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Direct online selling helping to create loyalty

27th Jun 2018
H+K Strategies
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How direct online selling can help companies create lasting loyalty in 2018 

By Bhawna Shah, Digital Solutions Head, Consumer Packaged Goods, Wipro Limited

In an ever competitive marketplace, inspiring customers is a huge challenge. With the growth of e-commerce sites like ASOS and Amazon becoming the go-to retail hubs for many consumers, individual brands’ direct contact with their customers has been hindered. Smart brands are now turning to the Direct to Customer (DTC) channel to better understand their customers and market more effectively to them.

This channel gives an enormous opportunity for brands to create a personal bond with each and every customer and extend personalised offerings, thereby creating long-lasting loyalty. In a crowded marketplace, it enables brands to stand out and understand their value propositions to their customers through collected data, with the significant advantage of understanding customer behaviour first hand.

Not only does this direct approach enable brands to derive exactly what their customers are interested in, it allows them to determine how often they require a particular product or service and understand exactly how their needs can be fulfilled. Harnessing the online channel can also help brands to gain market share. The advantages offered by the DTC channel has led brands of all sizes to move towards creating their own online channels to engage customers directly with their brand.

However, customers need a compelling reason and a highly differentiated experience for them to come to a brand’s direct channel rather than enjoying the benefits offered by a wider and more neutral indirect channel. Some brands have made the leap to the DTC channel too quickly without properly considering exactly how they can differentiate their customer experience. Some of these brands that have acted too hastily have failed to get a return on their investment.

So, what’s the secret to creating a preferred online channel for the brand where customers are encouraged to purchase products rather than buying them from other channels? Does success lie in choosing the best platform, the integration capabilities of the service provider, or something else?

The answer is a combination of the above, but the special ingredient is designing the online experiences right. This needs to be compelling enough to entice customers to the channel from the touch points of their end-to-end customer journey, including everything from marketing to commerce and customer service.

For implementing this kind of initiative, brands require an impeccable human-centric experience that will attract customers and create lifetime loyalty. For this to succeed, it’s vital to ascertain the target profile of customers, what their localised preferences are, what their short- and long-term needs are and whether they need tailored products. Along with an understanding of the target profile of customers, introducing a DTC initiative requires an understanding of the market landscape in order to create a competitive edge over others.

Primary research should be undertaken with the end users themselves, helping brands to form a clear understanding of their target customers. This involves interviewing a diverse customer set to get a good understanding of their needs and to identify common trends among them. These trends many vary greatly across different locations so for a global brand, insights need to be captured locally to ensure that important localised nuances are noted.

Rather than gathering customer requirements in one batch, an iterative approach should be taken. As each part of the rollout happens, it needs to be tested on the real-time feedback through analytics or some other means to keep it as contextual as possible.

In addition to the primary customer-centric research, secondary research needs to be undertaken which involves gathering publicly available data such as information relating to social media networks used by similar customer segments. This is important for keeping up-to-date with trends and competition. Data collected from both types of research will give insights into the behaviour of the customers that brands want to sell to, helping businesses to design an enriching customer journey for them.

The success of a DTC channel initiative is NOT just measured by good-looking user interfaces, great marketing efforts or playing on the price war. Ultimately, what matters is creating the great experiences and personalised treatments that customers are craving — especially digital-savvy consumers from Generation Y.

A great brand experience should be enjoyable and at the same time fulfil customers’ requirements in an optimum way, across all of their interactions. Therefore, it’s wise for brands to start the move to direct selling by developing a digital design strategy. The aim of this strategy is to establish a map of the customer experience journey, which is then used as a basis for the development of the technology, giving the strategy a tangible shape. Software companies have already begun to move in this direction, forming partnerships with design-oriented firms that can deliver human-centric design to complement the underlying technology.

The crux of IT development is not just doing it cheaper, faster and having great technology skills but doing it better with a keen focus on business KPIs. IT providers that can offer a human-centric business-minded approach should be the partners of choice in this competitive environment.

With the right digital design strategy and IT development skills, brands of all sizes can unlock the potential of the DTC channel. Direct online selling can help them to better understand their customers and target them more effectively, ultimately helping to cultivate long-term loyalty to the brand.

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