Modern consumers expect more of the companies they buy from; more transparency, more authenticity, and more value. They want to have a relationship with a brand. This two-way element puts the responsibility on organizations to treat customer interactions more like a courtship, rather than single encounters.
Today, brand relationships matter more than just brand awareness. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “brand valuations declined by nearly half (falling from 18% to 10%) while customer relationship values doubled (climbing from 9% to 18%) over a decade.” The article went on to say that “acquirers have decisively moved from investing into businesses with strong brands to businesses with strong customer relationships.”
And strong relationships take time. They are most often built on trust, communication, and a sense of joy. This logic applies to romantic and personal relationships, as well as quite powerfully to brand to customer (B2C) relationships.
No longer are marketers able to advertise with a pitch and a catchphrase. Now marketing is responsible for nurturing consumers at several touch points, from the first interaction, to the second, and beyond. Much like a romantic courtship, consumers need time to get to know a brand before they will commit.
The first date
Brand activations allow consumers to interact with a brand and are highly effective in both driving sales and building long-term consumer relationships. These experiences can leave a powerful, sensory impression that lingers with attendees long after the event.
However, relationships don’t begin and end with a single encounter. As impactful as this initial experience may be, it is only the beginning of a delicate dance.
After this first meeting, it’s important for brands to begin courting their customer.
What she tells her friends
Consumers regularly use their phones to take and share photos, videos and social media posts during events and experiences. This is true for brand experiences as well. In fact, according to research, “nearly all consumers (98%) create or capture some type of content at events and experiences – and all consumers (100%) that create content, then share it.”
Any experience that a brand invests in must be optimized to encourage attendees to create the right type of content that furthers campaign goals. Embracing a purpose-driven marketing approach, for example, could further encourage sharing as attendees join a “movement.” Or tying sharing into a contest or offer provides visibility into campaign reach. It’s interesting to note that Facebook is the number one platform for sharing content captured at brand experiences. Optimizing for that platform might also be considered.
One brand that excelled at encouraging content creation and sharing was Merial, the company behind dog care products Heartgard & NexGard. They launched an 18-week interactive brand tour that included engagements designed to educate and entertain, such as branded games, on-site veterinary consultations, and interactive product and education displays
The activation’s robust social media campaign began by enlisting the help of “petfluencers” to promote the events to their multitude of followers by using the hashtag #chewitup. At the events, caricature artists captured digital mementos of dogs enjoying the experience, and a fire hydrant fountain photo op offered a great chance to create shareable content. With more than 13.7 media impressions, attendees were certainly inspired to share.
Can I see you again?
After the first interaction, there are numerous ways to approach a second. There’s no singular “right” way, but brands must consider the desires and demographic profile of the target customer.
In the same way that one person can be wooed with flowers and another with tickets to a baseball game, the next offer from a brand, whether it’s an email promotion, discount, or content, should be specific to his or her interests.
Our agency’s technology platform, ALB Live, addresses this directly by offering brand experience attendees with custom digital follow-up. This ensures that future brand communication stays relevant by accounting for their preferences.
This made me think of you
Courting customers requires intentional gestures that gently remind them of how your brand makes them feel. A smart new dating partner might buy your favorite ice cream one day because he remembered you talked about it. Or he might suggest a book you would like because you mentioned a certain author.
A brand’s ultimate sweet spot is in providing valuable and meaningful “gifts” that shows they are paying attention, without being overbearing, or even overt. And it’s important that messaging is about them, not the brand. After all, no one wants to date the guy who does nothing but talk about himself.
Last year, the New York International Auto Show saw its attending car brands show off their mastery of the art of experiential. Here, automakers presented attendees with stand-out activations, one of which was Lincoln. While many other brands went all in on immersing attendees through visceral experiences, Lincoln made their approach fully targeted toward the individual.
Using a touch screen, attendees chose from a lineup of images and selected those that most appealed to them. These served as a benchmark to determine their optimal Lincoln model based on their taste and preferences. From there, attendees selected from a variety of options, such as wheels, a moon roof, and interiors. Then they could schedule a time to take their perfect car out on a test drive. Lincoln made interacting with the brand all about individualized design, rather than simply selling people on an existing product.
Let’s take it slow
When customers feel acknowledged and understood by brands, they become loyal. Cultivating this sentiment, however, is a process that requires careful attention to every brand touch point.
When brands jump into sales pitches that pressure people to buy immediately, it tends to have the same effect as someone who pressures you to “come upstairs” after you’ve barely finished dinner. An Entrepreneur article reminds us that millennials don’t want to be sold to. The author says that “authenticity comes from thoughtfulness and treating millennials the way they want to be perceived: unique, decisive, and authentic. Remember to be sure your cultivating an authentic relationship, rather than one based on the constant state of selling.”
Continue to use the data collected from your initial brand activation to customize future engagement. Deliver a gift or discount for your prospect on her birthday or remind her that your business can help get her through tax season. You can ask her if she would like to join your brand’s most recent philanthropic initiative or send her information about her favorite travel destination. Continue to offer meaningful, data-driven opportunities for her to engage with your brand in a valuable way.
It’s not you, it’s me
Post-event engagement can rely on several factors. If a consumer does not engage with your brand, it could mean that the offer is not intriguing, not helpful, or, quite simply, the timing isn’t right.
Resist going into sales mode by pushing prospective customers toward something they’re not ready for. It might be best to back off and carefully plan another approach.
And the best approach might be to start at the top: invite them to another brand experience. Face-to-face marketing is most effective as a long-term strategy, not a one-and-done approach. Regular brand activations give consumers continuous opportunities to interact with a brand, providing companies with additional opportunities to win them over.
Patience is a virtue
All good relationships take time. Approach brand engagement as a long game, and you’ll lay the foundation for customers to not only love your company, but feel loved by it as well.
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