It is a pleasant November morning in 2021. I am looking forward to my meeting with John and Sara. It has been so long after our last coffee together.
John is already in the room and Sara walks in soon after I enter. Yes, it feels a little strange to be free of our masks and to greet with strong handshakes.
I thank them for sticking to my company throughout the crisis. It was a major vote of confidence and, to be honest, helped us stay afloat. They are kind enough to reciprocate by acknowledging our contributions—digital product launches, virtual meets, and engaging customer experiences. We were all on tenterhooks when we were venturing into a what was relatively a new territory then. Now, looking back, we agree that it was a great adventure that we enjoyed together, learning a lot in the process.
I get ready to make my presentation. My team has put a lot of work on this. I am excited. “Digital Marketing 2022 and Beyond” the first slide comes on. And John stops me.
“I must tell you right away, Rahul,” John said. “We are moving on from digital.” I am shocked, my hand froze above the keyboard.
Virtual or real, marketing is about connection
Everyone is aware of the COVID-19 situation. There are enough experts working on how it will turn out and how best to combat its effects. For us, it is now a part of the reality we must accept and adjust to.
Among other things, the situation has helped us understand the important role of digital in marketing and in providing a memorable customer experience. It is time we went beyond the excitement of “unboxing” as it were. We need to get back to the important in-person aspects of marketing. We can’t let digital overshadow those.
Let us dust off the good old principles of marketing. It is about delivering outcomes for our organization and experiences for our customers. Digital marketing is not a different arm or entity. It is a tool we shall continue to use.
Data is big, and the talk of how big data can be transformative never seems to ebb. Technology has opened several channels to know the customer, their likes and dislikes. However, all those numbers are at best a starting point.
How do you plan to use that data to connect with the customer? How do you plan to provide a great customer experience right through the customer’s journey with you? Will you let a cold device do it for you? Or are you willing to share a human smile and (an even more human) sob together as we all go through a terrible time that does not seem to end? Will you let technology be the excuse to stay away or figure out how it can give you new opportunity to touch a customer’s life when it matters most and in a manner that is memorable?
The revolution is not in making better use of videoconferencing. It is about using all those devices of connectivity to get closer to the customer and to provide a better, more valuable experience. For example, once it was not easy to fix up a meeting between the customer and the subject matter expert. Now it is simply a matter of getting a common time slot and adding the SME (or all relevant executives) to the call.
Scott Edinger remembers a time when his family ordered take-out for dinner from a local Italian restaurant during the height of the pandemic lockdown:
Along with our dinner, we received a roll of toilet paper branded with the restaurant’s logo, which was an incredibly valuable and unexpected add-on at that time. When everyone was struggling to find toilet paper in the stores, this restaurant that had an excess of toilet paper because they could not serve dine-in guests, seized on an opportunity to create an exceptional customer service experience.
Calling for a take-out dinner was a digitally enabled transaction. What elevated it to an unforgettable customer experience was the gift of the toilet roll.
Writing before the virus took over the world, Stefan Thomke talks about the importance of customer experience (CX) design:
Customers want their choices to align as much with their feelings and senses as with their values and ethics. The rational approaches taught at most business schools—offer customers more value for money, add features, make service more efficient—are not enough. Creating memorable experiences for customers also requires a bit of emotional magic.
He cites a Gallup study to remind that:
Organizations that optimize emotional connections outperform rivals by 26% in terms of gross margin and 85% in terms of sales growth. They cultivate emotionally engaged customers who are less price sensitive, less likely to buy from competitors, and three times more likely to recommend and repurchase.
The journey between visiting a company’s website, say, and making an actual purchase is an emotional, cognitive, and motivational process. It’s the mix of those forces that creates feelings, memories, and stories about an organization, whether positive, negative, or ambivalent. It’s this variability that creates opportunities for companies to deliver memorable experiences.
By increasing the opportunities for and enhancing the memorability of the experience at every touch point, digital can add an extra sparkle of magic (and pleasant surprise) to marketing. It is not about technical wizardry for the sake of the dazzle. It is about staying abreast of digital developments and making responsible use of technology to make that empathetic connection stronger.
I always knew that my friends Sara and John were compulsive pranksters, but never at work. So, I am confused when they laugh at my shocked expression. Is this goodbye time? Does no more digital mean no more work for me? Are they simply trying to soften the blow by joking around?
“What this means,” John finally stopped laughing and both were serious again, “is that digital is now part of our DNA. You know how we think, you know our products well. You are no longer just a digital designer for us. You are now our marketing partner. Together we shall design customer experiences, which may or may not have a digital component. Rahul, it is time for you to step up to the table.” They dramatically stand up and offer me a chair rather theatrically.
We all laugh, and I close my laptop. We have some customer experiences to design. Digital can come in after we firm up our strategy.
Storyteller Rahul Deshpande is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ethosh Digital, which helps companies create persona-based and visually inspiring customer experiences.