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  • June 18, 2020
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Companies Need to Balance Brand and Customer Values, Forrester Speakers Assert

In the current business climate, marketers and customers are often at odds when it comes to what they want from their relationships with one another, one speaker after the other stressed during Forrester Research’s CX North America online forum this week.

"The tactics that brands often use to become more customer-centric are the very things that push customers away," Melissa Parrish, Forrester's group vice president, said during the event's opening keynote Tuesday morning.

As an example, Parrish noted that companies want more customer data, with 56 percent of marketing leaders planning to increase spending for customer insights, while customers increasingly want anonymity. In fact, 49 percent of consumers take steps to limit companies'; ability to collect personal information about them, blocking pop-ups, online tracking, and cookies.

Additionally, companies want to personalize their marketing, with 48 percent of marketing leaders planning to increase spending on personalization, while customers are not yet sold on personalization, according to Parrish.

According to Forrester data, only 27 percent of U.S. adults online are willing to let retailers use their personal information to personalize experiences.

Companies need to find out what their customers want and deliver only that to them, Parrish said.

Doing that, she continued, is a multi-step process that starts with respecting customers' differences. For one, companies shouldn't treat loyal customers and prospects the same.

Then, companies need to break down digital and traditional silos, putting customers at the heart of their brand experiences, Parrish said.

And then, contrary to popular thinking, companies should "use data to de-personalize" she added, noting that companies can use data to define the specific segments who do not want their data used at all.

Parrish also recommends using different metrics for success, measuring customers' value to the company and the value the company provides to customers. Value, she said further, includes experiential, economic, functional, and symbolic components.

Winning brands, Parrish pointed out, "balance best-in-class marketing with best-in-class customer experience," creative excellence with emotional response, and employee experiences with customer focus.

Dipanjan Chatterjee, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst and another keynote speaker during the conference's opening day, said companies often find themselves ill-prepared at the intersection of brand and customer experiences.

"A poor [customer] experience will break a great brand promise,"; he said, "and a poor promise will starve a great experience."

"The best intentions," he added, "do not always make for great experiences."

Chatterjee suggested that companies not only define their brand purpose but that they need to be able to articulate the brand promise.

"Is your entire organization committed to delivering on your brand promise?" he pressed. "And are your brand and CX founded on the emotional benefits you provide?"

Chatterjee outlined the following five steps to maximize company brand and CX value:

  1. Assess your current situation;
  2. Benchmark your company on the convergence factors that impact performance;
  3. Address the gaps in your branding and CX initiatives;
  4. Execute the plan across the company; and
  5. Go back to Step #1.

Forrester senior analyst Anjali Lai, Wednesday's keynote speaker, said the above are more important today as consumers are more empowered than ever.

Consumers today are more willing to try new things, she said, pointing to research which found that 56 percent of consumers admit to being more willing to experiment with new brands and products.

For today's consumers, technology is more important, a fact cited by 62 percent of them, up from 43 percent in 2010.

Today’'s consumers also expect digital and physical experiences to be integrated, are more information-savvy (with 59 percent today reading peer reviews before making purchases, up from just 17 percent in 2010), and like to find solutions to problems on their own.

These five realities have not changed, even as the world has changed dramatically, according to Lai.

"Empowered customers are not going anywhere. In fact, they are accelerating,"; she said.

But even among them, paradoxes exist, she said. For one, 39 percent of consumers say they want companies to curate products for them, while 20 percent say personalized marketing makes them feel like they are not in control of the experience or limits their freedom of choice.

She too, suggested that companies "design experiences that consider the emotional value of different customers and channels."

And, as customers become more empowered, companies are more hamstrung today with how they collect and use data, according to Joanna O'Connell, another Forrester vice president and principal analyst and Thursday's morning keynote speaker.

Companies' access to data is being seriously challenged by legislation like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a move away from third-party cookies, and the walled gardens that have been constructed by tech giants like Google and Facebook.

"In this new world, there will be much less data available to advertisers," O'Connell warned. "We are moving from the Wild West of digital advertising over the past 25 years to a more gated community style"

In this new, more hostile advertising climate, companies are realizing the importance of their own first-party data, the value of partnerships that yield a treasure trove of second-party data, and the need identity resolution solutions to bring together data about customers from a wider variety of disparate sources, according to O'Connell.

A companies lose access to cookies—the website tracking data that many Internet companies will no longer provide, they need to be creative with their advertising initiatives, she added.

"If you simply take a find-and-replace attitude toward the future, we are doomed," O'Connell said. "You need to put in the prerequisite amount of thought around the consumer or we are doomed. It has to be about an orientation around the consumer."

At the same time, companies have to strike an awkward balance in relationship intimacy. "You have to be careful not to overstep and do too much too soon, but doing too little too late is also a concern," O'Connell said

"Rethink your partner ecosystems and prioritize partners that get you closer to customers ethically," she added. "And reorient your creative around the value you deliver to consumers"

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