When it comes to building brand infatuation, easy does it
What are consumers' favorite brands doing right? Columnist Mike Sands says it's all about using customer data and identity to make customers' lives easier.
As a couple strolls down a grocery aisle in a recent episode of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” the woman turns to the man and says, “You do realize I’m literally the only person in this entire grocery store who’s actually buying stuff for myself?” And the shot widens, revealing a store filled with Instacart, TaskRabbit and Postmates employees filling up carts for their on-demand customers.
While the scene is a parody of the tech-obsessed culture, it may someday become reality as brands evolve to meet the ever-rising expectations of today’s consumers, who above all want — in a word — ease. This is why people pay $99 a year to join Amazon Prime. It’s why Airbnb draws more traffic than any other hotel brand or metasearch site. It’s why Uber is now a verb.
Simple, convenient, friction-free experiences that make a customer’s life easier foster brand infatuation. To find out what this actually means, Signal (my employer) partnered with Digital Ascendant to survey US shoppers (registration required) about what their favorite retail and travel/hospitality brands do better than the rest.
What people’s favorite brands are doing right
Here’s what we learned are the most important things consumers’ favorite brands do right during the shopping experience:
- According to 82 percent of those surveyed: Retail brands make it easy to find relevant products, services or offers. Ditto for 70 percent of travel/hospitality shoppers.
- Making shopping seamless and effortless at every interaction comes in a close second for 73 percent of retail customers and 61 percent of travel/hospitality consumers.
We also learned what preferred brands do better to boost the equally important, yet often-overlooked, post-purchase experience:
- Quick issue resolution (64 percent) and easy feedback options (55 percent) rank the highest for consumers when it comes to their favorite retailers.
- For travel/hospitality shoppers, receiving updates that make travel easier (54 percent), quick issue resolution (52 percent) and easy feedback options (46 percent) follow on the heels of loyalty rewards (63 percent), likely because loyalty programs are long-ingrained in the travel-shopping experience.
Now, is this mind-blowing news? Not really. But it does reinforce that marketers need to stop thinking about their customers in terms of transactions and start thinking about them as real people.
What does blow my mind, however, is that so many brands still don’t follow this philosophy, as evidenced by a plummeting retail sector, a travel industry suffering a media blitz of consumer scrutiny, and a hospitality industry facing intense pressure to think outside the box to compete with the rapid growth of industry disruptors in the marketplace.
Brands in any industry need to understand that customer experiences aren’t defined by any single device, channel or campaign. Rather, they are a reflection of everything a brand knows about a customer — needs, desires and past behaviors — which takes shape at the right time and in the right context of a buyer journey.
In short, it takes a complex series of data to deliver just the right amount of ease. And the one thing that ties it all together is identity.
Delivering 1:1 relevancy
Resolving customer identity means much more than knowing someone’s name. It means being able to connect all the information a brand may have about an individual — data in offline CRM (customer relationship management) storages and POS (point of sale) systems, web history, app searches, chat box queries and so on — and link it back to a persistent profile that continues to accumulate new data throughout the customer life cycle.
An identity asset, as such, powers the insights needed to find and relate to people with 1:1 relevancy. This is where the new crop of customer identity solutions come into play.
Brands that invest in strategies and solutions that utilize customer data and identity to innovate easy and consistent customer engagements across touch points will reap the rewards. In our consumer survey, roughly 80 percent of retail and travel/hospitality shoppers are somewhat to very likely to spend more and buy more often from their favorite brands, in addition to spreading the word to friends and family.
And the impact of this can be huge. Take Instacart, for example. While “Silicon Valley” may have been poking fun at consumer trends, the company went from startup to $2 billion business, topping Forbes’ most promising companies list, in just three years. Although Amazon’s proposed $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods muddles Instacart’s future, the intense competition to dominate the grocery delivery space shows just how much brands are betting on consumers’ willingness to pay to make their lives easier. Now, that’s nothing to laugh at.