Contextual Engagement: Moving from Brains to Hearts (and Wallets)

How the LEAP approach – listening, empathizing, analyzing and propelling – can build relevant communication with customers.

My favorite marketing book, one I read every few years, was authored in 1999. No, that date is not a typo. It was 1999. The internet was entering its “tweens,” the first downloadable content for mobile phone (ringtones) had just made its debut and the dominant marketing activity was “spray and pray” – direct mailing from generic customer lists.

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This was the year that Seth Godin published Permission Marketing, a book that I believe changed marketing forever.

Godin had a vision. He foresaw the power that emerging digital capabilities and the attendant big data generation would provide to companies and consumers.

For companies, he predicted that digital would provide the information and reach necessary to personalize communications with customers – while providing personalization at scale by translating the knowledge and intimacy embedded in traditional neighborhood shopkeeper-to-customer relationships into millions of geographically and psychographically dispersed ones.

For consumers, he envisioned the ability to take control of relationships with companies and demand anticipatory communications (people want to receive them), both personalized (tailored directly to the individual) and relevant (right for the exact time, channel and circumstances).

Putting the context in contextual engagement

When you add context to something, you ensure the thing is done in a way that is consistent with the setting or meaning. Creating contextual customer engagements means understanding enough about each customer to ensure that all communications over time are progressively more anticipated, personal and relevant.

In 1999, Godin called this permission marketing. Today we call it contextual engagement.

As marketers, we can’t afford ignore the need for contextual engagement and this is reflected in marketing priorities and budgets. In its popular CMO Survey for 2018, Deloitte found that CMOs expect customer priorities to shift from product quality to superior customer experiences.

The survey results also show that marketing budgets will continue to grow for digital activity while shrinking for traditional advertising, and spending on the marketing analytics needed for contextual engagement will grow by more than 200 percent during the next few years.

LEAPing into the future

Ensuring that communications are contextual (relevant) requires a mix of data, analytics and marketing actions that we call LEAP – listen, empathize, analyze and propel.

Listen: Our customers tell us about themselves in a myriad of ways, and it is our job to identify, understand and remember what they are saying. This means tracking and understanding customer behaviors across traditional and digital channels, including web interactions, mobile interactions, call center conversations and brick-and-mortar visits.

It means understanding how customers navigate through their interactions with us – what content they view, what mobile apps they spend time with, what they tell us directly in conversations, voice of the customer feedback mechanisms, social media interactions and how they bounce channel to channel in their non-linear journeys.

Empathize: Achieving Seth Godin’s vision of contextual engagement for all communications to the point that customers look forward to our interactions requires more than simply understanding behaviors.

We also must develop intimacy – we have to understand the emotions driving the behaviors, preferences, attitudes, expressed and intimated needs. We must be able to empathize – meaning to be in tune, develop a rapport and understand.

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Sentiment analysis allows us to improve our ability to empathize.

In Godin’s day, contextual engagement was difficult. Today, social media provides a tremendous opportunity to understand the personal context that our customers bring to every interaction – so much so that the CMOs in the Deloitte survey project growth on social media spend to be between 25 and 40 percent in the next year.

Analyze: Analytics has been – and will continue to be – the engine that drives contextual engagement. Analytics provides us the ability to combine traditional relationship context (product ownership and usage, personal and demographic details and historical transaction information) with the situational context we learn from listening and the personal and emotional context we gain from empathizing.

Journey analytics helps us predict behavior and improve channel integration by highlighting at the channel and customer levels how customers use combinations of channels.

Sentiment analysis allows us to detect nuances of emotion in voice, video and text communications, improving our ability to empathize. And next-best-offer analytics allow us to sift through immense amounts of customer, behavior, channel, social media and product data to identify the most relevant communication for any given customer situation – getting us ever closer to contextual engagement.

Propel: Putting it all together means developing the ability to detect and react to customer events as they are happening so we can propel our customer relationships along Godin’s continuum of strangers to friends to advocates.

Delivering what we learn from listen, empathize and analyze to our customers in the form of real-time communications that address customer needs in their moments of now – when they want information, help, issue resolution or to purchase – in the channel of choice is contextual engagement the way Godin envisioned it.

This article originally appeared on the SAS Insights blog and was republished with permission.

Lisa Loftis is a thought leader on the SAS Best Practices team, where she focuses on customer intelligence, customer experience management and digital marketing. She is co-author of the book, Building the Customer-Centric Enterprise.

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