Between the Transactions – Adventures in Modern Engagement

Nov 23, 2021

Marketers have been focused on engaging between the transactions for the better part of this century – whether they realize it or not. For many brands, it has been no small feat. By itself, getting customers to change behaviors can be challenging enough; however, when you add in the task of building out required capabilities, it can be overwhelming. Despite these challenges, brands have persisted, and progress has been made. It’s been for good reason:

  1. Reducing the time between interactions will keep the brand top of mind
  2. Every interaction is an opportunity to upsell
  3. More (and varied) interactions provide richer data points from which to learn

This Imprint, Sell, and Learn strategy has worked for many… and remains the goal for those industries still struggling to move beyond the transactions. However, consumers are becoming wise to insincere tactics to increase the number of touchpoints and interactions. Consumers can quickly be turned off from a brand during this time, often doing more damage than good. Additionally, younger generations are rapidly becoming core consumers and are engaging in completely different ways than their predecessors. In short – future marketers will need to do more to avoid causing damage and to create real engagement.

Modern Consumers Require Modern Engagement:

Marketers that are successfully growing engagement between transactions are using a combination of technology, partners, and information to put the customer first. They are also much more comfortable with a “flow” of engagement, rather than centering around a point of sale path. This creates a platform for engagement and allows brands to do much more. Brands will need to innovate heavily in these areas to remain competitive.

According to Baiju Shah, Chief Strategy Officer for Accenture Interactive, “Nearly 80% of CEOs say they will need to change how they engage with and build trust with their customers. For brands, this sums up to an experience renaissance that’s forcing a reimagination of everything to meet their customer’s new and evolving needs.”

Building a discipline for modern engagement will require brands to replace Imprint, Sell and Learn with a more customer-centric: Simplify, Connect and Enable. The good news is that brands that make this leap are well-positioned to adjust to emerging business models and to provide stability to their installed base.

Engendering True Engagement

It probably is not a surprise to learn that customers engage far more when brands start with their needs in mind and position the benefit they will receive as the center of the engagement. Yet, a quick examination of offers in your inbox will show proof that marketers have not yet cracked the code on the best way to do this. Using the strategies that simplify, connect and enable, here are three examples of brands that are innovating to break out of the dead zone.

Simplify: While making it a better experience, removing stress points for customers also removes noise that is interfering with the delivery of the message, allowing time for more meaningful moments. Sometimes that means more work on the back end to drive a simple experience on the surface.

Kohl’s recently simplified their loyalty program in glorious fashion. Kohl’s Rewards removed complicated points rules for a simplified version with an obvious no-brainer value proposition. Furthermore, they centered data collection around customer recommendations for products and individualized perks. They then added test and learn strategies that optimized what mattered to the individual customer and helped drive sales. This is a solid example of loyalty simplification and the creation of a customer-centered platform. This approach will allow Kohl’s to improve and modify the program itself over time.

Connect: The one thing that CPG, travel, retail, FI, telecom (and more) have in common is that customers interact with them for a small portion of an experience. Is your trip to Italy the plane ride? Was your experience at college the computer you used? Not even close. Brands that want customers to truly engage need to push further into the ecosystem of the experience. Otherwise, they risk being undervalued, even if the experience could not happen without them. Modern marketers look at the experience they want to enable and work their way backward to ensure that customers will associate their brand with the most memorable moments. Increasingly, brands are reaching into tangent industries and leveraging innovative technologies to create unique experiences for customers.

It is important to note the rising role of influencers in connecting customers to brands. To put this in perspective, customer time spent with Coca-Cola, Lego, and Red Bull increased only 2% last year. During that same time, the top 10 social media influencers increased 26%, allowing brands to have the ability to reach 29% of Gen Zers within days. This access has enabled a revival among collection-based products, one of the oldest loyalty formats. Recently, NFL rookie, Trevor Lawrence, teamed up with Topps and Excel Sports to offer first-of-its-kind digital cards in NFT (non-fungible-token) format. This opens the door for a transition from a centuries-old format.  This is not the first or last time blockchain technologies will drive innovation in loyalty.

Enable: Last year when Walgreens launched its new program, they did something that made even the loyalty pros scratch their heads: rather than converting all of their existing Balance Rewards members into the new program, they made each customer sign up for the new myWalgreens program. In the end, this move was all about the customer. The program itself was centered around gathering accurate data to customize what the customer experienced and saw based on a “singular and consistent offering at all touchpoints.” Like the Kohl’s example, Walgreens starts with the simplest most valuable customer experience for all of their needs (not just the sale) and works their way back into the loyalty program. By putting the enabling experiences at the forefront, Walgreens has achieved a customer satisfaction score that is 41% higher than the previous program.

Getting from here to there

Despite references to blockchain and complete mobile app overhauls, brands do not need to invest heavily to improve engagement. A quick mini audit can be as simple as answering the following question: Are my customer experiences centered around what my customer needs (simplicity, connection, enablement) or are they centered around what I need (data, sales, impressions)? If a brand can align on this purpose, and then work its way back, the sales opportunities will follow.