Your Customers Or Your Best Friends

How many best friends do you have among your customers? Do your customers consider your company to be among their best friends? If the answer to these questions is no, then it might be time to make some changes.

According to recent research from Silverpop, you don’t have to invite your customers out for dinner or send them holiday cards, although this might help. All you have to do is communicate with them. The research found that how a brand corresponds with its customers is at the heart of relationship building -- and personalization is a business’ best tool.

Get it Right

Five, it seems, is the magic number in customer experience. The report, entitled "Are You a Best Friend Brand," indicates that consumers only have five "best friend" brand companies from which they will repeatedly open e-mails and buy products. Everything else they will ignore.

The findings, which are the result of a survey of nearly 4,000 consumers across the UK, US and Germany, looked at online shopping habits and opinions on brands. It also includes commentary from Silverpop’s Product Strategist Dave Walters on what the results mean.

Globally, it shows that when it comes to the content that businesses and brands are sending out to potential customers every day, they really need to get it right. If the content is not designed for that customer, or group of customers, it will be ignored.

It also shows that at a certain point in the relationship, not too far down the road from initial contact, those same potential customers won’t even open emails from the business and will send it directly to the trashcan if the content does not speak to them directly.

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The Emergence of Best Friend Brands

The flip side of this is what the study terms "best friend" brands. These are brands that have repeatedly lived up the customer's expectations and from which they will consistently open emails or marketing content.

Think about the number of companies that send flyers or advertisements to your mail box and the number of them that you actually open. Now you the gist of what Silverpop is talking about here.

From the survey, Silverpop concluded that the number of trusted brands is quite small, averaging out at around 4.5 brands. If your company has made it into the list, the rewards are potentially huge in terms of loyalty and, ultimately, sales.

Asked to identify how many brands they had actually bought something from in the past three months online it showed that, even with the list of five "best friends," shoppers only purchased from three, indicating that even making onto to the "best friend" list is no guarantee of success. According to Walters: 

The fact that consumers have such a small number of best friend brands makes a really powerful statement for marketers. The relationships consumers form with brands is, in many ways, very similar to those they form personally. Once a bond is made, a loyalty is in place which means brands can expect repeat purchases, but only as long as that trust isn’t broken.”

He also points out that while the circle of trust is limited and very small, brands can ensure that they enter the circle by taking care with their customer communications and responding to their customers in a timely fashion.

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Personalizing Experiences

We have seen on many occasions that a personalized customer experience is key to a successful online business. The findings of this research back this up again. It showed that 71 percent of potential customers will buy something if the first contact email from retailer or brand has been designed and built to the specific needs of the customer. This was particularly true in Germany, where 81 percent of respondents said customization was a vital factor in deciding whether or not to buy.

Silverpop also looked at why emails were left unopened and found that, on average, 58 percent of respondents said they won’t open an e-mail if it was not immediately clear that the email addressed their needs. Walters adds:

The importance of the subject line is also key here. After all, sending messages that are destined to remain unopened is a pointless exercise and a waste of money, so making sure that all aspects of the message are personalized to each individual is something marketers need to ensure they are doing."

The Importance of Trust

The opposite is also true. If companies build up enough trust with their customers, they won’t have to worry about unopened e-mails. The research shows that 64 percent of people open an email if they trust the brand, particularly in the US, where 70 percent said that their relationship with a brand determined whether they opened mails or not.

Furthermore, the research also showed that email plays a key role in building relationships, and that companies need to build these relationships carefully if they don't want to alienate customers. The research found that more than a quarter of respondents said that a brands email approach had stopped them from buying.

It also showed saturation to be a key issue, with 34 percent of respondents saying they would leave emails unopened if they receive too much correspondence from the brand.

The importance of email cannot be underestimated. E-mail is a core marketing tool, with 17 percent of people surveyed saying that they purchase directly from a brand email once a month. This figure was even higher in the US, where 21 percent said they purchased something once a month on the basis of an e-mail.

It is also important to note that, while there has been some considerable discussion over the past two years about the relevancy of e-mail in the age of social media and mobile display advertising, 67 percent said that their preferred way of receiving offers and information from a company was through e-mail.

In fact, it found that only 14 percent of those surveyed globally said email wasn’t important, while in both the US and Germany the figure was eight percent. Walters said:

One of the major takeaways from the research was the overall prominence of email and how important it is to consumers in the way they interact with brands. Marketers can’t treat email as an afterthought of their digital campaigns. This research shows it’s still a very crucial part of the marketing arsenal and should be treated as such, with investment put into getting it right.”

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Personalize To Persist

Its not rocket since. The bottom line is that consumers are developing "best friend" brand relationships with those enterprises that communicate effectively and develop superior customer experiences.

Those customer experiences come in all shapes and forms, but the best ones -- or, rather, the successful ones -- are the ones that have been personalized to fit individual consumers or groups of consumers.

The Silverpop research also points to a marketing space that is getting ever more crowded with more and more retailers or businesses attempting to sell their wares through different digital channels.

The trick, Walters says, is not to merely cut through the marketing noise, but also to develop "best friend" relationships with your customers. Core to doing this is personalization, which more and more consumers are demanding.

Those online companies that don’t think they can do that really need to reconsider digital marketing strategies, and quickly. Without personalization, your business is not going to be friends with anyone, let alone best friends with the kind of customers that will keep your business ticking.

Title image by a katz /