Beginning at the End: Customer Engagement Should Always Start With an Outcome

Written by Natasha Janic on May 17, 2019

When marketers think of outcomes, it’s usually along the lines of KPIs based on industry standard measures: impressions, open rates, redemptions, etc. When quarterly or monthly reports roll around, there’s a scramble to quantify everything under the sun in a mad rush to provide attribution to sales results.

This becomes especially true for marketers running an activation program. Because these programs are often viewed as cost-centers by those outside the circle running it, the pressure to prove that it’s not only working, but also moving the needle, is extremely high.

Direct to consumer retail marketers can list the campaigns and offers used in the previous month, detailing the successes and shortcomings and their impact on revenue. The bigger question is: what was the purpose of the campaign or initiative to begin with? Without beginning a strategy with an initial objective, it’s hard to determine what the path forward should be.

Often times, marketers start an engagement strategy with what vendor funded offers are available, what the marketing budget is for the month, or just capitalizing on what’s trending at the time, and these are directly opposite from where the starting line should be.

The Outcome-Driven Approach

It’s time to turn the narrative on its head. At the end of the day, three things are important to account for when running an activation program: strategy, execution and attribution. That last piece of attribution is hard to measure when an outcome isn’t clearly defined to begin with.

With a defined outcome, you can start to test different strategies more methodically, rather than throwing various initiatives at the wall, hoping that something sticks. When something does work, attributing it to your initial objective will be much easier to map.

Creating strategies that appease both your customers and your bottom line is no easy task, but we like to think of it in this 3-step frame of reference:

  1. Start with an objective
  2. Define your audience
  3. Target them with personalized activations

In addition to this, having a tech stack that enables you to learn from, and iterate on, your initiatives in real-time is critical. Platforms that give you the flexibility to start with simple strategies and grow them into complex marketing initiatives once you’ve learned from your data are the best way to reach your business objectives.

Starting with an Objective

This may sound like a no-brainer. Every strategy should start with a goal in mind, but when there are a million different ways you can activate a customer and dozens of extraneous variables impacting your strategy, it’s hard to have a larger objective navigating your course of action.

Sure, overarching activation program objectives are to enroll more customers and increase engagement in the hopes that it impacts your bottom line. The way to truly ensure whether your activation program remains a profit-center for your business is setting tangible, measurable objectives.

Let’s say that you are a convenience store chain that recently launched a new product line of ready-made sandwiches. A possible objective would be to increase sales of those sandwiches by 5% this quarter, and the captive audience engaged with your activation program is a great place to start.

Defining Your Audience

Think of the groups of customers who would be most likely to move the needle toward your objective. This typically manifests in criteria that, together, defines what we call an audience. As customers check the boxes on predetermined criteria, they join that audience.

For the example above, there are a few different audiences that could help reach the 5% increase in this new sandwich product line. The approach to this is two-pronged: getting customers who have purchased this product in the past to purchase more of it, and getting customers who have never purchased this product to try it for the first time.

Audience 1

  • Has purchased your c-store branded sandwich
  • Visits at least 2x per week
  • Average basket size $6.00+

Audience 2

  • Has purchased a sandwich (not your c-store branded sandwich)
  • Visits at least 1x per week
  • Average basket size $6.00+

Audience 3

  • Has purchased a ready-made food item (not sandwich)
  • Visits at least 1x per week
  • Average basket size $5.00+

The key here will be flexible technology that allows you to create dynamic audiences as soon as a customer meets the criteria.

Personalizing Activation

The issue with many activation programs is that offers are typically sent to too many customers, making it a massive cost-center for retailers. Why send a customer an offer to promote a behavior they’re already engaging in?

With your audiences defined, think of the offers that would most likely change their behavior in a way that moves you closer to your objective. Admittedly, this can be a period of trial and error, so having technology that allows flexibility in setting up and editing offers is crucial.

  • Audience 1: focus on increasing frequency, but likely don’t need a huge offer to change behavior.

Earn an extra 25 bonus points when you come back this week and purchase a ready-made sandwich.

  • Audience 2: focus on getting them to switch from their usual sandwich to your convenience store branded sandwich.

Have you heard the news? Our c-store has launched a brand new line of fresh sandwiches! Give it a taste and earn 50 bonus points.

  • Audience 3: focus on getting them to try sandwiches in general, moving them away from hot ready-made items. Trying a brand new product typically takes more incentive.

Looking for something fresh? Earn 50 bonus points every time you purchase our c-store’s new line of sandwiches this month.

These just show one example per audience, but having multiple offers set up for each audience will give you the best chance of reaching your objective. Pay attention to the offers that customers respond to and adjust your strategy as you go. If a customer doesn’t respond to offer 1, then maybe offer 2 is something a bit more enticing and so forth. Think of the path to your objective being a “choose your own journey” for your customer.

This not only helps you move toward your objective, but it utilizes real-time customer interactions to inform the messaging customers are receiving. It shows them that you’re listening to their preferences and are using that information to enhance their experience.

If you reach your target objective, you now have concrete strategies and data points to attribute to your success. Even better is the incrementality you’ve now created with these new behaviors. Over time, the offers can dwindle, eventually disappearing for the customers who have formed new habits that continue driving profits for your bottom line.

Rather than being dictated by what vendor offers, marketing funds, or cultural trends are available, start with a clear objective when strategizing and executing on your activation program. Think of the customers most likely to get you to your objective and what offers will help to change their behaviors. Creating audience criteria means that not only are you delivering personalized engagement, but you’re also only extending those offers to customers who can drive value.