Thank you to the thought leaders who contributed to this article:
Evan Nicholson, Digital Experience Practice Director, Merkle
Jen Karlson, Commerce Strategist, Merkle
Megan Lalonde, Sr. Relationship Marketing Strategist, Merkle
Michela Baxter, Sr. Director, Promotions & Loyalty Solutions Practice Development, Merkle
Mike Adamson, Sr. Manager Experience Strategy, Merkle
Timea Szell, Sr. Manager Digital Experience Strategy, Merkle
While marketers have been in reaction mode over the last two years, making every effort to create convenient online experiences amidst the pandemic, it’s time to get proactive in 2022.
We asked experts from our Commerce, Digital Experience, Digital Messaging, and Promotions & Loyalty teams for key components to marketing success in 2022, and our strategists identified two important themes: transparency and authenticity and first-party data and personalization. We know you’ve heard those terms before, but let’s dig into what this means on a practical level for your brand. We’ll start with the first theme.
Transparency and authenticity
Consumers are smart. They know how to see through marketing strategies that are only concerned about the bottom line and when a brand doesn’t prioritize its customers. This means there’s no shortcut to building trust with your audience; it all comes down to transparent and authentic experiences. Transparency is about how you communicate with your audience and authenticity is about what you communicate.
Transparency: how you communicate
Start by evaluating how you communicate with consumers and customers alike, making sure your brand is clear and consistent with its message, good or bad. Any information that’s relevant for consumers; share it, just make sure that your message is clear and remains consistent across every channel to limit confusion. Consumers want to know what products are in stock, when out of stock products will be available, where products are available, as well as when their order is confirmed, shipped, and delivered.
Just like any relationship, communication builds trust. The Nugget kids play couch is a good example of a brand overcoming shipping obstacles with great communication. The brand knew delivery would take longer than usual over the 2021 holiday season, so it sent multiple cross-channel reminders about delivery time, gave frequent delivery and shipment updates after purchases, and stayed true to its brand promise by offering different ways to gift the couch when it wasn’t able to be delivered by Christmas day.
Clear and consistent communication becomes even more important in this new age of convenience-based commerce. As your brand adapts to meet consumers where they are, make sure your communication strategy does the same. A few great ways to do this on your commerce site are to:
- Enable price alerts and price drops to reduce the level of effort for the shopper
- Create inventory transparency with in-stock items and endless-aisle functionality
- Offer product discovery like the Walmart car seat finder or Sylvania auto bulb finder
Authenticity: what you communicate
When building an authentic brand, your message should stay true to your brand values. Use those values as a northstar for digital messaging and it will pay off. But don’t change your message based on the latest consumer behaviors, because consumers can spot the phoniness from a mile away. For example, if a fashion brand chooses to talk about sustainability, sustainable fashion should already be built into its business model. Then, when it communicates about ways for shoppers to stay eco-friendly, like tagging sustainable products on a commerce site, the messaging aligns with what the brand stands for and is therefore trustworthy.
As you stay true to your brand values, it’s also important to create a place for consumers to engage with your brand as their authentic self. Authenticity from both the brand and the consumer builds a stronger relationship on both ends. A couple great ways that brands are creating communities for their audience are through Instagram subscriptions with influencers and Patreon subscriptions. It creates a safe space where everyone has opted into the conversation and, on top of that, they get exclusive access to your brand.
Brands can also give power to consumers with user-generated content. You can let your loyalists be part of your business by creating a piece of content and asking consumers to make it their own, much like how musicians create dances to their new singles and then ask their fans to use their music to make it their own on TikTok. When the content is coming directly from loyalists and fans, it’s much more trustworthy because they’re generating the content for fun and not for a profit.
Making the emotional connection
If you just read through all of that asked yourself, ‘okay but what does my brand get out of all this extra time spent on communication?’ you aren’t the only one. Forrester asked a similar question in its Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) and found that of the three dimensions of CX quality – effectiveness, ease, and emotion – emotion has the largest impact on customer loyalty and therefore the bottom line. When you’re transparent about your brand and stay aligned with your values, you create positive brand experiences that increase customer retention and the lifetime value of the customer.
But this is all hypothetical until you can actually prove you are building emotional connections with consumers, which can be difficult to do. Two basic ways to start include:
- Utilizing text-analysis software to identify emotion in unstructured feedback and open-ended questions
- Explicitly ask customers how they feel about experiences when requesting feedback
Gathering data like this to influence brand experiences for customer preference is what we like to call listening at scale. Without data, we don’t know how consumers feel about a brand, what they expect, and what new opportunities exist to form connections.
And if you’re building a strategy to collect and analyze data, stay on the lookout for our Customer Experience Trends to Expect in 2022: Part Two, where we discuss how first-party data and personalization will impact the next year.