The dynamic consumer’s journey & how to add value

In the current environment, marketers may get the impression that consumers are hostile to data-driven advertising and content. But contributor Bridget Fletcher argues that's not the case and explains how we can all move forward.

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Let’s face it. People are complicated, deeply nuanced, complex individuals, and no two are alike. People embody personalities that span a range of interests — such as parent, athlete, artist, professional — and they don’t predictably switch between these roles. Consumers move between (what marketers call) personas from moment to moment without deliberate intentions of doing so.

The consumer journey — erroneously once described as a linear set of digital interactions with a focused end goal — never existed as it has been described. As marketers, we have attempted to oversimplify consumer brand engagement to a few digital touch points, and in doing so, we have disregarded the intricacy of who we are and how we think.

To deliver experiences that create the underpinnings for customer advocacy, marketers must craft experiences that reflect the full spectrum of consumers’ interests and complement how people think — as unpredictable and serendipitous as those thoughts might be.

What customers want

To achieve a state of marketing in which consumers welcome interactions from brands, we must embrace a paradigm shift that moves away from channel-based marketing that locks data in silos and creates a fragmented understanding of consumers.

Unshackling data from channels allows a complete picture of the consumer, enabling marketers to dynamically deliver context-sensitive, curated experiences that are appropriate and helpful in that exact moment.

Let’s not ignore the fact that consumers have reported discontent with online experiences: The 2017 ‘“Save the Web” insights report by my employer, Rakuten Marketing, revealed that 83 percent of consumers find advertising to be interruptive, due to the fact that they don’t feel understood and consequently don’t believe a brand is genuine.

The study also found that 70 percent of global consumers think advertising is OK when the ad content is useful to them. Sixty-five percent say advertising can be valuable when it aligns with their interests and is more seamlessly integrated into online content.

These statistics reveal that when ads feel helpful, relevant and authentic, consumers not only tolerate them, they welcome them. And, in return, consumers are willing to share personal data to receive ad experiences that enhance their interactions with a brand.

In Microsoft’s The Consumer Data Value Exchange study, 54 percent of consumers “expect brands to really know and understand them as people, and for communications to be tailored to their values and preferences.” Furthermore, 43 percent of consumers surveyed showed a willingness to share personal data when there are clearly defined benefits in return, according to a study conducted by YouGov.

Where marketers’ priorities lie

Marketers have expressed a strong desire to improve the consumer experience. Year over year, CMOs cite consumer experience and attribution as top priorities. In 2016, according to Forrester, 72 percent of businesses said improving customer experience was their top priority, but only 63 percent of marketers prioritized implementing technology investments that would help them reach this goal.

In a study released earlier this year, a top priority for marketers (64.9 percent) was cross-channel measurement and attribution, according to an IAB/Winterberry group study.

In fact, it was the only priority among the 12 listed in the report that more than 60% of marketers considered a key focus. Yet we continue to struggle, which is surprising, as there’s been no lack of innovation in the past two decades.

With technology like smartphones and the internet, we have been able to improve consumers’ lives. Environmental innovation, like solar energy and wind turbines, has redefined how we leverage resources in a more sustainable way. There have also been major advancements in the medical field, such as human genome mapping, that have pushed the boundaries of medical enhancements.

Where are we now?

With all this innovation, why do we still struggle to deliver digital experiences that feel relevant and connected? There has been tremendous innovation in digital marketing; however, the vast majority of innovation has been focused on equipping businesses (advertisers and publishers, specifically) with technology that allows them to reach consumers without a lot of regard for how the consumer will receive those experiences (think ads that take up the whole screen and disrupt your otherwise perfectly enjoyable mobile session).

The pace of innovation continues to accelerate rapidly, and according to the singularity hypothesis, the invention of artificial superintelligence will result in unprecedented technological evolution that will have dramatic and unfathomable impacts on civilization. While past innovations have helped us establish a foundation for consumer engagement, we must embrace artificial intelligence to create better human experiences with brands. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is the only way we can achieve personalization at scale across tens of millions of consumers.

Machine intelligence can collect and learn from consumer signals in order to continually improve how brands engage shoppers, optimize campaigns and drive performance. Highly sophisticated algorithms can analyze data in real time to adapt experiences to the dynamic nature of today’s consumer journey with agility and ease, to always deliver the best experience possible.

Brand engagements need to accompany the consumer and adapt personalized experiences to the exact moment and persona the consumer embodies at the time. In the future digital ecosystem, data will inform how advertisers and publishers engage with consumers; consumers will appreciate feeling understood and share data to continue receiving experiences that complement who they are and how they think.

Getting started

While we know that science can create more intuitive and enriching digital experiences than humans can, we have to walk before we run. The first step is to embrace a mindset that allows us to continue with “business as usual” while working toward a collective commitment to achieve a future state that benefits both consumers and brands.

This is my first column on MarTech Today, but in future articles, I plan to explore how to leverage attribution and consumer journey insights to engage consumers and drive performance, how to harness the power of data with machine intelligence and how to replace channel strategies with holistic digital marketing to continually optimize the delivery of personalized experiences.

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

About the author

Bridget Fletcher
Bridget Fletcher leads a multi-discipline B2B marketing organization as VP of marketing at Rakuten. She is responsible for all aspects of go-to-market strategy for digital marketing solutions, as well as the intersection with attribution technology that delivers and measures connected, cohesive experiences across the consumer journey. Channel-specific teams include product marketing, customer marketing, sales enablement, demand marketing and marketing insights. Broader responsibilities at the Rakuten Marketing level include creative and brand, public relations, and oversight for the global website.

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