In the digital era, marketers and brand custodians have found that their jobs and activities have evolved. While this has opened a new world of opportunities, it’s also posing challenges which need to be managed to ensure that consumers enjoy a consistently engaging experience with their brands.

Nicholas Barenblatt, group marketing manager at Protea Hotels and African Pride Hotels, says the digital environment has necessitated a more transparent and seamless evolution of brands by consumers. He points out that while the discipline of marketing has evolved as a result, the basic rules of engagement have remained the same. It’s important to respond to customers promptly, whether they are happy or dissatisfied.

Positive brand experiences shared by consumers are massive opportunities which brands should capitalise on. Barenblatt maintains that because user-generated content cannot be bought, yet has such a huge influence on both existing and potential customers, brands should use it to its full advantage. It also, he says, gives brands an idea of what consumers actually like and think.

On the downside, digital platforms are ideal for sharing negative sentiment and most marketers these days have “trolls” to deal with. Aimee Miller, marketing manager at Teljoy, says the key to dealing with every customer concern is honesty. Whether it’s a phone call from a senior staff member or a speedy response via social media, it’s about being transparent and rather than hiding or deleting negative posts, dealing with them in a public forum until they are resolved.

This is where content marketing is so useful, says Barenblatt. It helps brands to engage with consumers and cut through the clutter by giving them something educational, relevant, empowering or entertaining. The use of bloggers and influencers to generate valuable content about the brand allows for positive sentiment and interesting information to be shared which can be used to tell the brand’s story in a proactive manner.

Digital platforms have removed any possibility of using a “one size fits all” approach to marketing, says Miller. “We adapt and advertise our brands on different platforms in order to receive optimal engagement. We do a lot of research and analysis to understand where we are gaining customers and where we’re lagging, as well as identifying key areas in which to improve our services.”

The data that comes with the digital environment allows for strategic targeting and personalisation, in turn enabling high engagement and less wastage in communication. “It has allowed us to isolate specific markets across a multitude of channels and devices using an exceptionally diverse toolbox of digital resources,” Barenblatt concludes.

The big take-out: The digital environment has made for a more transparent world where marketers have evolved their activities and communications to capitalise on new opportunities, as well as combat new challenges.

This article was first published in Financial Mail on 31 May 2016

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