Successful brands aren’t focusing on what’s now — they’re focusing on what’s next

Don't wait to react to consumers’ quickly changing tastes. If you want to stay competitive, columnist Mike Sands explains, you need to use your customer data to anticipate what they may desire next.

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They made me do it.

I didn’t even try to resist. It’s almost as if they knew I would go for it — even though it would totally disrupt the lives of my family.

So, yeah, I booked a completely random last-minute family getaway on Airbnb, adding on teen-friendly excursions through its Trips service. (And, if my children get bored, they always have Netflix and Spotify, of course.) Me, I’ll keep on top of things at a nearby WeWork space. No need to rent a car — Lyft will take care of our driving needs. Blue Apron can feed us.

This may have seemed impulsive a few years back. But today, it’s a common reflex. The explosive growth of newer, smaller, innovative companies that improve the way we live our lives has forever changed consumer behavior. Not to mention the marketplace: In 2015, 90 percent of the top 100 US consumer brands lost market share due to disruptive new brands, with 62 percent of incumbents experiencing falling sales.

Yet the reason these forward-thinking startups are killing it isn’t because they are filling a specific need. Rather, it’s because these companies are anticipating what customers may desire next, in turn creating authentic and unique offerings that people don’t even realize they want — but soon can’t live without. Can you remember what it was actually like to have to call a travel agent? Or hail a cab? Or watch network TV?

Consumer wants, needs and expectations will always evolve as new personal experiences unfold. To compete in a marketplace where 31 of the top 50 disruptor companies have already reached the billion-dollar valuation mark in the span of a few years, brands must be able to continually take note of customers’ ever-changing demands and offer the most relevant, valuable and wonderfully surprising solution. This is why identity for the enterprise is no longer an option: It’s absolutely essential for survival.

Existing brands don’t have the advantage of entering the marketplace with a clean slate, as do the recent spate of disruptive newbies. But they do have the advantage of years and years of rich customer data that, if leveraged effectively, can inspire smarter business decisions around products, services, internal processes and improving the bottom line. This is the essence of an enterprise-wide identity asset.

Identity is an exhaustive inventory of past and present customer interactions across the web, mobile apps, physical stores, email, digital ads, contact centers and beyond. It offers remarkable insight into what consumers want, as well as where, when and how to most effectively fulfill their desires.

When a brand owns and controls its own identity asset, it can be used beyond marketing to influence smarter decisions across the organization that will give customers a reason to return (even if that reason doesn’t currently exist).

Consider the following three things many brands are doing wrong. Intrinsic in each is the inability to identify customers. Yet the solutions do not reside in the marketing ecosystem alone. There are still two vital and massive ecosystems that need to be linked — commerce and service — and this is where enterprise identity changes the game.

1. Failing to solve customer pain points — or just simply delight

You don’t need me to recount the headlines. Store closings, record-setting retail bankruptcies, travel companies under fire… it’s a fiasco.

Brands we work with tell us that 90 percent or more of their revenue comes from customers they already know. That’s incredibly powerful. And it’s the best reason for companies to build an identity asset they own and control.

Only by being able to recognize customers as individuals at all touch points can a brand possibly understand what consumers need and desire at different stages in the relationship. It may involve rethinking inventory, fulfillment strategies, customer service or in-store functionality. But it will never be just about better advertising.

2. Believing product and price matter more than customer experience

Most brands still don’t get it. According to Forrester’s 2017 US Customer Index Report, this is the first time not one single industry improved the quality of its customer experience from the previous year, and three verticals actually got worse. In fact, twice as many brand scores fell as those that rose, and losses were on average bigger than gains. Not even one brand made the “Excellent” category.

Customer service issues, email glitches, defective products, website functionality — these are all critical parts of the customer experience. Integrating all customer data into a proprietary identity asset that the entire organization can access gives brands the insights needed to drive better end-to-end customer experiences.

3. Worrying about the competition instead of their customers

I went off on this in my column last month. But it bears repeating. The starting point for any business decision should always be “What do our customers want?” not “What do we want?”

Businesses already know the answer to the latter, and the typical response is to try to outplay competitors at their own game. The answer to the former lies within an identity asset that takes account of all customer interactions, informing the next logical step in the brand-consumer relationship.

Digital disruption is old news. Marketplace domination is the story of the day. To compete, brands can’t wait to react to consumers’ changing tastes; they need to use their customer data to proactively shape what consumers desire in the first place. And that’s the beauty of enterprise identity.

On that note, I need to pack. PackPoint has already created my list, of course, but the manual task is still my own — and whoever creates an app for that is likely creating the next billion-dollar disruptor.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Mike Sands
Mike Sands is CEO of Signal. Prior to joining the company, he was part of the original Orbitz management team and held the positions of CMO and COO. While at Orbitz, Mike helped take the business from start-up to IPO, then through two acquisitions (Cendant and Blackstone). After Orbitz, Mike joined The Pritzker Group as a partner on their private equity team. Mike also has held management roles at General Motors Corporation and Leo Burnett. His work at General Motors led him to be named a “Marketer of the Next Generation” by Brandweek magazine. Mike holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University and a Masters in Management degree from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management.

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