It’s increasingly said that today’s brands are the sum of consumer experiences – and that marketers are in the business of selling customer journeys rather than simply stand-alone products. The problem they face, though, is that very few people are interested in buying complete, off-the-shelf, pre-defined customer journeys. In an era of personalisation, they want to assemble their own: using the touchpoints of their choosing for the purposes of their choosing and at the moments of their choosing. But if brands are the sum of these autonomous experiences, to what extent can they still be planned, built and managed? How can marketers control experiences when they cannot predict in which context, through which touchpoint, and in what order, those experiences will happen?
Digital technology is revolutionising the role of touchpoints in people’s lives by exploding the traditional path to purchase, in which a consumer would expect to go through several pre-determined steps before buying a product through an established channel, in an established way. This path to purchase helped to organise the marketing department itself, with brand, shopper and customer marketing all working through their own set of self-defined touchpoints that seemed exclusive to their part of the process. But this ordered marketing reality has come to an end. Marketers are surrounded by a swarm of rapidly multiplying touchpoints through which people can interact with their brands – and they can no longer predict which of those touchpoints will be used for which purpose.
Why should a social media platform just be used for customer service or brand engagement when a ‘Buy now’ button can be added to it? For that matter, why should a store be used solely for buying things when forward-thinking brands can build entire, immersive experiences using them? People don’t stop having brand experiences just because they are using an eCommerce platform or walking down a supermarket aisle. And they won’t settle for having one type of brand experience on one channel (an awareness-raising TV ad or a piece of social media content, say) and then being forced to migrate to another channel to complete a purchase.
Coherent brand experiences need a unified view of touchpoints
If marketers are to cope with this world, they need to start by breaking down the siloes that exist within their own organisations. Before such siloes were a hindrance to creating coherent brand experiences; now they are simply untenable. To do this effectively, they need insight teams and market researchers that can back them up with a unified view of touchpoints themselves. To consumers, a brand interaction is a brand interaction, whether they are trying to buy from that brand, ask it a question, or engage with a piece of its content. Those experiences are unlikely to feel coherent and recognisably branded, if the people planning them have completely different views of the touchpoints where the experiences happen.
Why touchpoint planning needs to start with the audience
A common view of touchpoints within the marketing department is an essential starting point, but it won’t in itself solve the biggest problem that the touchpoint revolution creates for brands. People expect their brand experiences to be relevant, customised and value-adding within the context of the touchpoint where they take place. They also expect each touchpoint to be inherently flexible, to play the role that they want at a given time: completing a purchase through Twitter or WeChat, or in response to the ad they just watched on Facebook. How can brands balance this with the need to stay coherent – and differentiate themselves from the other brands scrambling to offer every experience at every touchpoint?
Delivering relevant, branded touchpoint experiences becomes a lot more manageable when marketers clearly understand the needs of the people they are delivering those experiences for – and which touchpoints matter most to those people. The problem they currently face is that the technology used to reach audiences across digital touchpoints has tended to obscure any meaningful sense of who they are targeting and why. When brands’ use of programmatic is driven primarily by behaviour, it becomes blind to the people they are interacting with – and the experiences those people might want. Instead, marketers find themselves delivering the same experiences across all touchpoints, driven solely by the last action that people took. At a time when they need to be increasingly nuanced and responsive, this is the wrong way to go. When brands base their programmatic targeting on digital segmentation they
Roz Calder is a founding director of NeedScope International which is now part of TNS Brand & Communication practice area. Having worked with major global companies to help them build powerful brands, Roz is now responsible for the development, marketing and global application of NeedScope with a particular focus on activation.