There has been a tremendous amount written in recent years on the “Age of the Consumer,” the period where retail trends have been largely focused on technology advancements that have empowered shoppers with increased savvy, placing them in unprecedented control of their retail experience. This has widely been a period where brands have had to become more sophisticated through advanced data-driven means to identify and understand consumers in order to effectively influence and motivate their actions.

Forrester Research says the balance of retail influence has seen a dramatic shift from brands to consumers over the past century. First, there was the ‘Age of Manufacturing’ from 1900 to 1960, which saw the balance of economic power sit largely with the manufacturing brands. This power then shifted to the ‘Age of Distribution’ from 1960 to 1990, which saw much of the control move from manufacturing to retailers and distributors. From there the ‘Age of Information’ emerged from 1990 to 2010 where the balance of information and product accessibility started to shift as an initial advantage to consumers in terms of increasing competition and convenience with the onset of the Internet. From there the ‘Age of the Consumer’ was elevated from 2010 to present where the balance of power has further shifted to consumers, allowing them to quickly compare and contrast products and prices instantly. This has further contracted the sales cycle for most products and made identifying, understanding and engaging consumers significantly more challenging for brands.

Many retail experts point to technology conveniences serving as the catalyst of this shift, allowing for extensive product information and rapid price comparisons to be instantly accessible at a shopper’s fingertips. Many industry analysts also point to this as an incredibly challenging time for brands having to cope with and compete for the attention, engagement and loyalty of consumers.

However, the ‘Age of the Consumer’ has been further evolving due to the ‘Era of COVID’ which has introduced a series of limitations on consumers which impact their buying behaviors and shopping preferences, including isolation, forcing changes in how they both are able and choose to engage brands.

Performing in the ‘Age’

The current state of the market has resulted in advancing the complexity of how consumers engage with brands. This has also served as a major force in shaping the behaviors, decisions and trends of consumers, often beyond their own preferences. This evolving complexity is making it progressively more difficult for brands to align their experiences with consumers due to the limitations they are facing and how these limitations change over time and often without notice.

Given this, it is becoming increasingly critical for brands to understand the evolving shopping behaviors and purchase decisions of consumers. The only way to accomplish this in order to make decisions, set strategy and drive innovation that influences, motivates and impresses consumers is to adopt data-driven intelligence as the foundation for the business.

Getting Personal

Given that consumers regularly leave digital evidence behind with every engagement they have, brands have a wealth of insight available to advise their actions. According to Gladly’s 2020 Customer Expectations Report, 84% of consumers say they tend to spend more with those brands that deliver personalized engagements, while 77% say they’re more likely to recommend a brand to friends and family if personalized experiences are provided.

Consumers today understand that they leave this array of digital footprints behind with their brand engagements and interactions. From searches and downloads, to rankings and surveys, to purchases and clicks, individuals know they’re providing the average brand a wealth of personalized information…and most expect the brand to use it to in turn deliver personalized experiences.

Getting Data Driven

There are key steps smart brands are taking to achieve data-driven customer centricity:

Taking Inventory: According to a Market Pulse survey, the average business draws data from over 400 internal and external sources. These range from online platforms, consumer apps, CRM solutions, social media channels, POS systems, customer surveys, industry reports, product reviews, loyalty programs and more. The key is to take inventory of these across the organization to understand the various perspectives they provide and which team oversees them. That’s to say you have to use all of them, but having an understanding of what is available is an essential first step.

Data Synthesis: The complexity of data across the business sits across a multitude of dimensions, including volume, variety, velocity and veracity. Once the key datasets are identified, integrating them in order to align the intelligence into a single-source view is critical. This takes an advanced customer experience insights technology which allows for the data to be overlaid to provide a more comprehensive view of the customer in terms of their decisions. Behaviors, preferences and tendencies. Engagements can then be aligned in terms of how, when and where they are provided.

Visualizing Insight: Transforming the data into an understandable format not only enhances the utility of the information, but also the actionability of it. This allows for it to be effectively used to make tactical decisions, set strategies, design engagements and drive innovation so that all of these are aligned with the customer. This is a major step towards becoming genuinely customer centric as an organization.

Democratizing Insight: This insight is only as good as its accessibility. Keeping intelligences boxed up in corners of the operation diminishes its efficacy in elevating the business. This is why centralizing it and making it available to teams across the organization is so critical. This is often easily achieved with the same technology platform that integrated and synthesized the disparate datasets.

Shared Empowerment

To take advantage of the wealth of customer intelligence that lies across a brand’s fragmented, cross-channel data sources, businesses are relying on advanced customer experience insights technology. This not only delivers a 360-degree view of the customer, but more importantly helps the company to identify, understand and influence their decisions and behaviors.

Beyond this, it helps the organization achieve a customer centric approach to decisions, tactics, strategies, engagements and innovations. This focus allows for personalized experiences to generate affinity and cultivate loyalty with an eye towards getting customers to become evangelists for the brand.

The companies that invest in advanced social data-driven customer centricity and use it to guide their product development, solution innovation and marketing strategies are finding sustainable competitive advantages. Despite the complexity of the ‘Era of COVID,’ smart brands are embracing next generation customer intelligence to align their products and services with the needs and preferences of the customer in order to meet their expectation. This is empowering these brands to succeed in today’s ‘Age of the Consumer.’