Building Digital Relationships


Customers once flocked to brands whose in-person stores had the biggest floorspace, jazziest displays, and most abundant physical advertising materials. However, a special set of circumstances upended this reality, forever changing the way brands appeal to customers.

We trace this major change to the proliferation of e-commerce in the early ‘90s; as more and more customers put their trust in online buying, risk-ready brands grabbed the opportunity to set up shop in a virtual space. Thirty-something years later, and for the first time in history, intangible stores are eclipsing their brick and mortar counterparts, thus demanding that brands invest heavily in how they present themselves online. Positive online shopping experiences are now the core of modern competitive advantage. How then can thousands of brands win the loyalty of customers in a buying landscape were differentiating themselves from competitors is harder than ever?

You can begin by strengthening your digital-led marketing mix and simultaneously, by making it a point to establish long-term relationships with customers. A marketing strategy that focuses on getting more and more customers to generate larger and larger sales is obsolete. According to a recent article in Forbes, the goal is to maximize customer lifetime value and in essence, get to know who you’re selling to. It’s now believed that brands that know how to invest in fewer, but key, customers are the most successful.

Consider the following strategies to help you achieve this.

Shift your focus from short-term metrics to identifying key customers

With the advent of online shopping, marketing teams worked hard to meet metrics such as steadily increasing clicks and conversion rates. Web analytics that shows customers clicking away to explore products and services on a webpage—then maybe making a purchase as a result—was once worth celebrating. The problem with this was that it was a hit-and-miss process; brands were essentially just keeping their fingers crossed that their online assets would be enough to get customers to spend money on them. They had little to no control over this and it was a passive, rather than active, marketing strategy in the toolkit.

This has since been refined and calibrated to lead brands to find key customers. This means that clicks and conversion rates are no longer the goals, but simply indicators and clues. Don’t stop at observing the rise and fall of these quantitative metrics; lift the veil to discover who exactly is making them. These metrics will tell you which individuals possess the biggest chances of repeat purchases—your key customers that you should be investing in.

Treat customers as individuals, not transactions

A downside to online shopping is that customers can feel that interactions with your brand are impersonal and inanimate. The lack of face-to-face experiences with your sales force could make it feel that all a brand is after is a sale, and nothing more.

To remedy this, provide customers with several touchpoints before, during, and even after they engage with your brand—and don’t wait for them to make purchases before launching this initiative. More so, the more bespoke these touchpoints are, the better.

Go the extra mile to make customers feel that your brand exists to serve their unique needs. Know how to talk to them, and where. Figure out the language to use, if it’s best to reach out via emails, social media, emails, or regular website updates, and how often to do this. They will reward you with loyalty if this is done right—one of the most difficult things to achieve in the online shopping universe where comparable alternatives are endless. The more intimately you know your customers, the less generic and robotic (and forgettable) your interactions with them will be. Even without an on-ground sales team to care for customers, humanized interactions are still possible.

Develop smarter, not bigger, campaigns

Brands must aim to work smarter to reach the right people, not necessarily harder to reach as many people as possible. This allows them to use marketing budgets more efficiently and ramp up your best-performing digital marketing tools in the process.

You can get started on this by making the most of web analytics that gives you a close-up view of your customers’ behaviors. You get a more complete look at where they go, the kinds of activities they do on your online platforms, and how much time they spend doing what. This way, marketing efforts are much less random and can be more tailor-fitted to your audience and cater to their interests. After all, that’s always been the magic behind the most powerful marketing initiatives: the more targeted and personal, the more effective. Doing this may also reveal who your high-potential customers are. They are your true money-makers so cooking up more direct marketing strategies to cater to them, as opposed to everyone, is your best bet.

Analyze under-explored customer information

Brands sometimes fail to study the full array of customer information. They can be limited to watching how customers interact with web pages, which is certainly still important, but no longer the only movement that matters. There are aspects such as the intent behind a purchase, readiness to buy, and opportunity potential that are better shapers of marketing campaigns.

Hiring a full-time analytics team to discern this information is a worthy investment for brands that are serious about building their digital muscle. Right now, most brands still depend on their marketing teams to do this, but it is recommended to have a separate team focus solely on turning analytics data into usable information.

Provide engagement throughout the customer lifetime value

Brands often consider it a goal met after a customer clicks “Buy.” In truth, purchases are the beginning of the buying process, not the end. Treat purchases, especially first-time purchases, as the ultimate gateway to nurturing interest in your brand that is convertible to sales.

To address this often-overlooked aspect, brands must study the customer lifetime value more closely. There is much to gain by learning how to convince existing customers to keep choosing you, many times over, for an extended period. Consider things like asking customers for their feedback about their experience of shopping with you as well as the quality of their purchases, offering well-timed seasonal promos to encourage repeat purchases, creating an exclusive loyalty program, and improving personalized email marketing efforts. The idea is to keep reaching out to customers. Consistent, not sporadic, engagement is key.

Invest in direct selling efforts

There’s value in joining digital spaces (online “malls”) where brands congregate. This is convenient for customers, and it makes brands visible. However, there is a major shift about to happen that could make direct-selling the next big thing for brands.

The purpose of this is not only to eliminate a middleman that shares in profits; direct-selling efforts also allow brands to collect customer data, first-hand. As discussed in all the points above, getting to know who you’re selling to is the lifeblood of all digital marketing initiatives, driving up the efforts of the digital marketing company you may be working with. Doing more across the board—selling via social media and an official website as well as utilizing a blog and email marketing—are all channels that could directly reveal different characteristics of your customers, thus providing you with the most complete profile of your audience you can leverage on. More so, with direct selling, this valuable information remains available to you and only you.

Overall, the way to get ahead in the race for online supremacy is the same, yet also different, as it was when physical shopping was still the norm. The customer is (still) king but the means to make them feel this has drastically changed. Customers have easily adapted their buying habits to the digital world—so make sure your brand does, too.

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