Despite the political and cultural turmoil of 2017, the financial and economic prospects for 2018 look predominantly positive. Industry is moving faster than ever and transformation is now a survival instinct. For company leaders who are unprepared to adapt to new market realities, the consequences could be dire. Issues regarding digital innovation, transparency, AI, data and automation will continue to vex brand marketers. Marketers can gain a competitive advantage by embracing five key emerging market realities to thrive in the year ahead.
DIFFERENTIATE WITH CX
Customer experience (CX) will always be important, but companies that evolve and innovate will have the advantage. CMOs will be on the lookout for what’s next and put customer trust at the core. Brands with a differentiated experience will separate themselves from the pack.
How to start? First, define your CX ambition: What experience do you plan to offer? What makes it different? Look to your brand purpose to guide the way.
Next, experience your brand as consumers do, at every aspect of the company. Formally audit and benchmark your experience to learn where to invest for the most return.
EMBRACE EMPOWERED MACHINES
Customers hold most of the cards, making it increasingly challenging for brands to influence purchase decisions. According to Forrester, empowered machines, digital platforms and “intelligent agents” that collect customer data (preferences, behavior, transactions, emotions, etc.) directly influence more than 10 percent of purchase decisions. Marketers have an opportunity to partner with these platforms to truly influence consumer behavior. Retailers may be most at risk since intelligent agents will control a greater share of the customer journey. Automation is important, but brand affinity could decline if marketers go exclusively down this path.
DEVELOP A CONSCIOUS BRAND
With the rise of AI and in-home smart technologies, brands are forming new relationships with consumers. Soon these relationships, enhanced by emerging technologies, will become more lifelike, exhibiting almost-human qualities. The time is now for marketers to plan for their brand’s role in this developing landscape. Think of your brands as living, breathing characters with motives and desires of their own. By doing so, you can identify powerful new rules and textures to the brand operating system to inform future activities.
How do you develop a conscious brand? It begins where all great brand building begins, by asking, “What is the brand’s purpose?” To discover more human qualities and characteristics, consider also asking, “What is the brand’s dream?” This is a subtle twist that helps define the brand and bring it to life.
TAKE A STAND
The rise of new AR and VR technologies and applications brings mixed blessings. While much good can be created with technology, there’s usually a dark side waiting to rear its ugly head (think data collection and machine learning). This will put CMOs in the position of taking a stand on how their data intelligence will be used and what impact their innovation will have on humanity. As they did with privacy policies, we expect progressive brands to begin to make public pronouncements regarding where the company stands on the ethical use of emergent technologies and environments. Brands looking to connect with youth and tech-savvy audiences will take the lead on this issue.
LET VALUES LEAD THE WAY
More than ever, consumers and employees are re-evaluating the integrity of brands and organizations. It is hard to avoid the onslaught of the bad behavior of the day. As leaders, it is imperative for us to reinforce, communicate and live our brand values. Brands that lead with honesty and transparency build brand trust and loyalty. Look for ways to foster honest conversations and let your constituencies know where you stand.
Leaders who embrace CX, empowered machines, data intelligence, and the notion of a conscious brand, and who live their values have much to gain as they continue to transform their businesses in the year ahead.