Companies worldwide are transforming their businesses with one goal in mind: ensuring that each customer receives the most personal, compelling, and memorable experience possible — and then returns for more. To gain insight into this shift, we partnered with eConsultancy to survey 14,163 online marketing, digital, and e-commerce professionals; and thus, the Digital Intelligence Briefing: 2017 Digital Trends report was born.
Here, we present key trends that brands should heed in 2017 — most importantly, that customer experience (CX) be regarded as the primary way for marketers and agencies to differentiate themselves from competitors. This digital transformation isn’t an easy one, but the so-called ‘experience economy’ we’ve been teased with since the 90s is coming to fruition, and — ready or not — we’re all part of it.
Brands’ Top CX Priorities and Themes for 2017
Survey respondents indicated that CX is the primary means through which organizations plan to differentiate themselves in 2017. As a result, they’re prioritizing organization-wide initiatives to update skills, break down silos, and infuse their cultures with a customer focus. In fact, three-quarters of respondents named a cohesive strategy, digital-marketing skills, and a customer-focused culture as key drivers for brand success in 2017.
In keeping with this, personalization initiatives — such an improved ability to connect customers with relevant content — are also one of the top three priorities for one-quarter of all client-side marketers this year. Client-side marketers list refining data-analysis capabilities, optimizing internal collaboration between creative and marketing teams, and improving internal workflows as “very important” — all of which lend the agility and insights needed to deliver highly personalized experiences in customers’ moments of truth.
On an even more granular level, a design focus is considered the next step to digital transformation, as:
- 86 percent of respondents said design-driven companies outperform other businesses;
- 80 percent believe that creativity is highly valued within their organizations; and
- 77 percent are investing in design to differentiate their brands.
This shift comes as brands view design as the not-so-secret strategic weapon for delivering compelling CXs. “Design impacts every part of a customer’s experience and so should impact how companies go about delivering that experience,” according to the report. This design-led mindset is rooted in survey respondents’ emphases on creating the most personalized, relevant, and valuable CXs possible.
Top Challenges to Delivering a Winning CX
The era of CX is definitely here. However, as businesses jump into the experience game, many of them overextend themselves, and thus, neglect to care for the basics. To deliver personalized design- and content-driven experiences, brands must focus on four areas of development.
1. Data & Analytics
To ensure the CX is valuable, businesses need a strong foundation of data, coupled with analysis capabilities. As mentioned previously, nearly two-thirds of client-side marketers agree that improving data-analysis capabilities is ‘very important’ for delivering great CXs.
Despite this, brands are not matching enhanced analytics budgets with enhanced efforts. While 97 percent of respondents plan to either increase or maintain their marketing-analytics budgets, they’re putting more effort behind other marketing activities — design, social-media marketing, content marketing, personalization, and video advertising, for instance.
Still, as we reviewed other top challenges, we found the root of brand problems is often a fragmented or weak data foundation. “Without prioritizing data, marketers will fail to bolster their understanding of customers, hindering their priority to optimize the CX,” the report concluded.
2. Cultural Change
While 13 percent of companies rated breaking down silos to adopt a collaborative, cross-team, and customer-focused approach as the most difficult thing to achieve, 12 percent consider it the easiest. This highlights a gulf between organizations’ abilities to deliver winning CXs but serves as an opportunity for brands to gain a competitive advantage.
In fact, most companies expect to compete over the next five years by focusing on delivering optimal CXs, and therein lies the challenge — so many companies are CX-focused that, to compete successfully, brands must continuously strive to improve. This means a boundless, organization-wide obsession with the customer and his or her changing needs is in order.
Consequently, brands must understand that data scientists don’t have to reside in silos based on their statistics and data-analysis degrees. Yes, this expertise has its purpose in the experience business; but with the right tools in place, anyone can use data science to create greater relevance for customers.
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) trained their entire organization in testing and optimization. Thus, even RBS board members can solve customer problems without relying on IT or the company’s analytics geniuses to do it for them. With company-wide training and the strategic placement of support tools, one RBS rule helped drive company-wide action: for every insight surfaced, members must pair one action to improve the CX. To win in the experience era — like RBS has — brands must get their entire enterprises on board with using data science.
3. Design Processes
One-half of those surveyed don’t have the processes and collaborative workflows to achieve a design advantage. Strategy, user-experience (UX) design, and process development top client-side respondents’ lists as more difficult elements to master in their transitions to customer-focused environments.
To develop a design advantage, brands must first focus on creating strong data foundations. Remember, balancing content and data often requires a change in organizational culture to adapt to the experience era. Content — whether copy or creative — that isn’t fueled by data often misses the mark. Using insightful data, creatives can determine how design variations help (or hurt) their campaigns in the long run, discover compelling directions they may have dismissed previously without the necessary data to predict success, and narrow down creative ideas to deliver hyper-relevant CXs.
The goal should be to deliver compelling, personalized campaigns — not just make things look pretty. Each design component should be tested to ensure it meets targeted recipients’ needs. By testing and swapping out images and copy, L’Oréal targeted two segments using the same design template but with personalized imagery and content to meet customers’ needs. Like L’Oréal, with the right tools in place, you can sync your data, design, and content teams to deliver the CXs customers demand.
4. Customer Expectations
Keeping up with customer expectations is another big challenge respondents cited, “driven in many cases by industry disruptors (from Uber to AO.com), which often set new standards in terms of UX and delivery.” Adjusting to meet customer expectations means adapting the system to quickly and flawlessly deliver relevant value. Difficulties arise in organizations when systems focus too much on CX components as opposed to the journey in cohesion.
The good news is, 23 percent of companies placed the highest emphasis on creating ‘valuable’ experiences. In doing so, they create the agility, customer-oriented culture, and collaborative processes necessary to be future industry disruptors — instead of the disrupted.
Key Themes for The Future
Despite these challenges, brands are optimistic about the prospects that connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) will bring over the next three years as well as the roles of artificial intelligence (AI) and bots in driving campaigns and winning CXs.
This appreciation for IoT, AI, and bots, however, isn’t shared equally by all. European marketers are generally more excited about AI and bots than their Asia-Pacific and North American counterparts are; and marketers in Asia-Pacific are slightly more excited about enhanced payment technologies, such as mobile wallets and e-receipts, than their European and North American counterparts are — a finding that isn’t remarkable, given the growing popularity of digital payments in the region.
In a Nutshell
No matter your region or what excites you about the future of digital marketing, remember that content, design, and data are key building blocks in providing great CXs. This means that you need to focus your efforts on each of these areas, combining them to create hyper-personalized customer experiences. Understanding the role each plays in creating great CXs should help any organization pioneer the internal change needed for success in the experience-business era.
Learn more by downloading our 2017 Digital Trends report.