Customers: Get Ready For Your Close-Up

jbbrokawData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by JB Brokaw, president, North America, at Sociomantic Labs from dunnhumby.

The advertising industry has seen the “years” of mobile, big data and programmatic come and go.

There’s no doubt we’ve taken huge strides in making advertising smarter and more efficient. Data is more readily available while the technology is faster than ever. There is, however, still progress to be made for the industry to deliver on the ultimate promise of addressable advertising: personalized, one-to-one messages delivered to individuals at the right time and place.

While the focus has been on building better tools and leveraging specific channels to help us achieve that goal, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture: the person on the receiving end of these messages. It’s time to focus on what matters most.

Customers, get ready for your close-up. It’s your year. Here’s why.

Customer Expectations Have Shifted

Gone are the days when brands and retailers set the standards for customer interactions. Advancements in technology have changed the game, and customer expectations have evolved just as rapidly.

Customers expect to be understood and spoken to as individuals. Each individual has a unique set of preferences and characteristics, and they expect brands to custom-tailor experiences to suit those needs.

When brands do communicate, customers expect messages to be relevant and helpful. There’s no excuse for brands to blast generic messaging in a big-data world.

Customers also expect to be engaged through their preferred channels, devices and platforms. For some, that means mobile-only messaging. For others, it’s regular email communications or a digital/direct-mail combination.

Don’t forget about smart timing and respectful frequency. Too much is, well, too much. Too little and brands risk being forgotten. By understanding customer interactions and preferences, brands can determine how and when is best to reach out to their customers.

Finally, customers expect to have the choice to speak up, ignore and opt out if any of these expectations are not met. Receiving twice-daily email blasts from a brand I only buy from once a year? Unsubscribe. Banner ad following me around the web for an item I already bought? Opt out.

Taking a smart, data-driven approach to marketing strategy is the only way brands can meet these expectations. In 2015, it’s critical for marketers to continue developing their understanding of how each tactic and channel serves the larger customer experience.

New Touch Points: Digital and Physical

The majority of US adults own a smartphone, and mobile usage is expected to grow 23% this year. These always-on devices have provided a plethora of new opportunities for brands to reach customers. Mobile apps, games and social networks are all accessed multiple times a day on smartphones. Add to this the time spent with traditional offline experiences, including TV and radio, as well as wearables such as the new Apple Watch, and the opportunity to engage customers and earn their long-term loyalty is enormous.

Amazon, for example, recently turned touch-friendly digital kiosks in several of New York’s subway stations into interactive shopping screens. Now, rather than playing Candy Crush, those waiting for trains can pass the time browsing Amazon’s top electronic gifts, then snap a QR code or send a text or email for an alert to complete the purchase when they get service again above ground. Brands must embrace the challenge to find more innovative ways to combine the physical and digital experience to stay top-of-mind with their customers.

A Level Playing Field

The conversation between brands and customers is no longer one-directional. In the same way brands have better access to customers via more data and touch points, customers have unprecedented access to brands. Product reviews and social media platforms are just two of the many mediums available to customers to reach brands, creating a level of transparency in commerce that has never existed before. With access to information around the clock, customers can research products and companies in detail before making decisions, without ever having engaged directly with the brand.

What’s the takeaway for brands? They’ll be publicly held to their own standards. If a product or service is of poor quality or misrepresented in any way, customers have a readily available, always-on way to provide feedback that will likely affect the purchase decisions of others.

Higher Risks, Higher Rewards

Consumers are often overwhelmed with choice when it comes to purchasing decisions. As digital continues to become more important to customers, attention spans will be further fragmented across channels, devices and platforms. More volume is not the answer. Instead, brands should strive to ensure that each customer interaction is a positive one, with the goal of building stronger relationships and driving long-term loyalty. Brands that don’t put the customer at the center of their marketing strategies risk losing that customer forever, especially since they can fast forward, opt out, ignore or choose a competitor.

However, brands that do put the customer at the center and create great experiences will reap significant rewards. Consider Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign. By giving its logo to the customer, Coca-Cola created buzz, boosted sales and increased competitive advantage by delighting customers with a new, thoughtful and interactive brand experience. These are the kinds of experiences that will win the hearts of customers in 2015.

Programmatic technologies have ushered in a new wave of efficiency and scale for advertisers. Big data, mobile and programmatic have all made it easier for brands to keep up with the connected, digital lives of customers. Now that we’ve learned the ropes, it’s time to take the focus off the technology and put the customer back at the center of our strategies. With data-driven decisions and creative, thoughtful messaging, brands can give customers what they’re looking for and make 2015 a year to remember.

Follow JB Brokaw (@jbbrokaw) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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