As the saying goes, “shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist”. Most consumers have plenty of options to spend, shop, impulse buy and more, and yet brands often find it difficult to take control of those decisive moments and offer consumers a genuinely satisfying experience. Consumer engagement is essential to driving consumers to their best choices and, ultimately, to get them to buy more. But what can brands do to pass this purchase decision threshold?
Most brands are shifting to new methods that allow them to better engage and influence consumer choices. In the Direct-to-Consumer market alone, for instance, brands like Nike are seeing consistent double-digit quarterly sales growth. They’re achieving this by enhancing the experience they provide consumers and better leveraging the data insights they generate from them. Brands that think about designing customer experiences that continuously drive consumer engagement are more likely to influence purchases and generate more revenue.
So, what is at the basis of a customer experience? What really makes it tick? Well in reality, a customer can’t experience something if they don’t actively participate. Experiential marketing (or brand activation) is one way that brands seek to break from the doldrums of passive advertising messages, but actively engaging consumers in a continuous way requires a lighter touch, ensuring that it remains an experience and not a nuisance.
With so many brands prioritizing customer experience, generating meaningful consumer engagement is becoming harder and harder. To reset in this environment, there are three keys: understanding how consumers make decisions, defining a consumer engagement threshold and developing a plan of action around surpassing that threshold as predictably and reliably as possible.
How do we make decisions as consumers?
Traditional decision-making processes hold up that consumers identify problems before they begin the process of buying something. Usually, it may be something like “my shoes are worn out, I need new ones”, or “I don’t look as good as Tom does in his new duds”. These “problems” invariably evolve into a process of the consumer doing research, evaluating their options, making a purchase and then forming a notion of satisfaction or dissatisfaction which eventually becomes a new purchasing process.
This is useful for thinking about influencing a customer journey, but it’s not necessarily accurate to say that we always follow this “order of operations”. Services like Amazon Prime allow us to satisfy our needs as they emerge, and while some expectations of “anticipatory shipping” have yet to pan out, predictive analytics is already being used to forecast demand and affects supply chains, manufacturing, and distribution of products in advance of actual purchase decisions being made.
Amazon prime defines customer expectations in terms of immediacy with two-day, next-day and same-day shipping available by default in many areas. The average consumer now expects free shipping on online orders, all delivered in a maximum of 4.5 days – a full day less than expectations in 2012. Consumers can be engaged by enhancing their fulfillment and delivery speeds, but that’s not the only one element of a multi-faceted equation. If consumers are looking for immediate satisfaction after a purchase, you can be assured that they are also looking for instant gratification as they shop and reach a purchase decision.
Brands need to be always-on, and in the right way. This means that a customer should be able to access the information needed for their stage of the “buying journey” at any given time, in a way that retains context from previous interactions. These buying processes are the core of what consumer engagement is today. Influencing these kinds of jumbled purchase decisions is how most brands drive sales growth today, and that requires the right technology and responsive solutions to satisfy consumers’ ever-varying needs.
Why Surpassing an “Engagement Threshold” is so Critical for Brands Today
Consumers expect faster shopping experiences than ever before, and they are inundated with more and more brand messages trying to influence every possible element of their decision-making in order to win business. Buying processes are becoming a continuous, increasingly frictionless loop in which consumers jump on and off depending on their preferences, changing needs and the latest brand to influence them.
The total consumer engagement a brand generates is crucial to standing out, winning more business and “closing the loop” with more consumers, but given the choices consumers have, a brand needs to do that much more to stand out. That’s where an individual consumer’s “engagement threshold” is critical to consider. We all have a tolerance for the messages we receive, and the more messages we receive, the higher that tolerance gets.
That means that not only do brands have to do more to stand out, but also that the more brands there are in a given industry, the more brands in those industries need to do to shift consumer perceptions in their favor. As further shown by McKinsey, the average consumer actually evaluates more brands in active consideration than they do in initial consideration. This is one place where brands have the opportunity to stand out by supporting the consumer, but they can’t do it unless they pass the threshold in new and more interesting ways – either by reducing the cost or increasing the efficiency with which they engage consumers.
Reducing costs is simple – for most brands, it comes down to blasting the channel with the cheapest CPM. To measurably increase efficiency, however, a brand must think about deeper, more personalized and more responsive engagements that both generate initial interest and do a better job at holding consumer attention until a final purchase – or repurchase – is made.
Overcoming the Wash of Brand Messages
The idea of an engagement threshold is nothing new. Marketers and brand managers have dealt with the concept of “threshold effects” at scale for many years. Usually applied in cases of broadcast advertising, it’s assumed that interrupting the consumer to get their attention as many times as possible will eventually create recall of the brand. This recall, after a certain point at which it’s all the consumer can think about, will increase sales and drive loyalty to said brand – as long, of course, as the consumer continues to be bombarded with brand messages.
We’ve all had experiences, however, where we’re not loyal to a brand, but to a relationship we have with its representatives. Whether it’s a salesperson, a unique product or an icon of some sort, we follow those whose values we believe in, and who stand out in treating us with thoughtfulness, respect, and care. The main issue for brands, when it comes to advertising or other revenue generation efforts, is that this has always been difficult to do at scale.
With the advent of more AI marketing solutions, new capabilities can be deployed at a scale that would have been too costly or simply inconceivable before. Conversational Advertising, for instance, allows consumers to build a relationship with a brand through an AI-driven virtual advisor integrated directly into an advertisement.
Brands can do more to incorporate this kind of assistance in more places, like websites, social media pages, voice assistants and more, not only deepening their engagement with consumers, but also creating “Connected Conversations” that provide a simplified decision-making loop for consumers by offering them a conversational intelligence. This allows a brand to stay “always on” in ways that matter to individual customers, by providing guidance, recommendations and instant, personalized responses whenever they need them.
Providing One-to-One Experiences
Brands are always faced with the possibility of irrelevant personalization. The idea of attempting to provide something and failing could work at cross purposes to a brand trying to get more consumers across their engagement threshold. Making it more efficient for a consumer to engage is one of the reasons consumers will engage more, given the opportunity. For instance, 83% of consumers state that they are willing to share their own data if it allows them to access relevant, personalized experiences.
Conversational experiences are uniquely positioned to enhance the personalization consumers receive, because it allows them to get the help that is most relevant and pertinent to them. Collecting information on consumers in excruciating detail can only go so far, but collecting data that consumers declare to be important allows a brand to maximize its actionable data, and generate more engagement as a result.
Automat is a Conversational AI provider that allows brands to offer guidance, recommendations and instant, personalized responses to consumers. Contact us to learn more about what Conversational AI can do for you.