Using The Big Picture to Keep Up with Today’s Customer

By owenl | Small Business

By Brent Leary

customerdialogIt's tough keeping up with today's socially-empowered customer. Armed with social networks and mobile devices, their adoption and adaptation to the latest technology is accelerating at breathtaking rates. Just look at what took place this past Christmas:

• US online holiday shopping season reaches a record $37.2 billion, up 15 Percent vs. 2010 — a rate of increase almost 4X higher than the overall rate for retail.
• 7% of Christmas Day 2011 total online sales made via iPad
• As late as one week before Christmas 2011, one-quarter of consumers hadn't even started holiday shopping. (Consumer Reports)
• Almost one in four retail searches online on Christmas Day were made using mobile phones or tablet devices, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
• The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January, according to a new Pew Research study. (New York Times)

These numbers paint a dramatic picture of just how quickly customer behavior, activity and expectations are changing in the face of consumer technology adoption. And as impressive as these numbers are, what really drove these points home for me was seeing my father reading a New York Times article on his iPad, while my mother was downloading an ebook on her new Kindle Fire.

The numbers above — and the activities by people like my parents — could not have been imagined even a few short years ago. But the quickening technology creation cycles are only being surpassed by the pace of consumer adoption - as evidenced by the 30 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook each month, hundreds of millions of daily tweets, or 1.5 billion check-ins on Foursquare from 15 million people from all over the world. We won't even mention the meteoric rise of sites like Pinterest and Google+.

And it is because of the accelerated changes in consumer behavior — along with their seemingly increasing expectations for better services and programs — that has businesses looking to leverage online marketing tools and services as much as possible to gain a better understanding of what their customers and prospect want and need right now.

Pulling social data from the various networks together is a tough challenge for marketers to do. And figuring out which messages to send — and which channels to use - to effectively build long lasting relationships today typically means using a number of disparate systems. So in many cases, the layer of complexity involved with working in multiple, non-integrated tools makes it too difficult for small business marketers to have a solid understanding of who their customers are, what they need, the best way to engage them, and how to extend valuable customer relationships.

Having one place to get a high level view of what types of marketing activities are being executed, what actions they generate from customers and prospects, and how those activities impact the company's reputation would go a long way in addressing the challenge of staying engaged with today's social customer. Being able to quickly at a glance see valuable information like the below will help speed up decision making:

• How many new orders (and their average size) are being driven by SEM/PPC campaigns
• Who's responding to email marketing campaigns
• How is the company's reputation being affected by these marketing interactions

The importance of speedy, more accurate decision making cannot be overstated. And being able to see the impact a company's marketing activities is having on its online reputation is critical. Jeff Bezos famously said that in years past a dis-satisfied customer would tell six people about their negative experience, but now with review sites and social networks they're more likely to reach six thousand.

Leveraging tools like the Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard to tie other well-known services (like Constant Contact, Orange Soda, Google Analytics and others) together helps paint a high level picture of how effective your total marketing/engagement initiatives are performing. And the big payoff is a fast, comprehensive snapshot of what's going on right now — with the ability to drill in to get detail if you spot a high-level indicator that's not performing as expected.

Quick, actionable insights are what are needed in order to stay connected with consumers today. Having a way to rapidly connect the pieces together and see the big picture is a competitive advantage that will only grow in importance. And companies who are able to see that picture, and efficiently respond to it, are the ones who will be able to keep up with the consumer for the long haul.

Brent Leary is a crm industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award winning blogger. You can find him on Twitter @BrentLeary.

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