We all want to have that local spot where we simply walk in and the clerk behind the counter gives a quick nod of acknowledgment and produces our order without another word. The comfort and excitement that comes from an interaction that is yours alone is fundamentally what drives brand loyalty.

You'd think that, with the advent of social media, these personalized experiences would be relatively easy to create. Social media promised to help marketers evolve from talking at consumers to engaging in a two-way conversation. It was this conversation that would allow companies to personalize their approach based on a customer’s preferences and needs.

As with everything, advancement has come at a cost. While new channels and platforms offer enormous opportunities for businesses, they have also created a more complicated ecosystem. One individual often appears to be many different people across various media platforms. Imagine if you walked into your local store, but wore a new disguise each day of the week. Your experience may be positive, but impersonal: The store clerk would have no way of knowing that each day the person they were serving was you. Gone are the nods of acknowledgement and the personalized order waiting at the front of the line.

To make an already-difficult situation even more challenging, imagine that each morning, clerks from all the other local businesses are soliciting your patronage, encouraging you to try their goods. When the tailored experience and the recognition went away from your local haunt, you’d likely take these clerks up on their offers.

While amusing and strange to imagine, this is the scenario that’s playing out online and in stores everyday. There is more competition, more noise and more ways to reach a consumer than ever before. All the while, a consumer’s identity, which offers the potential for personalization and a tailored experience, is harder to recognize.

So what can you do?

•    Recognize that social media is a tool like any other, complete with some serious limitations. Social media allows companies to gather customer feedback, build general brand awareness and affinity, introduce new products, and stay top-of-mind with their customers. That doesn't mean that social media alone is going to solve the customer loyalty puzzle.

•    Invest in customer relationship management software. As technology becomes easier to develop and subsequently more affordable, there are more offerings in the CRM space than ever before. You don’t necessarily need to spend millions of dollars and years of time to build a system that suits your needs. Instead, think about how your CRM can help you manage a multi-channel world. Try reconciling your purchase data with the email information you have, and then connect that with online interaction data. The more you know about your customers, the better you can engage with them.

•    Don’t just collect data. Use it. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Customers who provide more information about themselves have an increased expectation for a more tailored and personalized experience. Whether you’re communicating through email, direct mail, or in stores, make sure you’re using the information you have to make customers feel recognized and appreciated.

•    Recognize that your customers are more valuable than the money they spend. In a world where we’re now all connected, a customer’s value has expanded far beyond the money that moves from their wallet to you. Whether through social advocacy, reviews or word-of-mouth recommendations, consumers are pivotal when it comes to influencing their peers' purchase decisions. The new reality is that your best customers are not necessarily the ones spending the most money. Find ways to identify your most influential and loyal customers, and then cultivate deeper and more rewarding relationships with them.

A world filled with disguised shoppers would be a scary and intimidating place for marketers. Luckily, there are ways to recognize those who are most loyal. So while getting personal with your customers may seem harder than it was 60 years ago, customer data, when used effectively, has the potential to generate deeper and more profound brand loyalty than you could’ve imagined.

Published on: Sep 17, 2013