While growing up, my mom told me that when we first engage in a discussion with someone that we just meet, we listen to the person introducing themselves, we pay attention to what they say, and their body language. Then, we talk using empathy and relate to the person in a meaningful and sincere way.
When it comes to messaging and technology, it’s the same thing, and most of the digital messaging tools have been created with the idea of enabling interaction with a large number of people.
First, we had billboards
When we use billboards, we tell people about something. The communication is unilateral and not open to discussion. The goal is to do something now. We’ve been using billboards for 178 years now.
Schools have taught several generations of marketers how to create effective billboards.
Late-90s people started using the web and built online brochures that allowed businesses to communicate with people on their computer screen. Here again, marketers were telling people things, and the websites looked like giant brochures.
Then we had an overdose of brand exposure
Some research points to the fact that people see an average of 4,000 ads per day. It sounds like a lot, but it is an average among all web users. In my case, I am probably exposed to way more ads than that, as there is an ad on almost every web page and phone app, and I am in front of one computer screen or another virtually all day. A construction worker or a real estate agent might be exposed to fewer ads.
Whether you believe in the 4,000 figure or not, we can all agree the ad market industry has been booming, and you’re exposed to a brand everywhere you turn your head.
This is true in the email world as well. The same type of brand exposure we can see on billboards got adapted to mass email, where the goal was just to tell a large group of people to do something or go somewhere. Marketers are slowly changing the way they communicate with people online and are looking for platforms that allow them to send more customized messages.
The big data economy forces you to listen to your contacts
The online B2C world mirrors the outside B2C world. When someone engages with a brand online and expresses the desire to buy, it’s similar to what happens in a retail store when someone gets to the register and finally leaves a product behind.
It can be challenging to flag the micro-decisions that are taken on the website, collect them, associate them with a specific person’s previous purchases and profile, and use all this data in a meaningful way. It is even more complex when brands are using several channels of communication such as mobile push or email.
Being able to work with real-time data is key when you want to have a reliable listening mechanism that collects data from your recipients, and use this data for future communications that can be immediate, or pushed later. Marketers want to create a special connection that won’t be a cookie-cutter spray-and-pray message that gets lost in the 4,000 other ads. By listening more, and showing the recipient you pay attention to their digital behavior, you can avoid sending coats promotions when the person is looking for T-shirts and avoid losing their interest in your brand. If they’ve already given you their shirt size, why would you ask again though mobile push? Acting on real-time data can be challenging because very few providers allow you to generate dynamic, behavior-based triggers fast enough.
The way you collect and use your data matters
Shifting from telling people to do things to engaging in a discussion with them brings value to your brand. The less personalized your communication is, the more commoditized your product becomes. When your product falls into the commodity space, the brand value turns into a price-only decision. Real-time discussion with your customers creates a relationship with the recipient and generates more margin because the value is associated with something other than price. The value is in the relationship business. People are willing to spend more time on your brand when your brand shows some interest in what people are looking for over time.