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Politics, Social Media and Your Business

January 26, 2021

The one thing we can all agree on is that things are contentious out there. Our current political climate is ugly.

Social media has changed politics in our country. But it’s not just the politicians who are taking to social channels to express their opinions. Many people ask me, “As a business owner or leader, should I be using social platforms to express my personal political beliefs?”

The truth is, there’s no single right answer to that question. If you own the company, it’s an easier call. You don’t risk alienating your boss or losing your job, and odds are your company’s values and political leanings are the same as your personal ones.

But what if you are a leader at a company that you don’t own or is publicly traded?

Given that we have finally wrapped up the 2020 election and inauguration, I thought this week’s column might be well spent examining the risks and rewards of sharing your firmly held political beliefs on your personal social accounts. Next week we’ll look at how organizations can use social media to express their social standing and the potential ramifications.

Let’s all agree that we have the right to express our political beliefs, which is one of the privileges of being an American. I’m not about to suggest you can or can’t do anything. But I think it would be ignorant of us not to acknowledge that our choices come with consequences. We’ve seen many examples of how a CEO’s personal beliefs, financial support or comments have affected their employer’s brand and caused boycotts, a spike in sales or, in some cases, the removal of the leader.

It’s an even riskier proposition if your personal beliefs are not aligned with your employer’s politics.

Because of the severity of the potential consequences, many business leaders choose to avoid religious and political discussions altogether on social. But if you want to get political on your personal social channels, there are some things to consider so that the interactions go well.

As an individual, odds are your social connections are a mix of family, personal friends and business colleagues. It’s highly unlikely that you all share the exact same belief set. So the first acknowledgment we need to make is that we should expect a wide range of reactions if we express our political opinion publicly.

You have to be ready to engage with people who think you’re wrong. Those conversations can get heated in a hurry, so you also have to devote time to police that aspect of the discussion.  Your civility will be remembered long after the conversation dies down.

Before you post, be clear about your objective. Are you trying to encourage dialogue? Hoping to change minds? Are you just declaring your own beliefs?

Stating your intentions upfront will help you manage the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. Citing credible sources and fact-checking before you post will undoubtedly protect your reputation, even when someone disagrees with you.

Interestingly, in our current climate, you may be judged harshly by your employees, customers or professional peers if you don’t take a stand on specific issues. If you’ve opted to stay silent, you may be asked to defend that choice.

Whichever choice you make, use your leadership skills to navigate the situation. Listen. Look for common ground. Be honest and candid about both your beliefs and intentions.

No one right answer. No simple choices. No choice without consequence.
It’s a little like politics, isn’t it?

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2021 is here. Now what?

January 6, 2021

It’s been a bit daunting to approach planning for this year, given the upheaval and chaos we are still experiencing. I have yet to meet a business person who did not declare 2020 to be the most perplexing and challenging year of their career.

Despite all of the unknowns, we still have to have a plan for 2021. Here are some aspects of your marketing that, no matter what is happening with COVID, racial challenges, or politics, you need to focus on in 2021.

You can’t slide backward. Every business needs to consciously protect their market share and brand awareness. You can’t afford to slip from your consumer’s mind. You must maintain a baseline presence or your brand equity, top-of-mind awareness, and favored status with your current customers, or it will quickly erode.

It’s incredibly tempting just to lie low and wait for all of this to blow over. Keep in mind, there has never been an economic downturn where that decision worked out well for an organization. Once you start to slide, it’s incredibly expensive and potentially impossible to recover from.

Expect the need for adaptations. This is not the time to make long-term plans that are inflexible or don’t give you room to pivot. Change has always been an element in the marketing world, but given the societal issues we’re facing right now, it’s almost a constant. Whatever you are working on for 2021, build in plenty of wiggle room for you to shift as needed.

Be mindful when you sign contracts or make any long-term commitments that they have protectionary language that would allow you to react to something at a moment’s notice, be it a world event or something very local. 2021 is probably the year to think in quarters, not the entire year.

Yes, build the plan for the whole year but be ready to retool the plan every 90 days.

Don’t assume this is how it will always be. If there is one common theme running through our country right now, it’s that people are starving to get back to face-to-face interactions in every aspect of their lives. We will go back to in-person meetings, conferences, trade shows, and live demos. Yes, digital is all-consuming right now, and it absolutely should play a critical role in your 2021 plan, but so should human contact.

How, when, and where this will happen is still pretty murky. Many organizations are already working on their 2021 live conferences and trade shows and fully expect them to be well attended. You want to carve out a budget for live interactions (one on one or one to many) in anticipation that they’ll happen, so you don’t get left out.

Check your tone. There’s a lot of talk about being marketing tone-deaf these days. It seems as though the sensitivity meter is set on high for just about every person on the planet. You need to understand the issues and sensitivities of your audience and double-check your creative, messaging, and delivery to make sure that you’re in alignment with the current sentiments.

The level of consumer intolerance is at an all-time high when a company does not demonstrate a desire to be inclusive or acknowledge whatever issue is forefront in the consumer’s mind, so don’t put yourself in that sort of firestorm unnecessarily.

2020 was a year like no other, but we can’t let its magnitude paralyze us into being unprepared in 2021. We know enough to set ourselves up for success, and the time to execute that plan is now.

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Taking full advantage of email marketing

December 30, 2020

Since we dealt with email law previously, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some email marketing best practices that will help us avoid getting sideways with the regulations.

But before we get into how to do it well, let’s talk about the value of doing it at all. According to Hubspot’s report “The State of Email Marketing in 2020,” for every $1 spent on email marketing, the return on investment is $38.

Marketers who used segmented campaigns note as much as a 760% increase in revenue, and 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months.

It’s clearly effective when done well. So, how do you do it well?

Remember how it is viewed: 46% of all emails are opened on a mobile device. If your emails are not formatted to be visually pleasing on a cellphone, that should be fix No. 1.

Make sure you’re accessible: Over 1.3 billion people live with some level of visual disability.  There are some simple things you can do to make sure they can consume your content without missing any aspect of your communications. Learn how to create your emails so they’re screen-reader-friendly and watch your image contrast ratios.

Welcome emails perform better than any other email: Carefully crafting your welcome email (the first email sent to a new subscriber) is worth the effort. The average open rate is over 80%, and click-through rates exceed 22%.

Timing matters: When you send your email has a significant impact on whether your audience actually opens it. For the last several years, 9-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. have the highest open rates and click-through rates. The exception to that rule? Sundays. The peak time for opens on that one day of the week is 9 p.m.

If you don’t want them to reply, don’t email them in the first place: When you send out marketing emails, isn’t the whole point to engage your audience? It always baffles me why so many companies use a noreply@ address. The more interactive your emails are, the better. And it’s tough to interact with a noreply@ address!

Your emails should paint a picture with pictures! Emails with visuals and multimedia like video can have a 4x impact on click-through rates. Video performs twice as well as just including still images, and still images deliver double the results of a text-only email. Mixing your media usage will help keep things fresh and your audience engaged. But don’t overdo it. Too many images or videos will send you right into the spam folder!

Avoid the spam folder: Buying a list, emails that are too visual-heavy, sending too many emails a week, and not cleaning/purging your email list on a regular basis can all get you rerouted to your audience’s spam folder pretty quickly. That’s a lost opportunity that can easily be recaptured with some simple shifts.

Email marketing is one of the most reliable tactics available to businesses small and large.

When done well, it can create community, ignite interest in your products or services, and position you as an authority worth following.

It’s also one of the more cost-effective ways to build your brand, drive sales, and encourage repeat purchases when you do it well.

These best practices can get you started in the right direction if you’ve avoided email marketing in the past or help boost your performance if you’ve been at it for a while but aren’t seeing the results you want.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Dealing with an online troll

December 23, 2020

Ratings and reviews play a critical role in how our prospects measure our worthiness, long before we know they’re out there. No one will make every client happy 100% of the time, and sometimes we’ll genuinely earn a mediocre review. But what do you do when a troll decides to target you?

We’re dealing with this right now for a client. Our client produces a monthly newsletter that goes out to their clients, prospects, and anyone who signs up on their website.

They’ve followed all of the laws and best practices around email marketing. They don’t buy lists, and they don’t add people without their permission.

This week, an irate man blasted them with a Facebook review, calling them spammers. He admitted that he chose not to click on the unsubscribe link because he’d rather leave nasty reviews and demanded to know how he’d gotten on their list.

Before leaving the review, he called their office and screamed at their office administrator, demanding to be removed from the list. She freaked out, and admittedly this is where a mistake was made. Typically, when someone unsubscribes, they stay in the CRM system, but their record is blocked, meaning they cannot be sent another email.

But she was so unnerved by his call that she deleted him entirely from the system, so there was no chance he’d ever get another email from the company. But it also meant we couldn’t review the record to answer all of his questions.

He got even more belligerent (commenting on his own review), promising he wouldn’t go away.

We consulted with an attorney who specializes in this area. She told us that here in the U.S., he has a right to:

  • Know what data of his you have.
  • Ask you to delete his data.
  • Tell you not to contact him again.

Interestingly, the rights don’t include a business having to tell the person where their information came from. We would have gladly told him that information if we could have retrieved it. But we were not in any way violating the law by not being able to share that information.

While we were gathering up all of this information, the troll continued to email the business owner, promising that this was not over, and he’d leave a bad review everywhere he could. He also admitted that he does this to every business that sends him an email that he believes he did not request.

We reached out to our client’s customers, explained the problem, and asked them to leave an honest review to push his review down on the site.

The business owner, who had already replied to the review on Facebook with an apology and explanation, sent the troll an email restating the apology and giving him all the information he could, and offered to let the troll speak to the business’s attorney. Since then, the troll has left three more scathing reviews on different sites, and the loyal clients of this business have responded with reviews to water down the impact.

What are the lessons here?

  • Monitor all review sites daily.
  • Be sure you are following the most up-to-date rules and laws.
  • Include an unsubscribe option on every marketing email.
  • Build your community so they will rally behind you if needed.
  • Deal with trolls quickly and directly.
  • And maybe the most important one: Trust people to see the troll for who they are and to temper their reaction to the review accordingly.

Email marketing is still one of the most effective tactics out there. Do it well, and don’t let a troll dissuade you from continuing to use it.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Where did your confidence go?

December 16, 2020

If there has ever been a year when our confidence has taken a knock to the chin, it’s 2020. If you are like most marketers, January and February gave every indication that 2020 was going to be a breakout year for you.

Many businesses reported the most robust January they’d had in a decade and were looking to exceed goals. And then COVID hit. Many of us went two to three months feeling that it was inappropriate to sell at all, and when we did sell, it was a bit apologetically.

As if that weren’t enough, the combination of COVID, racial tensions, economic challenges, back-to-school maybes, and just feeling like we are being restricted and contained at every turn has caused an underlying malaise in just about every human I know.

Given everything we’re all carrying on our shoulders right now, how in the world do we muster up the confidence to sell?

Marketing and sales are all about confidence. When you believe in what you’re selling, know it is the right answer for the prospect, and can see the benefits the prospect could enjoy, it’s much easier to approach a new opportunity and offer your assistance.

That’s where I think we can regain our confidence: by recognizing that we have something valuable to offer and by seeing it as us offering assistance. Your marketing should be helpful and useful, which builds trust. Once the trust is seeded, sales is about continuing the trust-building while offering tailored solutions that are going to exceed expectations.

Barbara Corcoran, from ABC’s “Shark Tank,” recently shared a letter that she wrote to the show’s producer, Mark Burnett. It’s clear from the letter that she had received a “thanks, but no thanks” response to her audition and I’m sure Mark expected her just to exit gracefully.

Instead, she sent him this letter, outlining very respectfully why this was not the right decision. Her arguments were not about her but how he was taking a more significant risk by not allowing her to come to LA for the final tryout, even though her rival for the position would be there as well.

She called Burnett’s rejection a lucky charm and then gave him point-by-point suggestions of how his final decision would be more reliable if he reconsidered her for a role on the show.

The entire letter exudes confidence. There’s nothing arrogant about it, but as she builds her case, you begin to understand what a formidable force she really is. She ends the letter acknowledging that it is his decision, but she’s already booked her flight and hopes he invites her to get on that plane.

As I studied the letter, I identified some of the sources of her confidence that we can all learn from as we rebuild our own:

She reflects on her past successes and sees them as a progression of her skills, accomplishments, and lessons learned.

She thinks about the opportunity from the buyer’s (Mark Burnett) perspective and demonstrates that he’s at risk of making a bad decision if he does not consider her in the mix.

She suggests ways he could improve his decision-making process, whether she is chosen or not.

She compliments him and recognizes his depth of expertise in his field.

She ends with the presumptive act of confidence (booking the flight).

Breaking that down, it’s about having faith in yourself and what you sell. It’s about truly understanding what your potential buyer is trying to accomplish and his or her situation and being helpful in their efforts, and it’s about a confident close, knowing you can make a difference.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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The hero’s journey continues

December 9, 2020

If you’ve been following along, we are halfway through the stages of the hero’s journey, the construct we can use to think about weaving elements of storytelling into our marketing. I left off at the stage where the hero (our prospect) meets the sage sidekick (our product, service, or brand).

In my example, our hero is a 55-year-old woman who is dealing with her aging father. She suspects her dad is showing signs of early dementia, but it may also just be forgetfulness. She had just met the sage sidekick through the nursing home’s website. It was not created to sell but to help.

It included tips for keeping a loved one at home, assessing whether or not staying in the home was a safe solution, and asking questions to evaluate nursing homes. This facility also offered caregiver support groups, regardless of whether their loved one was still at home or even at a different facility.

The site was created to genuinely help our hero make the right decision, which is why she ultimately kept going back as she weighed her options. It became a reliable and trusted resource. It is worth noting that the nursing home whose website our hero keeps visiting has no idea she is out there or who she is. But they’ve already begun a relationship with her.

The next stage is crossing into the unfamiliar: Our hero has decided to explore her options, searching for the right choice for her dad. This stage is where the hero braces to face and fight the unknown. They’re anxious at this point because they know they’re going to encounter resistance, opposition, and doubts. In our example, our hero is worried about what her siblings will think and wonders if they can even afford a nursing home or in-home help.

When she gets stuck or afraid, she turns to the sidekick for guidance and reassurance. The confidence she gains allows her to step deeper into the unknown, ready to face whatever lies ahead.

The battle: This is rarely a physical battle in our marketing world. But it might be a battle of options. Or opposition. Or the desire to go back to the status quo because it would be easier, even if our hero knows it’s not the right decision. This is the moment when the decision is made.

In our example, our hero must now choose the right nursing home because dad needs more care than she can provide. (In this stage of the journey, she will meet the actual brand and staff from the website she’s relied on, so the hero becomes even more real.) She might have to fight her siblings to make this decision. Or she may be plagued with guilt because of the conversation she had with her mom about caring for dad. But ultimately, she might do what she knows is right, even if it’s incredibly difficult.

The reward: This is the stage where the hero celebrates that they fought whatever was in between them and the right decision; they battled it out and won. Now they’ve solved the original challenge, and because of the journey, they are wiser and hopefully more content.

To wrap up our example, our hero’s dad is thriving in his new home, and he is healthier because he’s getting specialized attention from the nursing staff and eating better. The daughter can stop spending all of her time being his caregiver, and instead, just enjoy her time with him as his daughter.

I’ve simplified the steps down to what I believe are essential from a marketing perspective. But hopefully, this gives you an idea of how you could map out the core story and then build marketing messages from that story.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Walking out the journey with your client

December 2, 2020

We’ve been exploring what it means when someone tells us that we should be using storytelling in our marketing efforts. Today, I want to delve into the idea of the hero’s journey. For most people, the concept that our customer needs to be the hero of the story and that the brand can be a useful sidekick makes sense. But the idea of being able to bend your marketing messages into a tale of a journey feels a little less tangible.

Don’t start out worrying about the marketing message. Just think about your prospect and how you want them to move from where they are right now (before they buy from you) to the story’s happy ending, where because they found your product or service, they’re in a much better place.

There are stages within the story/journey. Let’s look at those stages and how a hypothetical business might build out the story.

The first stage is the status quo: In my example, the hero of my story (my prospect) is a 55-year-old woman who is dealing with her aging father. She suspects her dad is showing signs of early dementia, but it may also just be forgetfulness.

The next stage is the challenge: The daughter is spending more time caring for her dad but wants dad to be able to stay in his own home because she promised her mom she’d watch over her dad, and moving him into a nursing home feels like she isn’t doing that. But it’s getting tougher to keep him home every day.

Next comes the refusal of the challenge: This is where our hero feels stuck. She wants her dad to be healthy and not need her to make this decision. What if she makes the wrong decision and doesn’t keep her promise to her mom? What if she leaves him at home and he falls when she’s not there? Or what if she chooses the wrong nursing home and he gets inadequate care?

This next stage is critical. It’s where our hero meets the wise sidekick: The daughter spends more time on the internet, looking for ideas and guidance for caring for her father. She finds a local nursing home’s website that is organized in a way that she can understand. It offers tips and resources for keeping a loved one at home. It has assessments so someone could gauge whether or not staying in the home was a safe and practical solution. It has a list of questions to ask every nursing home to assess each facility and find the perfect fit for your loved one.

This site also had testimonials from real people (with their names included) talking about the care their loved one received at this particular facility. It offered caregiver support groups for anyone in the community, regardless of whether their loved one was still at home or even at another facility.

None of this felt like a sales pitch because it was built to help site visitors genuinely make the right decision for their family. The sage sidekick demonstrated over and over again both their expertise/knowledge and their compassion with empathy for the family member dealing with this situation.

This is the pivotal moment in the story. Will the hero trust the sage sidekick enough to engage them? Will they decide they must continue the journey but invite the sidekick to join them?

And like any good story, we’ll stop here at this cliffhanging moment. I’ll wrap up the deep dive into the journey part of storytelling by finishing this example next time.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Your brand is the sidekick to your customer

November 25, 2020

As we continue to explore the concept of storytelling within marketing, we’re going to turn our attention to you today. Previously, we discovered that you/your brand is not the hero of the story. This is something many brands get wrong. You have to make your customer the hero of the story. They need to see themselves in the current reality, fighting whatever the adversary may be. But a critical part of any story is who goes on the journey with the hero.

In Harry Potter, that would have been Hermione; in Star Wars, it was Yoda and Obi-Wan. In your story – it’s you.

If we were truly constructing a story, we’d begin to define and describe the sidekick so we could portray them authentically within the story. If you google sidekick archetypes, you’ll see models that offer up seven to 11 or so distinct types of sidekicks.

Let’s take a look at some of the most useful archetypes.

The innocent: They’re trusting, optimistic, and wholesome. This character reminds us to slow down and enjoy the journey. A great example would be Coke or Dove.

The hero: This brand saves the day. They’re fearless and fight alongside the story’s hero to beat the foe. FedEx’s old brand – when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight was a smart hero brand.

The everyman: This sidekick is comfortable because they’re approachable and don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re fair and have high values and integrity. Budweiser and Levis are good examples of this archetype.

The lover: This archetype is all about the relationship so loyalty, connection, and commitment are crucial. They have an enthusiastic appetite for life. Brands that are indulgences like Godiva or are all about expressing emotions like Hallmark are lover archetypes.

The caregiver: The name says it all. This archetype is all about giving care with incredible compassion, generosity, and with fierce protectiveness. Good examples include Johnson & Johnson and Volvo.

The rebel: Rebels are unconventional, outrageous and a little radical. They fight the establishment and often march to the beat of their own drum. But they are forgiven for this brash behavior because they are unfailingly honest and courageous. Harley Davidson and Des Moines based Raygun are excellent examples.

The magician: Magicians are the dreamers who inspire transformation and a sense of wonder. They have incredible charisma and curiosity and can help others see the dream. As you might imagine, Disney is an ideal example.

The sage: They are the source of wisdom, direction, and answers. They seek truth and knowledge but balance that left side of their brain with a deep understanding of how humans function and change. Mayo Clinic and PBS are sage archetypes.

The explorer: These characters are all about adventures, being independent and self-sufficient, and will satisfy their curiosity through new experiences and perspectives. Jeep is the ultimate explorer archetype.

Just like people are not a single personality trait, your brand won’t be either. But you will have a dominant type and a couple of supporting archetypes. Think of your dominant archetype as the headline and central point of any communications piece. The supporting types can show up in the body copy as proof points.

What makes this so compelling is the emotional connection that you can create between these archetypes and your audience. We know all buying is emotionally based so that connection, or lack thereof, will move the prospect closer to actually buying or show them that you’re not a good fit, and they’ll move on faster. Either outcome is good for you.

Next time we’ll delve into the journey that the hero (your customer) and the sidekick (you) go on together.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Who is the real hero?

November 18, 2020

We started the storytelling 2.0 conversation in a previous post by identifying that marketers have always been storytellers. But we’ve let ourselves slip away from that grand tradition. And given the consumers we deal with today, it’s actually more relevant and useful than ever before.

Today, let’s turn our attention to a critical element in every story – the hero. In most marketing today, whether you are storytelling or not, the company or its product or service is positioned as the hero. There’s a lot of “we” and “I” in the communications instead of putting the spotlight on the buyer.

Let’s talk about what makes a hero. We see this pattern in almost every book and movie we consume because audiences can connect and relate to this arch, which is why it can be a robust framework for us to use in marketing. It capitalizes on human psychology and how we all share a similar makeup.

See if you recognize this formula:

Every hero goes on a journey. The hero always has a problem and needs some assistance from someone beyond himself. Someone wise who has answers that the hero needs. (Think Yoda.) Together they must fight the enemy, and as they battle together, they learn to trust each other and a bond forms between them. As they vanquish the enemy, the hero is changed somehow and is better/wiser.

I am greatly simplifying Joseph Campbell’s (the creator of the Hero’s Journey) work, but you get the idea.

When you look at the hero framework, it’s easy to see where your company’s product or service fits. We are the Yoda of the story. We are the mentor or guide. But in most marketing materials, the brand is incorrectly positioned as the hero. We mistakenly step into the spotlight that is meant for our customers. We want them to recognize themselves in the story as the hero that we can come alongside and help.

Once we understand who the true hero of our marketing is, we can get to know them better, so we can connect at a different level. I have no doubt you can describe your prospects and clients using demographics. But every 54-year-old business owner who lives in a suburb surrounding a city of 400,000 or more people is not the same person.

We don’t need to know their stats; we need to know their mindset. A person’s mindset is made up of their past experiences, their perceptions and perspective, their motivations, struggles, how they define value, and their current struggle.

When you’ve identified those elements, making them the hero of your story gets much easier.

Here’s how you might knit that together to give you a simple sentence defining your core audience/the hero of your story.

We’re the right fit for <demographic description> who want <fill in the blank>, appreciate and value <fill in the blank> and struggle with <fill in the blank>.

Let me give you an example:

We’re the right fit for adults in their 50s and 60s who have a parent who can no longer live on their own and want to feel confident that they’re providing for their parents’ needs. They appreciate and value family, safety for their parents, transparency, and connection with caregivers as well as the freedom to be with their parent as much or as little as they prefer. But they struggle with knowing how to assess their options and the guilt of not either helping their parent stay home or bringing them into their own home.

It’s easy to see how and where your hero is going to struggle and how and where you can be that sage sidekick who helps them on their quest.

Next time we’ll explore what kind of a sidekick you can be to your story’s hero.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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How COVID has changed the channels of engagement

November 17, 2020

Consumers across generations and geographies are flocking to digital self-service channels when engaging with brands, yet many get frustrated when their needs aren’t met. This frustration has led to 73% of consumers questioning why they’re doing business with the brand.

A new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council report, produced in partnership with Precisely, entitled “How Covid Has Changed The Channels Of Engagement,” covers critical channels of exploration and engagement, the rise of digital channels such as interactive and personalized video, the influential role of traditional channels, problems that cause consumer frustration and brand abandonment, and how different generations prefer to engage with brands.

Key findings include:

*   Top five channels of engagement that consumers expect from brands include: email, website, voice call, live person and SMS text
*   65% percent of consumers say digital engagements with brands during the global pandemic is not exceeding expectations
*   87% percent find it frustrating when needing to engage in multiple channels and having to repeat themselves in every new channel
*   21% chose digital-only when asked to identify their ideal communication preferences, up from 10% last year
*   50% cite the ability to escalate to a live person when needed is the most important trait when engaging with a brand, followed by personalized communication based on previous interactions (44%) and the ability to digitally self-serve to get to answers quickly (30%)

The urgency to deliver a seamless digital experience across the key channels of engagement has only increased as the current pandemic continues to push consumers online. The report shows how this has exposed brands’ digital shortcomings.

Problems include consumers lacking an escalation path to a live person, receiving non-personalized or out-of-context messages, having to repeat themselves in different channels, and being unable to pivot to channels of their choosing.

“For years, brands have touted robust digital transformations, that is, their ability to engage with customers digitally,” notes Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “The pandemic accelerated this by forcing consumers to turn to digital channels, thus putting a brand’s digital transformation to the test. The result was that many brands’ digital channels were lacking in some way.”

The report also found differences among generations in their channel-engagement preferences. Gen Zers, for instance, are more likely to exhaust digital self-service channels before reaching out to a live person. Younger generations were also more willing to share personal data in exchange for better, faster and more personalized service.

“Seamless, personalized and digital self-service experiences across the key channels of engagement are what’s driving the customer experience of tomorrow,” explains Greg Van den Heuvel, EVP and GM at Precisely for EngageOne. “When customers are moving between channels, don’t make them reintroduce themselves each time. The experience has to be frictionless and must take into account the previous engagement they’ve had with your organization. Those that fail to embrace the ‘new normal’ and deliver seamless digital experiences will fall further behind their competition.”

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