It's a pleasant November morning in 2021. I'm looking forward to meeting John and Sara. It's been so long since our last coffee together.
John is already in the room and Sara comes in shortly after I have entered. Yes, it feels a little strange to be free of our masks and greet with strong handshakes.
Thank you for holding on to my company during the crisis. It was a huge vote of confidence and, to be honest, it helped us stay afloat. They are kind enough to return the favor by recognizing our contributions – digital product launches, virtual meetings, and engaging customer experiences. We were all short of breath when we ventured into what was then a relatively new area. Looking back, we all agree that it was a great adventure that we enjoyed together and learned a lot in the process.
I am preparing for my presentation. My team worked a lot on it. I'm glad. "Digital Marketing 2022 and Beyond" appears the first slide. And John is stopping me.
"I have to tell you right away, Rahul," said John. "We're moving on from digital." I am shocked, my hand froze over the keyboard.
Virtual or real, marketing is about connection
Everyone is aware of the COVID-19 situation. There are enough experts working on how it will turn out and how best to combat its effects. For us it is now part of the reality that we have to accept and adjust.
Among other things, the situation helped us to understand the important role of the digital in marketing and to offer an unforgettable customer experience. It's time we went beyond the excitement of unboxing, so to speak. We need to get back to the important personal aspects of marketing. We cannot allow the digital to overshadow them.
Let's dust off the good old principles of marketing. It's about delivering results for our organization and experiences for our customers. Digital marketing is not a different arm or entity. It is a tool that we will keep using.
Data is big, and talk of how big data can be transformative never seems to stop. Technology has opened multiple channels for knowing the customer, their likes and dislikes. However, all of these numbers are a starting point at best.
How do you intend to use this data to establish a connection to the customer? How do you plan to deliver a great customer experience with you throughout the customer journey? Let a cold device do it for you? Or are you ready to share a human smile and (an even more human) sob with each other as we all go through a terrible time that doesn't seem to end? Do you let technology be the excuse to stay away or find out how it can give you new ways to touch a customer's life when it matters most, in a memorable way?
The revolution does not consist in getting better use of video conferencing. It's about using all of those connectivity devices to get closer to customers and deliver a better, more valuable experience. For example, it was not easy to arrange a meeting between the customer and the subject matter expert. The point now is simply to get a common time slot and add the SME (or any relevant executives) to the call.
Scott Edinger recalls a time when his family ordered a takeaway dinner at a local Italian restaurant during the height of the pandemic lockdown:
Along with our dinner We received a roll of toilet paper with the restaurant's logo, which was an incredibly valuable and unexpected addition at the time. When everyone was struggling to find toilet paper in the stores, this restaurant, which had an excess of toilet paper because they could not serve customers, took the opportunity to create an exceptional customer service experience.
The request for a take-away dinner was a digitally activated transaction. What made it a memorable customer experience was the gift of the toilet roll.
Stefan Thomke writes about the importance of the Customer Experience (CX) design before the virus took over the world:
Customers want their decisions to affect their feelings and senses as well as their values and conform to their ethics. The rational approaches taught at most business schools – getting customers better value for money, adding features, making service more efficient – are not enough. Creating memorable experiences for customers also takes a little bit of emotional magic.
He cites a Gallup study to recall that:
Organizations that optimize emotional connections outperform their competitors by 26% in gross margin and performance by 85% in terms of performance sales growth. You cultivate emotionally engaged customers who are less price sensitive, less likely to buy from competitors, and three times more likely to recommend and buy back.
The path between visiting a company's website and actually making a purchase is an emotional, cognitive and motivational process. It is the mixture of these forces that creates feelings, memories and stories about an organization, whether positive, negative or ambivalent. It is this variability that enables companies to deliver unforgettable experiences.
By increasing the possibilities and improving the memorability of the experience at each touch point, digital can add an extra magical glow (and a pleasant surprise) to marketing. It's not about technical wizardry for the sake of glare. It's about keeping pace with digital developments and using technology responsibly in order to strengthen this sensitive connection.
I always knew my friends Sara and John were compulsive jokes, but never at work. I get confused when they laugh at the look on my face in shock. Is that goodbye time? Doesn't digital mean no more work for me? Are they just trying to soften the blow by joking around?
“What that means”, John finally stopped laughing and both were serious again, “the digital is now part of our DNA. You know how we think, you know our products well. You are no longer just a digital designer for us. You are now our marketing partner. Together we will design customer experiences that may or may not have a digital component. Rahul, it's time for you to come to the table. “You get up dramatically and offer me a chair more theatrically.
We all laugh and I close my laptop. We have some customer experiences to design. Digital can come after we have solidified our strategy.
Storyteller Rahul Deshpande is the CEO and co-founder of Ethosh Digital, the company that helps create people-based and visually inspiring customer experiences.