What’s On

Why marketers should own the brand-consumer conversation

Consumer moments happen throughout our day – at work, at home, and everywhere in between. And within these moments, the lines that separate marketing and technology from consumer activity are blurred, if they even exist at all. For marketers, this means that if we are going to be wherever the consumer is, we will have to blend marketing with technology, and take responsibility for making sure that consumer experiences, from the start until the very end, are our priority.

Turning ordinary consumer moments into ‘Moments that Matter’
Increasingly, brands are getting smarter at turning ordinary consumer moments into moments that matter to them. Here is an example – on my way to Asia just last month, I stopped by Beecher’s at Seattle Airport for my favourite Mac and Cheese. What surprised me was that while the cashier was scanning my smoked Mac and Cheese purchase, the point-of-sale screen asked me if I wanted a pack of gum to go with it. When my salad was scanned, a bottle of water was suggested. This particular Amazon-like moment, though seamless, requires the marriage of business rules, IT, customer service, and marketing in a way that most organisations couldn’t fathom just a handful of years ago.

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I love how this gives us new inspiration to connect with consumers. What amazes me even more is that this shows that even the most routine transactions can be turned into moments that matter for marketers and consumers anywhere in the world.

Today’s marketers are grappling with an increasingly challenging landscape to deliver messages to consumers who are easily distracted, and have a much shorter attention span than before. Consequently, chasing impressions and click-throughs, and placing print ads or billboards may no longer deliver as strong an ROI in this new world.. This complex landscape however, presents an opportunity for marketers to take a more invitational approach in their conversation with consumers, and play a lead role in shaping their experiences instead of being a mere directional sign in the consumer journey.

However, doing all of this is not simple. Creating these moments is difficult because, by and large, the systems that need to connect often, operate in silos – the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system don’t connect to apps, advertising technologies don’t connect with websites, social campaigns don’t connect with CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. And no one company department can carry the full load to achieve this.

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Nevertheless, every experience, whether it originates from the marketing, retail or customer service teams, is an important consumer touch point. If there is one hiccup along the way, all the effort put in to build the brand can be erased in an instant. This could happen, for example, in a retail experience, which is as important as the journey that brought the customer into our store.

Transforming the consumer retail experience
While online retail analytics is well-served today, physical retail spaces, from a scalable analytics point of view, is like a big black box – people, products and money come and go, but there are no scalable insights available to retailers. With the use of Microsoft’s Kinect, data sensors, and beacons, combined with machine learning and contextual data, this scenario is possible today – where a retailer could:

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While this makes for a more memorable experience for the consumer, it also provides scalable insights to the retailer, such as deeper understanding on the actual customer flow, range display effectiveness, informed customer interactions, validation of store design, rapid store experimentation, testing of store layouts, probabilistic retailing and more.

Here is an example of how this could work – Coca-Cola Amatil, a leading beverage distributor in the Asia-Pacific region, wanted to design an innovative way to market beverages to consumers, and create an appealing new way for consumers to interact with their brand. It teamed up with Australian digital agency TKM9 and Microsoft to create a system that allows customers to connect with interactive digital signage installed on beverage coolers, through games, contests, discount offers, social media and more using their own devices. While this improved Coca-Cola Amatil’s sales by up to 20 percent, the digital signages also collected data on sales and customer interaction, and drew consumers into an interactive social multimedia experience, enhancing customer service and brand loyalty as a result.

On the road ahead, the new Windows 10 has the potential to further transform not only in retail, but many other industries with an innovation called the HoloLens. It is the first platform to support holographic computing with APIs (Application Program Interface) that enable gesture and environmental understanding on an untethered device where will bring entirely new ways for us to communicate, create and explore. Imagine the potential applications and the data we could glean from this – we could track eye movement, sensory reactions, engagement with a product etc. – this will change the way brands interact with consumers, much like what the web and mobile did.

Becoming Chief Make-It-Awesome Officers
Gone are the days of chasing impressions and buying billboards. With so many possibilities in front of us right now, businesses expect more from marketers than ever before. As marketers, we understand what makes a good experience for customers better than many others in our organizations. However with that understanding, comes greater responsibility. The rest of the business is looking to marketing to create and own these moments. The good news is that we can intervene in ways that can truly shape the future consumer experience, by using tools unprecedented in the history of marketing, to create amazing experiences for our consumers.

At the end of the day, marketing hasn’t changed. We still need to attract an audience and engage them. We have the freedom to think about how we want consumers to feel, what sort of experiences we want to provide to them in order to attract and engage – no matter where they are, what device they’re using, and when they use it.

When we take it a step further to connect the whole journey together and take into account the full view of the person, something amazing happens. We can use data, insights and technology to stitch together something that extends beyond the world of traditional marketing – creating experiences that transcend online and offline worlds.

And with all this, we’re really just talking about making it awesome. Though there are Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Digital Officers, Chief Technology Officers, the reality is, we can’t make great experiences unless everyone is looking to their left and right, upstream and downstream, to craft the consumer experience together as a whole.

I hope we can ultimately all be Chief Make-It-Awesome Officers. Let’s own the brand-consumer conversation from the start till the end, and make those moments that matter.

Frank Holland

The author, Frank Holland, is the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Advertising.