12 digital marketing and customer experience tips for success

Creating great customer experiences separates market leaders from the rest of the pack. Here are 12 ideas, best practices, strategies and words of advice for advancing your digital marketing efforts in the year ahead.

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You put on a show in Vegas, you gotta give the crowd glitz. And that’s exactly what Adobe did with its recent Adobe Summit 2017, which featured a motivational talk from Peyton Manning, surprise appearances from Ryan Gosling and Penn & Teller, and Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon showing off her improv genius.

But marketers were there to learn, and the conference delivered on that front, too. Here are 12 digital marketing ideas, best practices, strategies and nuggets of wisdom shared during the summit.

1. Digital transformation is ‘all or nothing’

During the Summit’s keynote, Adobe CEO and President Shantanu Narayen addressed the pain points many organizations face today: The need to stay ahead of competitors, the struggle to achieve digital transformation, and, above all, the need to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

“Just when we think we’ve figured out our strategies, new experiences and technologies emerge, creating more fear across industries than I’ve ever seen,” Narayen said. He cited Adobe, circa 2008, as an example of a company at a crossroads. At the time, “our growth was stagnating,” he said. Mobile was “upending” Adobe’s desktop software model. “We weren’t mission-critical to where our customers were heading.”

Adobe executives decided the company needed to transform from being “leaders in content creation” to “leaders in content creation and data,” including analytics, Narayen continued. “We moved from box software to monthly cloud subscriptions, and we had to earn that business every day. We persevered, experimented and evolved.”

Most every company has its version of that story today, or soon will. Narayen added: “Preserving the status quo is not a business strategy. Digital transformation is all or nothing.”

2. Customer experience is the new battleground

A brand that hopes to survive and prosper must transform into an “experience business,” where delivering an amazing customer experience is the top-line business goal, Narayen said. Creating great customer experiences separates market leaders from the rest of the pack, he added.

But becoming an “experience business” is by no means easy. Such a transformation creates “an all-hands-on-deck moment for companies,” said Brad Rencher, Adobe executive vice president and general manager of digital marketing, during the keynote. “It’s not just the charter of the marketing department. We’re all stewards of the customer experience.”

We’ve reached the point where customers dictate their relationship with brands, and not the other way around, as it once was, said Forrester analyst James McCormick in a separate session. “We’ve given customers many digital ways to engage with us, and they can engage with our competitors, too.” And they can easily move on to a competitor if their experience with your brand is unsatisfying, he pointed out.

3. Four tenets of becoming an experience business

Rencher offered his take on the 4 tenets that successful experience-focused businesses have in common:

  1. The company must know and respect its customers — and know what they want before they ask.
  2. The company must speak in one voice across sales, marketing, support and all other functions.
  3. Technology should be transparent to the customer. “Don’t make (the experience) about the technology,” Rencher said. “The medium is not the message. The experience is the message.”
  4. The company must delight its customers at every turn so that customers’ expectations of the brand “consistently, constantly elevate.”

As an example, Rencher said automotive companies are transforming into experience businesses. In the past, they sold cars. But cars are evolving into ‘experience pods,’ where technology personalizes your experience with music playlists, temperature controls, speed settings and more. “Pretty soon, the least interesting thing you will do with your car will be to drive it,” he added.

4. Enterprise execs lack vision for digital disruption

According to Forrester, 89 percent of enterprise executives believe digital will disrupt their business within the next 12 months. But only 27 percent of CEOs say they have a clear vision for digital transformation of their business, McCormick said.

Similarly, 73 percent of executives say their firms aspire to be data-driven, but 29 percent say they’re not adept at being data-driven. The result is a big disconnect between all the data that’s being collected about customers and businesses that are successfully turning that data into action, McCormick said.

Look for that scenario to change this year. In 2017, customer insights “will be liberated” by artificial intelligence (AI), McCormick continued. “This will be the year when businesses gain direct access to powerful customer insights through new vendor-built cognitive interfaces and other AI-related technologies,” he said. It will be the year of the ‘insights revolution,’ where businesses harness and apply data “at every opportunity” to differentiate products and customer experiences.

5. Don’t expect a one-stop shop

No one vendor will be able to give marketers all the insights, analytics and tools they need, McCormick added. “You’ll need to work with multiple partners to get the complete digital insights stack.”

6. Customer insights will drive growth

Businesses like Amazon that are “insights-driven,” delivering products and services that wouldn’t be possible without customer insights, will collectively generate $1.25 trillion by 2020, Forrester predicts. That’s up from a collective $250 billion in 2015.

“Insights-driven businesses will be faster and fleeter” than those that aren’t insights-driven, McCormick added. With global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expected to grow only about 3.5 percent annually, most brands will have to “steal” customers away from competitors in order to grow. To do that, you’ll need a solid technology foundation for gaining customer insights.

“Your company needs to be insights-driven by 2020,” McCormick added. “The CMO needs to know this now, not tomorrow.”

7. Competition for mobile web users gets fierce

In a session about digital marketing predictions, Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst for Adobe Digital Insights, said that overall visits to websites declined 0.4 percent since January 2014. In addition, total time spent on websites declined 22 percent from 2015 to 2016. Smartphones are behind the shift, making it more important than ever to make a strong impact on mobile, she said.

“You’ve got two seconds to get a mobile experience right the first time,” added R “Ray” Wong, principal analyst and chairman at Constellation Research, in the same session. “And if it’s bad, they won’t come back.”

Put another way: “Make sure your loyal (mobile) visitors come back again and again, because your competitors are trying to steal them,” said Gaffney.

In a separate session, Travis Sabin, mobile app and analytics product manager for Adobe, said that 61 percent of mobile web users are unlikely to return to a site if they had a bad experience.

8. Plan for a future in which people don’t buy things

Many consumer brands are focused on selling their products in the largest volumes possible. But in the age of Uber and Netflix, many consumers “don’t own things anymore, they’re accessing them,” said Wong. “So, when you think about how to sell something, think about what is the smallest unit you can sell and be profitable. Think about how you might not be selling products anymore, you might be selling services. Choose technology to support that business model. Understand that speed and time to innovation trumps perfection. It’s better to move forward than to try to move perfectly. And don’t hang on to the past, or to an old business model, or someone will disrupt you and you’ll have to respond.”

9. Focus less on campaigns

Content marketing has a success rate of only 30 percent, according to Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute, in a session on content marketing. The low rate is because, too often, marketers think in terms of campaigns that have start and end dates. But you should think of content marketing as publishing, and “publishing never ends,” he said.

“It takes time to build an audience, and most marketers are very impatient,” Pulizzi added. “The average time from the start of content marketing to monetization is 12 to 18 months.”

10. Email marketing still rocks

In terms of overall content marketing effectiveness, email marketing tops the list of channels, ahead of social media networks, said Pulizzi. “Email is the best thing we’ve got as marketers.” With email, you can communicate directly with, and gain valuable insights into, your subscribers. There’s no gatekeeper standing between you and your customer, as there is with social media networks like Facebook.

For example, Starbucks has built a following of nearly 5 million people on Google+. But how will those followers benefit Starbucks if Google+ goes away?, Pulizzi asked. It’s better to focus primarily on channels, like email marketing, where you can completely control the interaction with fans and followers.

11. Mobile apps and mobile websites serve different purposes

Is a branded mobile app or a mobile website better for attracting, engaging and delighting customers? The answer: It depends.

Mobile apps are best for providing location-aware offers and features, messaging with customers, encouraging customer loyalty with rewards or other offers, providing customer service and enabling offline functionality, while the mobile web is ideal for enabling local searches, sharing URLs on social media, reaching new customers, increasing your brand’s exposure, influencing purchase behavior and easily updating content, said Benjamin Weiss, product manager for pharmacy store chain Walgreens, which offers both a mobile website and a mobile app. Weiss spoke during a session in which mobile apps were pitted against the mobile web.

Ideally, your brand should leverage both. But if your top goal is to reach new and existing customers, focus on the mobile web. A mobile app is recommended to engage customers and improve customer service.   

12. Customer engagement starts with happy employees

Virtual reality, augmented reality, 360-degree live videos, AI, machine learning. With so many emerging technologies to enhance marketing and customer experience, where does a CIO focus?

The technology is important, of course. But CIOs should focus, above all, on their team members, said Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard in an interview. “There’s been a lot of talk about how to digitize the workspace to focus on customer experiences,” she said. And while that’s important, CIOs “need to take some of that strategic thinking and apply it to their workforce. How do you prepare your organization to really be a leader in the future? How do you support the changing base of employees and give them the tools they’re happy with, to keep them from Ubering on to the next place? That’s the real challenge for CIOs.”

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