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Digital channels and SMS messaging: a B2C marketer’s action plan for 2021

Marketers were challenged last year in ways they’ve never been before, and digital communications has played a central role

Last year highlighted the inherent need humans have to connect with each other. Stuck indoors and encouraged to stay as far away from other humans as possible, many of us found creative ways to connect with others remotely in our personal lives with activities like video chat happy hours, virtual painting sessions and trivia nights.

Marketers too had to find new channels and tactics to engage with customers who were no longer frequenting their physical locations. The obvious shift among marketers was towards digital channels – SMS, chat apps, live chat, chat apps, etc – to embrace a fast-growing preference among consumers for contactless experiences.

Usually such technological shifts are gradual, playing out over years or decades, but last year they were sudden, as marketers were forced to embrace digital channels immediately as shelter-in-place orders rolled out across the country in the Spring of 2020. But with new customer habits and expectations – such as contactless experiences – that were accelerated during the pandemic expected to continue for the foreseeable future, we wanted to know how marketers plan to shift their priorities in 2021 following a unique 2020.

We recently surveyed 166 marketers at business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations in the United States with more than 1,000 employees to find out how they are using and plan to use digital communications in their customer engagement efforts. Here’s what we learned:

Top customer engagement challenges for B2C marketers

While most marketers today are leveraging digital channels to drive engagement, they reported three key challenges navigating customer engagement in 2020:

  1. Contactless – The value of delivering seamless experiences intensified under Covid, over half marketers said the past year has increased demand for contactless experiences.

  2. Deliverability – 37% of marketers said the top barrier to driving customer engagement is simply getting the messages through. Part of this challenge lies in the antiquated tools or technology over a quarter (28%) of marketers report having in their toolbox.

  3. Ownership of the customer experience – Nearly 90% of marketers report that it is becoming more important for them to deliver an exceptional customer experience than ever before.

SMS as an emerging powerhouse

It’s clear digital channels are a key tool to address these challenges, but not all are created equal; four out of five marketers report SMS performs best of all digital channels.

In fact, B2C marketers linked SMS directly to increased revenues in 2020. Those marketers who leverage chatbots, SMS, live chat, chat apps, and voice are more likely to report revenue growth in the last fiscal year than those who have not adopted these technologies. Additionally, more (77%) are using SMS than any other channel to send promotions/offers, while almost 80% report SMS performs best of all digital channels, particularly for advertising and brand awareness.

Why is SMS so effective at reaching/engaging customers and driving revenue? The top three reasons marketers cited in our survey are real-time delivery, high open rates, and global reach/ubiquity of mobile devices.

Four-step action plan

As we move deeper into 2021 and beyond, marketers are advised to take four concrete actions to effectively engage customers as their habits and preferences evolve:

  1. Take ownership of the customer experience: Delighting customers through their experiences with your brand takes a planned, holistic approach that stretches across their lifecycle. Marketers’ priorities include: be proactive, be personal and be consistent.
  2. Tackle deliverability issues: Given 25% of marketers we surveyed use antiquated tools/tech, it’s important to understand if you fall into that category and if so, is it hampering your ability to fast-track engagement. Ask if you have the right mix, then advocate to address any gaps via technology like A2P SMS with trusted, reliable delivery.
  3. Fully leverage digital communications: It’s critical to break down any digital communication silos that may prevent a true seamless omnichannel marketing approach. SMS, chat, email, video, voice — these all should work together for consistent, personalized communication with customers.
  4. Experiment with new digital channels: It’s also important to stay relevant and current with what your customers use, not just what your organization prefers. SMS, for example, delivers concise, timely info with offers, updates and more, and it has proven to drive revenue. And chat apps such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Viber, while still in their early days, are used by billions worldwide and fit seamlessly within their lives. Marketers should take notice.

Marketers were challenged last year in ways they’ve never been before, and digital communications played a central role in those companies who have succeeded in still growing despite the external factors at play. Through deeper ownership of the customer experience, addressing deliverability issues and by leveraging – and experimenting with – more digital channels, B2C marketers are able to meet the shifting demands of today’s customers now and moving forward.

For more information and to download Mitto’s The State of Customer Engagement in B2C Marketing report, please visit: https://info.mitto.ch/customer-engagement-report

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