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Creativity + data propel end to end commerce

We now have the data to understand precisely where and how people engage in commerce, says Beth Ann Kaminkow, Global CEO of WPP’s VMLY&R Commerce. But let’s not underestimate the creativity required to design a compelling customer experience (CX) that converts – regardless of channel

When you think about what the world has been through over the past three years, the impact on commerce is one of the most notable shifts.

There’s the obvious uplift in online, but let’s forget the ‘e’ in e-commerce, Kaminkow says, “because commerce is everywhere”. Buying’ channels through digital and social and in-store have exploded, and tracking and analytics are creating a full-picture view of the consumer across their entire purchase journey.

“We now have to think about the commerce customer journey holistically,” says Kaminkow. “Yes, there’s the transactional aspect of course, but there’s also search, social, review sites, product demos, packaging, events, the store and more – all nudging the consumer along their decision-making path. Whether we are talking about online commerce or bricks and mortar, we must consider the utility of each channel in driving a great experience and conversion.”

That takes planning. And the further upstream WPP’s VMLY&R Commerce can partner with brands, the more unified the outcome – because delivering a coherent and complete commerce CX strategy takes deep retail acumen. On a tactical level, this might involve instore screens with personalised messaging; delivering a mobile-first experience that enables customers to bypass busy checkout points; or launching a subscription service to drive repeat visits and brand loyalty.

“But it must all be done with purpose and within a ‘big picture’ framework,” says Kaminkow. “The aim is to shorten the path to purchase in the moment that consumers engage with the brand by providing an opportunity to buy.” This is becoming true across all categories of product, from luxury items through to consumer-packaged goods, to consumables.

Data and tech are fundamental

“Thanks to the algorithms behind today’s technology, understanding basket dynamics (the size and nature of a shopper’s basket of goods) and ‘occasions’ (where a brand connects with a consumer) is a ‘science’ which needs to be complemented by ‘art’,” says Kaminkow. “That means using the vast amounts of data to uncover unique customer insights that feed into creatively engaging brand executions and commerce experiences – and which ultimately get shoppers to hit the buy button.”

The method and the message need to be worked through for each stage of the journey.

“It's the ability to personalise and understand the different moments that are important,” says Kaminkow. For example, will TikTok trigger an interest in a product? What is the right call to action? Is that call to action authentic and appropriate to the channel in question? Does it enable a seamless purchase? These are the types of question that should be front and centre.

“But it should never be a case of using tech for tech’s sake – just because a new tool or channel is trending. Tech should be used to solve business problems, or ease friction, with creativity used to create a memorable customer experience.”

And the aim is more than a simple sale – at every interaction, the brand should be elevated, and long-term customer lifetime value built.

How to engage with changing customer behaviours

People don’t think in silos – they expect brands to behave consistently and in an engaging way, no matter the channel, and be able to browse or buy whenever and wherever they choose to.

So, brands cannot act in a disjointed way either. “The minute they operate in organisational silos – marketing separated from sales for example – then a disconnect with the customer happens,” says Kaminkow. “You lose the intentionality around being able to build not just sales, but brand purpose and equity.”

For leading marketers, the conversation has moved on from ‘full funnel’ unification (bringing together the traditional path from awareness to sales) to commerce channel unification, where a ‘brand moment’ and conversion can happen at any point, and simultaneously.

The new breed of CMO is thinking about what end to end commerce looks like through a CX lens, says Kaminkow, and working to understand what a customer needs when they enter a channel, and what is the desired action that the brand wants them to take.

What does that mean in practical terms? Consider the fitting room experience. If it is cool, with great lighting and is eminently ‘Instagram-able’ – that helps convert the sale and has huge brand equity benefits.

And let’s not forget that the physical store is back in fashion – we have Gen Z to thank for this ‘correction’. “Brands that are embracing, updating and renovating their physical experiences are absolutely winning,” says Kaminkow. “There’s a whole new generation that's discovering the fun of shopping. Shopping has always added a social element to our lives that inspires us. In many ways, the store is the OG customer experience.”

Where does art kick in?

As we’ve established, data is crucial to commerce today. But let’s not be slavish in the application of data to the customer journey. “Think about search,” says Kaminkow. “Oftentimes we end up being directed to the very thing we’ve already bought.” That is the nature of the digital experience – it builds on what has already happened.

So, we have to control and manage those data systems better. “We must understand true personalisation and be able to track – through the connectivity of channels – where a particular consumer is going and what they are likely to do next. Then we need to apply creativity to engage appropriately at each point.”

Creativity can take many forms. From smart packaging, a great product video on Amazon, gamifying the process, or a partnership with another brand or celebrity. “Brands should meaningfully give and share content to keep somebody engaged, interacting and involved,” says Kaminkow. Right now, the focus for brands should be on creating moments – and layers – of relevant creativity and engagement and go beyond the data. But there must be authenticity and relevance, Kaminkow stresses, and a true understanding of the consumer, the channels they show up in, and the relationship between products and consumers’ real lives.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for marketers – it is a revolution in commerce that must be embraced as much by brands as consumers. The scope for breakthrough commerce CX is limitless.”

published on

30 January 2023



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