Why read this? : You grow your business by finding and meeting customer needs. We review online marketing opportunities that come from people’s needs for communication, social and productivity. Learn what these needs look like, and how to create services that meet those needs. Read this for ideas on how to better meet customer needs online.
A few weeks ago, we wrote an article about TNS’s Digital Lifestyle study.
That study shows there’s 6 main needs customers have online. We covered the first 3 of those in that article – information, entertainment and shopping.
To complete our review, now we cover the other 3 needs. Learn how to the need for communication, social and productivity can lead to online marketing opportunities.
Online marketing opportunity - communication
But, this study wasn’t about brands.
It was about people. And from people’s point of view, communication isn’t advertising and PR.
Communication is how people connect with family, friends and colleagues. It’s how they connect with others who share their interests. It’s how people share thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Brands need to change how they think about communication to find online marketing opportunities in this need. Stop thinking about brand push. Think of it as a way to connect 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. For brands, traditional and online communication work differently.
Traditional channels are mostly one-way.
Brands pay for advertising. Consumers passively accept it. They might notice it and like it. But mostly, they ignore it, or get irritated by it.
Whatever their reaction, once the advert’s done, they get on with the rest of their day. There’s little communication back to the brand.
But online is different. Online is much more two-way.
You communicate with customers. And they communicate back to you if something interests them. With the right call to action, they can act on it right away. That two-way connection opens up many online marketing opportunities.
Messaging, emails and calls
When customers think communication online, they think more of the technology like texts and instant messaging. Or emails. And of course, phone and video calls.
Brands can use these channels to have a two-way conversation with a customer. A two-way conversation engages the customer more than being a passive recipient.
In the brand choice funnel, these two-way channels usually sit in consideration or in loyalty.
They don’t work well for awareness, as you can’t contact customers without permission.
There’s anti-spam regulation on email for example. 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 improve your relationship with them. That helps them form a better impression of your brand. And that will eventually lead to more sales.
Communication example - healthcare
So, for example, businesses in the healthcare category often offer access to expert advice. You can talk directly to an expert.
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.
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.
Telstra for example, who get a large number of customer enquiries, now push most phone enquiries to live chat or text.
Qantas manages many of its enquiries through its messenger service on its app.
When you’re actually able to fly, of course.
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 questions, your issues and your wishes.
Brands that communicate with you through messaging, emails or calls feel accessible. They feel more real.
But obviously, you need to work out how to support that service for customers.
You need to hire and manage customer service teams, for example. They need systems and training to support customers and answer questions. You need the right technology to manage enquiries effectively.
All these things take time and cost money.
In the set-up of a chatbot, you identify the most common questions. You set up automated answers to these questions. The customer can ask further questions based on the answer you give them. This interaction feels like a conversation. But in reality, all people are doing is clicking on pre-set links and answers.
It means for the most common questions, there’s no need to involve a “real” customer service person. 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 really care how it works.
Measuring the business impact
We’ve worked on brands where there’s been a strong correlation between the customer contacts and sales.
As contacts went up, so did sales. You could interpret this to mean interacting with customers drives more sales. But go careful with this though. Correlation isn’t causation. It could work the other way too. More sales might lead to more customer contacts.
You need to use market research to work out the true relationship between contacts and sales.
But intuitively, it makes sense. A direct contact between a customer and a brand feels like a good thing. It’s an opportunity to engage a customer and build more loyalty. That’s where the opportunity lies in meeting communication needs.
Online marketing opportunity - social
Beyond one-to-one channels, you can also connect and engage with customers through their need to use online for social purposes.
As per this social media article, 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 TNS study split the social need into :-
- 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 10-15 years presents interesting opportunities and challenges for brands. People use social media to socialise with people they know. Nobody 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 give customers the opportunity to interact with you in those channels. You give them a chance to know you. If they want to. That opens up different ways to meet their online needs.
So, 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.
Instagram for example lets you integrate your product catalogue into your profile to create shoppable pages. Customers can shop from your social pages.
This works really 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, clearly, there’s 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 focussed 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 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 or forum. There are plenty of junk blogs and forums out there. You need to look for ones that 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 your brand. The 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.
You can charge people to use your content for example. 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 opportunity - productivity
The final 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).
- 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.
Something like 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.
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 price 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 guide to market research, great marketing always starts the needs of the customer.
If your business is online, the three customer needs of 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 meet these needs.
It’s important 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.