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How staying ‘customer close’ can help brands shape tomorrow

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How staying ‘customer close’ can help brands shape tomorrow

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John F. Kennedy once famously said the best time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining. Over the past two years, Australian brands have not had this luxury.

A maelstrom of successive challenges including the pandemic, extreme weather events and armed conflicts, have swirled before our eyes and left us in a constant state of uncertainty. As a result, many brands are struggling to stay on top of consumers’ needs, concerns, and priorities, which collectively shift in the aftermath of each global and local event.

How to connect with customers

Against this uncertain backdrop we have seen the rise of digitalisation and an explosion of data. There’s now an endless number of ways for customers to connect with brands – whether it’s through TikTok videos, QR codes on bus stops, or through any of the other 4,000,000 digital interactions occurring between brands and customers every day.

Rather than making things easier for brands, the seemingly infinite data resulting from these interactions has made it harder for consumers and organisations to connect. For example, an analysis of online sentiment between March 2020 and March 2022 revealed social mentions of positive customer experiences had fallen 17.5 percent over the period.

It might seem impossible for brands to gear themselves for the future and to juggle the stifling trifecta of unpredictable external events, the spread of digital channels, and data chaos – but it’s not. Indeed, the answer lies within the challenge.

Brands need to cut through the static and listen to what really matters to their customers by proactively approaching the interplay between data, technology, and people.

Avoiding guesswork and embracing insights 

Too often, a reactive and siloed approach to digital strategy keeps brands from truly connecting with their customers. With their data, technology, and people disconnected, these brands can do little more than flounder with day-to-day issues, putting out fires as they arise.

Proactive brands, on the other hand, operate closely with customers, not just predicting the future needs but actively helping to shape them. They’re able to do so because they’ve successfully married the data, technology, and people that keep them ‘customer close’.

These brands employ an adaptive data strategy, constantly monitoring sentiment and engagement where their customers are interacting to avoid any superfluous and overwhelming information. 

It will use agile technology that allows for additional data sources to be added on the fly, and for insights to be rapidly visualised then sent to the right departments in real time.

And they don’t skip over the people element, making sure analysts have the right data on hand to tackle any situation, as well as ample support to enable a seamless flow of insights across the business.

At the crossroad of these three elements, brands can properly align their strategy, messaging, and products with the ever-changing expectations of consumers.

University of Sydney uses deep listening to connect with displaced international students

A proactive brand that recently yielded meaningful results for its business and consumers through this approach was the University of Sydney.

In 2021, when India was in the depths of its COVID-19 crisis, the university was concerned about the welfare of its students overseas, particularly the challenges they faced in continuing their education. Using insights gained from social listening and sentiment tracking, the university got on the front foot and rolled out a ‘Stay Strong India’ campaign, which included increased counselling services for students, promoted work with the Australian government to share protective equipment and ventilators, and saw the introduction of multi-lingual peer support groups.

The university’s social media managers measured its sentiment scores before and after the campaign – drilling down to the country-level – and found that positive sentiment had increased by 30 percent. This is a clear-cut example of how a meaningful and proactive melding of data, technology, and people can reverse a situation before it escalates.

Without the technology to track conversation themes and monitor sentiment, people to intervene with personalised communication, and the input and backing of counsellors and the student body, the campaign would not have enjoyed this level of success. In fact, it may never have been implemented at all.

Shaping tomorrow today

Right now, the only thing of which we can be certain is the uncertain state of the world.

The clouds, both figurative and literal, might linger for a while.

But if brands take a proactive approach to understanding the evolving needs of consumers, backed by the right insights and support, they can begin shaping tomorrow – rain, hail, or shine.

Dimitri Lanssens is the managing director at Talkwalker A/NZ.

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