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How do I manage touchpoints? Here’s how it works

This is a fundamental article on the topic of touchpoint management: What exactly is a “brand touchpoint”? Why is professional management of touchpoints so important?

This is a fundamental article on the topic of touchpoint management, which we enhance regularly with new information and links. It was last updated in May 2018.

When do people have contact with companies? Of course they could simply pick up the phone and call. That would be one form of contact – but only one of many. From Facebook video to ordering an item through the online shop to visiting the factory during an "Open House" event: There are countless "touchpoints" where consumers get to know a brand company and form an opinion about it.

Every single one of these touchpoints is a "gateway into the brand world". The quality of each individual touchpoint can be the reason why a transaction is successfully initiated or not. This is why companies must take touchpoint management very seriously.

So what is important to consider for the sake of success? That's what this article is about. It is meant to be a fundamental introduction to the topic of touchpoints and their management. Because the brand is a key factor in all of this, we usually talk about "brand touchpoints".

 

What exactly is a "brand touchpoint"?

A brand touchpoint is, simply put, a point of contact between a person and a brand. It is where people encounter the peak performances and messages of a brand, meaning they have a brand experience. "Brand touchpoints are the eye of the needle of every brand promise, every day and anywhere a company is present with its brand," , our expert Christoph Hack explains the crucial role of all touchpoints.

Usually, consumers visit several touchpoints before making a decision for or against a brand. This is what we call the "customer journey". At one of the many touchpoints, they decide whether to buy, buy again, recommend, or whether they are willing to pay a premium price. This is where the success of a company is made.

A successful customer journey, very briefly, could look like this:

  • The consumer enters his e-mail address on the brand's web site because he wants to receive the newsletter. He has turned into a potential customer.
  • As a potential customer, he buys his first product by the brand online and becomes a customer.
  • After that, he repeatedly buys products of this brand at various touchpoints. He has become a fan.

Such journeys are not conceived only for addressing consumers, but also for making contact with other target groups like business partners, suppliers, employees, and applicants.

 

What touchpoints are there?

Most companies have anywhere between 100 to 500 touchpoints – per brand! And that number is increasing: Since about 2011, the number of touchpoints has risen by 30 percent, especially in the digital realm. The many touchpoints include for example advertising, PoS activities, catalogues, online platforms, badges, or "brand spaces" – exclusive shops like those of Ritter Sport or Nivea.

Six of the top 10 channels for addressing customers are already digital, as revealed by a study (Digital companies - Why they cannot do without real brand experiences). It also shows that survey respondents intend to focus their investments and development budgets on digital channels in the future. Offline channels are losing relevance.

In 2020, 85 % of a company's customer interactions will be machine-generated, meaning they happen without human involvement, is the prognosis https://www.brand-trust.de/de/artikel/2018/alexa-tod-fuer-schwache-marken.php (Alexa - the death of weak brands). Voice assistants like Siri, Cortina, and Alexa are key factors in this development. As early as 2020, 50 % of people in major industrial nations will use the web only by means of their voice, as was predicted at the conference SXSW 2018 in Austin.

These new touchpoints will permanently change customer searches. Brand companies need to prepare for this new type of communication, content consumption, and thus customer journeys. In other words, digitalization and automation by no means allow companies to forego the fundamentals of building brand touchpoints.

 

One more thought about offline touchpoints: Although the number of digital touchpoints is increasing and they promise saving potential, their power must not be underestimated and should be harnessed. Even strictly online firms like Amazon or mymuesli know this and are opening stores on shopping miles – as does the online mattress shop Casper, who is travelling the country with trucks. Consumers still very much appreciate personal contact, particularly in the retail and finance sectors. More on this later in: What experiences with brand touchpoints are there?

 

Why is professional management of touchpoints so important?

15 years ago, a consumer visited an average of two touchpoints before making a purchase. And today? Six touchpoints, so three times as many. Management of customer journeys has therefore become significantly more complex.

But it is precisely this task that many companies appear to have trouble with: Only 15 are able to successfully manage their touchpoints along the customer journey and to offer a consistent brand experience. "Most companies have neither an overview nor a uniform concept for brand touchpoint management that deals with the relevance, effect, and budget. Because companies think and act in channels and departments", Christoph Hack says about his experiences.

The problem: Consistent quality is crucial for initiating a business transaction. Just one single poorly managed touchpoint – a "pain point" – is enough to make the consumer abort his journey and possibly continue his search with the competition. "The underestimated truth is: The total customer experience is defined by the weakest brand touchpoint", as our Managing Director Christoph Engl summarizes.

 

Ambitious touchpoint management makes sense simply because this is where companies must present their uniqueness to clearly stand apart from the competition. This protects them from arbitrariness and interchangeability, the hazards of all saturated markets. But this, too, is a sticking point: About 80 percent of brands do not leave a lasting impression – for instance with their advertising, their PoS activities, catalogues, and online platforms (How brand touchpoints become the total experience).

Let's look at the example of tourism: No other business sector, it seems, has a higher degree of "more of the same". Whether hotels, city centers, or touristic offers – similarities are multiplying worldwide at an alarming rate. This interchangeability inevitably triggers a dangerous price war.

So the main thing is being incomparable. To achieve that, the brand promise must be kept every day, worldwide, at as many different touchpoints as possible. Professional brand touchpoint management must therefore pay attention to detail and anticipate. Many companies do not satisfy these prerequisites with their "customer experience management". Though this has been a top priority of marketing managers for years (see study "Digital Trends 2018" by Adobe), it usually reflects only the top 15 to 30 touchpoints of a brand. This kind of "customer experience management" becomes a must factor, it is taken for granted. It is not enough to differentiate a company.

 

The management of all touchpoints in line with the brand improves the customer journey and creates an individual brand experience.

 

This is why the brand is indispensable for a successful customer journey: It ensures the necessary specific differentiation at all touchpoints "A positioning and many USPs can be copied. But consistent touchpoint management cannot ", Christoph Hack emphasizes.

So we see, the best brand strategy is worthless if it does not support a uniform, consistent customer journey, driven by systematic brand touchpoint management.

This is why systematic and professional touchpoint management in line with the brand is crucial. It is about

  • the effect and differentiating impact of all touchpoints, and
  • their systematic, connective common interaction.

Because many of our clients want to improve and systematize the management of their brand touchpoints, we have founded a company that develops tools. These tools are based on our experience with over 200 brand touchpoints projects.

 

What experiences with brand touchpoints are there?

In order to find out what effect touchpoints have on brand awareness and attractiveness, BrandTrust conducted a study in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland: From product to experience: How to make a total experience from individual brand touchpoints.
These are the essential results:• People are the number 1 attractiveness driver: For customers, people are the most important brand touchpoint when it comes to making a buying decision. Advertising, by contrast, is not one of the top brand touchpoints. It would be a mistake, therefore, to concentrate mainly on the online world in this age of digitalization. Many companies apparently have not understood this. Salesforce determined, for instance, that more than 50 % of shop customers get the impression that they know more about the product than the salesperson ("Connected Shoppers Report 2017" https://www.salesforce.com/form/industries/connected-shopper-report-2017.jsp). And Bain & Company reports that 60 percent of customer service employees cannot describe what sets their brand apart from the competition (2015).

  • People are the number 1 attractiveness driver: For customers, people are the most important brand touchpoint when it comes to making a buying decision. Advertising, by contrast, is not one of the top brand touchpoints. It would be a mistake, therefore, to concentrate mainly on the online world in this age of digitalization. Many companies apparently have not understood this. Salesforce determined, for instance, that more than 50 % of shop customers get the impression that they know more about the product than the salesperson ("Connected Shoppers Report 2017"). And Bain & Company reports that 60 percent of customer service employees cannot describe what sets their brand apart from the competition (2015).
  • The post-purchase phase is the best pre-purchase phase: The recommendation and decision for a repeat purchase occur in the post-purchase phase. This is when a lot of the necessary brand building happens. In our experience, however, companies invest far more money into the pre-purchase phase – a habit that should be reconsidered. The love of detail that can go into something basic like a product shipment is exemplified by the cosmetics shop Glossybox
  • It pays to be different: The fact that differentiation is a success factor in saturated markets is evidenced by the retail chains dm in Germany and Migros in Switzerland. They have the highest brand attractiveness because, survey respondents say, they are noticeably different from the others.
  • Top touchpoints in retail: The catalogue is underestimated, as nearly three quarters of survey respondents see it as an important touchpoint. And the humdrum sales slip is actually the most important touchpoint for customers. (more on this topic)
  • Top touchpoints for sporting goods retailers: Product tests are among the most decisive touchpoints for buying decisions – meaning touchpoints that generally are not part of the brand company.
  • Top touchpoints for financial services providers: For banks and insurers, customer contact is particularly important, the key touchpoints are the branch office, the consulting, and the employees. Advertising is seen as less important. "A sector that is as heavily dependent on customer trust as the banking business has to work with a consistent brand promise. That goes for all touchpoints, not just those that receive the largest budget because of the way power is distributed within the company," Hack points out.

 

Tips for building brand touchpoints

Of course, it depends on the task of each touchpoint how the brand should be expressed there – a chatbot is subject to different standards than a PoS activity. And a touchpoint that is supposed to spark curiosity has to offer different experiences than one that is intended to foster loyalty among regular customers.

Here are a few tips that touchpoint managers should always keep in mind:

1. See your employees as brand ambassadors

Well-trained employees are crucial for a smooth customer journey. Companies must see them as brand ambassadors and brief them accordingly. The communication of messages to all departments and touchpoints succeeds when internal brand ambassadors are appointed to spread the word. Such multipliers must be given opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences, for example in a joint brand portal. Teambank, for instance, has embedded brand management in its organization in the form of brand ambassadors. They are responsible for making sure that the brand easyCredit is lived at every single one of the roughly 230 touchpoints according to its positioning.

2. Research the customer experience (more on this topic)

a. Definition of phases and touchpoints: First, define the individual phases a potential customer goes through during his journey with the brand – such as the information phase, the buying phase, or the post-purchase phase. Then identify the key touchpoints for each phase.
b. Identification of moments of truth: Once you have defined five to ten touchpoints per phase, you have to determine at which brand touchpoints a "moment of truth" happens – a moment when the customer decides for or against the brand.
c. Discovery of the pain points: Even more important than those touchpoints where the potential customer has a positive experience ("gain points") and decides in favor of the brand are the pain points: If you know those weak touchpoints, you also know which touchpoints need to be addressed first. Pain points exist not only in direct customer contact, but also on the periphery: Often, purchasing decisions are heavily impacted when a customer reads a negative third-party review in a portal, or when a good friend does not recommend the brand. These touchpoints must be closely monitored at all times.

3. Develop brand rules that apply to everyone

To make the brand tangible at all touchpoints and ensure the necessary brand fit, you need brand rules. The easier they are to understand and the more controllable they are, the better. With five to seven of these rules, every employee can check quickly whether the brand touchpoint is in line with the brand. If several rules are not fulfilled, a negative brand experience is imminent and there is urgent need for action.

4. Make sure the brand is present everywhere – thanks to storyscaping

Customers don't just want to be sold on something – they want to experience something and talk about it. They love to be part of a story. They want to take part in the brand's storytelling. So-called storyscaping is a suitable tool to fulfill that need. "Whether in a TV commercial, a chat, or in the social media: Storyscaping ensures that, in the myriad possibilities of the "Always On" world, the brand is continuously present and the brand promise is kept at the touchpoints," says our Brand Consultant Stephanie Hofer.

5. Harness the power of multi-sensuality (more on this topic)

Most companies work with visual or acoustic stimuli. That's it. Why not activate the other senses? Singapore Airlines, for instance, are doing it. The flight attendants worldwide wear identical clothing, identical make-up, and use the crew perfume. Added to that are the fragrance of the hot towels and the scent of the air fresheners in the cabins. The brand's peak performances are experienced with all the senses and remain etched in the traveler's memory.

6. Don't forget the little things – they have a huge impact!

Touchpoint management is all about the details. For instance, what is wrong with a personal welcome note on the bedside table at a hotel, or a surprising service (like when the staff knows what you like to drink in the morning)? Sloppily managed details can weaken attractiveness.

7. Does successful touchpoint management need Big Data? Yes, but ...

Touchpoints are the perfect places to get to know consumers and customers better – like their preferences and motivations. Particularly at digital touchpoints, we can use data analysis to find out a lot: What offers, messages, methods, functions, or other triggers induce a customer to buy, buy again, or recommend? Such data corresponds to the new attitude that customer interests have to be the focus of business models.

But: Data, even when used with algorithms and artificial intelligence, are no replacement for empathy. They cannot replace it in the foreseeable future – but they can help us to empathize. Booking.com, for instance, will probably never understand and feel how I felt as a guest in a hotel. Only the employees at reception, the service staff, or the hotel owner can do that.

"A customer journey – no matter whether in the B2B, B2C, or B2B2C world – is full of scarcities, important ones and rather unimportant ones. Customers will always feel drawn to those brands who satisfy those scarcities better than others," our partner Jürgen Gietl emphasizes.

These scarcities must be found: through the employees' experience and through intelligent data analysis – all are indispensable sources for fulfilling the needs of consumers at all touchpoints. Or, ideally, to exceed them.

 

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