Some marketers find it relatively easy to connect with their customers. They have a well-researched customer base, established workflows and enough data to gauge success to a reasonable level.

These marketers, though, appear to be in the minority. For most, connecting with customers is an everyday struggle and measuring success is nearly impossible.

So what ‘customer connection’ problems are the less fortunate marketers facing currently? And what can they do about them?

To find out, Econsultancy, in association with Epsilon, recently held roundtable discussions with dozens of senior client-side marketers to discuss how they are creating customer connections, and the problems they encounter. Below is a summary of what was discussed as well as helpful suggestions from other marketers as to how the ‘customer connection’ issues can be overcome.

1) Business transformation disrupts existing customer connection models

The first point raised by many attendees is that they are struggling to maintain customer connections because their businesses are going through major transformations. These transformations included:

  • A financial service provider moving from an agency-led business to one which sells directly online
  • A company in a highly-regulated industry starting to service customers online
  • An apparel brand striving to expand its appeal to younger consumers
  • A domestic brand expanding overseas

While each of these transformations is unique, they all involve a significant change to the marketing strategy – and disrupt how brands are presently connecting with their customers.

One suggestion, which most participants agreed was a good idea, was that marketers who are facing transformation need to appoint an internal ‘customer champion’ to push digital initiatives.  This will ensure that as the company changes, marketing programmes, and consequently the customer, are included in the plans.

Also, for companies which are changing across countries, appointing a regional lead who understands the local markets well may be necessary too.

2) Management is slow to adapt to how customers are changing

Another problem faced by attendees is that management is not responding quickly enough to the changes in customer behaviour. Participants felt that their current IT policies and change management procedures were too cumbersome and that customer data remained siloed. Also, some felt that their managers were ‘too collaborative’ meaning that they looked for broad support for initiatives and, as a result, were not decisive enough to respond to customer demands.

To handle these issues, attendees said that marketers should build business cases for initiatives which aim to improve customer connections.  Specifically, they should present their proposals as a way to increase revenue, as opposed to reducing costs.

Also, delegates agreed, marketers need to have more patience and budget additional time for getting buy-in from corporate or regional compliance.

3) Existing strategies are not connecting with the desired customers

Finally, participants noted that even when they refine their marketing strategies to re-engage with consumers and measure their efforts using performance data, oftentimes the results are disappointing. The initiatives reach consumers, but they are not delivering the type or amount of customers the brand is trying to attract. This reduces the team’s enthusiasm for new programmes and also makes it more difficult to get the budget for the next campaign.

Specifically, marketers said that reports on new initiatives seem to indicate that customers are not aware and not interested in new services, especially loyalty programmes.  Also, even with sophisticated marketing software, attendees said that they struggled to deliver the right marketing message at the right time.  For B2B marketers, this results in low-quality leads and makes it difficult to calculate key metrics, such as customer lifetime value.

The main advice for marketers seeking to improve strategies for improving customer connections is that they need to map – or re-map – the customer journey. And, when doing so, they should identify the touchpoints for which they do not yet have adequate data and make extraordinary efforts to get it.  Also, they need to consistently check touchpoint data for accuracy as even slight deviations can make it more difficult to decide on whether a strategy is working or not.

And finally, participants agreed that all strategies which seek to improve the connection between the brand and the marketer need to have a measurable return on investment ‘baked in’ from the beginning. Otherwise, one attendee warned, management may halt a strategy which has good long-term potential too quickly.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank William Chan, VP, Greater China, Vision Critical for moderating the Creating Customer Connections table and our sponsor for the event, Epsilon.

We’d also like to thank the dozens of marketers who participated in the discussions and added their valuable insights to the debate on how brands can better connect with their customers.

We hope to see you all at future Econsultancy events!