There’s a lot we don’t know about customer behavior and motivation.

Even though there has never been more information about what they’re thinking and doing, marketing is challenged by a buying process that jumps back and forth between the online and offline spheres and often involves multiple devices.

In Econsultancy research, conducted in partnership with Google, we look at how leading brands are shifting to a model that takes a practical approach to this complexity and preparing themselves for the future.

This is the second in a four articles (see parts one, three and four) that present the findings from The Driving Business Growth Series, based on a recent survey of 514 executives at companies averaging more than $1 billion in 2016 revenues. 

Respondents have been divided into two groups based on performance. Leaders significantly exceeded their top 2016 business goal and comprise roughly one-fourth of the sample. The remaining 75% are designated the mainstream for comparison.

Throughout the research, the differences between these groups are significant and educational; leaders are consistently further along in building organizations that are data-driven, focused on larger business goals and committed to customer experience as a path to growth.

Addressing the entire journey

Modern customers have enormous freedom of choice and movement. Personal technology gave them information and power; the costs to switch from one product or service to another have diminished or disappeared in all but a few sectors.

Traditional marketing is product-centric and unprepared for a world where the customer defines the service they expect and has the tools to find the best alternatives.

Organizations are responding to this change by undergoing digital transformation, because delivering orchestrated experiences requires them to rethink their model of the customer journey and develop the best processes and structures to match it.

The drive to understand the customer wherever they are has evolved from a marketing priority to a top business concern. 89% of leading brands say that it is critical to their growth that they anticipate customer needs and provide assistive experiences along the consumer journey. 

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Building an organization around the customer 

One of the most important signs of real transformation is team structure

Among leading organizations, there’s a clear commitment to aligning internal teams and lines of communications in the image of customers’ needs and choices. 55% strongly agree that they are building teams that uniquely solve for end-to-end customer experiences and journeys, across channels and devices, compared to a third of mainstream respondents.

This kind of change can only be successful when leadership understands and encourages it.

For example, many businesses were slow to invest in the mobile customer experience because despite rapid traffic growth, it wasn’t seen as a direct revenue driver. As their understanding of the interplay between traffic, influence and sales improved, executives gained a more balanced view. 

Companies that have connected customer experience with financial growth in their thinking are further along than those who have simply made investments in technology.

This new emphasis is especially apparent at leading organizations, where 87% report that their C-suite is following the right KPIs to understand how mobile and digital are driving business outcomes.

Bridges across the gap

Mobile has made measurement more difficult in many respects, but it also offers new approaches to the challenge of connecting the online and offline worlds. Some of these methods are simply better ways of capturing customer data at the point of sale, while others rely on geo-fencing and other emerging technologies.

All of these methods are important to omni-channel marketers. Among leaders, 60% have invested in technology that connects their digital and offline/in-store experiences. They are 26% more likely than the mainstream to be deploying these technologies, which can include geo-fenced marketing, real-time updates in mobile apps, and internal digital tools to allow employees to better capture customer intent or use capture data.

The omni-channel experience is unique to each brand and is evolving with the customer. If brands are going to adapt, they need a regular practice of testing and experimentation to stay ahead of, or at least respond to consumer demands.

But making it routine to apply the scientific method to marketing is part of the transformational challenge faced by established brands. They have to commit not simply to experimentation, but to asking the big questions. Optimization is an important capability, but it’s a practice of refinement, not of discovery.

Even among leaders, tests like these aren’t ubiquitous. Half of these companies are currently investing in experiments for new omni-channel experiences, 47% more than the mainstream.

Looking ahead to continuous change 

Historically, upheavals in media and advertising took years to develop and were followed by relative calm, allowing business to adapt slowly.

The lesson of the digital era is that there is no eye of the hurricane. Companies have to constantly change as quickly as the behavior of the people they’re trying to reach. To treat online and offline channels separately is to deny the obvious blurring of the lines between them. 

The research and buying process can only get more complicated as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things add new waypoints and modes of interaction. A growing universe of connected devices means new challenges, including adapting to voice-driven interaction and deciphering the clues hidden in a rapidly expanding set of behavioral data. 

These innovations will enable better experiences but simultaneously raise the bar of consumer expectation.

The most successful brands are doing more than implementing technology; they are remaking themselves to be more experimental, flexible and better informed. 

The full research reports in The Driving Business Growth Series are available via Econsultancy subscription.

Stefan Tornquist

Published 10 May, 2017 by Stefan Tornquist @ Econsultancy

Stefan is Vice President of Research (US) for Econsultancy. You can follow him @SKTornquist and connect via LinkedIn.

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