Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. We’re talking zettabytes and exxabytes worth of it. With all that information, it only stands to reason that we know more about our customers than ever before, right? What they purchase, which ads they click on, usage patterns, social interactions – we know it all, and much of it in real-time. And while it’s inarguable that Big Data can provide tremendous utility for most anyone who markets, sells, or produces anything, we need to be careful not to pretend that this glut of personal information in and of itself gets us truly closer to our customers. It informs. And while it informs like nothing we have ever seen before, it still simply informs. An overreliance on Big Data has the potential to create a false sense of security, a dangerous confidence that consumer intimacy resides in a data stream. In an era dominated by informed automation, how do you buck the trend and get back to real consumer intimacy? What steps can you take to ensure your brand, your organization is set up to achieve a deeper understanding of your customers and forge relationships?
Be the friendly neighbor who always waves and smiles
No, not the annoying one, but the one you can engage, have fun with and enjoy being around. Approachability is the first step in achieving consumer intimacy. Is your brand the type that consumers want to interact with? Are you welcoming, friendly and easy to talk to, or are you complex, not personable, even perhaps obnoxious? Take a look at your brand’s personality and how you are perceived in the marketplace. Everything is in play when it comes to creating this approachable persona, from the company story down to the imagery on your third-level web pages. Your customers need to feel safe in order to reach out and let you in. They want to understand you, and feel comfortable. Make sure your brand does everything to say “you’re welcome here; talk to us.”
Give them a starring role
The idea of consumer-generated content and co-creation is not new. In fact, for many brands it’s par for the course. Allowing someone to be your mouthpiece, design your product and impact direction is a powerful way to open up and let them in. But if you’re going to give them the keys, be sure to let them open it up, and appreciate the ride they take you on. Follow in the footsteps of Doritos, Heineken and Old Spice. Make them stars of your brand, not only by giving them something hugely important to do, but by engaging with them along the way. Share the fruits of their labor, and make sure they are keenly aware how they are helping drive the brand forward. Not only will this create a bond between you and them, but it can often spawn a community of sorts between fellow participants.
Make research personal
Your consumers want to talk to you. They want to show you how they live and use your products. Take the steps to satisfy their desire and capture valuable insights at the same time by utilizing engaging research approaches. Show them you care by skipping the impersonal, one-way survey. Go to their homes and observe, utilize individual conversations to capture context and emotion, start a community that guides innovation. It may sound like a small thing, but individuals love these experiences. Too often we forget that market research is an important consumer touch point. Done with thought and effort it can engender a special, intimate feeling. Done without regard for the consumer experience it can be a strong turn off.
Be smart and responsive on social
The statistics are startling. According to NM Incite, 71% of consumers who experience a quick and effective brand response on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others. Yet, according to Social Baker, in 2013 only 62% of brands answered questions proposed to them over social media, let alone in a timely manner. There is nothing intimate about a generic posting or leaving a customer hanging by a hashtag. Intimacy is dialogue, it’s back and forth. It’s @ComcastCares answering technical questions in the blink of an eye. It’s @Jetblue giving flyers the info they want on their flight status in near real-time. It’s Red Box talking with individuals over Facebook about possible new locations for their boxes. If you have a social presence, you owe it to your customers and to yourself to be actively engaged, not just present. Intimacy and social would seem to make strange bedfellows. But this is where consumers live and speak out. The opportunity to spark intimacy and create a relationship, even on a public Facebook wall, is there for the taking.
In this new era of customer information at our fingertips we are more at risk than ever of becoming estranged from the very people we want to engage. The companies that win will be those who carefully balance the utility of Big Data with the personal engagement and involvement customers crave. There is no shortcut to intimacy. You need to establish trust, be approachable, respond to customers and include them in your brand. Only then will you set yourself up to reap the rewards that true brand advocacy can bring.