Liquid expectations, by Accenture Interactive’s TJ Lightwala

The business of experience is about how we learn, live, feel, and behave with purpose-driven and future-fit brands, writes Accenture Interactive’s TJ Lightwala.

By TJ Lightwala, managing director, lead for experience services, MENA, Accenture Interactive.

June 25 was marked with relief for brands, marketers and the advertising fraternity at large. It was the day Google announced the delay of its cookie-blocking privacy plan to 2023, and it prompted the question of what that will mean for marketers now. There are two impacts here. The first is that marketers will need to protect the consumers’ or users’ choices and privacy, and the second is that the industry must find a way for good quality content and publisher portals to generate ad-based revenues. For now, the rush to predict and get ready for whatever a post-Covid world will look like has been temporarily paused. The second major dynamic came from Apple’s iOS 14 consent-management updates. Some marketers would call this change of the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) opt-in a significant issue, one that will change the addressable audience size considerably and inevitably reduce scale.

Amidst the dynamics of Google’s and Safari’s changes in addressable audiences, available tracking and advertising reach, a trend is emerging: putting value on experiences in advertising, marketing and commerce. People experience brands in new ways.

The demand for new experiences has been accelerating for years. The concept of liquid expectations is not new either. However, the seismic step-change in 2020 meant that marketers had to rethink how to keep pace. 81 per cent of consumers who have increased their digital usage during Covid-19 expect to keep up with these increased levels, according to our Accenture Pulse Survey in July 2020. 

85 per cent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) have seen increased openness from consumers to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic; therefore, it is important to deliver with agility and efficiency. There are undeniable trends and areas of opportunity arising due to changing consumer behaviour and their requirements for access and ease during these unprecedented times.

The Rise of Digital Commerce

The pandemic accelerated the shift to commerce for brands dealing with art, groceries, exercise equipment, furniture and more. For example, Artsy, an online marketplace for buying and selling art, increased its e-commerce sales by 150 per cent as people looked to do up their homes. Artsy’s CMO has said the strength of the digital platform is that it is a place where businesses and creators can engage with more than 2 million collectors globally. Similar initiatives are spreading here in the Middle East, with the likes of Artezaar and Singulart.

The proliferation of commerce has drawn attention and even more focus to customer lifecycle management, retention and product marketing services. Therefore, there is an experimentation mindset of running A/B tests, analysing channel pushes and engaged audience cohorts. These are important aspects of segmenting elite collectors, experienced collectors, novice collectors, artists and platforms that interested buyers are engaging on.

The Rise of Social Commerce

Brands need to deal with the fact that shopping has become atomised into many micro-moments spread throughout the day and across devices. Social commerce, a kind of e-commerce that’s initiated and sometimes transacted on a social platform, exploded during the pandemic. Research firm Emarketer reported that 36 per cent of US adults had made a social commerce purchase in their lifetimes as of last summer, compared with only 24 per cent before the pandemic. We expect to see commerce shift from being centred around a destination (whether that’s a store, a website or an app) to amplifying the experiences with moments. Social media will be the prompt for many of these moments – it will be able to influence and propagate people’s intentions to buy and will likely become a catalyst for change. Grabbing customers’ attention and keeping their focus on the brand in those moments will become a challenge for organisations. Therefore, more attention is paid to harnessing immersive experiences in shoppable formats and video-based immersive experiences, with spontaneous shopping opportunities tied in. For example, so many home-grown stores are only present through social commerce. Lots of skincare, beauty, fashion, wellness and self-improvement content is available now through interactive social experiences that allow for dynamic pricing, catalogues and 360-degree videos, 3D, and virtual reality content.

The rise of super apps

Companies we currently look to for inspiration – such as Gojek and Uber – are often ex-start-ups. However, their stellar success didn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to transform from start-up to unicorn. In large organisations, it takes a long time for an idea with promise to gain traction at scale – plus, in the end, the result usually looks completely different from the original notion. Gojek launched its application in 2015 with only four services: GoRide, GoSend, GoShop, and GoFood. Valued at $10bn today, Gojek has transformed into a super app, providing more than 20 services. In May 2021, Gojek and Tokopedia announced the completion of their merger and established a new holding company called GoTo.

Another great story is the well-known WeChat app, which started as a messaging service. It has now transformed into a multi-category app with social gaming, mobile payments, digital wallet, ride-hailing (through its acquisition of Didi) and an e-commerce marketplace that allows for the inclusion of third-party apps and merchants.

We are getting more disrupted in how we use these services and engage for efficiency and frictionless experiences. In the region, we are seeing the transformation of Careem into a multi-use platform as well, with a community and charity focus (where Careem rewards can be used as a contribution to charities).

The growth of performance or outcomes business

Every business is a performance business, and performance marketing should play a more prominent role in building brands end-to-end, from creative to communications to channels to measurement. The telco, banking, retail and healthcare spaces are steadily being disrupted by the need to evolve into non-telco, non-primary-service providers, and to become utilitarian marketplaces. The data monetisation of assets and formation of a combined value of audience, insights and offers presents new avenues of partnerships, use cases and commercial opportunities for data owners across categories. Companies that have systematically invested in technologies around digital adoption over time have seen an increase from 25 per cent to almost 50 per cent of their recruiting now happening through digital channels, with at least 15-30 per cent reduction in the cost of acquisition. In moving into media, and online channels to drive sales, we typically find these benchmarks in always-on marketing, advertising, and commerce programmes in banking, retail, telcos and services businesses.

The demand for data for personalised experiences

Intelligent marketing is best described as precision-led messages at scale, underpinned by smart models driven by artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML). With news of depreciation of cookies and the creation of North Star offerings, the value of ecosystem alliances becomes powerful. Pivoting the narrative from data-led to data-driven experiences is paramount, from CRM imagination, hyperlocal offerings, marketing campaigns created around increasing the share of wallet based on consumption behaviours, and connecting to content experiences. For example, L’Oréal’s acquisition of beauty tech company Modiface, powered by augmented reality and artificial intelligence, reshapes the beauty experience and offers personalised recommendations for individual skin types. Spotify has a brilliant personalised experience that allows users to create their own playlists, essentially building an entire library on their account according to their tastes and choice, which allows for accurate advertising messaging.

Consumers monetise their own data

The topic of data monetisation requires its own comprehensive chapter, bringing in the impacts of Google’s cookie-sunset, (yes, there is the idea of FLOCs, essentially cohorts that can be targeted based on interests). But the question at hand is customers’ data and privacy protection and whether brands have consented to use digital profiles for targeting purposes. This, to my mind, will give rise to a disrupted model in marketing, one that allows individuals to collect their browsing data through a tool, manage it, have it anonymised, aggregated with others and then sold. The end-user gets 80 per cent of the resulting revenue, and the platform potentially takes 20 per cent. Now, this is individual data monetisation in principle and the next frontier in customer-experience disruption.

With so much change, it’s been a period to reassess and search out how best to connect brand purpose, to create a relatable meaning and impact that today’s discerning consumers across the value chain look for first. Elie Khoury, director of financial services at Accenture Interactive, says: “A customer doesn’t want a mortgage; he wants a home.” Eureka.