Imagine this – operating systems are able to read our emotions and interact with us like a flesh-and-bone human. The possibilities of technological innovations explored in the movie Her may not be sociologically or psychologically realistic, but they do offer a dizzying picture of today’s marketers’ dilemma. As a modern-day marketer, what should I focus on? What is digital anyway?
The questions surrounding how we should be marketing and interacting with our audience in this digital era have become endless and overwhelming.
Freshly returned from SXSW, I find myself in an equally dizzying whirlwind of excitement, confusion and hope. Below are a few of my observations and my state of the union on our current ecosystem of marketing and digital:
Good News: Welcome to the Age of the Customer.
It’s an understatement to acknowledge that the so-called “Digital Era” has shifted the landscape away from mass communication and more toward customer-centered programs that are designed to serve the needs of the customers in a real way. What marketers continue to struggle with is the true ROI of these initiatives and the baffling ever-changing technologies that they require. If you need more confirmation that you are on the right path with your focus on your customers’ experience, I highly recommend that you read Forrester’s anthem about entering a 20-year cycle dubbed “the Age of The Customer.”
Bad News: Brands Need to Work Harder.
So, how is one to create meaningful, useful, engaging and emotional customer- centric programs? Customers demand more from their brands: more quality, more convenience, more truthfulness, and more emotional connection with the brand. Another respected Forrester analyst worth following on this topic is Tracy Stokes, who discusses “The Brand Building Experience”. And according to the latest Pew Social Trends research report, millennials are not particularly loyal to brands, religion or political parties. Which goes to say that the only chance of survival for brands is to have a strong connection between their brand and their product.
This sends a clear message that brands should no longer forego research and brand strategies, and rather invest in strong internal and external branding efforts and communications programs.
More Bad News: You Need to Break Through the Noise More Than Ever
Meanwhile, all the flurry of innovation and channel multiplication has increased the noise so rapidly, that customers are left craving aggregators, simplifications and mastery of their own lives including the geniuses who are developing these new platforms. I find the rise of meditation in Silicon Valley absolutely fascinating in that regard.
In short, the empowered customer will tune you out if you are not relevant to them.
The solutions often provoke more questions than answers.
Should there be a tidal wave of content marketing? Brands got the news that they now must provide useful and entertaining content to their customers. Videos will continue to be a cornerstone of content strategies, as they seem like a powerful way for customers to experience the product in a really emotional and easy way. I’m particularly proud of the videos we developed for CMH and Lennar. It is also worth watching this excellent presentation on content development from Kristina Halvorson, who makes some very fair points on this subject.
Social-media selfies? We should honestly ask ourselves: Are marketers marketing to themselves? Without comprehensive brand and digital strategies to drive interaction, social media can easily end up as an exercise in navel-gazing.
Mobile-first is standard – what’s next? Mobile devices have become the primary focus for marketers. Nothing fits the Age of the Customer better than the convenience and timeliness brought on by our mobile phones. Responsive sites should be standard at this point.
Perhaps the most relevant of these trends to consider for an effective customer experience is the strong focus on the user experience. Marketers must shift from asking customers what they want to observe and focus on designing programs that will smoothly enhance their interaction. I will admit, this might be the biggest shift our industry will experience in this decade. To wit, IBM’s announcement that they are investing 100 million dollars to expand their user experience and design business.
In the end, there is no definitive word on what “digital” truly means anymore. But we do know that it has shifted and will continue to shift with the cycles of innovation. Our best bet for now is to focus on the customer’s experience and ensure that it is meaningful and deeply emotional. Constant innovation is in some way the hallmark of a digital-forward business, even if that means these businesses will no longer call themselves digital. It appears that for the next few years they might just call themselves “Customer Experience” businesses, and they will find themselves playing way, way, outside of the traditional silos.