Although he has more than 25 years of experience under his belt, Forrester vice president and principle analyst Brendan Witcher admits that only the last three of those years matter — because consumer expectations have changed so drastically that old rules and assumptions simply don’t apply anymore.
Digital technology has paved the way for companies to innovate while spending little money, forever altering the brand/customer relationship by transforming the way people think. While delivering a keynote presentation at the Path to Purchase Expo earlier this month, Witcher said he has countless clients approach him with worries about lagging behind the competition. But where they’re really behind is the expectations of their customers — it’s no longer just about what direct competitors are doing.
“Every time a consumer is exposed to an improved digital experience, their expectations for all experiences are reset to a new, higher level,” Witcher said. If you encounter a seamless, simple experience while on your bank’s website, for example, you’ll have a new set of expectations when visiting your insurance company’s website the next time.
Therefore, marketers must challenge their assumptions, even the long-held ones. “Companies are winning through data and understanding what to do and making the right technology investments because of that,” he said.
Witcher outlined the top investments companies should make to meet the expectations of consumers both today and tomorrow, as well as to “future-proof” their business:
- Data and analytics tools: These tools will guide decisions, create individualized shopper experiences, and help set the table for future artificial intelligence capabilities.
- Experience centers (i.e, stores): Despite all the talk, 85% of U.S. sales are still made in physical stores; there have been more store openings than closures every year since the end of the last national recession. Brands need to understand that physical stores are not going away.
- Conversational commerce: Witcher calls this a channel you don't want to ignore because of the level of simplicity it offers consumers. "We are creatures of habit. The minute I start saying something to a device ('Hey, Alexa, send me my Blue Buffalo dog food'), you're done [as a competing brand]."
- IoT relationship devices: There are companies doing interesting things with IoT devices with which brands can align to improve consumer engagement. This can lead to things like service-based commerce that moves retailers and brands beyond simply selling products.
- AI: AI can aid in sensing, thinking and acting. While some AI capabilities are operational today, a lot of consumer-facing opportunities are in test mode right now. Witcher advises looking into the options now, but not aiming to create a great consumer experience just yet.
Witcher also advised P2PX attendees: “You must transform your organization as much as you transform the technology that you’re buying and using.”