By Paige O’Neill, CMO of Sitecore
The pandemic caused dramatic shifts in the way consumers interact with brands, accelerating the need for digital transformation and underscoring how critical it is to be able to respond to customer needs quickly and effectively. Granted, buyer expectations and preferences had been trending in this direction for a while. Even pre-pandemic, 91% of consumers said they prefer to shop with brands that provide tailored, relevant offers and recommendations, and online shopping was consistently a top-rated option because of the convenience and flexibility it offers.
Now, marketing organisations have no choice but to continue to adapt. Consumers have grown accustomed to digital channels; however, these will need to be blended with other approaches as restrictions lift and in-person, physical options become more of a reality. To stay focused and current, keep these three imperatives top of mind:
Create empathy and put customers at the heart of CX strategy
A year ago, being an ‘empathetic brand’ meant reaching out to customers to see what they wanted and needed while being sensitive to how they might be feeling or affected by the pandemic. Today, this has evolved to putting customers’ desires, feelings, and expectations at the heart of a CX strategy.
In other words, focusing on what customers genuinely need, whether that is a product or service, or information and guidance, must be the priority, rather than pushing for the sale.
While we must collect customer data to understand their needs, remember that people are complex—and human—and they do not just want to be sold to. They want to be educated and have the chance to build trust and affinity with brands. This means moving beyond a transactional relationship, to create a mutually beneficial one.
It is also crucial to recognise that empathy cannot be manufactured; it must be authentic. At times, information or guidance is more useful to a customer than buying a product; if so, that should be your focus — building a deeper, more meaningful relationship that will serve the customer and the business long term.
Deliver the right content, at the right time
Once you understand what customers want and how you can provide it to them, the next step is to create and serve them with effective content, when and where they want it.
This is where brands can invest in automation to help. Automating content management and supply can help you work with large amounts of content and learn and understand what works and what doesn’t. The ultimate goal as marketing efforts evolve is to be able to deliver effective content at scale, and spend less time managing it.
While you consider your automation investment, my advice is to start small and not overcomplicate the workflow. Improve your understanding what customers are looking for by focusing on a few key metrics, such as what content is resonating and how it is being used. Does your website meet customer needs? Is there content with high drop-off rates? Address the biggest gaps first, then learn, tweak, and improve.
Be agile and react in the moment
Demonstrating empathy for your customers and having the right content to serve them with is key but being able to react quickly in any given moment is often what creates true brand loyalty.
In the past, marketing teams designed year-long business plans and campaigns that spanned multiple quarters or annual budgets. However, we will likely never go back to these extended planning, rollout, and review cycles. Instead, marketers have found it’s better to listen to customers and react in the moment to their changing needs.
In addition to the technology required for this kind of agility—the ability to collect and analyse data and automate processes—marketing organisations must also embrace an agility mindset, updating processes and tearing down the silos that impede collaboration. Forward-thinking companies mapping CX strategy and technology with similar changes to team alignment and culture throughout the entire company, not just marketing or IT.
As consumers become more and more accustomed to companies being educators, advisers, and entertainers—as well as providing the products or services they need—marketers must be able to show the empathetic, human side of their brands, serving customers with quality content when and where they need it most.