Marketing modernization is allowing brands to connect with customers with more agility and scale than ever before. But to what end?

With all this power and capability – from machine learning and data-driven decision-making, to personalized content experiences – marketers have had to rethink their engagement approach. They can no longer blast message after message into the void and expect success. They need to find a new way to break through, a new paradigm of engagement, and a new way to matter.

Customers want real-world help from a trusted source. Enter the consultative brand, which helps people think through a particular problem they face instead of forcing a sale. They then guide the customer toward a customized solution or nurture them to achieve a particular goal. These companies connect with customers by being helpful, which leads to loyalty and advocacy for that brand – something far more valuable than a one-time sale.

Consultative Role-Playing

Of course, there’s more than one way to be a helpful resource to an audience. While consultative brands can behave in a variety of ways, three approaches have found success in this dynamic world.

The first is an advisor role, which educates and guides a consumer to shape a particular solution but ultimately allows the customer to decide the best option. For example, an insurance agent can walk consumers through the all the complicated decisions needed to mold the right coverage package that fits their needs as opposed to leaving them to read the fine print for themselves. The customers feel confident in their purchase decision because an advisor has given them the knowledge necessary to make an informed choice.

A concierge, meanwhile, does most of the decision-making, allowing the customer to choose from a few specific options. Hotel concierges are the prime example of this approach, recommending nearby restaurants for guests based on a specific palate and price range, then making all reservation and travel arrangements on their behalf.

Finally, there’s the coach, who encourages customers to achieve their goals by creating a plan to address a specific problem, nurturing and encouraging them to achieve a desired end state. Nike is a classic example with its “Just Do It” coaching attitude, which expanded into services. One such service, Nike+, turned running from an individual sport into a social experience, empowering athletes to track runs, set goals, and compete with other runners online. The app also connected customers to coaching tips and training programs.

While all three roles have their place, they have one key trait in common: They place the customer’s happiness above monetary gain. And that authenticity makes a difference. Research shows that 91 percent of consumers care about authenticity in what they see from a brand.

Digital Dialog

One way consultative brands are able to interact with customers is through a personalized digital conversation via chatbots and apps like the Nike+ example above.

Newer apps are presenting conversational experiences to connect in a more human way. Another fitness app, Lark, assesses existing Apple HealthKit data to provide personal insights and offer encouragement to users, keeping them moving forward on a healthy path. Likewise, Penny, the banking app, analyzes transaction data to offer insight into spending patterns and offers encouragement around opportunities to save money.

TurboTax is a fully digital example that offers both concierge and advisor roles to customers. The step-by-step wizard walks a user through decisions and offers articles and videos to help him gain understanding about specific points.

These digital components and applications are very conversational in nature. Customers feel like they are engaging with a human, even when they’re not. The insight, education, and advice keep customers coming back to these experiences.

Engaging In Micro-Moments

In every customer’s purchasing journey, there are micro-moments in which a consultative brand can engage the user in an unexpected way to build a strong connection. These moments differ based on the engagement mode of the company and customer.

Discovery/Browse/Consideration Mode:

At this stage, customers have identified a desired result or product, but they aren’t sure how to get there. A consultative brand can offer education, curate options, and provide direction to help the customer feel empowered in the decision-making process.

Decide/Buy Mode:

Customers in this mode know what they want. They are now at a step of trying to provision a product, finalize a contract, or explore a service experience. Here, the consultative brand can offer a micro-moment that identifies the best offers, accessible locations, or perhaps the highest-rated community to partner with.

Loyalty Mode:

Once they reach loyalty mode, customers have already bought into the brand. Here, a company can offer encouragement to ensure they continue using a product or service, even suggesting new options or proactively solving an unmet need. Another option is to provide a rewarding experience or social proof that further deepens loyalty.

Advocacy Mode:

This is the point where brands turn loyal customers into enthusiastic spokespeople. A consultative brand can offer platforms, content, and communities that simplify the ability for these invested people to advocate for the brand.

Brands seeking to become consultative should first work to understand and define their behavioral approach – one that represents their brand values.

Becoming the Consultative Brand

Brands should determine the role they can play for their audience – and the ideal engagement mode for interaction. The role should align to the expectations of the brand and the category while staying within the boundaries of brand believability. For example, banks are still seeking to build back consumer trust that was lost during the 2008 financial crisis. Many have shifted to an advisory role, nurturing customers and helping them set life goals and subsequent financial goals while engaging them through accessible brand personalities.

Brands should then work to implement consultative selling behavior, whether through a sales department or digital strategy. This approach will emphasize the values and benefits of the product or service instead of the features and price point. The result is one of loyalty and customer retention.

Once established, the consultative brand supports the entire customer journey and experience at every point in time. By providing incremental value in a trusted way, the successful consultative brand breaks through the noise to develop a deeper connection with customers than ever before.