Marketing 2016: Intent-Based Marketing Goes Beyond Demographics

Michael Brenner

In 2016, marketing will become age-agnostic. Great brands will start engaging consumers with content focused on their passions and values, according to the latest Communications Trends Report Hotwire PR released last month.

Age is just a number

Age may have played a central role in the marketing campaigns of old. This required a lot of targeting with demographics. But age no longer defines today’s consumers. 50-year-olds can be as knowledgeable and savvy as 20-somethings when it comes to the latest technologies. And likewise, a 20-something may be as big of a vinyl junkie as 50-year-old vinyl collectors.

It’s these interests (personal passions, values and hobbies) that pique their emotional engagement and attention that your marketing efforts need to focus on.

If you’re one of the many brand marketers who are struggling to reach the millennial generation, it’s not because millennials are more cynical or adept at filtering out marketing messages than any other generations, it’s because lumping all millennials into one giant age bucket is problematic and simply ineffective.

Millennials apply to any individuals born between 1980 and 2000. This means some people are currently still in high school, while others may have over a decade of professional experience under their belt already. In other words, the individuals we call millennials are in different stages in their lives, with very different concerns, interests and responsibilities. So how can one assume that a one-size-fits-all campaign can effectively reach all these different groups of people?

Personal content that works

When creating content and campaigns today, brand marketers need to understand what really motivates their specific customer groups based on their mindset and values. This involves defining what topics your target audience is most interested in, what content types or formats they prefer and the channels they use frequently, for each stage of the buyer journey.

Creating personal content that your target audience actually wants and needs, which truly adds value to their daily lives, is how you can connect with consumers. Building buyer personas is not the silver bullet to all your content marketing problems. In fact, personas actually suck when they fail to inform marketers of the topics that are important to their target audience, to actually help reach them.

As Hotwire PR’s report suggests, effective marketing needs to focus on what really motivates and matters to your target audience based on their values and passions.

Samsung Safety Truck: Smart age-agnostic marketing

With the rise of ad blocking and increased competition in content marketing, your ability to cut through the noise and get heard is to be relevant and useful. Brands need to figure out how to creatively turn their content marketing efforts into useful, relevant experiences for consumers and the society at large.

Samsung’s recent campaign for its high-quality screens is a great example of this. People who drive, regardless of their age, know how painful it is to be driving behind a truck on a narrow or single-lane road. Large trucks and trailers are slow (and sometimes smelly) and difficult to overtake due to their size.

So Samsung built the Safety Truck. The truck consists of a front-mounted, wireless camera that broadcasts road conditions live on four large Samsung screens located at the back of the vehicle, showing drivers behind the truck when it is safe to overtake.

Samsung explained the motivation behind the Safety Truck campaign was to save lives through innovation. Argentina has one of the world’s highest number of traffic accidents, and most accidents were a result of overtaking situations. With this in mind, Samsung has been working with the government of Argentina and safe driving NGOs to test out the Safety Truck prototypes, with hopes to roll out this technology one day.

Samsung has cleverly turned its marketing campaign into a value-add experience for its consumers. Not only did it change a negative experience into a positive one which would resonate with most consumers who drive, the campaign also demonstrated Samsung’s values and passions for making the world a better place through its products.

The Hotwire finds that great marketing is no longer just about selling a product for its sole use. Successful brands need to build their campaigns on the idea of “useful brands,” which requires empathy and a great understanding of their products and the “wider world” consumers live in today. When a company’s campaigns are seen as useful, its products will be viewed as useful as well. The Safety Truck campaign has successfully established Samsung as such.

Hotwire also reports that consumers are increasingly making their buying decisions based on a company’s values and engagement with the topics they care about, which may impact their communities or the wider world. Brands who identify and share similar values and interests with their target consumers, and demonstrating them through both words and actions, will see a healthy growth in their sales and revenue.

Samsung’s Safety Truck campaign does just that. Its commitment and effort to improve the world effectively speaks to consumers who share similar values. This not only allow Samsung to capture their attention, but also ensures a positive brand affinity between its target audience and products, which is key to winning consumer eyeballs and dollars.

Great brands create continuous, customer-driven content their target audience wants and needs, which appeals to their values, interests and passions. And how do you do this? You need to start thinking and acting like a publisher and less like an advertiser.

What do you think? Are you creating age-agnostic content already or will you be trying it out in 2016?

For more insight to boost your marketing success in 2016, see Top 10 Left-Brain Skills Marketers Need In 2016.

Photo Source: Steven Leonti, flickr


About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, former Head of Strategy at NewsCred, and the former VP of Global Content Marketing here at SAP. Michael is also the co-author of the book The Content Formula, a contributor to leading publications like The Economist, Inc Magazine, The Guardian, and Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to the Marketing Insider.

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends And Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015

Sunny Popali

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends & Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.

Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:

  1. Email marketing will need to become smarter

Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.

  1. Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable

Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.

Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.

  1. Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever

It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.

  1. Big Data for personalization plays a key role

Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.

  1. Visual media matters

A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?

A few more tips:

  • Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
  • Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
  • Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
  • Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
  • Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.

Want more insight on how digital marketing is evolving? See Shutterstock Report: The Face Of Marketing Is Changing — And It Doesn’t Include Vince Vaughn.


About Sunny Popali

Sunny Popali is SEO Director at Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.

Social Media Matters: 6 Content And Social Media Trend Predictions For 2016 [INFOGRAPHIC]

Julie Ellis

As 2015 winds down, it’s time to look forward to 2016 and explore the social media and content marketing trends that will impact marketing strategies over the next 15 months or so.

Some of the upcoming trends simply indicate an intensification of current trends, however others indicate that there are new things that will have a big impact in 2016.

Take a look at a few trends that should definitely factor in your planning for 2016.

1. SEO will focus more on social media platforms and less on search engines

Clearly Google is going nowhere. In fact, in 2016 Google’s word will still essentially be law when it comes to search engine optimization.

However, in 2016 there will be some changes in SEO. Many of these changes will be due to the fact that users are increasingly searching for products and services directly from websites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

There are two reasons for this shift in customer habits:

  • Customers are relying more and more on customer comments, feedback, and reviews before making purchasing decisions. This means that they are most likely to search directly on platforms where they can find that information.
  • Customers who are seeking information about products and services feel that video- and image-based content is more trustworthy.

2. The need to optimize for mobile and touchscreens will intensify

Consumers are using their mobile devices and tablets for the following tasks at a sharply increasing rate:

  • Sending and receiving emails and messages
  • Making purchases
  • Researching products and services
  • Watching videos
  • Reading or writing reviews and comments
  • Obtaining driving directions and using navigation apps
  • Visiting news and entertainment websites
  • Using social media

Most marketers would be hard-pressed to look at this list and see any case for continuing to avoid mobile and touchscreen optimization. Yet, for some reason many companies still see mobile optimization as something that is nice to do, but not urgent.

This lack of a sense of urgency seemingly ignores the fact that more than 80% of the highest growing group of consumers indicate that it is highly important that retailers provide mobile apps that work well. According to the same study, nearly 90% of Millennials believe that there are a large number of websites that have not done a very good job of optimizing for mobile.

3. Content marketing will move to edgier social media platforms

Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat weren’t considered to be valid targets for mainstream content marketing efforts until now.

This is because they were considered to be too unproven and too “on the fringe” to warrant the time and marketing budget investments, when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were so popular and had proven track records when it came to content marketing opportunity and success.

However, now that Instagram is enjoying such tremendous growth, and is opening up advertising opportunities to businesses beyond its brand partners, it (along with other platforms) will be seen as more and more viable in 2016.

4. Facebook will remain a strong player, but the demographic of the average user will age

In 2016, Facebook will likely remain the flagship social media website when it comes to sharing and promoting content, engaging with customers, and increasing Internet recognition.

However, it will become less and less possible to ignore the fact that younger consumers are moving away from the platform as their primary source of online social interaction and content consumption. Some companies may be able to maintain status quo for 2016 without feeling any negative impacts.

However, others may need to rethink their content marketing strategies for 2016 to take these shifts into account. Depending on their branding and the products or services that they offer, some companies may be able to profit from these changes by customizing the content that they promote on Facebook for an older demographic.

5. Content production must reflect quality and variety

  • Both B2B and B2C buyers value video based content over text based content.
  • While some curated content is a good thing, consumers believe that custom content is an indication that a company wishes to create a relationship with them.
  • The great majority of these same consumers report that customized content is useful for them.
  • B2B customers prefer learning about products and services through content as opposed to paid advertising.
  • Consumers believe that videos are more trustworthy forms of content than text.

Here is a great infographic depicting the importance of video in content marketing efforts:
Small Business Video infographic

A final, very important thing to note when considering content trends for 2016 is the decreasing value of the keyword as a way of optimizing content. In fact, in an effort to crack down on keyword stuffing, Google’s optimization rules have been updated to to kick offending sites out of prime SERP positions.

6. Oculus Rift will create significant changes in customer engagement

Oculus Rift is not likely to offer much to marketers in 2016. After all, it isn’t expected to ship to consumers until the first quarter. However, what Oculus Rift will do is influence the decisions that marketers make when it comes to creating customer interaction.

For example, companies that have not yet embraced storytelling may want to make 2016 the year that they do just that, because later in 2016 Oculus Rift may be the platform that their competitors will be using to tell stories while giving consumers a 360-degree vantage point.

For a deeper dive on engaging with customers through storytelling, see Brand Storytelling: Where Humanity Takes Center Stage.


About Julie Ellis

Julie Ellis – marketer and professional blogger, writes about social media, education, self-improvement, marketing and psychology. To contact Julie follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Customer Experience: OmniChannel. OmniNow. OmniWow.

Jamie Anderson, Volker Hildebrand, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Stephanie Overby

The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.

Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”

Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).

The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”

Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.


Build Around a Big Idea

Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.

As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”

For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.

Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.

Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury

At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images2The company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.

Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.

Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.

QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience

The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.

Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.

For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.

Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.

Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images3Domino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.

Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.

Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions

Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images4Today, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.

By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.

Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin

Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.

Start at the Top

Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”

To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.

Begin with the End in Mind

Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.

Design for the Customer, Not the Company

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images5To date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.

The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.

Put Someone in Charge

Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.

EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”

Centralize Customer Data

Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.

Invest in People

Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature3_images6Rethink Metrics and Incentives

One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.

The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.

Create a Single View of the Company

For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.



This Is What Customer Experience Will Look Like In 2020

Mark de Bruijn

Since we are living in an age where retail chains go bust by the score, the need for an optimal customer experience is clearer than ever. Modern technology offers many opportunities to enrich the experience even further, especially since it is developing at breakneck speed. But what will customer experience look like, say, four years from now?

By 2020, the way we consume will look like this:

Digital assistants everywhere, but the human touch retains its value

Siri and Cortana are examples of the digital assistants we know now: nice little smartphone tools that amuse us with funny conversations and the occasional surprising answer. In short: an entertaining waste of time. However, digital assistants will have evolved considerably in the near future.

They will offer truly useful conversations and will assist us in making the right choices. Some web shops are experimenting with chatbots and wizards that attempt to offer real advice. By 2020, these systems will have matured and offer real and useful advice based on targeted open and closed questioning.

They will also become a staple in brick-and-mortar shops. One good example of where we are heading is Robot Pepper. This physical robot is able to start a conversation and – assuming it is programmed to do so – assist you in buying products suitable to your needs. In 2020, the first stores will open where such robots take over part of the advisory role so far performed by humans.

However, I am convinced humans will always be needed. But their role will change. Robots will take care of basic customer care, while humans will remain indispensable for more advanced forms of advice that need a human touch. There are many examples of organizations that have subjected an excessively large part of their customer care services to automation.

Also, well-functioning self-service facilities will become more important and will be indispensable by 2020. This includes self-service portals or active user communities where customers can ask their questions.

Interactive shops increase shopping districts attractiveness

In 2020, brick-and-mortar stores will need to think even more about their relevance. The good news is that technology offers countless opportunities to give a tremendous boost to the shopping experience. In 2020, physical shopping will be a true experience thanks to sensors, touch screens and beacons. The only hurdle here is creativity. That is a good thing, because shopping should be sexy.

Let’s take for example a sneaker store. The moment a customer passes the store, he will get a personalized deal offer on his smartphone. The newest addition to his favorite line of sneakers is available with 20% off, and in stock at this store. Once inside, he will explain to the digital assistant that he is looking for a sneaker suitable for a novice runner. Immediately, some of the shelves light up. When he picks up one of the sneakers, a video is shown on a large screen that explains the shoe’s unique features. When fitting the sneaker, beamers project walking exercises on the shop floor to test out some of its features. Finally, the mirror can show him how different colors and other varieties would look on him using augmented reality.

Hyper-individualisation brings product and shopping experience closer to the consumer

Stores and brands will increasingly collect customer data in 2020. They generate detailed profiles based on purchases in the past and data submitted by the customer. Moreover, owing to the Internet of Things they can learn important lessons about consumer behavior. Products will be equipped with more sensors than ever before, generating knowledge on which features are successful and which ones are not. They can also advise individual customers about timely replacements, for example.

How will this play out in practice? In the interest of simplicity, I’ll stick to the sneaker store for now. Customers who want to, can get measurements on their walking patterns, soles and weight. Based on that data, they can get advise on the footwear that best suits their needs, both in the physical store and online. Because the account of the sneaker store is linked to a fitness platform, the customer’s fitness level becomes a personal attribute.

The customer still controls the details he wants to share. Privacy will remain an important topic in 2020, and the most successful companies will respect it.

Smartphone as a powerful “second screen”

In our daily lives, smartphones have become indispensable. We wake up with them and we go to sleep with them. Mobile applications need to work without issue and be optimized for small screens. Never should they be felt as an impediment. Acceptance of unpleasant mobile experiences is very poor, and for good reason.

In 2020 the smartphone is a very useful tool for retailers to further enrich customer experience in brick-and-mortar stores. Not only do customers get more product content by simply scanning its label, they can also find product reviews, information on related products, personalized advice and perhaps even pricing history due to links with independent online comparison tools.

Supermarkets can profit much more from smartphone use as well. Not only can customers quickly create shopping lists at home, but in 2020 the app will also show the right picking order based on the layout of the store. It also gives personalized advice for additional products and availability information on alternative products in case of an empty shelf.

Virtual reality offers a new home shopping experience

Virtual reality headsets will have made their definitive breakthrough in the living room in 2020. Consumers will not just use them for gaming, but also for home shopping sessions. They can literally walk through the virtual store from the comfort of their couches. Retailers will enjoy the traditional advantages of brick-and-mortar stores in an online setting: the element of surprise, the ability to steer to impulse buying and strategic product placement.

The digital setting also offers a unique feature that is not available for brick-and-mortar stores. The store’s layout and even the inventory are fully customizable to the preferences and habits of each individual customer.

A new level of delivery

People who like to order their shopping from the comfort of their couches would still like to get a hold of the products as soon as possible. Today, even webshops with the tightest logistical operations need at least two day parts to close the delivery. That may be fast, but in 2020 it will be nothing special. By that time we will also have more delivery options at our disposal. Returning packages will be much easier in 2020 than it is now.

A number of experiments with drones show the potential of this delivery method, and perhaps drones will be able to pick up returns at agreed times in the future as well. This would require changes in law and regulations, however. Another cool development is the appearance of parcel pickup stations at railway stations. By 2020, these parcel pickup stations will be much more widely available.

The customer at the center of the product lifecycle

Currently, the costumer is usually located at the end of a product’s lifecycle. However, by 2020 “crowdsourced design” will have become a serious method for product lifecycles. That means the customer is very actively involved in product design or choice in variants. This way, producers capitalize on customer creativity and wisdom, which results in products that meet target audience requirements. One good example is Tesco. The retail giant actively involved its customers in the development of a new wine.

Customer and brand will be closer to each other in 2020 than ever before. Thanks to modern technology, customers are able to give instant feedback, be involved, and choose different variants of a product. At the same time, the Internet of Things provides insight in actual use. This will assist producers to improve the product.

Of course, looking at the future is reading the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. One thing is absolutely certain though. Enterprises that know their customers best and map out the “customer adventure” most effectively will prevail.

For more insight on where the customer experience is now and where it is headed, see The Reality Of Customer Experience In Today’s Organizations.