There are three main pillars of growth that you can rely on in your business strategy: customer retention, loyalty, and engagement. Retention marketing, as defined by Hubspot, is organized around the activities a store uses to increase the likelihood of a customer purchasing again while focusing on increasing the profitability of each repeat purchase.
Customer loyalty goes one step further and it means, as Qualtrics describes it, an ongoing positive relationship between a customer and a business. It’s what drives repeat purchases and prompts existing customers to choose your company over a competitor offering similar benefits. As you can see, loyalty already involves an emotional component, something that drives the client to your brand, while retention is highly functional and rather context-dependent.
Customer engagement takes these concepts to a whole new level and lays the grounds for a more profound relationship between your brand and your consumers, one in which people actively seek to engage in the brand experiences you’re creating and insert themselves into brand-related conversations. To engage customers, you need to understand their personal level of interest, desire, and motivations to engage in brand-related activities.
Most commonly, these motivations have to do with the positive feelings they associate with your brand and the experiences you’re providing at every step of the way (from the moment they interact with your staff in stores, to the moment they unpack an order from your shop and the moment they start following you actively on social media, for example). So what does it take to turn a loyal customer into an engaged one?
- The brand experience should appeal to both the rational and the irrational part of their mind and motivation, producing sensory, affective, intellectual, and behavioral effects.
- The experiences you design for your consumers should be rooted in the feeling of pleasure so you should have in mind the kind of enjoyment that might be derived from that specific activity.
- You should also consider the centrality of the customer experiences you’re designing: how central/important is that brand-related activity in the individual’s lifestyle? What place does your brand/product occupy in their day-to-day life? What is the mindshare of your brand? The latter has a lot to do with the branding process, the brand’s personality, identity, and tone of voice.
- Don’t forget about significance: everything you include in your customer engagement strategy should take into account the customers’ need for self-expression and the symbolic value of the activity they’re involved in. Is it directly relevant to them? Are you addressing the core wants and needs of your specific target? Are your tactics tailored to match the profile of your audience? The “symbolic capital” is a central element in every brand-related activity that your consumers engage in: from choosing their favorite brand or products to commenting and sharing user-generated content on social media. Consider not only what the experience you’re generating says about your brand but also what it says about your consumers. In other words: think about customer behaviors and how you can better integrate the insights you get from them.
The Smile Team defines customer engagement as follows: “Customer engagement is the degree and depth of brand-focused interactions a customer chooses to perform.” So, as we stated above, some elements are out of your control, since it’s not the brand that chooses who engages with it but rather the customers who choose the brands that best fit their needs and the extent to which they will engage with them.
Benefits of customer engagement
Why is customer engagement important? We’ve told you before that customer acquisition becomes more and more expensive and that you should focus most of your resources on the most loyal part of your customer base. It’s that 80/20 principle (or the Pareto principle): 20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales. Engaged consumers are loyal, happy consumers that are less likely to leave you anytime soon if the experience they’re having with your brand matches or even exceeds their expectations.
Now, do you remember the customer funnel? With the awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy stages. While you can still use it as a landmark, we’d rather encourage you to consider Hubspot’s customer flywheel:
Engagement should be there every step of the way. It’s as useful for turning one-time customers into recurring customers as it is for keeping your loyal customers satisfied. For loyal, recurring customers, engagement and delight should go hand in hand, as integrated parts of never ending loops: you don’t just do it once, you’re supposed to deliver the experience consistently.
Do it once, and your customers will be extremely satisfied. Never do it again and you’ll let them down because you’ve already created a set of expectations related to the communication and relationship with your brand.
So what are the concrete benefits of customer engagement?
- Increased trust in your business. Trust is one of the main factors that influence and affect customer decisions and purchases. Yet trust is not a completely rational process. This is where the emotional, sensory, and intellectual components of the brand experience, as part of your engagement strategy, come into play.
- Engagement and loyalty go hand in hand. Engaged and loyal consumers are the most likely to stand by your side through thick and thin. They will also be your best advocates and your fiercest defenders in times of crisis, and in this scenario what comes from your actual customers means more to all the stakeholders than any PR crisis plan you try to implement at that very moment.
- Engaged customers want to talk to you and want to share the positive experience they had with you. This is extremely valuable and doesn’t come easy. By talking to engaged consumers, you might get useful insights to help you develop your product and brand strategy. By giving them the chance to express their content, you will benefit from a lot of word-of-mouth, a kind of indirect marketing that speaks volumes about who you are as a brand and that encourages others to purchase from you more than other branded strategies. Why? Because people tend to trust their peers more than they trust brands and what comes from direct experience with a brand is an important indicator of the quality of that brand and its products and services.
- Engaged customers create more user-generated content. If you’re doing your thing right, customers will share pictures or stories centered around your brand, products, and services. It doesn’t always have to be a nice picture of the package beautifully wrapped up or an unboxing video- this kind of content can also come in the form of heartfelt, inspirational stories about how your brand helped them navigate through hard times or made their life easier when they needed that.
You can find an example of this approach in the #MoreThanABusiness challenge launched by Hubspot on Instagram during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic when they urged users to share a photo with a memorable experience made possible by a brand they love and to briefly explain why that specific company is more than a business to them, then pass it on to a friend, while also tagging Hubspot’s account. This is how you create a community around shared experiences and values, while also keeping it on a positive note when things seem to go downhill and SMBs need our support more than ever.
- Up to 2/3 of a brand’s profits might rely on effective customer engagement, according to Hall & Partners, cited by Smile.io.
- Using engaging copy and carefully designed on-site experiences may also help you reduce cart abandonment. Indeed, many people who leave items in their online shopping carts are concerned by the price or are just prospecting. But if you make the on-site experience seamless and memorable, and make the ads engaging and relevant to your target audience, there’s a high chance people will complete the checkout process and even register for an account. And this step is a major one: it means they are more inclined to come back to you for another purchase.
How to build a solid customer engagement marketing strategy
Start by gathering as much information about your customers as possible. Then turn this information into actionable insights. If you haven’t built your Ideal Customer Profile by now, it’s time to do it. Consider this template as “square one”: fill it in with as much information about your customers as possible, by trying to put yourself in their shoes and by trying to imagine how a day of their life looks like, what challenges related to your brand/product they encounter, what motivates them to use your product/service, how it fits into their lifestyle, and so on. Try to be as specific as possible and use the first person in writing this customer profile- this will help you empathize with them at a higher level, by allowing you to transcend the limits between brand and consumer and giving you a chance to see what is actually relevant for them.
Remember: you may have more than one customer type within your audience. You may want to focus on ideal buyers or you may want to better target those who seem interested in you but don’t take any meaningful, quantifiable action. This is why you have to create multiple buyer personas and customer profiles- your audience is not homogeneous and if you seek real, meaningful engagement, you must be mindful of each particular subgroup and their specific challenges, wants, and needs.
Then try to create an empathy map. Using tools such as Miro, you get access to ready-made templates that you will have to fill in with your customers’ needs, wants, expectations, pain points, attitudes, preferred channels for communication, and so on. Essentially, what this empathy map tool does is help you navigate the various situations your customers encounter in their day-to-day lives, with a focus on your brand and product/service. What communication channels do they prefer? How do they relate to their community? How do they use your product/service (occasions)? A bit more exploratory than the buyer persona, the empathy map complements it and allows you to dig deeper into the lifestyles of those you are trying to serve. If you have designed multiple customer profiles, you will need to create an empathy map for each one of them.
Consider the customer journey at every step of the way. If you want to create effective customer engagement strategies, you need to understand the emotional and behavioral motives behind the act of buying from a brand, trusting that brand, and engaging with that brand. Moreover, you need to know how a person navigates this complex process we call the “customer journey” to create meaningful experiences that seem to “speak” to them directly. You may need a different approach to engage a prospecting customer than you will need for loyal buyers, for example. Again, buyer personas and empathy maps will help you fill in the gaps and offer you that much-needed inspiration to design memorable experiences that are relevant to your audience and to deliver them consistently, at every step of their way.
How to increase customer engagement: customer engagement examples and ideas
Marketing strategies centered around customer engagement are part of a bigger trend- a shift from informational or factual marketing to emotional/emotion-driven marketing. They must be purposeful and fit the brand’s voice and personality, while also managing to keep the “human element” at the very core of the customer engagement plan. It might sound difficult and complicated but it’s not rocket science- it only requires a bit of empathy and a little creativity. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach because every business and every brand is unique (or so it is supposed to be)- they have different types of customers and audiences, they are active in different industries and niches, and you need to find the engagement strategies that suit you best.
Here are some ways in which you can increase customer engagement:
- Build on the participatory nature of the brand. Every brand can be designed or “made” to be dynamic and engaging, you simply need to find the elements that connect the wants and needs of your consumers with the elements that define your business’ personality and identity.
- Connect consumers. Create bridges between them, maybe even a community around your brand in which active, loyal consumers can invite dialogue and foster this sense of connection with the newer members. Offer them a space in which they can engage with each other and, ultimately, with your brand.
- Leverage social trends, as well as those emerging in the digital communication landscape. Just make sure that you insert your brand into conversations that are linked to it, otherwise, you’ll just be “trend jacking” (profiting off trends that have nothing to do with your domain of activity) and this might affect your reputation negatively.
- Try to create your own opportunities to engage with customers: connect directly with your audience, through the tools put at your disposal by the major social platforms (Facebook & Instagram stories, live streams, Q&A sessions with your team where you actively involve and engage the audience, polls, open questions, quizzes, and so on); these are just a few customer engagement ideas- there are many more out there, you only need to start exploring and use digital media at its full potential.
- Share customer success stories. When your customers succeed, it’s also when your brand succeeds. Plus, people love unmediated success stories that come from their peers- it triggers their emotions and imagination, allowing them to picture themselves in the same scenario. Customer stories are effective because they are more authentic than brand-generated content and because people seek truth, trust, and realness.
- Encourage every existing consumer to leave reviews on your website/social media pages. These can include photos, videos, and personal stories that foster trust in brands and directly impact purchase decisions for a lot of digital consumers. Don’t try to censor negative reviews- they can be a valuable way of monitoring customers’ feedback and learning from your mistakes. Owning up to something you do is worth a great deal more than the content of the negative review in the eyes of other consumers- it shows the way your brand treats its customers, it speaks volumes about how it communicates and what rules and values they abide by.
- Open up brand accounts specially dedicated to customer support to solve the issues faster or get someone from the customer care team to deal with their problems/questions directly into the comments section of your page. It doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative feedback: treat them all equally, with a consistent tone of voice, and create this image of a brand that cares deeply about its customers. Try to reply to as many comments as possible- engagement is a process that flows both ways, from customer to brand, as well as from brand to customer.
- Create seasonal challenges for your customers. This is yet another means of leveraging the trend of user-generated content, in a way that puts their creativity to good work. Consider offering a prize and create a story around the challenge that might convince as many people to join in as possible. You can then use this content (with the authors’ approval, obviously) anytime you need it. And it may come in handy more often than you think.
- Incorporate gamification and loyalty programs into the online experience of your customers. This may be easier said than done because gamification is a tricky trend to implement. But if you do it right, gamification offers measurable engagement, as well as positive ROI. It can help you get more reach for your brand and allow your customers to have fun and connect with your brand in a meaningful, long-standing way. As for loyalty programs, we’ve mentioned them before in our articles, but if you want to find inspiration for your own one, here’s a list of 10 examples of innovative customer loyalty programs, compiled by Shopify.
- Consider using conversational marketing. It’s easier to engage leads with chat instead of the traditional forms. Chatbots can be programmed to simplify the user’s journey on your website, offer helpful advice, recommend relevant sections/products/services, or direct them to a real person that can help solve their issue. They also allow you to initiate the conversation with people that seem likely to buy, instead of waiting for them to reach out to you. Plus, according to Drift, the typical approach to qualifying leads takes days of marketing automation and nurturing emails. But a study from Harvard Business Review revealed that companies need to respond within five minutes of initial contact to have the best chance of qualifying a lead. Wait any longer and your odds of qualifying the lead decrease by 400%. Chatbots can ask all the relevant questions you’d usually ask through a form or a cold call, offering you the opportunity to understand your prospects better. Then, the same bots can recommend the right next steps, in a more personalized way, to guide the prospect through your funnel.
- Try out native advertising. This is the definition of native advertising, according to Outbrain: Native advertising is the use of paid ads that match the look, feel, and function of the media format in which they appear. Native ads are often found in social media feeds, or as recommended content on a web page. Unlike display ads or banner ads, native ads don’t really look like ads. They look like part of the editorial flow of the page. The key to native advertising is that it is non-disruptive – it exposes the reader to advertising content without sticking out like a sore thumb. Their studies found that users are 53% more inclined to look at native ads than display ads. Moreover, native advertising fights ad fatigue because it is integrated seamlessly into the social flow or article that the user is browsing through/reading. The most important part, though, is the fact that users are well aware of the fact that they are exposed to sponsored content but they do not care, as long as it’s not as intrusive as the traditional ads (and more relevant to them, given that their content matches what the user wants to read/know about at that specific time). Yet native advertising still has a significant effect on purchase behavior- it’s just as engaging as it is “inconspicuous”.
- Tell a story. Storytelling is a powerful marketing trend that’s here to stay. Everything that you do- from your website copy to the way you design your packaging for shipping and the way you communicate through content marketing or on social platforms- must be part of a carefully thought-out story. The story of your brand. This gives you a purpose and allows you to decline communication on multiple pillars that can act as “chapters”, “dividers”, and so on. Stories are an important part of our lives. We tell ourselves stories every day- this is how we construct our identity, communicate with others, and make sense of the world. Ancient myths and superstitions are just antiquated examples of storytelling, of the way people use their imagination to fill the gaps in knowledge and understanding.
How does Reveal help you with customer engagement?
If you want to engage your customers, you must know first and foremost who these customers are. Your customers are different and have different needs, expectations, and buying behaviors. From Soulmates to Ex-Lovers, Reveal helps you discover which customer segment is most valuable to your shop using its high-performing RFM Segmentation module. For each segment, you will be able to discover the main goals and the next steps you need to satisfy them and “convert” them into loyal fans of your brand.
The simplicity of the navigation, coupled with the rich dashboards that turn data into actionable, ready-to-use insights make Reveal the best ally you could possibly wish for on your customer engagement journey. Reveal is a customer intelligence platform that helps you understand your customers and customer segments in a way that’s completely different from the approach offered by any other analytics tool or platform you’ve been using so far.
Apart from offering you an in-depth understanding of the ideal customer profile, the core reasons behind the purchase decision, the performance of your website, and your product portfolio Reveal also helps you monitor the voice of the consumers (VoC), tracking metrics such as customer effort, the NPS score, and customer satisfaction, along with the retention rate and the lifetime value of your consumers.
Going even further, this platform helps you nurture the relationships you have with your customers, be they latent, active, recurring, or about to leave you. You can leverage the insights offered by Reveal to personalize their experience on your website, the ads they’re shown, the email communications they receive, and so on. You can prioritize customers that matter, based on your business goals, and even solve their problems faster.
Integrating it with your eCommerce store is even easier than obtaining the insights you’ve been looking for for so long: install it, import the data, wait for Reveal to do its magic (crunch that data you’ve “fed” it), then get ready to see your customers in a completely different light. All this within minutes. With all these details at your fingertips, it’s easier than ever to create a compelling customer engagement strategy. Just get back to this article, choose from the numerous tactics we’ve listed here, and offer your consumers the experience they deserve.
It’s time to find out the truth about your customers. Empower your eCommerce team with unique insights into customer behavior. You can book a live demo to see how it can work out for you or directly install it on your eCommerce platforms- it’s FREE until 31st of December for Shopify Stores and it comes with a 30-days free trial for other platforms.
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Frequently asked questions
A customer engagement strategy is a plan containing tactics specifically designed to foster more positive, meaningful, and emotional-driven interactions between customers and your brand. To engage customers, you need to understand their personal level of interest, desire, and motivations to engage in brand-related activities.
A customer engagement plan has to be rooted in significance (everything you include in your customer engagement strategy should take into account the customers’ need for self-expression and the symbolic value of the activity they’re involved in) and centrality (how central/important is that brand-related activity in the individual’s lifestyle).
Start by designing a roadmap: create your buyer persona(s)/customer profile(s), then move on to empathy mapping, and the customer’s journey. Try to understand your customers as well as possible, by empathizing with them and putting yourself in their shoes. Understand their motivations, their struggles, their lifestyle, the problems that your brand/product is solving, and what place it occupies in their lives.
Get a firm grasp on the main communication channels for every segment to deliver an experience that’s directly relevant to them and tailored to the specific features of each communication channel. It is only then that you can start thinking about the tactics you will be employing- from the on-site experience and the social media communication, up to the more sophisticated ones, like native advertising, gamification, loyalty programs, and so on.
Customer engagement is an ongoing effort that places interaction and enjoyment at the very core of the relationship between a brand and its clients. It consists of various customer experiences (like the on-site experience, their interaction with your customer support team, the communication they have with the brand both online and offline, their experience with the product/service, its packaging, and delivery, to name a few).
A positive customer experience can be a one-time-only kind of experience or it can be just a tactical part of a broader strategy. However, such a positive experience can create expectations from the part of the client and if your brand lives up to this kind of experience and provides it consistently, it can create genuine, longstanding customer engagement.
Engaging with customers involves great knowledge of their psychology and behavior, as well as the main triggers for engagement (the pleasure they derive from the activity, the centrality of the experience, the need to connect with others in a meaningful way, the need for more humane and conversational brands, that care about them and put them at the forefront of their activity). There’s a wide array of tactics you can use to engage with your customers, from conversational marketing to more personalized online communications. The secret is customer-centricity.
Everything you do as a brand should tell a story, one in which both you and your customers are the main characters. Every element of your business strategy should speak as much about your consumers as it speaks about you, your values, and the personality and identity of your brand. When there’s a match between this personality and identity and the wants and needs of your customers, engagement will follow shortly, as long as you tell your story right and employ the right tactics.