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Inspiring customer loyalty in a market of temptation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Sainsbury's)

Customer loyalty is becoming ever more elusive in the current market. In today’s digital world, consumers can have their cake and eat it too. When looking for a product, a simple Google search will quickly direct them to the cheapest version on the market. The customer now has the ability to cherry-pick between brands with just one click.

So how do you ensure that one click is for your brand, and almost exclusively your brand? The tempting answer might be to make sure you have the most competitively priced products. However, this isn’t a long-term solution. Rather, in this ‘have your cake and eat it’ market, you need to ensure you’re offering the best cake (i.e. customer experience), from the sponge to the icing, to the sprinkles on top.

So, how exactly can brands find this perfect recipe for customer loyalty?

Competing on price is a losing game

Brands that exclusively focus on price as their key differentiator play a dangerous game. Our recent Experience 2030 research revealed that 61 per cent of consumers don’t consider price the biggest driver of loyalty. Constantly slashing prices to grab the attention of your customers always ends in a race to the bottom. Brands will eventually leave themselves with nowhere left to go.  By engaging in a discount war, customers become discount-dependent shoppers, constantly expecting discounts. As a result, they may wait for your brand to provide a discount before purchasing, which will negatively impact profits. This has led to an over-reliance on promotional content, with 76 per cent of marketers now relying on email promotions to drive revenue.

Instead, brands should seek to develop deeper, more meaningful and lasting customer relationships. This will help them achieve a more sustainable business model and build a brand image which customers can buy into. There are no shortcuts to reaching this goal; brands must simply put the effort in to understand and act on what their customers truly want and need ‘in the moment’.

Our research suggests that many brands are not going this extra mile. Forty-two per cent of consumers feel that only three or fewer brands whom they regularly engage with provide a high level of satisfaction. This should make sobering reading for organisations. It’s clear that they need to be doing more than just offering low prices if they want to entice repeat-customers.

So, what does this come down to: is it brand negligence or are they simply struggling to deliver what the customer wants?

What’s the hold up?

To truly provide a customer experience worthy of coming back to, brands need to tune into their customer needs and what is relevant to them at any stage of their journey.  Relevance is defined by the situation, pressures and feelings a customer has at each step; in other words it’s contextual. And understanding what is contextually relevant for each customer at any point in time and responding to that context in real time is a major challenge for brands.

With an increasing number of customer journeys taking place over digital channels there’s been an explosion of contextual data in recent years. Web and mobile activity, location, beacon and sensor information have all become key sources of contextual data that can provide brands with valuable insights into customer needs at a moment in time.

If captured and used in real time, this data can illuminate situational context based on what the customer is doing at any particular moment. This data helps to determine if there is something the customer needs that the company can provide.

But whilst many brands already collect contextual data through web and digital analytics, these systems are designed to present insight to a user through visualisations such as reports and dashboards. They rely on a human to query and interpret the data, make decisions from it and take appropriate action.

And therein lies the challenge: delivering relevant experiences requires organisations to act on contextual data in the moment and to do so requires that data to be turned from insight to decision to action in sub-seconds. This millisecond insight to action process is something that most brands are not able to achieve with their existing martech stacks.

The power of a data-driven customer experience

Most organisations are collecting an impressive level of customer data and successfully applying analytics to identify the patterns and trends in the data. But the appropriate action is taken only after a period of preparation to allow systems of engagement such as CRM, marketing automation and digital targeting systems to be updated.

Systems of insight are typically separate to systems of engagement, creating fragmented marketing landscapes and platforms. These prevent brands from moving seamlessly from insight to engagement, resulting in experiences that don’t reflect the needs of customers in the moment.

What’s needed is a unified platform that can sit astride these two sets of capabilities enabling brands to join real-time contextual data with historical data held about customers. They can then automatically apply data mining and predictive analytic insights to respond to customer actions with ‘in the moment’ content and offers that address their needs.

Office Depot is one of many organisations that is reaping the benefits of a unified marketing platform. The brand has phased out several point solutions in favour of a single end-to-end platform that brings a converged approach to insight and engagement, reducing complexity and latency, whilst improving agility and customer loyalty.

If a brand can go from data to insight to action ‘in the moment’, you go from being able to offer your consumer a crumb to serving up the whole cake. No longer do you need to rely upon discounting strategies to catch their attention. Instead, you build a brand which customers can depend upon and which offers them something different: a truly personalised customer experience.

Tiffany Carpenter, Head of Customer Intelligence, SAS UK & Ireland