Snapshot : The customer needs of communications, socialising and productivity bring many online marketing opportunities. In this article, we’ll explain and dive into those needs, and give examples of brands that grow by meeting those needs. Learn from these examples to boost your own online marketing.
A few weeks ago, we wrote an article about TNS’s Digital Lifestyle study, which identifies six online customer needs. We focussed on three of those needs – information, entertainment and shopping – and showed how brands could meet those needs to win more customers.
For example, we showed how you can provide information to move customers towards a purchase. Or, how in some cases, the information itself is part of what customers buy.
We highlighted the benefit of making entertainment part of your customer experience. Or, again, making it part of what customers buy.
And lastly, we showed how brands could create sales opportunities through online shopping. So, for example, delivery services and professional services in the business-to-business market.
In this article, we move on to look at the other three online consumer needs from that study. We’ll look at how the need for communications, socialising and productivity create online marketing opportunities.
These opportunities are not so obvious, but they are there. Customers have these needs, and with thought and imagination, there’s opportunity if you can meet those needs.
What’s the online marketing opportunity in communications?
For most marketing people, “communications” is a brand activity. Communications is what you do to tell people about your brand. You immediately think of communication activities like advertising, media and public relations.
But, this study was all about customer needs, not brand. And if you think about communications from the customer need point of view, it’s something quite different. Because, the customers need to communicate with each other.
No customer really “needs” advertising, media or public relations.
Of course, you could argue those activities pay for the content that sits around them. Which means customers get that content for free.
And you could argue there’s a need for customers to find out about new products and services. But, those are really marketing-led arguments. Real customers, you know, actual people, just don’t think like that.
At best, they might see advertising as a proxy source of information or entertainment. If the advert informs or entertains, that is.
But, let’s be honest.
Most advertising brings out one of two reactions in customers. Indifference or irritation.
(Our current biggest advertising irritation is an advert for an Australian gambling chain featuring a well-known Hollywood actor, that (a) is terrible and (b) is over saturated in media. It’s so bad, we can’t even bring ourselves to link to it or say the name. But if you’ve seen the advert, then you’ll know it’s, coughs, ahem, a Lad-broken piece of advertising …)
And indifference or irritation, well, neither of those words suggests customers actually “need” communication from brands.
Online communications work differently
Here’s the thing though. Online communications work differently. Because with online communications, its much easier for the communication to be two-way.
Traditional marketing communication channels are mostly one-way. Brands pay for advertising. Consumers passively accept it. They might notice it and like it. But as we already said, more likely is they’ll ignore it, or get irritated by it.
Whatever the reaction is though. they’ll then get on with the rest of their day.
The only communication back to the brand comes either from market research, or at the point of purchase, based on the number of customers who buy.
But online is different. With technology, customers can directly communicate back to the brand. That two-way connection is big in terms of online marketing opportunities.
Messaging, emails and calls
When customers think communication online, they think more of the technology. This falls into three main areas. There’s texts and instant messaging. There’s emails. And there’s phone and video calls.
For brands, these channels let you have a two way conversation with a customer. That’s clearly a more active and personal connection than one-way channels like advertising.
In the brand choice funnel, these channels usually sit in consideration or in loyalty.
You can’t really use them for awareness, as you can’t contact customers. They need to contact you.
Well, you can. But, in many cases, you’d be breaking the law (e.g. anti-spam regulation on email). Or, even if your contact is legitimate, most people don’t welcome unsolicited contact from brands.
But if your advertising highlights you’re contactable via these channels, then when customers need to, they’ll contact you. And that opens up online marketing opportunities to move your customers towards a sale.
Online communication example - healthcare
So, for example, businesses in the healthcare and nutrition categories often offer access to expert advice with direct contact.
For products where the buying decision is more complicated, this direct communication is a great way to help advise customers.
It also shows there are real people behind your brand. This additional service helps drive consideration and trial. It lets customers speak to a real person, and creates a tangible experience for them.
You should also use these communication 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.
Telstra for example, who get a large number of customer enquiries, now push most phone call enquiries on to a live chat or text.
Qantas manages many of its enquiries through its messenger service on its app.
When you are actually able to fly, of course.
Communications from a business point of view
As an individual customer, having the brand directly answer your question feels good. You feel singled out for support, rather than one of a crowd seeing their advertising.
The brand sorts out your questions, your issues and your wishes. Brands that communicate with you through messaging, emails or calls feel accessible and more real.
But obviously, there are practicalities to factor in. You need to hire and manage customer care teams, for example. They need systems and training to support customers and answer questions. There’s a high demand on marketing technology to manage enquiries effectively.
All of these things take time and cost money.
A lot of businesses try to balance out their customer communication service, with their own need to reduce costs and maintain efficiency. Which is where semi-automated systems like chatbots come in.
When setting up a chatbot, the brand identifies patterns of enquiries from customers and picks out the most common enquiries. They set up automated responses to the most common questions. These structured questions and answers feel like a conversation, when in fact, they’re really more like a series of multiple choice questions.
But, they lead customers through the most common queries, without needing a “real” customer service person. As long as you offer an option to speak to a real customer service person, many customer will be happy to have their questions answered this way. The customer still feels they are getting an individual service, even though in reality they’re following a standard set of questions and answers.
It’s only where non-standard questions crop up, that you need a real person to jump in.
The business impact of online communications
We’ve worked on brands where we found a strong correlation between the number of customer contacts and the level of sales. Not all brands do this evaluation, but we strongly believe more of them should.
Of course, one way to interpret this is that driving one to one contacts with customers drives more sales.
But hold on a second.
Because, it obviously can work both ways. If your brand is growing in popularity and sales, it’ll have more customers anyway. And more customers means more enquiries, questions and contacts.
You need to work out if the contacts are leading the sales. Or the sales are leading the contacts. That usually requires market research and statistical analysis.
Either way, it’s clear that these types of contact services are good for your customers and your brand. This direct connection creates stronger, deeper bonds between customer and brand. It’s an important online marketing opportunity to bear in mind.
Because deepening the connection between customer and brand is always good for sales.
What’s the online marketing opportunity in social?
Beyond the one-to-one channels, there’s also the broader opportunity to connect and engage with customers through social media.
As we share in our article on why should you care about social media, usage of social media is relatively high. 60% of all Australians use Facebook, for example.
But bear in mind, “all Australians” includes children and very old people, neither of whom may be using social media. Usage by adults will be higher.
In the TNS study, the social need was split into three different online activities. These were accessing social media, visiting blogs or forums (including writing your own blog), and uploading photos, music or videos.
The growth of social media over the last ten to fifteen years brings both marketing opportunities and challenges. When your customers go onto social media, it’s usually to socialise with people they know. Nobody goes on to social media to socialise with brands.
However, when your brand is active on social media, you give customers the opportunity to interact with you in those channels. If they need to. That opens up different ways to fulfil online needs.
So, for example, almost all the social media channels have a contact or comment function. Rather than customers having to search your website for your email, phone, text or zoom details, they can message you directly.
That gives you an almost real-time view of what customers are thinking. If you can use this social media content to also meet the online needs of information and entertainment, so much the better.
If the questions are on the public facing parts of the platform, you can show other customers that you are the type of brand that responds to questions and enquiries. That’s clearly good for 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 marketplace functions like Facebook marketplace, for example.
And of course, depending on your product or service, you can use social media to showcase your offer.
Instagram for example lets you integrate your product catalogue into your profile, to set up shoppable pages.
If your product is highly visual – fashion, food or art for example – the social nature of this channel gets your products in front of potential customers.
This gives them the opportunity to engage with it, to share it, and ultimately to buy it.
So, clearly, social media gives you many online marketing opportunities.
Visit blogs or forums
Less high profile than social media, but just as impactful is visiting blogs and forums. Here the need is to connect with others who have similar interests.
The benefit for the customer is that there’s normally much less clutter on blogs and forums, compared to social media. It’s more focussed and relevant.
You don’t need to look at pictures of your cousin’s cat, or try to ignore that slightly racist repost from someone you knew at school. If you’re on a forum about Survivor or Print on Demand (two that 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 and forum. There are plenty of junk blogs and forums out there, so it’s important to find ones that are well moderated.
Brands can advertise on those threads, but the adverts are generally more relevant and less intrusive than say Facebook.
If you’re a brand owner, and there are blogs and forums relevant to your expertise, there’s an opportunity to create an authentic, authoritative and helpful impression of your brand.
The big challenge though is to come across as authentic in blogs and forums. It’s bland, forgettable and people can see through it a mile away. Comment and share content only when it adds genuine value like new information, or something entertaining.
For brands, it’s an opportunity to build brand identity. Demonstrate your values and personality in blogs and forums through what you say, and how you say it.
They’re generally not a place to “sell” directly. Blogs and forums play higher up the adoption funnel, as you build trust and consideration for your brand.
Do it well, and when customers are ready to buy, they’re more likely to choose your brand.
In terms of online marketing opportunities, being engaging on blogs and forums drives consideration for future purchase and strengthen your brand identity.
Upload photos, music or videos
The growth in capability of online technology also makes it far easier to publish and share creative content.
You can share these with selected audiences, or with the whole world.
Of course, what’s interesting from a brand point of view are the opportunities to commercialise this content.
If you create content, you can charge for others to use it. Other users can pay to download or stream your images, music or videos. Or, you can allow advertising to appear next to your content, and generate income that way.
If your brand needs new content, these channels give you a wide range to choose from. Contact creators directly, and negotiate deals without the need to go though expensive middle-men, or marketing agencies. Though some might say these are the same thing.
What’s the online marketing opportunity in productivity?
The final online need in the TNS study is productivity. This includes activities like creating or editing documents and budgets, organising or creating photos or videos (rather than sharing them) and internet banking.
The common thread of these “life admin” services is you can do all of them offline. But doing them online gives you more opportunities, or makes life easier.
The opportunity for brands is less obvious. But it’s important to be aware customers do these things online, so make sure your services fit with what they do.
Something like online banking is obviously supported by services from the banks themselves. So, unless your brand is a bank, the opportunity doesn’t seem to be there.
Think about all stages of the customer experience, and suddenly you can find online marketing opportunities in financial areas like payment services.
If your service involves business or household budgeting, you can provide templates and forms in convenient formats for customers to download. Or, if you have a high price item, help customers by creating online forms that help them decide on the right levels to pay 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 and customer needs
As we cover in our guide to market research, great marketing always starts with understanding the needs of the customer.
If you are a service and your business is online, the three online customer needs we’ve covered here – communications, social and productivity – offer many online marketing opportunities.
It can take some imagination to work out the opportunity for your business. Some opportunities – like online banking for banks – are obvious. But others – like using chatbots to improve your customer experience – 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 it’ll be easy to generate ideas. The important thing is you listen to those needs and build your marketing plan around meeting them.
Check out our guides to digital marketing and marketing innovation for more on finding new ways to grow your business. Please also check out our e-Commerce skill guides content, if that’s where you need help.
And of course, you can always contact us, if you have specific questions.