Customer Alignment – Using your customers’ experience to deliver your e-commerce branding

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Customer Alignment is a form of customer marketing whereby a business understands the underlying needs of its customers, acts upon those needs by using their language of product features, benefits and comparison to talk to them, which in turn creates a more seamless brand experience and thus generates more sales.

A seamless brand experience for your customers and more sales, who wouldn’t want that? So why is it then that so many e-commerce businesses have failed to embrace this concept? Our theory is that the traditional sales funnel is no longer as relevant as it once was, especially in an e-commerce context. In our experience, a lot of businesses are not recognising this because many of them began life as a high street shop, and when they moved into the internet sphere to sell their products they continued to use the same sales funnel technique that served them so well in the offline world. Many e-commerce operations who started up from scratch have also embraced a similar sales funnel model, and for some this is understandable, given that this particular model has served so many for so well for so many years.

DiagramsHowever the online environment is changing and changing fast, and businesses who fail to adapt beyond the old sales model will be just flushing their hard earned profits down the toilet, and before too long, they will just be another failed statistic. A lot of people and companies when they set up an e-commerce business assume that the triangular model is the model that still applies and so they invest a huge amount of money in that initial brand awareness, believing that that is the point that is important for the modern consumer, but it isn’t, it’s actually the next stage. In the modern e-commerce model where it has changed from the triangular funnel into a diamond shape it’s the apex in the second part when people acquaint themselves with the brands available for whatever they want to purchase. Investing in that and finding ways to have your consumers and prospective consumers talk about you to provide evidential and testimonial type of marketing, that’s where you going to get a better ROI. As the top level of that old traditional funnel basically doesn’t exist in online e-commerce, this type of spending has shown to be much more profitable than spending large amounts on traditional brand awareness. This approach embraces customer alignment and this time when the sale is made, the customer is then treated as a potential repeat customer that may generate further sales in the future

Let’s look a bit closer at customer alignment in terms of what businesses should and should not be doing. The concept of customer alignment is basically aligning yourself, your brand and your e-commerce store with your customers using product comparison and talking their language. In a previous blog post we talked about presentation, and while the concept of customer alignment may sound similar, here we are really talking about the actual sales path and our need to recognize how that actually works in an e-commerce context, because it is very different from traditional retail.

With traditional high-street retail you have the sales funnel which is literally like a side-on triangle if you look at it in a linear way. This is where your customer thinks about making a purchase and they have already been indoctrinated with various media and advertising so they are usually aware of brands within that space. They tend to have a subset of brands that they are comparing and then that comes down to a “try it out” scenario, where they give it some serious thought and then they go into the shop to make the purchase.

But what happens these days is that when somebody says “I need an X” they tend not to be so brand aware because they are being constantly bombarded from so many different sources. There is a dilution of brand through traditional media, and with particularly the younger people who are much more attuned to research, the sales funnel takes more of a diamond shape. It starts quite thin when somebody says “I need an X” and then it gets wider where they are acquainting themselves with the various brands and different touch points (a touch point being a place where a consumer gets information about a product – testimonials, video’s etc.). They start to make comparisons by studying these testimonials, watching YouTube videos, talking to friends and family etc. Basically gathering the knowledge from people with first-hand experience of the product. This is when they make their purchase decision and often times it is at the very last second. The feel and the actual experience of the shopping environment is a huge factor at this point and this is what drives them to clicking the buy button on one website as opposed to another website.

Key to all of this is how aligned the website is and while the potential customer is making their comparative decisions as a website owner you need to be talking the same language, so it’s really important that when you’re providing information on your website that you try and find ways that you can talk to your customers utilising testimonial like content as evidential proof for them. You are now engaging in customer marketing ie having your existing customers market for you by having them do reviews, providing a really good backup to your direct sales content.

Today there are two main types of brand loyalty – Passive brand loyalty and Active brand loyalty. Active brand loyalty is where someone is committed to a brand irrespective of what similar (and sometimes better) brands are available, for example someone who will always buy an iPhone even if they read a review of an android phone which sounds amazing. Passive brand loyalty is where someone who really likes their iPhone is totally willing to swap to an android model if something better comes along. The loyalty in this case is more “functional and feature” loyalty rather than brand loyalty, which brings us back to comparisons. Your brand is really important but we are great believers in demonstrable brand, customer alignment as your key weapon in your brand building.

funnelAs an example let’s look at the run up to a major international football championships such as the World Cup. That’s a huge big time for marketers of television sets as it’s a time when people consider changing their television and upgrading to something new. In the months leading up to the championships if you walk into one of the major television retailers you will see a lot of football imagery on the televisions as this is the time that they want to piggyback on the huge awareness and global marketing spend surrounding the championships so what’s really key here is that the product sellers start to talk about their products in terms of what is relevant to this marketing niche, saying things like “our picture is so sharp that even if you are watching a match using a streaming service; we have some on-board hardware that is going to make your viewing experience as good as regular television broadcasts”. Talking in those kind of terms really hits the comparative idea of what potential customers are thinking about.

One final thing that tends to be ignored by e-commerce companies is the post purchase period, providing that extra layer beyond the basic product, for example video manuals, video tutorials and other stuff related to the product you just bought. Developing a community base around it, making sure the customer is informed of updates, incentives to return again and to repurchase. That is so key in the modern e-commerce experience and it doesn’t really exist for so many companies. One of the great things about the internet is that we are all much more connected all the time. We’ve got social media channels, we’ve got all these great tools which allows for a much richer post-purchase environment. It is so often ignored because the sale has already been made.

The key objective of all this is to build a seamless brand experience, and this is done by weighting your spend and resources in the right areas to produce that experience. It’s a fact that a lot of companies are not doing so. You have very simple models like Amazon’s model which is highly successful, which is based on an algorithm and which is really nicely incorporated onto their website. Obviously you’ve got the review section but it’s the “other users bought this” feature, which is a very simple concept and a basic example of customer marketing; just a simple recommendation engine, albeit based on some very complex artificial intelligence. It’s not even about customer A telling customer B, “I bought this”, it’s a highly effective cross-sell up-sell technique which all effective e-commerce platforms utilise. Now what we are talking about is the more advanced evolution of all that, real intelligence.

You need to find ways of talking to customers, you need to align how you talk about your product with how your customers think about it and the best way to do that is to talk about it as a customer. Now you cannot do that yourself, but what you can do is try and put things in place that would encourage others to do it for you, maybe providing samples of the product to review sites that are in your field, that are driving sales in your niche. If they do video reviews then even better. If that video is really good, embed it on your site or share it to your social media channels. We all know at this stage that there are plenty of opportunities to reinforce marketing signals that are happening elsewhere through the use of social media, it’s all about social proof at the end of the day, customer marketing is all the same kind of thing.

The nature of the sales funnel (which we now call the sales diamond), is that the act of purchase is a lot more impulse than it would once have been. People do tons of research and the difference between two online retailers can be fairly ambient but if you look at both of those sites; once price is not an issue, there will be something about one of them that will make you go “I will buy from them”, whatever that is, that is the brand magic, the website that gets you to do that is winning the “click on the buy button” battle, and that is a seamless brand experience.

Our advice to companies is to invest properly in the evaluation part of your customers purchase funnel, the part in the middle, the whole concept of customer marketing, using your customers’ experiences to deliver your branding. Make customer alignment a priority for your business and you will reap the rewards.

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