Engaging The Voice of Your (Next) Million Customers

by Tod Loofbourrow, CEO, ViralGains

Marketers have invested billions of dollars in customer relationship management (CRM) technologies to improve their relationships with existing customers. But what about their next million customers? How can marketers find the voice of their prospective customers and bring that voice systematically into their advertising and marketing strategies?

The problem starts right at the beginning. Advertising has traditionally been seen as a one-way medium, and this is where the problem lies. Because brands and agencies largely see advertising as one-way, most advertising today is largely about talking at audiences. Like a bad date, doing all the talking without listening doesn’t build a great relationship. The objective of great advertising and marketing should be communicating with — not talking at — those future customers. By leveraging digital video’s capability as a two-way medium, marketers can initiate meaningful conversations with future customers and apply the lessons from those conversations throughout the organization. Here’s how.

Define Your Strategy, Find Your Audience, Ask Questions, and Segment

It’s often said that half the money spent on advertising is wasted. In truth, it’s probably a lot more than that. This waste comes in large part because the traditional advertising model employs one-way communication — messaging without any immediate knowledge as to how the message is being received by the target audience. In effect, brands are sticking with the TV-developed broadcast model in the age of one-to-one marketing.

There is a way to do things much more effectively, and it starts with digital — in particular, digital video. Instead of showing the same message to many people regardless of their attitudes about a brand or stage of funnel, the best marketers recognize that digital video offers the unique capability to have a two-way conversation, and therefore make sure that the content a consumer sees links to their needs. That conversation can be informed by a consumer’s attitudes, behaviors, wants and needs.

Before marketers can begin a real conversation, they need to be clear about the purpose of any given campaign. It all starts with strategy. Is a campaign designed to build brand love, to revive a flagging brand, to understand and emphasize features which differentiate a product, to educate, to persuade, to launch a new product, to conquest or to sell product? In marketing terms, is a campaign designed to drive top-of-funnel results, mid funnel progress or immediate sales results?

Once a strategy is determined, marketers can determine which audiences they want to reach. To varying degrees, those audiences will be defined by using a brand’s first-party data and relevant third-party data. Once marketers have defined their audiences, they need to be prepared to have a conversation with the people they reach.

That conversation begins by encouraging interaction — asking simple questions within the advertisement or giving viewers a way to explore related content or product features right within an advertisement. Marketers can then classify their viewers according to their answers into audience segments based on attitudes and preferences. As marketers discover these attitudes and preferences at scale, they can use them to drive customers on clear, effective journeys down the funnel from discovery to purchase.

Advertisers can run these processes automatically in order to develop attitude-based audience segments and correspondingly relevant follow-up actions — creating an ongoing and meaningful conversation with future customers.

The Real Conversation Is in the Middle of the Funnel

At the top of the funnel, brands are often trying to assess brand awareness, brand perception and brand preference. Questions related to brand love or product perception, for example, can help segment consumers for targeting based on those perceptions or attitudes.

Consumers who express no interest in a product or brand are easily segmented into groups who will either no longer receive advertising or who will see a sequence of messages designed to lure them back in. Consumers who express positive attitudes can be targeted for content which highlights product features or incentives for moving further down the funnel toward purchase.

But the middle of the funnel — broadly defined as prospective customers who aren’t yet in market — is where the real conversation begins. The strength of that conversation is a function of asking questions about product needs, features and values — items that will help lead to a sale. An automotive advertiser, for example, would ask questions that get at what matters to us when we’re in the market for a new vehicle — aesthetics, performance, safety, value, etc. A diaper manufacturer asks about leakage, comfort and eco-friendly design. Each response will speak volumes about what consumers are looking for in their cars and diapers, and in turn, the inferences from those responses can speak volumes about how to continue the conversation in a way that’s most relevant to future customers.

Of course, not every person will respond. But studies show that response rates as high as one to two percent, extremely high for marketing response rates, are often achieved. For a typical campaign, that may be tens or hundreds of thousands of responses. And just as AI has produced effective look-alike models for consumer data, AI is increasingly being used to create highly effective attitude-based look-alikes. As a result, advertisers can have relevant, meaningful conversations with future customers that are based on what those audiences care about, using the data about the tens of thousands who do respond to make highly accurate inferences about hundreds of millions.

What You Learn About Your Future Customers Will Drive Business

There is enormous value in leveraging audience learnings in real time from advertising spend.

Within advertising and marketing itself, it moves the focus from legacy metrics like impressions to much more important outcomes, like the development of targetable customer segments for display, video and even email marketing. Insights from a two-way conversation make media buys far more effective and accountable because advertisers have a bigger window into how their message is received by different audiences. Advertisers can also discover which micro-creatives — be they videos or display ads — will be most effective as follow-ons. These journey models can be automated and can improve themselves over time through the use of data science and AI.

Marketers use these real-time insights on attitudes, behaviors, wants and needs for many purposes, such as journey orchestration, retargeting, data-gathering, creative-testing, and maximizing the value of their owned and operating websites by driving prospects to the most relevant landing page. Two-way conversations also serve as an ongoing, real-time form of panels. As a result of integrating advertising and real-time context-sensitive attitude capture, marketers can tap into a constant flow of consumer insight without the expense and effort of commissioning a custom study.

The insights gleaned from listening to the voices of your future customers also extend beyond the marketing department and out into the larger organization. Your next million customers can add invaluable context to decisions about new products, features, pricing or any number of consumer-facing business questions. After all, a conversation is a two-way exchange of information — and each engagement is both an opportunity to deliver and to receive value.

Tod Loofbourrow is the Chairman and CEO at ViralGains.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

This article originally appeared on ANA’s Driving Growth.