In a world where digital communication channels are vital to manage a two-way dialogue with customers, new research by Sitecore reveals the extent to which CEOs and leaders of FTSE 350 companies are embracing the channels, and the demonstrable commercial impacts of doing so.
Shawn Cabral, marketing director at Sitecore UK says that leaders who have a digitally connected approach to their online communication, through which they engage in a two-way dialogue with consumers, otherwise known as the Personal Touch, are enjoying a number of benefits in business performance. Furthermore, having an audience that is engaged in a strong two-way dialogue becomes increasingly valuable should the brand encounter any kind of crisis, and with it need to disseminate a rapid response message to inform stakeholders of the situation and proposed resolution.
How important is a ‘Personal Touch’ in business?
As well as a Personal Touch leadership approach becoming vital to all businesses in crisis management, the performance of Personal Touch firms since 2009/10 has exceeded all other firms in the FTSE 350. This is demonstrated by annual growth rates in turnover and compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in turnover and profit. Additionally, Personal Touch firms recorded a CAGR of 27% from 2009 to 2012 and a rate of 30% for 2010 to 2012. This compares to a rate of just 9% from 2009 to 2012, and 13% from 2010 to 2012 by the next best performing group; corporate two-way firms, compounding the commercial advantages of the Personal Touch leadership style.
Previously, customer interaction with a brand leader was based on traditional communication channels and a leader’s ‘persona’ was portrayed through radio and TV interviews, print media or, more recently, customer emails. Today, consumers typically turn to digital channels when interacting with companies, accessing information when they want to receive it, and on their chosen device – be it a laptop, mobile or a tablet.
Customers today expect to have direct access to brands, and their leaders, through these digital channels and there is a wide range of opportunities for companies and their leaders to interact with their audience through these means. It is surprising then, that the research reveals that just seven per cent of leaders are engaging with their stakeholders and consumers in a two-way dialogue via digital channels and the majority are missing out on an opportunity to interact effectively with consumers.
How can it help a company to react to a crisis?
In the wake of a high-profile crisis, such as the PPI scandal or outrage when horsemeat was discovered in beef products, consumer feedback and opinion spreads faster and further than ever via digital and social channels. Using customer experience management platforms, a company website can be built to adapt quickly into ‘crisis mode’, to provide customers with the latest information, such as how they should provide their purchase details in the event of a product recall.
If a business leader is already digitally connected and has an online presence then, should a crisis occur, that person has access to a potential direct ‘hot line’ to their consumers and the wider public. It enables the leader to monitor the ‘noise’ around the crisis, keep consumers fully up to date on how he/she is dealing with the crisis, manage the reputation and image of the brand, and moderate or change peoples’ perceptions of the crisis. It is also more likely that the consumer will already ‘buy into’ the leader and their values.
The importance of a Personal Touch approach to communication cannot be under-estimated. If a CEO or business leader does not operate on digital channels or engage in a two-way communication with stakeholders, then they can become out of touch with their business’s digital strategy and conversation around the brand. If a crisis does arise, those not employing a Personal Touch leadership approach will not be in a position to properly listen to the voices of stakeholders, and will simply be fed information from their marketing teams on what to say and do. It is vital that digital channels are no longer just the tool of the marketing or ‘digital’ department, and that business leaders understand how digital channels can be used not only for crisis management but across a range of areas to benefit the business.
Can it improve brand integrity and perception?
Clearly, it is impossible to always know when a crisis might arise or what form it may take, so leaders must have an effective digital strategy in place and continue to execute this consistently throughout a crisis. By no means will a digitally connected leadership approach fix an issue entirely, but it will undoubtedly help when a business comes under scrutiny and the CEO is required, more than ever, to manage perceptions of the business and re-gain trust; it is the perception of the business leader’s involvement which creates real impact on those external to the business.
Company leaders must develop their approach to digital communication channels and access the benefits that the Personal Touch offers if they are to be considered one of the digitally connected, responsible and reactive businesses which are more likely to succeed moving forwards.
The top eight performing firms in terms of their two-way engagement with consumers are:
Tesco Burberry Group Carnival Plc Barclays BP JD Wetherspoon Dixons Retail easyJet Airline Company
The CEOs of Tesco, Burberry Group and Carnival Plc are also highlighted as ‘Super Personal Touch’ leaders who are personally active on more than one digital communication channel.