There hasn’t been a year in recent memory packed with as much change as we have witnessed in 2017. This groundswell of disruption stands poised to continue into the year ahead as the lines between culture and commerce, and the public and private sector, continue to evaporate. As our new age of business continues, the CMO function continues to rise in importance due to a confluence of factors ranging from digital transformation to purpose driven business.
As plans get underway for 2018, what follows are the top 5 things CMOs should be aware of as we inch closer to the new year:
1. We are in an experience economy. Antiquated rules of engagement no longer apply.
The old rules of business were ruled by what was dubbed TQM, or Total Quality Management. Winning companies would win or lose based off of their ability to deliver a quality product seamlessly and consistently. This, in their view, would drive customer loyalty and assure a category or market leadership position. Today, and for the past decade actually, largely in a Jobsian shadow, we have rapidly left that notion behind in lieu of the age of TEM, or Total Experience Management. As commodification has been rampant across industry sector, with offerings based on price point becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate, winning experiences have become paramount, and the ability to drive true engagement has become the Holy Grail, whether you are selling apples or automobiles.
Emotional engagement is the sister to rational engagement. Rational engagement is based on the stimulation of the mind, whereas emotional engagement is based upon the stimulation of the heart. In today’s age of brand experience, it seems that emotional engagement is proving to be more and more critical to achieving winning results and effective storytelling and digital marketing are at the heart of this movement.
In order to be able to master the new art of emotional engagement, you can no longer tell customers what you care to, or create the experiences you desire them to have. You must tell them the stories they crave to hear, and provide the moments that they seek to feel connected and emotionally engaged. This significant paradigm shift has led to an economy predicated on engagement and experience and has paved the way for an era of digital marketing driven by strategic, digital marketing analytics rather than naked creativity.
When thinking about how to gain competitive advantage in the marketing realm in the year ahead, think about capturing key insights and then use those insights to transform storytelling into a strategic business competency that generates content experiences that bring the brand to life.
2. In the age of experience, EVERYONE is a customer.
Today, organizations that use artful storytelling to create winning experiences are the ones who are leading our new era of collaborative commerce forward – and moving product, improving engagement and retaining employees. The key to their success is realizing that today, everyone, inside and outside of the organization, needs to be viewed as a customer. The following is a framework to use for experience design through a B2B, B2C, and B2E lens for the coming year:
Pivoting from a product centric approach to one that is experience-based, B2B companies are harnessing creativity and technology to tell winning stories that will help educate and inform on the new age of business transformation upon us. To do this, they are using storytelling to optimize the customer experience through the following spheres: economic, innovation, agility/transformative ability, future aspiration and brand engagement.
Case in Point:
A B2B Experience: GE
GE focuses on telling engaging stories that make sense for businesses. They invite customers in to see ‘Imagination at Work’, and give customers a reason to believe and engage with their innovation that builds, powers, moves & cures the world. By harnessing storytelling, creativity and technology via content on digital platforms, including Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube, GE is delivering on their desired business outcomes:
- Increase audience awareness of the scope of what GE does and highlight positive experiences with the brand.
- Support pipeline for young engineering and business talent.
- Drive interest among the next generation of potential shareholders. The company needs to attract the next generation of shareholders.
Today, consumers want to be a part of a brand that does more than give them immediate gratification from a product or service. They want to become a part of a brand that they believe in – a brand voice – one that can enrich their daily lives in ways that create meaningful and impactful engagement. Conveying the cornerstone of your company’s purpose-driven thought leadership in ways that bridge to the world at large, beyond the bottom-line, is critical to success in today’s competitive landscape. Today’s best consumer experiences are defined by telling informed stories that impact the following spheres of influence and create emotional engagement: future motivation, trust, personalization/loyalty, empathy and education.
Case in Point:
A B2C Experience: Casper
According to Harvard Business Review, 89% of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction ; 84% said it can affect an organization’s ability to transform; and 80% said it helps increase customer and employee loyalty. To operationalize your purpose-driven narrative into mantras that bring your brand purpose to life in your organization, consider how you can impact the following spheres of influence to help you create authentic employee experiences that delight, inform and engage: future motivation, leadership/core values: trust, reward + recognition, education and immersion.
Case in Point:
A B2E Experience: W.L. Gore
The executive team began to see trends that employees were anxious that slow decision-making and a lack of risk-taking might be weighing on Gore’s entrepreneurial endeavors. At Gore, a company built with innovation at its core, the risk of an innovation slowdown was particularly serious. Strong leadership, rooted in the company’s core values, worked quickly to streamline decision-making, encouraged the formation of small startup teams that were motivated to explore new ventures and also created an in-house team called the Innovation Center of Expertise to shepherd (and reward) promising employee ideas.
3. We are in an era of purposeful business driven by collaboration, inclusion, and the notion of leaving the world a better place. Empathy is the NEW BLACK.
The collaborative purpose economy we are living in has elicited a call to action to business leaders to contribute to the world as much as their own bottom-line, and do so in ways that bridge the gap between the public and private sectors to activate real change. This paradigm shift has instigated a pivot point where brands are now aiming to connect with customers on a much deeper and more personal level. The new recipe for successful engagement in business today is one centered around three core themes: aspirational purpose, inclusion and empathy.
Creativity is defined as the ability to make the complex elegantly simple, so for that reason, we see the definition for customer engagement that is authentic and measurable, as a simple formula that we call The New Inclusion Equation: Access + Ideas = Purposeful Action. What this translates to as we move forward, is the need for brands to make customers feel included in the aspirations to make tomorrow better than today. The key ingredient in making this endeavor successful is the notion of adding a touch of empathy to your marketing, storytelling and overall experience development.
Smart organizations will approach the creation of winning experiences by finding their purpose and then using it as a creative and aspirational theme with which to engage. Consequently, an approach to building + operationalizing brand purpose will be increasingly valuable in achieving desired business outcomes. Transforming collaboration and inclusion from activities into strategies will be critical to achieving such endeavors in 2018.
With internal audiences, the idea of brand purpose can be married with internal culture to deliver best-in-class storytelling and content experiences to employees with an eye on retaining them and turning them into brand advocates. Similarly, when applying this notion to B2B or B2C experience, a brand’s purpose must be connected to the themes driving external culture to achieve the same type of optimal experience throughout the customer funnel.
Case in point:
Part of Apple’s 2017 brand push included an empathic plea to “open your heart to everyone.” The Designed for Ian spot within this campaign celebrates the brands sense of purpose, and the world’s new sense of inclusion. Look for more of this in 2018.
4. Stop worrying about Artificial Intelligence. Start focusing on Augmented Intelligence.
When thinking about how to fold AI into marketing efforts in the year ahead, it’s important to think backwards in the sense of looking at what you are trying to achieve, and then introducing the best pieces of AI technology that can heighten your current brand experience.
Currently only .5% of data is used to generate advertising or creative at the world’s leading brands, according to Forrester. This creates a huge opportunity for smart marketers to harness data-driven storytelling that informs content experiences to achieve brand leadership and market distinction.
Case in Point:
In an article in the Atlantic in late 2016, a master’s thesis surfaced in anthropology submitted to the University of Chicago by Kurt Vonnegut. What Vonnegut said in that body of research was that he did not understand why simple shape of stories couldn’t be fed into computers, as to him stories were, what he called “beautiful shapes.”
The explanation comes from a lecture that Vonnegut did where he mapped the narrative arc of popular storylines against an XY axis graph and was able to draw a direct through line to Cinderella and the Old Testament, and what united them, and therefore made them so engaging. In the world of AI in 2017 then, wouldn’t this model assume that high powered computing would be able to help marketers identify narrative patterns in culture that would enable their stories and content to be more empathetic, emotional and therefore more engaging?
A group of researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide set out to explore this idea and what they did was collect thousands of story arcs for fiction, which resulted in the following classifications of six types of narratives:
1) Rags to Riches (rise)
2) Riches to Rags (fall)
3) Man, in a Hole (fall then rise)
4) Icarus (rise then fall)
6) Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)
What they were able to do with the help of AI was identify narrative patterns that had resonance around these themes, which then enabled them to develop story arcs under each of the six categories that would drive meaningful engagement around specific scenarios. The key takeaway from the research was that scientists could train machines to reverse engineer what they know about story trajectories and their connection to emotion and empathy to create compelling works that land right in the sweet spot of true engagement.
5. Don’t just be smart. Be emotionally intelligent.
As Simon Sinek told us all this year, it is much more important today to focus on the why and who as opposed to the what. In a world where products have become increasingly commoditized by price point, and consumers are looking for experiences that enable them to vote with their wallets, connecting on a deeply emotional level, has never been important.
In the year ahead, it won’t just be important for brands to continue to be more purposeful, collaborative, inclusive and empathic in all their engagement efforts, rather, what will separate the winners from the losers, will be those who make a commitment to sharpen their Emotional IQ.
As the general push for being more “mindful” across the board continues to ensue, the emotional factors driving it become even more important. According to this month’s Harvard Business Review “By understanding that the mechanism behind mindfulness is the improvement of broader emotional intelligence competencies, leaders and the brands they steward can more intentionally work on all of the areas that will have the strongest impact.”
Research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs. That means that by appealing to any of dozens of “emotional motivators”, such as a desire to belong, to succeed in life, or to feel secure, brands will engage with customers.
On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do. Companies deploying emotional-connection-based strategies and metrics to design, prioritize, and measure the customer experience, find that increasing customers’ emotional connection drives significant improvements in financial outcomes. As a result, contextual, emotional and sentiment thought-driven AI is the next wave of marketing (and advertising).
Case in Point:
3 Elements Marketers Must Be Aware of When Using AI Tools to Drive Emotional Intelligence
- We are not all the same. Care for and customize your models and people will respond. One size fits all does not work in the realm of emotional engagement.
- AI only works and connects emotionally when it’s trained on good data. Using a known brand such as Watson or Google Cloud is great, but if you don’t train it on real-world data that is like your customer when you introduce it to real people, it won’t work — or worse. We currently use natural language understanding and machine vision with IBM Watson to deliver dynamic advertising that is built to understand people for who they are, enabling brands and agencies to move toward using AI products for their clients, without a headache and in an unbiased way.
- Use true care when looking at programmatic techniques.These affect people psychologically. Just because someone gives you 110% ROI by throwing hurtful content at anyone, doesn’t mean you should do it. Care about people and they will respond to your brand and emotionally engage.
Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.