In 2020, retailers throughout the globe were forced to endure some intense (but much needed) growing pains. The businesses who made it through are now stronger, more agile, and better prepared for the unexpected. 

Now we’re wading into 2021. But the landscape is still changing, still evolving. And the last thing you need to help you navigate is another list of hot trends or flimsy crystal ball predictions that, frankly, won’t mean much, and might not come to fruition. 

Instead, you need priorities. And although every business will have their own priorities unique to their specific needs and challenges, here’s two things you must consider in order to accelerate business outcomes this year:

  • Your relationship with customers and how you capture their data
  • How you’ll use data to drive revenue

Customer-Centricity and Customer Data

We’ve reached a tipping point in marketing where customer-centricity is no longer a choice, it’s an obligation. If you aren’t putting the customer front-and-center of everything you do, you simply won’t survive. 

That’s because customers are more discerning than ever. They are more savvy and well-informed than ever, and they are certainly more channel-agnostic than ever. Customers know exactly what they are looking for in a brand experience, and if you can’t deliver the highly personalized experiences they demand (the kind that distinguishes you from competitors in an overcrowded market), they will quickly find a brand that can. 

It’s 2021, and being “customer focused” is a good start, but no longer enough. It’s time to be “customer obsessed.”

Understand Your Relationship With Each Customer

You have a relationship with your customer; that customer has a relationship with you. But the customer is in control of that relationship, not the brand. 

The customer dictates what you can and can’t do. If your customer decides that the relationship is not working out, they will break up with you. It’s not just a one way street anymore.

Understand Your Relationship With Customer Data

One of the most critical parts of customer relationships — particularly now in the wake of regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US, along with Apple’s inclusion of “opt-in for IDFA” in iOS14 — is how you earn consent for using their data, and then securely and effectively manage that data. 

Data is sacred, and consent comes only with a clear value exchange — the strongly-implied or explicit promise that you will provide superior experiences and better personalization.

Brands can’t neglect their role in the relationship with the customer. Understand that they lead the relationship. Disappointing a customer means you lose their business, and the right to use their data. 

What You Do With Your Data

Data will inform everything you do as a marketer going forward. Changes in data regulation and privacy will push you toward first-party and zero-party data. Embrace it. 

You’ll need to be able to collect, store, process, and leverage this data in a way that allows you to unlock hidden revenue opportunities. Your unique data gives you a competitive advantage. What’s more: you’ll need to make good on the bargain you struck with your customer. In exchange for their data, you agree to provide highly relevant and contextual personalized experiences. Use the data to create and deliver those interactions. 

The Competitive Advantage of Data

Google tells us that “marketers who use customer data in marketing outperform peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin.” The changes in data regulations mean you can’t rely on the same third-party data that everyone else was using. 

Now, you’ll be working with first-party customer data, data that your brand has captured (with consent), and it will be very different from the data your competitors have. This allows you to deliver data-driven experiences to customers that no other brand can offer (since they won’t have the same data). 

The caveat: if you don’t have your data unified in one single location, and if you don’t have everyone in the organization working with the same data, you can’t fully leverage your data.  

Using Data to Provide High-Value Experiences

For a customer to identify themselves, engage with your brand, and continue engaging again and again, time after time, year after year, you need to decide: what’s in it for them? What kind of experiences are you willing to provide?

Personalization, loyalty, and omnichannel customer experiences offer customers the most value, and ultimately are what will earn a customer’s repeated business over time.

Personalization: No, not just first-name-in-an-email personalization, but contextual, relevant, in-the-moment personalized experiences that are unique to that one individual customer across platforms or channels, based on their behavior and preferences. If you don’t have the tech stack, open infrastructure, or data to make that happen, 2021 is the year to remedy this. 

Loyalty: Loyalty isn’t just about points and prizes. It’s about having an engagement with a customer; not just once, but many times, across every channel, throughout the customer’s lifecycle. Discounts work short-term, but your customers (and your business) are better served with loyalty-inspired experiences instead: VIP shopping, early access, members-only products, etc. This is about giving the customer something meaningful in return for their business, and delivers unique value that they can only get from your brand. It’s what will keep them coming back (instead of looking to your competitor). 

Omnichannel CX: Customers are more digitally savvy now. They are spending more time on digital channels — browsing, researching, comparing — and have no qualms moving from one channel to the next. Brands are racing to be best at reaching the customer at the right time, in the moment, on the right channel, with personalized offers and loyalty incentives. If your data isn’t unified into a single source, and if all touchpoints aren’t connected in the same tech ecosystem, you’ll miss the customer (and lose the race). 

Final Thoughts

Don’t expect that things will “go back to normal” in 2021. Nor should we get cozy with the idea of a “new normal.” Because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that things can change in the blink of an eye, and survival in retail comes down to how well you prepare for and respond to change.

Instead of predictions, you need a set of clear priorities — along with the key strategies and actions you can implement now — that will put you in position to deliver the relevant and contextual 1:1 personalized experiences your customers demand, and the business results you must produce as a marketer, no matter the conditions. 

That’s why our latest ebook steers clear of predictions, and instead, offers marketers a set of “unpredictions” — clear priorities for 2021 that, when adhered to, will enable you to make your customers happy (with stand-out experiences that no other brand can offer) and your C-suite happy (by driving growth and revenue for the business).

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