Brands have always relied on cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion to suc­ceed. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the rela­tion­ship those brands have with their cus­tomers. With the ubiq­uity of the Inter­net and mobile devices, and the rise of social, that rela­tion­ship has become much more per­sonal. Con­sumers now expect the same treat­ment from brands that they used to only get from a neigh­bor­hood store. They expect you to remem­ber who they are, tai­lor their expe­ri­ence, and give them expert advice and rec­om­men­da­tions. They expect to run into their friends at your (vir­tual) store and be social.

So how did we get here? I see it as the result of three fun­da­men­tal changes.

From Our Reg­u­larly Sched­uled Broad­cast to a Conversation

Tra­di­tion­ally, mar­ket­ing cam­paigns were a series of broad­casted mes­sages for peo­ple to dis­cover and learn about prod­ucts. Brands con­trolled the tim­ing and sequence of mes­sages. They could deter­mine whom they were speak­ing to. Any dig­i­tal mar­keter today will wist­fully tell you that all that has changed.

Today, cus­tomers are active par­tic­i­pants; they are respond­ing to the mes­sages and help­ing to shape them. We all have our favorite Inter­net memes. If yes­ter­year was the “broad­cast era,” then with the rise of the con­sumer Inter­net, this is now the “con­ver­sa­tional era.” Cus­tomers have a way now of engag­ing, ques­tion­ing, and find­ing a lot of infor­ma­tion for them­selves. A prod­uct is bound to have sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place about it. This will hap­pen whether a brand wishes to get involved or not. Dig­i­tal mar­keters are not inform­ing their cus­tomers, they are in a con­ver­sa­tion with them.

From a Mar­ket­ing Fun­nel to a Cus­tomer Journey

Cus­tomers no longer fol­low a lin­ear process in pur­chas­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices that were designed for them. The mar­ket­ing fun­nel with its dis­tinct stages of aware­ness, con­sid­er­a­tion, and con­ver­sion is more often than not aca­d­e­mic. Today a customer’s path or “jour­ney” is more inter­ac­tive and self-defined. That jour­ney is heav­ily influ­enced by oth­ers through user-generated con­tent, such as cus­tomer reviews, shares on social net­works, blogs, YouTube fan videos, and tuto­ri­als. What other cus­tomers say is much more influ­en­tial than what the brand says.

From Mea­sur­ing Con­ver­sion Rate to Focus­ing on Cus­tomer Life­time Value

As a brand’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion with cus­tomers changes, how it mea­sures suc­cess must also change. We’ve gone from a trans­ac­tional one-time view of success—conversion—to an ongo­ing focus on cus­tomer life­time value. This long-term view makes busi­ness sense because it takes into account the cost of acquir­ing and main­tain­ing the cus­tomer (e.g., sup­port calls) and the addi­tional value a happy cus­tomer can bring in terms of direct rev­enue, as well as in terms of indi­rect rev­enue by ampli­fy­ing the brand mes­sage with friends and fam­ily and influ­enc­ing the spend of others.

A Brave New Dig­i­tal World

A brand is as suc­cess­ful as its cus­tomers. We, mar­keters and cus­tomers, are all aligned. Although the con­trol of the mar­ket­ing broad­cast, the pre­dictabil­ity of the mar­ket­ing fun­nel, and the clear-cut mea­sure­ment of that ini­tial sale are appeal­ing, most mar­keters, myself included, wel­come the focus on the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence that dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing makes possible.

Today, the change to a con­ver­sa­tion has led to real cus­tomer insight into their expe­ri­ence with our prod­ucts and early warn­ing on any poten­tial issues. The change to a cus­tomer jour­ney has led to value cre­ation beyond the prod­uct to the expe­ri­ence of using it. The change to focus on cus­tomer life­time value has allowed us to attribute busi­ness value to for­mer intan­gi­bles such as cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. And that is a good thing. As a cus­tomer, I couldn’t agree more.

This post was pre­vi­ously pub­lished on the Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing blog on March 3, 2014.