The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

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By Michael Nutley, Writer for The Drum

August 16, 2022 | 6 min read

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Experts from VMLY&R, Cloudinary and PA Consulting discuss customer experience trends, challenges and emerging tech that can help optimize the CX to boost engagement, conversions and revenue. Watch the full session here.

How to use the customer experience to create differentiation in the ‘sea of sameness’

Emerging technologies that can help optimize the customer experience

“We were in the era of instant gratification before the pandemic; what does that mean for brands now?”

This question, posed by VMLY&R’s chief experience officer for EMEA Karen Boswell, sums up the challenge facing brands as changes in both technology and customer behavior accelerate. She was speaking in a webinar – Optimizing the CX to boost engagement, conversions and revenue – presented by The Drum in partnership with cloud-based image and video management services company, Cloudinary.

The session also featured Suzi Bentley Tanner, strategy and transformation director at PA Consulting, and Milind Pansare, vice-president of product marketing at Cloudinary. Among the topics they discussed were the key customer experience (CX) trends at the moment; the biggest challenges that brands and organizations need to overcome; and the emerging technologies that can help optimize the customer experience a brand offers, and elevate it to the next level.

Even better than the real thing

According to Pansare, the three most important trends in CX are people’s changing expectations of technology, the shortening time brands have to capture a potential customer’s attention, and the emergence of web3.

“People now expect the experiences they have online to be as good or even better than the physical experience,” he said. “So many things we used to shop for before [the Covid-19 Pandemic] – not just jeans but high end jewelry and luxury goods – were bought during the lockdown sight unseen, and the only experience was the online experience.

“Another trend is that our attention spans are getting much shorter, so brands have a second or two at most to engage and convert consumers. Brands need to figure out how to make all messaging – including visuals – relevant to the person they’re speaking to, to capture their attention in that second or so. Then the third big trend is web3. We’re all familiar with blockchain, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse, and there’s a real expectation that visual experiences are going to keep changing.”

Build experiences that work for your customers, not your brand

Bentley Tanner framed the challenge in terms of people being highly task-oriented much of the time they’re online, combined with the e-commerce sector’s aversion to risk.

“It’s a sea of sameness out there in e-commerce; you could swap out the logo on a lot of retail sites and you wouldn’t actually know what site you were on,” she said. “So the challenge is being able to weave in the inspiration and the brand experience while also getting a customer to reach their goal quickly and easily.”

The opportunity to use the customer experience to create differentiation in the “sea of sameness” was described by Boswell as “a really hot topic.”

“Differentiation comes from listening to demand, not mimicking your marketplace,” she said. “Where brands get it wrong is that they’re still answering a brand challenge, or a business challenge. They’re still thinking: ‘How do I sell? How do I get products into the hands of customers?’ But these experiences should be built for people. Brands should go back to human-centered design thinking: know who your audience is and what they want; design the right thing, design the thing right; make it accessible, build it seamlessly.”

Boswell also stressed the importance of thinking about measurement in parallel with developing this focus on the customer.

“Quite often, we build something new and we measure it for old,” she said. “How do we build new return-on-investment models? How do we close the loop on attribution modeling, and start to drive home the benefits of thinking differently and behaving differently, so that it contributes to the brand’s strength and stature, and to the bottom line?”

Personalization is paramount

Alongside developing what Bentley Tanner called a “ruthless obsession with the customer”, brands need to understand what technology can do in support. Pansare talked about how much change has crept up on marketers in the last few years, and how they need to retool their technology as a result. He gave the example of the need to create personally relevant visual customer experiences that are also constantly fresh.

“No matter what channel you’re using, you have to be able to personalize the experience,” he said. “Not in a creepy way, but perhaps customizing your ad regionally or locally to the weather at the moment, or to the location. The sheer scale of the visual experiences that you would have to create for this is humanly impossible, but with technology you can solve that impossible human scale problem through automation.”

“The visual experience is one of the key threads that goes through every channel,” he continued. “Brands need to look at their visual experience across all channels, and make sure they have the technology in place to help them differentiate in a true way, and bring out that authentic connection that people want with a brand, because the visual experience is everything.”

To watch the full webinar on optimizing the CX to boost engagement, conversions and revenue, click here.

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