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Walmart, Unilever and RBC map the new customer journeys

Marketing leaders explain how they're shaping online and offline experiences

Even for someone as digitally-savvy as Karla Congson, it seemed like a puzzling comment: “We need to move from a Siri-like experience,” a colleague suggested to her recently, “to a Google Now-like experience.”

The CMO for Dundee Corp. said she wasn’t sure that made sense. After all, Apple has made a considerable investment in the automated assistant that helps its iPhone customers. Siri almost seems like a pop-culture staple compared to Google Now. Yet, as she kicked off an executive panel discussion on new customer journeys at Dx3 last week, Congson explained the critical difference:

“Siri will respond accurately to a question or request that you give it,” she said. “Google Now uses the information (but also) past behaviour, context, market influences, creates a predictive assumption and feeds you value it thinks you will get from that experience.”

As Kongson pointed out, the challenge is not for every brand to create their own Google Now. The challenge is to develop a marketing strategy that behaves like Goolge Now and executes it across not merely smartphones but any other consumer touchpoint. Kongson summed it up by suggesting the experiences marketing leaders shape must be intuitive, invisible and intelligent.

Match Budgets To Personas

To some extent, a service like Google Now is doing something marketing departments are already familiar with: building up – and constantly rewriting – a persona of the audience it’s serving. Even for a brand as large and as pervasive as Walmart, the same principle applies.

“There was a time when we would have said every Canadian was our customer,” Sandra Sanderson, executive vice-president of Walmart Canada told the Dx3 panel. However about a year ago the retailer made a specific decision to focus on women with young families. It’s a customer in a life stage that the company can understand in great detail, including the pressures they face. For example, Sanderson suggested Walmart’s target audience is dealing with three “budgets”: one related to money, one related to time and one related to effort.

“All three of those budgets get squeezed when that first baby enters your life,” she said, adding that Walmart builds upon offering everyday low prices by creating experiences that help with the other two areas. This includes the ability to order online, of course, but also to offer the ability to pick up orders at a time and location that’s most convenient for customers, like a locker at 7-11. Online grocery shopping and delivery is another example.

“I did that last week and I got my groceries in three minutes,” Sanderson said.

Look For Parallel Demographic Trends

Women with young families is obviously a specific target, but some experiences can and should be designed with multiple demographics in mind. Like every other brand out there, for instance, RBC Financial Group is interested in Millennials, but what matters to those younger customers isn’t necessarily unique to that age segment.

“Millennials can be very similar with veterans in terms of their concern for financial comfort,” said Elfreda Pitt Hetherington, the bank’s head of applied innovation. “They’re quite conservative because of what they’ve seen their parents go through during periods of economic difficulty.”

Pitt Hetherington and her team take that kind of insight to better understand the sorts of experiences that will grow affinity with RBC among many different parts of the population and across various touch points. The notion of “omni-channel,” however, may still require some definition.

“It’s not just e-commerce but how to connect from pre-shop to the shop, regardless of where that is, and the post-shop of expressing that experience,” suggested Jessica Grigoriou, marketing director with Unilever.

Of course, working across those various channels still requires some tough decisions. Grigoriou says Unilver often describes its approach as the 70/20/10 rule. The 70 represents the percentage of “bedrock” channels where customers spend most of their time today, such as a web site or Facebook. The 10% represents new avenues for connecting with customers, while the company tries to spend 20% of its time optimizing what it’s learned in that 10% category.

“It’s still really important to innovate within that 70%, though,” she added. An example was YouTube, where Unilever discovered that 40% of searches for videos within its target audience were for hairstyling tutorials. This led to the All Things Hair channel Unilever launched as a result.

The quest to understand customer journeys will take time, but it will also spell major changes within marketing departments, predicted Deborah Hall, who is trying to create a sort of “Bloomberg for brand data” at a startup called Dive Networks.

“That idea of the creative department and the analytics department, all those things are coming together,” she said. “In that sense, there’s no better time to be working in marketing.”

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