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Mitch Ratcliffe


Going Beyond Business-As-Usual

Are your business processes, marketing platform, and technical strategy growing customer relationships, or choking them off? If there’s anything people bridle against, it is inconsistent and arbitrary marketing that blocks them from getting what they want. Why don’t they get what they want? Because campaigns and platforms are not helping the brand listen and evolve with customers’ needs.


Marketing, customer experience, and full-lifecycle support that begins at the purchase and continues until the product or service is no longer of value to the customer. These are the three pillars of the constantly evolving information economy. Brands today must combine creative, marketing analytics, and merchandising through ongoing communication with customers to build and retain trust. Sitting still amidst fast-changing social-mediated customer relationships is brand death because the customer continues to change, but the brand does not.


Transparent and thoughtful marketing is the door to brand evolution. Marketers and product leaders can begin dialogues about products and offers, even before a product is ready to launch. Today’s personalization technology is the first step toward ingesting more information about the market in which a brand competes, as well as about the values of the people who spend and support brand success. Yet too often, brands settle into old business processes, reinforcing them rather than tuning offers according to the feedback now available through digital platforms. They collect, but do not use, the intelligence available through digital interaction to improve customer experience.


The result is that brands fail to listen. They ‘phone it in' like a bored actor, losing bits and pieces of the customer relationship with each poorly presented, albeit measurable message. They fail to recognize that a brand, like a community or a company, is built on dialogue. The audience sees the brand going through the motions without any effort to evolve toward new values emerging in the marketplace.


Falling back on automating their internal business process is the natural response to digital transformation, but it severs the two-way interaction, forcing a customer engagement cadence driven by transactional factors, such as the billing and inventory systems. At these brands, customer interaction focuses on status updates, billing events, and refund/return issues rather than learning more about what would engage and please each customer.


Everyone has experienced a post-transaction interaction that felt like receiving a summons to court or as though an accountant at the brand was having a bad day before sending a response to a billing inquiry. When process alone defines messaging, brands are telling customers they have been unheard, unseen, and unvalued.


Without the customer-directed focus that real conversation demands, these brands become brittle, fracturing at every customer touchpoint that screams, “It’s all about us, our profit, and our way of doing things.”


Evolving process through customer interaction


Certainly, clear focus and consistent processes are valuable. Yet they are the foundation of a smart brand, not the sole basis for flexible customer interactions that integrate the buyer’s expectations. A culture of customer-centric, humane conversation—listening and changing to adapt to customer priorities—must be designed atop the business rules in which marketers, merchandisers, customer support, and billing teams rely.


Lacking the flexibility to step beyond existing process, sales falls back on high-pressure tactics that stress customers, messaging becomes directive and uninviting, and customer support devolves into the Department of No. Because, rules are rules. The reality of 21st Century markets will force brands to change continuously, organically, if they are going to keep up with customers.


“Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own,” Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in an article explaining “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” in The New Yorker. My side bias, a term coined by cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber in their book, “The Enigma Of Reason,” as an alternative to the more familiar “confirmation bias,” is a siren that lures brands onto the rocks of disaster. Believing that the brand knows better than the customer blinds marketers to how customers are trying to change a company to make it align with their values.


As Millennial and Generation Z rise in influence, they will toss off brands that don’t listen. Instead, they will adopt brands that recognize the requirements of new generations of workers, citizens, and customers. Brands in dialogue with customers can establish new values that leave the inflexible competitors behind.


Brands in 2025 will operate more like the mind of a human leader than an empty vessel to be filled with meaning by creative directors and copywriters. Their ability to integrate new ideas rapidly will depend on social engagement and campaigns that do not just speak at but amplify the values that engaged customers want to support. They will use analytics and machine-learning to sift through inputs to find new opportunities to create value, which can support broad expansion into new categories.


The skills and talents that incite long-lasting conversation with and among customers are maturing now, but they cannot become the next generation of set-and-forget marketing. Brand leaders must craft and test processes perpetually to find opportunities for improvement, learning to evolve at the speed of customer perception.

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