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You Don’t Really Expect Me to Wear That!

The realignment of commerce around customers, rather than around products, may be the be-all and end-all of online businesses.

We all like to think of ourselves as spontaneous, casual, unconstrained. As if there’s a chance I’ll show up for work tomorrow in a yellow pantsuit and a boiler hat, or even better: hop on a plane for an impromptu vacation, where I’ll devour romantic novels. There’s also a chance that the Klingons will overtake Earth and that God will manifest in a podcast broadcast live in Times Square.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

What has happened, so far, is that I’ve generally worn black or blue jeans, and a casual t-shirt to the office, with the exception of a dress shirt from time to time and on special occasions. I’ve heard endless stories of vacations my friends took, and I didn’t have time to. Meanwhile, in the extremely limited time I dedicate to reading, I read, without fail, grim and absorbing literary fiction. Also, planet Earth is still at the mercy of humans, and God is the penultimate mystery, second only to my Dropbox password.

Don’t take me for boring. But I will concede that some of my behavior is predictable. And for the world around me, that’s a comfort. It allows the significant people in my life to really know me. That’s why they remember to record my favorite shows, get me the best new novels, and never buy me a red sweater.

And I love that fuzzy feeling I get – that jolt of affirmation and acknowledgment – when they get it right. Because it’s so, well, so exactly about me.

Brands must get to know their customers on a personal level

As a consumer in the modern era, I’ve come to expect this same kind of highly personalized interaction from the brands in my life. The smart ones have managed to engage me in a similar type of personal emotional connection: communicating the right information, in the right tone, at the right time. They have my persona down: they deliver measured doses of that fuzzy feeling, and in exchange, I’m happy to grant them practically unlimited access to my inbox, mobile messaging and social media accounts.

Ironically, brands have an easier time of achieving a sense of familiarity than people do. There’s a limited number of individuals that people can know to any real extent – the cited number is anywhere from 60 to 100. This worked brilliantly when humans lived in clans, but in today’s communities there’s a huge chance that when I walk into the store, the salesperson will throw that red sweater at me (it’s on sale!), and I’ll react with that inner cringe of like, dude, you don’t really expect me to wear that?!

Smart brands, on the other hand, have me figured out. That’s because there’s practically no limit to the amount of data companies can accumulate, and to the number of customers they can know, if they use that data wisely. And that is becoming the standard expectation of today’s connected, empowered consumer.

A difficult transformation, but with a huge payoff

For serious digital endeavors, cracking the digital-shopper’s genome is an ongoing action item. A recent article by McKinsey called out the importance of converting the vast amount of data regarding consumer behavior and desires into meaningful insights. However, this is not just a tactical undertaking. In today’s consumer-centric world, companies who continue to broadcast to consumers the old fashioned way – to hurl the red sweater at them – will find themselves left by the wayside.

Parsing the consumer code has to become a major strategic goal. And not one to be taken lightly – it’s a challenge on both the technological and the operational levels. But the realignment of commerce around customers, rather than around products, may be the be-all and end-all of online businesses.

On the part of brands, this starts out with the realization that today’s customers want more. They want content that relates to them personally, they expect the ability to move seamlessly between devices, they delight in realtime recommendations, and they anticipate interactions that pertain to their interests and needs. Customers will no longer be enticed by generic emails and one-size-fits-all messaging. And they’re right: digital gives them unlimited options for where to take their business.

Achieving this feat demands transformation in two key marketing factors: analytics and content. Data and analytics are key to negotiating fractured and complex marketing landscapes. Decisions about where and how to contact consumers need to be informed by data, and they need to relate to each customer’s specific journey. At the contact point, marketers need to remember that customers don’t care about their brand, their products or their services. Customers care about themselves. This conceptual shift is paramount for delivering a tone of content and interaction that consumers will respond to. And, increasingly, these interactions are expected by consumers to occur in realtime.

A recent ANA survey revealed that for many businesses, these goals are still out of reach. Fifty percent of respondents still do not have clearly defined customer journeys, more than one-third of companies are not using data to make decisions, and almost half say that they still don’t have the required analytics in place. Other major obstacles are a lack of content strategy, streamlined distribution processes, and organizational frameworks that are aligned around customer dynamics instead of products and services.

Marketers have their work cut out for them. Only by taking this integrative approach – by viewing analytics as a strategic rather than an IT issue, and mastering the ability to swiftly translate data into concrete, personal action – will businesses be able to keep me (and millions of others like me) coming back for more.

We’re just spontaneous that way.

A version of this article appeared on Business2Community.

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