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Innovative Strategies for Building Lasting Customer Relationships

Strategies to build and maintain relationships with customers
  • February 22, 2024

McClatchy has been hosting an ongoing series highlighting the many experts we have at our company.  

This time, we will be sitting down with Expert Leader Joe Antonucci, one of McClatchy’s Senior Managers for Customer Engagement. He will be leading us through the intricacies of customer engagement and walking us through the process of how McClatchy helps clients build – and maintain – their customer relationships.

Equipped with real-world examples and scenarios, Joe will inspire you to forge long-lasting connections with your customers.

Let’s get started! 

Strategies for Building and Maintaining Customer Relationships

Stephanie: Can you define consumer engagement strategies and how they differ from traditional marketing approaches?

Joe: Consumer engagement strategies and loyalty strategies focus on the relationship between the user (I'll use this term from here on out!) and the business – whereas a traditional marketing approach focuses on the transactional side of things. That said, there is a case for pre-transactional user engagement. This type of strategy would still revolve around the relationship but with a conversion goal.

The Importance of Building Long-Term Relationships

Stephanie: Why must businesses focus on strategies that engage consumers and foster long-term loyalty?

Joe: Strategy and holistic communication is critical to building user engagement and loyalty.

Picture this: you have been a user of a particular budgeting app for multiple years. It has worked well for you, but the only communication from the app (business) to you as the user is transactional - think payment reminders. Then, another app surfaces, seemingly providing you with the same user experience. Still, this business emphasizes you as the user, sharing tips and tricks, what the app offers beyond budgeting, and more, even before you commit to paying for it. What app would you choose in this case?

In most user cases, they will go with the one that makes them feel like more than a paid subscriber and, in the best case, that the business is more human than profit-driven. Keeping strategy and communication effective across all channels and mediums fosters the confidence in your users that they want to be with you as a business for the long term: loyalty.

Personalization as an Engagement Strategy

Stephanie: How does personalization play a role in consumer engagement, and what strategies can businesses use to tailor their interactions based on individual preferences?

Joe: Personalization is at the core of modern consumer engagement. A business can engage well with a user, but when personalization is added to the mix, it brings the conversation to a different level. Letting the user know you understand their preferences – in McClatchy's case, what type of news they enjoy consuming and how they enjoy consuming it – and giving them precisely what they want at the most appropriate time goes leaps and bounds over a traditional engagement approach.

Even the most well-thought-out engagement plans will be lacking if the user doesn't feel like the business they're consuming content from understands who they are. Think of it as a compelling way to communicate to your users that your business views them as individuals – not subscriptions.

Utilizing Multi-Channel Engagement

Stephanie: Consumers engage through various channels. How can businesses implement multi-channel engagement strategies to reach a broader audience and maintain platform consistency?

Joe: Having a holistic voice across your communications is critical. It starts with buy-in and agreement behind your overall engagement strategy across all user-facing divisions within a company. Once the internal players are all on the same page with the strategy behind what type of communication best fits "where," the consistency will build itself.

I firmly believe that open communication within an organization to bridge internal gaps creates a much better user communication and engagement life cycle for targeted and broader user bases.

Establishing Value-Driven Engagement

Stephanie: What role does providing value play in consumer engagement, and how can businesses ensure that their engagement strategies genuinely benefit the consumers?

Joe: Value proposition education, reiteration, and reinforcement are imperative to a user engagement strategy. Whether you're pushing your business's mobile app or the most up-to-date article on your market site, you want to ensure the value of what you're saying to the user is there. It keeps them returning for more - the "what's in it for me" beyond just a surface-level expectation of what the user has paid for.

Taking Proactive Communication Approaches

Stephanie: Proactive communication is critical to engagement. How can businesses initiate and maintain open communication with consumers, addressing concerns and providing timely information?

Joe: The most straightforward way to put it is that businesses must make themselves "available" from the first stages of a user’s interaction. A company will nurture those relationships effectively by providing the details early and often on how to give business feedback, for outreach, and generally humanizing themselves.

Feedback and Listening Strategies

Stephanie: How do strategies involving feedback collection and active listening contribute to consumer engagement, and how can businesses use this input to enhance their products or services?

Joe: Your business provides a product or service, but what do you have without your users? Understanding and adapting your user feedback and implementing and telling your users that have done so due to their feedback is critical to any strategy involving user feedback collection. Your users will inform you how they use your product and service and how best you can tailor it to their needs to foster engagement and relationships with them. Let them know they're heard.

Surprise and Delight Tactics

Stephanie: Surprise and delight tactics are often used. How can businesses incorporate these strategies into their engagement efforts to exceed customer expectations and create memorable experiences?

Joe: Part of collecting feedback is hearing "dream" ideas from users that may not be feasible for long-term implementation but can be used for the occasional surprise and delight. Imagine being a user and telling a business you love their product, a water bottle.

The feedback is that they wish they could personalize it, which your company doesn't offer. Then, take that feedback and provide personalized bottles as an LTO with a discount for current users. This type of surprise and delight would make users happy, help foster a memorable relationship with your business, and boost sales.

Fostering Loyalty and Long-Term Relationships

Building Emotional Connections with Customers

Stephanie: Emotional connections can lead to lasting loyalty. What strategies can businesses use to build emotional connections with consumers through engagement efforts?

Joe: The emotional connection drives brand affinity, product use, repetitive purchases, sales, and many more important pieces of the engagement and loyalty puzzle. Most importantly, it drives Trust. Trust in your business goes the distance in this area.

Keeping user-centricity, open and honest communication, and product/service excellence are the pillars of any communication, loyalty, or engagement strategy your business can implement. If you always lead a strategy with the user first and foremost, the emotional connection will build naturally. You cannot make a user feel an emotional connection – you have to earn it.

Tactful Uses of Reward and Incentive Programs

Stephanie: Loyalty programs are standard, but how can businesses design effective reward and incentive programs as part of their consumer engagement strategies to encourage repeat business?

Joe: Knowing your users is critical here. Any business can create a loyalty program – and most do. Most are in the form of a traditional "punch card" - only digital today. X visits = Y % off.

But knowing what drives your users to your product or service is more important than just providing a little extra for them. Your holistic engagement strategy should enhance your offering, whether it is more minor, like I mentioned, or a full-scale enterprise loyalty program with partnerships and the nines. Keeping your users engaged with the benefits of your program in small but powerful ways across multiple touch points and channels to reiterate your value proposition is essential, but doing so holistically is even more so. Imagine getting an email or push message saying, "You have X% off for being a loyal customer," and that's it.

How many of these are in play in today's modern landscape? You, as a business, can get lost. Thinking broader and more holistically to tie these touchpoints together in other ways of reiteration, like UX, UI, and alternative channels, will help to encourage loyalty and repeat business, boosting MRR/ARR overall.

Launching Educational Engagement Initiatives

Stephanie: How can educational initiatives become part of consumer engagement strategies, helping consumers better understand the value of products or services and fostering a sense of loyalty?

Joe: If you ask any engagement or loyalty expert, they'll tell you that the core issue with the adoption, conversion, or use of their programs is simply a need for more understanding from a broader user base. (There are instances where this isn't the case, but I have yet to encounter one that has yet to involve this in my experience!)

One of the most critical touch points in a holistic engagement strategy is how and when to reiterate and re-educate users about the value of your product or service. Doing so is two-fold here – it helps you foster a broader relationship with the user and an emotional one. It builds Trust that you're trying to help your users remember what they're paying for!

Embracing Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Stephanie: Consumers increasingly value sustainability and social responsibility. How can businesses integrate these values into engagement strategies to resonate with environmentally and socially conscious consumers?

Joe: Whenever your business has an initiative that speaks to sustainability or social responsibility, it should be ingrained in your holistic engagement strategy. Sure, it should be communicated at a top level via a dedicated message, blog, or mission statement, but it should also be evident in your other interactions with your users. For example, QSR/F&B establishments in Florida cannot use single-use plastic straws.

Businesses A and B comply with the new mandate and have shifted their models to reflect this. Business A needs to provide a straw with their drinks and does so by using a paper one, while Business B has made a cultural and operational shift to stop using single-use straws, cups, and plates altogether. That's the difference when appealing to and building trust with these types of customers. That is a communication and engagement touch point that is unspoken, even!

Long-Term Engagement Metrics

Stephanie: What key metrics should businesses focus on when measuring the success of long-term consumer engagement strategies, and how can they adapt based on these insights?

Joe: You can use many metrics to gauge engagement depending on your industry and mode of communication, but one that is at the core of all of them is actual product or service use. For an online media business, this translates into clicks, page views, or time on site. For a service industry, this may translate into visit or purchase frequency.

Based on the data you collect for your business, you can optimize your communication, user experience, and even A/B tests. For example, if your company sees a decrease in traffic daily and your data points to a drop-off point where the user is served too many ads (even if they're logged in/subscribed), then you should A/B test this touchpoint’s hypothesis: fewer ads = more engagement.

You may even adapt your strategy to include a "base" and "premium" tier (ads versus no ads). Long-term customer engagement depends on your business's willingness to learn, experiment, and adapt to changes, as well as the agility in which your company can do so.

Build and Maintain Long-Term Customer Relationships with McClatchy!

We're glad Joe could join us to share his expertise on the consumer journey! As the second-largest media company in the country, McClatchy has established an extensive audience and developed a deep understanding of their interests and behavior. That gives McClatchy the unique capability to help businesses connect and form lasting relationships with their customers.

Reach out to us today to learn more about how the experts at McClatchy can help your business.

McClatchy Expert Blog Series.

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