Marketers seeking to sprint out of the recession need to become multichannel-friendly and completely consumer-focused, and get over themselves. The need to construct data-rich profiles of customers, personalize responses to their needs and smartly play in their social, mobile digital sandbox are themes that resonated in the opening-day keynote addresses and discussions at Forrester Research's annual Consumer Forum in Chicago Tuesday.
"Consumers are focused on their needs, not on your channels," Henry Harteveldt, Forrester vp and principal analyst, warned in the opening keynote.
Basic information, transactions (from signing up for email alerts to buying products), and providing assistance must be interactive and real-time across all possible devices -- from smartphones and other mobile data devices to PCs and televisions.
Sadly, too few companies are embracing multichannel strategies to improve their recession-strained consumer relations and sales, although many say that developing digital channels is a top 2010 investment priority. Less than one-third of companies recently surveyed by Forrester said they want or can provide a consistent cross-channel experience. The other two-thirds cite budget, staff and technology constraints as reasons why they cannot.
But even companies testing the waters are quickly falling behind the 80% of Americans online -- three-quarters of whom have broadband, because they have not added mobile or social network strategies to their marketing mix.
"Mobile will become the center of your digital channel relationships," Harteveldt said, pointing to 36% of smartphone users who access the Web daily from their devices. One in four use the device to research products they will buy either online or offline. The heavy lifting needed to become an effective multichannel marketer often involves eliminating silo operations; aggregating, analyzing and acting on consumer-profile data from across the company; and integrating online and offline consumer marketing, sales and service.
For some, that complete overhaul also means viewing everything about marketing and customer service through the eyes of consumers. Some 13% of consumers surveyed by Forrester say the ads they see are not relevant to their wants and needs.
Some companies have accepted the extensive transformation challenge that can take several years to execute but immediately yield cost savings and increased revenues.
Hewlett-Packard saved $1 billion as a result of a three-year process of aggregating 750 customer databases across all of its international operations. Employees now analyze, share and act on the massive data bank to customize service and products across 2 billion annual customer interactions in 117 countries.
Creating and leveraging functional customer intelligence is the difference between giving customers what you presume they want and what they actually need, explained Hewlett-Packard vp Prasanna Dhore. The company also has extended its "social media 101" efforts to ask consumers to design products.
"Once we know what they want, we can deal with it on their terms," Dhore said.
Bob Kraut, Pizza Hut vp of marketing communications, said the company has tapped the entrepreneurial spirit of its own in-house teams and its agency, imc2, to create progressive interactive mobile applications (such as placing customized pizza orders) and social network participation (with inexpensive professional and consumer-produced viral videos).
In a grab for young male consumers, Pizza Hut is using social media and mobile connected devices to partner with Electronic Arts Sports and other video game companies, fight night and films such as Terminator 4.
Kraut said the company's willingness to experiment has been driven by the fact that its key consumers socialize, play, buy and generally exist online.
Forrester reports that online captured 29% of consumers' reported general merchandise retail spending in the second quarter of 2009. Half of all online Americans participate in social networks, a number that has increased 46% in the past year.
Still missing from the transformation equation are the measurement systems and metrics needed to assess the effectiveness of multichannel approaches. There are no sure ROI formulas for interactive consumer relevance and engagement. Still, it is imperative to "measure customers' total value and profitability -- not just their individual action or transaction," Harteveldt said. "This is all about getting the customer to say yes."