Marketing technology is now the largest portion of the total marketing budget (29% on average according to Gartner). Most marketing stacks consist of technology partners that fall into categories such as CRM, AdTech, Insights & Analysis, Experience Optimization, and SEO. The stack can often help in three ways: 1) attracting customers, 2) engaging customers, and 3) analysis/optimization. But, this is where marketers need to hit pause. All too often, they become enamored with the attraction and analysis part and put engagement on the back burner, even when it’s a fact that emotionally connected consumers are significant in terms of lifetime value.
With fickle consumers willing to jump to competitors (seventy-three percent of today’s shoppers are willing to consider a new brand), engagement can keep them around. Take, for example, Lyft. Its passenger engagement lead was recently quoted saying: “As we’re thinking about marketing tech—both tools for engagement and how we want to be as an engagement team—we want to make sure we plug in that experimentation framework really, really well.”
Engagement needs to take a step forward and be innovative and visible to consumers rather than hidden behind the scenes in a dashboard. This is where building a coalition of passionate consumers via brand communities plays a critical role. The community tool, tucked into the marketing stack, drives engagement and amplifies its value. Etsy does this right with its 1.9 million members and more than 200,000 sellers. It delivers an environment powered by technology that blends data, e-commerce, and community. While not every brand can create its own marketplace, technology can assist in creating meaningful relationships between brands and their consumers. Here are four reasons why a community delivers on this:
1. A Community Puts an End to One-Way Consumer Relationships
There’s no doubt that a CRM is an essential tool in the marketing toolbox: it’s an owned channel where the brand controls the message. However, while many brands have huge databases, too often these are nothing more than emails serving as a one-way push to consumers – the brand doesn’t receive anything in return. Research from eMarketer says only 30 percent of US email subscribers actually make purchases from the lists they subscribe to. When marketers create an online brand community, they create a de facto social CRM, turning their communication with consumers into a two-way relationship and offering personalized engagement and a positive data feedback loop.
2. Zero and First-Party Data Drive Intelligent Business Actions
Consumers don’t automatically offer their data to brands. There must be a clear and concise value exchange between the data given and the experience received. Zero-party data paints a holistic picture of consumers beyond the standardized age/gender/household income/purchase history that most marketers are accustomed to. From an action standpoint, zero-party data empowers brands to offer interactive, digital experiences with audiences that create emotional bonds. An online brand community, integrated into the marketing strategy, is a powerful way to connect data to the bigger picture and encourage consumers to be a part of something they believe in.
3. A Community Facilitates Audience Optimization for Better Ad Spend
Most marketers use third-party technologies to monitor the efficiency of these campaigns and marketers are always looking for ways to optimize their spend. Cultivating an online community helps marketers refine their audience targeting for more effective media spend. After all, what better lookalike audience is there than your most ardent community advocates?
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4. Community-Produced Content Enhances SEO
Building a community of people who love your brand allows you to easily activate consumers to produce fresh, unique and consistently updated User Generated Content (UGC). Forty-eight percent of consumers say UGC is a great way to find new products, and 25 percent of search results for the world’s 20 largest brands are links to user-created content. Not only does content your advocates create hold a higher probability of showing up in search engines, but it also ensures the first thing consumers see is content they will trust.
So how do you navigate community-building within the marketing stack? For brands wading into the waters of community-building and engagement technology in general, it’s important to remember that certain digital technologies (especially the new and shiny ones) are not a strategy. Technology providers are simply there to help achieve an overarching vision or objective. Customer engagement technology enables your brand to mobilize a passionate consumer community and presents a clear bridge between acquiring customers and retaining customers.
For a marketing stack to be successful, the key is to select not just the right technology partners, but also the right kinds of technology. Engagement technology is unique in that it is not meant to be behind a dashboard. It is typically consumer-facing and will be a reflection of your brand. Start by considering how you want the engagement to work for your brand, what fresh content might look like and then dig into your marketing stack to make sure you have other tools to support your cadre of engaged brand advocates.