What is digital customer engagement?
Customer engagement is the sending of messages to both potential and existing customers through one or more of the available digital channels.
These are proactive messages sent to a specific user’s desktop or mobile device and are not to be confused with display advertising or search marketing, which are passive.
An intelligent, multichannel customer engagement strategy is vital, irrespective of your brand’s vertical or business model.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand the wide range of options out there so that you can identify the right ones for your brand.
The 5 essentials of every digital customer
Aside from the channel itself, there are five key aspects to a successful digital engagement campaign; personalisation, segmentation, intelligent delivery, a/b testing and automation.
Every digital engagement channel, whether it’s an on-site message, a push notification, an SMS text or an email should have these capabilities.
It’s all about providing the recipient with relevant content at the right time, while ensuring that your delivery systems are optimised.
Personalisation means different things to different people. There’s some uncertainty out there regarding what’s actually possible and how achievable it is at scale.
For some marketers, it goes no further than including the recipient’s first name in the message. That’s certainly one aspect, but true personalisation goes much deeper.
It’s really about using all of the available data you have about your customers, from order details to behavioural patterns and preferred content, to deliver individually relevant experiences.
As consumers, we expect our favourite brands to know more about us, and to use that information to add genuine value to our lives.
In this example on the right, the airline has been able to pull in the customer’s flight details and keep the customer updated accordingly. That’s a perfect example personalisation in action. It doesn’t always have to be about driving sales.
If I had to suggest only one thing that could elevate any enterprise’s customer engagement campaigns then it would be better customer segmentation.
Become more accurate with your targeting and conversions will follow naturally.
There’s almost no limit to how granular your segmented lists can be. It all depends on your specific objectives.
Segments are created based on known behavioural data (particular pages visited, app usage, etc) as well as characteristics (nationality, location, age, gender).
The most powerful segments are the ones that combine several pieces of information to create incredibly rich, individually-specific user groups. Once you have these groups, it becomes so much easier to drive business goals.
Let’s say, for example, you wanted to increase your number of monthly active app users.
Rather sending a re-engagement campaign to everyone with the app, you’d want to create a dynamic segment of users who haven’t opened it in two weeks (or whatever time-frame you like).
To give yourself the best chance of re-engaging them, you then further segment that list by a secondary attribute (such as products bought or favourite sport). You can now send these smaller lists personalised, relevant and compelling messages that will have higher engagement rates than a generic blast.
Intelligent and real-time delivery
There are two aspects here; scheduled send time and real-time engagement.
With a sophisticated, data-driven platform behind you, you can be confident that messages are being sent at the optimal times, based on each recipient’s previous behaviour.
You also want to be able to factor in different time-zones to avoid unwanted 3 am alerts that can damage your customer relationships.
One of the most important developments in digital engagement recently is real-time messaging. You need to be able to capitalise on engagement opportunities as they occur. This is true across all verticals, but particularly for brands in publishing and media where being the first source of breaking news stories is crucial.
It’s also vital in the sports betting and gaming industry, where the ability to offer “in-play” betting is a significant competitive differentiator.
Whether it’s the exact wording of an offer (does “sale” or “discount” get more clicks?) or the nature of the promotion (10% off for 24 hours or 20% off for 12 hours?), digital marketers need to A/B test their campaigns to get the best results.
Multivariate testing, as it’s sometimes called, should play a role across all of your digital engagement channels. It’s the only way you’ll be able to optimise your marketing messages for conversions and maximise ROI.
Otherwise, you are relying on your intuition, a.k.a. guesswork. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that, but it can’t be the principal driver behind your campaigns!
The more you test, the more you learn about both your products and your customers. Which type of products generate the most interest and what type of language resonates strongest with your audience?
These are the kinds of questions that can be answered pretty quickly with a/b testing.
Campaign automation tools
Unless you have a very deep budget for human resources (and let’s face it, no-one does!) then you’re going to need to automate your digital engagement campaigns to achieve results at speed and scale.
Intelligent workflows, built around smart templates allow you to deftly nudge customers towards goal completion time after time. It could be an onboarding or welcome series, intended to drip-feed information at a consistent pace or it might be an abandoned cart recovery campaign that brings users back to the checkout.
The Xtremepush customer journey-builder, Maxautomation, has been designed with multichannel marketing in mind. It allows our clients to efficiently orchestrate otherwise complicated cross-channel campaigns.
One of our biggest clients, Oddschecker, the world’s leading odds comparison website, launched over 100 dynamic campaigns, across 5 channels, over the course of a single week. They were able to do this with a team of just three people. You can read more about our work with Oddschecker here.
The importance of leveraging data to enhance digital customer engagement campaigns
We’re all familiar with the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica mess. It opened our eyes to how our personal data can be exploited.
What the average, honest digital marketer is doing with customer data is not at all the same thing!
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using customer data, so long as it’s collected openly and fairly, to create better, more personalised experiences for your audience. We’re talking about sending people articles on the things they’re interested in or recommending products that we know they like.
That’s exactly what consumers want.
There’s an obvious requirement for brands to build up robust data repositories. But having the data is only part of the solution, however.
As marketers, we need the data to be easily accessible and actionable. If we aren’t in a position to layer that data into our campaigns and use it to influence our audience towards goal completion then it’s not much use.
We’ve written a guide on dynamic content especially for digital marketers that’s really worth checking out if you’re interested in making use of it in your campaigns.
Website Engagement Channels
We’re going to cover three channels here; web push, on-site messages and the web inbox.
Web pushes are perfect for driving traffic to your website, whilst the other two are used to keep visitors engaged for longer and to create new conversion opportunities.
Web push notifications
Web push is an increasingly important channel for many brands, engaging both “anonymous” website traffic and existing customers with timely, personalised messages.
Have you ever been browsing a website that you like and a prompt appears asking you to “Allow Notifications”? That’s an opt-in message, the first stage in a web push engagement strategy.
Once you have a user’s permission, you can then send them web pushes at any time, even as they browse another website.
If you have a website that’s converting well then you should strongly consider web push as an engagement channel. Each message can be deep-linked, directing the recipient to any page you like.
Similarly, if you’re finding it difficult to remarket to website traffic (maybe you’ve had mixed results with things like Adroll), web pushes give you another chance to engage them. This all depends on getting your opt-in messaging right, however.
We’ve written elsewhere in greater depth about web pushes so if you want to learn all there is know about them, from set-up to practical use cases, we recommend you take a look at that article.
If you are already sending web pushes, then check out this guide we’ve written on creating the perfect web push for eCommerce brands.
You are probably familiar with the classic “web pop-up”. They are a common sight on many websites, serving a variety of purposes. They are used to share “similar content” in the middle of a browsing session, promote flash sales or grow an email subscription list.
Up until a few years ago, digital marketers were reliant on providers like Unbounce to launch these highly effective engagement messages. Not only have platforms like Xtremepush made it easier to create an on-site message but they have also vastly enhanced their functionality.
Following a simple SDK deployment (requires minimal input from a developer), you can start sending them straight-away.
One nice detail to note about in-web messages, they do not require opt-in from the visitor.
And they can be triggered by pretty much any on-site behaviour, like the number of page views, specific page viewed and dwell time.
In-web messages give you plenty of creative freedom, supporting large images that can be used to strengthen your marketing message (and there’s not text limit, either). They also support up to two CTA buttons, so you can drive more or less any business objective you have.
Now, this might be a customer engagement channel you are less familiar with. It’s not all that common, despite its usefulness.
As brilliant as web pushes can be, they disappear once they’ve been engaged with or dismissed (hopefully not too often!). This makes them a less than an ideal channel for evergreen content or offers that last for a long period (like a Summer sale).
So, how do you share these messages with your website visitors?
A web inbox is the answer!
As you can see in the image, an icon is added somewhere prominently on your website. Clicking on it opens up a notification centre. This can be customised to reflect your brand’s colours.
Essentially, this behaves like an email inbox, acting as a place to store all of the push notifications that each user has received from you.
The user doesn’t need to create an account, either, as the Xtremepush platform tracks the profile based on the Device I.D.
It also gives you repeat opportunities to convince visitors to opt-in for web pushes, with a simple on/off toggle that makes it easy without having to go into their browser’s notification settings.
As you can see, the three channels all work very well together, empowering you to reach all of your website’s visitors and nudge them towards goal completion.
Mobile App Engagement Channels
When it comes to driving engagement with your mobile app we have another three channels which are very similar to the ones we’ve just looked at, albeit with some key differences.
Once again, we have push notifications as well as in-app messages and an app inbox.
App push notifications
If you have Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone then you’ll know all about app push notifications (and if you don’t then how have you managed that?).
These are messages containing information that come, unrequested, from an app alerting you to all manner of content, from likes and shares to sales offers and product updates.
They are an incredibly versatile and effective means of dragging users back into the app and sharing valuable content with them.
If your brand has an app then you need to start sending push notifications. It has to be pointed out though that it’s a permission-based channel. Android users automatically give consent when they download an app, but iOS users must go and do that manually.
But who knows if and when this will change?
In any case, here’s a guide to convincing your app users to opt-in for push notifications.
Can you guess when and where these messages are delivered?
Yes, that’s right, they appear within the app while it’s in use!
We lead the mobile marketing industry in terms of how our clients incorporate this channel into their app engagement campaigns, driving business goals at every stage of the funnel.
We’ve seen them feature prominently during app onboarding and welcome series, but we also work with brands that use them to recover abandoned carts.
One of the big advantages of in-app messaging is that you have several formatting options, depending on the message you are sending. You can choose a subtle banner, or go all out with a full-page takeover.
And you can also be selective with who receives a particular in-app message, segmenting your audience based on any number of attributes and behaviours.
Nearn more about this channel with our guide to in-app messages.
As with its web browser equivalent, this channel acts an inbox which stores messages you send to an app user. You can set an expiry date on the message or mark it as permanent, depending on how time-sensitive it is.
Again, there are a host of business goals that an app inbox can help you achieve. In terms of formatting, you can either choose your service provider’s default template or build a custom one using HTML.
Here’s a more in-depth piece we’ve written on the value of the app inbox and its use cases.
The changing role of email as a customer engagement channel
It wasn’t all that long ago that some analysts were predicting email would be obsolete by 2020.
Emerging brands like WhatsApp and Slack were tipped to replace it, or perhaps a new technology would enter the scene and change everything.
Yeah. No. That hasn’t happened.
Email continues to be a core engagement channel for many brands. Its importance has been diluted, however, that’s certain.
There was a period of a few years when email could be your sole focus, but that’s no longer the case.
It’s is a victim of its own success, perhaps. The beauty of email marketing (its ease-of-entry and potential reach) means that everyone has gotten in on the act. Our inboxes are bursting at the seams, with brands across every vertical competing for opens.
And yet email is here to stay, for the foreseeable future at least.
It’s hardly necessary to go into too much detail about how emails are used to drive customer engagement, as we are all so used to sending them.
However, as a leading email service provider, we know the importance of enhancing your campaigns through segmentation and dynamic, personalised content. These can no longer be seen as “add-ons”, they are vital to ensuring your emails are relevant and add value to your customer’s experience of your brand.
Why SMS could be one of your brand’s most important customer engagement channels
Wait, isn’t SMS dead?
No! Unless you think that an average open rate of 90% is proof of a channel in decline…
We’ve written elsewhere about the value of SMS as part of a multichannel engagement strategy, comparing it to email and push notifications. It’s the perfect complement to all of these other “online-only” channels.
The fact is, people read their SMS messages, and quickly too. 90% of them are read within 3 minutes of delivery. Our email inboxes are saturated, with an overwhelming amount of content being delivered every day.
We also get far fewer SMS texts than we used to, with messaging applications like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger growing in popularity. So when one is received, it’s noteworthy.
How many unread SMS texts do you have on your phone right now? I’d be willing to bet that for the vast majority of people reading this, the answer is zero. And if there is one or two you haven’t gotten around to opening, then before the day is out I’m certain you will!
We always check it out, even if that’s just to get back to inbox-zero!
Of course, there are limitations to what you can send via SMS. You only have a small number of characters and you can’t include images or videos, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a compelling, persuasive message.
The importance of consolidating your digital customer engagement channels
There are so many brands on the outskirts of multichannel engagement right now, ready to take the leap. They know the value of it, they’ve read all of the articles about the number of touchpoints a customer has before purchasing and so on.
Something is holding them back, however.
They run email campaigns, they deliver pop-ups, they have an app that performs pretty well and maybe they’ve even started toeing the water with web push.
They might have multiple channels, but that doesn’t make them multichannel!
Why? Because all of their channels are facilitated through separate point solutions. They have no awareness of one another and the data fuelling the campaigns is completely siloed.
One of Xtremepush’s biggest advantages as a platform is that we offer all of the customer engagement channels discussed in this article within a single platform.
There’s a very good reason why; it just makes business sense to run all of your campaigns from a single location. It not only improves their performance but also keeps your costs significantly lower.
Digital marketing executives en masse are looking to consolidate their customer engagement channels. It makes too much sense not to.
There is a perception that this is complicated.
We disagree! And so do our clients.
Typically, the brands we work with are in a position to run huge multichannel campaigns in multiple regions, and sometimes even in multiple languages, within 9 weeks!
Enhancing your digital customer engagement strategy
Your biggest wins are going to come from the channels that can speak to the widest audience, so we recommend starting there.
If you have a website that’s converting well, your goal should be to drive more traffic there. If your mobile app is a core component of the business, let’s get your users spending more time in it.
So focus first on optimisation. Take what’s already working and turn it up to 11! And then gradually layer in additional channels over time. This will allow you to move a lot quicker and start generating ROI immediately.
If you’re wondering what your brand’s next step should be, talk to us.
We’ve been at the cutting-edge of martech since 2014, helping 100s of leading brands across every vertical to enhance their digital engagement campaigns.
Xtremepush is the complete digital customer engagement platform, purpose-built for multichannel marketing. It empowers brands to deliver personalised, relevant and real-time messages across email, web browser, mobile app, sms and social messengers.
The platform is completely modular and combines enterprise-grade analytics with a full suite of campaign and automation tools. This provides brands with accessible and actionable data, enabling them to unify the silos, create dynamic customer experiences and execute core business goals at speed and scale.
Xtremepush was named in the 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Mobile Marketing Platforms. You can read that report here.