Since the digital age has transformed relationships between brands and customers, brands need to transform how they think about their businesses – including how, when and where to reach shoppers – if they are to succeed, Forrester Research’s Brendan Witcher said during a November Path to Purchase Expo keynote in Chicago.

“In the old days … you had a number of companies who spent a ton of money to come up with a few great ideas,” he said. “Today, a ton of people are spending very little money to come up with a slew of ideas. That’s what digital has done. The cost of entry is extremely low now.”

When it comes to digital experiences, brands need to realize that they’re competing with Uber, Facebook, Amazon and Google for shoppers’ hearts and minds, not just their traditional category competitors, said Witcher, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “Every time a consumer is exposed to an improved digital experience, their expectations for all experiences are re-set to a higher level. If you’re Crest, and you think your competitor is Colgate, it’s not.”

Brands also need to understand how consumers view them, such as whether they represent frequent or infrequent purchases, and whether they are thought of as a commodity or a “cult” item. “I have been on social media, and I have never seen anybody post a picture of a toaster,” Witcher said. “Think about what you are, accept what you are, and find strategies for engaging customers because of what you are.”

To do that successfully, brands need strong, current data rather than just historical assumptions. And they need to understand that consumers are channel agnostic among brick-and-mortar, digital and mobile. “Who is the online shopper? They’re not a creature, like dragons,” Witcher said. “We treat online shoppers like that’s all they are.” The shopper challenge to brands is: “You have to create the right customer journey for me, or I will find someone else to do it for me,” he said. “If you get it wrong, I can go elsewhere.”

Brands need to think about their customers’ needs and the journey they wish to take, literally or figuratively, Witcher said. “Is buying an airline ticket, in and of itself, of any value? No. I need to go somewhere. I need to eat something. … You need to think about the customer’s journey – the journey of going on a trip, the journey of going on a Tinder date, the journey of feeding my kids and keeping them healthy over time.”

To achieve digital mastery and create great customer experiences, brands need to do “the un-sexy stuff” of working with data. “More devices have created a data explosion, which has created category-disrupting innovation, which has led to deeper customer relationships,” Witcher said. “Men don’t want the same thing every other man wants. … People are unique. If you don’t understand your customers, you can’t get to great customer relationships.”

To understand what individual customers want, brands need to have dialogues, not monologues; fortunately, people typically love talking about themselves. “We need to know what triggers we need to use,” Witcher said. “Should we show certain functionality on our website, or not? Customer and content intelligence, put together, allows you to create more individualized experiences.”

Going beyond segmentation in broad customer experiences into individualized breakdowns might sound daunting from a data-mining time management perspective, Witcher acknowledged. “That’s where AI is going to kick in, and have a lot of value,” he predicted. “To become a data-led, customer-obsessed organization, leaders must digitally transform four areas of their business: culture, organization, technology and metrics. You can’t think it’s just technology.” Without changing the other three areas, he added, “You will be the same company next year as you were last year.”

Source: Consumer Goods Technology