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Strategy in the post-digital era


First came ‘shopping’, when the shopkeeper made you feel welcome. In my local shop, Mrs Frances knew everyone by name, and could anticipate almost any request. When she was asked for something new, she listened and knew next time. It was very difficult to catch Mrs Frances out more than once. She was there to serve her customers.

Then came ’shopper,’ with aisles that were set out for our convenience. The idea was that by watching how customers behaved in a store, the owner could set the store out best to meet the pressing needs, putting the rarely-bought at the back or in the corners where you wouldn’t get in other peoples’ way while you were choosing. It was a slightly more sophisticated way to put the customer’s needs at the centre of the experience.

This led to ‘customer journeys,’ perhaps biased not in favour of the shopper but in favour of the store. Studying how customers behaved led to commercially-driven thinking about how they could be tempted to buy more, or to vary their choices. Ultimately, brands started asking for prime positions, and others created ranges to meet every conceivable need. Shopping became either a world of temptation, or an annoyance, or more convenient, depending on your value to the store. Data started to be looked at in the abstract, not the personal.

Then along came digital. It removed the shop from shopping altogether in some cases. It became a distracting obsession if I’m honest; and I speak as a digital strategist. Shops talked of the digital versus bricks and mortar future, and took fright at the thought that all industries might go the way of bookselling. FMCG brands spent serious money trying to find ways to market digitally in anticipation of the demise of the real world. It took twenty years for us to get past the notion that digital would replace shopping in shops.

But digital is not the new world. Digital did not replace real life. The digital éclair didn’t win. Digital, like all great revolutions in technology, is being assimilated. We live in a world where we shop. Where the role of every medium, analog, digital or (in the traditional sense) social, will end up just being aspects of our environment. And that presents a massive step change in the way we think of strategy as it applies to marketing to consumers. Gone are the ideas that each channel in its place, run within and by a silo of specialists, with a channel-specific goal and vision. The silos simply have no relevance in a world where a customer journey can take in so many momentary contexts, where as more are added the boundaries disappear and the marketing ecosphere becomes more democratic.

Appearing in sharp relief once again is the customer. The new marketer has to focus on that, because to do anything else inevitably exposes massive blind spots. We are talking about viewing marketing not as disciplines like CRM, or shopper marketing, or social, digital, outdoor, PoS, but as genuinely coherent customer engagement. The goals are no longer awards, or social kudos, or reducing basket abandonment (although all of these play specific parts), the goal is coherence along the entire customer journey. It’s a new way of thinking. You can think of it as post-digital if you want to put it in (or outside) a box. But the reality in our stark new consumer-centric world is a new discipline: Total Customer Engagement. Welcome to the new era.

Felix Velarde, Chairman at Underwired

Published on Tuesday 30 December by Guest Piece

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