Due to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, your business may have been forced to find ways to operate amidst the restrictions mandated by the government. The technological advancements we have today provide a form of lifesaver for some business owners that allow businesses to retain revenue and still provide services and/or sell products to their clients.
However, while technology allows you to connect with your targeted market, it is also possible for technology to create a rift between your clientele and your business. In a way, transactions may become just that — system enabled delivery of a product or service that lacks the human element. They are no longer experiences between people within your business and your customer.
Why is the human touch important to my marketing?
According to engagement research by the Gallup organization, employees who are genuinely cared for, respected, and considered in the workplace provide higher-quality work which yields higher-quality outcomes. These employees also provide a far better customer experience. We see similar results in customers who feel a human connection and enjoy a great customer experience — they tend to purchase more, refer more, and consequently, become your loyal patrons. This shows how humanity in your workplace and customer interactions can greatly benefit consumer response.
Months into the lockdown challenges, the dilemma of not being able to operate during the height of the pandemic may have lost its rigid grip on your business as the government allowed some businesses to resume some processes.
The slow return to “the new normal,” however, hasn’t decreased consumers’ longing for a sense of normalcy and human connection that was once enjoyed. Businesses understand this and some have responded with advertising that fits.
An example of humanized corporate marketing
One of the many examples of this is the fast-food giant McDonald’s latest effort in their Lights On TV spot. The 30-second video highlighted the brand’s operation mantra — amidst the struggles that the world faces now, they’ll keep their lights on and serve the people.
This gives their consumers a sense of normalcy during such trying times — to still be able to enjoy the food like they usually do while following government-mandated orders.
Assuming you don’t have a budget as grand as McDonald’s, you might be asking… How can I effectively connect with my customers while infusing the much-sought-after human connection?
4 first steps to infuse humanity into your company’s DNA
Expanding on an article published by Mashable, there are four basic steps your firm should take to begin infusing humanity into your company’s DNA, and ultimately into the marketing campaigns you create:
1. Treat your customers like family
Treat your customers well — not only through lip-service but by working well with them as well as providing excellent service and products. When your clients are well taken care of, they become passionate about your product and your enterprise. Through social media and electronic word of mouth (eWOM) those customers could propel your business’ revenue forward like a form of ‘free’ marketing.
2. Treat your team members even better
It is crucial to treat your workforce, the backbone of your business operation, with kindness and respect. These people are more than economic assets — motivated staff not only attract and retain valuable clients; they also encourage an optimistic employment pool for your future expansion.
3. Emulate what other great service companies do well
Brainstorming new ideas is quite a challenge and may even be daunting at times, but keep in mind that you don’t have to reinvent every aspect of your business. Analyze companies and enterprises that are successful in your market niche. Pick up their strategies and find ways to tailor-fit them into your business processes.
4. Empower consumers to make better choices
While your business aims to gain revenue from your clients, don’t allow the sales goal to be your only concern. Apart from giving your clients options to make a sale, empower them by providing insights on their choices. Educating your clients makes them feel that they are more than income generators for your business, resulting in customers that also see you as more than a product or service provider.
How else can infusing humanity into your business’s DNA give off the good vibe given your current situation when your clients get little to no interaction with your business? Could the once direct contact with your usual business services be substituted by technology or delivery apps?
An article by MarTechAdvisor explains that “interactive email content increases the click-to-open rate by 73 percent and adding videos to your email content can boost click rates up to 300 percent.” Utilizing social media to connect does not simply mean posting advertisements. You must be strategic and creative to pique your client’s interest while also creating meaningful interactions.
In an earlier article on improving the customer experience through content, I explained how social media is one of the personalization mediums you can leverage when reaching out to and engaging your client base and how it’s a contemporary and indispensable platform to promote, distribute, and curate content relevant to your business operation.
At this point, it’s crucial to stress that the key for you to create a connection between your business and your clients, despite the distance, is personalization.
Technologies you can use for humanized marketing
The average person has an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish, generally losing concentration after 8 seconds, according to a Microsoft study reported on by Time Magazine.
Trying to appeal to your audience in just 8 seconds could be difficult, but here is where good marketing with the right technology comes in — where your knowledge of marketing and some great software makes all the difference. You can either create an extremely short advertisement that weighs in under 8 seconds or use martech that infuses your marketing with a little extra human touch.
Mix these ever-shortening attention spans with the consumer challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created and you’ll see a considerable opportunity for you to connect with your customers through means that aren’t robotic and detached. While your customers’ eased ability to do tasks on their phone or their computer does allow revenue retention and bring convenience to them, it lacks a personal connection that enhances the client experience.
Identifying the right martech for your firm that will enable you to inject a little extra humanity into your marketing efforts is an extremely important and sophisticated task that requires your direct insider knowledge. However, below I provide you a list of six different technologies that you may be able to use in your firm.
Disclaimer: while I provide examples of martech solution providers that you can use, as well as some mini-case studies on how you can use each tool, please understand that this list is not exhaustive and your specific industry expertise may assist you in identifying the key set of solutions for your own firm.
1. SMS personalized outreach
While there is a wide array of ways to reach out to your prospective customers or current customers, few of them generate as strong of a response as SMS (short message service, aka text message). In an article highlighting some of the benefits of marketing via SMS, Gartner states that SMS messages are opened as much as 98 percent of the time, and responded to 45 percent of the time.
SMS read and response rates this high indicate something special is occurring here… and it is. Even in our world where spammers start to move into the world of text messages, consumers still expect this communication method to be one that is used for personal messaging devoid of advertisements.
With this expectation, there are a few rules you need to keep in mind when using SMS for marketing purposes:
- The first rule of marketing via SMS is to not damage consumer trust in text messaging. If you’re in a position where you’ve got access to a prospective customer’s phone number, don’t abuse it by sending unwarranted text messages.
- The second rule of marketing with SMS is akin to the first — only send SMS to your customers if you’ve made it very clear you’re going to do so.
- The third and last rule of SMS marketing is to only send messages that add true value to the consumer. Sending order updates to someone that requests them via SMS is an excellent way to use this technology. Following up on a submitted application for a loan is another great way to use SMS marketing. If your consumer is already interacting you in a high impact (loan application) or high interest (order fulfillment) way then you’re likely in good shape for sending SMS messages to them.
So, how can you get started sending appropriate marketing messages via text message?
Not long ago, you’d need to hire an advanced programmer to connect in with Twilio’s API and programmatically generate your own messages, the logic whereby to send them, and methods for following up on responses. Those days are past.
There are several #MarTech tools that can get you started with SMS marketing, but two of the best which I regularly recommend to clients are Twilio and SendPulse:
- Twilio is the granddaddy of SMS, as they were one of the first to provide a tool for sending programmatic text messages and still one of the largest and most robust. Pros of Twilio include the lowest cost (7/10th of a cent per message sent or received), advanced two-way interaction options, and the most robust programming options. The biggest con of Twilio which may make it out of reach to some is you still need to have some technical chops (advanced programming skills a plus) to be able to launch a campaign on Twilio.
- SendPulse is my go-to for quick-launch SMS marketing campaigns that don’t require advanced programming skills or even much in the way of technical aptitude. Pros include some basic and very-easy-to-use SMS personalization options, and an easy-to-use interface. The main cons of SendPulse, when compared with Twilio, is that it is the higher cost (around 2 cents per message sent or received) and lack of robust features.
2. Customer success via social media
One channel through which some firms have already begun to make a personal connection is social media. With 67 percent of consumers saying they’ve used social media to connect with at least one brand’s customer service team, firms understand that the consumer demand is there.
Perhaps my favorite example of a company making a real human connection and fulfilling customer service via social media is from the story of Peter Shankman asking Morton’s steakhouse for a little favor.
Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. 🙂
— Peter Shankman (@petershankman) August 17, 2011
Despite Peter not expecting any response to such an outrageous customer request, hours later when he went to find his ride home, he was jaw-droppingly surprised to find Alex, a Morton’s Hackensack employee, waiting for him in a tuxedo with an order of steak, shrimp, potatoes, bread, and the serving ware to eat it.
Morton’s saw an opportunity and seized it, earning them an influencer’s respect and a ton of free publicity. All they had to do to earn that was be watching their social media account like a hawk, get someone dressed up into a tux, prepare a full-out meal, drive 23 miles to Newark airport, find a spot to park and surprise a new life-long customer. All in 2 hours.
While your company may not have such a great opportunity to make a customer service splash like this, you likely will have many opportunities to make small positive impressions that also win customers.
Two tools that both provide robust functionality for watching social media for customer service needs and then facilitate the customer service follow-up are Hootsuite and Sparkcentral:
- Hootsuite follows its tradition of robustness with its social customer service offering, allowing you to find customer inquiries easily, assign messages to people within your firm, and respond with a human touch to help facilitate winning customer service. While its customer service tool was once frustrating and unwieldy, they’ve come a long way in improving it to better fit the needs of customer support representatives.
- Sparkcentral is a tool dedicated to helping businesses better facilitate high humanity-infused support connections with consumers across a wide variety of social media channels. While Hootsuite is a suite for all things social media, Sparkcentral takes a different approach and focuses primarily on customer service via social media. Because of this focus, Sparkcentral has more robust customer support offerings, including such advanced functionality as collision detection, where your teammates can see who is already responding, in real-time, to a social request.
3. Personalization tokens
More sophisticated marketing teams are likely already aware of personalization tokens, where you can dynamically insert a prospective customer’s first name into an email or other correspondence type. While these small personalizations do go a long way in making a humanity-infused marketing connection, there are still more powerful ways to utilize this functionality of your martech solutions: hyper-personalization.
If you have a dedicated sales team, you have likely been collecting a wealth of information on your prospects inside your CRM, including such items as the prospect’s personal product preferences, notes on the prospect’s interests, etc.
Have you been collecting any quirky, hyper-personalized fields of data on your prospects? If not, you should consider doing so now. Knowing which flavor of ice cream is the favorite of a prospective customer can go a long way. Take the below screenshot, for example.
In that example from Apollo, you see how something as small as knowing a consumer’s ice cream preference can be used to make a high-impact, humanity-infused marketing and sales connection with your prospect, hopefully converting them from prospect to customer.
While you can make these hyper-personalized connections with almost any CRM and marketing automation dynamic duos, you can also empower your salespeople to make these connections directly through Apollo. Apollo is a sales platform that takes a data-first approach to better target and engage with prospective customers.
4. Handwritten direct mail
How often do you delete an email before opening it? If you’re like most consumers, this likely happens dozens of times a day for you. How often do you throw away mail that lands in your physical mailbox without opening it?
That likely occurs daily as well, though you at least saw the thing before trashing it. In fact, 42 percent of recipients read or scan each mail piece delivered by the postal worker. With the COVID pandemic creating an increased consumer desire for human connection, I predict an increase in the impact of physical direct mail. I predict that consumer preference is moving from pixels to paper.
Hand-addressed envelopes evoke emotional responses that generate greater open rates and response rates, up to 99 percent and 30 percent respectively. To garner such high response rates I imagine the inner message also needs to be handwritten. Because handwritten messages can be out of reach (time and labor expense wise) for many businesses, Sendoso provides a solution that easily integrates with your marketing and sales tools so that you can store and ship direct mail, enabling hand-written approaches that can benefit your marketing response rates.
You can view another article of mine if you’re interested in learning more about the leading solutions for direct mail marketing management; in particular how Sendos compares to PFL and Alyce.
5. Personalized landing pages
What is a PURL, or personalized landing page?
PURL is an acronym for personalized URLs. A PURL is generally a mini-site or landing page that has been personalized for an individual prospective customer. These pages allow a marketer to embed personally relevant content, including such elements as a consumer’s name or product preference, into a website for an ultra-personalized marketing approach.
PURLs often include a customized domain name that garners more interest and thus a greater visit rate. If ClearVoice was trying to land me as a client, for example, they may send out a direct mail piece with this call to action on it: “To learn more about how ClearVoice can help you with your content marketing needs, visit www.clearvoice.com/content/benbeck.”
Then, when I visit that PURL, I would see my name in the main header as well as a case study being offered that is specific to my industry and geolocation.
If you’re interested in getting started with PURLs to see how they can help increase the human connection level in your marketing, I encourage you to check out these two companies: Easypurl and Purlem. While I’ve never used Easypurl, I’ve heard good things about them and their ability to offer a full PURL solution that is as hands-on or hands-off as you’d like.
Purlem is a solution that is built for ease of use and self-service. I’ve used Purlem for several campaigns and have been pleased with its simplicity and excellent customer service. One time I had a problem and reached out via email only to receive a quick and helpful response moments later from the CEO/owner/wearer of many hats Marty Thomas directly.
6. Real emails from real people
You’ve likely received an email that starts with “Hi <firstname>,” indicating that either the email marketer didn’t set up the dynamic insertion token correctly or their marketing automation tool had an error on send. If you’re like most consumers, that made you feel like an object, a piece in a transaction, a cog in that business’s revenue-generation machine. It didn’t make you feel human, and definitely didn’t help you feel a connection with the “person” who was sending you that email.
So, how can we make something as impersonal as email, especially in a marketing and sales context where it needs to be scalable to larger numbers, feel like it has a human touch and is sent from a real person?
Well, for starters, send it from a real person. 🙂
Despite our desire to make everything entirely scalable, sometimes sending small-batch messages to people that fit specific segments (i.e. purchased from a new product line during the pandemic) is just what is needed to win a long-term customer.
A few approaches to sending real emails from real people include:
- Direct sales outreach — If you have a higher margin product then it makes sense and is justifiable to do some manual personalization, where you ask your salespeople to manually email each customer from a given segment and to send the email directly. As a marketer, you should provide them a template and some basic instruction, including the instruction that the salesperson look into your customer resource management (CRM) software and pull out unique details about that given customer and include that in the email.
- Leverage segmentation — Assuming you’ve been using your CRM software as designed, you should have some fields or queryable content on your customers or prospective customers that will allow you to segment them into smaller groups. Run a report generating different segments, export those individuals and their email addresses to an Excel sheet, and send it to the salesperson with an email template so they can send one-off emails quickly without much extra labor.
- Use robust algorithm-driven personalization — While almost all email sending providers, marketing automation tools, and CRMs include some ability to generate personalized emails, one tool stands out as a leader in the space of personalization via algorithm: Sailthru. Their personalization engine closely evaluates user behavior and interest data and then recommends the optimal content to that user through email. While their tool is most often used in an e-commerce setting, it can also be used as a mechanism for sending text-only salesperson emails.
For your additional guidance on getting more out of your email marketing, one of my earlier blog posts covers some of the best email tracking apps and presents the pros and cons of those email tracking apps.
It’s the thought that counts
Reaching out to your customers and creating a human connection doesn’t always have to mean splurging on sophisticated marketing advertisement platforms or using expensive software and applications. As you can see in several of the martech ideas I provided above, sometimes you just need to figure out a way to utilize the technologies already available for your business through an approach that truly connects.
With so many business interactions falling flat, consumers haven’t come to expect much. If you change that in your business interactions, with a lot of marketing expertise and creativity, and a little bit of martech to enable the humanity infusion, you’ll quickly learn that consumers recognize your brand as one that cares.
It’s the thought you’re putting into your marketing outreach that really matters and will win more business and keep what you already have.