Focus Your Strategy to Unify the Brand Experience
The customer experience and the way brands interact with customers forever changed in 1994. AT&T purchased a small rectangle on HotWired.com, and the digital marketing era was officially off and running. Fast-forward past the introduction of search engines, the rise of social media and the iPhone, and we find ourselves in an era where digital is ubiquitous.
Market leaders understand that canned marketing techniques and generic messaging quickly bore an increasingly savvy consumer. Creating a consistent customer journey is a critical component of brand strategy. It provides a clear roadmap for brands to build engaging customer experiences for their target audience. They know that a cohesive customer journey, focused on specific buyer personas, elevates the entire brand experience. They realise that simply being digital no longer qualifies as a differentiator. Future-focused brands are activating a holistic strategy, building end-to-end, frictionless experiences for their customers.
Companies have been evolving how they connect customers digitally to their brands for years. Whether through email, web, social, mobile and everything in between, brands have been building new experiences for their customers at an ever-increasing pace and scale. They aspire to blur the boundaries between the digital world and physical environments and deliver seamless experiences across multiple touchpoints. Then, a global pandemic forced lockdowns and restricted in-person contact. The digital experience was suddenly the only means of reaching their customer—and it happened, quite literally, overnight.
The global pandemic has clearly changed customer behaviours—perhaps permanently. Brands must quickly evolve their approach to address those changes if they haven’t already. Organisations can drive growth as they bridge their digital and customer experience (CX) strategy, but only if they understand and execute on the following:
- Agility is the key to success: Reaching customers with personalised content at the right time, and in the right context, is critical for survival.
- Connecting digital and physical experiences: Orchestrating brand experiences across digital and physical experiences fuels customer delight.
- Use data to drive decisions: The pandemic highlighted how quickly customer behaviours can change and made clear that brands must use data-driven insights to inform strategic decision-making.
Achieving Agility in CX
It’s well-documented that the events of the 2020 global pandemic accelerated digital transformation—from facilitating remote work, to delivering products and services via contactless experiences, organisations across every industry have been challenged in new ways. Despite unprecedented disruption, the No. 1 digital transformation goal remains the same in 2021—improving the customer experience. Where brands may struggle is in adapting their strategy in a paradigm where customers are demonstrating unusual buying behaviour. The 2021 Digital Trends Experience Index, from Adobe, indicates customers across all sectors are behaving in ways that are completely unpredictable. Fortunately, there is a roadmap for organisations to better understand the new buyer journey and improve the overall customer experience.
Organisations are consumed with improving agility and increasing speed to market of products and services. Typically, agile transformation is directed toward development. To achieve true agility, you must consider it holistically. This approach helps brands overcome one of the biggest obstacles to improving their agility—an aversion to a true minimum viable product (MVP).
Organisations may embrace the concept of an MVP but often fall victim to the short-sighted view that the MVP is “not enough.” Organisational blockades frequently slow or stop an MVP from going to market. Organisations invest a lot of money and resources into agile transformation efforts, and an MVP may not look sufficient in the short term. Pressure may come from the C-suite, which needs to justify those investments to make an impact, so they try and stretch the MVP and bloat it with features to make a big splash. This approach inevitably fails because the organisation hasn’t prioritised what’s most important. The MVP should be laser-focused on specific functions or users. Then, once feedback and data on what works and what doesn’t is gathered, the product can be recalibrated.
Too often, there are silos or a perception that the product is owned by a single function. The product owner then pursues a consultation-type model with other groups as they work to get the product to market. It’s essential to have the right stakeholders seated at the table from the beginning. Your team must include expertise from functions such as marketing, product, IT, design and line-of-business from day one. Then, you can create a relatively level playing field where each member contributes to the definition, design and delivery of the product based on their area of expertise.
Sometimes, you have to slow down to be better and faster. In many cases, speed to market is paramount and being first is an imperative. But not always. Organisations should always question whether being first is really the best strategy and examine the motives for pursuing that strategy. It can be a question of relative scale. If a competitor goes to market with a new product in April, but you deliver your product in June, has that put you at a significant competitive disadvantage? Apple wasn’t first to market with a smartphone. They did, however, learn from what competitor BlackBerry delivered, and then improved upon that with a better customer experience. Sometimes, the key is to be better—not faster.
Digital vs. Analog
Today’s savvy consumer expects a frictionless brand experience, regardless of how or where that interaction takes place. Delivering a personalised experience, orchestrated across digital and physical domains, is quickly becoming table stakes. Consider this example: Your customer receives a relevant email promotion based on a previous purchase. They make the decision to purchase. Your mobile app, fueled by data-driven personalisation, guides them through the order process, making recommendations and identifying the closest location to fulfill the order via curbside pickup. The experience thus far is seamless. But when they arrive, their positive feelings about a great brand experience evaporate. Poor or confusing signage outside the store leaves them confused. The customer doesn’t know how to alert the store they’ve arrived. Almost instantly, what had been a great customer experience has turned into a frustrating one. And the brand might not get a second chance.
For all the herculean efforts organisations put forth during the pandemic, examples like this prove there’s more to accomplish. Companies quickly stood up new services and delivery models to maintain business continuity and reach customers in new ways, and consumers were willing to allow for growing pains as everyone adjusted to the unprecedented circumstances. Now, however, brands must go back to the drawing board. They must evaluate the products and services created during the pandemic and decide what should be maintained, fine-tuned or retired. Then, armed with experience and data, they can thoughtfully and deliberately construct an end-to-end digital customer experience journey. Most organisations start with the better-understood elements of personalisation, such as demographics, interests or order history. The next evolution of customer experience includes the notion of personalisation according to context sensitivity.
Organisations are recognising that they cannot make assumptions the way they may have in the past, in part due to shifting buyer behaviours during the pandemic. Leading organisations are asking deeper questions about the context of customer behaviors, taking into consideration how and where the customer is interacting with the brand. Are they on a mobile device? Is the customer physically in the store? Are they outside? Are they at home or at work? Based on this additional context, brands can create a better overall experience for their customers.
Data is at the core of delivering personalised customer experiences. Personalisation is often driven by the experience design team, but to really be effective, it should start with the data strategy team. Data by itself or out of context is just noise. To drive the personalisation you want, it’s critical to have the right data and an understanding of that data from the very beginning, which sometimes means changing your data strategy. Rarely do brands start with the right data to drive the personalisation they want. There’s frequently a foundational step during which the organisation must start collecting more of the right data in anticipation of fueling the personalised experience.
Next, clear KPIs must be established; then, perhaps most importantly, you must ask why you’re deploying personalisation. It’s also critical to define where in the journey personalisation will be deployed; otherwise, personalisation efforts will fail or, at the very least, they will lack real impact. There are many great options for deploying personalisation along the customer journey. Some options are incredibly complex and might be AI- or chatbot-driven. Other methods are relatively simple and don’t leverage as much technology. Really good personalisation could be as simple as ensuring the right customers only receive the email promotions that are most relevant to them. When using data analytics to drive personalised experiences, brands should focus on the totality of the customer journey and pinpoint where on that journey personalisation can deliver the most value.
- Be light, nimble and agile: Start small then learn and adapt. What starts out as an MVP is often stretched into something far too polished. Focus your MVP on specific functions or users and refine it from there.
- Build inclusive design: Accessibility is often thought about first and is critical, but you also should consider context. Is my customer on a desktop or mobile device? When you create experiences that are accessible to everyone, you typically improve the entire experience.
- Have a design system: Make sure you have a full-on digital design system, so apps and sites all look and feel like they’re from the same company. Not only does this create a better overall brand experience, but it can also improve back-end system performance and efficiency.
- Strategy directed by data: The pandemic highlighted just how quickly customer behaviours can change. Brands must use data insights to drive strategic decision making and deliver precise messages to their customers at the right time.
- Consider your martech holistically: Think about martech as a product within your business that can be used to create connected customer experiences. Silos break martech stacks, your technology must be fully integrated to harness that connection.