A Year in MI Retail: Future Focus on Customer Engagement

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This week, we’re delighted to be rounding up 2020 with our ‘A Year in MI Retail’ series. Running a music retail business in 2020 has been an experience like no other. There’s been challenges, but there’s also been opportunities. Today, we’re bringing you some thoughts from Sarah Yule, who is an MIA Board Director and the Director of Sales and Marketing at Audio-Technica for EMEA. Here, Sarah shares some ideas and considerations to help any business make simple improvements to enhance or begin a customer retention strategy.

As the end of any year approaches, it offers a chance to reflect.

After getting past the fact that 2020 often felt like the narrated script of an Orwellian take on a banned Stephen King novel; this is most certainly a year to reflect on the how and why of what we do in terms of customer engagement.

It has been cited many times over history, that times of crisis inspire new movements in both culture and creativity. We are yet to see the fruits of the turbulent and trying times 2020 has brought to many of us. However, there are actions we can take as individuals and as businesses, to sow the seeds now for the creatives and storytellers to be.

Of late, I have been reading many journals and studies citing the positive impacts this year has brought to light. Although many of us feel almost guilty to acknowledge this (whilst so much of the creative industry is hurting), it is important that we do. Creativity and home entertainment have featured highly in people’s lives this year. Finding a creative outlet has brought joy to many people and provided the means to relax, stimulate, focus and have fun. Although the national flour shortages during the first lockdown proved the rise in popularity of home baking, this year has also seen a significant crescendo in demand for musical instruments and broader content creation equipment.

How are we engaging with this new mass of people either rediscovering music and audio, or coming to it for the first ever time? How can we ensure that they find the passion and belief to continue with their newfound hobby? These people can become creators (and possibly loyal customers) for life, but inspiring that passion and commitment is not easy.

We are also in a period of time, when many consumers have become brand agnostic and have short attention spans – due the overload of information received daily. As we know, customer buying decisions are not always guided by the same mechanics as in the past; it so figures that their staying power is also at risk, if a strategy is not directly aimed at aiding that. That type of strategy is known as ‘customer retention’. This for me, is the thing I’d like us all to be obsessing about right now. We have the chance to delight and inspire a new wave of people experiencing our businesses and our products for the first time.

It is not just suppliers and online retailers that have benefitted from this new wave of demand. Although the lockdowns have created unthinkable further pressure on bricks & mortar retail businesses, figures show that support for local businesses has actually grown this year. Due to the travel restrictions imposed upon us, people are appreciating goods and services in their local area. This means that no matter the size or type of business; customer retention, that ability to keep a customer coming back to receive your goods and services over their lifetime, is relevant to all.

Here are just a few ideas and considerations to help any business make simple improvements to enhance or begin a customer retention strategy:

  1. Channels of communication and engagement

Customer retention should be considered from before a sale is even made. Forming dialogue and creating engagement with a customer can happen via various channels pre- and post-purchase. For those with CRM provisions, email continues to be an easy to measure way to engage with customers. Do ensure email communications are planned well in advance though, as you will set expectations regarding cadence and style of communication early on – and it can be hard to re-establish relationships if you overload or irritate people. Segmentation of your mail lists is key to be able to target customers and potential customers with information that is interesting and/or relevant to them.

Social Media is also a favourite channel for creating post-purchase engagement. Although traditionally seen as part of the customer acquisition funnel, platforms like Instagram and Facebook can provide great ways of demonstrating social proof and creating community amongst customers. Coordinate campaigns and messaging across platforms and encourage people to respond and interact with you. Number of followers to a channel is less of a key metric than how much engagement you get. Engagement from those who are already customers creates a sense of FOMO if other customers do not also engage. This activity can add authenticity to your product or service and give confidence to new customers.

Do not forget the importance of your website regarding engagement too. How can you drive customers to regularly come back to check your news, blogs, etc?

  1. Education and learning

One of the most valuable methods for creating retention is by ensuring customers have a fantastic onboarding experience with their new product or service. Maybe this is activated by a pre-set series of post-purchase emails, selected dependent on the product purchased. For items that require some skill to set up, do ensure you have unboxing and set up information, ideally in video format. A frustrating or confusing set up can undo all the good work you may have done to make the sale. Even if the product does not require much set up, establishing a channel for learning and education helps establish you as an authentic and trustworthy source of information. If you do not have the resources to make videos, this can always be via a blog, email campaign or even short tips, tricks and learnings via social channels. One of the advantages of creating informative content on specialist subject areas, is that it will boost your organic search results via search engines like Google. That means that putting effort in to help with retention, can also help with your promotion and customer acquisition… for free!

  1. Loyalty and reward

Something that really annoys customers is feeling like they get punished for becoming a customer and not getting access to new deals, offers, promotions or products. However, by engaging with customers on loyalty based offers and programmes can reverse that feeling completely. Exclusive offers, upgrades, cross sales and competitions are some of the things you could consider without needing to roll out a full loyalty points system. Another thing you can try is what is known as a surprise & delight campaign. This is where you could send a special gift, reward or offer that comes as a surprise to the customer. For the maximum effect, this gift should be personalised, even if just a call out by name via a mailing list. Only advice would be that if you start to do something for all new customers, be prepared to always do so. If word spreads of your small treats, if others do not receive, they will be very disappointed. Personalisation when it comes to this area, is absolutely key. A good CRM system coupled with a proactive marketing plan will do wonders.

  1. Community

Once you do start to build up a community of customers, either via your CRM or on social channels, this is an opportunity to collate information. You can create a direct line of communication regarding what people love about your products and services and what frustrates them. A potential way to measure this is via NPS (Net Promotor Score) surveys. If you are not ready to go to that much detail, at least ensure questions and feedback is collated and sorted so you can see if certain areas of the business or checkout experience need attention.

  1. Advocacy as an acquisition strategy

Authenticity is everything these days. The impact of an influencer who is an advocate of your product or service is omnipotent. Advocates can become your best form of creating ROI and fuelling your acquisition strategy.

When thinking about positioning strategy, I use a personal method I call “GRIP analysis”. This can be applied either to a regional strategy for sales, or an omnichannel marketing strategy. The letters stand for “Geographic, Relationship, Influence, Power”, and describe the key attribute that a target placement offers. Used within marketing, Geography relates to regional presence and coverage. Relationship refers to channels where they have knowledge or special interest in your product or service, so any coverage could be more detailed or specialist. Influence refers to placements that carry a lot of authority or ability to recommend your product or service to a target demographic. Then finally Power relates to channels that can attract high traffic, views, or exposure of your message. Advocates (customers that become supporters of your product or service) can help with Geographic coverage, Relationship support and carry a huge amount of Influence, so should be seen a very key, prioritised part of your holistic marketing strategy.

This article is the last one in our ‘A Year in MI Retail’ series. The MIA office is now closed until 4th January. If you need to contact us, Alice will be checking her emails periodically, you can reach her on alice@mia.org.uk. All of the MIA team wish you a safe and healthy Christmas, and a prosperous New Year. We look forward to working with you in 2021.