Customer is King on the Digital Path to Purchase

Stephen DeAngelis

March 3, 2016

There is nothing new about the notion that companies need to focus on customers. Companies have always needed customers. Karl Albrecht once said, “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.” What is new is the fact that customers are much more empowered than they have ever been. “We are at the beginning of the connected customer revolution,” predicts Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce. “The rise of the connected customer is driven by revolutions in technology — cloud, mobile, social, data science and the Internet of Things.”[1] According to Gartner, the rise of the connected customer has blown the purchase funnel to bits. “Customers have moved from a discrete linear purchase path to moving at their pace when and wherever they want to.”[2] As Gartner analysts note, the digital path to purchase isn’t really a “path” but a touchstone consumers use before making their final purchase decision. The most important technology on the digital path to purchase is mobile. Afshar continues:

“Behind every connected device on the Internet is a person — connected customers will generate trillions of transactions. In a hyper-connected, knowledge sharing economy, companies must re-invent and significantly enhance or replace their existing processes in order to be a relevant part of this customer revolution. To stay relevant means companies must evolve and develop the ability to maintain and foster 1-to-1 customer relationships.”

It might sound counter-intuitive to assert that companies should develop 1-to-1 customer relationships in the virtual world. Normally, one thinks of 1-to-1 relationships as being more physical and intimate. But the rise of big data and advanced analytics means companies today can know more about their customers than ever before and, as a result, can tailor offerings to them in a much more personal way. Underlying the data science mentioned by Afshar is artificial intelligence (more specifically, machine learning and cognitive computing). Analytics today are far too complex to be done using older technologies. Cognitive computing systems can analyze many more variables than older systems and can provide actionable insights about customers that help tailor offerings and messages. Cognitive computing systems can also provide a much broader benefit by helping companies transform into digital enterprises that can thrive in digital age.

 

Executives at Facebook are betting that consumers want to hear from companies they do business with. According to Richard Waters (@RichardWaters), Facebook plans to charge companies to exchange messages with its customers using WhatsApp, a messaging app that Facebook bought for $19 billion two years ago.[3] Waters explains, “But do not worry. WhatsApp promises that the people infiltrating your chat stream will not be just anybody: they will be ‘businesses you want to hear from’. Not corporate advertising, but corporate chat. This is just the latest example of how tech companies are trying to turn messaging into the predominant smartphone channel, a conduit for all kinds of communication and information.” This move highlights another trend making waves in the marketing arena — content marketing. Dr. Lee Frederiksen, a managing partner at Hinge, explains, “Content marketing uses relevant, educational, engaging information (not marketing materials) to attract prospects, build trust and lasting brand visibility. It also touches influencers, potential business partners and prospective employees.”[5] The revolutionary philosophy underlying content marketing appears oxymoronic — that is, providing content not directly aimed at selling. Frederiksen explains, “If you regularly provide high-quality information that is relevant and educates buyers, you will not have to sell. … When you educate, prospects will see you as an expert and also be more likely to trust you.”

 

If you think this all sounds a bit intrusive, you might be surprised to learn that some consumers pursue these relationships. Nadia Cameron reports studies show “consumers [are] actively seeking out mobile-based campaigns and promotional offers of direct or immediate benefit to them.”[4] She explains:

“The 2016 Mobile Consumer Study, produced by mobile marketing technology vendor, Vibes, is awash with statistics demonstrating the importance of targeted mobile interactions and offers for consumers today, not just for ad hoc campaigns, but also in customer engagement and loyalty programs. For example, the report found 77 per cent of smartphone users said mobile offers, such as surprise points or rewards, exclusive content and special birthday messaging, have a positive or very positive impact on their brand loyalty. In contrast, just 3 per cent claimed these offers would negatively impact their loyalty to a brand.”

Even traditional brick-and-mortar stores need to jump on the digital-path-to-purchase bandwagon. Jacqueline Renfrow reports, “According to a new SOTI poll of consumers, 66 percent of shoppers are more likely to purchase at retailers that offer in-store mobile technology, an increase of 52 percent year-over-year. As many as 73 percent of respondents view the availability of in-store mobile technology as a signal of better customer service and loyalty, up 26 percent from the previous year.”[6] She continues:

“Half of those surveyed preferred a mobile-forward retailer because of a more personalized experience and 93 percent of respondents would like to see more stores using in-store mobile solutions. Demand for technology is clearly on the rise and retailers are responding. Almost 40 percent of respondents reported having used a coupon produced by location-aware beacon technology in the past year, an increase of 33 percent from last year. In addition, 85 percent said they would like to see more customized, location-based coupons and promotions while in-store.”

Afshar concludes, “The customer revolution has changed the rules of business and engagement models. Every single connection is an opportunity for businesses to distinguish themselves as trusted advisors. … Companies [must] realize that behind every connected thing is a customer — a connected customer that expects a personalized experience, a smart experience and one that is mutually beneficial and relevant. Welcome to the connected customer revolution.”

 

Footnotes
[1] Vala Afshar, “2016 – The Year of Connected Customer,” Huffington Post The Blog, 18 December 2015.
[2] Heather Levy, “Top Emerging Trends in Digital Market,” Smarter with Gartner, 6 May 2015.
[3] Richard Waters, “Getting the message on smartphones,” Financial Times, 21 January 2016.
[4] Nadia Cameron, “Report: Mobile-based campaigns and coupons boost consumer brand sentiment,” CMO, 22 January 2016.
[5] Lee Frederiksen, “What Every Managing Partner Needs to Know About Content Marketing,” Hinge, 14 September 2015.
[6] Jacqueline Renfrow, “66% of consumers more likely to shop stores with in-store mobile technology,” FierceRetail, 19 January 2016.