New Realities Abound; Are You Ready?

Key Takeaways from Adobe Summit 2016

There’s a feeling that comes from seeing the next big thing. Like when you hear the summer’s hot song for the first time and know it’s the one, or when you catch the first episode of a new Netflix series about to take off. It’s like you’re in on the secret, you know something just far enough in advance to feel like an insider. And if you were at Adobe Summit 2016, you probably had that feeling a few times. I know I did. 

For marketers, this past decade has been one of experimentation; of deep forays into immersive digital experiences and pendulum swings back to written content (advertorial, er… native) and video (now digital). We took the focus off creative and turned to user-generated content. We invested heavily in systems, analytics and programmatic, while optimizing media targeting and spend. We dodged toward content, creating newsrooms that could churn out social and content marketing at scale. Yet through all this change, one constant has remained: at the center of it all is the consumer, and they haven’t changed. They have always wanted to make an emotional connection with the brands and products they love. And they want those brands to know them, to respect them, and to value their business. Brands that are able to impress and seamlessly satisfy these over-marketed consumers will win. 

Adobe used its pulpit at Summit to announce the arrival of the “Experience Business Wave,” in which internal systems that enabled modern business (ERP, CRM, etc.) have become table-stakes and brands are finally now turning their focus outward on the consumer. For me, a better way to put this is that Summit 2016 truly announced the arrival of the customer experience as the heart of the business. 

So what exactly is customer experience marketing and what is it going to take to deliver it? For most organizations, this challenge represents a philosophical inflection point from which it is going to take much more than a quick-win marketing campaign to bring to the fore. Here are seven key themes from Summit that will help guide organizations through this new reality:

1. Today, we’re all direct marketers.

Experience-driven marketing isn’t about sponsoring a free downtown concert or executing a skydiving stunt from the edge of space. It's operational seamlessness that doesn’t get in the way of the consumer’s goals; It’s customizable and personal products; It’s services and staff that know what the buyer likes and needs; and it’s deep personalization and individualization with messages, promotions and offers targeted at the 1:1 level. This sure sounds like the evolution of direct marketing.  

Becoming an experience-driven business requires that all parts of the business, from operations and IT to marketing and sales, take part in this evolution to differentiate and win in a crowded market.

2. The tools are in place to make personalization, optimization and individualization a reality at scale. 

Make no mistake about it, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and others are racing to build complete integrated digital marketing technology suites as quickly as brands are interested in buying them. This last week, Adobe announced its device co-op, through which marketers will be able to access a cross-device view of the consumer. This will allow brands that opt-in to have access that only major tech players like Facebook and Google had before. And while the technology (or the technology vision) may be a bit ahead of the market, today’s smart marketers are quickly realizing that the pieces required to reach their customers in real-time, at the moments that matter, with personal and individual content and offers are now largely available or already in place. Marketers who have succesfully stitched together their CRM and loyalty databases, experience management tools, omnichannel campaign management platforms and data management platforms are already reaping the rewards. 

3. If Content is King, context is his army beating down your door.

For years we were told that content was the next wave in marketing. And in a time when organic social hadn’t been buried by paid, brands had incredible reach with high-quality content. But times have changed. Today’s consumer is both drowning in content and harder to reach than ever. In order to break through the clutter, brands will need to deliver content in context. Context that is so highly relevant that the content cannot be ignored. The brands that do it best are seamlessly blending the digital and physical worlds to create contextually rich content and branded experiences that reach consumers when and where they want it. 

4. This transformation will fundamentally alter the marketing department; say goodbye to channel-specific marketing roles.

Digital transformation has not been easy on marketing departments or marketers. Many found themselves ill-prepared for the fundamental changes caused by the digital revolution. For CMOs, these staffing challenges will not relent in the coming years. Increased needs for data scientists and analytics professionals will stretch the talent market thin, as it is doing for developers today. And expect more marketers to reformat their teams to ones where marketers are no longer responsible for certain channels like email or mobile. Instead, various marketers will own the brand’s full lifecycle relationship with segments of customers, from acquisition to reactivation or win-back.

5. We’re on the verge of the arrival of a second golden age for loyalty programs.

Identifying customer transactions and behaviors and tying those to a customer record has never been of greater importance than it will be in this new age of real-time customer optimization and engagement. And loyalty programs will play a vital role in convincing customers to identify and allow themselves to be personalized for and marketed to. This represents a major shift in the focus and role of a loyalty program. While driving incremental revenue growth will always be important, programs will primarily exist to acquire accurate customer transactional and behavioral data. Expect to see many brands that do not have programs to finally enter the fray, unable to compete in the age of customer engagement without robust, personal customer data.  

And with so many legacy programs built on systems that operate like digital punch-cards designed to incent consumers to buy more, not collect their data, expect to see a major uptick in brands looking to move their programs to platforms built for easy integration with modern marketing platforms (like Olson 1to1's Tally®), and for continued devaluation of program currency liability, as brands seek to optimize and minimize the amounts of capital they outlay to entice their consumers to participate. 

6. The value exchange still matters.

As mentioned above, loyalty programs will play an increasingly crucial role for brands, but it is important for them to remember that while the focus of a loyalty program has largely shifted from directly driving incremental revenue growth to acquiring accurate transactional and behavioral customer data, the exchange of value between the customer and the brand must remain a two-way street. While this is an older example, one of my favorites is Columbia Sportswear’s “What Knot to Do” knot tying mobile application. While Columbia does not directly produce or sell climbing equipment, its app provides customers with a useful and valuable, simple-to-use tool. In return, Columbia receives valuable and actionable information about its customer’s interests and outdoor activities based on the knots they are using. 

7. Agency as consultant / consultant as agency. 

The dramatic shifts many marketers are grappling with demand a different kind of partner. Many brands are bringing the tools and functions of the “Experience Business Wave” in-house, and turning to agencies and consulting partners to help them solve the hard challenges, guide the transformation of their businesses (traditionally a role of consulting firms), implement cutting-edge technology platforms (a traditional role of systems integrators), and bring them new and interesting ideas (where agencies traditionally played). Today, the lines between these challenges are inherently blurred. It is no surprise, then, that consulting firms, SIs and agencies are increasingly buying or developing overlapping services in digital, design and strategy. And few customer experience agencies are further along than ICF Olson in developing the complementary skills and services around the entirety of this evolving customer lifecycle. We’re uniquely positioned to develop the differentiated strategies and solutions our clients need to break through in today’s marketplace, and we’re just getting started.