In an age of constant change and connectivity, everything has changed for working professionals, brands and businesses. Regardless of your chosen industry or field of expertise, famed social media expert and Altimeter Group analyst Brian Solis proposes a better approach to navigating these increasingly choppy and uncertain waters in his new book What's the Future of Business? Outlining what it takes to lead in tomorrow's commercial world, and create better strategies for connecting with and engaging consumers, the volume reminds organizations of every size and scope that success comes when we focus on the customer experience as much as the tools (specific technology, trends, etc.) we use to provide it. In the following interview, Solis outlines the future of marketing, advertising, and customer relationship management, and offers hints, tips and advice for meeting the challenges associated with operating in a world of shrinking visibility and growing competition.
Q: Since you took it there, we'll bite - what is the future of business for modern working professionals and executives or entrepreneurs, and how vastly different does it look from the landscape today?
A: This is a more philosophical conversation. The future of business is different for every company, but it's rooted in one thing, resilience. When it comes down to professionals, executives and entrepreneurs, I remind them that they're embarking on a hero's journey where no path is defined and no template is complete. These are times of vision and courage and those who seek answers to the questions everyone is asking and those who answer new questions that have yet to be asked will find direction and opportunities.
Trying is no longer good enough. Working hard is no longer good enough. Following in the footsteps of others will only lead you on a path of business as usual. This is a time to see what others cannot and do what others will not.
It all begins with understanding where your customers and prospects are, what they value, how they make decisions, and what it takes to earn alignment. This is why the hero's journey is different for everyone. But in What's the Future of Business, I refer to Joseph Campbell's work to help people understand that the change they're seeking requires a great effort, passion, and perseverance. I've adapted his Hero's Journey to help readers understand that they will face obstacles, but that there are also tremendous opportunities for those who walk their own path.
Q: How drastically has the marketing/sales funnel changed for modern enterprise, and how does this impact the way in which we should working to interact and engage consumers?
A: The funnel only cares about the funnel. That's one of the cartoons that Hugh Macleod (@gapingvoid) created for WTF. The idea of a linear path is absurd. And while some will argue that businesses don't really think customers follow a linear path, they do manage funnel-related activity from disparate parts of the organization.
Marketing is broken out into paid, earned, and owned, and sometimes also divided by analog, digital, social, and mobile. Service departments man dated technology to address issues. And even with new channels, they apply prehistoric methodologies to contend with connected customers. As for sales, loyalty teams, etc., everything and everyone is run from its own fiefdom. No one talks to one another and therefore by default, the experiences a customer has throughout the lifecycle are disjointed, inconsistent, and designed to introduce friction.
Q: What does today's journey really look like from any given brand's audience's perspective then?
A: The customer journey today is much more dynamic and it's always on. People make decisions using different touchpoints, they value input from peers, they rely on shared experiences to validate or inform actions, and they contribute their experiences back to a growing collective of customer impressions and expressions. It's not just about the traditional venues and methods. It's not just about adopting new technology and finding creative ways to get people talking. This is a fundamental shift in philosophy to understand how customers behave, not just the tech that they use, but rather to feel empathy and to uncover context.
Screens, social networks and websites are not all created equally. It's our job to better understand what their journey looks like today so that we can plot new courses, open new touchpoints, and optimize the journey so that it's efficient, delightful, and beneficial to all involved. I recommend that businesses employ social scientists such as digital anthropologists and ethnographers to map today's customer journey and understand the culture and behavior associated with engagement in each channel to design programs and strategies that matter. This is customer journey management (CJM), the future of CRM. From there, we can think about customer journey optimization (CJO) in order to make each touchpoint perform better and to promote shared experiences to appear and inform in every moment of truth.
Q: What's the single biggest mistake you see modern organizations and professionals making when attempting to speak to customers?
A: Businesses underestimate customers by engaging from a technology-first perspective. Social, Mobile, Real-time, Cloud, it's all about the trends and not about the experience. When you study the customer journey, you quickly realize that the context of engagement is related to the stage of the lifecycle and not what current strategies employ.
Just look at how businesses use social networks. It's largely applying the same old marketing in channels that require more than broadcasting guised as conversations. Charlene Li and I published a report recently that explored how businesses were largely not aligning social media strategies with business objectives. We were blown away but not surprised at the same time. You can download it for free here.
The point is that we need an empathy-first approach and then digital second or third. Understanding aspirations, desires and challenges allow us to work together internally to deliver a cohesive, frictionless, and optimized brand experience externally...that only improves throughout the lifecycle!
Q: Why this book? Why now?
A: The last thing the world needs is another book on social and mobile media. I know we certainly don't need another book that shares the same business examples from Zappos, Virgin America, American Express, Starbucks, et al. We need a blank canvas. We need to solve for problems that are unique to us not just like us.
This is a time for leaders not managers or followers. To demonstrate my point, I took the concept of what a business book could be in an era of connected consumerism. Take the fancy sleeve off of any hard cover business book and you'll see a book that looks like every other, made up of the same cheap paper and small uninspired fonts and graphics. In a book that talks about how Generation-C, or connected consumerism, is changing, why would I communicate that story the same old way? I wouldn't. And to make my point, I had to step outside of my comfort zone, just like you will have to do, to learn how to connect to connected customers.
I had to change how I write and speak. I had to create imagery and infographics to communicate messages that wouldn't work in text. I set out to create a book that was in of itself an experience. I studied UX and designed what I call an analog app. It features a nav bar to take readers through the book their way. It's square in shape similar to a tablet window. The pages are designed with four color, rich with graphics, shorter bursts of text and white space, all designed to make it easier and more fun to get through without losing the core message.
The creative team at Mekanism helped me bring the design to life. Hugh MacLeod and @gapingvoid, summarized each chapter with a clever cartoon. The book is as much a testament to innovation as it is a helpful guide to bring about meaningful change.
If I could do this with a book, imagine what you can do.