2019 is the Year of Experience

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It’s once again the end of one year and the beginning of another. And with it, a chance to reflect on the previous 12 months as well as an opportunity to look forward into the next.  Inevitably, this leads to recaps, predictions, and many other ways to make sense of time passing. This year, I am making a statement about the coming year, 2019, and will follow that up with a prediction for the following year, 2020 in a separate article.

First, a suggested change of vocabulary. I have been saying for a few years now, and have not been alone in my opinion, that it’s time to remove the now false distinction between “digital” marketing and advertising and its “traditional” counterparts.  Depending on how you look at it, we are past (or nearing) the two decade mark since digital marketing, new media, search marketing, social media or other channels have been around. Digital is now no longer a clear distinction that can be made, and thus I recommend that we simply describe what “traditional” and “digital” marketers do as marketing. Yes, a very simple and familiar name,  but it’s about time to remove the inaccurate division between the two.

What are the forward-thinking marketers to focus on now? The exciting (and long overdue) trend in marketing circles is an increased focus on the customer experience and customer relationships as a whole, in addition to the performance and success of individual channels. While tactical marketing will always play an important role, an increased focus on overall experience means we are now focused across all channels and measuring across everything. This is good news for customers, as well as for brands.

Now, people who have been working in the customer experience (CX) profession for years will (rightfully so) say that CX is nothing new. Also, they will say that experience isn’t just about marketing. Of course they are right about both. The difference now is in the increased integration between the practice of CX and the practice of marketing, and what that means for organizations as a whole. It is also changing the focus that marketing agencies need to take when addressing their clients’ challenges.

The reality is that all of those individual marketing channels are still very important and still each need to be performing at 100% all the time. Oh, and that we are now adding a layer on top of that which makes it vital that they all not only perform individually well, but also work better in concert with one another, and provide a most customized experience for each user. More commonly known as journey or CX orchestration, this requires an intelligent system that efficiently and effectively routes a customer from one step in their journey to the next, and ideally personalizes that experience based on the individual.

The good news is that there are an increasing amount of tools, platforms and methodologies to help with this, and achieving even modest gains in performance and effectiveness at the customer experience level across all channels can mean a significant boost in business KPIs.

What brought this about? First, big data brought the ability to collect the mountains of information necessary to capture each individual customer touch point, whether it’s online, offline, or a mixture of each (e.g. using a mobile phone inside a retail location). Next, exponential tools such as artificial intelligence-driven personalization and predictive analytics allow us to get closer to a 1-to-1 marketing model that means each customer has a unique experience.

What is the opportunity?

According to a recent report by Dimension Data, 81% of companies recognise customer experience as a competitive differentiator, yet only 13% self-rate their CX delivery at 9 out of 10 or better.  That is a considerable gap. If everyone agrees that a great experience is critical, why are they not guaranteeing that they can deliver one?

This is a huge opportunity for those willing to take up the challenge. Of course, this effort is not without its difficulties. Successful companies will embrace the increased integration of marketing and technology roles within an organization. They will also embrace the role of marketing within the operations and human resources function.  Doing so requires a more agile, team-based approach instead of more rigid hierarchies, which might be difficult for some companies that are stuck in their ways.

The payoff, however, is great. Nimble organizations can make the transition to a focus on customer experience much more easily than siloed companies. If the divisions and processes within your company are often barriers to getting work done, imagine what it feels like to be your customer!

What does this mean for marketers and marketing agencies?

There are several great things for marketers to embrace about this Year of Experience.  First, never before has there been such a need for great understanding of customers as well as targeted messaging and content. After all, the best research, insights, and findings in the world are still just the starting point to great strategic marketing.

Successful marketers and marketing agencies will embrace their central role in taking the best data and insights and turning them into successful strategies, that only become more successful as they are fed into automation and personalization tools driven by AI and machines learning.

Tactical knowledge and expertise will still be valued, but continue to become more of a commodity. The true value of marketers and their agencies is to understand how a holistic experience drives value for the business.

With the support of data platforms, technology, an evolving business mindset, and yes, the help of many other people within and outside your organization, it is time to embrace the year of experience!