Key to growing any business is engaging customers and, more importantly, converting those customers into making a purchase or contracting your services. But how you go about successfully engaging customers (and keeping them) has always been the subject of much debate. After all, if it was that easy, and anyone could do it, all businesses would thrive and none would fail. And we know for a fact that simply isn't the case.
Every new business starts out from nothing. No sales, no customers, no clients, no profit. But while some businesses stay that way, and soon after disappear into obscurity, others do precisely the opposite.
They make sales, they engage customers, they acquire clients, and then they make a profit. Sometimes they get embedded in consumer culture, and even in the pages of history. Sometimes they put their competitors, who might even have been there before them, out of business. Or they buy out a rival and take a bigger share of the market.
So with statistics telling us that half of all new global startups today fail, what is it that separates the brands that make it, from those that don't?
The answer? Audience engagement.
Since the advent of the Internet and the rise of social media, the variety of tools brands have to promote their business and engage their target customer has increased tenfold. Now, alongside traditional print advertising and media placement, companies can:
- Leverage photo-sharing apps such as Instagram and Pinterest.
- Communicate on a personal level with customers via social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
- Host video content on channels including YouTube and Vimeo.
All alongside traditional offline campaigns and an online website.
When you take all that into account, the idea of any new business failing seems impossible to conceive. But fail some do, and it's not just startups that are discovering how vital audience engagement is to brand success. Some of the world's most established consumer brands are now becoming attuned to the importance of continually nurturing your customer base through targeted and prolonged marketing activity that keeps organically adapting in line with new technology.
In the UK, we've seen the effect audience drop-off has had on the British high street, with the collapse of several household brands in recent years, while other big names continue to be at risk. A pattern that just goes to demonstrate the very real difference that sustained audience engagement makes to a brand's success over time.
Today, it's simply not enough to grow your market and then take a step back. Success in business hinges on the ability to keep your target customer continually engaged in the long-term, with activity that speaks to them in the here and now, and via outreach tools they actually come into contact with.
Audience engagement starts with knowing who your audience is
Two things separate the brands that are successful at engaging their audience, from those that aren't:
- They correctly identify who their core target customer is.
- They leverage the right channels to connect with them.
In principle it sounds easy, and with the right insight and expertise it is. After all, successfully helping our clients engage their audience and grow their business revenues is something we do day in, day out, at Merchant. We've done it for clients in construction, retail, health, oil, gas, logistics and commodities, as well as other niche industry sectors throughout our 36 years in business.
It's this understanding, that who your audience is dictates how you communicate with them, that forms a key part of the outcome-driven marketing solutions we implement for our clients. And when it comes to audience engagement, nothing is more important in defining your strategy than understanding who it is you're trying to reach.
That's why, whenever we take on a new client at Merchant, or implement activity for an existing one, we take the time to get to know your business and its users first - from internal stakeholders all the way through to your core customer. Ensuring the activity we undertake successfully resonates with your target audience, and inspires the outcome you want to achieve.
Knowing your audience doesn't just mean having an approximate idea of their age and gender (although these two criteria in themselves are an important aspect of audience segmentation). Knowing your audience means getting to the root of who they are and what they care about. It means knowing what disposable income they have, their spending habits, likes, dislikes and what motivates them into action.
Most of all it's about knowing how, when and where they digest information:
- Do they read news headlines on their phone, or purchase a morning paper?
- Are they an avid app adopter, an active voice on social media, or do they simply sit back and observe without participating?
Understanding the finite details about who your customer is, down to their online and mobile habits, will help you identify the best channels and platforms to engage with them. Ensuring you invest your marketing spend, and time, on activity that connects your brand meaningfully to its target audience.
Content: empowering your brand with a credible voice
Audience engagement isn't only about your brand appearing in the right places. While visibility across key channels is important, a brand also needs to connect with its audience on an emotional level, and this is where content comes in. Content is your brand's voice. It gives a reader a sense of your personality, and helps to convey key aspects of your brand's identity, from its values and its mission to its intrinsic belief system.
The most successful brands today don't simply sell a product; they sell a lifestyle.
Today's most successful brands let the consumer know the type of person they will become if they adopt their product or service, and it's this ability to appeal to an audience on a bigger-picture level that's formed the strategy of some of today's fastest growing and most influential consumer brands. From the likes of technology giants Apple, to sports apparel innovators Nike and international online shopping platform Amazon.
In the 21st century, consumers are more selective than ever about the businesses they support and the brands they buy into. So it's never been more important for modern businesses to leverage their content to articulate their values. Whether that's via a dedicated mission statement, through demonstrable actions (aka CSR initiatives), or simply by the language they adopt in their B2C communications. In a world where consumers increasingly define their identity by the brands they align with, businesses have to choose their words carefully, to ensure they don't alienate their audience.
Making sure your brand is discoverable in search engines
But content isn't only about conveying your brand's personality and helping to engage consumers to purchase your product or service. Content also serves another very influential purpose in the digital age; defining where your brand places in search engine results.
In 2017, it's estimated that 1.6 billion consumers completed an online purchase, equating to $2.7 trillion USD (£1.82 trillion pound sterling) in global revenues. What's more, statistics also show that 93% of all purchasing decisions (online or offline) begin with an Internet search. So even if your business isn't predominantly operated online, the value in having a website that features high up on Google, can't be underestimated.
Those that do make it to Google's infinitely coveted number one spot are among the brands that can truly attest to the value that increased visibility brings. Brands that appear first in Google searches enjoy an average 30% share of traffic, with that number dropping to 17% for a second place entry, and roughly 10% for those that feature at the number three spot. Put into those terms it becomes plainly apparent why a brand's visibility in online search has a huge bearing on its audience outreach, and ultimately its fate in business.
Content that's richly seeded with your primary and secondary keyword terminology, of the right length, and fully optimised will go a long way to helping a company place highly on Google. But driving traffic to your page isn't all it takes to stay number one on the Google food chain. A brand also has to retain customers, keep them scrolling for longer, and minimise bounce rates for Google to consider it important enough to rise to the top.
This is where audience engagement, driven by content that appeals to your target user makes all the difference. After all, attracting a user to your social feed, website, or video is one thing, but for those visits to result in sales or an uptake of your services, you have to successfully engage your audience at every touch point they interact with. Something that's only possible with the right content hosted through the right channels.
How audience engagement can be measured
The ultimate measure of your brand's ability to successfully engage its audience will be its longevity. Withstanding the test of time, and still coming out the other side turning a profit, smacks of a brand that's nailed its audience engagement, and key to that long-term success will be an ability to stay relevant and aligned with your audience. Remembering that what's engaging to them today may not necessarily be the key to engaging them tomorrow.
Just as the rise of television changed the face of consumer advertising, and allowed businesses to engage a wider audience than ever before, mobile technology and the Internet, has similarly been an audience engagement game-changer. Presenting today's brands with infinite opportunity to grow their global following and customer base at ever-increasing speed, some without even applying traditional brand awareness and advertising methods.
The important thing to remember is that there's no one size fits all formula to success. Every brand is unique and will require its own tailor-made approach to cultivating its audience. Which is precisely why we spend time with our clients, getting to know their businesses, before defining what our strategy will be. The one common denominator in our approach lies in pinpointing the audience our clients want to target and leveraging activity we know will engage this audience.
Take a look at our Case Studies page to see how we've successfully achieved brand growth through audience engagement for clients including: