The engagement economy

Report sheds light on what all consumers now expect, and how to deliver it
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It’s always been an article of faith that the customer is king, but the margin for error today has been narrowed. The old one-way street is now a superhighway. If clients do not get a personal experience, they will move on to one of your competitors.

Within hours of landing in Cancun, Mexico, for a quick vacation before the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, I received four emails: one from United Airlines wanting to know what I thought about my flight, one from Expedia asking me to rate my airport pickup, one from the hotel wanting to know how well check-in had gone and one from my financial adviser inviting me to a Christmas party.

All were seeking to strengthen my “relationship” with the various companies.

This wouldn’t have happened even a decade or two ago. Once upon a time, consumers were pretty much at the tail end of a one-way marketing street. Doctors in TV commercials actually extolled the virtues of lighting up, and tens of millions of Americans took up smoking. Things are different today. Although we don’t yet have the flying cars we were promised, the Digital Age and the Internet have created a vibrant and sometimes confusing two-way highway.

For marine marketers still adjusting to this new traffic pattern, Marketo, a leading marketing automation software company, just released a particularly relevant survey of more than 2,000 global marketers and consumers.

“The State of Engagement 2017” describes a “new era where everyone and everything is connected. Consumer expectations have shifted to expect more from the brands they buy from. They seek a personal relationship that offers them value wherever they are and whenever they are ready to engage. As a result, marketers have had to rapidly transform their strategies, methods and tactics in order to stay relevant.”

This insight is key to selling boats. Unlike the transactions that take place with most consumer commodities, the initial purchase of a recreational boat and subsequent trade-ups are almost entirely discretionary, forged in many respects on the development of a “relationship” between the seller and the buyer.

The Marketo report looked at how marketers are faring in making consumers feel wanted, understood and connected to their brands. Regardless of consumer type, email and websites remain the most-used channels to initiate engagement with brands and vendors. 

According to the survey, the top digital engagement channels used for learning about products and services are:

  • 65.5 percent website 
  • 54.5 percent email 
  • 33.5 percent social media 
  • 31 percent online communities 
  • 29.5 percent video 
  • 26.5 percent chat 
  • 23 percent mobile device/app 
  • 22 percent blogs  (most relevant for building awareness) 
  • 18.5 percent podcasts/webinars 

Marketo says savvy marketers should strive for “a seamless consumer experience which produces a series of associations developed over time. It includes delighting the consumer at everything from how the package opens to digital engagement. It’s about stitching together all those moments when the consumer engages with you so they feel that the brand is a natural part of their landscape.”

Also according to the survey, the leading digital equipment channels used for comparing products and services are:

  • 65 percent websites 
  • 29 percent email 
  • 25 percent social media 

The top channels used to drive purchases are:

  • 53 percent website 
  • 49 percent email 
  • 41 percent chat 
  • 37 percent mobile device/app 
  • 30 percent social media 
  • 16 percent blogs 

The chief digital engagement channels used for post-purchase feedback or support are:

  • 46.5 percent website 
  • 53 percent email 
  • 28.5 percent social media 
  • 30.5 percent online communities 
  • 10.5 percent video 
  • 28.5 percent chat 
  • 22 percent mobile device/app 
  • 13.5 percent blogs 
  • 11 percent podcasts/webinars 

In addition to knowing what to use, it’s also worth knowing what not to do. The top reason consumers don’t engage more often with brands, Marketo says, is “irrelevant content.” 

According to the report:

  • 51 percent say they receive too much irrelevant content 
  • 31 percent say brands don’t have anything to offer outside of products/services 
  • 30 percent say brands didn’t make enough of an effort to resolve past issues 
  • 28 percent say engaging would require sharing personal information, and there’s not enough trust to do so. 

On the flip side, here’s what consumers say are innovative ways to engage them:

  • Using Instagram and Twitter to post updates and news 
  • Using chat services to resolve problems faster and easier than email 
  • Having smart software that is intuitive enough to anticipate a consumer’s next move or purchase 
  • Making email and push ads relevant, rather than random junk 
  • Being consistent  
  • Having multiple channels for communicating with customer service personnel  
  • Having senior executives who demonstrate that customer engagement is their top priority. 

It’s always been an article of faith that the customer is king, but the margin for error today has been narrowed. The old one-way street is now a superhighway. If clients do not get a personal experience, they will move on to one of your competitors. Understanding how to surprise and delight, Marketo says, is where the “engagement economy” meets growth.

The good news, according to the survey, is that most marketers realize they have to do better. Although most marketers (91 percent) believe they effectively integrate consumer data across multiple touchpoints, this work is primarily limited to integrating their website, social media and email interactions. That said, only 8 percent believe they have integrated across all touchpoints.

Part of the reason for this less-than-comprehensive approach is related to the technology and tools available to manage consumer engagement: Satisfaction with current engagement tools is low because marketers either lack the necessary tools, have limited ability to manage the tools or find the tools too complex.

Here are four key insights Marketo sees as trends and opportunities in this area:

  • Marketers need to revise their approach to meet consumer expectations. The data show that although marketers see the value and importance of consumer and customer engagement, they simply aren’t hitting the mark. Marketers need to move beyond single-purpose tools to engagement platforms that facilitate the seamless flow of data and coordinate disparate elements in a marketing stack. 
  • True engagement does not happen without coordinated data and insights. Consumers’ use of different channels makes it imperative that marketers listen and respond to their activities in real time. However, to effectively engage consumers, marketers must address the top barrier to effective engagement: tools. Marketers today operate marketing technology stacks made up of disparate solutions with uncoordinated metrics and data. To succeed, marketers need to shift their mind-set and identify tools, solutions and platforms that not only coordinate the various touchpoints and engagements, but also translate them into actionable insights. 
  • Structure, buy-in and alignment are critical to engaging at scale. As marketing leads the charge in understanding what true engagement means, it’s more critical than ever that organizational structure, alignment and buy-in are part of any engagement strategy. This thinking starts at the top: According to “The State of Engagement,” only 56 percent of marketers report having alignment on their strategy across the key stakeholder group of executive leadership. 
  • It’s important to maintain sight of the horizon. Although marketers have an eye on the top channels that consumers are using to engage, it’s critical that marketers also deliver innovative experiences on new channels to stay on top of the latest trends. Consumer interests and investments change rapidly, so marketers must set up organizations and technologies that allow for experimentation and smooth deployment of new consumer engagement initiatives. 

To download a copy of Marketo’s report, go to https://www.marketo.com/analyst-and-other-reports/the-state-of-engagement/.

Michael Sciulla

Michael Sciulla

Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Communications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of both Boating Writers International and the Marine Marketers of America. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000 and testified more than 30 times before congressional committees.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue.

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