The Moment of Truth for Brands
Breathing Life into Digital Services
2016 is set to be the year of the consumer, with brands committed to upping their spend on data-driven and automated services, but without losing that much desired human touch.
Long Live Marketing
Traditional marketing is dead, and many companies are finally coming to terms with the idea.
As we know only too well, today’s consumers are savvy and more cynical then ever. Years of overwhelming choice and messaging overload have spurned increasingly demanding consumers who have to act as ‘editors’ of their surroundings – killing satisfaction and loyalty. Western markets have produced savvy customers who don’t actually need very much but who have individual, ever changing wants. As a result, customers are increasingly less easily impressed by our products and services.
Anxiety in marketing departments has been bubbling to the boil over the last decade, with age-old certainties replaced by a lack of clear direction on how to grow sales and build loyalty in this new world. Past promises of technological panaceas have muddied the waters even more. By 2017 total CRM spend is expected to grow to a $36.5bn market worldwide. Since 2011, each year around 49% of businesses said they plan to increase spending on CRM related services. These figures alone point towards 2016 being the year of the consumer and with old marketing tactics now a thing of the past.
Product Experience Is Where It Matters
The four P’s are a shadow of their former self.
’Place’ is all but irrelevant in a world where outlets are omnipresent and transactions are virtual and automated. Convenience is increasingly commonplace and rarely a differentiator. Similarly, differentiating on ’Price’ is becoming harder in a world where price promotions are constant and extreme. Today’s smart companies are stead-fast in their pricing, wearing their undiscounted price-tags as signifiers of quality. Then there’s ‘Promotion’. Once the weapon of choice for big brands, pumping out messaging is proving increasingly impotent, with even the most expensive of campaigns struggling to cut through the noise. Far from levers for differentiation, these three ‘P’s’ are little more than hygiene factors in modern markets.
Marketeers then, are left only with ‘Product’ to leverage for real growth and loyalty building. Is it little wonder that the smart marketing money has drifted further and further into the realms of design and innovation in recent years? Is it mere coincidence that the Oscars of ad-land Cannes Lions saw fit to introduce a ‘Product Design’ category to their accolades?
Real, loyalty-building differentiation today is rarely achieved with quick fixes of discount deals or multi-channel campaigns. Companies from across industries are coming to the realisation that their product or service – to be more specific, the ‘experience’ the customer has of it – is the new battlefield for consumer affection. The manufacturers or service providers who will survive the coming decade are the ones who strive to curate the most efficient and meaningful experiences for their customers across every touchpoint.
Brands in the Era of Living Services
At Fjord, our report on the emerging ‘Era of Living Services’ details the new digital services landscape where ‘liquid expectations’ of customers cross with the automation and data-driven intelligence implied by the ‘digitization of everything’. This third wave of digital will be characterised by services that intelligently adapt to their customers in a way that has not been previously possible:
‘Living Services respond by wrapping around us, constantly learning more about our needs, intents and preferences, so that they can flex and adapt to make themselves more relevant, engaging and useful.’
The shift taking place in digital services poses many challenges to existing business models, but also presents enormous opportunities to companies who can harness the powers of new digital technologies to transform their offer and experiences of their customers.
As well as the many technical challenges to operations this new landscape will bring, it strikes me that marketing will have to reimagine itself yet again to remain relevant in a world of automation where services blend with everyday life.
An interesting question occurred to me recently: where does the brand breathe in a Living Service? Undoubtedly, brands will compete for affection by striving for higher convenience, better seamlessness, more timeliness and greater anticipation of their customers needs and desires in ways that are only beginning to be imagined. One risk companies will face in striving for such levels of efficiency however, is the loss of character that can accompany utility. In a world where services are invisible and take place with near to zero interaction from the user, how will brands apply a human touch to their offer that will really speak to their users. When two service competitors achieve equal levels of technological sophistication, the triumphant will be the one that manages to nurture their brand at the same time as adapting to the new digital landscape. And, as we established, a multi-million dollar messaging campaign may not be enough to cut through.
Moments of Truth: How Living Services Can Bring Brands to Life
Jan Carlzon’s well known 1987 book ‘Moments of Truth’ described the importance of the ‘moment of truth’ every time a customer touches an organisation or company. Invest in these ‘moments’ and, Carlzon argued, the customer experience can be a powerful source of competitive advantage.
In a near future where services will blend into the background and interactions with services arise only when entirely necessary before swiftly moving themselves out of the way of users, the stakes of each micro-moment of interaction increase dramatically. Drives to automate and streamline these touchpoints will differentiate in the short-term, but the risk is letting innovation energy swing too far to pragmatism.
Whilst customers over the next decade will demand ever-greater convenience and automation, cynical millennials will not tolerate services that make them feel like automatons. Connecting on a very human level will continue to separate brands that matter from simple utilities.
Experiences that engage the emotions (even on the level of a microscopic moment of interaction) will make for experiences worth sharing and recommending – word-of-mouth being the frontier for growth for brands in a post-traditional marketing world. Surprise, wit, poetry and wonder – that were once sprinkled on by ad campaigns – when designed in to interactions will allow users to feel the human behind the efficiency. This designed ‘delight’ has for years and will continue to be a powerful differentiator for brands, even as we go through another period of digital disruption.
I’ve noticed some successful services from recent years are already well ahead of the curve on the tempering experiences of the awesome utility of their products with flourish that render the intelligence instantly more approachable. Citymapper immediately springs to mind. The travel planning app knocked all forerunners out of the park with incredible sophistication of information integration, but interestingly feels much more like a toy than the utilitarian way-finders that preceded it. The beaming smile of the loading screen, the bizarre but carefully considered characters for each city, the casualness of the language (‘Get Me Somewhere’), the soothing sophisticated yet approachable design and not forgetting the utter daftness of suggested routes such as ‘Catapult’ and ‘Jet Pack’; all these unexpected touches of very human wit are an experience design masterclass on top of an already outstanding technological achievement.
To stick with transportation, although some have their problems with Uber, I notice myself taking a certain pleasure in the subtle poetry of their new app experience. The brand has been updated and the icon and opening screens now reflect your location in the world. Next to all the garishly colorful icons on my smartphone screen, the sophistication of the new Uber app icon instantly reminds me of the comforting interior of a saloon car. As the app loads, I’m shown a mosaic pattern that builds from their new logo, which gets rid of the letter U and now represents me as the traveller, and I’m sure will allow the company to offer other services in the future. The new brand delivers real personality and for the weary traveler, lost without a lifeline (a metaphor only a little too reminiscent of contemplating an arduous journey across London at 3am on a winter’s night). Then, all is instantly illuminated as the app jumps to life and streets emerge from the darkness and a flurry of cars (real or otherwise!) surround your position awaiting your call. That’s modern day literature! As apps look destined to blend further with operating systems over the coming months, it will be fascinating to see how the Uber brand manages to maintain such a compelling narrative in their digital experience.
What both these brands do perfectly is tap into a meaning beyond pure convenience and efficiency (‘humour’ and ‘fun’ in the case of Citymapper and ‘safety’ and ‘connectedness’ for Uber) and run them through the veins of the brand experience. As Maslow theory predicts, when needs are met it will be higher things (feeling of connection and meaning in obscurity and seemingly ever-impending doom) that are craved.
The brands that will survive the third wave of digital will not simply be the ones that can provide greatest efficiency and convenience to customers. As convenience becomes commonplace, the big brands of tomorrow will be those that can skilfully nurture meaningful interactions and experiences whilst striking for higher technological sophistication – in other words, those that can breathe life into the Living Service.