Standing in an aisle of a big box retailer, I bought a new electric shaver from a competing retailer’s online store. The store’s shaving display reminded me that my razor was dying. Not knowing which to choose, I twitched for my iPhone, scanned a barcode, read several reviews, explored competing products, found the best price, and ordered it with free shipping. I saved $75 over the same model I could have purchased then and there.
My example is commonplace today. Perpetually connected customers – 42% of US online adults and 37% in Europe – can engage brands at any place, any time, and at any velocity. The technology trends that lead retailers to worry about showrooming touch every industry. Each brand must anticipate connected customers’ demand for information, reviews, and engagement. They must realign technology, processes, and talent to recognize customers in microseconds, using real-time signals to predict their needs and paths to purchase. And they must see that this problem can’t be solved with faster technology alone.
Perpetual connectivity is new – my colleague Melissa Parrish’s research on the always addressable customer published last year – and the concept represents an inflection point. Connected customers don’t simply represent a shift towards digital channels, they demand a new strategy. Brands that only see the need to swap email for direct mail without rethinking the relationship with customers will fail to keep pace with their (soon to be former) customers. And as real-time channels themselves transform from desktop to tablets, smartphones, and even wearables, marketers must begin to speak the language of technology strategists and futurists.
In short, firms must look to technology as a method of building brand advantage with perpetually connected customers.
Nassim Taleb recently wrote that technology ages in reverse, that unlike living beings, the longer a technology or idea has existed, the longer it will exist. “If a book has been in print for 40 years, I can expect it to be in print for at least another 40 years.”
No. Books are a highly refined technology that evolved to recognizable form over the course of a century. As publishers interacted with and learned from authors and readers, they introduced innovations like tables of content, indices, footnotes, and even page numbers. And the implications were profound: this technology-led change helped birth or accelerate new industries (news and entertainment media), new ways of understanding the world (the scientific method and the Renaissance), and new power structures (the Protestant Reformation).
Today’s innovations in connected technologies will follow a similar path. That’s why I’m excited at the opportunity to speak to you about this topic at Forrester’s Marketing Leadership Forum, April 18–19 in Los Angeles. To build this brand advantage, we must use technology to:
- Move beyond the campaign. Does a military-inspired concept still apply in the era of customer empowerment and digital disruption? If no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, then it’s time to transform marketing strategy from the list and audience to the individual and interaction. I’ll explore new technologies that allow brands, in real-time, to guide customers through touchpoints towards mutually beneficial goals.
- Build strategies that embed continuous exploration. Too often technology is seen as a method of improving spend efficiency or productivity. But if consumers use connected technologies to engage with brands well before and well beyond the point of purchase, then brands can do the same. I’ll explore how machine learning and decision management tools can be used to build adaptive relationships with customers.
- Realign the marketing ecosystem. As the job to be done by marketing technology evolves to guide customers through their journeys, then we must ask what else must be integrated to get that job done? Marketers must plan for profound changes in the way they strategize product experiences, produce content, use customer intelligence, and collaborate with agencies and service providers. This value chain – created in the era of limited, batched engagement – must rebuild on a basis of continuous interactions or face disruption. Simply adding more product photos aren’t enough.
These changes are only the beginning. I look forward to discussing the topic with you here and soon in Los Angeles. Or join my colleagues in London at the Marketing Leadership Forum EMEA on May 21 & 22 to learn more about creating brand advantage with perpetually connected customers.