Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Technology might be critical in delivering superior customer experiences, but it doesn’t replace merchandising and key factors such as price, relevancy, creative quality and emotive connections.
That’s the view of Endeavour Drinks Group’s head of customer experience, Sean Smith, who took to the stage at the Oracle Modern Marketing Meetup event in Sydney to discuss the lessons he’s picked up on digital marketing and customer engagement excellence.
“Technology only goes so far, you have to also merchandise your products and have your customers engaged,” Smith told attendees.
Traditionally, merchandising has been a product-led or even supplier-led exercise. But in the customer-centric universe we live in today, it’s about what the customer is interested in, Smith said.
“They want you to provide products to them that are interesting to them. If you don’t, the value exchange of me accepting your marketing fails and I’m going to say no and disengage with the brand,” Smith said. “Never has that been more critical than today.”
Brands also can’t expect to create the product or determine what today’s consumers are going to buy. “The problem is you have to have a product set that matches your personalisation strategy,” Smith continued.
There are two sides to that equation that must be considered, he continued. The marketing side, which usually cares the most about the customer, is increasingly looking at personalisation to determine what messages and products to put in front of customers. But you also need merchandising teams to build similar algorithms and rank products within categories or interest spheres in order to put the right product in front of the right customer, Smith said.
One sector Smith said had managed this well is online travel. “So many things are going into the algorithm to make it relevant to you while profitable to the business at the same time,” he said.
During his presentation, Smith also shared a number of war stories from his 15-year career running digital marketing and customer experience platforms and programs for the likes of Dimmi, HotelClub, Woolworths Liquor Group and Ticketek. Based on these, he offered six lessons to marketers looking to achieve customer experience excellence.
Number one on the list is to clearly define what you’re trying to do and what success looks like. “It sounds obvious, but it’s not that clear for many people,” Smith said.
“Every organisation is in different phase of strategy – some are startup businesses, and in a growth phase – it’s about acquiring customers and building awareness, investing heavily, and they don’t worry as much about profit at that point in their life.
“Or you might be reinvigorating the brand and looking at if you’re doing customer experience right. These are company strategies you may not be thinking about, but if you don’t align with those, you’re going to run into problems later.”
Metrics are vital in understanding and responding to key business objectives. But while sales revenue seems to be a top priority for many, it’s often a short-term measure, Smith warned. Another core metric he advocated for is customer lifetime value.
Second of Smith’s lessons for marketers is getting buy-in from management, including legal teams. “You need them to understand what you’re doing and why,” he said, adding marketers must find and speak in a language major stakeholders understand. This could be things like revenue, EBIT, or return on funds.
The third lesson is the importance of governance. This stretches from data definitions to business rules around data and how that’s captured, customer contact rules, and legislative requirements. “Tied into that is the state of your data – is it usable, does it need to be cleansed?” Smith asked.
As an example of how things can go wrong, Smith pointed to an experience he witnessed where an emphasis on customer acquisition saw one organisation’s marketing teams using bad database lists. This led threat intelligence service, Spamhaus, to add the brand to its global blocklists for ISPs, crippling its corporate IP network. Only through strict rules around what email addresses were safe to use was the company able to overcome these issues, he said.
Smith’s fourth lesson for marketers is to know your internal capability and the skillset of your people. “There’s no point grabbing fantastic technology if you don’t have capability to use it,” he said.
“Don’t panic, you can buy it, or use a hybrid model and get those skills, but you need to know what it is you need. Part of that is about staff development – it’s critical to what we do.”
Smith’s fifth lesson is recognising the difference between technology capability and mechandising. “Tech is great, but don’t forget price, relevancy, creative quality, emotive connections,” he said.
As a final point, Smith said marketers must keep one eye on the future, even as he admitted it’s easy in business to get bogged down in the day-to-day.
“Remember when mobile was the future, then one day it was just standard for everything? You need to always keep an eye on the future and what’s happening,” he said.