holding out a flower
PHOTO: Bundo Kim

When it comes to digital engagement, brands and their customers have had an evolving relationship.

Less than a decade ago, back when the website was king, it was all about one-way communication: Brands talked and expected their customers to listen (or, more accurately, to read their web content).

This was long before martech, multichannel and Amazon Echo were household words. It was back when building a site and implementing a web content management system was all some companies needed to do to check the box, call themselves digitally savvy, and move on.

We browsed. We didn’t expect experiences.

And personalized content? For many brands, delivering personalization was still far off and of dubious value. It was still the early days of smartphone adoption (smartphone market penetration in 2008 was about 10 percent in the US; today it’s above 70 percent). Then, few apps and digital services existed to make our lives easier, better informed and more productive.

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A Modern Take on Digital Experiences

Flash forward to today. Expectations have changed drastically. Brands can’t shovel content at people and expect it to satisfy their wants and needs — or compel them to immediately purchase a product, fall in love with a brand, or tell all their friends about it. Today, it’s all about identifying a need, devising a strategy, selecting the right technology, and delivering value in the moments that matter most to customers.

It’s about delivering the useful content, offer or information at the right time, on the right channel. And, ideally, it’s about going further, to offer services that solve problems and make customers’ lives easier.

The opportunities to build innovative experience that engage with people may be hiding in plain sight. For example, it could be hiding in your data. Marketers and brands have tons of data, but often don’t connect data with innovative ideas to build meaningful services or offerings that enhance the lives of their customers.

For inspiration look at the City of Los Angeles, which earlier this year launched the Los Angeles Earthquake Watch. It’s a website and digital service that provides real-time alerts about quakes affecting the region. The city gets live earthquake data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), presents a rolling tally on a useful map complete with location and magnitude (even the small quakes), pushes it out through the city’s emergency alert app to smartphones and devices, and provides people with useful information on how to prepare for an earthquake.

The beauty of this offering is in its simplicity and usefulness. The data already exists; the City found a brilliant way to apply it to a customer experience in an area that can experience a dozen or more small quakes daily.

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Focus on Innovating for Customer Convenience

At a time when brands have over-rotated on digital marketing to connect with customers, it may be time to look outside of traditional digital marketing efforts for innovation. Today, customer-oriented services save time, save money and provide useful services across the customer journey. These are gaining traction and helping brands grow and build loyalty.  

Two organizations that made headlines in 2018 — Marriott International and the US Postal Service — show how digital experiences can range far beyond the website.

Marriott, in a partnership with Amazon, announced in June that it would bring the Alexa for Hospitality service to Marriott, Westin, St. Regis, Aloft and its other hotels. The hotels will set up Alexa-powered devices in each guest room to serve as a voice-activated concierge. Through these devices, guests can ask questions about the property, play music, order room service, and book spa services.

Around the same time, the US Postal Service also enhanced its digital offerings through the launch of Informed Delivery by USPS. People who opt-in to the service can now receive an image of the outside of postal mail pieces that will be delivered that day. Users can also easily check tracking info and send special delivery instructions through a device.

We’ve finally reached an inflection point in the history of “digital” where companies and brands are starting to chase the right things more frequently. They’re using digital technology not as the end-all, be-all, but as the means to make life easier, better, and more convenient for their prospects and customers.

If you’re a chief marketing officer, chief digital officer, chief experience officer, or even a chief information officer, ask yourself this: “What digital experiences can your business create and facilitate to provide utility service, save customers time, engage more effectively and make memorable moments that matter?”