December 29, 2020 • 8 min read
If the pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that the only constant is transformation. Consumer behavioral shifts are perpetual and brands that develop the right blueprint to conform to these changes in real-time, will be the victors. Because of this, a few key points on the horizon must be kept sharply in focus as 2021 approaches:
Digital transformation will only continue to accelerate amidst the new playing field.
1:1 commercial intimacy centered on empathy and emotion will be pervasive, and the worlds of B2C and B2B will continue to become indistinguishable.
CX will consequently remain the ultimate battleground.
With that in mind, following are the Top 5 insights I believe brands and their leadership need to keep abreast of as the new year unfolds.
In order to get closer to customers, gathering intelligence related to how they act, feel and behave, has never been more important. As a result, insights quickly must migrate from marketing tool, to one of the most critical currencies fueling the future of business and brand transformation. Additionally, as we enter the new age of consumer permissioning, the end game of it all, will be creating the type of brand experiences that make people want to opt in and share their data. This is yet another reason CEO and CMO alignment is essential, as is a leadership team who works in lockstep to effectively operationalize data. As this happens, marketing will emerge as an on demand premium brand service, as opposed to an unwanted consumer interruption.
“Consumers more than ever are filtering how and when they want to interact with brands. This permission-based value exchange requires an ecosystem fueled by algorithms and empathy that turns insights into tailored experiences. This shift requires strong alignment at the C-suite in order to devise an enterprise-wide transformation that drives future growth” – Carlos Zepeda, VP Marketing and Transformation, Moët Hennessey USA
A mastery of diversity and inclusion issues will be fundamental to the formation of not only winning cultures, but to building the exceptional employee experiences of tomorrow. Additionally, changes that strive to create a more fair and equitable society will need to go beyond rhetoric and be actualized in ways that flex a wingspan from the boardroom to the supply chain. As a result of all of these necessary changes, the C-suite will be required to work hand-in-glove to disrupt organizations in ways that ensure that shifts are data-led and possess an ability to scale enterprise-wide. DEI excellence being a “HR” centered competency is quickly becoming a thing of the past and inclusive creativity will rightfully emerge as a strategic imperative.
“This year we saw organizations release statements of solidarity for Black Lives Matter. Many rushed to create or improve DEI and racial justice programs. Now that awareness is heightened again, with powerful images imprinted in our photographic memories, and these very serious issues in our consciousness, this moment and this movement will demand bold, visionary, transformative change. It requires C-suite leadership to do things differently than they have before. Statements will not be enough this time. To achieve liberation and justice, we must first deliberate together, actually hear the voices of the people who have been so deeply impacted, and build sustainable strategies and capability.” – Jeannine Carter, Founder + CEO, Inclusive Innovations, Former Diversity Engagement Leader Facebook
In today’s world, brand loyalty is swiftly being reimagined via the ability to deliver a strategic marriage of brand utility and emotional acuity. This type of brand super power will be borne from an ability to discover “micro” data that yields surgical customer understanding that can catalyze 1:1 commercial intimacy. To do this, brand leaders will need to continue to find new approaches to customer segmentation that unearth not only points of differentiation, but areas of commonality. In an ultimate scenario, these things will meld together to create the type of empathy delivery today’s customer not only expects, but demands.
“Businesses must foster a personal and emotional connection with customers while also keeping up with market demand. Customers are sizing up more than a company’s products. Now, they size up its values too. When a business aligns mission, purpose and authentically acts on it, it engages audience emotions. No content strategy will make up for a brand’s inability to demonstrate humanity.” – Marija Zivanovic Smith, SVP Corporate Marketing, Communications + Chief External Relations Officer, NCR
Among the changes unlikely to ever fully revert to previous levels, are the quantity of in-person related interactions we will see across everything from the workplace, to events, to commerce. As a result, critical to brand success, will be an ability to “speak the new language of virtuality.” This will involve everything from:
Identifying inventive hybrid engagement models that effortlessly conflate the physical and digital.
Innovating types of digital experiences that push the boundaries of both VR and AR.
Placing greater emphasis on tools that augment emotional understanding in ways that close some of the intimacy gaps created by the loss of 1:1 human interaction.
“In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has merely accelerated behavioral trends that had begun as a result of the latest tech revolution. For example, GrubHub and Postmates eliminated the person-to-eatery phone call and, more importantly, vastly expanded the types and levels of restaurants that delivered, giving people even less of a reason to go out. That idea is in hyperdrive as a result of the pandemic. Now you don’t even need an actual restaurant (the rise of ghost kitchens) or delivery person (Postmates robots and Amazon drones) if you want to stay in your bubble. Which, if the success of all these innovations is any indication, most people prefer. For a species that evolved by forming social connections, it’s remarkable how quickly we’ve adopted technology that reduces human interaction. While every category and brand is different, adapting to a more-connected, less-connecting world will be the only way to survive and thrive.” – Darren Moran, Senior Vice President, Creative, Keurig Dr. Pepper Inc.
Much like being a digital vs. non-digital brand has quickly become a thing of the past, so too will the choice to be DTC-centric, or not. As the power of blockchain and crypto has shown us, a world without middlemen is something that we all want, even though we may not have fully realized it yet. As digitally native brands continue to pick up steam, no longer encumbered by the deficit of physicality or size, traditional brands will only continue to shift their focus to more direct to consumer formats. Additionally, as reimagined brand loyalty and trust become the new Holy Grails, companies will seek every opportunity to be as 1:1 with the customer as possible and everything in essence will become B2C, including B2B. As a result, the business models and marketing ecosystems of the future will look very different, with the common thread being unfettered access to the consumer (no matter who they may be: consumer, customer or employee), at the center of it all. The biggest opportunity here will be identifying niche applications within the broad CX category that begin to tease out ways of building the most intimate experiences. Finding the right formula for injecting emotion most strategically into CX will be amongst the most tricky challenges brands face in the year ahead.
“Brand is still brand. It still matters. Always has and always will. The difference now is that brands have a new viable distribution channel to consider – Direct-to-consumer. DTC is not a re-branding or even a new way of doing things – it’s still about having a compelling product offering and showcasing that value to the consumer.
With the impact of COVID and mass quarantining, I suspect we will see an acceleration on the importance of a CX that provides consumers with education (if appropriate), personalization, and a genuine reason to be loyal to a brand; these will be the core pillars to a successful DTC experience. This is why larger brands are in such a great position to take advantage of this shift. It’s also about having a true omni-channel CX that provides value to the consumer and gives them options for how they purchase. Retail is not dead. Retail brands are not dead. They just have another channel to connect with the consumer; and at its most fundamental level, that’s really all DTC is…however now, it comes with a checkout button at the end. And good margins.” – Jackson Jeyanayagam, Vice President and General Manager, The Clorox Company
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