A good all-around customer experience is still the key when it comes to making sales, both in-person and online.

Research sponsored by digital marketing companies Cofactor and Prophet surveyed 500 brand and agency marketers in large companies like The Home Depot, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Staples.

While there’s lots of focus on digital marketing technologies, the findings confirm what perceptive marketers intuitively know: namely, that the focus should be on the customers rather than the technologies.

Digital Marketing Is Dynamic

It wasn’t long ago that advertising on the Internet meant just buying campaigns through AdSense. But the variety of mobile applications and their presence across platforms make this effort far more complex now.

For example, the study indicates that Instagram ads should see a 19 percent increase in expected use over the next two years.

That will put the platform right up there with mobile search ads and Twitter in terms of popularity.

The takeaway is that we’re in a state of rapid change: the Pinterest “buy” button may be the hot new item of today, but there’s just as good a chance that another medium will also become popular.

Those surveyed gave the highest value to making experiences “more relevant for consumers” over focusing on what “drives in-store traffic.” That’s because potential customers see tons of advertising each day across social networks, web sites, television and other forms of media.

When brands mean something to a customer, they’ll find their way back to the storefront.

Rewarding Loyalty Still Matters

Even as technology has pulled human contact between customers and their brands apart, loyalty is still a major driver of purchases.

One approach by Church & Dwight Co., the maker of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, invites customers to purchase boxes of baking soda, snap a photo of their receipt with their smartphones and text it to a designated number to receive a complimentary Martha Stewart recipe booklet delivered to their smartphone or tablet. It’s a 21st century method of rewarding customers with a freebie for their purchase.

Learning Opportunities

Another example is the prevalence of loyalty programs. They’re even easier for customers to participate in as they can be tied to a mobile number.

Also, the rise of mobile payment services and apps like Apple Pay and Android Pay allows customers to keep this data at the ready next time they’re in a store to make a purchase.

Technology: Just Part of the Package

When all the data and content strategies are put aside, it still comes down to creating a good customer experience, according to Alison Corcoran, the senior vice president of marketing for Staples’ North American stores and online.

“When it comes to marrying online with offline efforts, technology is not a driver, but it is critical in making it happen,” she said. “What is essential are people who are focused on customer experience, and are strong advocates for making it happen across all areas, whether it’s in-store, e-commerce or digital marketing.”

The study also cites 90 percent of all customer transactions as performed in-store compared to online. While e-commerce, particularly mobile, is growing at a rapid rate, there’s no indication that people will stop going to a brick-and-mortar storefront.

That means the key principles to keeping customers loyal and happy aren’t much different from when the independent grocery store was the main hub for everyone in a small town. The use of technology, in fact, can empower companies to break past the invisible wall that may make them feel like a brand is an uncaring monolith.

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Title image by Ian Schneider