Some 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. We’re talking zettabytes and exxabytes worth of it. With all that information, it only stands to reason that we know more about our customers. What they purchase, which ads they click on, usage patterns, social interactions -- we know it all, and much of it in real-time.
While it’s incontestible that Big Data can provide tremendous utility for most anyone who markets, sells, or produces anything, we need to be careful not to pretend that this glut of personal information gets us closer to our customers. An overreliance on Big Data has the potential to create a false sense of security, a dangerous confidence that consumer intimacy resides in a data stream.
In an era dominated by informed automation, how do you buck the trend and return to real consumer intimacy? What steps can you take to ensure that your brand, your organization is set up to achieve a deeper understanding of your customers and forge relationships?
Be the friendly neighbor who always waves and smiles
Approachability is the first step in achieving consumer intimacy. Is your brand the type that consumers want to interact with? Are you welcoming and friendly or impersonal or even obnoxious?
Take a look at your brand’s personality and how you are perceived in the marketplace. Everything is in play when it comes to creating this approachable persona, from the company story to the imagery on your third-level Web pages. Your customers need to feel safe in order to reach out and let you in.
Give them a starring role
The idea of consumer-generated content and co-creation is not new. In fact, for many brands, it’s par for the course. Follow in the footsteps of Doritos, Heineken and Old Spice. Make them stars of your brand, giving them something hugely important to do, and engage with them along the way. Share the fruits of their labor, and make sure they are keenly aware how they are helping drive the brand forward. Not only will this create a bond between you and them, it can often spawn a community between fellow participants.
Make research personal
Your consumers want to talk to you. They want to show you how they live and use your products. Take the steps to satisfy their desire and capture valuable insights by utilizing engaging research approaches. Show them you care by skipping the impersonal, one-way survey. Go to their homes and observe, utilize individual conversations to capture context and emotion, and start a community that guides innovation. Done with thought and effort, it can engender a special feeling. Done without regard for the consumer experience, it can be a strong turnoff.
Be smart and responsive on social
The statistics are startling. According to NM Incite, 71% of consumers who experience a quick and effective brand response on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others. Yet, according to Social Baker, in 2013 only 62% of brands answered questions proposed to them over social media, let alone in a timely manner. There is nothing intimate about a generic posting or leaving a customer hanging by a hashtag. Intimacy is dialogue. It’s @ComcastCares answering technical questions in the blink of an eye. It’s @Jetblue giving flyers the info they want on their flight status in near real-time. It’s Red Box talking with individuals over Facebook about possible new locations for their boxes.
If you have a social presence, you owe it to your customers and to yourself to be actively engaged, not just present. Intimacy and social would seem to make strange bedfellows. But this is where consumers live and speak out. The opportunity to create a relationship, even on a public Facebook wall, is there for the taking.
The companies that click with consumers will be those that carefully balance the utility of Big Data with the personal engagement. There is no shortcut to intimacy.