We're heartened to be writing about "interconnected". It gets it. It understands that people are people. That they do peopley things, like have friends, read and watch stuff they find interesting, have fun, care about their children and worry about things that matter. It's a word that can provide a framework that breaks the final connections to the world where marketers believe that, by broadcasting their messages, they will be received, welcomed and acted upon. It can help move us on from thinking that if we build it, they will come – and then share it, making it go viral.
Interconnected works because it can describe people rather than the channels or campaign style that marketers use in an attempt to influence them. It evokes the digitally integrated world, chiming with Accenture's view of the "digital enterprise" and entering "the era of customer experience".
This makes it much more useful. It is from an understanding of just how your audience is interconnected that robust marketing strategies will emerge.
Attempts that start from "What's our digital/social/direct strategy?" are fragments, and so are doomed. They start from an assumed answer, with a misguided assumption of what you should be doing.
In the interconnected context, a much better question to ask is "What's our customer-experience strategy?" This helps to take thinking beyond channels and messages to embrace a broader definition of marketing, where the whole ecosystem surrounding purchase decisions is taken into consideration. Research by Watermark Consulting has found that the five-year stock performance of companies deemed to be customer-experience leaders is substantially ahead of the S&P 500 Index. In the following paragraphs we explore some of the implications.
MBA is heavily involved with the #IPASocialWorks project, coordinated by the IPA, working with The Marketing Society and Market Research Society. Tired of meaningless "like"-counting and the type of social "insights" usually blogged in "Top 10 ways to..." lists by social snake-oil salespeople, the project is unearthing robust case studies of "social's" impact on proper metrics. Two of the first solid studies found could, arguably, be viewed outside a traditional marketing remit – Transport for London and BT have delivered results for their businesses using social for customer service. In both cases, this is (rightly) viewed as marketing. (There's a point here about intraconnectivity, too, joining up diverse parts of an organisation, but that's for another time.) We have to start thinking about all the things that can influence a person's perception of a brand or purchase decision as being within marketing's remit.
Nail the business basics
While we're busy trying to up-sell and cross-sell, sometimes basics get forgotten. Like ensuring the customer is having a fantastic time doing whatever they're doing at the moment. Amazon is a particularly wonderful company to work with on this front. If you've not read Jeff Bezos' 2012 letter to shareholders, we strongly recommend you seek it out. It's a gem of pure and absolute focus on being customer-driven for long-term success. The following excerpt nails it:
"Our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors... when we're at our best, we don't wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to."
Considering how to help customers have an awesome time is crucial and this is where technology can help. Marketing automation is all the rage and there is much merit in its implementation, especially when the data input is rich enough to be meaningful.
A rigorous iterative approach will be needed to get this right, but you'll then be able to deliver timely and personal communications based upon an individual's actual behaviour. It is the "actual" part that makes this interesting. Not claimed, modelled, predicted or ranked data, but real fact.
MBA is helping rewards business Avios investigate ways to deliver communications designed to help the member collect points faster and have an incredibly satisfying redemption. And with Amazon's LoveFilm, we are, not surprisingly, looking at all sorts of interesting things based on TV and film-streaming data.
But no matter how well-targeted, well-timed and tremendous our push communications, people are like cats – notoriously difficult to herd. Those pesky people keep checking things out for themselves and listening to their mates. So how is the marketer to cope with not being the slightest bit in control? By making sure that when people find you, you present your side of the story, your worldview, your reason to believe. At least you're then part of the conversation (which is going on whether you like it or not). This is where content in all its forms comes into its own. We don't just mean the stuff you put on your social channels; we're also talking about the fundamental owned properties, such as your website.
'Technology can play an emotional role too'
The need to provide fuel to be discovered during the person's "Zero Moment of Truth" investigation informed our strategy for the launch of the Sage by Heston Blumenthal range of high-end kitchen appliances. We thought about how we could give people truly useful and interesting information beyond the specific product (such as cooking methods and recipes) and tip the scales in Sage's favour at the same time.
Hands up whose website doesn't have a responsive design or, at least, is mobile-optimised? Because you do know how many people use mobiles to find you (even when they're at home)?
MBA has helped home-improvements company Everest launch its new website, the last stage of which was to make it fully responsive. Changes were made to ensure the site delivers against the roles it plays throughout the purchase cycle – all stemming from an understanding of that interconnected customer. Mobile-device access to information was high on that agenda.
Creative:technology (the creative application of technology, the technological application of creativity) can bring delightful customer experiences. Marketing automation is important, but technology can play an emotional role, too. Think Nike Fuel, Fiat's eco:Drive and Ticketmaster's social seating. Experiences can be built using technology – digitally, physically or in that magical space that bridges the two - that can exemplify a brand's purpose.
We are looking at ways to use augmented reality to help Everest customers understand what new windows will mean to their homes; we've also helped bring "Puffersphere" technology to Embraer Executive Jet's events – a giant, touch-screen globe to demonstrate how far the jets fly.
Being "interconnected" is multidisciplinary, embracing traditional and nascent marketing techniques. Siloed, discipline-centric approaches struggle in this context. We need to have a broad, renaissance-esque range of competencies to meet objectives. Additionally, we must all embrace technology to be able to unearth the insights that will inform our strategy and deliver effective experiences.
The debate about integration used to be about the extent to which your DM matched your brand ads. Marketers should delight that it has moved on to this "interconnected" conversation, where we are addressing how people go about buying things in this digitally integrated world.
Alex Cowell, chief technology officer, and James Devon, planning director, MBA