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Your Customers Have Forever Changed: When Will You?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 11/11/2015 Rob Tarkoff
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Business as we knew it is gone forever. That sounds a bit dramatic, but think about the changes you've seen in the last five years in digital and social consumer behavior. They're dramatic. Organizations are striving to stay ahead of consumers' extreme expectations - though I would argue that extreme is now the "new normal" and we all need to realize that the old paradigm "change or die" is applicable to every industry, every organization. Not one of is exempt.
The problem is, as organizations we are slow to transform. We think we have more time. We assume that consumers are loyal. We want to believe that the reputations of our brands can carry us through this time of transition. We think we're doing a good enough job. But are we?
We often try to ignore the fact that consumers want more control over when, where and how they experience our brands. They are deciding where they give us attention and where they are not. Consider the fact that, in some cases, we are losing entire audiences by generation and medium - in a recent Forrester report, they estimate that of the 24% of people under age 32 who do not subscribe to cable, 18% never have and they expect these numbers to increase to 50% not subscribing and 35% never having done so by the year 2025. This means that a good chunk of Millennials will never have seen a single ad you paid for on a cable network. In addition, ad blockers are now emerging that allow consumers to block in-app ads, including on Facebook. Consumers are already firmly in control.
So what do we do? It's not about adapting, folks. It's about totally annihilating the old ways of thinking and being, so that we can embrace the mindset and expectations of our consumers. But how do we get there? Typically, organizations move through three phases: denial, experimentation and courage. In denial, you rely on old technology and old behaviors and pretend change isn't happening. In experimentation, you adopt new technology, but generally rely on the corporate mavericks to lead the way until it feels safe enough to follow. In courage, you make your own durable changes.
Phase three is where you want to be. It's all about embracing the reality of consumer expectations, being innovative in problem solving, and in some cases, completely redoing business processes from the ground up. So, how do you get to phase three?
1.Build a diverse management team. Marketing and service are one and the same--the customer is the same pre- and post-purchase--your approaches to engage them should be equally holistic.
2.Stop trying to control your brand. Your brand is out of your control--live with that new reality--customers, potential customers, anyone with an opinion these days all shape your brand more than your ad or PR department--embrace that change and bring your Total Community into your brand development, differentiation and product/service ideation.
3.Talk about customer data trends at least twice a day. Core data around what someone has bought is not nearly as valuable as the contextual data around why they bought it, what would bring them back for more and for the long haul, whose expertise they sought to make their decision, etc.
4.Invest in data scientists. We now must personalize our customers' experiences at scale - mass personalization requires people who can really understand this stuff.
5.Engage in predictive data analysis. We are swimming in data (some of us may be drowning in it!)--but that data analyzed properly can yield valuable insights into FUTURE behaviors--and not just allow us to summarize the past quarter or past year.
Is it scary? Transformation from the known to the unknown always is. And maybe all of us need to remember that we can do hard things. But in the end, our transformation is the only way to meet our consumers where, how and when they want to be met and the key to our survival.

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