Brain trust: How will customer connection change in the next five years?

Article theme badge Connect2We asked three marketers from very different industries to respond to our Brain Trust question on the theme of connect: “How do you imagine brands could change in the way they connect with their customers over the next five years?” 


Jon McCarthy, marketing director, deodorants, Unilever Australia and New Zealandjon mccarthy headshot

First and foremost, we need to stop thinking about them as ‘customers’ – they are people who have their own interests, passions, likes and dislikes. At Unilever, we talk about the ‘people we serve’ rather than customers, or even consumers. We try to be authentic and human and think about the things that people care about and the role our brands can play in the lives of these people. For example, how Omo can encourage learning through play, or how Dove can help raise self-esteem and confidence.

Connecting with people in a human and emotional way means brands will need to create ever more individual and personalised experiences. At a time when people are exposed to a higher volume of branded content than ever before, people genuinely need to feel motivated or emotionally engaged and receive something of value (tangible or intangible) in exchange for paying attention to your message. This trend will continue to drive and shape the way brands connect.

As channels continue to fragment, brands will also need to change their approach to channel planning – from linear and chronological to an interdependent mindset. This mindset is about allowing an idea to evolve as a ‘story’ across multiple platforms in a fluid way, with content tailored specifically for the platform to ensure maximum relevance at that exact moment in time.

Technology will continue to enable and enrich the way brands connect, with mobile playing a key role, much more than the internet ever did. Brand experiences will be more immersive and multi-sensory, blending the physical and the virtual world. Use of developing technologies such as wearable devices and virtual reality will help create magical brand experiences that people will want to be part of, that they will care about – care about enough to share among their friends, across their city and across the globe.

Katie Lee, assistant general manager – global communications, Tencentkatie lee headshot

The next five years offer endless opportunities for brands to create new, more meaningful and integrated interactions with their customers. The growth of mobile technology has opened up new avenues and touch points, which, combined with the staggering growth of data, is allowing brands to reach their customers in more personalised, interactive ways. Brands are looking to reimagine themselves in this digital world and innovative companies have made great strides – integrating existing loyalty and customer service programs with social media channels and new technologies such as mobile payments.

We expect brands will continue to leverage technologies such as WeChat to offer additional services and integrate themselves more seamlessly into consumers’ lives. The proliferation of smart devices has created an ecosystem of connections – between people, for infotainment and for goods and services. To drive continued growth, brands must leverage this ecosystem to bridge the gap between off and online and create multidimensional connections with consumers.

For example, clothing retailer Yoox is using WeChat to offer shoppers access to an interactive look book and even one-on-one shopping tips from a personal stylist in real-time. QR (quick response) codes have proven successful in helping brands initiate O2O (online to offline) interactions, particularly across the Asia Pacific region. Joy City, a Chinese shopping mall developed a QR code for its loyalty program, using it to promote special discounts from dozens of retailers and drive traffic in-store. Brands should also start exploring mobile targeting to find and push messages to customers near their bricks- and-mortar stores or even use location-based services for food deliveries and product shipments.

They can also leverage technology like voice messaging and video to develop more engaging conversations with consumers and receive real-time feedback.
Generating continued growth in the years ahead will require brands to develop dynamic ways to bring together services to which consumers are already accustomed, such as messaging, gaming and social communication, with emerging offerings, such as m-commerce, mobile payments and new, interactive loyalty programs.

Jason Juma-Ross, lead partner – digital intelligence, PricewaterhouseCoopers

jason juma-rossBrands and marketers are facing a paradigm shift over the next five years. The best marketing departments will seize the opportunity to play a lead role in the strategic customer agenda, and the rest will be relegated to ad operations in an increasingly programmatic world.

Marketing is going to be a lot more whole-brained. It needs a combination of rational, analytical and creative skills, and delivering on this will require busting open our current mindset. The prevailing prejudice holds that engineers can’t be creative and creative people can’t be scientific. This is nonsense, but marketing is one of the few remaining disciplines where the myth still has credence. Examples of this are in the integration of analytics and creative that we are starting to see as more digital and direct marketers take leadership roles.

The rhythm of marketing will shift to always-on – from predominantly periodic campaign-based to continual interaction on a more or less individual level. More advertising dollars will shift to digital (40% by 2018) and there will be substantial growth in targeted mobile and video content. Marketers will need to manage many more executions tailored to smaller and smaller customer groups, and will need to do so in a way that can efficiently deliver relevance at scale.

A better understanding of customers will help marketers shift their models from static segments to a life stage focus. Although offers, products and messaging will be more personalised, customers won’t be engaging every brand in a conversation – who has time? Customers will engage with brands that matter to them and those that don’t will at least be able to make themselves less intrusive because they will have a better idea of when they are needed.

Marketing will be more strategically integrated in the best organisations as the locus for customer centricity. Today, many Australian organisations seem to have marginalised marketing to the one P of ‘Promotion’ and forgotten the other ‘four Ps’ (product, place, price and profit).

In a world where the ‘brand book’ is less the driver of identify than the sum of all customer interactions and perceptions, brand will become more about how we create a culture in the enterprise that enables our brand at every touch point in the market. Of course, deeper strategic integration also means more accountability, so brands will need to not just prove their worth, but actively optimise for value in a world where ‘value’ is defined as a function of ‘customer plus enterprise’.

The best brands have always been defended by their advocates, but we’ll start to see more devolved community ownership. Our new mutually constituted brands are now being partly shaped by external advocates such as Dell Rockstars or Telstra CrowdSupport. Companies don’t have a command-control relationship with these communities, so to access their power we have to cede some control.