May 19, 2016 | Written by: Steve Gatto
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How to Deliver Seamless Digital Experiences that Delight Shoppers and Drive Revenue
The Marketers Dilemma
With all the interactive devices at our disposal (including computers, smart devices, tablets, in-store display, et al) combined with an increasing number of digital services (social media, content subscriptions, branded content, ecommerce), digital consumers have never had so many options. Yet, we’re also a demanding a bunch. In many ways, the path to purchase has never been so complex. Also, increasingly, the terms of the relationship are dictated not by brands, but by the consumer. According to Forrester Research analyst, Kate Leggett we live “in the age of the customer” where “executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are — customers do.”
The New Digital Customer Journey
Empowered buyers demand personalized, compelling ecommerce experiences that trigger inspiration, provide education, and – hopefully – result in a successful purchase. And the very best of these experiences will be shared – helping to build awareness and drive customer loyalty. The key to creating memorable experiences is relevant and timely content – content that delivers the right information or inspiration at just the right time. These experiences must be consistent across the customer journey and must adapt to their unique circumstances at every stage in the purchasing lifecycle.
The Need for a Unified Omni-Channel Digital Strategy
Experienced marketers and merchandisers know that delivering an effective omni-channel journey is both an art and a science. It requires a deft combination of data, technology and common sense. Unfortunately, the rules of the game are constantly changing and the pace of online publishing is increasing every day. Not only do brands need to adhere to traditional marketing calendars and practices, marketers must also be able to respond in real-time to the specific demands of individual consumers. And they must do so in a way that is consistent across all channels.
According to an IBM Commerce Consumer Study, loyalty was at an all-time low. Just 10% of consumers said they would actively advocate for their primary retailer. Alarmingly, 37% of respondents said they were antagonists and that they would actively discredit their primary retailer if it failed to meet their expectations. How quickly has this pendulum swung against retailers? Advocate and antagonist figures were 32% and 5%, respectively, in the 2013 study.
A fragmented and poorly integrated brand presence confuses the customer, is difficult to manage, and, ultimately, leaves revenue on the table. But customers see only a single brand and they expect a unified experience.When they don’t get it, they are more likely to take their business somewhere else. Aberdeen Research Group found that more than half of online companies cite heightened customer expectations as their number one challenge in building an effective online sales channel.
Challenges at the Nexus of Content & Commerce
When digital marketers are able to combine content and commerce in an integrated, meaningful way, it offers the potential to deliver the experiences expected by consumers. Yet this marriage also presents challenges to brands. Even when companies realize this, it’s ambitious to assume that they have the team, content strategy and support systems in place to deliver the kinds of unified experiences that customer increasingly demand. Most organizations have entirely separate teams – with different goals and habits – for managing marketing content and ecommerce transactions.
Brand content is typically created by a combination of roles including but not limited to creative, editorial, marketing and individual channel owners. Marketers want to create impact with thematic campaigns that are frequently based on one-off technology investments. Their content is typically unstructured and takes a while to develop and deliver. eCommerce teams, on the other hand, are charged with driving conversions and are more likely to look for simple, repeatable solutions that can help increase ROI. Their content is typically more structured.
Healing Fractured Organizations
As brands aspire to deliver the kinds of experiences that customers expect, technology vendors have increasingly teamed with partners who offer a unique blend of services and practices that combine digital agencies and marketing capabilities with ecommerce and systems integration. Together, these combined efforts – founded on analytical insights that drive the creation of engaging consumer experiences – can cross the divide created by the historic technology gap between commerce and content.
Using Data to Increase the Value Exchange Between Brands & Buyers
While connected content and commerce systems can provide the tools to engage customers, brands must also have access to the customer insights that will allow them to decide where and how to optimize their existing digital strategy. Generic segmentation and persona-based marketing have been the standard tactics for the past few years but the bar has been raised. Today’s customers require a higher level of personalization and engagement in order to secure their loyalty. These personalized experiences can only be delivered via customer insights that are based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative sources. This knowledge is not just used for targeted marketing. It can also be leveraged to anticipate customer needs and provide the right interaction at the right time on the right channel.
Organizations operating in the retail sector have seen the value of data-driven insights to help direct marketing initiatives. These descriptive and diagnostic analytic capabilities do a good job of answering the “What” and “Why” behind historical data but they provide limited guidance for future behavior and cannot address the need for real-time insight. Advanced cognitive analytics are the next phase of the analytics adoption lifecycle. These technologies are designed to uncover insights from trends and patterns to determine the future impact of operational adjustments and market forces on organizations. Taken together, these intelligence solutions can provide companies with a holistic perspective to help determine “What should happen?” in certain business situations. And there is no doubt that publishing the right content targeted to a customer at a critical moment in their journey is key to delivering on consumers’ expectations today.
This dynamic is not unique to retail operations. Organizations that operating according to business to business (B2B) models – whether direct or indirect (e.g. B2B2C) – continue to mature in their use of digital channels to drive both sales and service. B2B organizations are turning their attention to what happens after the physical contract has been executed. The ability to support contractual requirements across all digital channels represents a crucial opportunity for B2B sales optimization. Thhttps://www.ibm.com/blogs/watson-customer-engagement/wp-admin/post-new.phpe first step is to model the fundamental conditions of the B2B relationship (including companies, members, entitlements and all terms and conditions governing the relationship). Once this foundation is in place, companies can begin addressing the key factors that influence the business buyer’s purchase and, ultimately, enable repeat purchases.
By combining the right business tools to engage customers with the best insights to optimize the experience, business can build a comprehensive ecosystem that helps them to execute and deliver ‘Experiential Commerce’.
Identifying the Right Solution Approach
In order to address this challenge, customer experience teams are busy investigating the best way to bring their traditional Commerce and Content worlds together. What is needed is a solution that can serve as a centralized management and engagement hub for blended content + commerce experiences across all of a company’s digital properties — including multi-language sites.
The key to this approach lies in an integration of Web Content Management and ecommerce systems that utilize each system for its strengths. The two systems are linked by a common set of REST APIs and a blended publishing model that allows business users to combine real-time product data with branded content at run-time to deliver truly converged content and commerce experiences.
This approach provides the flexibility needed to support a variety of requirements and business models including:
- Commerce-led with augmentation: Companies with large, complex product catalogs and basic marketing requirements seeking to augment an existing web store.
- Content-Driven: Companies with a strong brand and a global, multi-touchpoint marketing presence looking to bring blended experiences and dedicated ecommerce functionality (shopping cart, check out, product catalog, etc.) into their marketing sites and applications
- “Blended” Hybrid model: This approach seeks to bring the best of the “Commerce-Led” and “Content-Driven” approaches together by ensuring each system manages and delivers the most appropriate portion of the online experience. A typical approach involves giving the CMS responsibility for delivering the experience up to the checkout process, at which point the ecommerce system takes over. You could elect to serve all campaign pages and commerce-enabled brand sites directly out of the CMS, while serving product detail pages from the ecommerce system
Get our perspective on how to enable digital marketers to blend commerce and content to optimize the digital customer experience.
 Forrester Research – Navigate the Future of Customer Service in 2014 report.
 IBM 2015 Smarter Consumer Study, Shoppers disrupted: Retailing through the noise
 Aberdeen Group, “Next Generation Customer Experience Management”, Omer Minkara, Aly Piner, March 2013