When companies develop strategies for engaging with consumers, they often think in terms of numbers: website traffic, subscribers, followers, likes, and views. While this makes perfect sense for reporting to the C-suite, it only tells part of the story. In today's ever-increasing automated environment--where finding a customer service number on a website, then actually reaching a human being, is often the equivalent of getting a UN treaty signed--it's crucial to remember that relationships with consumers are actually sustained with consistent, high-quality engagement over time.
The days of transactional and impersonal relationships between brands and their customers are swiftly losing favor. Consumers want to be treated like stakeholders, partners, and most importantly, human beings. Here are three ways your company can be a little more homo sapien-friendly and a little less robotnik-oriented to win customer loyalty in 2019.
#1 - Leverage the power of micro-influencers
There's no better way to cultivate authentic relationships with consumers than by recruiting real people to promote your products and services. Survey after survey has shown that consumers trust material produced by independent creatives--what's known as user-generated content (UGC)--far more than traditional advertising.
Many of these creatives, known as "micro-influencers," are social media users who aren't quite celebrities, but who have enough engaged followers to have substantial impact on consumers. Support from micro-influencers is even more crucial than reviews and endorsements from typical consumers. According to a report from the Keller Fay Group, "82 percent of consumers are 'highly likely' to follow a recommendation made by a micro-influencer, compared to 73 percent who are highly likely to act on a recommendation from an average person."
This is particularly true for visually-oriented industries like fashion. Consumers are constantly on the lookout for the latest trends, and they inhale content from micro-influencers who are experts at showcasing what's in style. For example, Adidas works with a wide range of influencers--such as Michelle Carigma and Meagan Kong--using hashtags like #adidaswomen to connect them with consumers and linking to content on their profiles.
Analisa Goodin, CEO of Catch&Release, a technology platform that sources and licenses UGC for some of the world's leading brands, notes that "consumers want brands to demonstrate that they understand the concerns and priorities of relatable human beings, and this is exactly what micro-influencers are uniquely positioned to do."
#2 - Make personalization a core part of your strategy
"Is there anything more dehumanizing than the words 'dear valued customer'?" points out Marisa Ricciardi, CEO and founder of The Ricciardi Group, a firm that works with startup and established brands alike to build engaging, customer-centric marketing strategies. She's right. This typically makes you think of the thousands of other consumers who have received the exact same salutation, and you can't help but wonder how being valued maps to a company not even knowing your name. She adds: "Consumers want to be treated like unique human beings, not faceless and nameless drones whose sole purpose in life is to pad a company's bottom line."
A recent survey by Epsilon revealed that 90 percent of consumers "find personalization appealing," while 80 percent say they're more likely to "do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences." As a consumer, nothing is a bigger turn-off than being treated like a number; or worse, like a stereotype. Brands that don't tune-in to customer preferences will likely encounter sizable losses as those customers vote with their feet and walk quickly into the arms of someone who is actually listening to them.
Personalization is one of the most powerful ways to generate loyalty, which is why some brands have woven it into the products, services, and experiences they provide. For example, Netflix uses consumer data (such as viewing habits and ratings) to determine which movies and TV shows each individual user is likely to enjoy. This has allowed the company to identify tens of thousands of sub-genres that give users a hyper-personalized viewing experience.
Beyond the consumer side, many nascent companies are making personalization integral to their business model. Take fitness app developer Plankk, for example. Fitness influencers--many of whom have a large community of followers and clients--team up with Plankk to expand their fan base and engage with them directly through a wide range of personalized content. From workout videos to nutrition advice to goal tracking, these instructors streamline and expand their services via their custom app powered by Plankk.
It's like personalization inception. In this case, as Plankk's founder & CEO Colin Szopa says: "humanizing that relationship between social media influencers and their communities is critical in creating that authentic connection."
#3 - Respect and reflect consumers' values
As consumers build more authentic and intimate relationships with brands, these relationships are no longer strictly commercial. Consumers want to promote their values in an ever-expanding sphere of activities, and this includes the businesses they decide to support.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by Edelman, 64 percent of consumers will "buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue" - a proportion that was around 50 percent just a year ago. This trend suggests that we'll see more branded political messaging like Nike's Colin Kaepernick campaign, which ran earlier this year. These "belief-driven buyers" offer yet another reminder that consumers want multidimensional relationships with brands that capture more than their mere buying potential.
Good Money is a digital banking platform that takes this demand seriously enough to put its customers' values at the core of its business model. CEO Gunnar Lovelace says Good Money was conceived as an alternative to a "malicious culture that has preyed on consumers for far too long," which is why it provides every customer with a share of the profits--a democratization of ownership that gives everyone a greater stake in the company's success. Good Money has also pledged to donate half of its profits to charity, and customers will vote on which nonprofits the company supports.
In the coming year, there are many ways your company can become more authentic, engaging, and yes, human. You can work with micro-influencers whose work resonates with real people, offer products and services that reflect consumers' unique needs and personalities, and open up a conversation with your customers about how to make your business more socially and politically conscious.
While the emergence of human-to-human business is putting pressure on brands to be more trustworthy and ethical, this is a challenge they should welcome. It won't just improve their relationships with their customers - it will make the world a better place.