9 ways smart companies connect with customers


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There’s a shift happening ion the consumer landscape, and smart companies are taking notice.

The new focus is on the individual consumer and away from mass marketing, and it’s driving commerce back to the local level. Consumers are going back to a time of artisanship and shopping locally, even if “local” now encompasses artisans across the globe that are able to connect online.

What the trend means for business is that they must clue into the “localmotion” if they want to ride the next commercial wave. Success will depend on a company’s ability to understand customers and touch lives.

They have to find ways to connect.

The following companies are great examples of how to connect authentically in ways that work.

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1. Be as close as skin

Sephora, a one-stop shop for beauty products, sets itself apart with a loyalty program designed entirely around personalization.

The Beauty Insider program tailors products according to each customer’s unique characteristics. An innovative Color IQ app defines a person’s skin tone and their contextual needs, such as lifestyle, work, time of day, event, and clothing.

Sephora’s program takes the guesswork out of cosmetics selection by empowering the individual to make choices based on a huge field of data. It’s an enormous differentiator, and it allows customers to choose from among many brands in different price ranges.

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2. Play to individual taste

Coca-Cola’s recent campaign put the individual front and center, and people responded.

The Share-a-Coke campaign took an innovative step by introducing personalized Coke bottles. Coca-Cola gave consumers the ability to express themselves and share the experience with friends and family by gifting bottles emblazoned with personal names.

The campaign garnered more than 500,000 photos on Twitter with the hashtag #shareacoke, gained twenty-five million Facebook followers, and increased their sales by two percent.

Buyers can also place an order online to personalize a bottle. Almost anything goes. One buyer posted pictures on social media of his bottles saying “Will You Marry Me?” The photo went viral. It’s a remarkable example of how the local movement in marketing can touch people’s lives.

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3. Knowing your customers

Smart retailers have begun merging the online experience with the local retail world, and none are smarter than Nordstrom.

Nordstrom’s marketing team curates its in-store offerings based on customer interest online. They create Pinterest pages on trending products and disseminate pages through social media.

Then, depending on what customers pick and identify as their preferences, Nordstrom will match stock in their stores.

When customers arrive at the store, Nordstrom takes it to the next level, using  Wi-Fi sensors to track customer smartphones, gathering data on where in the store customers are browsing in order to feed the customer’s on-site journey.

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4. Having digital smarts

Artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping the culture of how individuals connect with products and services.

Tech startup DigitalGenius has successfully applied AI to automate customer service support. Its platform uses machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to engage with customers and answer their questions.

It crunches FAQs, the most frequently asked customer service questions, into a digital network.

It also links email, transcripts, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and more as reference points to push the algorithms. With AI, they’ve found a way to provide deeper, more customer-centric responses.

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5. Personalizing customer experiences

Topshop, a UK boutique clothing brand, has been implementing new “augmented reality” technologies into the shopping experience.

Topshop stores have virtual fitting rooms where customers can select specific garments on a large digital screen to see how they would look wearing those items without physically trying on the clothing.

Topshop also teamed with Facebook in 2012 to create an interactive show at London Fashion Week. They engaged potential buyers online and at the same time monitored their behavior and tastes to inform design decisions.

The following year, Topshop partnered with Google+ at London’s Tate Modern museum to live stream a unique Fashion Week show on YouTube and Google+. Specialized cameras provided virtual front-row seats to four million viewers far beyond the usual clique of fashion elites and journalists.

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6. Personalizing selection

Pandora, the music streaming app, has its own take on using AI to match music selections to the individual user.

Unlike Spotify and other popular music streaming apps, Pandora’s system doesn’t rate music by genre, customer selection, or by correlation to other listeners’ choices. Instead, the company uses a radical approach that analyzes a recording’s musical structure against four hundred attributes, such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics, to define distinctive musical genomes.

By mapping recordings according to the genome, Pandora personalizes selections to a greater degree than by listener behavior or reviews.

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7. Customization through 3-D printing

With 3-D printing, a single product or part can be customized on an individual basis. In the future, the need for making thousands of items at a time will be reduced or eliminated.

German eyeglass company Mykita has already introduced 3-D-printed eyewear.

At Mykita, eyewear is now customizable to the shape and width of a person’s head, the bridge of their nose, the rise of their cheekbones, the shape of their eyes, all the unique features of an individual’s face.

A designer with a 3-D printer can create eyewear that is perfectly suited to individual contours, style preferences, and personal tastes.

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8. Making ergonomics personal

Ergonomics looks at the applied science of equipment design in the workplace. Herman Miller, the office furniture manufacturer, has incorporated ergonomics research into how individuals work in order to produce personalized options in its designs.

In chair design, Herman Miller looked beyond the limitations of height and swivel adjustment to create the Aeron Chair. With a mesh bottom and back, the Aeron Chair was designed for air circulation and individual comfort adjustment of armrests, lumbar support, seat depth, tilt, and tension, among other qualities.

It’s billed as “the seat that performs for you.”

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9. Getting extremely personal

In the realm of connecting with their users, Facebook excels.

Based on a user’s activity and the company they keep, Facebook is able to predict personal preferences and patterns of behavior. In this way, the company can effectively commercialize individual preferences by providing offers based on what a person likes and clicks on.

By looking at connections in communications patterns, Facebook can even predict the duration of a relationship, and who might be in a relationship next. Now that’s personal!

Alex Barseghian is the author of Localmotion and founder of Samba Days, a technology platform connecting localized businesses to the mass markets. He now serves as vice president of original content for Blackhawk-Americas.

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