Discover Digital Marketing Interview Series Featuring Caron Whitener

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Do you remember your first “real” job? I do – so clearly that often times I find myself grinning from ear-to-ear while reminiscing to college interns who ask me how I got my start in my digital marketing career. There’s something to be said about the first real-world experience after college and working at BBDO Detroit, a worldwide advertising agency for Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands, was the place to get initiated. With a department overflowing with 22-year-olds who were new to the professional workforce, it’s easy to imagine the energy that filled the hallways. It was a time when Facebook was just coming online and brands were looking to move away from the idea of only having eyeballs on their advertisements to a place where people were actually interactive and engaging with them. And thinking back to over a decade ago, that’s when I met Caron Whitener in her clearly identifiable Michigan State fan gear smiling so friendly in a cubicle just a few rows over.

Meet Caron (@caronmsu)

Caron is best described as “someone who has an inner circle you’d like to break into. She treats her colleagues like friends, and her friends like family.” Take it from her best friend, because she really said this about her! And it’s spot on. She’s a relationship builder, keeper, and treasurer.

Caron’s day-to-day work is all about fostering relationships between brands and their consumers by creating unique and memorable experiences across a variety of digital platforms as a Senior Account Director at HelloWorld (@HW_inc), an international digital marketing agency in Detroit, Michigan.

My interview with Caron focuses on why relationships matter between brands and consumers, conveying personalized brand experiences on digital platforms, how to know if your brand campaign is making an impact, and Caron shares her list of five ways to discover your business’ x-factor to build relationships with consumers.

Note: In this article, all of the words below in italics are attributed to Caron Whitener.

Relationships Matter

When it comes to knowing your own strengths, I’d say Caron is pretty in tune with herself. Why you ask? Because she extended her natural strength of forming relationships in her personal life to building relationships between brands and consumers in her career. And it’s paying off.

“The personal relationships I’ve created during my career have played a pivotal role in my advancement in the industry. Relationships with colleagues have led to personal promotions, the relationships I have with my team have led to my growth as a leader, and my focus on creating long-lasting relationships with my clients has been one of my primary keys to success.”

Relationships are about connecting with one another in ways that are memorable and meaningful. And it applies to the way a business connects with consumers to create sales and profits too. In the world of marketing it’s called business-to-consumer marketing or B2C.

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Relationship Building Between Brands and Consumers

It’s more than a brand’s advertising campaign created to sell the latest sneakers when back-to-school promotions roll around. It’s about being “the” latest sneaker brand that comes to mind every time a consumer thinks they need a new pair of shoes. Believe it or not, “on average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase” according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.

Caron points out that “we all make thousands of choices each and every day (whether we realize it or not), and my goal is to ensure the brands I work with are always top of mind for consumers. The personal relationship you have with a brand influences the coffee you drink, the soap you use, the car you rent while traveling, and so on.”

The simplest example that comes to mind is the overpriced cup of coffee. How did coffee end up being sold for $3.00 – $5.00 a cup anyway? After having read the book “The Starbucks Experience” a few years ago, I can tell you the main driver was creating a positive experience – for both consumers and employees. The overpriced coffee no longer feels overpriced because when you’re buying a personal, customizable coffee, like an extra hot raspberry white mocha, and you have a positive experience, it’s worth the padded cost for a cup of coffee. Even local coffee shops have adopted this idea and even more, they know you by name and your “usual” coffee right when you walk in the door.

The key factor in engagement marketing is “the way you make consumers feel and the relationships you create” as Caron puts it.

In thinking about that same example above, if you had a few extra minutes when grabbing your usual coffee, would you choose a new coffee shop on the corner that you haven’t been to yet, or would you choose the coffee shop that’s always been there to crush your caffeine cravings? I bet you go with your gut feeling and not your wallet. This confidence you’re feeling for your local coffee shop is the difference between them making a sale or the coffee shop that’s in competition with them on the corner making the sale.

That’s what it’s all about – building a win-win relationship between a brand and consumer.

And here’s one quote to remember – “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

Conveying Personal Brand Experiences on Digital Platforms

Combining branding with digital experiences is a “great way to spark initial interest with consumers, and digital experiences help take it to the next level by creating that hook or connection. Digital engagements allow you to learn more about the consumer, while offering beneficial branded content that can further educate consumers on your product.”

And in some ways, it’s what’s consumers are now expecting, especially in ways of personalized communications. Caron says it “used to be a nice to have, they’re now the expectation.  We’re constantly asked to share personal data with brands, and there is nothing worse than a brand who doesn’t use the data to create a personalized connection, or draw the parallel between my needs and their product/brand.”

Here’s a great example of a brand that’s doing this right.

“I absolutely love the Amazon Prime Loyalty program because everything about the in-app experience is catered to me. Amazon makes my life easier by recommending products based on past search and purchase history, offering easy access to registries, innovating products that make life even easier, such as the Dash Button, etc. Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I love the Prime program (and no, they’re not my client!).”

5 Ways to Discover Your Business’ X-Factor to Build Relationships with Consumers

You now know that building a relationship with consumers is important, but getting started is always the most difficult part. Mainly because it’s not about pushing your products at consumers, it’s about creating a win-win scenario between products and consumers, and meeting a need with a solution.<

“The way you make a consumer feel by creating that personal connection is so important. You have to be able to relate to your audience by picturing yourself in their shoes, and focusing on fulfilling a need or a desire. It is this type of relationship marketing that keeps brands top of mind, and ultimately leads to growth.”

Caron, the B2C relationship builder, shares her list of five ways to discover your business’ x-factor to build relationships with consumers:

1. Identify the problem consumers are having that you’re looking to solve
2. Know who you’re targeting with your brand experience
3. Create an overarching brand message that you want to convey
4. Get clear on the consumer benefit by answering “how will your product/brand help them?”
5. Take time to figure out how you can make your brand experience unique in the marketplace

Understand and Highlight the Impact of Your Brand Campaign

Caron has learned that it really comes down to “strategically looking at the analytics associated with each and every program, and comparing across industries, seasons, product type, etc. Without strategic analysis, you’re not able to create the benchmarks needed to measure success.”

Caron uses analytics for every campaign to guide the recommendations she provides her clients. And you should use analytics to understand the impact your brand campaign is having within your market too.

“I’m constantly reviewing industry benchmarks across promotion types to ensure I’m providing the best possible guidance to my clients. I focus on asking a lot of questions before developing any sort of solution. At times, this means telling a client their idea of a certain type of promotion will not influence their key performance indicators (KPI), but that’s one of the ways I gain trust amongst my clients. Post program, I also present results and identify key areas of opportunity based on the program’s performance, customer service inquiries and social chatter.”

“I make it a point to share top line analytics with my clients every week to identify areas of optimization. For example, if a program doesn’t have many eyes on it, we need to discuss a media plan. If a program has a ton of visitors, but has more drop-off than we would like for registrations, we need to make quick decisions on ways to create a more seamless user experience. If consumers are excited, but forgetting to re-visit, we need to develop a retargeting plan, and so on.”

When it comes to measuring your personal brand on social media, Hollie has a great analogy that gives an overview of what it takes to get the content just right – “It’s interesting to see what social links get clicks and what don’t. There’s so many factors involved, such as the length of the post, the image that goes with it, the time of day, the hashtags, the content, etc. I love analyzing those small pieces and trying to tailor it. It’s a lot like baking! You have to get all the ingredients just right to see the cake rise, and social is sort of like that.”

Remember relationships are about connecting with one another in a way that gives a win-win for everyone. Achieve this by creating brand experiences that are memorable and meaningful. We can learn a lot from Caron’s approach to building relationships – she’s a proof to how positive experiences can impact our personal and professional lives.

Did you enjoy this article?

Be sure to leave a comment to let Caron and I know what actions you’re going to take this week and check back next week for interview #5.

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