Effective consumer engagement requires the right use of data and going back to the basics of trust, context and empathy, said panelists at the Braze LTR Conference in New York.
The annual event hosts hundreds of users of the consumer engagement platform and answers their challenges and explores solutions. Speakers and attendees at the conference discussed how to put “Humanity in Action,” while navigating a shifting creative and marketing landscape.
The role of agencies, consultants and even chief marketing officers are in flux, while regulations and attitudes towards privacy are shifting the ground on data sharing, as well.
Here are some key takeaways from the conference:
Keep the user at your core
"Our world of 2019 is counterintuitive" said Braze CEO Bill Magnuson. People are more connected, but suffer from greater feelings of isolation, he said. As communications channels multiply, it's increasingly important for brands to keep the user at the centre of their efforts, said Magnusson. "It's the posture of a caring and empathetic listener," he said.
Consumers are experiencing a "bifurcation" in their lives, where they want all data-driven technological parts to be frictionless but crave real-world connection more than ever in other parts, said Marissa Thalberg, former CMO of Taco Bell and an advisor to its parent, Yum Brands.
Empathy: the key to cracking what consumers want?
“The journey to understand our customer begins with empathy,” said Dipanjan Chatterjee, Forrester VP and principal analyst. He presented the results of the second annual Brand Humanity Index survey that sketched a “pathway to humanity” for brands trying to build meaningful customer engagement.
Brand humanity is made up of three factors, said Chatterjee: natural communication that sounds like one person speaking to another, shows an awareness and respect for the consumer’s preferences and boundaries and triggers the right emotions.
The BHI study surveyed more than 3,366 consumers and 1,617 senior-level marketers to create a “Brand Humanity Model” for businesses. This is meant to provide a method to assess a marketer’s ability to deliver human communication at scale.
The survey studied best practices to identify the critical dimensions of brand humanity maturity, asking marketing leaders around the world to rate their current programs based on criteria including technology, data management, team structures and more.
The study found 96% of firms say human communication is important to the organisation, but only 22% can claim to be “brilliant” at it, while 29% are “great,” 26% are “good” and the rest are “basic,” said Chatterjee. He explained that brilliant brands track interactions in real time to create a live individual vision of its customers in order to reach them with an integrated approach and marketing technology stack. Many respondents struggle to tie together insights and execution and one-third said they track customer interactions, but not in real time.
"If you don't connect the dots, you have an incomplete picture of your customer," said Chatterjee. "Listening is not enough, because listening gives you a lot of noise."
The stakes are high, said Chatterjee; if a brand is perceived as communicating with humanity, consumers are 1.7 times more likely to purchase from it and 1.9 times more likely to recommend it, he noted. This is “a double-barrelled benefit” he added; advocates are extremely loyal and generate long term value and recommendation is the cheapest and most powerful customer-acquisition engine for brands.
But the bar for humanity keeps getting higher, according to this year’s study results, said Chatterjee. Additionally, the human qualities valued by the consumers shifted to brands that are seen as understanding and comforting, while last year’s key emotional drivers were responsive and social attributes. Responsive and thoughtful characteristics did not move consumers as much as seeing reassuring, personable and friendly traits in a brand, said Chatterjee. He theorised this a salve for feelings of isolation and polarisation among the public: "In some ways, this is a cry for help from consumers," he said.
Marketers have to be “relentless” because customer expectations will continually reset higher, said Chatterjee. They also have to be “an ally” to consumers and demonstrate to them customers the brand is on their side and will watch out for them. Marketing organisations have to “operationalise empathy” by breaking down silos, adopting the right processes and find the right technology to execute them, he said: "build the processes and build the technology to be able to deliver that at scale."
Treat data with care – customers are watching carefully
Data is the facilitator of the context that marketers need to stay relevant, but it is subject to increased regulation and consumer trust issues. Following last year’s adoption go the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, marketers in the U.S. are preparing to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) going into effect Jan. 1.
The California law gives consumers rights over their data go beyond what GDPR established, but the parameters of the law are unclear, said speakers at the conference. The law lets consumers refuse to have their data sold to other parties, but the definition of “sell” is broad enough to cover any number of data uses by marketers, vendors and publishers.
Julia Le, senior corporate counsel at Insider Inc., said the publisher of website Business Insider set up a working group including staffers in programmatic advertising, to work out how to keep up relationships with core vendors while complying with the law. A lot of the compliance work is similar to GDPR, said Cathleen Hartge, head of legal at the mobile linking platform Branch. Companies that felt GDPR did not apply to them are now having to do the compliance work, and the new law could spur more efforts to establish a federal law, or at least more state laws, which would increase the compliance work, said Hartge. But it’s not hard to get management to be interested in data privacy because consumers care, she said.
Being transparent and giving users control over data helps strengthen relationships, said Susan Wiseman, Braze’s general counsel. Customers don't want to work with companies that can't show they know how to handle their data, she said.
"Users are becoming smarter" about privacy, what ads are shown to them and where their data is going, said Maggie Breeden, product manager at Grindr. Consumers will see more segmentation but smarter in the future, based on what people feel comfortable sharing, she said.
"It's important that we walk that line" sure consumers are getting value from the information they share and are seeing an improving user experience, said Stephanie Loring, manager of CRM operations and insights at Grubhub.
Brands that "listen closely, instead of spying on them, like creepy ad tech" don't need to worry as much about the regulatory atmosphere, said Magnuson. Brands that are mindful of the user’s privacy will stay ahead of the regulatory curve and keep innovating towards better results, he said.
The CMO is changing – and they want brilliant brand experiences
Marketing and product development need a close relationship to make sure the user experience is right for the consumer journey and the messaging is the right one for the experience, said Paul Goldshteyn senior product manager at employment website Glassdoor.
Ben Galbraith Chief Product Officer of Segment, a customer data infrastructure company, worried about the vibrancy of business and how startups will get a foot on the door if the flow of data is compromised.
It’s a deep irony that, at the time of "this exploding marketing ecosystem," attitudes have shifted due to a "drumbeat" of stories about data have made the public more privacy-conscious, he said: "It's always the best of times and the worst of times."
The same ambivalence applies to the role of marketers in the organisation today. Several speakers noted the role of the CMO is evolving, with several companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Uber having done without the position recently.
The CMO role is being reinvented at a time when there's more pressure to deliver customer experiences and there is more confusion, said Sara Spivey, Braze’s CMO: "It's a little bit of uncharted territory."
A number of companies over the last year have eliminated the CMO role, recasting it as Chief Client Officer or Chief Brand Officer said Spivey. In an interview on the sidelines, she noted other companies have separated the marketing data and creative functions.
The CMO role has become much broader, both data- and technology-centric and more revenue-centric; as it becomes a broader role, companies are finding it harder to fill a post with such a broad remit, she said.
Don’t forget the basics: creativity
"The complexity of being a CMO is very challenging," said Steven Moy, CEO of Barbarian. Creativity is changing, as are the relationships between agencies consultants and vendors, said Moy, formerly the chief technology officer of agency R/GA. Brands need business partners to help them apply creativity to the ideas generated by their data, said Moy.
Creativity is at the heart of humanising communications, said Matt McRoberts, SVP, Global alliances at Braze. "Without creativity your communications would be lost to that consumer."
He announced an expansion of the Braze Alloys partner program, adding agencies and marketing consultants to its technology solutions partners, to offer more options for executing efforts.
Moy was among several speakers urging a balance between using technology and stressing creativity in the midst of all the data. “Go back to basics,” he told the audience. "Brands really have to go back to the core of having a clear purpose."