Communications chaos concept

Choosing the best way to communicate with your customers can be tough. A decade ago all you had was print, phone, email and instant messaging. A decade before that, few brands had email, and instant messaging was experimental, so all you had was print and phone. Nowadays, we also have social media, mobile communications, chat services, digital displays and several other means of keeping in touch with customers.

However, this increasing array of communications methods is a problem. Different kinds of people prefer alternative methods of communication. Increasingly, people are “compartmentalising” communications. They say things like “Snapchat is for friends; Facebook is for groups, SMS is for family, email is for business” and so on. The problem for brands and businesses is that people who are apparently the same kind of customer have different communications preferences.

For example, if your target market is a 35-year-old woman, living in London, single and professional, you may find that one such individual prefers you to use email, while another typical target customer wants you to use Snapchat. Some just want to use your website. No longer can customer personas to help you determine communications preferences.

As the number of communications methods increase, communications preferences become increasingly distinct.

That makes it harder for businesses to cope. No longer can you plan an email marketing campaign without also producing a similar campaign for your customers who want to hear from you on social media, rather than via email. Equally, you can’t communicate the same way on Facebook as you would on Twitter with customers who would rather you use that network to contact them.

Research reveals communication problem

A recent study has shown just how complex communication is becoming. It showed that even though email was the preferred method of communicating with brands for the biggest majority of people, several wanted only to hear once a month, whereas others preferred more frequent communication.

Meanwhile, the study found that younger people are more likely to open emails than older people – which goes against the popular notion that “email is dead” for 20-somethings. Similarly, the study found that age is relevant when deciding what to communicate. Younger people love to receive coupons, but older people are much less interested in money-off vouchers.

What the study shows is that communication is increasingly individual. In the past, brands could communicate in two main ways – in print or in-person. Brand owners would pretty much know which kind of method worked best for their target customers.

Those customers had no real choice. They either had to read something or hear someone talking about a product, either face-to-face or on the phone. Now, customers are making specific choices about communications preferences, and that is presenting brands with a real problem.

To communicate effectively with customers and potential clients, a business needs to know in advance the preferences of those individuals. Campaigns then need to be drawn up to cover a broad range of delivery methods. That increases the time necessary for each campaign and raises costs.

Do you have a choice?

Do you actually have a choice in how you communicate? If you don’t communicate in the preferred manner required by customers, you risk losing that relationship and their custom. If you do communicate in their preferred way, you raise the costs of running your business, impacting on profitability. It seems that businesses are between a rock and a hard place.

The solution is more detail in your data collection, within your databases and CRM systems. That detail will help you automate communications so that customers can tell you what their preferences are, and then you can include that information in the database. When an email campaign is produced, it will only go to those interested in email. Equally, a good data system can alert you to the best time of day to send out emails, depending on the age group of your customers.

The communications conundrum is only a problem if you don’t have good data and excellent methods of using that information. Some kind of CRM system is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity if you want to get communications right.

Graham Jones, Internet Psychologist Call Graham Jones Graham Jones, Internet Psychologist

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