A paradigm shift occurred in society between 2009 and 2013 with the emergence of the “always-on” consumer: people who are constantly connected via multiple devices over the course of a day and crave the instant gratification of information, products, and services that are accessible at a touch. Forrester estimates that at the end of 2013 the always-on consumer represented about half of people online globally.
We are not in the midst of this shift. It’s already happened. Since television became ubiquitous, it had always been the number one media channel, as measured by eyeball consumption. That changed in 2013, when the always-on channels (online and mobile) surpassed television. Between 2009 and 2013, online and mobile consumption rose from 29% to 40%; TV dropped from 45% to 38%; print from 9% to 4%; radio from 17% to 12%.
Arguably this represents the most profound behavioural change in society since the family car became affordable to all. It has fuelled the growth of some of the highest profile companies in the world (Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple); bewildered parents whose children developed a whole new language for communicating in short bursts; and enabled quality relationships to blossom between people thousands of miles apart from one another.
It’s difficult to pick an industry or facet of society that has not been deeply affected by these changes. In the venture capital industry this societal change is the stuff of dreams—venture investors live for paradigm shifts of this magnitude.
For the marketing community, this change represents a huge threat and huge opportunity. Campaign-centric marketing (plan it, produce it, send it) still has relevance. However, marketing must rapidly evolve to succeed in a world where consumers are in control of when and by what channel they will interact with brands. Marketing, just like society, has to become always-on.
So what does it mean to do always-on marketing in an always-on world? When I’m explaining to a non-marketing executive how technology is used in marketing today, I like to talk about “lights-on” marketing and “lights-off” marketing.
Marketers come to work every day, switch on the lights and do all the things they are traditionally known for: planning the activity calendar; holding production meetings with agencies; delivering briefings; and reviewing thousands of creative iterations, not to mention all the administration they have to do.
This is the traditional image people have in their minds when they think about the marketing department. But what happens when these marketers go home and switch off the lights? Marketing never stops. Software automation enables these departments to continue sending and serving personalised offers to customers via web, email, mobile, and virtually any other digital channel you can think of (think ATMs for banks and slot machines for casinos).
It sounds great, doesn’t it? The ROI from marketing automation is outrageous and to not be doing effective lights-off marketing means your company is missing out on huge revenue and profit opportunities. But there is a troubling reality that has emerged as society has rapidly shifted to being always-on: millions of consumers are regularly affronted and annoyed by marketers, because marketing still has a mind-set of driving good offers rather than fabulous experiences.
The most advanced marketing departments today are evolving their capability and value proposition to the rest of the company, from being campaign-centric or offer-oriented to being customer experience- oriented. By that I mean they realise that the next-best interaction with a consumer often isn’t to force upon them an offer to buy something.
In the marketing software industry many still use the expression “the right offers to the right people at the right time.” To be a great marketer today, that expression needs to be “the right interaction for this person at this time.” You see the difference?
The old adage assumes the marketer is in control. The new approach is to know (or predict) what that customer is feeling (or likely to be feeling), and make an intelligent decision about how to interact with them in that moment. The consumer is in control, not the brand. Responding successfully to this new world order requires organisational collaboration and incredible technology.
Customer experience for large B2C companies is a cross-organisational competency. It is at the intersection of marketing, sales, and service. But marketing needs to be the primary driver of this competency. My friend, the fantastic brand strategist Mike Beckerleg, once described to me that a brand is a psychological concept in the mind of the consumer and it is the sum of all customer experiences. Essentially then, in this age customer experience is the brand and the CMO is the ultimate steward of that brand.
The technology platform needed to deliver customer-experience marketing requires beautiful application software to help marketers get their day job done faster and with less risk to the company, and massively scalable, self-learning software that enables ROI-driven next-best interactions.
These interaction decisions have to be calculated and served within milliseconds to the channel in which the customer has chosen to interact. To the uninitiated this really is Star Trek marketing. Even being in the industry, I’m in awe of the power of this technology.
Marketing has finally attained the Holy Grail: Not only the ability to know what is working and what isn’t, but also the ability to automatically respond, in real-time, to the needs of each specific customer at the moment of interaction.
An entire generation of consumers who became adults in the always-on era will be the engine room of the economy within a decade. Will your brand be relevant to them? Will your brand even exist? Too many companies will fail to properly address this paradigm shift in society. Conversely, the opportunity is massive. Companies that evolve quickly from traditional campaign-centric marketing to customer-experience marketing will become the dominant brands in their sector within five to 10 years.