Changing Web Drives Brands To Build Customer Connections

Some brands may have hesitated to jump full force into digital as the primary channel for reaching existing and potential customers. Those days are now over.

Brands have finally come to realize the power of digital conversations. Interactions that include discussions of brands, products and services circumvent the established flow of information online.

Google's rocket ship growth the past 15 years was predicated on the fact that when a consumer wanted to learn more about a product and service, they automatically typed the name of the product and service into Google's search box.

Then Google connected them with more information — and moved them down the purchasing funnel either via organic search or a paid ad.

However, Google's established business has already changed in a fundamental way. With the rise of seamless sharing via multiple social media channels, a larger share of those informational searches have shifted away from Google. They've been replaced by social discovery and word-of-mouth from friends and family.

Everyone has seen questions in their social streams such as: "What's a good steak restaurant on the Upper West Side?” Five years ago, that question would have been asked via a search engine, not crowdsourced to your friends and family. (That’s why Google has committed enormous funding and time launching and trying to get traction with Google+.)

Given how discovery has shifted from search to social, brands and marketers must devise a way to build a lasting connection with consumers. If a consumer jumps onto Facebook to ask, "I'm so tired of the shampoo I've been using, what shampoo do you love?" most brand managers would kill to have friends recommend their product.

How can brands do a better job of fostering these relationships so that they're at the forefront of consumer's minds?

1. Develop a great product. Not to resuscitate the Mac vs. PC argument, but there's a reason many people aren't hesitant to recommend their MacBook or iPhone to a friend.

2. Facilitate social sharing. Brands need to be engaged with consumers via social media, and brands need product sites and marketing programs that facilitate seamless social sharing.

3. Create sampling programs to reach digital consumers. Many influential digital consumers are eager to discuss their love of specific products and brands. Marketers need to reach and engage them in innovative ways, such as via sampling programs, contests, coupons.

4. Get game. Brand can introduce game element through badges, achievements, and prizes to turn their consumers to brand ambassadors and engage them in a fun way.

As more consumers turn to social discovery from friends and family to make a wide range of purchasing decisions, marketers must have an authentic share of voice with those consumers.

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