Content becoming crucial in customer engagement

A recent DM News interview with Seth Solomons, global CMO at Digitas, got me thinking about what is demanded of today's consumers.

A recent DM News interview with Seth Solomons, global CMO at Digitas, got me thinking about what is demanded of today's consumers.

In the piece, he said, “We, as marketers, grew up... always thinking about getting the best customers and asking, ‘How do we get them to be more loyal to us?' In today's environment we need to be a loyal brand versus looking for loyal customers. Loyal brands... deliver utility and value, and listen harder and try to serve consumers at every interaction.”

Engagement is still one of the most highly sought metrics, particularly as it relates to digital dialogue with consumers. But many discussions around it focus on how the customer is engaging with the brand, not the other way around. As social media platforms have developed and multiplied, the focus has shifted away from finding ways to provide more and greater information to customers and toward more aggressive efforts to get customers to take action and be active participants in the experience that is being created.

Other marketing disciplines can lay claim to the kind of direct response activities that spur customer action or generate databases of information that can be analyzed and marketed to down the line. And engagement in, say, an online competition or social media site doesn't alone equate to sales.

A 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review, titled “In E-Commerce, More is More,” helped to articulate the difference. Over a period of four years, the researchers conducted an analysis of more than 1,700 e-commerce Web sites. They also interviewed customers and managers in the US, Europe, and Asia.

They found that consumers want content, information on the products, and services that interest them. They also discovered that the top 25 companies that met this criterion were consistently outperforming the rest of the industry.

The article suggested asking Web visitors to vote on topics they would find interesting, which serves the dual purpose of helping to target content more closely and identifying those attributes that customers either associate with the brand or want to associate with themselves. That seems to be an ideal marriage of the content and the marketing intelligence that the best online platforms can provide.

This study was completed before the economic meltdown, and no doubt price and return policies are more compelling sales generators than almost anything else. But as PR's role in digital strategy grows deeper and more complex, it is important to remember that tracking true engagement isn't easy and can't always be measured in e-mail addresses and click-throughs. There is still great value in delivering content and information that informs and pleases as well.

Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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