Every year or so, another hot catchword infests the industry. It may actually be something new and different, or it may just be marketing, but if it's spun right, it always garners a lot of interest.
This year's newest term is "experience". Now that technology itself is harder and harder to differentiate, it seems it's all we have left.
Even the behemoths have leapt onto the experience bandwagon. IBM has created the ExperienceOne brand around its customer engagement services and solutions. And a key component of ExperienceOne (a set of best practice product and service combos designed, in IBM's words, to "attract, delight, and maximize lifetime value of customers") is the portfolio of products, announced a year ago, known as MobileFirst. This year, IBM launched IBM Mobile Web Push, a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering that delivers targeted push messages to all types of device.
How targeted? Well, how about delivering promotions so specific that they can (based on Facebook Likes) send football fans an offer to buy their favourite team's jersey, or, based on user location, offer a T-shirt in warm places and a hoodie in cooler ones. The ads pop up on anything from a full-sized computer to a mobile phone, automatically adapting to the device form factor to provide, yes, the best user experience.
On top of its product and services offerings, the company has appointed a global leader, Interactive Experience, Paul Papas, whose mandate is to help IBM's customers develop products and services for their own customers. A $US100 million investment in ten new innovation labs and 1000 new staffers, including some poached from — er — moving over from IBM Labs, underlines the depth of the commitment to go beyond boxes and bytes.
The Innovation Labs aren't demo centres, they're places where customers and IBM staff collaborate on solutions to problems. Staffers include not only techies, but designers and marketing pros, so the teams can construct complete solutions. A mobile experience team is being co-located at the New York lab.
The theory appears sound. At its Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Tampa this month, customer after customer described how the concept of experience is now at the centre of their marketing efforts, and mobile is a huge part of that experience.
For example, Abercrombie and Fitch's Billy May, group VP, direct to consumer digital and customer marketing, pointed out that 90 percent of his target market sleeps with their phones. The company's youth-oriented brand, Hollister, in particular, had to take what May called its retail theatre and make it digital. The concept of the brand became "now moments" — what May refers to as snackable content for users with increasingly shorter attention spans. He said, "While the concept of now is fleeting, the context of now is not."
The context is not Apple or Android or Windows Phone or BlackBerry, it's smartphone or tablet or PC or Mac. The experience has to adapt to the screen size and device capabilities, providing the best and most complete possible customer experience on each device. Consumers are no longer willing to compromise, May found.
In fact, Panay noted, their expectations are higher than ever. Consumers use the greatest customer experience they have anywhere as the bar that every future interaction has to leap.
The payoffs can be huge. Retailer David Jones redefined its customer experience as a way of revitalizing its brand. With an omnichannel approach (including mobile), it realized a 288 percent increase in sales, year over year.
This assumes, of course, that the job is done right, and the experience is one that customers want. Gratuitous glitz for its own sake may have unintended consequences. Lack of support for certain platforms may annoy current and potential customers into avoiding a company that's otherwise a good fit for their needs.
Experience, in the end, is as much a psychological exercise as it is technical.