The myth of the monogamous consumer
The blending of online and bricks and mortar operational models continues to gain momentum.
In a previous post I wrote about Trendhunter’s Top 12 trends for 2013 and the notable appearance of the emerging trend of Virtual – Physical at number 8.
Whilst it is easy to dismiss emerging trends as ethereal experiments, it is worth remembering that trends only continue to gain momentum beyond a certain point where there is an underlying consumer need. In this case, the need is to present a consistent brand experience across multiple channels.
Last week, Deloitte released a report on the retail sector that makes some salient points about the changing expectations of the consumer – and provides key insights into the changes that need to be made to accommodate the channel-agnostic consumer.
Whilst the Deloitte Global Powers of Retailing 2013 report focuses ostensibly upon the retail sector, it is easy to see that the broad challenges are not unique to retail. In fact, higher education brands might see some obvious parallels. People no longer view themselves exclusively as users/ customers of a particular channel.
See if this sounds familiar…
“The collision of the virtual and physical worlds is fundamentally changing consumers behaviours. Consumers are seeking an integrated…experience across all channels, and expect (retailers) to deliver this experience.”.
The report goes on to say that “the (retail) paradigm has shifted from a single physical connection point … to a multi-pronged approach that crosses both physical and digital channels”, and again “ the traditional bricks-and-mortar (retail store) is no longer the dominant medium…instead, it serves as one of many potential connection points between customers and a…brand”.
The report does not suggest that the bricks and mortar experience will (or should) cease to exist – rather that “it is imperative…to deliver a seamless customer experience across all channels and provide the right services …at the right time.”
It’s a big challenge. Especially so for sectors that have, until recently, steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the online experience could be comparable – let alone superior – to the real world version. It is a position which demonstrates the stark disconnect between the value that the consumer expects from the real world interaction and the value that institutions think they want – or are prepared to deliver.
If the dilemma sounds similar, so too will Deloittes’ recommendations. According to Deloitte, “the transformation…begins with a deep understanding of the (prospect) and a strategy to personalise the experience at every point of interaction”.
However, Deloitte have missed a significant step for many brands and institutions. The process begins firstly by divesting of the mantra of channel exclusivity and by acknowledging that customers shift between channels at various stages – based on convenience and/or specific need. As consumers become more familiar with the access channels available to them they swiftly develop different expectations for each type of interaction.
“The success of the brand experience is now an aggregate. It turns on the brand’s ability to understand how and why a prospect uses a given interaction channel, and exceeding their expectations.”
Deloitte recommend that brands prepare by “investing in the core”, and work to “adopt a single strategy and vision across channels”. The underlying assumption is that brands must begin to use the customer/student data that is constantly collected to deliver an experience rather than simply push the brand’s DM agenda.
Brands need to ensure that the experience is relevant to the individual and to the channel in which the interaction takes place. “The use of predictive analytics can help retailers gain deeper insight into the value that is being generated for their customers…and provide them with leading indicators of the experience desired by the constantly evolving connected consumer”.