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by David Mennie
I remember reading early, ground-breaking articles by B. Joseph Pine II in the Harvard Business Review, not that long ago, that explained how to understand markets that were made up of multiple customers: from mass markets, to segmented markets, to niche markets.
When I spoke with Joe recently he told me that today the landscape is the exact opposite.
“Today every customer is multiple markets,” he said. “Customers want different offerings in different ways at different times. We have to be there when a market ‘pops’ into existence -- at the right time, with the right customized offer, in the right way.”
We’re talking about contextual marketing, of course, and like just about everything else in digital experience design, it’s driven by changing consumer habits.
A recent Forrester study reported that half of online American adults are "always addressable," which means they use at least three Internet-connected devices, and get online several times a day from multiple locations.
"Marketing's job now is to identify and use context to create repeatable cycle of interactions, drive deeper engagement and learn more about the customer process," Forrester analyst Carlton Doty advised.
Traditional campaigns, Doty concludes, "don't deliver competitive advantage anymore … because your competitors are just as skilled as you are at the campaign game."
Instead: "Change your focus from customer acquisition to interaction management, and from media schedules to customer moments."
Here’s the way I think about it: the guy who’s online looking at watches at 1 pm on a weekday afternoon, from a laptop computer in his office, is probably not ready to buy. Later, when he logs in from home, via his tablet computer -- now he’s a lot closer to putting a watch in an online shopping cart.
Those two different contexts require two very different interactions, two different digital experiences. You should be able to deliver them.
Understand your customer at this level, and the payoff is huge, according to B. Joseph Pine, who is now the co-founder of the consulting firm Strategic Horizons LLP.
“When you customize for an individual, he naturally benefits. When he benefits, he's willing to interact with you again, which gives you another opportunity to learn, which you can use to better customize your offering,” Joe told me.
The relationship grows and deepens with every interaction.
“That customer will then come back to you whenever he's in the market for something you provide, precisely because you know so much about him,” Joe added. “That's a singularly powerful competitive advantage!”
Contextualization also makes it possible to deliver a more emotionally rich digital experience.
I learned this when I discussed digital design with Zhecho Dobrev, a consultant at Beyond Philosophy, a customer experience consultancy that has worked with brands like AT&T, FedEx, and American Express.
Beyond Philosophy is known for focusing on the emotional side of the customer experience -- which, although we may hate to admit it, is probably a more powerful driver than the rational side.
Zhecho pointed to the global travel giant TUI Travel PLC.
For TUI, the most important thing is safety; second most important: that their customers have relaxed and happy holidays, so they remain their customers. As a result, the TUI digital experience is all about “safe,” “happy,” “pleased,” and “unhurried.”
TUI starts to plug the safety message with the delivery of the e-ticket (e.g. “your ticket is safe for you in your My First Choice area”). The trip’s website features a dedicated “health and safety” tab. Other safety cues, before the trip starts, include the delivery of the home embassy address and phone numbers in the foreign country. Company communications include phrases like “our team will be there to meet you,” and “first and foremost for your safety.”
My conversation with Zhecho reinforced for me the importance of context. We all need to understand the whole digital experience through the customer’s eyes, both logically and emotionally. Then we can use this information to design a customer experience that reflects the digital experience we want them to have.