By Colleen Horan
At last week’s Innovate conference, Forrester Research analyst Allison Smith shared her perspective on ‘omni-channel nirvana’ during her breakout session, “Omni-channel Marketing In The Post-Digital Age.”
Her session introduced attendees to the ‘Age of the Customer’ – our current state, in which consumers have the power of choice and an abundance of knowledge, brands can’t control the multi-channel information flow, customer obsession is the only competitive advantage, and retailers who don’t understand and adapt to these new condition may fail to survive.
Smith shared four market imperatives that savvy brands should be keeping top-of-mind while developing marketing strategies and assessing investment opportunities in the ‘Age of the Customer’ era:
- Embrace the mobile mind shift: Forrester uses the term ‘mobile mind shift’ to describe today’s consumer expectations. The ‘I can get what I want in my immediate context and moments of need‘ mentality is expected to be held by a growing percentage of the population over the next few years, led by millennial consumers. This creates challenges for marketers, as consumers now expect a seamless omni-channel experience across touchpoints throughout the customer lifecycle, including mobile-responsive websites, native mobile apps, and location-specific experiences.
With 87% growth in smartphone sales 2013-2014 according to The State of Retail Online 2015, retailers are focusing on catering to these demands. The same study found that over 75% of retailers have invested in smartphone-optimized mobile sites, and 37% have an iPhone app. Industry leaders are taking it further and integrating mobile not only at point-of-purchase but across lifecycle stages, such as Best Buy’s in-store product labels with QR codes, or tutorials within Sephora’s app that are delivered based on purchase history.
- Turn big data into business insights: Big data has been a hot topic for several years now but as Smith noted, a successful big data strategy is not just capturing massive volumes of data but turning it into meaningful business insights that can drive contextual marketing, improved consumer experiences, and ultimately sales growth. Forrester points out retailers have been slow to put big data to use.
- Transform the customer experience: In the “Age of the Customer”, shopper experiences need to be optimized around creating and sustaining customer loyalty. Loyalty can take three forms – retention (keep existing business), enrichment (buy additional products and services), and advocacy (recommend to others). Loyalty also requires the three E’s of customer experience: effectiveness, ease, and emotion. This customer obsession can manifest in myriad ways, whether it’s Macy’s rolling out a literal red carpet during a home furniture delivery or Wells Fargo customizing an ATM experience based on an individual’s past behavior. Regardless of industry, investment pays off. Watermark Consulting evaluated the brands included in Forrester’s annual Customer Experience Index, finding that those who lead in customer experience tend to outperform the market – while those who deliver poor service underperform.
- Accelerate your digital business: Digital engagement and experiences are key foundational elements of success in the ‘Age of the Customer,’ and as marketers become more reliant on technology, alignment with IT becomes mission-critical. However, nearly 20% of retailers say they don’t have the vision or technology to support the evolution of their digital business, and many report that their CMO and CIO maintain separate agendas. To mitigate this challenge, Forrester advocates for the creation of a shared Business Technology (‘BT’) agenda between marketing and IT that encompasses solutions for customer service, enterprise marketing, sales & fulfillment and product innovation.
The evolutions in technology that have precipitated the ‘Age of the Customer’ represent a huge opportunity for brands to engage with their customers in contextually relevant ways across channels and devices, harnessing unprecedented levels of consumer data to drive deeper, more loyal – and more profitable – relationships. However, the power of consumer choice also poses significant challenges and risks: namely that, in failing to adapt, retailers will lose their hard-earned customer base. Smith’s imperatives provide a helpful blueprint for retail leaders seeking to develop strategies to build the customer obsession needed to survive and thrive in this new era.