To marketers, the future looks like touch point whack-a-mole
The number of consumer touch points is growing exponentially, and contributor Mike Herrick believes that for brands to keep up, they'll need to rethink their martech stacks.
If you’ve ever wondered what will replace the smartphone, the answer is that nothing will. Or actually, everything will.
Pervasive computing will become the norm. After all, Gartner predicts there will be 20 billion connected things in existence by 2020, up from about 7 billion today.
Currently, digital signage, smart kiosks and even connected dressing rooms are all shaping the way consumers and businesses interact with technology (and each other), and we are on the cusp of another wave of sweeping tech change, including self-driving cars, drones, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Yet the mobile paradigm persists. We look at IoT (Internet of Things) devices and assume they will function like smartphones. This is the pattern of how humans process the emergence of technologies, and there are unfortunate consequences. The first television ads were more or less radio copy complemented with moving images of a spokesperson.
When the World Wide Web became a reality in the early ’90s, media companies used magazines and newspapers as their template for content. In the early days of smartphones, people assumed that they would work like desktop computers. In his 2007 iPhone introduction, Steve Jobs showed off The New York Times on the Safari web browser because everyone thought that you’d use your phone to surf the web instead of employing apps.
Now, we’re making the same mistake again. We assume that mobile is a template for the post-mobile age — but it’s not.
The truth is that post-mobile computing will be an infinitely complex environment. Think about when you could first store your photos in the cloud and access them globally from any device. That was a huge step forward. Now imagine a consumer’s opt-in data not only being in the cloud but following them around from place to place, informing them about meetings, events, orders, information, you name it.
That experience requires an open-ended, open-system approach. It requires companies to think differently about architecting their marketing and communication stacks for the future.
Companies that get this wrong will offer disconnected experiences to consumers. They will also continue to play a game of whack-a-mole with every new touch point by buying into a new solution to help them interact with potential customers.
Tech and touch points are everywhere
The tech landscape is continuously expanding to serve companies’ needs as they battle on the front lines of modern commerce. In 2011, about 150 martech solutions existed on the market, and now there are close to 5,000. Tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon also keep adding new consumer touch points, ranging from chatbots and smart speakers to connected cars and wristwatches.
The challenge for marketers is that they no longer control the playing field in the siloed sense — like brick-and-mortar stores, company websites or email. If done well, their brand lives with the consumer across channels and interacts with them intelligently at the right time and place. If done poorly, they’re not even part of the conversation. They’re invisible.
Marketers commonly admit that the traditional customer journey is broken because the internet killed it by giving consumers the control to direct their own experience. Now, with mobile — and soon, post-mobile — the journey is spread across hundreds of moments, multiple devices, graphical user interfaces, voice user interfaces and platforms, and they are embedded within physical environments themselves, all driven by the customer’s latest behaviors online and offline.
The idea that a single solution can keep up with this expanding need is ridiculous. Marketers actually have no idea what kinds of new touch points will emerge over the coming decade. Because of this reality, the best strategy is to have control over data, embrace APIs and maintain the flexibility to have all of these new solutions work together.
Consumers expect you to know them — everywhere
Paradoxically, a centralized, consolidated source of data becomes more valuable as the number of consumer touch points explodes. Consumers assume that if they have an interaction with a brand on their desktop, they can pick up the conversation on their tablet or in-store. To do that, though, a brand has to have a pool of data on that individual that can be leveraged at any touch point.
While there’s nothing new about that insight, connected APIs can for the first time achieve that effect and distribute messaging to customers across the martech stack. Google and Amazon offer these types of API-based services for push notifications or in-app messages. But basic services aren’t enough.
Customer experience is the battleground, and the tech that supports intelligent, contextual experiences that put the consumer first — not the brand — will win. Run-of-the-mill marketers have been terrible at this in the past. Consider all the irrelevant email you get — the spam, the terrible ads. As tech gets more embedded into the customer experience, marketers have to live by the mantra of “serve before you sell.”
Scale for cross-channel customer engagement
As the number of consumer touch points grows exponentially, marketers are struggling to keep up. Dial into a customer service line, for instance, and there’s a good chance they won’t recognize you or know your history and will have to connect you to someone else. It’s no wonder that, despite all of the tech advances, customer service has struggled to improve for decades.
That shouldn’t be the case. Today’s technology can put consumers in control of their own experience through a preference center — ideally, brands should ask them how they want to receive service updates, product deals and company news. People could indicate a desire for promos to be emailed and all other communications to arrive via notifications.
Or you could let the machines do the work and look for the underlying patterns of each user. Artificial intelligence is redefining how people are communicated with as the data can provide a recommendation with high confidence of the best content, time and place to reach someone.
What’s abundantly clear right now is that a successful framework for the post-mobile age is to empower marketing with real-time customer intelligence. Either do that — or continue to play Touch Point Whack-A-Mole.