Competition for both B2C and B2B businesses in the digital arena is intensifying by the day. In an increasingly crowded field, how can businesses survive, prosper, and ultimately build long-term advantage?
Those that do so will be those that consistently set themselves apart from the rest. Digital leadership enhances real delivery – it is hard won, but by understanding and executing certain key elements, it can be achieved.
Digital leaders place their customers at the heart of everything they do, including both corporate strategy and operational processes. Customer-centricity must run throughout your entire organization and is achieved by doing one thing above all else: making customers feel special. Online, this means using every tool at your disposal to personalize the relationship.
The commercial model that underpins this ethos is the customer value proposition (CVP). In the digital arena it is well known and considered vital across all sectors. But how to excel at developing it is less well understood. As a business, you must ask yourself these questions: why should customers buy from your digital channels? Why should they engage with you as a brand? The CVP has become even more important when customers can compare products so easily online. Consider product assortment, different services, offers, simplicity, loyalty and inspiration. The key concepts to bear in mind here are differentiation and value.
Finally, digital leaders create a seamless experience for their customers, and this means leveraging marketing and client recognition technologies to build consistency and ease of use. James Curleigh, Levi’s Brand President, summed this up eloquently, describing a good customer strategy as being ‘simple in the front, sophisticated in the back’. In other words, interacting with your brand online must be as simple as possible for customers, but is achieved with the aid of advanced technologies and processes behind the scenes.
Leading firms elicit a positive emotional response from their customers when they interact. Digital leaders create an emotional connection with their customers through positive relationship management, and digital channels are a key part of this. Entertainment is also a powerful tool in generating positive emotional response and is instrumental in improving your transformation ratio between visits and purchases.
Positive emotional response is also affected by the ease with which customers can interact with you, and this is where Product Experience Management (PXM) comes into play. PXM is the ‘how’ of presenting your products to customers online and makes a huge difference in both brand affection and transactions. In 2022, strong PXM includes advanced product visualisation and information, using tools including VR, AR and 3D, and guiding customers step by step through the online purchasing or experience process.
Improved PXM can also come from simply presenting your product in a different way. As a simple example, luxury marques such as Louis Vuitton may supply videos and imagery that shows how much you can fit in a suitcase, to see whether it’s the right size for your needs.
It’s important to be aware, however, that product experience expectations vary significantly between markets. For example, simple consumer items can often be sold online in the US with a simple 1- or 2-page equivalent explanation of product benefits, whereas in Japan, consumers may expect up to 10 pages equivalent of detailed information about the same item, including product comparisons and detailed specifications.
Increasingly powerful technologies have become available to businesses in the pursuit of great customer experiences. In 2022, we’re well past the point where a strong e-commerce platform constitutes excellence. Digital leaders utilize much more advanced technologies to enable their businesses to master available data. Modern marketing and customer experience platforms are based around advanced AI and data analytics. This helps leading marketing and sales teams to analyze and exploit data effectively and gather meaningful insights.
Customer performance marketing must be used to create an interactive, engaging experience that’s about your customers, not your products. Personalization should be achieved using both predictive marketing and precision marketing. No longer is it sufficient to identify target audiences and then push a message to a group of individuals.
And one final but very important technology principle that all digital leaders follow with care: always make it crystal clear to your customers what you’re doing with their data. Transparency is essential in maintaining customer trust.
Digital leaders provide points of difference for their customers. It’s not just about what you offer, but how you offer it, and this means being willing to transform your ways of working and internal processes in the service of innovation.
Whether your business uses agile, scrum, or any other approach to innovate, you must consider from day one how your business will scale that innovation in an organized and efficient way. A successful pilot may seem like a win, but it will only deliver true value if your planning and execution leads the way from initial idea through to go-to-market. Business objectives must be infused as early as possible in the innovation process – and of these, CVP is perhaps the most important.
Along with process, organizational engagement is another vital component. Innovation may be essential to digital leadership, but it can’t happen if you don’t empower your enterprise’s people from top to bottom to ensure it’s adopted. Innovation must be used to drive business outcomes throughout your business.
A highly critical differentiator for digital leaders when it comes to innovation is the ability to assemble your ecosystem successfully. You must build and nurture your ecosystem of partners to foster innovation. Identifying the technologies already available to you from partners and collaborators is as important, if not more so, than developing your own in-house. In the last five years we’ve seen automotive manufacturers abandoning attempts to build proprietary infotainment systems in droves for one simple reason: established vendors such as Google are so far ahead of the game that to recreate the same functionality is like reinventing the wheel. For most OEMs, it’s both expensive and unnecessary.
3rd party and open data bring powerful opportunities to enrich both your customers’ brand experiences and your understanding of them as individuals. We worked with a leading insurance that bridged data from said insurance company, a German premium car manufacturer and external data from Facebook. The result for our client was that they were able to offer insurance services to customers before they had even bought a new car.
Digital leaders adopt a tangible, consistent world view, and hold firm to a real, radical position on world issues. Therefore you must move towards being a brand that they instinctively trust, across all channels. This trust takes time to earn and can be squandered in a moment. The lesson is clear: to succeed in the digital space, you must play your part as a responsible world citizen.
Digital leaders have strong policies on sustainability, and action these policies scrupulously. Backing sustainability pays dividends even when it seems alien to the digital experience. The beauty and skincare brand L’Occitane partners with Terracycle to offer a recycling initiative as part of their omnichannel loyalty program, and bridges online purchases with in-store packaging recycling, providing discounts as a reward. The programme reinforced the firm’s commitment to sustainability in a way that has improved their brand equity.
In the US, storytelling as a component of brand engagement is well-established. However, leading brands recognize that they must provide proof to the customer that the stories they tell can be backed up by demonstrable action. If they want their customers to believe that they are real-world citizens, this must be a provable fact throughout the customer experience online.
Utilising cutting-edge tools, e.g. emission tracking, to achieve this. Digital leaders bring transparency and traceability to their supply chains to reassure customers, leaders ensure their supply chain practices paint a correspondingly sustainable picture.