In this age of the internet of everything, there appears to be an assumption that people desire connection. Yet, especially with an ageing demographic, a problem arises whereby customers begin to lose contact with the organisations they have linked with. They then become overloaded with data.
This begins to present problems to the companies. Why don't people respond to my blog? Why aren't my membership retention campaigns working? Why aren't people engaging with my brand?
I was interested in this article from Marketing Week, where Mindi Chahal writes that research from JWT suggests "consumers’ need for a change of pace may be more likely to encourage people to switch off rather than turn to fantasy and entertainment".
It is then argued that a new strategy to continue engagement is a trend towards the surreal, keeping brands alive by visual conceit, often far removed from brand entity or quality. But surely this in the end can only create greater confusion, and a need for brands to reinforce their original ethic in order that their brush with the surreal remains relevant?
If we consider the ageing demographic of most western economies, other factors come in to play. Recent analysis continues to support the view that "old fashioned" channels - TV, advertising, direct mail - continue to be effective. No doubt this is due to the fact that there is a greater need for product accuracy and description.
Even here, older audiences - e.g. people over 70 - have become themselves irritated by marketing initiatives. The older we get, the less able we are to manage permissions, with the result that we are constantly bombarded by telesales calls, direct mail, list rental abuses and worse. This also leads to overload and a lack of trust, including one recent horrendous tale of an elderly woman, Olive Cooke, whose untimely death was linked to excessive marketing by charities.
Yet the same research also reveals the power of digital in younger generations, so clearly there needs to be an understanding of brand involvement, perception and loyalty which enables engagement without tiredness. And which works across different demographics.
A potential future - the subconscious relationship
Ultimately, behind every brand there has to be a product or service and this is where real loyalty lies. So perhaps the challenge is less about the creativity and more about substance. What a company delivers and, crucially, to whom. But there's a bigger, more relevant picture: what a company might deliver - the potential of a relationship, if not now, when?
Certainly, organisations need to be considerably more focused on their different customer segments - not just in terms of how they are marketed too but also what experience they might demand. By trying to envisage a lifetime with a customer, a company might then begin - almost by osmosis - to establish a subconscious relationship.
As someone concerned for customer experience (CX) at its most basic level, and the need to avoid abuse of loyalty, I do find myself challenged at times as to how to help clients determine their approach. However, CX "guru" Jeanne Bliss advocates some top-level initiatives for customer focus which I think can equally apply to strategic and tactical marketing focus:
Think about what customers will do, rather than what they have done
Focus the leadership team on the growth or loss of customer assets
Target the team on "earning the right" to customers
Empower all staff to "kill stupid rules" known to alienate customers
Reward those staff, kill the rules, promote what was done
Leaders to contact lost customers to learn more about the life of the customer
With this approach in mind, options available to companies in terms of ineffective digital (or other) initiatives might be:
Sharing the possibilities of engagement, not the conceit of marketing
Changing initiatives to focus marketing on what it actually means to have, and look after, those customers
Delivering marketing which looks at customers in terms of who they are, not what the company thinks it is
Tracking and removing ineffective initiatives while growing new ones in line with the points above
Sharing successes and the lessons learned to grow greater loyalty
Ultimately, if there is one reflection that can be applied to marketing - and the potential customer overload it might create - it is that of Professor Malcolm McDonald: Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.
Customer experience, now and in the future, is crucial not just to company survival, but how it sees itself in its marketing.