We chose the name “Liminal” for this report because it describes a state of being in flux—on the threshold of something new. To us, the word liminal does a superb job of describing the continuing evolution of how consumers choose to engage with a brand.
To say the least, the number of places where your customers can—or may want to—engage with your brand has exploded, even in the last two to three years. What used to be a mere handful of options, such as the telephone or postal mail, first began to expand with the dawn of the Internet era to include corporate websites and email. However, the roster of ways customers can engage with you seems to increase inexorably. Today, consumers can “Like” a brand on Facebook, post a video about a product on YouTube, or broadcast a complaint about your company to their followers on Twitter. While some customers continue to use older channels, others are using channels such as these to publicize the relationship between customer and brand beyond the private interactions that used to typify the brand/customer relationship.
So, if some customers are content to be in touch with you via email, while others champion yourbrand through social media; if some customers use channels they find efficient, while others use ones that they find relevant; how do you make sense not only of these divergent touchpoints, but the disparate reasons why customers gravitate to them? We are no longer in a world where the only car available is a black Ford Model T. Today, consumers can choose from dozens of brands, each of which produce a wide array of models, with differing features, colors and price points. An active family might choose an SUV; a single, environmentally conscious consumer might drive a Volkswagen Beetle.
And so it is with touchpoints. How do you pick the right combinations to satisfy your customers’ immediate needs and make them loyal? Better yet, how do you turn these people into ambassadors who will openly tout your product or service to friends, family, or maybe, the entire Internet universe?
HERDING THE ENGAGEMENT CATS
At Razorfish, we needed answers to these questions, because they are not only on our minds, but on the minds of our clients as well. While we all know that engagement channels will continue to proliferate, and the number of channels may be in a continually liminal state, it was clearly time to build a foundation for understanding what channels consumers use and why, setting the stage for building engagement strategies now and in the future. We needed to identify a process that could be used and re-used to help companies renew their engagement strategies as touchpoints expand.
Thus, from the outset, we wanted to discover truths that were not about individual channels but about consumer needs. What do consumers want when they engage with brands? To answer that question, we did something that has seldom, if ever, been done before: we looked at engagement from the customer viewpoint, rather than that of the marketer—something that is crucial to know whether you sell airline seats, juice, or financial services, or if you are wrestling with whether your company should be on Facebook or, five years from now, on a platform no one has yet imagined.
First, we commissioned a study to find out how consumers prioritize engagement, and what channels they use to satisfy their needs in partnership with our client Virgin America, and Loyalty Lab, which employs software-as-a-service technology to drive customer value and loyalty. The study, which did not ask respondents about specific brands or engagement scenarios, combined more than 5,600 surveys and 15 one-to-one interviews of Virgin America customers with their existing data on lifetime value (LTV) and engagement. Then we added an overlay of publicly available data on social media use from 100,000 Internet users. These sources allowed us to look at self-reported attitudes and preferences—and independently tracked behavior—enabling us to build a comprehensive understanding of how people engage with brands.
We call this process of taking behavioral data on engagement touchpoints, overlaying it with broader social and survey data, and then analyzing the outcome, Razorfish Links. It’s a proprietary engagement audit that can help any brand get a better handle on its engagement strategy—helping it accurately value its customers, and map each segment’s unique engagement preferences to the channels they use. Ultimately, going through the Razorfish Links process allows brands to develop a truly customer-centric relationship marketing program.
We will go into detail about the results of the Razorfish Links process further on in this report. For now, here are a few things that surprised us:
- Though social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and geo-location social services, like Foursquare, are being quickly adopted, customers don’t yet view them as an important way to engage with brands.
- When we asked consumers to prioritize what was important to them when engaging with a brand, they ranked the following priorities in exactly this order, no matter how we looked at the data: feeling Valued, Trust, Efficiency, Consistency, Relevance and Control. We called these six qualities the Engagement Elements. In other words, in a world full of engagement touchpoints, the most important things to everyone are to feel Valued by the companies they do business with, to get their needs addressed quickly, and to feel the companies they engage with can be trusted.
- Even as “the consumer is in control” has become a mantra in the digital age, Control came in dead last. Apparently, the consumer does not need to be in as much control as we thought, seeing other things as far more important.
- Even though we associate certain touchpoints with certain strengths—we assume, for instance, that an e-commerce website is efficient—every channel has some ability to deliver on the Engagement Elements. It’s not as though, for instance, phone and email always deliver on making a customer feel Valued, while Facebook and Twitter are incapable of it.
- The channels people use to meet their engagement needs varied. In fact, the engagement data of the group aged 35-44—which we call The Transitionals (see Chapter Five)—closely matched those of the 45-plus demographic, yet the channels they use to connect with companies are similar to the 25-34-year-old group.
These surprising findings taught us to assume nothing when it comes to why and how customers interact with brands. As this part of marketing is bound to remain continually liminal, realizing that customer engagement is in a state of constant change is a humbling thing to learn—and remember.
AND FINALLY, A PROCESS FOR NAVIGATING, AND LEVERAGING,
THE ENGAGEMENT SHIFT
Studies are interesting, but even the best sound bites of data are not very useful unless they give us the information we need to act. Therefore, we set out to determine how a marketer could use the data from Razorfish Links to re-orient their engagement strategies around how their customers prioritize engagement and the channels they might use when they reach out to brands. Thus, also in “Liminal,” you will find ways to:
- Map the channels customers use to their engagement priorities. With Virgin America, data from Razorfish Links allowed us to develop four different Engagement Types within the company’s customer base, based on lifetime value (LTV), potential influence, what they want out of engagement channels, and what channels they use.
- Optimize channels. Some of which may already be in use. For instance, if a company’s high-value customers are heavy users of Facebook, yet the company has not invested much in the channel, it will learn that it should take the channel more seriously, and what needs it should meet with that channel.
- Calculate a Consumer Influence Score. This combines a traditional, bottom-line view of a customer’s LTV with his or her ability, using social media tools, to influence others, a concept we call enhanced LTV (eLTV).
- Develop an engagement strategy. One that focuses on the right engagement touchpoints, delivering on what customers need—with an eye to what Engagement Types and channels will have the best return on investment.
Where the practice of customer relationship marketing (CRM) creates the framework, we see the goal as creating a Sustained Engagement, which aligns channels and customer engagement priorities in such a way that consumers want to maintain a relationship with a company, potentially across multiple channels, brands and products on an ongoing basis.
With a Sustained Engagement, you can increase sales, decrease churn, and, most importantly, transform consumers into brand advocates through exceptional engagement experiences.