by Paige O’Neill, Forbes Councils Member
The pivot to contactless interactions during the pandemic created a paradigm shift in how we work, shop, travel and consume services. As a result, a 2020 McKinsey Global Survey of executives found that “companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years.” Moreover, the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has been accelerated by seven years.
Clearly, many buyers and sellers are happy with the new digital-first reality.
However, there is also evidence that some people want to resume working in the office, shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, dining at restaurants and pursuing other in-person interactions. One 2020 study from Identity (via Exhibition News) revealed that 80% of people were eager to return to live events within the next 12 months. Another from Delighted found that some consumers like to shop in stores to see, touch and feel items and take items home right away, among other reasons.
What should your marketing organization be doing to adjust to this complex environment? Do you have not only the tools but also the mindset necessary to rise to these new challenges? To help, here are some key tips to keep top of mind:
Be ready with the right-sized digital experience.
Marketing teams should shift away from measuring output-based metrics like impressions, click-through rate, cost-per-click, shares, likes and share of voice and start focusing on digital engagement. At its most fundamental, digital engagement is about how customers interact directly with your brand and understanding who consumers are as humans — not data points. Be sure that you are thoroughly collecting, unifying and then analyzing the customer data you need to tell the right story, personalize experiences and drive action. Your goal is to understand, empathize and connect with your audience in the ways that are most relevant to them and to support them through their journey.
Give customers what they want most: choice.
Your marketing mix should be multi-dimensional and adaptable enough to support a true omnichannel experience. To achieve this, make sure you understand where customers are interacting — that’s the only way you can be sure you are prioritizing channel content appropriately. In addition, you should think modularly. Operating in silos and creating content that’s specific to only one channel prevents you from being able to reuse or repurpose content. But when you start thinking about content and marketing in a modular way, you can provide teams with the flexibility they need to adapt existing content for different channels (e.g., combining different headlines with the same body text or imagery to create permutations of content). Ultimately, collecting feedback from these different data points will help you adapt your messaging and content to deliver even more personalized and authentic experiences across the board.
Timing is another key element of choice, so you should make sure you’re ready to react quickly. You can use artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to capture and even predict real-time insights so that you can appropriately provide either a digital or physical interaction. (Full disclosure: My company’s platform utilizes technologies like these.)
I suspect this theme of “choice” will play a major role in upcoming B2B marketing events, which we see reflected in many companies’ decision to host hybrid events. That seems to be the approach Salesforce is taking for its fall event, Dreamforce, which its website says is a digital event with a small number of physical attendees.
Recognize that digital may remain the primary way to reach customers and that personalization is critical.
Optimization and personalization of B2B, B2C and D2C digital content should now be top priorities — because contextual and highly personalized content delivered when and where the customer wants it is the new expectation.
In a 2017 Epsilon survey of 1,000 consumers aged 18 to 64, 90% said that they consider personalization appealing, and 80% indicated that they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences. Businesses seem to be hearing that message loud and clear. In its 2020 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC found that consumer-market CEOs ranked improving the customer experience as their top investment priority for the next 12 months.
What can you do to improve personalization? It all begins with the creation of personas and customer journeys to ensure your brand has in-depth knowledge of who your customers are, what they want and need, their motivators and the potential actions they might take. This knowledge will help you determine where personalization will have the most impact on customer experience satisfaction, journey flow, sales progression and other key metrics. As you’re gathering this information, resist the urge to ignore negative data. Instead, use it to your advantage. By identifying friction points within a journey or the customer experience, you can expose areas for quick wins. The ability to remove friction with more guidance and tailored content will help ensure customer satisfaction throughout the experience, which could lead to more conversions and higher engagement.
The disruption of the past year has forever changed customer behavior. But even though the move to digital channels has accelerated, many of your customers are likely now craving in-person interactions as well. Take the time to reevaluate your marketing mix to ensure you are delivering the best possible customer experience. The key, as always, is to understand your customers and continue to improve how you interact with them across all channels. I believe the brands that prioritize digital engagement — to deliver connected and contextualized experiences — will be the ones that prosper.
Article originally appeared on Forbes.