There is ample proof of that role in history and particularly in the recent history of innovative technology. We have come a long way from the first personal computers in the 1980s to the impact of Quantum Computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and immersive experience enhancement through Augmented and Virtual Reality. While some innovations become incidental and integral to our day-to-day, others can directly benefit marketing, communication and brand-related work. Let’s take a closer look at that relationship.
The Internet, social media and mobile devices have massively changed our lives. In this digital world, credibility and trust have become the most valuable currency in public relations and marketing - with recommendations crucial to decisions. That is particularly true for purchases. Research shows how strongly consumers trust peer/online recommendations (84%, 2016) and are influenced by positive reviews (74%, 2016). Consumer forums like Yelp, Reddit or review-focused groups on Facebook or LinkedIn have become regular destinations as part of pre-purchase research.
Corporate websites have also evolved into trusted sources of information. The 2019 EDELMAN TRUST BAROMETER showed that consumers expect brands to take a role and responsibility in public debates. Nike did that responding to the 2020 death of George Floyd in the US using their brand claim in a unique way: "For once - Just don't do it". Tommy Hilfiger is another good example, collaborating with FutureLearn and running a campaign called "Moving Forward Together" to support social initiatives. Or think of Levis taking a stand about the ban of gay leaders in the Boy Scout organisation.
The reviews and recommendations online provide a growing stack of customer-related data - an effective tool for driving reach, awareness, leads and conversion. This can help us improve and shape content, platforms, activities, and campaigns.
However, on a regulatory level, marketers and communicators are facing a new challenge. Data privacy regulations have led to a massive change in the toolkit of digital marketing and experts predict a significant difference in the performance marketing landscape and a shift to more contextual research and organic growth factors, to avoid straying into what could be conceived as manipulative marketing.
The debate here centres around how brands use data and insights. As all marketing aims to convince customers to buy a product or use a specific offer, one could call that manipulative. However, it could also be argued that wanting to convince someone of something is the same intention that drives consumer-based recommendation platforms. The difference between helpful information and manipulation perhaps depends on the consumers' experience with a brand, a product or a campaign and the level of trust that exists.
In reality, customer-centric marketing and communication must combine to create an intelligent storytelling strategy. While data offers the necessary information to evaluate, refine and adjust, content and context should always be at the very core of that strategy. Journalism can be a model for an effective outcome - a journalist wants to offer relevant, fact-based, authentic, beneficial and trustworthy information to their reader. Thinking in this way helps develop a role as a trusted source in customers' research process and cements a brand as a credible source of information within a community. Do this right and you can also drive communication in influencer and community marketing.
Remember a brand's customer support team are invaluable. Marketers and communicators are advised to establish an ongoing exchange with all the company's customer-facing teams. Firsthand customer conversation is a rich source of feedback and a good indicator of potential issues or even crises. It is also an often-underestimated opportunity to discover ways to enhance the customer experience and relationship.
Technology plays a part here too, of course. The wealth of contacts and customer interaction needs technology-supported communication such as intelligent community bots on social media channels, automated newsletter registration and distribution, careful management of your customer relationship, and privacy regulations. As complexity across these relationships increase, the right technology is crucial for them to flourish.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true. While technology may have changed our ways of working, some principles of customer relationships don’t change. We experience that every day when shopping: a direct, supportive, and credible conversation helps to close the deal. Customer experience is a very individual mix of expectation, perception, satisfaction and, sometimes, that distinct difference that makes the experience stand out – for the good or the bad. It is essential to learn as much as possible about your customer (through data) to then decide the best way to approach (through storytelling) the specific needs and expectations. The 'art of marketing’ in the digital age is to activate traditional sales skills in a new technology-supported environment.