I jumped on YouTube this weekend as I wanted to change-up my workout routine and was in search of fresh ideas. I don’t typically use YouTube as my go-to for fitness, but I thought, why not?
I was amazed and overwhelmed with the amount of “workout” videos available to me. And the diversity of what was actually categorized as “fitness” was tremendous and vast, including Spiderman leaps and Easter bunny bounces.
Who knew I could engage in 15 minutes of “fun dance party” moves and call it a cardio workout? But it got me thinking about my 20’s and …
I’ll try this again, it got me thinking about how overcrowded and saturated the marketplace has become. Just about everyone and everything is vying for consumers’ attention. How do we know what is real and what is not real; what is fact and what is fiction?
The fact is, we don’t. New companies and brands are multiplying like gremlins after midnight and just about everyone is becoming a creator and influencer.
The only way to know the difference is to experience it yourself, and rely upon reviews, testimonials, and recommendations of those who have experienced it before you. Sounds a bit scary. However, I think this is fabulous news!
The marketplace overload creates an opportunity, a tremendous opportunity, and value for authenticity. Authenticity of brand as well as value proposed and actually delivered to customers or shall we say authenticity of brand via customer experience.
In my many years as a Marketer, I have watched the industry change from highly creative catch-your-attention-and-evoke-emotion advertising to fast-digital-channels-and-funnels based primarily on numbers and data. So, which is best?
The answer: they both are.
Take a quote from Steve Jobs as an example.
“You’ve got to start with customer experience and work back toward the technology.”
So how do you accomplish this? Try embracing these three concepts:
1. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE LOOP
Begin thinking of customer experience or journey as a continuous, never-ending loop that encompasses both marketing and sales as well as service, support, share, influence. Influence is the "end" as well as the starting point for customer acquisition.
Your brand lies within all of these customer touch-points as this creates the customers’ experience. As a goal, aim for consistency in this engagement as consistency creates a brand. Smoke ‘n mirrors marketing, or fluffy logos and empty value propositions do not sustain in the highly connected landscape of 2021. And that is a step in the right direction, in my opinion.
The “share and influence” parts of the loop being that people talk … be it good or bad. They’ll talk about their experience with your brand or product and they’ll tell others. Perhaps on social, company or product reviews, and perhaps just W-O-M. This is your reputation; it is also your brand.
Their experience will influence another potential customer. Make it a positive experience that creates influence and advocacy.
If you don’t believe that reviews or Word-Of-Mouth influence purchase decisions, pull the data. I encourage you to check out the information around companies engaging heavily in “retention” tactics.
2. UNDERSTAND THE VISION THROUGH THE LENS OF THE CUSTOMER
Get to know your customers very well, understand their needs and reasons behind them (buying motivations), and don’t forget to communicate with them. And by “communicate” I mean listen.
You (and the people who make up the Company or brand) must be able to see and experience your “customer experience” through the unique lens of the customer.
Additionally, actually experience your own customer journey firsthand. If it is digital, then experience the sales funnel, a few times, on-going as well as post-purchase service and support. If it is both digital and human interaction, experience it first-hand.
Take notes. Make adjustments. Rinse and repeat.
This topic transitions and expands into customer journey mapping inclusive of experiential touchpoints that evoke emotions. This could be, and is, an entire article, book, discipline in itself. That said, I’ll dive into that topic in a future post.
3. STORYTELLING + STORYSCAPING THAT ARTFULLY BOND VIA EMOTION
We all love a good story, yes? Or perhaps you’re more of a movie buff. Regardless, what do they have in common? They draw you in and captivate. You experience and connect with stories, movies, and music.
They grab and retain your attention, and this is accomplished through the creation of an emotional tie and shared bond with a character and situation or storyline continuously throughout the entire hero’s journey, or in this case the entire customer’s journey.
Now if you are thinking … okay sure but this doesn’t apply in the business-to-business world. It does.
In fact, there can be a stronger bond made here as we already share common elements - we're both businesses and we’re both humans.
We can empathize with each other.
Additionally, it is an opportunity to stand-out of and differentiate from the standard B2B content. I digress.
The goal of storytelling is to catch attention and lead the customer down a mutually beneficial path of experiences. This parlays into customer journey. And, if you take anything away from this section of this article it is ...
You must stop singing your “press-ready” praises and sales pitches right out of the gate. Customers are marketed-to every hour, every minute of the day. Remember my initial point about being a highly oversaturated marketplace?
So what do you do ...
Draw your customer in with a relatable and relevant story that is based upon your customer’s need, and create an emotional tie via meaningful experience. You can then transition into demonstrating value and benefit, which you are already doing via a story and creation of experience.
This is where knowing your customers, their behavior, and their need-states is absolutely critical. Meet your customers where they are at, connect with them via story creation, artfully demonstrate how you deliver the emotional benefit or outcome they are seeking. And, continue to do this throughout the customer journey.
Effective storytelling is an art. As such, it will never be perfect, nor should you expect to hit a home run every single time with every single engagement. Begin with the resources you have now, examine your customer touch-points and your customer-facing content, and layout your customer journey. Once you grasp what that looks like you can then jump into making adjustments and improvements.
Customer experience is ultimately your brand or Company reputation.
It is directly influenced and created by your digital channels of engagement as well as your human-to-human interactions along the customer journey path (market, sell, buy, support, serve, share, influence).
If you are reading this and thinking, customer experience is just for big brands like Starbucks or products sold on Amazon. I would encourage you to think about this for a moment …
All businesses, big or small, have customers – regardless if they are companies or consumers. And all companies engage with their customers – regardless if it is digital or human-to-human. You can either choose to invest in your customer experience and deliberately aid in its creation or you can leave it to chance. Either way, it is happening.
If all-of-this is new for your Company and resources are not available for “customer experience”, below is a concrete, simple example:
Start by asking a handful of customer-facing team members from various departments and disciplines to write down one word, each day to describe their engagement with the customer. Better yet, talk directly to your customers and pull data.
Over the course of a week, a month – find the common elements and themes.
Does it match or tie into your value propositions and/or Company values?
If not, now you have identified a gap – in how you see yourself vs how your customers see and engage with you. I’m generalizing here of course but hopefully you get the idea.
This creates an opportunity to find the right platforms that address your needs, implement changes, and invest in employee training on how to deliver the values you profess having.
This is never a one-and-done exercise. It is on-going. Optimization and continuous improvement through benchmarks and KPIs.
I’ll wrap up this rant with one final comment …
In my 25 years of marketing experience, rarely has it been the case that re-designing “customer experience” is successful without the same efforts being made internally.
When I engage in efforts to “re-position” or “re-brand” a Company inclusive of customer journey, if successful, it always includes MarCom standards and internal reorganization or re-branding.
Your people engage with customers, it is this engagement that creates experience, reputation, and ultimately brand. This also ties into the "share and influence" phase of the customer journey loop as your team members are your internal customers.
Think of it this way, back to my 15 minutes of dance cardio …
If I continuously indulge in my city’s infamous deep-dish pizza, I will need to be dancing cardio all night long. The inside reflects the outside.
Okay, that's a stretch.
Pun absolutely not intended.
You can either choose to invest in your customer experience and deliberately aid in its creation or you can leave it to chance. Either way, it is happening.
Warren Buffet certainly simplifies and sums it up quite well …
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Book recommendation: X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis.