Why effective marketing in 2021 requires going back to basics: the art of listening

Last updated: 05-04-2021

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Why effective marketing in 2021 requires going back to basics: the art of listening

I think it’d be fair to say that everyone has felt at some point over the past 12 months that they’re just about managing to keep their head above water - leading the commercial arm of a large business, I’ve definitely had my fair share of moments. But I think this combined with being dropped into the unknown has also helped many of us grow - personally and professionally. It’s hardly a surprise then that history has shown time and time again that global crises usually lead to major innovation, by pushing us to problem solve and adapt quickly. I like to think that having spent the past 12 months evolving our business model at Ello, we’re a great example of this.

The key to successfully sustaining and evolving a business during lockdown? For me, it’s been about really listening – whether that’s to our employees, clients and customers, or to my support network at home. I’m a believer that the need to ‘do’ and ‘evolve’ at pace can sometimes lead to businesses focusing too much on innovation and eventually losing their grip on why they’re doing it in the first place. The point I’m trying to make here is that the most important innovations in the marketing world come from taking a step back, listening and then using this to build human connection with customers. But how do marketers do this in practice?

My first point is a simple one – keep your ear firmly to the ground to ensure your engagement strategies are grounded in the now. For most marketers, the current situation probably looks something like this. While consumer confidence is slowly returning, it’s not at the levels it was pre-pandemic and, if we’re being honest, probably won’t be for a while. Customers are unsure about spending and - annoyingly for brands that have spent months and often years building loyalty - are switching from regular brands to get a better deal. So, it’s likely that many businesses will be starting from zero when it comes to getting customers spending again.

Then you’ve got to bear in mind that while customers might be keen to spend over the next couple of months when things open back up, when reality hits later this year many may need to tighten the purse strings again. Marketers have to team this with the additional pain of budgets being slashed over the past year, meaning they’re having to do more with less. It’s no wonder it can all feel a bit exhausting sometimes. But, as the UK started to open back up this month, it’s by no means all bad news and there are loads of easy ways that marketers can start building back customer engagement.

With habits constantly changing and choice more varied than ever, can you ever properly know a customer? Maybe not fully, but you can give yourself a decent chance by just tuning in. This will look different for all businesses. Some might need to simply take it back to basics and have regular, human conversations with key customers, whereas for others it might involve investing in a full tech suite, complete with machine learning, AI and automation. That’s not to say that one’s better than the other – it really depends on the business and the customer. And, I’ll share here with you a little-known fact: properly knowing your customer is actually far less of a cost investment than many often think, if approached in the right way.

Gradually building up data on each of your customer segments allows you to adapt your engagement strategies accordingly. My advice here is simple - let your customers lead you rather than trying to lead them. For example, it might sound basic, but don’t offer a customer a discount on a pair of trainers if they only ever wear brogues. It’s irrelevant and will probably make them feel like you know so little about them that it would’ve been better not to offer anything at all. Try offering things that have intrinsic value to your customer, less often - heavily personalised but less-frequent rewards often end up costing far less than regular, irrelevant rewards.

Here at Ello, the robots aren’t taking over just yet; instead, we have a team of specialised data scientists and analysts working full time to explore customer data and predict future behaviours. Many of our clients use this intel to build niche communities of uber loyal customers. For an idea of how this might look in practice, consider this. If you’re a brand trying to target an active audience, forget thinking people engaged with fitness are all interested in the same gym routine, day by day, three times a week, and instead focus on drilling down more into this. It might be that you end up identifying a tribe of dedicated fell runners that like running in extreme conditions, who are perfect advocates for your business. There might not be thousands of them, but you might find that this niche group is more lucrative to your brand than a random mass of gym lovers would ever be. This level of personalisation and knowing can only be achieved through a data-first approach.

Anyone that’s been listening an ounce over the past year should be on board with this one. In 2021, marketing requires a softer approach. If aggressive marketing tactics were already fading out before, the pandemic has made this shift happen even faster. I think it’s fair to say that no one responds well to being aggressively targeted - no-one wants to feel like they’re being sold to, even though realistically we know we are. Instead, work on connection.

I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure you’re engaging and connecting with customers before they’ve asked for it! We all know that historic loyalty and engagement programmes have focused on rewarding big spending customers after they’ve spent a certain amount. In a world where there’s more competition and therefore less loyalty than ever, brands can’t afford to wait this long to engage – even a simple ‘thanks for following our brand’ will go a long way. It just makes sense. Yes, some customers may not be able to spend right now, but particularly in the case of younger customers, they potentially have a whole lifetime to spend with your brand, so it would be naïve to prioritise just the top 10% of spenders. Ultimately, it’s connection that keeps customers coming back, so even if it’s a ‘not right now thanks’, as long as you’ve built a relationship with them, they’ll come back eventually. Customers want to see empathetic, human communication from brands, which slowly over time builds trust. This softer marketing approach which hones in on human centricity is the only way forward.

Hopefully this piece has been useful, but before I go, I’ll leave you with this. The bottom line is that marketers can draw the balance between keeping their customers happy and engaged and returning a profit. The biggest misconception in today’s marketing world is thinking you can’t be customer-centric and do well commercially. The key to this in an increasingly noisy world, is knowing how and where to listen. Simple, if you know how.

By Michael Kalli, managing director at customer engagement, acquisition and loyalty specialists, Ello.

Ello creates everlasting connections between brands and consumers by providing brands with the tools to give consumers genuinely rewarding acquisition, engagement and loyalty schemes. And in return, brands watch those consumers stick around.

It believes the most impactful programmes are the ones that feel like an extension of a brand, not a partner offer. With its home-grown products, expert services, nimble tech and experienced people, it does just that to achieve real commercial results, increasing acquisition and engagement for brands.

Already providing some of the UK’s most recognisable brands with sophisticated propositions, Ello’s capabilities are ever-growing to help more brands deliver incremental commercial revenue and delight consumers. For further information, please visit: www.ellomedia.com

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