This consumer revolution is being televised

We now are in the age of the customer, the era of customer engagement and multiple other ways of saying the customer now controls the conversation. How does your business deal with that?
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Okay, folks. Here's another guest post while I finish part 2 of my "Commonwealth of Self-Interest." This one comes from a true thought leader in the space, Sameer Patel. To work backwards, Sameer is currently the CEO of Kahuna, one of the rare marketing automation platforms focused around B2C. Prior to that he built SAP Jam, their brilliant collaboration platform, taking what was to be nice a frog and turning it into a prince that is now king. What makes this reverse tale even more amazing is that before that Sameer had no real experience as a product development leader but more as THE thought leader in enterprise 2.0 world - a.k.a. collaboration space. He was the first collaboration thought leader to recognize that there was a convergence between E2O as it was called and social CRM, and often led the charge via his blog pretzel logic in both industries.

I am thrilled to have him here to talk to you about something that vendors, practitioners and thought leaders hold dear. How customers have control of the conversation - but in terms of consumers and their engagement. Also, by the way, he is a wonderful person. Which isn't really BTW but is core.

Take it away Sameer.

As many of you know, I dove head first into the world of consumer marketing automation in August of last year when I took the CEO role at Kahuna. This gave me a temporary licence to be blissfully ignorant about age old "conventions" and to look outside in. My first impressions about the space, 60 days in, are here. The most striking finding: While brand engagement and online purchasing dynamics are going through a fundamental change, the parties involved are all on extremely different pages.

  1. Consumers are aggressively voting with their clicks and openly signalling the need for a more human, relevant and meaningful experience.
  2. I met with a swath of modern ecommerce vendors at etail West in Palm Springs last month. Every one of these New Age marketers at natively digital ecommerce brands -- selling everything from fashion-forward clothing, to healthy living, to utilities such as beautiful book binders and even underwear -- are aggressively stepping in to meet this sophisticated consumer on her terms by providing a fundamentally more superior purchase experience.
  3. While the typical traditional retailer is fretting about competing on price with online-only commerce goliaths, the consumer is sending clear signal after clear signal that she is absolutely willing to pay a competitive price for a more human, meaningful and contextual experience.

Let's start with how the consumer feels today about older brand engagement practices. These stats show that he is increasingly vocal about the experience when approached by anyone seeking to do business with them:

  • 91 percent of us unsubscribe from emails
  • 44 percent of direct mail is never opened
  • 46 percent of us opt out of mobile push notifications
  • Over $280B is abandoned in digital shopping carts every year

Thus far, this lousy state of affairs might have been "OK" for brands and retailers. The reality is that it's been cheap to batch and blast emails or incessantly push mobile notifications to more and more people and "make it up in the numbers." But the numbers, so to speak, have had enough. These results tell a clear story: brands that don't respect the pace at which the consumer wants to traverse the purchase journey are increasingly being shut out by consumers.

Awful consumer experiences have run their course.

When you look for answers or examples of successful modern alternatives, all roads lead towards a systematic and decisive focus on experience design. More specifically, a decisive focus by brands on designing processes (and employing modern technology) that puts the consumer in the center of the experience. Anthropologist Brian Solis astutely describes experience design as this:

"It's about people, those who are and aren't like us, and bringing people together in meaningful ways. It's human-centered and empathetic. Your brand, reputation and the perception of your work is or will be separated by what you create and what people experience and share. That divide is where your work begins."

The age of permission-based consumerism is here.

Every commerce vendor and online retailer is currently in a state of gridlock. On one hand, shabby segmentation of consumers that leads to sub-optimal experiences causes them to shut you out. On the other hand, the most relevant, even natural experience design requires knowing the end user's preferences and behavior patterns if we are to treat each consumer, not as a result of segmentation guesswork, but rather, as an audience of one.

Exceptional examples of experience-based design are in fact emerging and they are driving a truck through this gridlock. And across all the available examples, it is evident that the consumer is increasingly open to exposing personal information, but only in exchange for a substantially better consumer experience. The most modern iconic brands of our time have successfully cracked this nut.

Let's take a look at a few examples:

  • We expose our location and our destination to Uber, in exchange for a substantially more convenient service. At no point during the time that you called for an Uber, rode in one, and paid your credit card bill did you ever feel like you were being marketed to or sold to.
  • We agree to purchase shaving blades as a subscription from The Dollar Shave Club because of the promise of a significantly more cost-efficient, yet high quality product, procured in a way that's intended for repeat purchase. This is happening in many industries from medical devices to enterprise software.
  • We readily tolerate Amazon.com interjecting recommendations between product descriptions and the coveted user reviews we all want to read at the bottom of the page. You may succumb to an upsell. You may not. But you're not offended that Amazon used your purchase history and applied machine learning to estimate what you might want to buy next. In fact, you're bloody impressed with the accuracy. Admit it.

The best offers now come in the form of information. This is the new bar. And hundreds of new brands and online retailers are embracing this new model of permission-based consumerism.

Let's have an adult conversation about personalization

To get here, the narrative on personalization needs to change, and the technology must change. The outdated way of engagement meant this:

  • Customer engagement solutions, dubbed as marketing automation, were designed for an era when limited capacity to capture consumer intelligence resulted in incessantly blasting the consumer in the hopes that he might respond.
  • Personalization meant addressing the consumer in an email by first and last name.
  • Analytics meant understanding who opened which email and when.
  • Targeting required taking days and expensive consulting hours to update user profiles and often separately for each channel.
  • Good marketing automation meant flexible workflow and velocity of spitting out campaigns. Delighting the customer was optional. But automating the process was mandatory.

Today, the idea of any offer or gesture to the customer means it needs to be apparent, at the right time, on the right device, and in a way that respects how fast the customer wants to move from awareness and consideration to purchase and advocacy. The most iconic brands of our time, such as Uber, The Dollar Shave Club, and MINDBODY, are systematically putting the customer experience at the center and designing how they operate and make marketing automation technology choices around a core consumer-first ethos. Each of them seems to follow a simple playbook:

  • They are data-driven so that they can adapt and react to consumer preferences, as fast as within a few seconds.
  • They employ a cross-channel engagement model to engage only with the right message and at the right time.
  • Underneath it all are AI-powered systems that shed guesswork segmentation and instead, engage every consumer as an individual. And at scale--whether that's thousands or even tens of millions of consumers.

And the results speak for themselves: Uber created billions in sales and Dollar Shave Club was purchased by Unilever for over one billion dollars. Among other accolades, MINDBODY just received a consensus "Buy" rating from nine analyst firms. Every one of these and other modern marketing brands are successful businesses and have raving fans.

This consumer revolution is being televised. It isn't a mysterious undercurrent anymore. Some of the most household retail brands such as Macy's are feeling the pain. Or as Business Insider calls it, "The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America." Conversely, modern progressive marketers such as the examples cited above are exploiting this new normal. They realize that every single consumer has the power to vote with her clicks and an alternative is a single application click away. Your marketing and technology stack needs to not only internalize this new normal but celebrate, enable and respect the idea that you have to market, engage and convert with extreme precision, as an audience of one.

Because there is no other way.

Thank you, Sameer - again.

If you want to hear more about this, Kahuna will be discussing exactly how e-commerce brands such as those mentioned in this post are providing a stronger customer experience and achieving improved goal conversions by as much as 101 percent. The webinar is on Wednesday, April 19 at 11am PT, with guest Forrester. Register here if you are interested in attending.

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