“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” ―John Keats
Who would have ever thought the words of English poet John Keats would continue to ring true almost 200 years after they were written—especially for businesses?
Indeed, a Forrester Consulting study commissioned by Adobe in April found that 80% of business decision makers said improving their company’s customer experience was among their top priorities in the year ahead. So was increasing customer loyalty (81%).
In this new age of customer experience, a combination of data and creativity is going to set the leaders apart from the laggards, experts told CMO.com. They also pointed to a greater focus in 2019 on personalization, more immersive mobile experiences, and, in B2B, a companywide approach to strategic accounts.
But that’s not all. Expect a continued emphasis on building that coveted single view of the customer, across industries, and in an ethical manner to earn trust. And in their efforts to serve customers quickly and efficiently, organizations will be more intent on building an internal infrastructure that enables them to move at the same tempo as their customers.
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Data-Driven Creativity Will Be A Strategic Differentiator In Customer Experience
Data is important in getting the customer experience right, but great CX takes a mix of creativity and intelligence, according to Stacy Martinet, VP of marketing strategy and communications at Adobe. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)
“A data-driven approach to creativity helps marketers work more productively, create the right content faster, and deliver that content to the right customer, across the right channels, at the right time,” she told CMO.com. “One common denominator among today’s most innovative companies is a unified view of the customer, pulling data from across multiple sources. The data piece is table stakes nowadays. It’s going to take a mix of creativity and intelligence to stand out.”
Forward-thinking organizations are already considering how to integrate data and creativity, Martinet added. Her advice? Creative teams should bring their data/analytics counterparts into the process early on.
“It’s no secret that collaboration, in general, results in innovation,” Martinet added. “Creative teams need to be working more closely with their data and analytics teams to better understand the changing behaviors of consumers both online and off.”
Jason Heller, partner and global lead, digital marketing operations at McKinsey, agreed. Over the past few years, he said, the pendulum has swung—in some cases too far—to the absolute bottom of the funnel, with some marketers “neglecting” the rest of the customer journey.
In fact, he added, some marketers became so focused on bottom-of-the-funnel best practices that drive short-term conversion behavior that they sacrificed the practices that help to drive ongoing engagement and build longer-term brand equity. This will change in 2019, as more companies make customer experience a priority, he said.
“We did some research earlier this year on the integration of data and creativity to drive business growth,” Heller told CMO.com. “And one of the things that came out of that study was that companies that integrate data and creativity in their day-to-day practices actually drive two times the growth of companies that have those capabilities but manage them separately.”
The McKinsey research also found that many of the companies looking to integrate the two disciplines are on the hunt to hire “whole-brained talent,” who are both left- and right-brained. In other words, 2019 may very well be the year of the data-driven creative.
Adobe’s Martinet said she wouldn’t be surprised if more companies begin to offer data/analytics training more broadly across the organization in 2019, as well as invest in their creative teams' data and analytics competencies, specifically.
“Data democratization gives an organization and its various teams the ability to instantly access and understand data,” she said. “This translates into faster decision-making and more successful and agile teams.”
2. Retailers Will Double Down On Experiential Commerce
E-commerce has traditionally been focused on offering consumers the lowest prices in an effort to sell inventory—fast. Marketing initiatives followed suit. But as the experience economy extends across industry lines, retail e-commerce, in particular, has shifted to a different mode of selling.
According to Martinet, experiential commerce is on the rise and requires a shift in mindset across the organization. “It’s all about refocusing your strategy around experiences and an ongoing relationship with your customer, rather than just vying for a single transaction,” she explained.
Martinet predicts that engaging content is going to play a big role in retail commerce strategies in 2019, with an emphasis on nurturing customers so that when it is time to buy, your brand or store comes to mind first.
“It’s loyalty 101: The one-time transaction might bring in some short-term results, but it’s the true fans of your brand and products who will be lifelong shoppers,” she said.
Anudit Vikram, SVP of audience solutions at Dun & Bradstreet, also believes that building truly integrated experiences is going to be a big part of any successful experiential commerce strategy in 2019. “We’ll see a continued focus on seamless experiences across different channels and platforms” as brands continue to try and remove friction and pain points across the ever-growing number of customer touch points that could potentially lead to a transaction, he said.
And as newer platforms, particularly voice and immersive technology such as augmented reality, grow in consumer adoption, integrating those experiences with all of the other parts of the customer journey will also become a big focus, Vikram added.
Indeed, RBC Capital Markets predicts that Amazon’s Alexa will bring in $10 billion in e-commerce revenue by 2020. “It’s not a matter of if voice will be used as a brand and marketing advantage, but when,” said Robert Blatt, CEO of MomentFeed. “And when that shift happens—moving from voice search to voice engagement—retailers want to have a first-mover advantage, as users only hear the No. 1 recommendation.”
In addition to online, the move toward experiential commerce will be felt offline as well, McKinsey’s Heller said. Studies already show that consumers who shop both online and in-store have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel.
Vikram also expects mobile to become an even bigger digital touch point for consumers while they are in the store. Today, nearly 60% of shoppers look up product information and prices while in stores, and that number is going to grow next year. And now that augmented reality is available to hundreds of millions of iOS users across the globe, we’ll likely see retailers and brands building more mobile experiences that overlay real-time information onto a shopper’s surroundings in a store, he said.
3. Personalization: Connecting Content & Data—Ethically
Marketers have long been talking about personalization. But, according to Vikram, marketing is still at “a very basic level of personalization.” Still, he said he expects strategies will become more mature in 2019 as companies begin connecting data and content to deliver on the notion of one-to-one marketing.
To truly unlock the value of personalization, companies must first create a unified view of their customers, Vikram said. McKinsey’s Heller agreed. “The single view of the customer is the single most important asset that a modern marketer can have, and it’s the core of their personalization efforts,” he said. “It also becomes the core of their next-generation marketing ROI capability, as well.”
Yet there’s still a “mysticism” around the difficulty of unifying disparate data across an organization, Heller added. His point of view is that creating a single view of the customer is a people challenge.
The industry has certainly made strides from a technology perspective. Adobe’s Martinet pointed to Adobe, SAP, and Microsoft’s September announcement of the Open Data Initiative, combining the power of their technologies to help brands better connect their data across their organizations and build a single view.
Another key to personalization at scale is internal structure, Heller said. He expects companies in 2019 will work on building agile marketing execution models in which cross-functional teams can experiment, leveraging the data and technology stack to capture value.
Privacy, of course, will play a big role in an organization’s personalization strategy. New laws such as GDPR—plus California’s privacy law, which comes into effect in January 2020—means marketers must be focused on ensuring ethical data collection practices and earning consumers’ trust, Martinet said.
“When choosing partners to work with, brands need to look for products and services that protect the data that is entrusted to them and are designed with privacy in mind,” she said. “Privacy is about respecting your customers and giving them control over how their data is being used. Be transparent and help them understand the value proposition.”
In 2019, many organizations will have what McKinsey refers to as a “consent management” function, Heller said. That involves having an ethical view of how the organization manages customers’ data, protects that data, and establishes governance around how that data is utilized.
“I think this is an absolute obligation that we have regardless of whether the regulations exist or not because eventually they will exist,” Heller said. “So starting to operate that way today will only set you up for more success in the future.”
4. Account-Based Marketing In B2B To Hit New Highs
Today, account-based marketing (ABM) is in its early stages, with tech companies ahead of other industries in their use of this strategy, Dun & Bradstreet’s Vikram said. “A lot of companies know it is important, but they don’t have the right skills and resources in-house,” he told CMO.com. That said, he expects to see a much bigger focus and strategy around ABM in 2019.
According to Mary Gilbert, SVP of strategy and account services at R2i, organizations will need to tighten alignment between marketing and sales in order to be successful. That relationship allows “better orchestration around activities in targeted accounts,” she told CMO.com. Her advice? Sales and marketing executives need to align teams, technology, and governance models around a strategic set of target accounts.
Organizations must also realize that “ABM is not just a targeting strategy or set of technological tools. It’s a way of life for organizations that want to win by getting close, and staying close, to the opportunities that will drive growth for their business,” Gilbert said. “The discipline of defining a core set of target priorities and then building marketing, sales, and technology solutions to surround those targets not only optimizes near-term results but also shapes the future of the business. It’s a holistic strategy that can dramatically transform a business.”
But a companywide approach to ABM is not possible without a single view of the customer, Adobe’s Martinet said. “It’s also important to understand that you’ll need to rethink measurement if you are going for a true account-based approach,” she explained. “That means new KPIs and metrics to track.”
Martinet pointed to sales cycle length, customer retention of exposed accounts, and strategic accounts engaged as just some of the measures of success for ABM in 2019.
5. Experience Business 2.0: The Next Steps In Marketing Transformation
We’ve all heard the saying: “Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination.” Marketers have spent the past few years getting people, process, and technology down to a science. So what’s next?
Dun & Bradstreet’s Vikram said marketers will focus on “slimming down” their martech stack so that their “systems and technologies interoperate better.”
Martinet agreed, adding that the next iteration of digital transformation will be about customer experience management (CXM). “Companies that want to provide truly transformative customer experiences need customer data that is real-time, intelligent, and predictive,” she said. “In 2019 we’ll see enterprises focused on building a seamless flow of connected customer data—behavioral, transactional, financial, operational, and more—to get a true end-to-end view of their customers for immediate actionability.”
McKinsey’s Heller said the next iteration of marketing transformation might very well be a move toward agile. A Gartner survey of 803 CMOs found that 89% of chief marketers said their companies embrace some form of agile. However, just 21% of companies today embrace a fully agile approach to marketing.
Agile, according to Heller, is both an operating model and an organizational construct because “you are changing the way the organization is structured and the way that performance is managed.” He said he expects significant forward momentum in how many companies are transforming to agile marketing practices in 2019.
“Many companies have adopted agile just in their technology organization or in their technology and product development organization,” Heller told CMO.com. “I believe we will now see more and more companies embrace agile in the commercial functions of their organizations as well, like marketing and sales.”