By Jose Cebrian, SVP, Marketing Strategy, Merkle
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 outbreak has caused great disruption for brands over the past few months. New government guidelines and consumer spending needs have forced organizations to innovate in order to thrive during this time. To find new customers and keep current customers loyal, we’ve seen brands adopt inventive approaches, such as offering new services (online ordering, curbside pick-up or home delivery) and changing the way they interact with their customers (channels, content, messaging, etc.).
As the pandemic changed the way people live and work, marketers have had to rely more on digital channels to connect and transact with customers and prospects. This is a battleground where subpar experiences can cost companies even loyal customers as they seek out a more convenient interaction. It’s very important to realize that a company’s competitors are not only those in their industry but any company or service that provides an excellent customer experience. Customers’ expectations don’t drop because they are interacting with a specific company – they are formed by big names like Apple, Uber, Amazon, but also by many smaller companies who get the little things right.
Once the initial shock of the pandemic beginning had passed, the reality of the next normal and drove marketers to take action. And, as unlikely as it may seem, many are making big investments in their future. In fact, in a recent study conducted by Merkle, one of the more interesting findings was that the majority of marketers (52 percent) reported increased spending in 2020. The research shows these increases focus on delivering improved customer experiences in a more cohesive way, as this is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have.
Investment area 1: communication channels
Most channels and capabilities saw increased investment, but email, chat, and mobile app were the top three. Prioritizing these areas is in line with the reality of today’s environment. Email is a crucial channel to drive awareness and action inside of the customer base and also to support digital experiences, such as e-commerce or online servicing. As consumers rely more on online interactions and servicing, chat becomes more important to both consumers and companies. And because the expectations of chat regarding speed and capability are fairly high, investment is critical to bolster this area of the customer experience. Mobile apps, in a similar manner to chat, become significantly more critical in an environment where companies need to compete digitally for ease of doing business.
Investment area 2: innovation
Companies are investing in new innovations, and they expect to keep those innovations post-pandemic. The pressure to do business in new ways has been very real, and companies are constantly examining their business models and refining the ways they deliver goods and services. Merkle’s research shows the top three areas of innovation investment in 2020 were:
1) Trying new marketing tech or features
2) Providing more personalized customer experiences
3) Developing new transaction fulfillment capabilities
Marketers are becoming more creative in how they get the job done while keeping in mind the critical emotional connection that is messaging. They’re definitely upping their game and becoming more strategic with their time to better support increasingly digital customer experience. Trends also show that marketers seem to be gravitating toward the use of outbound active channels like email to drive action and support inbound experience. Owned properties, such as sites and apps, are also being used to actively engage with the customer.
Investment area 3: Martech
Further, the research shows that most companies are accelerating their martech project timelines. This is likely because martech is a critical component of delivering the digital customer experience, and companies must get it right.
There’s a continuing trend toward the notion that marketing is more than just “marketing,” and it extends to a broader view of customer experience, which includes areas such as site/commerce, stores, app, customer service, and sales. To deliver on that promise, marketers are realizing the value of their existing first-party customer data, which they are using to develop insights that improve experiences and messaging.
The pandemic has accelerated an ongoing trend toward customer centricity, putting more pressure on marketers to leverage the right technology. If they don’t, they will certainly lose to competitors who do. Today’s experience has become so digital, the ability to connect with customers through various levers has become even more critical, whether they engage with you directly or you drive the interactions via email, mobile app, or mobile chat. The increased investment in email, mobile app, and mobile chat are areas that historically haven’t been on the receiving end of significant investment, but research shows they are a more essential part of the complete digital experience and will continue to drive results long beyond COVID-19.