Why read this? : We look at online marketing opportunities in the areas of communications, social and productivity. Learn what kinds of services you can offer to help meet those needs. Read this for ideas on better ways to meet customer needs online.
Our recent digital services article covered 3 of the 6 main needs customers have online – information, entertainment and shopping.
This week, we finish the job by looking at the online marketing opportunities in the other 3 needs :-
Online marketing opportunities - communication
But, this study wasn’t about brands. It was about people. And ordinary people’s view of communication as something very different.
It’s how they connect with family, friends and colleagues. How they connect with others who share their interests. It’s how they share thoughts, feelings and experiences.
You have to think differently about communication to find online marketing opportunities in this need. It’s not about brand push. Instead, it’s a way to interact with customers. Not something you do to customers, but something you do with customers.
From one-way to two-way
Because here’s the thing. In marketing, traditional and online communication work differently.
Traditional channels are mostly one-way.
And, once the advert’s done, they get on with the rest of their day. There’s little to no communication back to the brand.
Online’s different. It’s much more two-way. Customers can tell you what they think, and you can measure what they do. With the right call to action, customers can respond right away. The two-way interaction creates many online marketing opportunities for you.
Messaging, emails and calls
When customers think communication online, they think more of technology. Texts. Instant messaging. Emails. And of course, phone and video calls.
Brands can use these channels to have a two-way conversation with a customer. This engages the customer more than being a passive recipient of your advertising campaigns.
In the brand choice funnel, these two-way channels usually sit in consideration or loyalty.
They don’t work well for awareness, as you can’t contact customers without permission. For example, there’s anti-spam regulation on email. Customers also generally don’t like unsolicited contact from brands. They need to contact you.
But when they do, you can use this contact to influence them. To improve your relationship with them. To create a better impression of your brand. All of which will eventually lead to more sales.
Communication example - healthcare
For example, healthcare businesses often offer access to expert advice. You can talk directly to one of their experts.
For products where the buying decision is more complicated, this is a great way to communicate with their customers.
It also shows there are real people behind your brand they can talk to. This tangible experience and extra level of service helps boost consideration and trial.
Use these types of online channels to manage customer questions and complaints.
You can use messaging, email and calls to directly help customers solve their problems. These channels become part of your overall customer experience.
For example, Telstra gets a large number of enquiries and now pushes most customer phone calls to live chat or text.
Make the customer feel special
As a customer, you feel good when brands can directly answer your question.
You feel more special. That the brand cares about you. You’re not just one of a crowd. The brand sorts out your issues and your wishes.
Brands which communicate with you through messaging, emails or calls feel accessible. They feel more real.
But obviously, you need a system in place to deliver that service for customers.
For example, you have to hire and manage customer service teams. They need systems and training to support customers and answer questions. You need the right technology to manage enquiries effectively.
This all takes time and costs money.
Many businesses try to keep customer service costs down, by using semi-automated systems like chatbots. When you set up a chatbot, you list the most common questions. You automate answers to these questions. The customer can ask further questions based on the answers they get. This interaction feels like a conversation. But in reality, customers are just clicking on pre-set links and answers.
It means there’s no need to involve a “real” customer service person to answer common questions. That saves time and money.
As long as you offer an option to speak to a real person for questions the chatbot can’t answer, most customers don’t even realise they’re interacting with a “bot”. And even if they did, as long as it answers their question, they don’t much care how it works.
Measuring the business impact
We’ve worked on brands where there’s been a strong correlation between customer contacts and sales.
As contacts went up, so did sales. You could interpret this to mean interacting with customers drives more sales. But be careful with this. Correlation isn’t causation. It could work the other way too. More sales might lead to more customer contacts.
You have to use market research to work out the true relationship between contacts and sales. But intuitively, it makes sense, right? Direct contact between customer and brand feels like a good thing. It’s an opportunity to engage a customer and build loyalty. That’s where the opportunity lies in meeting communication needs.
Online marketing opportunities - social
Beyond one-to-one channels, you can also connect and engage with customers through their need to use online for social purposes.
Social media usage is relatively high in most countries. Facebook is the most popular, with 60% of Australians on there. (higher if you only focus on adults 18 – 65). The social need’s usually about :-
- accessing social media.
- visiting blogs or forums (including writing your own blog).
- uploading photos, music or videos.
Accessing social media
Social media’s growth over the last 10+ years presents both opportunities and challenges for brands. People use social media to socialise with people they know. No one goes on to social media to socialise with brands, because they don’t know them.
However, when your brand is active on social media, you allow customers to interact with you on those channels. You give them a chance to know you. If they want to. That opens up different ways to meet their online needs.
For example, most social channels have a contact or comment function. Customers no longer have to search your website for your contact details. With social, they can message you directly.
From this, you get immediate and specific customer feedback. You can tell whether the content you’ve made is working. On social, customers make it very clear what they think and feel about what you’re doing.
Making Frequently Asked Questions very visible shows you’re a brand which listens to customers. Responding quickly to new questions and enquiries helps build trust.
That clearly boosts your brand identity.
Recently, we’ve also seen many of the social media platforms try to expand into e-Commerce.
Direct links to online stores, or direct selling through the likes of Facebook marketplace, for example.
Showcase your offer
For many products and services, you can use social media to showcase your offer. For example, Instagram lets you integrate your product catalogue into your profile to create shoppable pages. Customers can shop from your social pages.
This works well for highly visual products. Fashion, food or art, for example. Customers can engage with the product on social, share it, and if they like it, buy it.
So, there are clearly many online marketing opportunities with social media.
Visit blogs or forums
Less high profile than social media, but just as impactful are blogs and forums. Here the need is to connect with others who have similar interests.
They’re popular because there’s less clutter on blogs and forums than on social media. It’s more focused and relevant.
You don’t need to look at pictures of your cousin’s cat. Or that slightly racist post from someone you knew at school. If you’re on a forum about Survivor or Print on Demand (two we follow, for example), then that’s what people will be talking about.
But of course, this all depends on the quality of the blog or forum. There are plenty of junk blogs and forums out there. You need to look for ones which are well run.
Brands can advertise on those threads, but the adverts are generally less intrusive than other channels like Facebook.
If you’re a brand owner, and there are blogs and forums relevant to your expertise, you can use them to create an authentic, authoritative and helpful impression of your brand.
The challenge of being authentic
It can be hard though to come across as authentic in blogs and forums. People expect brands to only talk about themselves. Or to have an ulterior motive of selling more products. You should only comment and share content when it adds genuine value. New information, or something entertaining, for example.
They’re generally not a good place to “sell” directly. Blogs and forums play stronger at the trust, awareness and consideration level.
Do this well though, and when customers are ready to buy, they’re more likely to choose you. Authentic engagement is the big opportunity here.
Upload photos, music or videos
Improvements in online technology also now make it easier to publish and share creative content.
You can share these with selected audiences, or with the whole world.
What’s interesting from a brand point of view are the commercial opportunities from all this content.
For example, you can charge people to use your content. Customers can pay to download or stream your images, music or videos. Or, you can allow advertising to go with your content, and make money that way.
If your brand needs new content, you can contact creators directly. You can negotiate deals without going through expensive marketing agencies.
Online marketing opportunities - productivity
The final need is productivity. This covers :-
- creating or editing documents and budgets.
- organising or creating photos or videos (rather than sharing them).
- internet banking.
The common thread of these services is you can do all of them offline, but doing them online is easier.
The marketing opportunity is less obvious. But it’s important to be aware customers do these things online. You can find ways to make sure your services fit with these needs.
Take online banking, for example. It’s the banks who provide the main service. But if customers use online banking to pay you, there may be marketing opportunities to improve your online customer experience in how customers pay. Add secure payment via Paypal, or deferred payment services like After Pay, for example. These make life easier for customers.
If your service involves business or household budgeting, you can provide convenient templates and forms for customers to download. Or, if you have a high-priced item, you can make it easier to set up payment terms like deposits and monthly repayments.
If your service involves publication or sharing of content, or formal documents, the same thinking applies. If you need to lodge legal or official documentation, for example, much of this can now be done online. Easier for the customer, and easier for the business too.
Conclusion - Online marketing opportunities
As per our importance of market research article, great marketing starts with customer needs.
If your business is online, customer needs like communications, social and productivity offer many online marketing opportunities.
Some opportunities – like communicating one-to-one with customers – are obvious. But others – like making payments easier – are less obvious.
Start with what your customers need. Think about what you can do online to meet that need.
Keep it that simple, and you’ll find it easy to generate ideas about how to meet these needs.
It’s vital you listen to those needs. Act on them. Build your marketing plan around meeting them. That way, you keep customers happy and grow your online sales.