Nowadays, it is often assumed that building better relationships between brands and consumers, as well as engagement techniques to enhance customer loyalty, work best via social media. The reason: more personal interactions are possible, in theory.
However, while there's no question that social media allows for personal interaction between businesses and their customer base, new research seems to indicate that customers actually cite the possibility to choose their preferred communication and interaction channels, and control the buying experience.
An article in MediaPost cites a recent Pitney Bowes survey of over 5,000 consumers across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany and France. In it, respondents were asked about their experiences with social media—specifically, whether or not they were more likely to do business with a company based on its participation in social media.
Among those doing business with large corporations, only 18% of respondents indicated that interacting with a company via social media would influence them to make a purchase. A mere 15% of individuals patronizing small businesses felt compelled to buy as a result of social media interaction. Those numbers are a far cry from all of the hype surrounding social media marketing's ability to engage customers and leverage their purchasing power.
The consumer wants to be in control
Instead, survey respondents seemed to prefer options that gave them more control over the sales process as a whole. For example, being able to directly influence which products or services come to market was popular, as was being able to automate product home delivery. In addition, customers expressed a strong preference for being able to choose how and when companies solicited their business. The desire to control and direct the sales experience was pervasive, and applied readily to both large and small businesses.
So what's the takeaway? The survey reveals what happens when individuals get used to being in the driver's seat. In a pre-Internet world, consumers were hardwired to wait for information to be handed to them. Communication, particularly communication around the sales process, was primarily top-down—from the business to the consumer. Once customers gained the ability to conduct their own research online, they began circumventing the traditional approach to information dissemination. Their enhanced access gave them power and influence over the sales process—and they've never looked back. That's why a personalized and event-driven, customer-centric marketing approach is so important.
Offering individualized buying and customer experiences
Now add social media to that equation. Not only do consumers have access to an ever-expanding world of ideas and information, but with social media, they have the advantage of knowing what their online communities and networks recommend. Where the power to persuade and influence used to reside with the perceived experts, it now rests squarely with the consumer and his or her peers. Social media has taken the old "Power to the People" mantra to a consumption level.
Is it any wonder that consumers who live and work in this environment expect to have more control over the buying process? They want to have an individualized customer experience, whether the business is big or small. They expect the company to adapt to their needs, not the other way around.
They are clearly less than enthralled with the idea that their choices are limited or controlled by anyone other than themselves.
Communication channels depend on the consumer and marketing is about engaging the cross-channel customer and prospect throughout integrated dialogues that are driven by his/her buying journey, preferences, triggers, signals and behaviour.
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