Digital Customer Engagement Building Brand Leaders

The next age of Digital has shifted the balance of power from the enterprise to the end user: consumer or business. This transformational shift has caused a tremendous disruption across nearly every industry, as organizations scramble to embrace widespread digitization, accelerating the inevitable convergence between the CMO and the CIO.

As we turn the page on 2014, digitization is reducing traditional barriers to entry, resulting in established brands facing increased competition at speed. New market players have the advantage of being more nimble, allowing for greater innovation and faster scalability. In addition, consumers can easily and quickly compare goods among rivals, turning more and more products into price-driven commodities. As a result, only firms that aggressively embrace digital customer engagement will have a chance to differentiate themselves in this market. Companies that can partner with full-service digital technology solutions providers to create seamless customer experiences, across all consumer touchpoints, will foster brand advocates and increase market share.

Through the abundance of social media channels and review sites, buyers are bypassing traditional sales teams by doing their own homework on a particular product’s features, quality and affordability. According to Forrester Research, 75 percent of the buying cycle is completed by the customer before the sales team gets involved. This means that companies that effectively engage consumers – supplying interesting content, answering questions, providing contextually relevant sales messages – across all digital channels will be far better positioned to capture the sale. Acquiring customer data and, just as importantly, mining the data to achieve actionable insights will continue to be critical for successfully engaging customers.

The overwhelming momentum of digital customer engagement will only increase in 2015, with IDC predicting that mobile computing, big data and analytics, cloud services and social networking will serve as the largest drivers of innovation and market growth. In fact, the same report estimates that these categories will reach one third of the total worldwide information and telecommunications technology (ICT) market share, representing 100 percent of spending growth.

Customer expectations will continue to grow as consumers become accustomed to real-time access to service, product information and updates, and increasingly demand more transparency and ease of use across all digital devices. In return, CIOs and CMOs will continue to invest in business technologies that attract and retain customers through digital offerings and service. Forrester predicts that this business technology agenda will capture the majority of new product spending by 2017, increasing by 10 percent or more each year.

One of the biggest deterrents to digital transformation will be outdated, legacy enterprise architecture, unable to efficiently and reliably integrate myriad data streams to design and execute effective digital marketing campaigns. Seasoned digital integrators, with a wealth of experience connecting new, flexible customer technology innovations with existing systems, will be key players in helping businesses thrive in what Forrester is calling “The Age of the Customer.”

As a result, we are in the middle of an arms race as companies recognize the urgent need to develop the best digital experiences throughout the customer journey. To achieve this goal, we are seeing an accelerating trend of consolidation between technology services companies and digital marketing agencies in an effort to help bridge the marketing and technology gap. There are countless examples, from IBM purchasing digital marketer Silverpop in April to LinkedIn buying B2B digital market Bizo and my own company, LiquidHub, acquiring digital agency Foundry9 last October. In addition, Publicis made a big splash by recently announcing its $3.7 billion acquisition of SapientNitro, ostensibly bringing SapientNitro’s technology expertise into the global agency.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved in the digital space, empowering companies through technology innovation to improve customer engagement and drive growth. Personally, I can’t wait for what lies ahead.

Robert T. Kelley, PhD, is a founding partner at LiquidHub.

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