Brands must engage in real-time, authentic conversations

Head of IBM commerce urges companies to move away from the hard corporate voice and engage in real-time conversations

Not enough is being done by organisations to have real-time, authentic conversations with customers that build deeper, long-lasting relationships, according to IBM’s GM of customer platforms.

Speaking at the IBM Customer Engagement Forum: Amplify Your Brand in Sydney, IBM Commerce general manager, Deepak Advani, said organisations need to leverage data, analytics and the cloud in order to build deeper, more valuable engagements with customers, partners and suppliers.

“We’re living in a world where consumers are in control, they’re mobile and they’re engaged on social,” he said. “If they have a great experience, they won’t be shy to tell all their friends. If they have a bad experience, they won’t be shy telling the world.

“The only thing that will matter for organisations is to turn their customers into fans, advocates and loyal spokespeople. In order to do that, you need to understand them.”

According to Advani, you can then not only engage in real conversations, but leverage digital to engineer those “moments of serendipity” that make the everyday magical or memorable. This, he said, is the key to build loyalty and an almost unbreakable bond with your customer.

But in order to engineer those moments, you need to time it right, understand the individuals and what they want, gain deep cognitive insights into human behaviour and have access to the wider data available about them, he said.

“The more different types of data you can integrate and the more algorithms you run, the more precise the science is going to be,” he said. “What’s really important is understanding behavioural data and what’s even more important, is attitudal data, which is not only what they did, but why they did it. And delivering the right message at the right time is critical. Ultimately, it’s about having message resonance.”

IBM’s platform response to this need is the ThinkLab customer analytics platform, which looks at customer behaviour at every touchpoint, as well as analyses complex data sets to offer real-time market feedback throughout the entire analytics journey.

For marketers, integrating ThinkLab’s technology means having the ability to create personalised, meaningful customer experiences infused with analytics, Advani claimed.

“It’s about having an intelligent conversation, instead of a scripted one. This is going to build enormous equity and advocacy,” he said.

According to Advani, marketers are spending $10 billion on technology, which is just 1 per cent of the marketing budget. This is projected to grow by over 10 per cent to a $120 billion opportunity in the next decade.

But despite the forecast, Advani said not enough is being done by companies to engage in authentic and intelligent, real-time conversations. He pointed to a recent IBM study that found four out of five consumers felt their brands didn’t know them that well.

“That’s reflective of the fact that either real-time personalisation isn’t being done, or isn’t being done enough,” he said. “This whole notion of having a relevant, personalised conversation outside the marketing context, like in a call centre, is equally important. Some companies are good at it, but most companies aren’t.”

Advani said conversations should not occur in silos, but be free-flowing across the entire digital and social ecosystem.

“A lot of companies will put together an email in this silo, or do that social campaign in isolation, which is fine, we do need to do that to some extent, but the real power is when you start co-ordinating and orchestrating all your marketing activities across these channels,” he continued.

“There’s push campaigns, mobile, email and social, you can walk into a retail store and have a conversation. So what we believe is journey analytics, that ties all marketing tactics together, is going to help clients be even more effective.”

Advani agreed challenges remains for brands to transition effectively from having the hard, traditional corporate voice to engaging in more real, authentic conversations.

“The world we’re moving to is a client-centric world, not a product-centric world, so in order to really be customer-centric, you need to see yourself not as a portfolio of offerings, but a portfolio of customers,” he said. “And to make that transition requires a change in corporate culture.

“The biggest issue companies are going to have to truly be customer-centric is to change the culture and engaging in an authentic way, which for many, can be a very drastic change.”

Facebook’s APAC head of marketing partnership, Kiran Raghavan, who also spoke at the IBM event, said brands need to not only have authentic conversations with their customers, but ultimately, be their friend.

The social media platform recently partnered with IBM’s ThinkLab as part of its global strategy to expand its personalised marketing capability to reach the right people at the right time, with the right message.

“We believe we’re at the stage in Facebook where we understand our community and constituents enough to create an enable personalised experiences at an unprecedented scale for marketers,” Raghavan claimed.

It is critical to think clearly about your business marketing objectives as well as how to truly manage your customer experience in a simple and effective way, he stressed.

“Once you have insights into your customer’s interests, you know how different segments think about and aspire for different things,” he said. “You can then create opportunities for marketers to tell stories, or convey stories to these constituents on Facebook in a very personal way. That’s how I think you can keep it authentic, simple and not very corporate.

“We’ve already seen so many marketers benefitting from telling really genuine and authentic stories, in a very creative way - that can allow us to find the message on Facebook that truly resonates.”

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