By: Tom Braybrook, Strategy and Solutions Lead, APAC, Adobe
The attention we have placed on Customer Experience (or CX) in the last three years has changed the marketing industry, and its professionals, forever. This experience-led approach demands a new mindset from those trying to navigate the channels and technologies that underpin today’s consumer behaviour.
It seems that most marketers understand how hard this challenge is today. Adobe’s 2018 Digital Trends Report has found that CX will be the top priority for marketers in 2018 – ahead of creating compelling content and personalised, data-driven marketing.
However, many organisations also know that while CX is of paramount importance, it is not a new trend. In 2018, our research suggests that morphing into an experience business is fast becoming table stakes. The separation between marketing leaders and laggards is driven not so much by the existence of a CX strategy, but by the ability to execute it and the urgency with which they do so.
Today’s industry leaders are constantly exploring the relevance of new technologies and rewiring their organisations to address customer needs. Financial services giants such as National Australia Bank are adopting agile ways of working, retailers such as Woolworths are investing heavily in big data and artificial intelligence, and traditional media companies such as Nine Entertainment are taking a data-led approach rather than simply selling advertising.
What has changed in the past three years? The most notable trend is the ongoing and unavoidable convergence of marketing and technology functions: 73% of the brands we surveyed are now combining digital marketing skills with technology. Put simply, it is no longer good enough be a standout digital marketer – you also need to have a firm grasp on technology and data.
The opportunities presented by this CX wave will be incredibly rewarding for the businesses that get it right. However, Adobe’s Digital Trends Report also identified a growing gap between the top performers and most marketers. So where are the leaders investing their efforts? We identified three key areas:
Technology: data and intelligence
One of the most discussed, debated and hyped-up areas today is AI. The media may have you believe otherwise, but artificial general intelligence (AGI) – which seeks to mimic the cognitive functions of the human brain – is not what marketers should be waiting for. This may surprise you, but today many marketers have access to powerful, narrowly focused AI that should be working for them right now. From automating insights within your data to predicting alternative email subject lines, Adobe’s philosophy around AI is to develop capabilities that can transform a customer’s three-hour process into one that takes just minutes or even seconds.
AI has also become a CEO conversation. Within CX, and marketing in particular, AI is still a nascent technology and not always widely understood or applied. Our research found that the world’s top-performing companies are more than twice as likely to be using AI for marketing (28% versus 12%) than most marketers, and these relatively low numbers indicate that AI has is yet to become mainstream.
Our research also revealed that the main roadblock for organisations is a lack of technology integration: nearly half of respondents (48%) said their organisation has inconsistent integration between technologies.
The clear lessons are: first, invest in the foundational technologies that allow you to organise and label your data (data platforms and analytics) and content (digital asset management). It’s important to stress-test how vendor integrations function: are they out-of-the-box or do they require custom effort? Real-time or batch? Without an investment in this foundation, you will quickly reach limitations in extracting value from AI.
Secondly, explore how AI can add value in both the short and long term. Building a predictive customer decisioning engine is likely to take your business 2-3 years, so consider how existing AI features can play a role in the short term to streamline processes and drive personalisation in specific channels. This can enable you to realise value much more quickly.
People: Reskilling for the modern marketer
Speaking with customers across the Asia Pacific region, we often find ourselves talking about “unicorns”. I’m not referring to the many billion-dollar start-ups, but to the mysterious and rare breed of person who has a deep knowledge of both business and technology. These people are sometimes referred to as “smart creatives” or “pi-shaped people” – and we all know they’re few and far between.
Rather than searching externally for these unicorns, we are seeing leading companies focus on reorganising and upskilling their existing talent. In fact, companies that are combining digital marketing skills with technology are nearly twice as likely to have surpassed their 2017 business goals by a considerable margin than those that are not (20% versus 11%).
Governments and businesses in the Asia Pacific are already preparing a workforce ready for the digital jobs of tomorrow, with regional marketers more than twice as likely as their North American counterparts to invest in digital skills and education (34% versus 16%), while those in Europe fall in the middle (25%).
If your organisation is in need of a unicorn or two, focus on these three strategies as a starting point:
- Consider rotation programmes or secondments for your top talent so they get to know your organisation’s many facets, especially if you have a research lab, ventures or R&D division.
- Engage Human Resources to deliver a technology training course across all teams. Invest internally and externally for a range of perspectives.
- Inspire your staff by conducting regular thought leadership from your technology vendors & consulting partners.
The design and creativity renaissance
At the opposite end of the spectrum to data and AI, leading organisations are equally focused on design and creativity. Our research found that organisations describing themselves as “design-driven” are 69% more likely to have exceeded their business goals by a substantial margin.
But what exactly do we mean by this? Are we just talking about creative marketing content or a beautiful website? In his Adobe MAX keynote, the Head of Design at Citi, Stephen Gates, summarised this perfectly: “Creativity is problem solving, design is the visual expression of that problem solving.”
The qualities and processes associated with design are essentially about placing your customers at the heart of your business strategy and rebuilding their experience based on an intimate understanding of how people interact with your business.
A challenge that is more pertinent to marketing is “having well-designed user journeys that facilitate a seamless transaction”. Our research found that 39% of respondents are citing this as a difficult element of CX to master. To address this, we are seeing many organisations experiment with processes such as design thinking to reimagine their customer experience completely and – most importantly – to empathise with the customer. When facilitated well, processes such as design thinking and ideation can be applied to a vast range of business problems.
A changing mindset
The wave of technology-led marketing is now business as usual. The challenge marketers face today is learning the application of AI to their business, such as how an intelligent chat-bot can reduce customer service inquiries. This calls for a new mindset, one that is constantly evolving, along with skillsets that are updated continuously.
The Customer Experience Wave has transformed the way we do business. It remains the number one priority for most marketers and has created a powerful new breed of “Pi-Shaped” professionals, those who combine technology nous with business leadership. In 2018, urgency and execution are what will position you ahead or behind the curve.