Customer experience wins the day at Seattle Interactive 2019

Article by Ekta Dokania
Video by Thomas Chengxi Zou

A 2013 Walker Study predicted that by the year 2020, experience will overtake price and product as key brand differentiators.

At the Seattle Interactive Conference 2019 earlier this month, many marketing teams, including a few led by Comm Lead alumni, shared innovative initiatives that were guided by customer experience.

Take REI for example. In the age of digital and social media, they came out with a new print magazine, Uncommon Path, so their customers can switch off from gadgets and enjoy reading about outdoors — when they are outdoors.

“We are getting around the corner of folks leaning on social media, leaning on mass market communications, and trying to spray and pray their products… and getting to more targeted, nuanced, specialized messages and communication channels,” explained Paolo Mottola, director of content and media at REI, who was recently awarded the 2019 Communication Leader award.

“At REI, we launched a podcast show that’s called Camp Monsters which is all about tall tales and lore set to fireside,” he continued. “That’s not what our campaign is, in the commercial sense, right? That’s reaching people with content that we think they just want to consume. We are really differentiating what we have to offer folks, to reach them the way they want to be reached, with the stories that they care about.”

Building walls around your culture doesn’t work. Consumers are more and more interested in disclosure.

Joel Ballezza, content marketing strategist for BECU (and Comm Lead alumni) themed his talk “Just Let Go.” According to Ballezza, building walls around your culture doesn’t work. Consumers are more and more interested in disclosure. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, we’re growing so wary of false marketing and spin that everyday employees are trusted more than the top executives at the brand that they work for.

“In a time when everyone carries a smartphone in their pockets, organizations like BECU are embracing this change by empowering their employees to compliantly tell their story as professionals, to attract talent, and also to attract new customers and members for the credit union,” Ballezza said.

As a new cohort in Comm Lead is going through their first class, Ballezza remembered his first class in Comm Lead, all the way back in 2005.

“Dr. [Tuen-yu] Lau, [former director of Comm Lead], said, ‘This program is about the right message to the right person at the right time.’ And this was before YouTube took off. It’s only now that people are realizing the capability to deliver those messages in a granular manner.”

Indeed, all the sessions at SIC were in some or the other form about delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. The ability to record and analyze huge amounts of customer data has enabled marketers to create hyper-focused, personalized campaigns.

“One of the biggest changes I have seen at the Seattle Interactive Conference is that earlier, ‘creatives’ used to be the mystery that… was most fascinating for marketing,” commented Eddie Rehfeldt, executive creative consultant for Flip Creative Group and a brand new Comm Lead faculty. “But now we’ve seen a total shift towards data. There are more discussions around how that data can be used in a variety of ways.”

Personalization is a big opportunity for marketers to focus on each customer individually and create an experience that they want. In the panel discussion titled “Great Data Personalization = Great Digital Experience,” Jordan Barr, senior manager for loyalty strategy at Expedia, talked about this trend, and how customers crave personalization and have come to expect it from brands. They are okay with sharing their information if it helps improve the brand experience.

When asked about what’s next in personalization, Anna Marie Tallariti, marketing manager (media) at Starbucks predicted that the next level of personalization will be in the home, with the smart home technologies changing the way families interact.

Smart home technologies, specifically for audio, are what excites our Comm Lead alum Ross Reynolds as well.

“A couple of years ago we started noticing the incredible growth of smart speakers in people’s homes. And immediately we started to think about how can we get audio to recognize some of the products that we do for radio,” Reynolds shared. “If you ask Google for something about Amazon, will it find the audio material we have, rather than always go to the print material? As a public radio station, our goal is to serve and inform the public and create an informed public. Whether we can figure out how to implement the technology usefully for our listeners is the big challenge.”

“Marketers need to stop worrying so much about tactics and pivot back to ‘what’s your story?’

Ryan Brown, head of brand strategy at Ceros in his talk on “IRL vs URL: the ROI of Memorable Digital Experiences” said that ‘experience’ is an overused buzzword. Since everything is an experience, it’s worth considering what it means for a marketer. Even though everything we do can be defined as an experience, we only remember moments that were really good or really bad.

Brown referenced the Ted Talk by Daniel Kahneman about the ‘Peak End Rule’ and suggested that marketers focus intentionally on designing peaks along the customer journey. According to him, ninety percent of digital content is mediocre — neither really good or really bad. To create memorable experiences, marketers need to prioritize creativity and experience.

“Every time technology injects itself into marketing people get very excited,” Ballezza observed. “Marketers need to stop worrying so much about tactics and pivot back to ‘what’s your story?’ — I’d say that’s more important now than ever before.”

Alex StonehillCustomer experience wins the day at Seattle Interactive 2019
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