Joining the Consumer Journey

Self-educating consumers represent a new challenge — and a new opportunity.

Consumers are increasingly using online resources to do their homework, relying less on paid and earned media as trusted sources. This presents the challenge of getting your message to target audiences in ways they view as credible.

This challenge exists as more companies and organizations are tapping the opportunity latent in their databases of customers, contacts, stakeholders and employees. These databases represent a built-in opportunity to start engaging target audiences.

The most obvious form of engagement is to query your customers, stakeholders or employees about significant issues. Your questions can make your target audiences partners, not just targets.

Another form of engagement is to help consumers find the quality information they are seeking to make a decision. This may mean websites that aren't electronic sales brochures but more like magazines. The content might include genuine stories that are testimonials to your product, service or responsiveness — what some call brand journalism. Content also might include consumer ratings, safety information or simplified explanations or demonstrations. Most important, the content should answer questions and provide information that is relevant and useful.

Video content can be especially helpful for the sales process. Websites such as Zappos.com offer videos highlighting almost every product on its site. Photos can communicate only so much. Seeing a video of the product in action can help make a sale. How-to videos also can be helpful for products that require additional instructions. Watching a step-by-step video can make using a product less daunting. 

Databases store information that becomes the basis for segmented or individually customized engagement. In a marketing sense, you can be more precise about what products or even ads that you present to consumers based on their aggregated interests as recorded in your database. But what you share doesn't have to stop at paid media or targeted coupons. You can share thought leadership and other information-centered content that deepens your relationship and makes the consumer begin to look at you as a resource, not just an outlet.

Giving people what they want has been a successful business formula for a long time. Finding out what people want — and are willing to pay for — is not always easy. As consumers search for information online, your challenge and opportunity is to join in their journey, making your website and your database a destination they find of value. That is not as direct as making the sale, but it may prove more effective over time in delivering something better — brand knowledge and customer loyalty.