2020. It’s how we describe perfect vision. A clean, round number that comes around every 10 years. It calls out for change. But vague descriptions of wanting to do more or less of something won’t do it justice. 2020 needs a clear vision as a springboard into the new decade. Here’s ours:
I wrote about this before, but it’s a concept worth repeating, clarifying and discussing. Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen a shift from approaching customers as “prospects” to “followers” and even better, “advocates.” The modern industrial age stipulated that product quality will help one’s business stand out from the rest while driving repeat business. As manufacturing gave way to services, customer satisfaction grew as a way to cement loyalty.
But as the information economy evolved, the critical element of human interaction disappeared. We went from personal service to FAQs, Knowledge Bases and Contact forms. Companies seemed to be keeping customers at arm’s length as they strove to gain scale efficiently. Try finding the help section on Amazon. It’s the last option, at the very bottom of the page.
Amazon’s help menu, with our notes on what customers may read into it.
In some respects, that’s OK. The mostly mobile, always-on world changed how we communicate. We may not want to talk to an agent when we can get what we need via live chat or text. For those who are always “crazy busy,” the perceived quickening of life’s pace may not allow time for exchanging pleasantries and small talk. Just get me what I need, now.
Resolving a customer’s issue quickly and on their terms does not necessarily win you loyalty, however. It’s a minimum requirement. A ticket to play in today’s marketplace.
Marketing success in 2020 and beyond requires establishing an emotional connection with consumers – something that’s very hard to do digitally. It requires customer empathy: “listening” to an individual’s needs or desires in the moment, based on their terms and mindset. This can be dramatically different from the targeting signals, persona or profile your company may have derived from their past behavior.
One successful e-commerce venture – Zappos – did this, ironically via the old-fashioned method of a toll-free customer service phone line. It’s their way of establishing a “personal emotional connection” as founder Tony Hsieh put it. When Amazon bought them for $1.2 Billion, Hsieh resisted the pressure to abandon this approach. Whereas most companies think of customer service as a generic operating expense, he saw it as marketing and has kept it to this day.
How can we engender customer empathy digitally? It’s a complex effort that requires a clear, unified overall approach across the many interactions and micro-moments that consumers have with our brand – whether online or offline. These interactions are opportunities to convey customer empathy by demonstrating what one’s brand stands for and believes. At TripTuner, we do that by putting the consumer in control of their preferences to discover content that is relevant to them, in the moment.
Sphere Is The New Funnel
This was covered in great detail in a previous blog post and on stage at the Phocuswright conference. So I won’t go much further into it other than to say that the “consumer journey” (as Ad Age Digital pointed out) isn’t a journey at all. There is no “path to purchase” anymore because you don’t need more than a mobile phone to make a purchase, anywhere at any time.
The ramifications of this for marketers – particularly in a world where increased privacy regulations will make traditional targeting more difficult – are significant. It will require abandoning and un-learning years of “pushing customers down the funnel” to a purchase. Pushing! That’s not too customer empathetic, right?
This new paradigm will require frameworks to understand, account for and respond to the myriad interactions and combinations thereof that inspire a consumer to make a purchase. It’s non-linear and messy, but so is life. So there’s an added incentive for you to get it right 🙂
Inspiration is Everywhere
IF we agree that e-commerce will be increasingly frictionless – that consumers can purchase anything, anywhere at any time – THEN don’t we also have to accept the fact that the inspiration for doing so can also happen at any time, anywhere? Instagram has become a key part of travel inspiration, to the point where someone scrolling through their feed can see a photo of a place and then switch over to book a flight on their phone while sitting through a boring meeting.
The challenge for marketers in this environment is to create ways to insert contextually-relevant brand messages into consumers’ thousands of daily digital (or physical) interactions – while providing a path to purchase, without being too commercial. That’s quite a task, but one that is worth pursuing and one I believe will be solved this decade, if not sooner. It’s time to raise up into the Soaring 20s – let’s get to work!