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Friday, 26 April 2013

Three innovative channels for customer engagement

By now, every brand with a digital presence recognises the importance of advertising, and social media as a way to engage with users, prospects and their larger social networks.

The digital space however, demands that we constantly look into the near future beyond the current trends. It is pretty safe to assume that what is mainstream today, will be eclipsed by the next big thing which may be in its infancy now, but is poised to grow really big.

For instance, take this report which notes that the appeal of Facebook to teens may be slowing down, even though older people are taking to it in a big way. Teens are a notoriously fad-driven demographic and it is entirely possible that  a 10 year old Facebook may begin to lose its charm in the face of newer attractions.  In fact there is evidence that platforms like Kik and Snapchat hold greater appeal for teens. 

Here are three relatively fresh channels where brands can try to engage viewers. 

1. WhatsApp and chat platforms

The messaging giant recently announced that its user base is larger than Twitter with 200 million active users and an average of 12 million outbound messages in a day. Messaging clients are huge in Asian markets like China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and India.

The catch? WhatsApp is designed on the philosophy of charging users rather than selling ads for revenue. However, some businesses (especially service oriented ones) might be able to find a way around it , if individual employees  are able to add customers and broadcast messages. A gym can put their dietician online, an insurance agent can share jokes about financial planning (yes, jokes, not sales pitches) and a car service centre can set reminders for car service or share offers. Without direct ad messages, there are many ways for brands to formally try and engage users on chat platforms.

2. Image search

Pictures and videos engage people far more on the web than the written word - witness the success of YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. While a lot is being done on YouTube, brands could re-look at the role of Pinterest to engage with customers. But one new and interesting area, is reverse image search. Drop a picture into the search bar, and Google will find similar pictures for you. Think of this as a tool that will be adopted first by youngsters (pre-teens and younger) and by teens equipped with smartphone cameras. It can be used to find real estate deals, gadgets, recipes, free wallpapers, spot fake social media profiles and find out information about animals, plants or places. Google sort of implemented this in an Android app called Goggles. As a search tool, image search has huge potential. You can create contests, encourage people to 'find' or 'unlock' content with the right image and make the search for content more proactive.

3. Good old email

Old ways of interaction have not died out. If you can engage with users through emails (and I do not mean by sending them discounts and ad banners) you can accomplish a lot. Keep mind space of prospects, share useful information or simply make loyal users feel special. We at Bright Angles find that our newsletter gets us a lot of appreciation from clients. I like WebMD's quizzes on health and fitness and any major health brand could do a similar job. Or maybe it could just be a personal email from a senior manager soliciting user feedback about the brand.

The key here, is to not use email to bombard advertising messages at your viewers. To reduce the frequency of interactions and to design each interaction from the perspective of the customer. Will this be useful to him/her? Will it make my customers feel good about themselves? Ask these questions when designing emails and chances are, a nice and unobtrusive engagement strategy may emerge.