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Perspective

We Look Forward to 2021 and the Opportunities Digital 360 Brings.

2020 will go down in history as a year to remember. I don’t think any of us will struggle to recall the year when social distancing became a thing and working-from-home the norm. But I do believe that while the initial shock of lockdown and adjusting to what that meant for organizations everywhere was a challenge, it also presented new opportunities for the CMO and marketeers who were agile, innovative and quick to respond.

Let’s be honest, the majority of businesses were not prepared for the impact of a global pandemic – why would they be? At best, I would say most organizations had “elements” of their digital strategy in place – but it was far from seamless – so for many, COVID was a race to catch up with their digital native cousins. That’s not to say marketeers were totally unprepared.

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Innovation and digital transformation are seen as the key to real-time customer engagement – the nirvana for marketeers. The report shared how the use of innovation to seek new ways to engage customers across digital touchpoints is the way forward. In that regard, you could say the pandemic has opened up new opportunities. The problem was it all just happened so quickly – which doesn’t always net the best results!

Let me give you an example. As soon as lockdown was lifted back in July, my young family were chomping at the bit to get out of the house and into some fresh air; they needed to run around and let off steam, so we booked a well-known UK family holiday park, which seemed like the perfect place to do that. So off we set. The holiday parks have had a general App in place for a long time which covered all their UK holiday villages – so that wasn’t new, but the extent to which you needed to do everything via your smart phone (to limit touchpoints and face to face interaction) had gone to a whole other level. Every meal, cup of tea or coffee, even ordering a beer in the bowling alley had to be ordered over your phone.  Which in principle was fine, but the service really wasn’t geared up to deliver. First, you needed to be signed up and connected to Wi-Fi or have a mobile data connection (which wasn’t possible at the bowling alley), then you had to find the right page. The options were limited (no soya milk for my coffee), and by the time the beer arrived, we’d finished the game. So, while the UK holiday park now knows all of my preferences, the process left a bad taste in the mouth. On top of it all, after the clumsy experience, they also forgot to ask my preferences and the ability to share my data with their partners.

Many people have gone on record to say that digital transformation took place overnight during the pandemic, and I can see that yes, many organizations made huge strides, but there is still so much to be done. I think the keyword for many B2C organizations has been reprioritization. For example, I heard of one large high street retailer who revamped and scaled their website overnight – and had the resources (the people and stores) to somehow manage the distribution – but it can’t have been easy. I spoke with another highstreet band that usually sells via department stores and sports stores that has seen direct-to-consumer sales go through the roof. For them it was a question of reprioritization to quickly build up their direct marketing and their distribution network.

So, while I don’t believe digital transformation happened overnight, the race is for sure speeding up!

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The new Digital 360 collection page on Salesforce AppExchange, the world’s leading enterprise cloud marketplace, gives customers access to consulting services from industry experts, including from us at Publicis Sapient. This is fantastic recognition of our strong point-of-view for CMOs and marketeers around digital transformation. And while technology cannot solve everything, a solution like Digital 360 can help organizations that are not digital natives to begin to level the playing field.

Something many CMOs will be experiencing as an effect of COVID-19 is the abundance of data which has accumulated over the past year. It is mind boggling — and therein lies one of the major challenges… and opportunities — around how organizations are going to harness and operationalize all of this information to create a superior level of customer service and engagement. Going back to my UK holiday break example: before COVID they collected some data, like my billing details, names of family members, etc., but now they know my entire family food and drink preferences, they know our favorite activities and how we spend our time. Geez, they even know my preferred beer!

Where journeys are predetermined, this new influx of data can be operationalized more effectively – for example, where marketeers are already using artificial intelligence (AI) to determine that next step in a customer journey, the data can be put to work immediately to create more accurate and effective personalized communications. This is where I feel Digital 360 can be of help. The technology behind the solution is not all brand new, however, it is now able to bring seamless integration, for the CMO and marketing to have insight into the Marketing Cloud (which drives omnichannel communication), the Commerce Cloud (delivering personalized e-Commerce shopping) and the Experience Cloud (which enables self-service functions and content). There is a recognition that marketing, and the CMO in particular, is now at the forefront of this digital conversation – which has traditionally been the purview of the Chief Digital Officer. There needs to be much stronger collaboration if we are to deliver against customer expectations. Gone are the days when consumers were prepared to wait for a customer service rep to figure out who they were, or spend weeks waiting for a package to ship while having no idea where in the world it was located at any given time. Consumers now expect immediate response times, custom product recommendations (so, let me know what I need before I know I need it) and seamless omni-channel interfaces – and marketing has to be involved in all of those journeys. As for the UK holiday park, a good marketeer would know that next time I visit, I am going to expect nothing short of a cold beer waiting for me at my bowling lane, soya milk delivered to my table in the coffee shop and a daily alert asking if we want to book the pool at our regular morning slot!

That said, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I am saying that technology is a panacea – because it is not. It is an enabler that can increase the speed, efficiency and accuracy of customer journeys, which will ultimately increase customer engagement. But, at the same time, marketeers need to bring all of their traditional capabilities to the process. They must know their audience really well, they must have an amazing product or service to offer, and they need their communication skills to tell stories and build relationships. So, when I think about what CMOs and marketeers need to focus on in 2021, I would advocate that they first need to slow down, just a little. Ensure their feet are planted squarely on the ground and go back to their fundamentals. Is their brand still meeting the needs of their target audience? Are their values still the right values? Does their messaging capture what they want their audience to know about their product or service? There have been some mishaps and bad judgements in the rush to respond quickly – but now is the time to win back customer trust and loyalty by getting the fundamentals right. Be helpful, be relevant, build trust – but at the same time, don’t stop your pursuit of innovation.

Patience and tolerance are low – we’ve all needed to adapt, and it’s tiring. We can’t go back to where we were before, that’s why focusing on your basics and getting it right now is so important. The prize will go to marketeers who can deliver messages and content that are timely and that resonate with each consumer’s individual and unique needs and expectations – without placing any undue stress in the process. And rest assured the technology will be there to support you when you know what you need it to do.

Stephen Aitken
Stephen Aitken
International Lead, Salesforce Practice