Online Marketing in a Post-Recession World

Editor’s note: I originally published this on my old blog (zacksimpson.blogspot.com). I felt like it was still relevant, and brought it over. I’ve updated some of the copy throughout.

In our post-recession economy, it’s becoming increasingly important to seek efficient, profitable growth and adapt to changing consumer behaviors.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s unlikely that past methods will yield efficient returns on spending. The downturn has fundamentally changed consumer expectations in a lasting way.

Tricks and gimmicks are a thing of the past – replaced with an expectation of product quality and customer service.

These changes in consumer mindset will require online retailers to improve and adapt their efforts across each marketing channel, with a new focus on engagement with the consumer.

Marketers must also increase the efficiency at which they spend their budgets and leverage key technologies to earn consumer loyalty.

The Downturn Has Altered Consumer Purchase Behavior

All B2C companies must now accept a new definition of consumer perceived value. In this economy, consumers expect a greater value for their money and significant access to quality customer service.

Marketers must focus on innovative product offerings, development of brand image, competitive pricing and increased understanding of consumer analytics.

In the online retail industry, this will require marketers to have dedicated CRM presences on major social media platforms. However, a marketer’s role in these channels is not limited to CRM alone.

In fact, today’s consumers expect brand interaction and engagement. This represents a significant opportunity for marketers, yet it is a role that must be carefully cultivated.

Consumers expect to engage with brands via social media platforms, but they do not expect the messages to be saturated with marketing. Efforts here must be genuine and organic. It’s the 24/7 availability, along with relevant and interesting content that will engender brand loyalty.

Product quality, pricing and overall value are all key elements for marketers moving out of the recession. Consumers are now less willing to accept an inferior product at a premium price, and are more willing to share their brand experiences over the internet.

To improve customer retention, drive new customer acquisition and increase current customer sales, companies must focus on product refinement/improvement and service.

A New Consumer and the Impact on Marketing

Of particular interest to online retail marketers should be the trend that consumers 1) have higher customer service expectations, 2) are becoming more price-sensitive and 3) are expecting more value for their money.

Retail giants like Amazon and comparison shopping sites like Price Grabber provide consumers with quick and easy information to make purchasing decisions.

Increasingly these decisions are made on price-comparison and reviews/feedback from other shoppers. Feedback is often used to judge product quality, as well as customer service and experience with the brand. Careful monitoring and management of these channels is required for companies that maintain their own shopping portal.

What’s become apparent is that consumers now demand more responsibility from the brands they purchase from. Marketers must plan accordingly, and act responsibly both in the sale of the product and in following up on execution.

Marketing also needs to focus on understanding customer expectations and needs. Mastering customer analytics is becoming a requirement of senior marketing management. Teams should work closely with customer service and sales to deliver strategic and tailored marketing across all platforms.

Barriers to Growth Require Adaptation

A new consumer landscape has created new barriers for marketers to overcome. In the fast digital world of online retail, inefficient business practices are most commonly cited for slowing/blocking performance improvements.

Other common barriers include lack of funding or resources needed from senior leadership, and a lack of critical technology or tools within the organization.

Understanding the new expectations of a global consumer is the first step in overcoming the barriers in online retail marketing. Senior marketers must leverage technology to increase customer engagement capabilities and deliver on brand promise.

It is now necessary for marketing efforts in emerging online channels to be used as effectively as the importance of the channels now indicate.

Online retailers must encourage front-line employees to facilitate existing customers’ reviews and recommendations; these seen now as necessary for new customer acquisition. Online communities are also seen as a potentially valuable, but under-utilized channel for post-recession marketing.

Perhaps most important to overcoming these new barriers is the alignment of senior leadership to the marketing plan, and the acknowledgment and understanding that the consumer landscape has changed. Companies must adapt their marketing efforts, or fade away as their competitors adjust.

Recalibrating to Move Forward

Transforming the marketing agenda in a post-recession landscape is a complex and daunting task. A marketer’s task is made none the easier by the limited funds available coming out of the recession. It’s important for marketing executives to prioritize operational efficiency and profit growth, and they should focus on certain key initiatives.

New markets and new customer segments are areas where the most explosive growth can occur. Marketers that tap into emerging channels and technologies report revenue growth at a faster pace than executives who aren’t exploring these options.

Innovation in products and services is extremely important too. Customers are expecting more for their money, and companies need to do more than rely on current value propositions. Feedback from consumers should be used in the product design line to improve and refine current offerings, while also developing new products.

Although a pain point for many, improving pricing structure is a reality of the new marketing landscape. It’s now necessary to shave margins for volume, and to remain competitive in the world of Amazon and comparison shopping engines.

But marketing executives must do more than simply reduce price points. Aggressive testing of sales campaigns across multiple channels will generate high consumer response rates and provide analytics data to support future campaigns.

The development of a brand and image is increasingly necessary for B2C online retailers. With consumers worldwide turning to social platforms for engagement with each other, brands must build a positive image in these spaces.

What’s more, companies must maintain a consistent brand image across all channels and in all facets of marketing. Social responsibility, company culture, product offerings and customer relations all play a role in the development of a brand/image, and this must be carefully managed by marketing leadership.

Move Faster, Think Faster

The global economy now moves at a speed-of-light pace. Retailers are under constant pressure to develop, design and create faster to keep up with the digital world. Online retail marketing must streamline processes to get products quicker to market, and be much more flexible with their initiatives. Global news is available 24/7 and retailers must be quick to market when an opportunity occurs.

Improving the efficiency of marketing processes and people is an important component of recalibrating the agenda in this new age.

Senior executives should implement collaborative tools and automate processes where available to free up money for investment in new growth initiatives. New tools and processes should allow for increased synergy between marketing, product development, sales and customer service.

Speed is now one of the key components of CRM, and is an expectation of today’s consumer. Front-line employees should be given tools and software to expedite any customer inquiry, regardless of channel. Customer data management systems are a bare-minimum for organizations with annual revenues over $10 million.

Small businesses should focus on smaller-scale tools like dedicated service lines, social media presence and live chat software, until growth can sustain a larger investment.

Fragmenting Means Segmenting

Today’s marketers must utilize value-added consumer insight to tailor their messages at the individual level. Consumer segments have become much narrower in recent years, and now many are demanding personalized messages that deliver extremely relevant content.

Advanced analytics are needed to gain strategic insight into what customers’ value, and more accurately predict behaviors. Teams will then be able to tailor the messages and value propositions for each micro segment and significantly improve resource efficiency.

Unique value propositions are vital on two levels. First, a company must have a competitive differentiation to stand out in the crowded online marketplace. Second, the UVP must be tailored to each specific segment.

This is not as resource-intensive as many marketers fear. New technologies exist to automate and streamline the segmentation process, and teams must simply study the data and base the messages on the predicted behaviors.

The People Hold the Power

A hyper-connected society is a mixed blessing for online retailers. If business does well, news will spread and word-of-mouth marketing will take over. However, a company that treats a consumer badly will be burned just as quickly. Other than delivering a quality product to market, investment in consumer experience and relations management is the most important thing an organization can do.

Taken a step further, consumers expect a consistent experience across all channels. It’s no longer enough to have a CRM account on social platforms or a bare-bones mobile site. Consumer expectations demand a seamless experience via all digital and mobile platforms. Customer service should be an always-available presence, and able to leverage consumer insights and analytics to deliver necessary messages.

Every touch point between brand and consumer should be considered an opportunity to create a brand advocate. Training and tools should be provided to all front-line staff that engage and interact with current and potential consumers to ensure a relevant, consistent and consumer-friendly experience. More important than the initial sale is the development of customer loyalty, and ultimately an advocate for the brand.

Bottom line: It’s necessary for online retail marketers to focus on resource efficiency, consumer relations management, and to adapt to the current consumer purchase behavior.

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