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Digitalisation and the consumer journey: marketing mayhem or valuable vehicle?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

They wouldn’t have said so at the time, but those working in marketing 10-odd years ago had it pretty easy. Yes, new platforms like social media, tools like big data analysis, and approaches like personalisation were arriving onto the marketing scene. However, businesses were yet to incorporate these into their marketing strategies. In some cases, the technology needed to do so simply wasn’t there (or was costly), and in others – like that of social media – it wasn’t yet clear which platform would fly with consumers and offer ROI.

As a result, the sales funnel was straightforward. A business would create awareness of and interest in its brand among its target audience, it would create desire (to buy, to act, etc.), which would prompt an action or behavioural change – like a purchase. This traditional marketing approach was a linear, step-by-step process and largely a one-way street: print magazine ads couldn’t converse with their reader, and TV commercials couldn’t change their ending depending on the reaction of the individual viewer. With limited means of engaging directly with consumers, marketers created assets (be it that print ad or that TV commercial), unveiled them to audiences, and hoped for the best.

The photos, words, logos and video (i.e. the brand’s assets) in marketing material obviously wouldn’t appeal to each and every individual, so the number of consumers who remained engaged would dwindle. A TV audience of millions would reduce to a couple of thousand consumers, who’d move onto the next stage of the customer journey and engage with the brand in question. They might head to a store if the business was a retailer, for instance. That couple of thousand customers would be further filtered once at the store, because (friendly shop assistants aside), there was little in the way of engagement opportunities in this environment. A colourful display of an item on special offer might look attractive, but you can’t ask it how many five-star consumer reviews it’s received.

From A to B, to A to infinity

If marketers of yesterday were to step into the shoes of marketers today, there’d be chaos and confusion. Digital transformation – of both business operations and the lives of consumers – has complexified the consumer journey, and made the simplicity of the traditional sales funnel almost unrecognisable from that of today. Audiences no longer go on a journey from A to B, and then from B to C, C to D, and so on. Instead, they flit from one touchpoint to the next, interacting and engaging with the brand (or brands) at each stage.

Be it a Tweet on social media, a video on YouTube, a product page on a brand’s website, a review on a comparison tool, a conversation with a chatbot, a pop-up visual notification on a smartphone, an email in an inbox: thanks to digitalisation, consumers have more ways to engage with brands and more choice as to how, when and where they do so. This gives brands a far greater number of opportunities to positively influence the consumer journey and consumer behaviour. Equally, any mistakes in the delivery of brand assets at any one of these touchpoints widens the chances of consumers dropping out of the journey altogether – often in favour of a competitor.

Unlike marketers of yore who fed content and brand ideals to passive consumers, many of today’s marketing teams have given up the driving seat in order to place the consumer front and centre. Think back to the marketers managing the traditional approach outlined earlier: overseeing a limited number and variety of brand assets (product images, text, video for TV commercials, logos, a few typefaces etc), these teams would re-use and modify, needing only to create a limited number of new assets for each new campaign.

Today? Digital assets are being created constantly, and not only by the brand itself but by its consumers (user-generated content includes online reviews, blog posts mentioning a product, Tweets and so on). Assets have to be tailored to each touchpoint – of which there are many – as well as for the device a touchpoint is accessed on, where and when it is accessed, and (in many cases), whom it is accessed by. Digital assets have to be created, approved and used by individuals and teams across a business: a social media team might create copy for Tweets and Facebook posts, for instance, whilst a PR team will need access to images and logos for press releases. Whilst originality is great, it’s not everything, so businesses must also have ample storage for assets, and a means of finding them as quickly as possible in order to alter and re-use.

Learning the local lingo

Anything else? Afraid so! Expanding into a new market twenty years ago would seem a laborious, complex and costly task to marketers today. The IoT and digital transformation have allowed brands to share content, generate awareness, sell products and ship/track stock from and to almost any country on earth. The complexities of globalisation haven’t disappeared for 21st century marketing teams, however. Instead, complexity has shifted from the distribution of digital assets to their creation and management. A brand looking to go global needs to regionalise assets, appeal to local tastes, and collaborate with geographically dispersed teams in real time. Waiting a week for feedback on and sign-off of a billboard ad in the 1980’s might have been fine at the time, but the rapacity at which audiences consume content today means speed is everything.

Picture a British sunglasses brand wanting to enter the Chinese market. The brand’s Twitter following in the UK cannot be replicated in China, predominantly because the platform is banned, but also because English language copy, prices in sterling, and photos of westerners with eyewear aren’t likely to engage and convert Chinese consumers. This isn’t to say the brand’s original content is completely unusable; it simply needs to be regionalised for the local market.

Each touchpoint (and the content featured) is a crucial opportunity for marketers – to build brand awareness, create value, and influence behavioural change. However, the number of touchpoints and scale of digital asset management jeopardises a brand’s ability to squeeze maximum value from its content and make the most of the digitalised, multi-faceted consumer journey.

Fighting fire with fire

The solution? Marketers need to fight fire with fire. They need to keep up with the digitalisation of the consumer journey and their audience’s embrace of next-generation technology. The only way of doing so is to adopt equally digital-first, advanced technologies. A single, centralised, cloud-based solution which integrates with existing systems will deliver this. This will allow marketers to store, share and optimise digital assets, no matter where teams are located. Being cloud-based allows for the kind of scalability needed to support growing businesses and asset portfolios.

Consumers will continue to seek new means of engaging with brands, so the marketer of 10-odd years from today might have even more touchpoints to leverage and digital assets to manage. As such, brand should look for a solution that supports experimentation with new technologies (such as AI), and new channels and forms of content (such as smart assistants and AR/VR).

The pre-millennium marketing industry might not have faced the digitalisation challenges of today. And 2040’s marketing cohort will probably reflect on today and say exactly the same thing. Marketers need a digital asset management platform today that’ll allow them to keep pace with digitalisation, evolve with consumer trends, and capitalise on brand assets, well into tomorrow.

Sairah Mojib, Head of EMEA Marketing, Widen