Everywhere I look these days, I see people sitting in trains, standing in retail store lines and crossing the street with their heads down, eyes fixed hard on screens of all sizes and operating platforms. And I’m no exception this rule. In the words of 80s pop culture icon Madonna, I am living in a digital world and I am a digital girl.
As consumers, we are perpetually distracted, hyper connected, multi-tasking, impatient and more demanding. And when it comes to brands – be they in our staple of favorites or newcomers – the idea of selling isn’t as simple or fast as it used to be. It can sometimes take days, weeks or even months to get one consumer to stop what they’re doing and pay attention (for longer than 2 seconds) and feel as if what the brand is saying, doing and selling are useful, affordable, authentic and tuned in personally to what we, as consumers, want, where we go, and what we do everyday. This was one of the underlying themes I saw at the annual eTail East Conference in Philadelphia last week. Because digital isn’t just “what I do” for a living and is embedded into my DNA as a girl, person and consumer, here are some of the most poignant digital trends and lessons I heard and saw at the four-day event. These are lessons that can benefit both brands and those of us working on the marketing and technology side of the business.
Don’t chase the new “shiny” object.
The digital travel space is almost as congested and traffic-prone as the airport runway tarmacs with airplanes vying for the first position to take off. Even as traditional airlines continue to merge with another, travel as we know it isn’t what it once was. eMarketer estimates that US digital travel sales – which include leisure and unmanaged business travel purchased online and via mobile devices – will slowly but steadily increase between 2013 and 2017. In fact, the total US digital travel sales will reach $136.4 billion in 2013 – that’s an 8 percent increase from 2012.
What these figures point to is the growing consumer demand for travel that is both influenced and improved by digital. But Michael Stromer, Vice President of Customer Connections Marketing for Jet Blue, cautioned eTail East attendees: “When it comes to innovation, start with empathy. Don’t try to chase the new “shiny” object or stress about competitors are doing.” Seems obvious, right? Unfortunately, this simple yet very smart lesson often goes way above the heads of many digital travel marketers. In the quest to be the first, the best, the leader, many brands rush into launching products or services without first listening to what their customers want, what they are saying (everywhere on social, mobile, online, email) and what matters to them. Instead, be the tortoise in the “Tortoise and the Hare” scenario and focus on being slow and steady. Take the time to work through the kinks, tweak your strategy and then deliver a customer experience across all devices and all channels that gets customers (both loyal and new) to respect, trust and come back to you more frequently across multiple channels.
Own up to your mistakes. Be humble and transparent.
How many times have you opened up the newspaper or clicked on the New York Times app on your iPad to read about a brand’s fall from grace? It happens a lot and that’s not the real problem. Just as we as human aren’t perfect and will make mistakes many times throughout our life, so will brands. But it’s not the mistake itself that can cost a brand the respect, digital attention and dollars from customers. It’s how these brands make amends with their audience aka customers.
Earlier this week, the New York Times’ prized website – NYTimes.com – went dark and the only thing its millions of online visitors saw was a message that read “Http/1.1 Service unavailable.” In a notice posted on the website Wednesday afternoon, the newspaper said, “As you may know, our Web site was unavailable for a period of time earlier today. The outage occurred within seconds of a scheduled maintenance update, which we believe was the cause. We are working on fully restoring service and apologize for any inconvenience.” The problem occurred; they owned up to it and admitted it was a fault from within; they apologized. Simple, yet effective in appeasing loyal NYTimes.com readers that all will soon be well.
Don’t underestimate your customers’ intelligence.
On the first day of eTail East, I mapped out the sessions that I anticipated would be filled with new customer experience insights, first-hand digital lessons and humble recollections of early mistakes made. And that’s exactly what I got when I sat in on the session titled “Personalizing and Differentiating the Customer Experience to Actively Compete in Today’s Market.”
It was midway through the track session when Manish Hirapara, Senior Director of eCommerce for Office Depot, said something that made me put down my iPhone and drop my pen and notebook (filled with as many lessons I could glean). “Think like your customers. Who are they? Why are they shopping with you? How are they shopping with you? Don’t underestimate their intelligence.” Then he went on to share more “aha” types of insights. “Consumers purchase for two reasons – utility and design. So make it relevant and leverage the right technology and partners.”
What Hirapara said is smart and needs to be adopted by more brands. To stay relevant with customers, keep them engaged for longer periods of time and more frequently, drive social influence and sharing, and most importantly, create a long-term funnel for ROI and revenue growth, brands cannot and should not underestimate people’s intelligence. Be smart. Leverage data. Use that data to experiment and tweak your existing customer experience strategy across all devices. Learn from those changes, and then test and learn some more.