, companies can build better relationships with their customers and move beyond an “invest and move on” campaign approach to communications.

Yes, the customer journey is traveled by the customer and the brand in tandem. And whether you’re selling microprocessors like Intel or Air Jordans like Nike, constant product releases accompanied by tantalizing new names are a fact of life in highly competitive industries. What you want to avoid is shouting in an increasingly noisy sales environment, making it even more difficult to capture the attention of customers.

After all, in the customer journey, the only name customers care to hear is their own.

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    Steve Halsey is Managing Director, Business Consulting, G&S Business Communications. Global businesses and brands seeking a competitive edge rely on Steve to find the best paths forward. In his role, Steve helps launch new products; build, protect and manage reputations; explore new concepts and models; and map out winning strategies that allow clients to increase their market share. He challenges conventional wisdom for B2B and B2C companies, providing clients with increased brand value, awareness with target audiences and loyalty. Steve also oversees the agency’s digital and social media initiatives as well as research, insights and analytics teams, and he established G&S’ proprietary I Power™ strategy and messaging service. He is a member of the International Association of Business Communicators and Public Relations Society of America. An avid rugby player, Steve moves with agility to execute projects with powerful models that elevate brands.

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