Rethinking Retail: Improving Audience Engagement In The New Reality

By Aqilliz  

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In an age of smartphones, push notifications, and chatbots, it is no longer considered revolutionary for brands to leverage both online and offline touchpoints in their campaigns and communications — in fact, most consumers expect this. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers to rapidly adjust their shopping habits and likewise, retail brands had to rethink the way they conduct business overnight.

Between changing consumer expectations and increased digital savviness, an “integrated” approach that simply ticks the boxes for online and offline channels is no longer enough to fully engage your desired target audience. This is especially true in the new reality, when consumers are more likely to shop across a wider array of physical, digital, and mobile platforms than ever before.

In such a complex landscape, understanding audience engagement trends can help retailers and marketers develop a robust strategy to deliver a consistent experience that reaches customers more effectively.

Winning at audience engagement

Marketers do not always agree on how to define audience engagement. For some, audience engagement is commonly used to describe achieving impressions such as likes and views. For others, it is based on the one metric that matters: conversion rate. Few simply use it as a catch-all for a variety of results they are tasked with achieving. So what is it really? At its core, audience engagement refers to capturing and holding audience attention, sparking an interaction, or getting a brand’s message across. Ideally, audience engagement is a two-way conversation, with content as the primary medium for brands to initiate and maintain the conversation.

Rather than positioning audience engagement as proof of positive marketing performance, it might be useful to look at it as a functional tool that can be used to drive other more meaningful and measurable marketing goals. To accomplish this, marketers need to evaluate their content’s value from their audience’s perspective — is this something they care about; does it address their needs and intentions by delivering valuable information that can help them on their journey; does it connect with them and speak to them emotionally?

Customers want brands to prove how much their business is valued — and not just with discounts or free gifts. Proper, well-executed audience engagement marketing will make customers feel like they are recognised ambassadors of the brand, driving loyalty, and reducing attrition.

Establishing trust and emotional connection

Serving relevant, valuable content to consumers at the right time and place is just the first step on the engagement path. Retailers and marketers also need to evaluate their brand message and the values they stand for. Social activism is becoming increasingly important to customers — younger consumers, especially the Gen Z, are paying attention to how brands present themselves and take action for social causes that are important to them. They’ll choose to align themselves with a brand that shares the same values as them; for instance, an individual that strongly believes in environmental activism may choose to purchase from a brand that donates profits to environmental organisations and promotes sustainability. Others may shop from companies that support the same political values, work to better education, or promote diversity and inclusion.

Although the least tangible, forming an emotional connection with their consumer base is perhaps one of the most important aspects for any retailer. This connection will be crucial to inspiring customers to interact with a brand and willingly take part in the experiences that have been created for them, thereby nudging them along their path to purchase. No matter which channel a brand is using to reach its customers, creating an emotional connection means establishing and maintaining trust — something that’s becoming increasingly difficult to ensure in an ever-crowded market. By communicating what they stand for and being transparent about their policies and practices, brands and retailers can forge trust and build deeper connections with their customers, turning one-time shoppers into brand advocates.

Treating data with respect

When determining how to add value for an audience, retailers can turn to personalisation; using data and artificial intelligence to understand customer wants, needs and behaviours, even before customers know they want something themselves. With these behaviours as insights, marketers can create meaningful, actionable strategies to engage with their target audience.

The challenge, however, is that linear buying journeys are more likely to be the exception than the rule these days. To address the chaos in decision-making more proactively, marketers must incorporate omnichannel strategies that will serve the consumers’ needs, no matter which platform they are using. To do this, it’s vital for companies to focus on the individual customer’s journey to achieve a 360-degree view that allows for the creation of deeper customer personalisation and to incorporate real-time marketing capabilities.

Yet, in an increasingly privacy-first marketing ecosystem, data privacy concerns are among the biggest hurdles faced by marketers when planning audience engagement campaigns and strategies. By leveraging data that is voluntarily given with consent, marketers can respectfully tap into first-party data that ticks all the compliance boxes, making it easier for retailers to comply with privacy regulations. In addition, integrating blockchain-enabled marketing technologies into existing campaign management systems and customer engagement systems can further ensure data traceability, security, and transparency.

Finally, marketers should keep in mind that they can’t force their audience to engage with them. Every customer has the right to decide which brands they believe in, or how they interact and engage with the brands they choose — marketers can only create the opportunities, and ensure that their diligent efforts, practices, and values inspire people to take action.

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