The Connected Customer
It’s highly unlikely Ennion awoke that morning 2,000 years ago with the determined zeal to be game-changer. Little did he expect, that today’s marketing gurus would celebrate him as the world’s First Brand Manager.
More likely, the ancient Roman master glassmaker probably just wanted to grow his business. Ennion determined he could better connect with his customers and sell more glassware by simply by embossing ‘Ennion made me’ on his vases and jars. Most intriguing, Ennion did not merely stamp his logo on his products. Instead, he made “Ennion made me” the focal point of his glassware.
Customer expectations and behaviour have changed over the past 2000 years as customers progressed through satisfying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Similarly, branding and marketing strategies have changed and must continue to change to align with changes in customer expectations and behaviour.
Welcome to the age of the Connected Customer.
Savvy marketers are well-aware that the connected customer is just a point on the marketing continuum. Customers will continue to evolve into something different from today’s connected customer. Evolution is the inevitable response to the myriad disruptions in the world in which we live. But, as marketers accelerate their understanding of the evolving customer, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that brands and branding are far, far more customer-centric than ever. Brands in most categories have converged in homogeneity in terms of function and quality. The only wild card in the marketing mix is the shrewd customer.
The Medium is the Message
Today’s connected customers and their brands eerily reflect Marshall McLuhan’s concepts and writings from 50 years ago. In his seminal work, Understanding Media: the extensions of man. McLuhan made the prescient, but stunningly incomprehensible, assertion that “the medium is the message.” Though very much as relevant today as in the 1960s given the proliferation of new technology, McLuhan’s concepts remain as provocative as ever.
McLuhan observed that society tends to focus on new inventions and innovations—new stuff—while missing the fundamental changes introduced into society by those inventions and innovations. McLuhan defined new technologies and innovations as media. Media are tools that allow humans to accomplish tasks not possible before the mediums appeared. A medium extends some physical, social, intellectual, or psychological function of humanity. The automobile extends our feet and our mobility. The cell phone extends our voice and our accessibility. And, electronic media, in general, extend our central nervous system.
“Whereas all previous technology (save speech, itself) had, in effect, extended some part of our bodies, electricity may be said to have outered the central nervous system itself, including the brain”
Pre-electric media, extensions of ourselves, were external disruptions of body. The electronic technology extension of ourselves is an internal disruption of the mind. McLuhan believed this disruptive stimulation of consciousness was the first sign of the shared consciousness of a global village.
“Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extension of man—the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society…”
The meaning of McLuhan’s “message” is as opaque as is his meaning of media. It is not the content delivered by a medium, such as a TV advert or the many kinds of online advertising. Rather, and this is a key point, McLuhan’s message refers specifically to the change in human affairs at the personal, interpersonal, and social levels caused by the medium—behavior, attitudes, interpersonal relationships, and public opinion. Hence, McLuhan’s “message” is the change of scale or pace or pattern that’s introduced into human affairs by a new invention or innovation.
In effect, media invariably come pre-packaged with attendant messages concealed inside the box. We’re just now discovering that the message of the connected customer is having profound effects on human affairs and marketing brands to connected customers.
The Connected Customer Message
Enter the connected customer, commonly called Generation C for the “connected generation” by digital anthropologists, such as Brian Solis, the connected customer is the poster child for all the unanticipated attributes of McLuhan’s message packaged within the medium of today’s electronic revolution.
With the omnipresence of smartphones, tablets, online access, and social communities, connectedness is a fact of life. And, sharing experiences online in social communities is a fundamental characteristic of living the digital lifestyle of always-on connectedness. This digital lifestyle is creating one of McLuhan’s unanticipated changes of scale in the marketing and branding of goods and services—a digital divide between the connected customer and organizations still employing traditional marketing and branding practices.
According to Brian Solis, the average person is connected to at least 150 people on Facebook and 140 on Twitter. Coincidentally, this aligns with Dunbar’s Number of 150 as the suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These connected customers are gatekeepers with the potential to drive your value proposition way beyond your own capability into vibrant audiences of like-minded prospective customers who are linked by shared experiences in social communities.
In effect, marketing and branding strategies tailored to the behaviour and expectations of your connected customer allow you to exponentially tap into an audience with an audience of audiences. Revisiting Marshall McLuhan’s concepts, the connected customer audience with an audience of audiences is also McLuhan’s medium. This connected customer medium allows you to reach audiences that are not reachable or reachable at great cost. Again, this confirms that the medium is the message is the medium.
In 2011, Google coined the term Zero Moment of Truth—ZMOT—to describe moments in the customer journey when first impressions about a brand are formed in the online decision-making process, such as visiting company websites or review sites. But, patience is not a virtue with Generation C. The notion of searching for information about products and services online is primitive to connected customers.
Brian Solis caused a stir among marketers and the smugness of their ZMOT initiatives with the reminder that Generation C is far more informed, discerning, and cynical to get stuck on ZMOT. They are far more likely to start their customer journey, to form their first impressions about products and services, from the shared experiences of real-world users in their social communities than from the dazzling selling content of professional copywriters on a company website.
Recognising the inherent limitations of ZMOT for modeling online decision making of Generation C, Solis introduced UMOT—Ultimate Moment of Truth two years later in 2013. Solis’ UMOT is an iterative process of shared experiences. More precisely, UMOT is that moment when people share their experience with brands in social communities. This UMOT moment becomes the next person’s ZMOT. The UMOT to ZMOT to UMOT process repeats itself over and over and over again outside the purview and control of company marketers.
Solis’ teachable moment from the sharing of experiences online is brands need to elevate the importance of customer experiences as UMOT triggers. Connected customers do the work of company brand managers by sharing their brand experiences in their social networks. And, these shared experiences are far more powerful and persuasive than killer copy from the best brand copywriter in this quadrant of the galaxy.
The bottom line is the traditional branding rules no longer apply. The customer journey of the connected customer is totally different from the traditional customer of past generations. Regardless of age, most of us are connected customers. Our UMOTs are other people’s ZMOTs. Most of us have audiences with audiences of audiences. In effect, the branding paradigm has shifted 90 degrees off axis.
Today’s connected customer is firmly in the driver’s seat of the branding process on the customer journey. Brand managers riding shotgun can best contribute to the customer journey by making the journey experience pleasing and memorable. To make the customer journey pleasing and memorable, it helps to know precisely what the customer experience involves.
Adam Richardson says in the Harvard Business Review that the customer experience is the totality of customer engagement touchpoints with a brand or a company through the entire arc of being a customer—from ZMOT to UMOT. You can tailor a customer journey touchpoint map specific for your business from the numerous customer journey mapping templates readily available online. Though touchpoints vary by industry, Richardson conveniently grouped engagement touchpoints into four general domains: products/services, interactions, messaging, and setting.
When mapping a customer journey for your business:
- Do it from the perspective of your connected customer’s viewpoint.
- Develop a key/ideal connected customer persona as your archetype.
- Crowdsource customer input with a passion.
- Keep it simple. Complexity is the mother of failure.
Keep it Real
A 2016 global report from Cohn & Wolfe, a multinational PR firm, revealed that customers are hungry for authenticity from the companies that want their business: People are typically repulsed by companies and brands that want their business when they perceive insincerity
The report also reveals that connected customers base brand authenticity on the ‘3 Rs’: reliable, respectful and real.
The 3 Rs sub-divide into seven criteria:
- Delivers on promises
- Provides high quality
- Treats customers well
- Protects customer privacy and data
- Communicate honestly
- Being genuine and real, not FAKE
- Acts with integrity
BigData Drives Personalisation Drives Branding with Generation C
Salesforce’s landmark study “State of the Connected Customer” states, 61% of consumers say technology is redefining their behaviours. In this age of the customer, technology is fundamentally changing the way customers expect to interact with companies, with profound implications for sales, service, and marketing.
A summary of findings were:
- Technology Puts Customers in the Driver’s Seat of Their Buying Journeys. In the age of the customer, technology fundamentally changes the way customers interact with companies. Seventy percent of consumers agree technology makes it easier than ever before to take their business elsewhere, and 61% say technology is redefining their behavior as a customer.
- Customers Demand Real-Time Interactions. The culture of immediacy has fundamentally changed the nature of customer interactions with companies. Sixty-four percent of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.
- Customers Want to Be Treated Like People, Not Numbers. Connected customers are technology entrenched but are still looking for personal relationships with companies. Two-thirds of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they’re treated like a number instead of an individual
- Customers Are Willing to Share Data in exchange for Personalisation. Most customers understand that personalised journeys are created by brands that collect and integrate data. Customers expect that businesses will leverage their data to create and deliver intelligent, unique customer journeys that cater to their needs.
- Savvy Customers Expect Made-to-Measure Sales Experiences. Customers don’t want to hear sales pitches — they just want to engage with businesses that understand them and to be helped by informed sales reps. More than three-quarters of consumers say it’s absolutely critical or very important to work with a salesperson who focuses on achieving their needs instead of making a quick sale.
- Customer-Centric Service Is Personal, Immediate, and Always Available. Customers are more than willing to give their loyalty to companies that provide anytime, immediate, personalized customer service and self-service options. Seventy-one percent of consumers say that customer service provided on any day, at any time in influences their loyalty.
Your Crowdsource Resource
Your connected customer audience with audiences of audiences are already your de facto brand managers over whom you have nominal control at best. Why not crowdsource other critical marketing functions to your connected customers? You get the benefit of real-world input from real-world customers; you also benefit from having a more intimate, immediate influence on the experiences your connected customers share with their audiences.
Alex Chrum of CrowdSource says you can easily crowdsource at least four areas of your marketing function to your connected customers:
- Brand value proposition/positioning: who’s better qualified to tell you your brand’s value proposition than your brand’s connected customers?
- Messaging is the verbalizing of your brand’s value proposition, so it resonates with your connected customers in the language they use.
- New product development has already devolved to the crowd in many industries from home furnishing to food with the advent of consumer-grade 3D printing and 3D Printing as a Service, which empowers customers to create the products that customers buy.
- Package design input from your connected customers allows you to tap into the creative talents of your crowd to improve or enhance the attractiveness of packaging while cutting the time to market for new products.
Content Just Got Promoted
Content was formerly King of Digital Marketing when website and blog content drove Google page rankings and the ZMOT process. Content is now Emperor, reigning supreme over the Domain of the UMOT Connected Customer Journey Empire. Great content adds value to the customer journey by encouraging further brand interaction with a message, white paper, helpful tip, or a free offer at the personal level depending on each individual’s relevant touch point on the customer journey map. And, great customer journey mapping software can help take your connected customer from that ZMOT moment all the way through to that UMOT moment seamlessly and omnichannel.
In Context of Employees
It’s pretty clear that engaged employees are vital to enriching the customer experience. Similarly, managing the customer experience with disengaged employees is oxymoronic. Disengaged employees breed disengaged customers. Engaged employees drive the customer experience that results in happy, connected customers generously dispersing UMOT’s throughout the social media universe. Hence, improving the customer experience for your company links directly to engaging your employees.
Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Temkin Group Research Consultancy identifies what he calls the Five Is (Five Eyes) for creating a more engaged workforce: inform, inspire, instruct, involve, incent.
This is just the beginning of the age of the connected customer. Customers expect companies to continually develop innovative experiences that meet their evolving needs. By 2020, it’s expected that technology innovations will deliver a more integrated and therefore, holistic customer journey. Furthermore, the connected customer, customer journey, and customer experience are no longer the scope of CMOs, CIOs, and CHROs. CEOs are waking up. These critical variables are existential threats that impact the very survival of most companies. CEOs who treat customers with awareness, intelligence and put the customer experience at the center of their business strategies will undoubtedly succeed.