Last week we hosted clients and partners for XChange, an unconference style afternoon of discussion around the trends and technology at the intersection of content and commerce.
It was a glorious summer day in London as we opened XChange in the iconic Courthouse Hotel in Shoreditch. The former magistrates' court has hosted the likes of Oscar Wilde, Mick Jagger, the Krays and now, some of the finest minds in the marketing and technology world.
Joining forces with sister agency, Wunderman Thompson Commerce, the afternoon began with a reveal of some key insights and findings from their hot-off-the-press Future Shopper study 2019. Future Shopper surveyed over 15,000 online consumers across the USA and Europe.
One of the key findings highlights the shift in consumer behaviour towards loyalty to a service, not a brand. Whilst brands are, of course, still important and consumers will align with a brand promise, the experience delivered by the service is the key differentiator. Amazon has set the bar high with Prime and 72% of respondents stated that they wished other brands and retailers offered similar services. The service expectation is largely driven by a generation that has grown up in a world where immediacy is a must and not having same-day, or at least next-day delivery is inconceivable.
The growing demand for voice was perhaps not a surprising finding, with 33% of respondents already using or planning to use voice assistants in the next 12 months. But its role in the search and discovery stage of the customer experience came under scrutiny as did the real opportunity for research and loyalty and immediate opportunities outside of developed English-speaking markets.
While the Alpha generation may be the future, Gen Z is still teaching marketers how the world has changed. Despite social and online playing a huge part in their lives, it appears that the demise of the high street has been overstated. 53% still prefer to shop with a retailer with a physical presence (compared to a survey average of 48%) BUT their expectations of that in-store experience are high. They are suspicious of Amazon and its world domination, instead seeking the authenticity and purpose of their brands of choice.
Finally, the opportunities for brands to compete with the mighty Amazon in terms of experience, specialism and expertise and in a direct to consumer approach were covered, with the intriguing idea of an “e-commerce world war” brewing, raised by one audience member. And the sophistication of Prime shoppers reveals that there is an early adopter set that is shopping differently and ahead of the curve.
That’s enough Future Shopper spoilers. The report is a really insightful read so download it now and enjoy! Now onto some of the deeper dive discussion sessions...
The stack of the future
This was a more technical dive into the future of e-commerce, steered by the trends currently at play. As the research shows, those trends are largely driven by Gen Z. To catch their attention, you’ll have to exist where they naturally swarm, social media is the fastest rising avenue for inspiration so media buying strategies should take heed. And don’t imagine for a minute that you can simply be a product in the eyes of this high expectation crowd, the “no-involvement” product is under threat as brand loyalty pales in relation to demand for immediacy and great service.
For them, physical stores have become showrooms (and the best will be experience-led), which still have an important role in the decision making process, although much of the actual shopping often still takes place online. The challenge lies in the interplay between physical experience, commerce experience and social. And marketers are still trying to catch up with what the millennial consumer wants, even as Gen Z and Alphas are becoming more dominant.
A common trait is the mindset of buying multiple items online, only to send most of them back. This idea of the bedroom / fitting-room seems to be an unsustainable model that flies in the face of the eco-warrior image that movements like Extinction Rebellion are proliferating.
So what does the technology stack of the future, that can answer to these exacting demands, look like? A commerce platform as the system of record, overlaid with the physical store experience and headless integrations as necessary to create a unified, multi-channel customer experience.
Beyond the consumer: the challenges of B2B commerce and account based marketing
Whilst Future Shopper focuses on B2C challenges, it was the application of B2C marketing tactics to B2B thinking that occupied minds during this conversation, led by EY’s Zoe McKay. Global B2B brands face unique challenges with multiple territories, hundreds of thousands of employees, and complex structures and channels to market, whilst often operating in heavily regulated industries. At the same time, the customer decision making process is long and highly complex with many individuals and influencers involved.
Without traceable transactional data, how should organisations promote themselves and generate new opportunities, while properly leveraging the deep professional relationships that so often determine B2B outcomes?
The flip side of this lack of transactional data, reveals a depth and wealth of data driven by content that, when fused with a CRM strategy and system, and aligned with account based marketing practices can drive exceptional customer experiences and decision-making. The key as always is data, even if it’s different data, and an efficient data platform that allows marketers to make sense of it and turn it into action.
Turning data into magic moments: from awareness to loyalty
Inevitably the conversation around data didn’t stop there. Ford’s Claire Hepworth led a lively conversation around the use of data to build a single view of the customer. While organisations often have a host of information on who their customers are and what they do, understanding why they behave as they do, is now the nut to crack. This move from big data to thick data aims to add an emotional layer to marketing.
The grey line between personalisation as value, versus personalisation verging on creepy, was, as always, a matter for debate. Whilst a growing number of customers are willing to exchange data for value, a question mark still lingers over the accuracy of this information and therefore, it’s not always helpful when trying to win in the personalisation game.
In Ford’s case, data shows that many customers are not fully aware of all the features available in their cars. This has led to them implementing a new handover process to customers and better communicating the benefits of features via dealers. They are also exploring drip feeding content while a customer is waiting for delivery so that their car can arrive better spec’d to their requirements.
Bringing ecommerce into the mix for high value purchases, such as cars is an on-going challenge. But for search, discovery and aftercare the digital experience is critical in building trust, maintaining customer relationships and driving loyalty.
Embrace the power of customer experience management
Adobe’s Jamie Brighton hosted an insightful discussion based on the findings of a recent IDC report. Amongst other things, the report highlighted the challenge of managing consent in the post GDPR world. The discussion revealed that companies have suffered dramatic data losses in trying to implement privacy protection and seen numbers of customers - on whom they have data - drop away considerably. However, the latter is not necessarily a problem if the engagement with a smaller number of valued customers or prospective customers is greater. In fact, the research, which talked to senior leaders of global organisations revealed that many have see GDPR as having had a positive impact.
The key out-takes? Leading organisations are starting to combine data and content in a single Experience Platform that will convert data into insight - with the help of AI; use that insight to attract and acquire new customers; deliver a meaningful experience to those customers and feature the commerce layer to convert that desire to purchase. Of course, all of this possible only when those businesses build an ecosystem of skills, agencies and partners that will deliver on the promise of the technology. Which leads us onto the next discussion...
Solving the experience talent gap
Although technology lies at the heart of our solutions, without the right human talent and skills in place, any transformation is doomed. Robert Walters’ Head of Digital, Rob Nicholson was able to apply two lenses to this discussion; that of Head of Digital, faced with his own hiring challenges, and the Robert Walters lens, as global recruitment experts. The competition for talent is threefold. The global tech giants, the tech startups and the more traditional organisations, undergoing digital transformation, are all fishing in the same talent pool. So there’s a dearth of talent when it comes to developers but there are all kinds of new roles appearing that are equally hard to fill; data scientists, architects and AI and machine learning experts, to name just three.
Once you find a candidate with the right hard skills, there are the soft skills to consider. There was a general consensus that if you could find people with the right attitude, drive and will to get stuck in, then hard skills could be developed with the right training.
The onus is on employers to provide an environment with an attractive culture, flexible working and exciting challenges. Where Millennials and Gen Z are shifting consumer expectations, they are also shifting working expectations and employers need to work hard to keep up.
Amazon: compete, collaborate or both?
Last, but by no means least, was this fascinating discussion around the dominance of Amazon and what that means to brands. Amazon UK has more traffic than all UK brand sites put together - that kind of puts its sheer size into perspective. In fact, 38p of every pound spent in the UK goes through Amazon and in the US, that figure is a gigantic 52 cents of every dollar. And B2B traffic is growing. 40% of FTSE organisations are Amazon Business customers and reports suggest that B2B could top B2C in the next five years. According to the Future Shopper research, 56% of shoppers now start their search on Amazon. So even Google are having to compete!
In answer to the question posed above, the general consensus was that brands have no option but to collaborate. However, they also need to work hard to maintain a valuable brand presence and work with other retailers and market places. The top tips? Firstly, Amazon can’t do everything well so brands are advised to narrow down their niche. Be a specialist in something - Rapha in the world of cycling, for example - and leverage your brand and content on that. Other brands are turning to subscription services; Hewlett Packard are working on a subscription replacement service for printer ink, Brita are using AI to replace filters. Other brands are actually partnering with Amazon (if you can’t beat them, join them). US retailer, Kohl’s physically take Amazon returns and have seen a rise in transactions in store as a result.
And there’s an upside to collaborating ; embrace Amazon’s data as part of your strategy and take advantage of their rich, informative content that can help you get to the top of search results.
The final question was, ‘Who’ll take Amazon down?’. Silence! Or perhaps Walmart in the States, said one slightly sheepish voice.
The afternoon ended with a panel session during which some of these themes were revisited and expanded on. However, the focus was on data and getting the value exchange for that data right. And we touched on a future in which the consumer holds all the data power, only releasing it as they see fit. Is this where we move from web 2.0 - essentially an interactive, more customised web - to web 3.0? And what does that really mean? More food for thought…
If you’d like to keep the conversation going, download our monthly podcast, The Experience Makers.
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