If 2016 could be summed up, it would be the year of data. For months we’ve discussed it, watched CMOs invest in it, and listened endlessly to people talking about its synergy with creativity. At the end of it all, we find ourselves with heaps of data—and probably not enough to show for it.
That’s why 2017 will be different, a retrenching into our investments to find the value it delivers. To do so, we have to start with a simple fact: Content is no longer king. The customer is. Our ruling mantra must be marketing transformation, or putting the customer at the center of everything we do.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Customer-centricity requires a daunting level of data and business alignment. Anyone can hold forth about breaking down silos, but if you’ve actually tried to break them down, you know they can be made of durable stuff. As much as brands would like to transform themselves into Uber overnight, for most, that’s not practical.
However, there are three areas where we can find quick wins and a focus for our efforts in 2017. We can call them the three Cs: content, commerce, and customer experience. We’ve been using these terms for a long time, but in a transformed world, they have different meanings, and we need to approach them in new ways. Let’s look at them in detail.
Brands are, of course, no strangers to content, but its needs and shape have changed. People coming to our digital properties (and to some extent, our physical ones) now have identifying tags that reveal much about their preferences, shopping history, and even income. We may know that someone over-indexes on outdoor gear or has visited our site four times and looked at shoes and baseball hats. The challenge is to take that information and use it to drive more relevant experiences.
Above all, this means making more content and making it smarter. If you’re a computer company and a person comes to your support site, you can detect the machine the person is using. If it’s one of yours, you can reasonably assume the person is having an issue with it and show some quick fixes to common problems. Likewise, an insurance company could offer one kind of content to people in flood plains and something completely different to those in regions beset by wildfires. The goal is to make the content fit a customer’s context, rather than making something for everyone that’s right for no one.
With commerce, the story is much the same. It’s time to think past the cart and into the mind of the consumer. Most CMOs now have ample data and programmatic tools at their disposal. As a result, we can get much smarter about how and when we ask people to buy. For example, if we know a person mostly shops online, we should not send the person in-store coupons by mail.
Like transformed content, the new wave of commerce is also about understanding the customer’s context: where they are physically, where they are in the purchasing process, and who they are as human beings. The Holy Grail, of course, is one-to-one commerce at scale. That may be aspirational at the moment, but we can still anticipate their needs. If we know people are interested in extreme sports, let’s offer them an adventure they have never heard of—but must try when they do.
Commerce also needs to be sensitive to the platform it’s on. Brands still largely think one-size-fits-all. It will become increasingly important to play natively in every space, whether that’s Facebook, YouTube, or an owned property. Amazon Shorts, for example, should prove an interesting new option for brands looking to provide helpful or entertaining content in a way that highlights (but not overly promotes) their products.
Finally, we can look for like-minded opportunities across the entire customer journey. We know people do not usually like looking at marketing, but we also know that there are times when it can be helpful. We merely need to study their journeys and make critical improvements in everything from initial contact and research to the checkout and unboxing experience.
We must also recognize that silence is sometimes golden. Merely because we can map every moment in the customer journey does not mean we have to say something at each one. Sometimes removing a touch point is easier and better than improving it. Apple has traditionally featured a lot of white space in its marketing. It’s worth thinking about.
In other words, 2017 should be about realizing the promise of 2016. It’s time to use our newfound data not merely to sell, but to also nurture a long-term relationship with consumers. The best bets are content and commerce, but the opportunities across the entire customer journey will prove especially fruitful for the brands that discover what people want and deliver it.
About Shane Atchison