We live in a world that is more connected than ever. We can call most people on the planet while lying in bed. We can travel to all but a handful of places, and we can visit virtually before we arrive. We can keep in touch with hundreds of friends, not just the 150 that Dunbar’s number suggests is our limit without social media’s helping hand. And all this before the internet of things truly connects us and the objects around us.
We also live in a world in which people expect things to "just work". Amazon "just works". Uber "just works". Apple "just works". Most of the time. Our customers are not interested in behind-the-scenes connectivity difficulties that burden businesses with the millstone of an IT legacy. Even in the UK, with its unique tolerance of failure (where else in the world would you sit on a stationary train for 20 minutes, with only the odd mutter for information?), we are impatient when the brands we deal with feel disjointed across channels and services.
Delivering on demands
This demand for connection and richer functionality has created new demands on marketers. Consumers expect us to provide a relevant interaction for them and their needs, whenever and wherever they encounter our brands. That might be inspiration to entice them, a deeper experience to entertain them or just something useful, where the brand steps out of the way to make their life a bit easier. This is how today’s valued brands are created and maintained.
The challenges around delivering this interconnectivity have changed too. We used to be able to say the data on our customers was too limited. Industry is now doubling the amount of data it captures and stores every 14 months.
We used to bemoan the flaky technology involved in the elusive single customer view. The world is now full of extraordinary and capable tech solutions; more than 4,000 vie for business in the martech area alone.
So we don’t need to look at the enablers for the roadblocks to interconnected solutions. The big challenge is more deep-rooted. It lies in the silos of client organisations (data team, brand team, comms team, tech team, digital team, commercial team, ops team) and in the "departments" beloved of many agencies (planning, account management, creative, production).
For interconnection to happen for our customers, it has to happen for marketing organisations first. To start with, brands need a crystal-clear sense of purpose. Unless we know exactly what and whom
we are for, there is no chance of that clarity being lived out across all channels and in what can be millions of customer journeys. We also need the confidence to join up the silos so we can provide joined-up experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean wholesale restructure, but it does mean new ways of working. Several of our clients now have multifunctional teams that are focused on particular customer needs, bringing together the myriad moving parts required to create an interconnected experience.
Agencies need to think in the same way. Our step-by-step approach, from client to account team to planner to creative team to production, is an extraordinarily antiquated way of working, dating back 50 years. Not many industries have survived without modernising over that time. We need to be far more fluid, bringing teams together that are ideally suited to solving particular challenges, working together with other agency partners instead of tediously trying to steal each other’s lunch, being prepared to accept that high quality, reasonable cost and speed of turnaround have to co-exist.
"Only interconnect", as EM Forster may have put it if he were writing Howards End today. He also suggested we should "live in fragments no longer". For marketers and their agencies trying to make sense of our interconnected world, it’s not bad advice.
What the customer wants
The expectation that brands should seamlessly connect their customers with people and objects around them has increased. This, married with the need for brands to add value by delivering communications that are timely, relevant, useful or entertaining, means we must adopt new ways of working. Customers want to be interconnected, so we must be; the technology, the data and, perhaps most importantly, the people.
Matthew Heath is chairman at LIDA