The Engagement Economy

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Why scaling personalization is more survival than competitive advantage

Titan Travel had established itself as one of England’s top-rated tour companies when its senior leadership noticed something disturbing a few years ago. Competitors were advertising lower priced tours featuring many of the same itineraries the company had spent decades honing with the input of customers.  

Suddenly, the company that had separated from the pack through its unsurpassed knowledge of British travelers was seeing its product commoditized. Rather than change its business model, Titan Travel decided it would find a way to better understand the “trip intent” of every one of its customers, so it could take personalization to the next level. 

For this, Titan turned to the Anglo-American company Thunderhead, which specializes in helping marketers improve engagement across all customer touch points. 

Within just a few days of implementing Thunderhead’s cloud-based ONE Engagement Hub, Titan Travel booked more than $12,000 in incremental sales by calling customers to discuss specific holiday packages it had researched on the company’s website. The sales proved that by having a personalized and relevant conversation, it could generate an extra $2 million in revenue per year. 

“Titan has used ONE to make big leaps forward in our ability to recognize previously anonymous web visitors and join up their journeys across channels,” Titan Travel’s Dan Whitehouse told Thunderhead in late 2016. “We’ve seen real business benefits and have been able to have more meaningful conversations with both existing and potential customers.” 

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This is the type of marketing automation that modern vendors are using to win business while seeking an edge in what has been dubbed, “the Engagement Economy.” The term refers to a new era in which competitive advantage will lie more in a brand’s ability to engage and retain customers than generate and re-target leads. 

The flaws of the latter approach are quite apparent to consumers who can readily cite examples of marketing automation gone bad. There is the robocall that greets you with silence, expecting you to hold until a live person can get on the line. There is that unending stream of emails and letters offering a last chance to renew the extended warranty on a car you sold six months ago. Then there’s the ad for a laptop computer that keeps popping up in your web browser, even though you bought a different model from the same vendor last week. 

Thunderhead is among a host of vendors using Artificial Intelligence, or AI. The tactic is an attempt to bring order to the Rube Goldberg world of marketing automation and potentially enable marketers to shift their focus from relying on re-targeting and other tactics to meet quarterly sales goals, to using engagement to reduce customer churn and drive brand loyalty. 

In an era when consumers control when and how they engage with brands, and can switch between brands with ease, knowing how to use AI to scale personalization may be more a matter of survival than a competitive advantage, regardless of industry.  

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“Think about how many times you are marketed to throughout the day, from the radio on the way to work to the Starbucks cup to signs on buses, billboards and LinkedIn ads.” 

– Daniel Yaffe, Co-founder, AnyRoad

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Obstacles in the C-suite

The Engagement Economy remains a hard sell in some C-suites, its apostles concede. Improving engagement consists of both hard costs – such as new applications and systems integration – and soft costs – such as upgrading internal technical capacity. 

CMOs will have to demonstrate to senior leadership how they can implement an engagement strategy and still hit sales targets. That will be particularly challenging for CMOs who don’t control customer service or other key aspects of the customer experience.

The surge in AI-enabled marketing automation platforms and job listings for customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) positions indicates CMOs are having success in the board room. If they succeed in the Engagement Economy, they stand to gain not just market share, but a bigger voice in shaping corporate strategy.

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