What do ‘bespoke burgers’ have to do with entitled consumers?

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Back in my Forrester days, one of my favorite things was to be invited to a “WIM session”. Forrester analysts write research that captures the essence of what’s changing in the market, why that’s important now, and what the takeaways should be for the reader. But, then in big important research, we would bring together a bunch of analysts – often from different research teams – and conduct a “WIM Session.” WIM stands for “What it means.” We’d start from the future perspective envisioned in the report and ask questions about what will future would look like, how companies will have to change as a result, how the economy might change, or how consumer behaviors might change. We would pursue these questions down a “if that, then what?” chain until we got to the borderline-absurd.

Nick, Josh, and I conducted a similar “Dream Session” as we were wrapping up Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. We asked ourselves and our collaborators what would happen in a world of entitled consumers and consumer-first marketers. One of our predictions that we published in the book was that “Consumer-first marketing will give rise to a bespoke products economy.” We referenced INDOCHINO, which sells custom men’s suits, chinos, and shirts, and delivers products to consumers that exactly match their preferences, but didn’t exist until the consumer asked for them. Amazon can print books on demand. Tesla takes your order and builds a car to your spec. Nike and Adidas are selling more and more shoes that are one-off designs by individual customers.

And, then, this week McDonald’s announced that it will acquire Dynamic Yield, an “AI powered personalization platform,” and will use its decision technology to “increase personalization and improve customer experience” allowing the fast food restaurant to adjust digital menus at drive-thrus depending on the time of day, weather, traffic, or trending menus.

If you’d asked me for a list of potential acquirers for Dynamic Yield, I’d be lying if I said that I’d have put McDonald’s on that list. But, I applaud their foresight and hope, for their sake, that they can deliver on their aim to accelerate their digital transformation and “advance” and “elevate” “McDonald’s customer experience with technology and innovation.”

If even a burger joint sees the need or opportunity to invest $300 million in technology that enables it to become more customer-centric, is there a company out there that shouldn’t be thinking along these lines?

Want to Be Customer Obsessed? Forrester Recommends Starting With Email

Shar VBCustomer Obsession is a theme that Forrester has spent the past few years researching and advocating. It’s not so different from consumer-first marketing. Both terms refer to the practice of allowing insights about consumer behavior to dictate brand behavior.

In a recent Forbes interview, analyst Shar VanBoskirk explained that many brands understand the idea of Customer Obsession, but get stuck when they try to implement it. In a big company, so many processes are already in place to push merchandise, run a sale, or send mass messages that personalizing interactions or communicating with individuals based on their needs is hard to prioritize.

Shar’s research shows that email is an affordable, effective tool that brands can use to become more customer obsessed. It makes sense. Most brands have email platforms, email experts and a lot of information about the consumers that receive their messages. The email team also usually has a reasonable amount of autonomy to direct their messaging strategy.

Rather than think of email as only a promotional tool, email should be used as a communication channel, where marketers interact with individuals. Email can be used for market research, for personalized updates based on past behavior, or just to create goodwill with heartwarming stories.

Shar cites Hilton as a good example. The company delivers a personalized “year in review” email that shows a customer everywhere they traveled, loyalty rewards, and how close they were to reaching the next level of loyalty status. This simple (and automated!) email then allows for Hilton to create ongoing customer-obsessed communication. For example, Hilton could easily send a follow-up that helps the customer achieve extra points to graduate from gold to platinum member status.

Email marketers can be customer obsessed without overhauling the marketing department. Hilton doesn’t need to know every single thing about a customer to send a personalized email, they just need to pull a year’s worth of sales activity into a standard template.  Many customer-obsessed email campaigns can be relatively straightforward, like reminding people what’s in their shopping cart before it expires. Or they can be really complicated. Netflix uses an algorithm to understand consumer’s preferences and recommend movies. Customer-obsessed email campaigns can also pull double-duty. Many personalized digital companies from Birch-Box to TheNest use survey emails to better understand customer preferences – and these messages get significant customer participation. Some companies like Spotify put little survey questions throughout their online experience to gather data when the consumer is most engaged.

Yet, even before data is gathered, the concept of thinking about the customer’s needs must become part of the planning. Someone at Hilton understood that customers react well to seeing a review of their past activity and that the personal touch will mean significantly more than another “Labor Day Weekend Sale” message.

This insight might be the best takeaway from Shar’s research – that email marketers have the power to think about what communication the customer might want, and then craft a campaign around that concept. A customer-obsessed email marketer would try to determine what makes those customers tick first and build around that, rather than blast them with “clever” but vanilla messages that focus only on extoling the products virtues, rather than truly connecting with the consumers’ needs.

 

Data Transparency Delivers Long Term Benefits

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I was interviewed by DMNews for a piece on the challenges of delivering personalization to consumers who are skeptical about sharing their data.  It’s a good piece that underscores the importance of telling consumers the truth about what you intend to do with their data and the benefits they will receive.