Why connected experiences are the future of Commerce

By Paul Lynch, head of experience and commerce, Merkle UK

Brands today have one goal — to create meaningful moments that matter to their customers, time and time again. Done right, these experiences can build long-lasting relationships, lifetime value, and competitive advantage. Yet, success today requires a new set of tools and a new strategic approach. No longer can we only focus on the data, analytics, and technology that deliver purchases. These are important, but we have to go deeper to build true loyalty.

In a world where convenience is ubiquitous, brands must find new ways to connect with consumers seamlessly and frictionlessly and keep up with rapidly changing expectations. That means creating next-generation customer experiences by building the ultimate connected experience across the total customer journey. Brands need to deliver efficient, rich, intelligent customer experiences at scale across all touchpoints to truly connect with their customers.

But what does such a strategy look like in today’s rapidly evolving experience-driven commercial culture? There is no one-size-fits-all approach for keeping pace with change. However, many do not know where to start.

1. An expanded vision for data

Data is the foundation stone of creating meaningful customer moments. But in an experience-led economy, data strategy must evolve away from a media-led narrative that focuses on quantity of data towards one that focuses on the depth of knowledge and understanding of customer needs, passions, and motivations. In short, it’s time to stop relying on vast amounts of product and purchase cycle related data and start reassessing what data we need and how we are going to use it.

This issue has been bought to the fore in the age of Amazon, where large online marketplaces hold on to the customer data that would otherwise allow brands to tailor customer experience, were they to own the relationship directly. Online retailers need a data capability that enables personalisation at scale without necessarily having access to minute details. For marketplace sellers, lack of data ownership can reduce opportunities for personal connections, for example, offering customers insightful suggestions or tailored newsletters.

Data ownership also provides the opportunity to approach the analysis of data through a customer experience mindset, encouraging a different type of collection, interpretation, and activation. It’s no longer about stereotypical personas but forging individual human relationships through a modern data strategy that combines powerful technology with deep behavioural understanding.

2. Online personalisation meets offline differentiation

The high-street, as we traditionally see it, is dead. Offline retail has had to innovate or die. But the vast majority of stores still carry on in the same way they have for years, giving the same customer experience they did a decade or longer ago. No wonder customers are uninspired to spend their time in retail outlets.

Innovative retailers know that to entice customers to stores, the experience must be unique. It must form part of an ecosystem of touchpoints — online and offline — that come together to solidify brand loyalty. This new vision is especially pertinent when advanced commerce technologies, such as virtual reality and hologram experiences, bring opportunities to retail and marketing like never before.

Digitally connected stores that blend online convenience with offline, intelligent interactions are taking retail to the next level. For example, interactive dressing rooms, AR home decor experiences, and socially connected window displays elevate the shopping experience and provide added value for the customer, resulting in greater spending and brand affinity.

Amazon and Tesco each moving to checkout-free stores has also created a wave of opportunities for technology-enabled retail. This innovation puts speed and convenience first for the consumer and provides the data required to deliver highly personalised interactions.

Such an approach, again, relies on data. For example, under-used technologies, such as voice, rely on data to deliver intelligent, relevant experiences. Closing the separation between the front end CX and the back-end systems can enrich that experience and make it unique. This is an entirely new way of viewing data, where the customer is now the driving force determining the next move, not simply a static receiver at the end of a well-trod funnel.

Technology is vital in plugging the gaps between online and offline personalisation, creating super CX and customer transformation that can work at an enterprise level to inspire long-term loyalty.

3. Next generation loyalty

For the last twenty years, digital transformation has focused on convenience, harnessing technology to make everyday tasks faster, easier, and more intuitive. What new factors shape long-term loyalty in a world where all options are equally convenient? Now, especially in our post-pandemic world, we know that loyalty is powered by emotion.

Emotion is tied to brand. People want to understand who they’re doing business with beyond the brand name, and to connect to the heart of what matters to a company. Brand experiences need to tell stories, and customers want immersive and entertaining experiences that form meaningful emotional connections based on shared values. This requires brands to master a recipe that draws on dialogue, consistency, creativity, transparency, authenticity and consistent service in precisely the right blend.

A new practice for future-proofed experiences

Hyper-personalised marketing strategies require a new paradigm that harnesses data, technology, and analytics alongside performance media, customer experience, customer relationship management, loyalty, and enterprise marketing technology.

These new priorities combine to set the stage for a new approach to customer experience management (CXM), the foundation of Merkle’s new Experience and Commerce Practice.

Following the integration of recently acquired global customer experience and commerce agencies LiveArea and Isobar Commerce UK, Merkle’s new practice is at the forefront of the evolving symbiosis of across CX, content, loyalty, and commerce. By taking a future-forward, holistic approach, marketers can now achieve differentiated and connected commerce experiences that drive loyalty across the entire customer journey. There is no single strategy or one-size-fits-all approach for keeping pace with change. This isn’t just about the data, analytics, and technology that deliver the interactions; it’s about what those interactions feel like at every touchpoint and what emotions they trigger in the customer's heart.

That’s where this new approach hits the sweetest spot; data-fueled creative and contextual content that aligns experience with what customers really care about.

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