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Tracking the Customer Experience: An IBM Roundtable Discussion

by: Brian Moran (@brianmoran)
12 August 2016

I recently had the privilege of moderating a roundtable discussion with some of London’s top business influencers at an event hosted by IBM. Our discussion centered on the future of marketing and ecommerce as it relates to the customer experience. The influencers included:

With a diverse group, the conversation zig-zagged between B2B and B2C and highlighted the differences between targeting the two audiences. Below are some key discussion topics from the event:

1) Is Loyalty Dead?

Most influencers agreed that consumer behavior has changed dramatically and that loyalty isn’t a given anymore. With unprecedented access to information, consumers and companies can compare their purchases and business relationships with what others are getting from the same company. This “forced transparency” is changing the approach marketers take to their loyalty programs.

There was significant discussion about marketers tapping into unconscious demand and the psychological interests of consumers rather than focusing on rewarding them through loyalty programs. One exception to the loyalty rule was professional sports teams, which still seem to enjoy unconditional loyalty from fans.

Trust was a common thread in the discussion, and there was a consensus that a brand’s value proposition is only as good as the level of trust it has with its customers.

2) Automation vs. Personalization

Another important discussion focused on automation versus personalization as tools to scale marketing campaigns. Concerns were raised about weakening relationships with consumers by automating the purchasing and customer service processes. As one influencer stated, “Good technology should be indistinguishable from magic.” Many brands today are increasing social media activity and auto-responding to keywords, but often this is out of context and not true personalization.

The challenge for retailers and other B2C companies is maintaining relevant personalization in real time. The ultimate goal for B2C marketers is having the ability to deliver the right message to the right consumers at the right time that results in them taking immediate action. Automation can provide scale in a cost-efficient manner, but personalization maintains a strong bond with customers. Other notable comments from personalization versus automation:

  • Marketers have to meet customers where they are on their own journey (personalization)
  • Sometimes people want to talk to machines rather than other people for mundane things (automation)
  • Brands have personalities and should consider connecting on social media as humans rather than using keyword-based responses (personalization)

3) Harnessing Big Data

The third major topic of our roundtable discussion was the role big data is playing in marketing and ecommerce. Some influencers believe big data is transient and changes daily. They were concerned that marketers are putting too much emphasis on past results to predict the future while lessening the role of human data interpretation. It would behoove marketers to uncover any/all counter-intuitive factors about their clients that competitors don't know.

4) Storytelling and Consumer Psychology

Good stories sell products, and marketers have always been good at storytelling. They cannot lose sight of the importance of storytelling as it relates to sales and marketing. Otherwise, how can they expect customers to understand them? As one influencer noted in making a claim for automating the marketing process, “The use of technology frees time for good storytelling.”

The emphasis on the consumer psychology behind storytelling is just as important as the stories themselves. The things that surprise and delight people are often slightly pointless and delight the unconscious rather than the conscious mind. Uber car service was used as an example of successfully winning the minds of consumers: “We don't mind waiting as long as it’s not under conditions of uncertainty (i.e., we can watch/track our Uber car on a map). In addition, we don't mind payment as long as the process is easy, thus reducing the perceived price.”

The event ended with all influencers agreeing that we simply scratched the surface on the future of marketing and ecommerce as it relates to tracking the new customer journey. There were distinct differences in B2B versus B2C marketing approaches, and we also agreed to disagree about using automation versus personalization to scale marketing campaigns. I felt fortunate to engage with almost a dozen of the top business influencers in London, and look forward to continuing our discussion.

For more information about IBM Future of Commerce programs and content, please visit and check out the video below:

More on the Customer Experience:

1) White Paper: “Customer Journey Maps and Buyer Personas: The Modern Tool Kit for Marketers

2) Blog: “Emotional Storytelling: How to Make It Happen

3) Marketing Automation Ebook: “Best Practices for Marketing Excellence and Organizational Efficiency


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