How brands can reach out to the digitally distracted consumer
A view from Martin Hayward

How brands can reach out to the digitally distracted consumer

Consumers are bombarded daily with digital promotions. These can succeed in the short term, but they don't build long-term customer relationships and, worse still, regular untailored marketing irritates people and can even put them off a brand. So how, asks Martin Hayward, SVP global digital strategy and futures, Aimia, can we use digital channels in a more engaged manner to promote long-term customer relationships?

Technology has placed infinite options at the fingertips of consumers and they are in charge of their choices as never before. Competition between brands to win their attention and custom is fierce, and marketers now need strategies that target the right people, at the right time, with the right message.

In July, Nestlé sold out of its hand cream Cetaphil as a result of smart, real-time advertising. Following a positive editorial review of the cream going live on the MailOnline website, Nestlé immediately placed product advertising around the article. The result was a ninefold increase in the click-through rate, with the product soon selling out.

So, once the hard work of winning a customer is complete – the product has sold, the deal is done – what happens next? If brands wish to build a longer-term relationship with that customer, they must turn their attention beyond short-term promotions. Unfortunately, building these relationships is not getting any easier.

The distracted consumer

The prevalence of smartphones has fostered a culture of instant information and gratification. People can now purchase items at the touch of a button – whether it’s their grocery shopping, clothes or even a holiday. Gaining access to the latest offers is easy; research from Aimia’s Loyalty Lens reveals that a third of global consumers are now downloading electronic coupons on a smartphone or tablet. As a result, we’re faced with a distracted consumer who is encouraged by brands to respond only to short-term stimuli such as instant deals and discounts.

Companies can spend years building brands, yet all their hard work will be undone the moment a customer relationship becomes based on price alone

This leads marketers to focus on short-term gains – in essence, buying a customer with a promotion, rather than earning one with superior products and services and trust.

There are some big downsides to this short-term, deal-driven marketing behaviour. It can destroy brand value and equity with consumers. Companies can spend years building brands, yet all their hard work will be undone the moment a customer relationship becomes based on price alone.

More importantly, brands that send generic, untailored deals to customers on multiple channels are causing a growing backlash from consumers and having a negative effect on some customer relationships. Aimia Institute’s 2014 digital research shows that consumers receive 30-70 emails a week, and six in 10 now avoid brands that bombard them with irrelevant marketing messages.

Seeing the whole picture

There is good news though – advances in technology can also be used to create valuable long-term bonds.

When data is used in aggregate, intelligence emerges and predictive models can be built. We’re not just referring to those ads that reflect your recent browsing history. Today, the increasingly digital lives we lead mean the opportunity exists to understand many aspects of customer behaviour and motivations that we could previously only have dreamed of. Location, motivation, future intention and preferences can all be gathered if customers are happy to share this data.

Understanding the emotional aspect of consumer purchases is the first step to building a long-term relationship of trust

In this age of the instant deal, we must never lose sight of the fact that purchase decisions are both emotional and rational; understanding the emotional aspect of consumer purchases is the first step to building a long-term relationship of trust. Once these complex personas are understood, marketers are able to engage with customers on a much deeper level.

By listening to customers and understanding their personality type and preferences, marketers can take the first steps toward building long-term relationships with them. Privacy, permissions and preferences (the new 3Ps of marketing) will be crucial capabilities for the marketing organisation of the future. Guaranteeing privacy, gaining explicit permission for data use, and allowing preferences to be set for how customers choose to be communicated with will be the differentiators between truly getting close to customers and having to guess what’s right for them.

Without a focus on truly collaborative data usage, the future is more likely to develop into an endless cycle of discounts that feed a pattern of customer defection

Without this focus on truly collaborative data use, the future is more likely to develop into an endless cycle of discounts that feed this pattern of customer defection.

Marketers need strategies that keep customers coming back. This includes being relevant and timely, but it involves more than that. Brands need to engage over the long term – by giving customers products they love time and time again, sending them content that engages them, treating them on special occasions, and offering deals that are consistently tailored to their needs.

If we’re to win our customer’s loyalty, we first need to show our loyalty to them.