Businesses Going Online but Staying Personal

The BMW CE 04 Vagabund Moto Concept is aimed at trendy urban commuters. Picture: Supplied

Traditional commerce channels are undergoing significant transformation, driven by advancements in technology and changing consumer behaviour.

Owing to the rise of e-commerce, customers now have access to a vast array of products and services at their fingertips, demanding seamless experiences that go beyond mere transactions.

This shift is prompting businesses to explore more unconventional and imaginative strategies to distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace.

Part of the new approach is using better creative solutions to foster personalised experience.

By leveraging algorithms, businesses can deliver customised product offerings, promotions and ads, enhancing the relevance and value of their interactions with customers.

With that in mind, VMLY&R South Africa has launched a unit designed to deliver creativity that it claims will inspire conversion in the moment, regardless of channel.

Global CEO Beth Ann Kaminkow tells the FM that commerce channels hold untapped potential to deliver memorable customer experiences and sales impact by being able to curate the customer’s entire digital purchase journey.

“Whenever we have better data and abilities to segment in ways that are different [to] traditional demographics or psychographics, we can deliver more personalised messages at the right time.”

Charlie Stewart, CEO of the Rogerwilco agency, agrees that personalisation is critical: “We consistently see that the best experiences are relatable ones where the brand comes down from its ivory tower and engages with the customer at a human level. And while creativity plays a crucial role in creating the initial engagement, consistency is key to the experience and to locking the customer into repeat purchase behaviour.

“The adage that people buy from people has never been truer, and as brands invest more in tech to gather data, speed up processes or cut costs, they can run the risk of losing the very thing they are trying to gain, human-to-human engagement.”

VMLY&R Commerce South Africa’s approach is to combine data and technology to build a unified view of the consumer journey. The new unit launches with two new clients, Cipla and Renault.

Part of the problem is that South Africa is not yet an entirely digital-first market, so it needs to find creative solutions that bridge the gap between offline and online commerce channels.

Kaminkow agrees that in the short term this will be a challenge. “Brands need the same amount of data to know the consumer across both of those channels and to recognise it is the same person they are talking to. Paramount is having a consumer-centric view so we can think as much as we can about what the consumer is doing, how they are living their lives and where we can meet them.”

Stewart says personalisation needs to be created through the entire customer value chain. “In our most recent ‘South African Digital Customer Experience’ report, which polled over 2,000 consumers to understand their likes and dislikes about brand experience, many cited the interaction they have with delivery drivers — often the only physical interaction they have with a brand in this new digital world — as being the peak moment. So if you are trading online, remember that the experience goes beyond the banner ad, beyond the web-user experience and really manifests itself in the face-to-face moment when the goods arrive.”

Kaminkow says it is critical that brands attempt to understand the point, or points, of contact that matter most in the lives of consumers and then leverage the opportunity for driving transaction or conversion. This must be done, she says, with the least amount of friction or interruption and in the shortest time possible.

Stewart says augmented or virtual reality is becoming increasingly important in this respect, but there are caveats.

“While this technology can help customers visualise products in their own environment, increasing purchase and reducing the likelihood of returns, it is expensive tech to implement and in a South African landscape, where marketing budgets are under so much pressure, we are simply not seeing brands make this type of investment.

“Though our research suggests more than 80% of us are shopping online, or using digital [platforms] for research and discovery, the revenue numbers do not translate into the scale that brands in the US or Europe can leverage to realise a decent return. That said, a brave retailer willing to focus on long-term brand building [rather than] a quick hit-and-run performance campaign could embrace tech to create memorable recall that will pay off in time.”

Creative solutions are also reshaping customer support and post-purchase services. Chatbots and virtual assistants, powered by natural language processing, are revolutionising the way businesses manage customer inquiries and complaints. These intelligent systems provide instant and accurate responses, reducing waiting times and enhancing overall customer satisfaction.

Additionally, proactive post-purchase services, such as personalised recommendations, timely order updates and trouble-free returns, are being implemented to exceed customer expectations and build long-term loyalty.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.