The Convergence of Digital and Physical Customer Interactions in Today’s On-Demand Economy

My partners and I had a fantastic dinner in Boston’s North End a few weeks ago with seven of our portfolio CEO’s that lead companies in the marketing tech category of enterprise technology. The food and wine were great, and the discussion even better. In addition providing an update on Ascent’s activities and investing thesis, we facilitated a discussion amongst the CEO’s on several topics that were applicable across the group including: buying patterns of millennial customers; impact of mobile platforms; how to preserve market leadership against incumbent companies in tangential markets, etc.. The collaboration among the CEO’s was outstanding with each CEO providing their own unique contributions to the discussion. We plan to host regular events in the future and have encouraged the CEO’s to maintain their own direct communication.

This dinner got me thinking again about Ascent’s investing activity in marketing technology. We recently announced our participation in a new round of funding for New York-based Splash, an innovator in event marketing automation software. While event tools are not a new concept, Splash isn’t your everyday event software. It offers all the features typical of an online events creator: building events pages, sending invites and collecting RSVPs, etc., but what’s interesting about Splash, and many other emerging companies in various markets, are the features users can’t see.

Improving customer engagement has become one of the dominant trends in enterprise technology. The driving force behind this is the increasing need for companies to deliver what customers actually want. In other words — increasing engagement with customers both online and off lends itself to building brand loyalty, delivering products and services that address customer demand, and by extension the bottom line. Any company that seeks to innovate must always keep the end-user in mind; with rising customer expectations (especially around digital), market saturation and hypercompetitive markets to blame (or thank, depending on your perspective).

Splash’s platform addresses this trend — in today’s digital world, live events are often the only in-person interaction — and marketing opportunity — companies have with their customers. This can have a real impact on driving revenue. Splash’s advanced event management platform provides companies, specifically marketers, with the analytics and insight to enhance and personalize events, incorporating digital marketing for targeted in-person interactions. It also taps historical data to plan events using actionable insights, optimizing the event spend for maximum ROI. In other words, Splash helps companies cater to enhanced customer engagement by collecting and feeding valuable data to its enterprise users. At the end of 2016, Splash reported an incredible uptick in usage from 200,000 events at the beginning of the year to 5 million, confirming its necessity in the market.

When worlds collide

This convergence of digital and physical worlds is an area where we are seeing many companies innovate. Another company in Ascent’s portfolio, Vee24, provides live video chat technology allowing brands and retailers to connect in real time with customers over the web, on mobile devices, and in-stores, using voice, video chat, text chat, and co-browsing. It’s essentially the digital equivalent to an in-store experience or a personal shopper, with just enough human interaction introduced to enhance the customer experience with a goal of increasing sales. Vee24’s digital “personal shopper” relieves the need for a customer to travel to a physical store to get help and ultimately make the conversion from browse to buy. And data across the board supports the need for this convergence of digital with physical in retail: while online shopping is on the rise, new Pew research finds 64 percent of Americans indicate that they still prefer buying from physical stores to buying online. However, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said that in-store shopping during the all-important Thanksgiving weekend dipped 3.7 percent from last year. Clearly shoppers are at a crossroads and Vee24 may just be the edge needed for those retailers looking to capitalize both online, in-store, and with “multi-channel” shoppers — by offering an in-person experience in a virtual environment.

The bottom line is this: customer engagement in 2017 is what social media was in 2008 — any company not paying attention will find themselves alienating or losing their customer base. We will undoubtedly continue to see companies explore the convergence of the digital and physical realms as the on-demand economy expands. At Ascent, we are extremely interested in companies that enhance customer engagement and experience, including this intersection of digital and physical interactions, as the technology driving this trend continues to evolve. We are looking forward to supporting the teams at Splash, Vee24 and our other portfolio companies who are helping shape this rapidly emerging market.