IBM’s Cross-Channel Approach Revs Up Retention—And Revenue

Customer onboarding is an important part of the marketing cycle, but it’s only the first step in a longer journey. When IBM needed to encourage customer retention and progression for its cloud platform services, it turned to Braze Alloys solution partner WillowTree and a cross-channel messaging approach, with impressive results.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of treating the customer-brand journey as though it’s all about acquisition and onboarding. After all, once you’ve grabbed a previously-not-engaged audience member’s attention, the hard part is over, right? Not so fast. The first step is a doozy, no doubt, but it’s only the beginning of developing a productive and deepening relationship, especially when there are further milestones for your customers to achieve.

Ensuring a rewarding customer journey is a key priority for technology giant IBM. While the company has had no shortage of success over the years, its marketing teams knew that resting on their laurels in terms of customer retention was not an option. For IBM, nurturing new customers into loyal subscribers was the name of the game, and a cross-channel campaign featuring real-time personalized messaging was the way to get it done.

What Cross-Channel Messaging Makes Possible

With the vast majority of us operating on multiple platforms and connecting to brands in multiple ways in our day-to-day lives, it almost goes without saying that reliance on a single communication channel to reach customers is a problematic approach. After all, effective marketing today is all about reaching customers where they are in any given moment, when and where they’ll be most receptive to communication. A single-channel approach risks alienating those who aren’t active in a particular channel by leading them to miss out on important updates or opportunities at key moments. A cross-channel effort, driven by data, is far more likely to be successful in ensuring messaging lands where and when it can have the greatest impact.

What’s more, each messaging channel has its strengths and weaknesses. Web push notifications, for example, are great for delivering just-in-time updates to web users who aren’t currently on your website, but they also require recipients to opt-in to receive them...and can trigger uninstalls or opt-outs if overused. On the other hand, in-app messages provide a versatile means of putting messages front and center for users who are already engaged with your online presence and thus primed for communication, but won’t be seen by audience members who aren’t currently active on your app or website.

The good news is that these pros and cons are very complimentary. Coupled with the use of tools like personalization, a strategy that employs multiple channels can create a robust, thoughtful conversation between brand and customer that Braze research indicates has the potential to increase engagement by over 800%.

IBM’s Personalized Email and In-App Messaging Combo Encourages Customer Progress

IBM knew that its effort to influence IBM Cloud Object Storage users to take their next step in their user journey needed to be multi-pronged, and that it would be most effective if tailored to each customer’s individual situation. With the help of Braze Alloys solutions partner and digital product agency WillowTree, the company set about crafting a strategy that incorporated email and in-app messaging to deliver personalized messaging that changed based on customer behavior.

“As users deepen their engagement [with IBM], they qualify for more specific and personalized messaging,” explains Kristen Murphy, Growth Manager at WillowTree. “The most generic ‘platform’ messaging speaks to a wide base of users whom we know less about. IBM Cloud has over 150 products, so the next level up is ‘product level’ [messaging], where we can speak to users knowing what product or products they have engaged with. More behavioral data means more insights about customers’ needs, and this drives improved engagement and business impact—just like it did when we executed on this strategy with our Cloud Object Storage customers.”

By utilizing Braze Alloys technology partner and customer data platform (CDP) Segment, IBM was able to more easily track and coordinate user data across their marketing technology stack to ensure users received only the most relevant messaging and documentation. Meanwhile, IBM took advantage of visualization and experience evaluation capabilities offered by Braze Alloys technology partner and analytics platform Amplitude to enable optimization of message copy and content, supporting better, more relevant experiences for individuals receiving their campaigns.

Amplitude also showed IBM how a cross-channel approach can drive impact for certain messages. When they tested including an in-app message at certain phases in the message flow, IBM saw conversion of key milestone events jump from 1-2% to 25-35%. Email is great to get a user back into a product, but for users working in the products, in-app messages allowed them to deliver the right message at the exact time a user was making a decision about how to use Cloud Object Storage.

IBM’s Retention Effort Yields Results

By personalizing their approach to retention and customer lifecycle messaging across multiple channels, IBM was able to generate enviable results. These campaigns provided customers with relevant, value-add experiences, resulting in open rates and click-through rates that were 75% and 140% higher, respectively, than industry averages. At the same time, users who were nudged about abandoned carts as part of the campaign were 91% more likely to make purchases than those who weren’t.

The needle was also moved on the type of stats that make a difference in a company’s bottom line. The company saw the average time it took for customers to take an action that resulted in billable usage of IBM Cloud Object Storage drop by one-third, from 30 days to 20, showcasing the impact the campaigns were having and driving quicker time-to-value. By getting recipients to more quickly begin making purchases, IBM was able to drive significant downstream impact with their messages and build the foundation for stronger relationships and future revenue.

The impact of the campaign didn’t stop with consumers—it also made waves within IBM as a whole. The IBM team responsible for it was awarded one of IBM’s most coveted internal awards, the 2020 IBM CMO Award, by IBM Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso.

“Braze enables us to truly be surgical about the moments we show up in—and for—the consumer, and empowers a mindset based on A/B testing to the max,” said Neetika Bhargava, Consumer Marketing Manager, IBM Watson & Cloud, at IBM. “Having the ability to diversify our nurture across email, in-app [messages], and SMS is a game changer as we look to prevent overreliance on email. And with such an extensive ability to A/B test against any hunch in the book, we’ve really been able to demonstrate the power that informal, colloquial language has over traditional IBM-speak and ‘Dear Valued Customer”-style verbiage in driving true long-term relationships with consumers.”

Final Thoughts

Navigating the customer journey can be a complex process for marketers—but the right messaging strategy can go a long way toward helping brands meet their business goals and establish strong customer relationships. IBM’s implementation of a cross-channel approach that personalized its messaging based on individual users’ progression through the customer journey—and the impressive results it yielded—demonstrates just how beneficial intelligent, comprehensive management of this process can be.

For more on cross-channel messaging and how it can be utilized effectively, check out the Braze guide to The Cross-Channel Difference.