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Anticipation – The Future Is Here Now

Jed MoleMarch 31, 2014

As a race, we humans seem to set our standards pretty low. We may have landed on the moon, invented penicillin and the smartphone but still, it seems that all breakthroughs are held up in comparison to ‘sliced bread’ as its next best thing! I enjoy the convenience of sliced bread as much as the next person, but as a consumer, I look forward to more exciting breakthroughs.

Anticipation of the near future defines much of how we feel right now. You may be in the last hour of a 24 hour journey to Australia, you may be bored, tired, irritable in the present, and a little numb, but your mood overall could be rather joyful as you look forward to seeing family and friends you haven’t seen in months or years. Conversely, you could be on a beautiful beach two weeks later but in a sombre mood as you think of tomorrow, the end of your holiday and your flight back. Anticipation of tomorrow often counts more than the present of today.

So how does that affect us in terms of brands and consumers, how does that relate to marketing? Anticipation and expectation are closely related and as contemporary consumers, we expect the brands we trust and use regularly to know us, understand us and communicate with us as individuals. That should be entirely possible when we subscribe to brands and when they use data in the ‘CRM sense’ to ensure they don’t send us offers for products and services we already have. Some definitely do this better than others. There’s still a way to go, but in the digital space the challenges of ensuring a brand doesn’t continually serve an ad for a flat-screen TV the consumer bought 3 months ago are arguably greater still. Remember, we’re still talking about brands we actively engage with; the problem of how we identify, understand and brilliantly engage consumers who are cold prospects seems daunting. There is hope.

A recent trip to New York showed me that sometimes, difficult change is not quite as difficult as we perhaps thought it would be.  For a country who loved their big, fuel-hungry cars, it was fantastic to see the vast majority of the sea of yellow taxis now hybrid fuel cars! That’s a mind-shift and a big change. And it doesn’t stop there! While I wrestled with ATMs and my ‘world’s local bank’ who forgot I am a regular traveller, eventually armed with a fist full of dollars, I sat in a cab with a credit card machine; every New York City cab has one and they work brilliantly. By comparison, yesterday a London cabbie told me he reckoned one in five London cabs boasted a card machine. Slow progress compared to the Big Apple where it seems, there is more of a will to find a way at least when it comes to saving the planet and convenience for taxi users.

Given the triumphant breakthroughs of space travel, penicillin, smartphones, hybrid taxis and sliced bread, what can we as marketers hope to do to excite consumers; what can we do to ensure customers get a consistent experience across all channels, devices and media and what can we do to ensure prospects discover us, like us and ultimately want us? From a consumer’s point of view it might look like this.

You may be a fairly frequent flyer who would love just the occasional upgrade but never seem to get it with the airline you use most regularly. You may be someone who craves the latest gadget. You may be someone who has always come close to buying a certain brand of car but has always stayed loyal to the brand your father drove. With brilliant, data-driven marketing, you may now be enjoying lounge access despite a coach/ economy seat with an airline that used data to understand your lifetime potential to them. You may have thought you would have to wait until the price came down on your new gadget but are now using it happily to tell all your friends on social media what a brilliant offer you got out of the blue from a brand they must try. And, you may now be driving around, with a big smile on your face in a car you love, having been bowled over by the slick communications and joined-up experience of the brand that always tempted you.

Can we get to a position where we, as simple everyday consumers, can reasonably anticipate not just good joined-up customer service and upsell communications, but brilliant marketing from other brands, across all channels media and devices, giving us offers that really matter to us? I think we can and I think we can start today.

We, as marketers, will never be able to know the consumers’ every whim and wish; we don’t want to! But if we as marketers can build that consumer trust, by using data wisely and using it well, we can prove to consumers there is value in allowing their data to drive marketing that matters to them. Success could be as simple as people viewing just one more ad or communication a day as being more relevant to them today than it was yesterday.  Brands must start now, if they haven’t already, because, those who get it right, those who delight, inspire and seduce consumers across these channels and devices will win the hearts, minds and wallets of everyday people like you and me. And we know how demanding we’re becoming. Right?

I claimed the future is here now, today. I believe it is. As we aim to build consumer trust in our ability to deliver value through better data-driven marketing, as we build in them the anticipation of a better more personalised offer from a brand that really understands them and values their custom, the biggest challenge to fix, is being able to bridge the gap between the online or digital worlds, and the offline or CRM worlds. The latter is insight-rich but isolated, it cannot bring that deep customer knowledge onto the ‘high-seas’ that is the digital world. Conversely, the digital space is insight-light, at least relatively speaking, with the vast majority of personalisation coming through management of personas or cookies. It has great reach and immediacy but is lacking in insight and personalisation. If we can bring the two together, we can deliver breakthrough results. CRM databases answer the CRM challenge while DMPs are stepping up to the digital plate. However, it is an audience platform, like Acxiom’s Audience Operating System (AOS) that bridges both worlds, to enable true 1:1 marketing across all channels, media and devices at scale. Importantly, that future vision is here now and brands that make the most of it will begin to solve the biggest challenge facing marketers today.

As a marketer, my passion is that we double our efforts in building that consumer anticipation of great marketing and great customer experiences by delivering better marketing today. It is this that drives trust in our wise use of data for their benefit. While it seems sliced bread remains the breakthrough that’s impressed us most over the years, perhaps soon consumers will compare our breakthrough abilities to recognise, understand, engage and delight them, not perhaps against so lofty an accomplishment as sliced bread, but possibly pasteurised milk or the internal combustion engine; maybe, just maybe!