Touchpoint Wars

Roz Calder explains why it is critical to build better brand experiences for customers through a plethora of touchpoints

mp-cw-oct16-680xIt is increasingly being said that today’s brands are the sum of consumer experiences, and that marketers are in the business of selling customer journeys, rather than stand-alone products. The problem they face, though, is that very few people are interested in buying into complete, off-the-shelf, predefined customer journeys.

In an era of personalisation, customers want to assemble their own, using the touchpoints of their choosing, for the purposes of their choosing and at moments of their choosing. But if brands are the sum of these autonomous experiences, to what extent can they still be planned, built and managed?

And how can marketers control experiences, when they cannot predict in which context, through which touchpoint and in what order those experiences will take place?

TOUCHPOINTS Here’s how touchpoints overturned planning. Digital technology is revolutionising the role of touchpoints in people’s lives, by exploding the traditional path to purchasing, where a consumer would expect to go through several predetermined steps before buying a product through an established channel, in an established way.

This path to purchase helped organise the marketing division, with the brand, shopper and customer all working through their own set of self-defined touchpoints that seemed exclusive to their part of the process. But this ordered marketing reality has come to an end.

Marketers are surrounded by a swarm of rapidly multiplying touchpoints through which people can interact with their brands, and they can no longer predict which of those touchpoints will be used for which purpose.

Why should a social media platform be used only for customer service or brand engagement, when a ‘Buy now’ button can be added to it? For that matter, why should a store be used solely for buying goods, when forward-thinking brands can build entire, immersive experiences by using them?

People don’t stop having brand experiences merely because they are using an e-commerce platform or walking down a supermarket aisle. And they won’t settle for having one type of brand experience on one channel – like an awareness-raising TV advertisement, or a slice of social media content – and then being forced to migrate to another channel, to complete a purchase.

EXPERIENCES Coherent brand experiences need a unified view of touchpoints. If marketers are to cope with this world, they need to begin by breaking down the silos that exist within their own organisations. Earlier, such silos were a hindrance to creating coherent brand experiences; now, they’re simply untenable.

To do this effectively, they need insight teams and market researchers who can support them with a unified view of touchpoints, themselves. To consumers, a brand interaction is a brand interaction, whether they are trying to buy from that brand, ask it a question or engage with a slice of its content.

Those experiences are unlikely to feel coherent and recognisably branded, if the people planning them have completely different views of the touchpoints where the experiences take place.

THE AUDIENCE Touchpoint planning must begin with the audience. A common view of touchpoints within the marketing division is an essential starting point. But it won’t, in itself, solve the biggest problem that the touchpoint revolution creates for brands.

People expect their brand experiences to be relevant, customised and value-added within the context of the touchpoints where they occur. They also expect each touchpoint to be inherently flexible, to play the role that they want at a given time – e.g. completing a purchase through Twitter or WeChat, or in response to the ad they’ve just watched on Facebook.

How can brands balance this with the need to remain coherent, and differentiate themselves from the other brands that are scrambling to offer every experience at every touchpoint?

Delivering relevant, branded touchpoint experiences becomes much more manageable when marketers clearly understand the needs of the people to whom they are delivering these experiences, and which touchpoints matter most to them. The problem they currently face is that the technology used to reach audiences across digital touchpoints has tended to obscure any meaningful sense of who they’re targeting, and why.

When brands’ use of programmatic is driven primarily by behaviour, it becomes blind to the people with whom they are interacting and the experiences those people may want. Instead, marketers find themselves delivering the same experiences across all touchpoints, driven solely by the last action that people took.

At a time when they need to be increasingly nuanced and responsive, this is the wrong way to go. When brands base their programmatic targeting on digital segmentation, they tend to transform their results. This is because they focus on creating relevant moments with the people who are most likely to buy from them.

mp-cw-oct16-350x1THE JOURNEY Turning autonomous touchpoint experiences into a coherent journey with a brand requires marketers to focus on the element that defines people’s experiences through emotion. It is the emotional connection that brands are able to create consistently with their chosen audiences that bring them their power, as well as influence over immediate, instinctive decision-making and more conscious rationalisations of choices.

When marketers talk about brand consistency, it is the components of their brand that produce these emotional responses on which they need to focus. When understood and managed properly, emotion can run like a consistent thread through the different experiences that a brand weaves for different touchpoints. Consistent emotions deliver consistent brand experiences.

Marketers must match the emotive needs of their target audiences with the emotive meaning their brand represents. They can then plan to deliver relevant touchpoint experiences in a way that connects with this inherent emotive meaning.

For example, Audi retail showrooms are temples of design and technology that consciously echo the brand’s emotive promise. Its Twitter feed is filled with video that is shot in a similarly sophisticated style, and surrounded by text in font colours that reflect the symbolism of the Audi brand and logo.

DIFFERENTIATION Brands that have mastered emotional coherence in this way benefit from an inherent irresistibility among their chosen consumers. And they typically enjoy twice the market share of their competitors.

They are brands to which people are instinctively drawn – and can be chosen with little conscious thought, but whose choice is still a deeply satisfying one that aligns with people’s deeper motivations. They differentiate as if they mean it, and are prepared to have well-defined emotive appeal rejected by some, for it to resonate more strongly with their chosen audiences.

As marketers seek to negotiate a confusing array of touchpoints, to offer consumers the experiences they value, they need to be prepared to differentiate to a similar degree. Competitiveness will increasingly depend on optimising a range of touchpoints for conversion, and enabling people to choose the path to purchase.

However, when all competitive brands offer the option to buy through all channels, it is brand equity that will exert most influence over the choices that consumers make. Building and managing that brand equity is as important now, as it’s ever been.

If they are to succeed, marketers must see touchpoints not merely as an opportunity to deliver the right functions, but also generate the right emotions. In doing so, they can find creative ways to stretch their emotive appeal, and build recognisable brand experiences – no matter which journeys people choose to take.

The writer is a Director of TNS Global