Rip Up Your Rule Book – Futurism & eCommerce

June 20, 2018

“We want no part of it, the past” – Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Single customer journey, frictionless customer experiences. Changing product centric strategies to customer centric ones. We’ve all heard it – your customer should be front and centre of your marketing strategies.

Peeling back the veneer on these concepts often cause the cracks in many businesses to appear. To be successful, to drive change and challenge the status quo often means ripping up the brand rule book on marketing in e-commerce and rebuilding it from scratch. If only it were ever that simple.

To distil the myriad of factors, influences, challenges and opportunities within a short form article is always going to leave many questions unanswered. This is an attempt to show you why as a brand, you can’t just look to the next fiscal year. You need to have five, ten, even fifteen-year strategies. You need to think about R&D investment and always try to be one step ahead. Ideas born out of this should be championed and protected from knee-jerk financial mechanics that often cut short many a well-intended marketing plan.

The rapid acceleration of the online marketplace

We are spoilt with an overabundance of choice in our consumerist quest and it’s this noise that often throws brands off balance. I’m party to it as much as anyone. Why buy from brand x when I can go to a multi-brand reseller and get it for a cheaper price with free P&P, with some other brands I like the look of and some of the multi-brand resellers product thrown in for good measure. And I can return it all free of charge if it doesn’t fit? 

You get the picture. It’s hard to protect your brand and get across a message with an increasing number of interactions like the above. 

The challenge for most businesses, shackled by burgeoned methods of working in a constantly evolving ecommerce environment is actioning something “transformational”, somehow, for that elusive someone. The customer who is apparently never quite happy enough with their shopping experience. It apparently demands us to be ever reactive to the fickle marketplace – and that’s not always informative.

Preface this with the following. The practicality of “action” is ultimately often cyclical, iterative at best. We take, we make something slightly different, we look at the data, we improve it.

Even if we can measure what “success” could or even should look like, paths are not always accurately linked and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy is pursued. Data analytics and machine learning are fantastic resources to enable change, based on quantitative learning. But ultimately your data is only ever going to be as good as your architecture (or how much you can afford), and rarely combining the qualitative accurately enough to ensure the right brand narrative is pursued.

A lot of challenges already? Right. Then let us take the dangerous and unpredictable element. The customer.

What is brand loyalty these days anyway?

Because of this rapid acceleration, brands are finding it harder than ever to communicate a clear and concise message because of their customers. The abundance of choice and accessibility to the marketplace, typical methods of engagement are rarely surfaced in the traditional sense. Methods of communication have evolved – we have VOD, YouTube, platforms for music streaming, with paid subscriptions. TV is now often to be absorbed on Netflix rather than tuning in for a TV show. We have ad blindness, ad blockers, concerns about data privacy. Coupled to this, consumerism too is evolving exceptionally quickly – old methods of purchase are dying out and ecommerce is Pandora’s Box.

Age too plays its part as well. OFCOM, the UK’s communications regulator, published their annual report in 2017 highlighting ages 4-24 years old are watching a third less TV on traditional sets than in 2010, as the shift to digital viewing and subscription services increase.  We no longer consume content as we did, and many publishers are also turning to subscriptions to add value, at the cost of inventory. The gap between young and old is widening – the question is who are many brands building their future for and how?

The 4P’s of innovation – process, product, position and paradigm

Digital marketing and e-commerce is built within systems controlled by core companies – the Google’s, Apple’s, Amazon’s, and Microsoft’s of the world. These goliaths allow us to inhabit their structures, but always with siloed set boundaries.

Product, process and paradigm to an extent can be controlled in the digital space by a brand. Position, digitally speaking, is stuck within a sub-architecture, or platform. This is where our parameters become a potential threat. Innovation is often collective, and driven by key players within the market, thus challenging those unable to do so to just thrive with a generalist approach or risk delivering a unique, bespoke solution, that may be more costly and quickly outdated if misaligned to the market.

Thus, we all have a need for all these platforms because they are enablers, but they also take us into a prison of technology we rarely now escape from.

So, couple a fickle consumer, changing methods of consumption, economic measures and an architecture that is generally designed by external parties – it becomes a tough crowd.

Modes of transport: getting from A to B without queues

Data architecture, is integral to building a sustainable model for the future. It needs to be forward thinking and regularly refreshed to ensure parity or superiority with those brands pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with data management, storage and processing. It’s far from sexy, but it underpins everything we do as digital marketers. Seamless experiences on site mean more sales. Better customisation means identifying patterns in behaviour. Updating your core code is as vital, but perhaps not as glamorous as the next ad campaign. That said, developers have never been in such demand as now – that’s incredibly important within a context of declining investment in educating students in computer science. What’s the future look like here? Well, where there’s demand, usually there is a supply.

As humans, we are genetically programmed to take joy in narrative, in storytelling. It’s the hardest task to influence and be the most loved in a space full of abundance. Once you have that connection, it relies on a constant dialogue, often driven in the digital space. You want customers to be loyal advocates of your brand. 

Creativity and technology is a dialogue. They are not distinct, they are there to speak collectively to your customer. If you can innovate within that dialogue cohesively then you are one step closer to future proofing your brand.  

What does it all actually mean?

Ultimately, as digital marketers, we need to accept our own limitations. We all have parameters defined before they begin – it’s not as easy as forgetting the past. For brands there can be control over the future but ultimately more risk associated. That’s a good thing.

Collectively, we should ensure we never rest on our laurels and act to educate and inform the process of building a better and more agile brand proposition. Not just through data, but also through dialogue.

Too often it becomes apparent that higher agendas stifle that desire to innovate – questioning the very modes and methods of operation which has delivered to date, suggests a weakness or even ignorance of the potential. That can be dangerous.

We should be tapping into the opportunities within our data architecture and creative branding – playing to our strengths. The very best work and the very best teams always are achieved working collaboratively, with a reciprocal relationship. 

We can all present numbers, but we often seem to forget about the people. We should never be viewing digital as just data. 

Meg O'Connor
Kim Brown
Matt Boland
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