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GUEST COMMENT Building your loyal customer base

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by Bill Van De Laarschot

It’s no secret that the world of retail is in the midst of extensive changes. Most of these changes are a result of the newly-claimed power that consumers now hold in the buying process. Gone are the days when branding executives created positioning for their products and spent millions of pounds to confirm that perception is retained in the minds of thousands, if not millions, of consumers. Today when making a purchasing decision, consumers do not place as much value in the information received through branded messages. Instead they rely on information from multiple channels and sources to form their own opinion.

In the old purchasing model, consumers had two moments of truth. The first moment happened when they picked one brand over another off the shelf and the second occurred when they brought it home and determined if they were satisfied with their purchase. According to Jim Lecinski from Google, this process has been turned upside down by what he calls the “zero moments of truth.” Lecinski believes that the zero moment of truth occurs when consumers use their connected devices to learn about a product or service.

Zero moments of truth are everywhere and no moment is too small to be included. All these moments combine to create the customers view of your brand. It’s this collection of interactions that will define a company’s brand. And with the prevalent use of social networks, what one customer knows about a product will more than likely be shared with their entire community.

The purchasing rules have really changed. More than ever, before consumers turn to the Internet to help them make a purchasing decision. In fact, Lecinski found that 70 percent of consumers now use product reviews and more than 80 percent of mothers say they research online before purchasing. The development of a brand is no longer a one-sided affair. It’s now about co-creation of experiences between brands and customers. The organisations that are most prepared to listen to their customers and respond to their feedback will capitalise on this concept. It’s a beautiful thing when marketers have the ability to tap into consumer insights in real time to help make product and promotional decisions and at the same time build a more loyal relationship with each customer.

In this new marketplace, the customer relationship is the component that is becoming more and more important. Engaging with customers through all of the channels available will provide the basis for a truly one-to-one relationship.

Many brands are establishing relationships with their customers by:

• Engaging in social environments to involve customers in product development and participate in customer generated communications.

• Encouraging consumers to use ratings and reviews on websites and e-stores.

• Communicating to customers through their preferred online channels, including social networks, e-newsletters and email.

• Delivering relevant and personalised offers and information based on what they know about their customer.

As part of the research supporting the Zero Moment of Truth concept, in 2011 Google conducted a study that showed the average shopper used 10.4 sources of information to make a decision, which was an increase from 5.3 sources in 2010. Those sources range from direct mail, television, magazines and websites to blogs and recommendations from friends and family.

As consumers’ interactions multiply, the value of their trust becomes more important. The companies that build trusting relationships with consumers will succeed in building successful brands. In Extreme Trust, the authors, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, PhD, outline the idea of being “proactively trustworthy” to build sound customer relationships. This concept is about watching out for your customers even when they are not paying attention. Enhance your customer’s experience with your brand by providing them assistance when needed during the purchasing process. For example, when they try to buy a downloadable item from your e-store that they have already bought, remind them through a triggered pop-up that they already own this item. Think about taking this approach with your customers.

The tools to affordably support the technological aspects of one-to-one marketing may not have existed when Peppers and Rogers first introduced this concept 20 years ago, but they encouraged all of us to build “learning relationships.” The customer interactions and engagement seen in the marketplace today leads us to believe their thoughts about extreme trust will be correct as well.

Today, in most cases, it’s the retail channel that owns this one-to-one customer relationship. As the online channel becomes more critical to consumer buying, ownership of these relationships will be based on who customers trust. In the end, customers will follow the brands they feel are really looking out them. This level of trust will determine whether they choose a relationship with an online retailer, high-street shop or even going direct to the product manufacturer.

Bill Van De Laarschot is group vice president, marketForce at Digital River.

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