We must look beyond traditional marketing and embrace immersive experiences to breed consumer loyalty, says Hall & Partners’ Ziad Skaff

By Ziad Skaff, managing director of Hall & Partners MENA

We’re seeing tough economic times in the Middle East. Budgets are tightening and people are spending more cautiously. When times are tough, all businesses look at cost-saving measures, and marketing budgets are often among the first to be scrutinised. With this in mind, crafting unique customer experiences becomes vitally important, especially given how digital platforms have changed the way brands and consumers interact. The latter have more control and are extremely discerning; they want authentic experiences at a time that suits them.

We’ve moved beyond the ‘transact first, connect later’ mentality. Brands must provide an immersive and emotional customer experience (CX) to generate loyalty, and this will only become more important in the coming years. Marketers will have to pursue advocacy above all, prioritising personaliation over the more traditional attractions and activations. If you look at the winners in the recent WARC Prize for MENA strategy, the most effective papers came from brands that embraced purpose-driven marketing. Those who do not fall in line with this trend will find themselves plateauing at an impersonal transaction level, with little hope of advancing.

Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” This couldn’t be more accurate when you consider today’s consumer. Brands should be seeking consumer involvement to help shape their own success stories, inviting them into their ‘kitchens’ to collaborate and fine-tune their offering to the end user.

Human evolution is bringing everyone closer and spreading knowledge at a very high speed. Today’s consumer is the most capable and, indeed, the most willing, to work with corporations to help them get it right, but it is down to brands to recognise this potential and tap into it wisely.

Taking all of this into account, what else can brands do to successfully connect with their consumers in these challenging times?

1. INVEST IN TECH THAT MAKES SENSE FOR YOUR BUSINESS

Although this seems counter-productive when we’re discussing a decrease in budgets, it’s extremely important.

Don’t cut corners; make sure you invest in the tech that works for you. With technology advancements such as augmented reality, online customisation and product simulation, experience is coming earlier in the conversion funnel. If you want to stand out, you must keep up to date with the latest innovations and hone your CX approach.

2. EMBRACE THE OMNICHANNEL EXPERIENCE

You must look at how all your channels can complement each other. Consider the engagement beyond a physical approach. All touchpoints offer a chance to create an incredible experience. Many good examples come to mind here, one of which is beauty retailer Sephora. They have integrated the digital and in-store experiences and reward their customers. Through their app or online, customers can track products they love, check past transactions and get access to the rewards programme. Brands that implement an omnichannel approach by funnelling data from all relevant sources and developing an all-inclusive experience will be in a better position to increase market share in the future and drive higher loyalty.

3. USE THE COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE
TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Through the rise of influencers, social media and word-of-mouth channels (blogs, for instance), consumers rely heavily on the collective experience in their path to purchase. However, this should also be a well calculated approach, especially if you’re associating your brand with influencers. Without proper analysis, you could be alienating an important share of your audience. So, tread carefully.

4. KEEP YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND

Don’t get too caught up in the ‘what’s next’ mentality; focus on the here and now and real consumer need. Jumping on the bandwagon of every new trend isn’t a wise strategy in the long run. Take big data, for example. As a researcher, I’m a huge fan of data and analysis, but it shouldn’t hold you back. You shouldn’t get so bogged down by data that you forget your customers (and the real world). At the end of the day, it’s customer experience, not big data experience.

5. KEEP LEARNING

Capturing every moment of the experience is important, as it could reveal invaluable insights and ideas and help fine tune your product or service. This requires being with consumers during moments of truth and engaging with them as co-creators, not just end users. Experience is not just a measurement of today; it helps reinvent the future with ideas that work and positively contribute to individuals’ lives.

While we have long been advocates of the four Ps of marketing, perhaps we ought to consider adding the E of experience to the roster. As technology opens a new realm of possibilities, marketers will need to think beyond obvious gratification and make an emotional connection to build and retain loyalty. The question to brands remains: are you ready for this experience-led world?

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