The overnight shift towards E-Everything. Do you feel exposed?

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The more time we spend in lockdown, the more people are starting to realise that COVID-19 was not a cataclysm for the business world – it was a catalyst of change, an occasion to adapt or die and accelerate innovation for those ready to embrace it.

While there are some brands and companies who have largely benefitted from this overnight shift to digital, others realised the time is now to innovate their digital strategies, adopting a new mindset they had been postponing for years.

We've had a chat with Cognifide lead consultant for digital strategy Florian Diem, to explore the ways in which brands and businesses can embrace this "overnight shift towards E-Everything".


Photo by GraphixStory

The overnight shift towards E-Everything

If the UK lockdown has taught us anything so far, it’s that people are cherishing their contact with the outside world through digital connections like never. We’re being reminded of what’s important – and one of those is to stay in touch whether it’s with our loved ones, colleagues, clients or our favourite coffee shop down the street.

Almost overnight our workplaces, our socialising, our learning, leisure time and our food shopping are all being conducted online. And it’s highlighted to brands the importance of how they interact with and provide experiences to their customers in a shift to an E-Everything world.

While certain companies have greatly benefitted from the increased time people spend at home and that were ready by inception for this new situation (e.g. Amazon, Zoom, Shopify), this crisis has also exposed a lot of companies and their lack of real investment into relevant digital channels. This doesn’t just apply to the family-run shops that can no longer rely on customers visiting their store, even large established retailers with existing eCommerce infrastructure such as JC Pennies, Aldo Group and Debenhams have filed for bankruptcy in recent weeks.

But is it all doom and gloom? Is this crisis really changing everything? 

There is a lively debate in the industry now and many argue that this crisis is not a catalyst of sudden, tectonic change but rather acts as an accelerator of an inevitable evolution that would have hit certain companies and industries anyway. It’s not the first occasion in our modern times that a crisis has exposed shortcomings of certain companies and elevated other companies that went into the crisis better prepared and with a better long-term vision and strategy.

Research by Millward Brown echoes this and has found that following times of crisis such as the 2008 financial crash, strong brands who kept up their recognition and visibility in a turbulent market recovered nine times faster than those who hunkered down. This is a strong indicator that times of crisis do call for strategic investments into building and deepening customer relationships (for those who can) rather than just cutting budgets while battling for survival. 

As well as maintaining current market share and identifying acquisition opportunities, there’s also a unique situation taking place, where brands have an opportunity to understand their customers on a deeper, more personal level and build relevance off the back of that to meet their business objectives and leapfrog the competition. 

One way to look at it is to identify those companies that have been striving and delivering above average value for both their customers and shareholders following the previous financial crisis and that continue to strive during this crisis. Two key aspects that are hardly to dismiss are that these companies have made it their mission to understand their customers better than their competition and put the overall experience that their customers have, when engaging with the brand, at the heart of their company strategy.

A personalised email subject line trying to express empathy “in these unprecedented times” is not enough

So, what has been right in the past, still seems to be right in times of this crisis. Strategic investments into the right technical and operational capacities that will allow you to better understand your customers and to then effectively use these insights to deliver above average customer experiences across all relevant digital channels are the way to go.


Photo by Radley Yeldar

Start with a better understanding of your customers

No! A personalised email subject line trying to express empathy “in these unprecedented times” is not enough. It may sound obvious, but brands need to begin to really understand all relevant channels across all steps along the customer journey and identify moments of friction/delight within existing channels.

Next, businesses need to define what they are trying to achieve with their customer interactions. For example, are they trying to attract new customers, or engage with existing ones further in order to upsell and increase customer lifetime value (CLV)? 

Begin piecing together the data jigsaw

The first goal for brands should be to aggregate the data they have on their customers in one location which is both clean and accessible. This may be facilitated through a customer data platform (CDP), which is a marketer-managed system that creates a persistent, unified customer database accessible to other marketing systems. It’s a single, centralised platform, logging all customer interactions – be it a phone call, event attendance, or a download of reading material. 

Pulling together customer data into one place allows you to begin building customer profiles and mapping out how you may personalise experiences to different subsets of customers in the future.

Having more data on customers, that they have approved you to use, will make future experiences with them more relevant. Brands therefore need to create reasons to make people engage and offer a fair exchange for customers to part with their data.

Use data to inform creation of customer experiences 

Digital experience platforms (DXPs) can then allow you to use that single customer view to enhance future interactions by making all that data actionable and operational. With actionable data in place, brands now need to consider how they’re going to provide exceptional digital experiences that are relevant, agile and updatable.

Content is still king, and the appetite for more personalised content is only growing. Once upon a time, it was enough to build a site that offered a product catalogue, a shopping basket and a few pages of static inspirational content. Now, you need to manage content consistently across all touchpoints and to be ready to offer transactional capabilities at whatever moment makes sense to your customers.

Technology savvy marketers, with the help of modern software and applications, can create better narratives for their customers by using their data in the right way.

Remember that in-depth investment is for the long term

Brands need to understand that success is unlikely to come overnight. Investment into technologies such as CDPs and DXPs are for the long-term, and ROI may not be seen for a couple of months, even years.

After you’ve made investment in the technology, it’s important to set the individuals working with the technology up for success. It’s not enough to simply invest in a shiny new piece of technology. The organisation and shareholders must be open to changing the way it works to make the most of those investments, and this mindset change will help to set the business up for success in the long term.

These are the essential pieces to a puzzle that will allow businesses to put the right technical and operational capabilities in place to not only to be better prepared for the next crisis that the world will face post COVID-19, but it will also strengthen the foundation of these businesses to make them future-ready – a future in which data and customer experience are the only real corporate asset that matters.


Florian Diem is lead consultant for digital strategy at Cognifide. Header image: Pierre Plouzeau.


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