Marketing’s Next Phase: Your Product Is Your Marketing

Mar­ket­ing and the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence are becom­ing syn­ony­mous with prod­ucts and brands them­selves.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

As mobile and the Inter­net of Things fur­ther alter the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing land­scape, mar­ket­ing itself is expe­ri­enc­ing pro­found changes. In fact, mar­ket­ing and the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence are becom­ing increas­ing­ly syn­ony­mous with prod­ucts and brands them­selves.

For mar­keters, this means nev­er-end­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate com­pelling expe­ri­ences and then retain con­sumer data to inform and per­son­al­ize future expe­ri­ences for return­ing con­sumers. Look­ing for­ward, experts say they expect mar­ket­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties to sat­u­rate every depart­ment of any giv­en brand in order to tru­ly deliv­er what con­sumers want.

Speak­ing at Adobe Sum­mit, Brad Rencher, senior vice pres­i­dent and gen­er­al man­ag­er of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing at Adobe, said the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing indus­try is push­ing the bound­aries of where it can go in the “amaz­ing jour­ney of the rein­ven­tion of mar­ket­ing.”

Fur­ther, vir­tu­al­ly any dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence – from deposit­ing checks and pay­ing tax­es to fill­ing out March Mad­ness brack­ets – has changed the way con­sumers inter­act with brands in what Rencher describes as a “pro­found way.”

Why Marketing Must Become A Product

To con­tin­ue to deliv­er com­pelling expe­ri­ences, mar­ket­ing can no longer remain a sin­gle depart­ment with­in an orga­ni­za­tion, but must rather be at the epi­cen­ter, Rencher said.

Mar­ket­ing must also move beyond mar­ket­ing – to the point where mar­ket­ing becomes a prod­uct itself – as brands reimag­ine how they por­tray them­selves across the cus­tomer jour­ney.

That’s because the con­tract between brand and cus­tomer is con­stant­ly being re-eval­u­at­ed, Rencher said. And that means brands and mar­keters must always be think­ing about how to re-engage their tar­gets.

We’re in an era now where your prod­uct is your mar­ket­ing,” said Adobe CEO Shan­tanu Narayen. “Tra­di­tion­al­ly as mar­keters, com­pa­nies gave you a prod­uct and it was your job to mar­ket it with ques­tions like, ‘How do I posi­tion my brand?,’ ‘What’s my mes­sag­ing?’ and ‘How do I allo­cate my media spend?’ Now it’s broad­ly enough about what the prod­uct is and ‘How can I bring togeth­er the pow­er of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing to dra­mat­i­cal­ly improve the prod­uct expe­ri­ence?’”

In oth­er words, com­pa­nies in indus­tries like retail and trav­el have long known that the ser­vices they deliv­er are syn­ony­mous with their brands, Narayen said. The same is true for dig­i­tal-only ser­vices like Uber: The web­site or app is the brand’s busi­ness. And this is becom­ing true on a broad­er scale.

Rebec­ca Lieb, indus­try ana­lyst at research and strat­e­gy con­sult­ing firm Altime­ter Group, agrees. Mar­ket­ing is becom­ing more of a prod­uct, inspir­ing con­sumers to “engage with a com­pa­ny because its mar­ket­ing is so won­der­ful,” she said.

Rencher agreed.

The cus­tomer expe­ri­ence has become the brand for orga­ni­za­tions and the best gauge for suc­cess,” he said. “Now, more than ever, the expe­ri­ence is the brand.”

Continuous Customer Experiences

Con­sumers have many more touch­points to inter­act with brands and, as a result, their expec­ta­tions are increas­ing. Rencher said this means brands must cre­ate con­sis­tent cus­tomer expe­ri­ences in which they remem­ber salient details about each con­sumer so that the cus­tomer doesn’t have to start all over from the begin­ning upon each new inter­ac­tion.

Brands must also strive to cre­ate con­tin­u­ous cus­tomer expe­ri­ences that, for exam­ple, allow con­sumers to do their own at-home research and pick up where they left off when they arrive in-store rather than start­ing over again upon arrival.

The under­ly­ing piece that ties this all togeth­er is mobil­i­ty via devices like screens and wear­ables, Rencher said. Mobile is the bridge that gets cus­tomers into a branch or venue and is where mar­keters have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to aug­ment each expe­ri­ence.

As brands, we have more oppor­tu­ni­ties than ever to delight cus­tomers, but also more oppor­tu­ni­ties to dis­sat­is­fy and dis­ap­point,” Rencher said. “Get­ting invit­ed to be on someone’s wrist is a sign of inti­ma­cy and respect.”

Coca-Cola: Liquid And Linked

For­ward-think­ing brands like Coca-Cola cre­ate expe­ri­ences that not only delight, but go beyond tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing chan­nels, Rencher said.

In fact, Lorie Buck­ing­ham, chief devel­op­ment offi­cer at Coca-Cola, said the brand is “try­ing to con­tin­u­ous­ly cre­ate hap­pi­ness expe­ri­ences.”

Said expe­ri­ences include a flag com­posed of cus­tomer self­ies that was unfurled at the 2014 World Cup, giv­ing fans a vir­tu­al pres­ence in Brazil, and enabling each per­son who sub­mit­ted a self­ie to drill down online to see exact­ly where their faces were.

For us, it’s about how to cre­ate the next new expe­ri­ence,” Buck­ing­ham said. “We can’t rest on our lau­rels. It’s ‘What’s the next new thing to bring every­body togeth­er?’”

She calls this “liq­uid and linked,” which means it “flows like water” because the brand doesn’t con­trol the con­tent, but rather hon­ors it and works with fans to guide it.

We want every­thing to be unique and spe­cial, but we want some com­mon things – the liq­uid and linked expe­ri­ence. It’s Coke all the way through,” she said. “That’s how we cre­ate true hap­pi­ness expe­ri­ences.”

Hap­pi­ness expe­ri­ences also include ele­ments of sur­prise like Coke’s Hug Me vend­ing machines, which it put on col­lege cam­pus­es dur­ing finals week to dis­trib­ute Cokes in exchange for hugs, Buck­ing­ham said.

In addi­tion, Coke’s Small World Machine con­nect­ed con­sumers in Pak­istan and India, by ask­ing them to relate to each oth­er in some way in order to retrieve a Coke. In addi­tion, Coke’s Freestyle machines, which allow con­sumers to cus­tomize bev­er­ages, also allow the brand to cre­ate known con­sumers by remem­ber­ing a favorite drink mix, which, in turn, means Coke can pro­vide the same expe­ri­ence to that cus­tomer no mat­ter where in the world they access anoth­er Freestyle machine. Reusing and reap­ply­ing data in that fash­ion is what Buck­ing­ham calls the “red thread,” which means Coke can deliv­er a com­mon expe­ri­ence through­out.

Brands ulti­mate­ly need to make every con­sumer a known con­sumer, or it’s like you’re at a par­ty where every­one has paper bags on their heads,” adds Loni Stark, senior direc­tor of strat­e­gy and prod­uct mar­ket­ing at Adobe.

Starwood Hotels: 360-Degree Experiences

For its part, Star­wood Hotels and Resorts also uses cus­tomer data to pro­vide per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ences based on pref­er­ences for floors and check-in and check-out times at any of its loca­tions.

In addi­tion to inno­va­tions like key­less access, Chris Nor­ton, vice pres­i­dent of CRM appli­ca­tions and chan­nel intel­li­gence at Star­wood, said the brand recent­ly announced part­ner­ships with Uber and Delta in order to pro­vide “360-degree expe­ri­ences from the flight to the car to the hotel.”

Fur­ther, iBea­cons can help the brand cre­ate known con­sumers as those users with the SPG app who opt in can be rec­og­nized as they approach the front desk, which means they can be greet­ed by name, Nor­ton said. The brand has also been work­ing on an Apple Watch app, which means users will also be able to open their rooms with­out keys.

Connecting Customers, Experiences, Screens

Only about 10 per­cent of actu­al trans­ac­tions hap­pen in pure dig­i­tal, which means many trans­ac­tions still hap­pen in per­son, accord­ing to Stark. Nev­er­the­less, the cus­tomer that comes into a store is much smarter than cus­tomers were 10 or 20 years ago because they’re doing research online first. So brands must not only think about how to con­nect with these smarter cus­tomers, but also about how to con­nect expe­ri­ences and screens, she said.

Fur­ther, Stark cites fig­ures that show 27 per­cent of cus­tomers are con­sid­er­ing a wear­able.

What’s more, Lieb notes the dif­fer­ence between chan­nels, screens, and devices is erod­ing for con­sumers to the point that it’s “all just media.”

Content: The Unifying Element

Con­tent ties all of these dis­parate touch­points togeth­er.

Con­tent is the atom­ic par­ti­cle of all mar­ket­ing,” Lieb said. “I believe con­tent will be part of every job descrip­tion in the near future.”

As such, Lieb said brands must fos­ter a cul­ture of con­tent in which one sin­gle depart­ment is not respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing con­tent but rather the entire orga­ni­za­tion inspires and process­es con­tent.

The same is true of mobile, Nor­ton said.

Mobile isn’t some­thing the guy down the hall does,” he said. “Every job needs to be a mobile job.”

In oth­er words, there’s sort of a con­ver­gence of depart­ments hap­pen­ing in which more team­work is required to cre­ate seam­less, con­tex­tu­al expe­ri­ences.

But, Lieb said, con­tent must be the uni­fy­ing ele­ment in these con­tex­tu­al­ly rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences. Brands must use con­text to help cut through the noise and pro­vide actu­al mean­ing based on data.

She points to Home Depot, which ties its online shop­ping cart to the in-store shop­ping expe­ri­ence with sav­able shop­ping lists that also help con­sumers nav­i­gate stores, as well as Dia­geo, which enabled con­sumers to send per­son­al­ized Father’s Day mes­sages via QR codes on bot­tles, as well as MGM Resorts, which can send noti­fi­ca­tions and/or offers to cus­tomers walk­ing through a venue based on their pref­er­ences, as good exam­ples of con­tex­tu­al­ly rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences.

How do you see dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing evolv­ing?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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