One of the key strategic themes in my latest book, Authentic Marketing: How to Capture Hearts and Minds through the Power of Purpose (to be released in January 2019) is the notion that today every company, in every industry — from footwear to agriculture — must view itself as a technology company. As Marc Andreessen rightly said, “Software is eating the world.” Today’s technologies are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, powering a new class of customer experience that includes more convenient services, enhanced utility, personalized interactions and richer, more immersive engagements with brands. As such, companies must identify and act on this technology imperative to transform how customers experience their brand and to drive their business forward.
Artificial intelligence is one of the key technologies enabling this transformation, through applications like chatbots, speech recognition, recommendation engines, virtual assistants and decision management. Others like virtual reality, the Internet of Things and big data analytics also play a crucial role, providing sensory brand experiences, new convenience-driven functionality and more targeted, customized services.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '18 Technology PR Magazine
Ironically, of the brands currently operating against this concept, the technology they employ has actually helped to “humanize” their customer experience. Amazon, for example, has set the standard for using technology to create the optimal online shopping experience. A known AI powerhouse, Amazon has led the way in its use of machine learning to deliver personalized recommendations to its customers. The algorithm-driven prompts, “You May Also Like,” “Recommended for You,” or “Frequently Bought Together,” offer products tailored to users’ tastes based on their searches and buying preferences. Netflix also uses these technologies to suggest what shows we should watch based on our viewing habits. And these recommendations have now shifted from “nice to have” to a requirement in the online browsing experience.
You might be saying, sure, Amazon and Netflix are both companies whose services depend on technology, so it’s an easy play for them. But the fact of the matter is that customers now demand that level of guidance, service and utility within all categories. Here’s a sampling of companies using technology in unexpected ways to elevate their customer experience across a spectrum of industries and scales:
Sephora. The beauty and makeup giant tapped facial recognition technology for their Virtual Artist makeup app, enabling customers to try on products from anywhere for a virtual makeover.
Audi. The car manufacturer is using virtual reality for customer consultations at select dealerships worldwide, enabling customers to immerse themselves in and get a realistic experience of their customized vehicle.
LEGO. The toy company was one of the first in its category to integrate an AI-powered chatbot into its customers’ holiday shopping experience. This helped guide customers through the process of finding the perfect gift quickly and effectively, enhancing the brand experience.
StubHub. The online ticket exchange company launched an augmented reality feature on its mobile app that enabled ticket buyers to see a virtual 3D model of the stadium for Super Bowl LII, as well as nearby parking garages and concession stands. This allowed customers to visualize the locations of various seats before purchasing, helping them make a more informed decision.
Without a doubt, these technology-driven approaches have raised the bar for consumer expectations today. To meet those needs, companies must weave technology into the fabric of how they operate across every aspect of their business — from marketing to sales to human resources.
If you are ready to dive in and begin developing your technology strategy, below are a few questions that will help kickstart the conversation:
What’s your vision for your technology imperative? Is there something in the DNA of your organization that could connect to it?
Think about what your brand stands for, its values and its vision. Is there something within those that can serve as the inspiration for your technology imperative?
What areas of your business could be enhanced by technology to better engage and serve your customers?
Think about how customers communicate with your business, interact with your products/services, and experience and use various functions of your products/services, etc. How could technology elevate those experiences?
What types of innovations would fit your customer base best?
Consider the demographics of your customer base and what types of offerings would work for them. Are they savvy with technology? Are they likely to embrace innovative new ways of doing things and new methods of interacting with your brand?
Are there companies (both competitors and organizations in other industries) that are using technology in ways you admire or want to emulate?
Think about experiences you’ve had where a brand has provided enhanced support and service, and you became fully immersed in that brand as a result.
How will your technology imperative drive your industry forward?
Can you identify a path to be a “first mover,” offering an innovative use of technology that establishes a leadership position and changes the game in your market?
Once you determine your technology strategy, make this effort a central theme in your communications efforts, as this will serve to differentiate your brand, establish leadership, and position your organization as an innovator.
Below are several core elements to consider when building out communications plans against your technology imperative:
Align on a vision. Determine how your technology vision will bring your customers’ experience to a new level and drive your industry forward.
Define leadership positioning. Craft leadership positioning around your technology strategy, highlighting how it connects back to your DNA.
Map stakeholders. Connect this positioning to your stakeholders’ needs and expectations, ensuring communications are customized and relevant to each audience.
Build a campaign strategy. Craft an integrated communications plan to connect with targets where they live and are in the mindset of being influenced.
Develop cross-channel content. Communicate your story in a variety of ways, testing it to ensure it resonates across multiple channels.
Engage Influencers. Build your profile with influencers to gain validation and endorsement. Leverage influencers to build stakeholder confidence in your brand’s innovative core.
Establishing your technology imperative holds the promise of elevating your customer experience and transforming your brand. It can infuse new life into existing products, deliver new levels of service, and enable your audiences to immerse themselves in your brand in entirely new ways. The technology world moves at the speed of sound, so be sure to keep pace with new innovations as they emerge, stay on top of how other organizations are using them, and find applications that best fit your brand’s values and your audiences’ needs. Organizations taking this approach will propel their brands and businesses forward by proving that their audiences’ needs and experiences come first.
Larry Weber is chairman and CEO of Racepoint Global.