We have all experienced less-than-ideal customer service — the grumpy waiter who ignored your table and treated you as if you were inconveniencing him by being there, or the terse ticket agent who offered no help at all after you spent hours lurching through security. Whether it’s a hounding car salesman or a two-hour wait on the phone for customer service, no one is entirely unscathed.
But if a business is smart, they understand that customer experience is just as important as their product. Think about it: many of the places we choose to frequent are the ones with which we've forged a sense of connection. The pizza place you visit on Friday evenings with your family gives you a sense of routine and shared memories. The happy hour spot after work is a consistent opportunity for you and your coworkers to blow off steam. These places make us feel welcomed, treat us like family, and probably even know our names. They're places we associate with happiness and comfort.
And when a company is especially smart, they will build this experience of connection and comfort into their business model.
The greatest marketing professionals in the game — the best of the best — all share one common trait: a great eye for trends. In the last decade, new technologies have changed the marketing world at a rapid rate, and the best marketers have been ahead of the curve in recognizing the potential to utilize these new platforms. Social media sites have allowed for an increased level of interaction between companies and their customers. Mobile technology created another engaging platform for marketers to utilize. The ever-increasing gathering of and access to “big data” has made comprehensive customer data widely available to companies and their marketing agencies alike.
Given the effect of technological advances on the marketing world, it's no surprise that many of us spend large portions of our time attempting to predict the next big technological shift. While the core principles of marketing are likely to stay the same, the best methods for applying them are rapidly changing due to the influence of new technologies on consumer's lives. In an article for Forbes, Avi Dan, founder of Avidan Strategies, explains it like this (emphasis mine),
“The fundamentals of marketing are always going to be the same, but with the landscape changing at the speed of technology, what matters most now is how one activates the fundamentals.”
This leaves us with a plethora of questions: What's the next trend? How can it be applied? Is it sustainable? What data should be studied? How applicable is this data to specific markets? Are there any definitive answers to these question right now?
I believe there are. Let's take a look at four big trends.
I feel a great deal of pride about the legacy of innovation that the United States features in its history. From Edison and Franklin to the Wright brothers, to Ford and Kroc, and on up through Gates and Jobs, Americans have a long history of inventiveness and entrepreneurship. Our nation has consistently tried different practices, searched for the next great adventure, and looked for solutions to problems both big and small.
When most people think of innovation, they think of revolutionary products — the iPod, the radio, even the lightbulb. The term innovation is often closely tied to tangible products or services that get put into the marketplace and are visible to a variety of consumers. But in order to innovate, we don't always have to create the “next big thing.” Sometimes, innovation is best expressed through finding a creative way to improve your processes. In other words, we might not need a revolutionary product if we have a revolutionary method of delivering or creating that product.
Innovation, in this sense, is the ability to create unique solutions that solve any problems that prevent our product or service from reaching our customers quickly and efficiently. The best examples of this type of innovation? Ray Kroc and Henry Ford.
In marketing, reputation is everything. The way customers view our brands and companies is often the main reason they choose to do business with us. And in the digital age, the personalities of executives and business leaders are integral to their company brands. Think about Apple and Steve Jobs — his public presence helped catapult his company to the top of their market.
Also, consider the coffee shop you always go back to because the service is so friendly and the coffee is so great; or the grocery store you go out of your way to shop at because their products are fresh and the cashiers know your name. It's the people, and their personalities as they intersect with the work that they do, that create your experience of that brand. As business leaders, we set the tone for the personality of our brand, from the boardroom to the stock room to the sales floor (or website — even your online presence should have a personality!).
Because of this, the importance of personal branding for executives and business leaders is at an all-time high. So how should we be marketing ourselves?
Good marketing professionals relentlessly pursue a deeper understanding of their target market. In the office, at lunch, making dinner, and even in the shower, great marketers are constantly attempting to eek out a better understanding of the people who will be buying their products.
However, staying ahead of the ever-changing attitudes and behaviors of the modern market can seem impossible at times. Sometimes, the best strategies are revealed through going back to the fundamentals. Keeping up with trends provides a temporary boost, but a deeper understanding of the principles behind those trends can be enduring.
Many great innovators have heard these words — “It’s not possible…”
In their early stages, ideas for new products or services can seem like fantasies. Skeptical minds judge them on the basis of what exists now, rather than what can or will exist in the near future. They seem impossible.
Daniel Decker, author and leadership consultant, explains this reaction on his blog,
“They [doubters] put you in a box based on what you’ve done before. You’re not capable of what you haven’t already achieved, they think… no one will ever pay you for what they have no idea you can do. It’s not even on their radar.”
When innovation is the goal, our true potential is reached when we begin targeting the “impossible,” when we start reaching for solutions that are not yet on the cultural radar. This visionary mindset helped Pat Haggerty create one of the most quietly influential companies of all-time.