The Gist

  • Customer-focus. Superior customer experience increases loyalty and competitive edge.
  • Tech maximization. Fully adopting and integrating your martech stack drives efficiency and visibility.
  • Continual optimization. Establish a culture of constant innovation and data-driven decision-making.

Do you remember getting your first pager or BlackBerry? Coolest kid on the block or the business.

Fast-forward to today’s smarter, sleeker smartphones — faster than most people’s laptops and arguably, the center of the universe for our families, businesses and creative lives.

Constantly, speed, power, innovation and integration accelerate all aspects of the digital age. Technology redefines how businesses, consumers and even governments, live, work, play and function — and it’s not slowing down.

Research from Bain & Company found that 85% of business leaders believe digital disruption will either maintain its pace or accelerate, over the next five years.

As business leaders, if we had known 10 years ago what the world would look like today, would we have made different decisions? Would we have invested in technologies or adapted strategies sooner? Whether it’s stock prices, fashion trends, or digital investments, hindsight really is 20/20.

Enter: the million-dollar questions. What’s next? What matters? What’s revolutionary and what’s noise? Those, my friends, are the questions keeping executives up at night and the innovation engine running on all cylinders.

How should we invest time, resources and profits to set up our teams for success and differentiate our business in the nebulous future state — one that might look as different to today, as a pager is to the latest iPhone?

With my crystal ball in the repair shop, I won’t assume to know what the next decade will bring. But, having delivered digital transformation strategies to hundreds of customers across thousands of projects, I’ve pinpointed three inevitabilities essential to future market competitiveness by 2025. Let’s look forward. 

Loyalty-Centered Customer Experiences

If your customer experience is lacking in 2025, you’ll be toast. (In Vegas, I’d bet against you making it that long.)

Customer experience is all that matters. A seamless and satisfying customer experience increases loyalty, order frequency, average order value (AOV) and referrals. On the flipside, 76% of consumers would stop doing business with a company after just one bad customer experience.

This isn’t news — improving customer experience is at the heart of our work — 52% of executives named “accelerating customer-centricity and engagement” the key driver for digital transformation investments.

With an abundance of options at their fingertips, customers are more discerning. They demand personalized experiences, AI-driven recommendations, instant gratification, immediate issue resolution, delivery speed and exceptional customer service. Leaders must build transformation strategies with these sentiments at the center to survive and thrive.

With the depreciation of cookies, businesses need to be savvier to earn first-party data and deliver these elevated and personalized experiences.

They need the right tech, whether it’s AI-driven personalization and targeting or customer data platforms to help connect the dots across the customer journey to inform loyalty-gaining experiences. Cementing loyalty is after all, the key to capturing more first-party data, while gaining more accurate insights into customers’ interests and behavior.

Outside of customer acquisition and retention, building a loyalty-centered customer experience makes good business sense. It reveals gaps and opportunities. It gives you greater objective visibility into what’s working and what isn’t. It enables you to identify and mitigate inefficiency.

Of course, building loyalty-centered customer experiences requires visibility and measurement across the customer journey. To achieve this Holy Grail, you need a powerful and integrated martech stack.

Related Article: Building a Next-Level Customer Loyalty Program

Modern Martech Stack — Fully Adopted and Integrated

Whether propelled by the pandemic, business innovation or keeping up with the Joneses, most businesses have made successful strides toward digital transformation.

This might look like — modernizing websites, integrating tools and systems, migrating to the cloud, implementing AI/ML and other automation, hiring technical talent, or investing in flexible and composable tech architecture.

Yet, many new clients hire us to solve the common complaint that they’re not getting the full value out of their digital transformation investment. Adoption is lagging. Visibility is siloed. In fact, 80% of the tech capabilities they BOUGHT go unused.

To be frank, this is rarely the tech’s fault; it’s typically rooted in implementation and culture. To speed the transition, businesses hire someone to implement the tech and wait for it to work. Until it magically does, they don’t turn off their legacy systems.

By not “burning the ships,” employees halfheartedly adopt their new tools or processes, continuing to default to comfortable, legacy systems for part of the work. This creates risks:

Learning Opportunities

  • Security – Legacy systems won’t have the same security maintenance and governance, leaving the business vulnerable.
  • Efficiency – Workarounds on top of workarounds. Operating multiple tools decreases productivity and increases training time for new employees.
  • Siloed visibility – If rogue employees complete tasks outside of approved channels, businesses never gain a complete picture of customer journeys, security governance, or employee productivity and adoption. They lack a universal truth — a single source of reliable data to inform confident decision-making. Plus, investments in new tech, like AI, cannot work at full capacity when fed with partial, siloed data.
  • Costs – Keeping both sets of systems “turned on” comes with costs to repair and maintain legacy tools and a lack of cost savings from the modern tech’s unrealized potential.

My advice? Burn the ships. Fully adopt and integrate your martech stack to gain advantages across productivity, visibility, security, cost savings and innovation.

Overall, businesses digging their nails into legacy technology are at a higher risk of losing market share, slowing progress, falling behind competitors and experiencing financial losses.

Related Article: The 6 Must-Have, Must-Change Martech Categories for 2022

A Culture of Continual Optimization

Continual optimization, through endless curiosity and experimentation/testing strategies, is the foundation for successful digital transformation.

It’s the internal green light to constantly innovate and inquire how to make systems, processes, or people work better — to find opportunities, remove friction, stop guessing and test to find out.

Too many businesses invest in a big tech project, like a new website or Salesforce implementation, and move on. They hold up their hands: We’re done. Then, they simmer in dissatisfaction when that project fails to achieve a meaningful internal change or drive profitable outcomes.

Get in the habit TODAY to build continual optimization into all facets of your business. Create a safe and supportive environment for employees to share ideas, test hypotheses and learn from failures.

Require data to inform decision-making at all levels of the organization and invest in systems or people to properly collect, analyze and use that data to drive optimization efforts.

Experiment. Try AI — use it for all its worth, but don't overvalue it. Strategic thinking (centered in data, testing, and you guessed it — lessons from continual optimization) will never be a commodity, but can be accelerated and better executed with AI assistance.

Finally, celebrate successes and encourage employees to share their learnings to improve overall performance and foster teamwork across departments.

Cultures don’t change overnight. You must approach this shift intentionally, with clear objectives and measurement plans.

Get it right and you won’t need to wait until 2025 to reap the rewards — greater objectivity, visibility, morale, retention, performance and profitability.

Do What You Know You Need to Do — Now

In 2025, digital leaders will look at the organizations they’ve built (perhaps from screens embedded in their arms — who knows?) and attribute success to these three things: directing every strategic initiative toward improving their customers’ experience, fully integrating and maximizing their martech stack, and building a culture of continual optimization to confidently navigate the changing landscape.

No one can tell the future. It abounds with uncertainty, choice and challenges. Yet, it is inevitable that these three areas — customer-focus, technology maximization and people — will play a role in who wins and who loses.

Don’t be the one kicking yourself for not getting digital table stakes right today.

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