Back to the Future of Consumer Engagement

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It was 1995.  It was a time when people were washing their clothes on rocks, using chickens as barter to purchase goods, and written communication was as easy as strapping a note to a pigeon.  Or was it?  Maybe 1995 wasn’t so long ago.  Maybe less has changed in that 20 years than we thought.

HBR 1995: Psychology, Buyer Behavior, and the Evolving Ways We Learn and Engage
I was reading a couple of Harvard Business Reviews from 20 years ago…as I’m a bit of a geek about psychology, buyer behavior, consumer engagement and the reality of the rapidly evolving way we learn and engage.  Two issues in 1995…one in March of 1995 with an article titled, “Do You Want to Keep Your Customers Forever?”, and another in July of 1995 with an article titled, “Real Time Marketing” really stuck out.  Here are a few interesting quotes:

  • “Today, consumers can get better information—information that is unbiased, comparative, accurate, and immediate—through on-line services, CD-ROM catalogs, and fax-response systems, and eventually they will be able to obtain it through interactive TV.”
  • “As the continuing boom in catalog and home-TV shopping attests, consumers and organizations can buy goods and services over the phone and through dedicated on-line services as easily as, if not more easily than, in person, and security measures will almost certainly be in place soon that will make it possible to purchase products through the Internet.”
  • “For retailers, the message is clear: if they want to maintain or increase their competitive advantage, they must begin establishing learning relationships with their best customers today.”

Yesterday’s eCommerce
What was “better information” back then?  Marketers were dealing with an exploding set of options with which to spend their budget dollar, get their message out, and engage their consumers…in 1995.  Buying goods and services from catalogs, over the phone, and through home-TV shopping was yesterday’s eCommerce.  Information availability was exploding, even if it included avenues like fax-response and CD-ROM.  But the advice was almost exactly the same as it is now…focus on establishing learning relationships with the consumer.  Your consumers are talking about you…be a part of the conversation.

Four Strategies for Establishing Learning Relationships with the Consumer
How do you do that?  The same article outlined four required strategies…that haven’t changed much in those 20 years:

  1. Establish an information strategy for initiating dialogues with customers and remembering their preferences
  2. Establish a production/delivery strategy for fulfilling what the company learns about individual customers
  3. Establish an organizational strategy for managing both customers and capabilities
  4. Establish an assessment strategy for evaluating performance

“The power of the new media lies in their ability to draw the individual customer into a conversation with the company.”  Yes…this was the message 20 years ago, and it fundamentally hasn’t changed.  While fax-response and CD-ROM catalogs have gone the way of washing your clothes on rocks, the question for all of us is…are we there yet?