It’s the Customer, stupid

There’s a lot of talk right now about the changing relationship between customers and brands. OK, so I could have written that sentence any time in the past 75 years, but it still holds true today, and there are new factors to consider seemingly every day. What does appear to be a seismic shift is that the balance of power has shifted back towards the customer — and at a rapid rate. For a product or service to succeed now, their marketing must have the customer at the centre — not the brand. And that’s not the only big change…

Comprehension v Persuasion

But only if the customer knows what you’re talking about.

How many things have you seen or heard this week when you haven’t got a clue about what’s being offered? The products and services available today outnumber in their millions what was on offer when persuasion ruled the marketing world

What actually is this? Why do I need it? How will it make my life easier, richer or more enjoyable? And are there significant impacts on my life if I don’t have it? If these basic questions have no clear and immediate answers, then persuasive arguments won’t get any kind of traction.

When the comprehension barriers are removed — preferably in ways that touch the heart more than the head — then persuasion can take up the baton as we race to sale.

Positive user experiences start with user expertise

The key to making every user’s experience as positive as it can be is found in expertise — gained through insight and understanding of the audience, developing bullet-proof back-end technology and creating user interfaces — digital and analogue, virtual and physical — that have been designed, written, tested and continuously improved.

This expertise can be found within the client organisation, the marketing and communications service provider (or the Agency, as I like to call it) and other third parties. When all parties pool their expertise, leave their agendas at the door and work together for the benefit of the user, the experience is given context and made optimal.

Make experiences ‘phygital’

There’s significant evidence to demonstrate that direct mail has a powerful impact on subsequent online behaviour. Yet that success depends on the way that mail feels and behaves as much as the messages it delivers in words and pictures. Direct mail can be made of materials that land messages and stories through touch, taste, sound and smell. A service provider needs to know what’s possible, who can make it for them, and most importantly, be able to come up with those ideas in the first place.

In an age of interaction, where people expect to be able to shape their experiences instantly, direct mail needs to offer ways to continue that journey digitally — using QR codes and augmented reality, embedding NFC chips — or employ what’s happening right now in terms of voice and visual search.

All digital is direct, so personalise everything

Social platforms have matured to the extent that they are core contributors to the hard-metrics of direct response campaigns as well as powerful spaces to increase positive sentiment through storytelling and shared conversations. Utilitarian apps that provide mapping, travel and weather information provide space to make relevant messages stand out and be acted upon immediately. Digital Out Of Home has developed to a stage where pin-point services can be delivered in real-time, at the right time — from the pollen count in that street to the availability of tickets in the venue across the road.

The ability to hold a single customer view and utilise a unified DMP means that an individual’s personal behaviour across all channels can be collected, analysed, ranked and acted on appropriately. This means that the blunt instruments of personalisation (using fore and surnames, featuring gender, life stage and income appropriate content) can be made to feel more refined with elements that reflect their online behaviour, last interaction, even using specific images and language that they have reacted to most positively. All of this is created in an on-demand manner, with no lag, making each contact ever-more relevant.

Effortless, but not automated

Now, in some cases, that is a desirable outcome. Millions of people pay for utilities and statutory charges through direct debit and standing order. However, there is a growing trend amongst customers (and not just those who are cost-conscious) to buy ‘on demand’ — think broadcast services like NOW TV and Netflix, or the well-established ‘Pay As You Go’ structure for mobile phone services. This is where the user is demonstrating their understanding of the value of the service, but feeling more in control of the way they pay.

The sweet spot seems to be where there is a conscious, but minimal, human interaction. Contactless card payment services in physical retail environments is one of the most visible recent successes. A customer still needs to proffer their card to the merchant, but that’s all. It’s clear that they have chosen how they want to pay (the invisible thought-process) but the action is quicker and easier than ever before. The customer feels in control.

From eyes and thumbs to mouth and ears

On a more prosaic level, we could see new calls to action come into play. In a similar change from providing urls to search terms and hashtags (which necessitated some increases in media spend), print and broadcast communications may urge people to, “Ask Alexa for….”

It may only be a short time until these home assistants will promote and enact the entire process — from awareness to purchase — responding to the customer’s voice and using the encrypted personal data it holds in the Cloud to effect the transactions required.

You heard it here first(ish).

Creative/strategic/dot-joining quiff. Dumping pub talk here for people to hate or steal.