The marketing landscape has drastically changed during the past few years -- digital has transformed itself from channel to conduit of human communication. Consequently, as product lifecycles shorten and agile approaches add a new layer of fluidity to product development, one can only wonder, “How can today’s marketer establish any sort of structure around it all?”
The answer: absorb, anticipate, and adapt. Encourage your company to break the mold by strategically anticipating behavior-driven trends and creatively placing a customer experience focus at the core of your brand image.
Follow these 10 tips to position yourself as a forward-thinking marketer of the future:
1) Listen for patterns, and be early to the party.
Culture trumps strategy. This idea rings true with our generation’s marketers in a way unlike ever before. Sure, tools like Topsy, Radian6, and Crimson Hexagon let you track assorted social statistics, but where your ultimate worth lies is in your ability to monitor consumer insights and opinions. Doing so will enable you to make more thoughtful decisions when positioning your products and brands for the best fit.
Similarly, being relevant and ahead of the game is what resonates with today’s audiences. Keeping an eye on what they’re saying, feeling, and responding to in your industry (and beyond) is paramount. Being a trend expert -- though often overlooked -- is critical to your role as a modern-day marketer. If you do this right, you may even spot the next “selfie” craze before everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon.
2) Learn about code and the impact it has on your business.
Having an appreciation for engineering doesn’t require that you be an authority in the field. So I’m not suggesting you drop what you’re doing and devote the next 24 hours to teaching yourself code (though sites like Codeacademy can be great resources if you’ve got the tech itch). What I’m saying is you’re seriously short-changing your worth if you don’t take the time to understand the impact that software and hardware engineering has on your business.
Leveraging smart platforms makes all the difference between giving your customer the experience they want and a lackluster one that lags from slow, waterfall IT release cycles. Understanding how a solid analytics platform like KissMetrics performs or a cloud-based ecommerce platform like DemandWare functions, can be the ticket to getting your product or service to market faster.
Sometimes all it takes is spending time with your engineers and the people who are in the trenches making it happen. Don’t believe me? Talk to Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler’s current CEO. Many argue that he gained the insight needed to save the company from its inevitable demise by moving his desk from the penthouse tower to the center of action (i.e., where the engineers construct the cars). Being one with all departments on your team goes a long way when it comes to company furtherance.
3) Ramp up what you do with data, not just how you measure it.
I recently spoke with two c-level marketers at Fortune 100 companies, both of whom were anxious to tell me about all of the “big data” they’d been collecting through a slew of expensive tools. I then asked how often and in what ways they were tapping into that data. A rational enough question, right? Then you can imagine my shock at their collective silence in response.
Here they are dedicating their resources to dayparting and behaviorally retargeting their ads by means of complex list segmentations, but even the most sophisticated marketing automation geeks will tell you that’s not enough. That’s because opportunities arise not from just measuring and dividing data, but from actually connecting the dots. Once you begin to combine platforms and assess their output as a whole, you’ll start to gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ and prospects’ behaviors and the patterns around them.
Moreover, your ROI on data-collecting channels means more than “sales generated” or “leads captured.” Rather, take note of the ways in which they’re providing data that can then be funneled into your entire marketing and product development roadmap. That’s about as good as it gets in terms of profitable data.
The data era that we’ve now entered into (paired with a wide range of service-based platforms) has carried us away from Steve Wood’s concept of Digital Body Language to one more akin to the “Digital Fingerprint.” As a result, the focus has shifted from targeting consumer look-a-likes to knowing exactly who your audience is and anticipating what their needs and wants are before they themselves have recognized them. At least that’s what Google and Facebook are looking to do. Your entire life is tracked, sold, anonymized, and combined to construct data fortresses that look like something from a bad ‘80s science fiction movie.
The long and the short of it is that data is the currency of the future. Consider how you’re spending it.
4) Start a customer war room.
Focus groups are great, but with a considerable degree of technology and social media being at your team’s fingertips, why not set up a customer war room? That is, invite a handful of your brand’s fans (as well as an assortment of prospects) and engage with them firsthand. Have them share their own opinions about how you can improve your products or service and work from there.
Car companies and luxury brands have utilized this sort of engagement for commercialized entertainment purposes, but approaching it from an analytics perspective is a great way to listen, track, test, and measure the data that really matters. A few tips to keep in mind when running a customer war room:
- Watch how they use your products and look out for approaches that stray from those you had expected.
- Allow them to co-create with you. In other words, permit your customers and prospects to directly contribute their ideas to your company’s or brand’s future roadmap; and,
- Reward them with custom-tailored incentives or invitations to other company happenings as a way of thanking them for their participation.
Getting your fans together can also be great for beta testing and experimenting with early stage releases. Again, measurable data here is key. And a customer’s “happiness” is indeed quantifiable, even in a less formal, unconventional environment.
5) Jumpstart your content salon.
Content is and always will be king. But in a world where everyone is creating endless streams of content, it’s imperative you adopt a stand-alone approach when generating yours. Otherwise, you’ll only be adding to the information overload that plagues our current social networks (platforms where organic reach, we should note, is decreasing by the day). So quit searching for another “Oreo moment,” and think instead about how you can create lasting appeal that establishes a sense of relevance and differentiation for your brand.
A “content salon” enables you to do just this by requiring content creation teams to transform their companies into cultures of customers. Tools like Percolate make curation and scheduling easier than ever, but the magic isn’t in the tools -- it’s in the approach. For teams stationed in a single locale, sometimes a short content brainstorm game can uncover loads of ideas in just a few, short minutes (e.g., the 50/50 exercise).
Man and machine can also make a brilliant team when it comes to content creation. By pairing designers and writers with your best analytics dashboard, you’ll be opening the door to entirely new, timely topics. It can also make distinguishing patterns in the news and other owned media properties a great deal simpler.
6) Establish your culture code.
Those brands still searching for “meaning” today need to start by looking in the mirror. T.S. Eliot said it best when he wrote,
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
Uncovering your creation story for the first time can be an enlightening experience, not to mention a worthwhile one. After all, how can your customers know what your company stands for if your own employees don’t? For a fascinating look at the effects of this concept, check out SlideShare’s Culture Code. In it, business owners share their company’s unique value sets and guidelines. The content you’ll find there is surprisingly inspirational.
As we neared our 10-year anniversary here at Digital Surgeons, I thought it best to take a page from Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators and explore what makes up our own culture code.
Here’s a snapshot:
The results were eye-opening, and I walked away more driven than ever to be a better leader for my team. Yet, perhaps even more importantly, we all had fun in the process. We laughed the entire way through, a reflection of the family we’ve grown to become over the years. What began as an experimental exercise evolved into a remarkable moment of team bonding. When it comes to establishing a culture code of your own, those moments really are priceless.
7) Know your customer.
Sounds simple enough, but in today’s world of next-level customer customization, a deeper understanding of their ins and outs is critical. And while high-level personas allow you certain, generalized insights, they’re really just the first step in getting to know your audience. One way to take it a step further would be to uncover gaps in a product’s offerings. For example, when Bernard Sadow spotted a toolbox on wheels while lugging his heavy suitcase through an airport over 40 years ago, he responded by creating suitcases on wheels. Gap filled. Today, when one brand noticed its customers were strapping its product onto wooden dowels, they saw it as a customer need worth fulfilling. Enter, the GoPole.
Knowing how your customers are hacking ways around your product’s usage provides extremely valuable insight into their wants and needs. Once you’ve gained that, you’ll have ample material for future accessories, feature updates or even entirely new product lines worth rolling out.
8) Mix-up your mashups.
When was the last time you put serious thought into the ways in which your products, platforms, and technologies could be combined to offer something totally new (AKA, a mashup)? By “remixing” your business model, you’re actively fashioning varied means of delivering better customer experiences. Think about Uber evolving from a consumer car service to a multi-purpose vehicle for home fresh food delivery. The technology is there, it just needs to be mixed up with a new perspective to become a viable concept.
9) Aim for the wow factor.
The ability to create a shared sentiment of inimitable and truly exceptional customer experience is something no longer limited to your local mom-and-pop shops. Some of the world’s leading brands are advertising “wow factors” that distinguish them as advocates of intimate customer service. These markers of excellence can be something affected across the board, like a “no questions asked” return policy or gestures carried out on a one-off basis like ordering your customer a pizza. That’s right -- various service reps at Zappos have reportedly ordered their customer a pizza from time to time. Or take Morton’s Steakhouse that sent a tuxedoed waiter to Newark Airport to greet one hungry traveler with a 24-oz. porterhouse steak in response to the man’s humorous tweet sent out prior to boarding his flight. Morton’s saw this as the perfect opportunity to flaunt its brand’s wow factor by waiting for him on arrival with not just steak, but a story certainly worth sharing.
10) Challenge the status quo.
Change is the only constant these days, and only you can challenge the status quo in a way that benefits your business. Rules are made to be broken, and patterns are made to be noticed. Take risks, dive deeper, move ideas forward, and never stop thinking like a marketer of the future.