Now is the time for marketers and ecommerce professionals to pause their ad hoc activity and reboot customer engagement using content personalisation, Sitecore’s Charles Bell advised Econsultancy Live delegates.

After a year which has been frantic, to say the least, the way forward for digital engagement strategies is to step away from frenetic activity and “start with a stop” to consider how they should be rebooted.

That was the message for Econsultancy Live delegates from Charles Bell, VP of sales engineering EMEA at Sitecore. He reassured marketers that, in a year where customers shifted more to digital channels to communicate and transact with brands, it is okay to feel daunted by the sheer pace of change, not to mention the emergence of new demographics. That is why stepping back for a moment is recommended.

Watch the Econsultancy Live session, ‘Start with a stop. Rebooting your digital engagement strategy’, on demand here

The cloud can end silos

Bell’s first major tip for deciding what needs to be kept and what needs to be changed is to start with breaking down silos. These have been inadvertently been formed by setting up teams that focus on individual digital channels such as social, mobile and desktop. This has led to content being locked away in various Dropbox accounts or left sitting with a selection of agencies.

The answer is clearly to shift to a cloud approach where content assets are made available to all teams. The pandemic has meant the attitude of “we’ll get around to cloud one day” has had to shift to “we absolutely must be on the cloud”.

“The challenge is to aggregate content, so you can plan campaigns and collaborate as a team,” Bell said.  “You can then manage those campaigns and create content for different markets, different products, different SKUs, but you have it all in one place.

“Because of the consistency in tone of voice and customer experience that you’re aiming for, the end user feels like they’re having one conversation, regardless of the device on which they are connecting with you.”

Helping customers make the next step

The next stage, Bell explained, is to recognise customers. Marketers can then design personalised experiences that match what they know about a visitor and help them make the next step. This can be done with the aid of log-in information but also predictive analytics, which can help brands understand their audiences better.

“When you personalise the content, you can make product recommendations and you can make your personalised experience based on where the customers are (in their journey), so you give them the next best action,” he said.

“You can drive outcomes. An outcome can be selling something, it can be getting customers to the information that they need more quickly so they don’t pick up a phone and make phone calls [to customer services], because that costs [the business] money.”

Using AI, he added, is not only helpful for understanding who visitors are and where they are on their customer journey, it can help brands automate real-time decisions rather than team members poring over statistics to make sense of them.

“We can use AI to measure the effectiveness in the moment as a customer is going through a user journey,” he said. “The data is the key here. It’s very easy to capture analytics. You stick a Google Analytics tag on your website and you suddenly have a lot of data. The key thing is the ability to use it to make that data into actionable insight, without the need for data scientists and expensive modelling technology.”

Closing the experience gap

Bell finished his presentation with a startling Sitecore statistic; 80% of brands believe they offer a great customer experience online, yet only 8% of consumers agree. There is a massive gulf, he concluded, between what brands believe they are offering and what their end users find themselves consuming.

The way to bridge this gap is to accept the journey ahead is difficult, but never to use that as an excuse for not pausing to consider what the first steps should look like. Rather than see this as a complex task, Bell believes businesses need to look at these next steps as massive opportunities to turn digital transformation work into practice. This is achieved by building experiences that recognise customers and personalise content and messaging to where they are in their journey and proactively helping them take the next step.