REDEFINING THE EXPERIENCE ERA

Sept. 2, 2020

VMLY&R, in partnership with Ad Age, brought together leaders in customer experience (CX) to discuss how businesses can meaningfully connect with their customers and align brand promises with customer realities.

The webcast, titled “The Case for Change: Navigating the Experience Era,” was led by David Shulman, chief experience officer at VMLY&R. He was joined by DeLu Jackson, vice president of precision marketing for Conagra Brands, and Fran Parodi, VP of global consumer and small business marketing at Dell Technologies.

Shulman began the webcast by suggesting marketers think about each component of customer experience as an ingredient to make a meal. Many elements are needed as part of a robust and effective CX plan.

Conagra, like many retailers, has experienced a rapid expansion of ecommerce and ship-to-home. That dramatic shift is evidence of a transformation among consumers. It has required the company to change how it provides customer service. Direct to consumer is a point of access where the brand has grown. Experience touchpoints have become a much more pressing issue because of that growth.

“We have to make content with speed and availabile on mobile to improve the customer experience,” Jackson said. “That’s led us to build platforms like Ready Set Eat.”

Jackson said the new web platform is meeting consumers where they’re behaving and as their demands change.

“We’re seeing such an acceleration in those demands,” he said. “Experience should be what defines it: What’s relevant, what’s needed and what is the consumer demand we’re trying to solve? ReadySetEat uses elements from the entire dinner plate.”

Dell, whose business has always been driven by transformation, has shifted its strategy in recent months as well. With a sharp increase in ecommerce, the brand has moved from a physical to nearly complete online business.

In addition to where transactions are being conducted, Parodi said that products, media and services have also changed in the past few years. Media used to be a limited set of channels (e.g., newspaper, TV, billboard, etc.) but now technology has grown and evolved so much that we have search, mobile and other layers like influencers and social media. She added that artificial intelligence and machine-learning are additional pieces which now need to be incorporated into business plans.

“We need to start thinking how we allocate and resource to get ahead of the curve,” Parodi said. “We also need to look ahead to what it will be like in the next decade. Marketing in the future will be a marriage between creative, data and technology. What we’re doing today will help us prepare for the future.”

Parodi touched on how Dell justifies investment in customer experience by stressing the importance of balancing the present with the future. The answer, according to Parodi, is that businesses should stay the course and continue to invest in technology and innovation.

“Put the customer first and do the right thing for them,” she said. “For people, [the pandemic] is one of the most difficult times for them. They need technology, so we need to continue investing in it. If we don’t invest for our customers, we’re not helping them. Because of that, we continue to advocate for more investment in CX.

Wrapping up the webcast, Shulman noted that a critical part of navigating the experience era and delivering a great experience is being a several steps ahead.

At Conagra, Jackson is excited about the convergence of retail and media to put the brand ahead of the curve. The way Conagra acquires consumers and manages their experiences is being disrupted, so they are leveraging platforms that communicate directly with consumers and marrying those with retail.

“It’s affecting the digital space and the offline space,” Jackson said. “As we bring media forward, the concept of marketing, content and experience will change as we engage across those ecosystems. The new challenges in content, data, supply and merchandising are an opportunity to re-frame go-to-market strategies.”

Jackson added that, while the brand promise of personalization has been around for a while, we now have the data and science to offer it.

“Personalization is being relevant at every touchpoint,” he said. “You may only need to know one thing to be able to deliver something relevant, so answer a question and build on that. You don’t have to know everything. Be clear about what you don’t know and get comfortable with that.”

Use the data you have to be better for the consumer — and over time learn what they’re willing to share — but only use it if it provides value for them.”

Decision paralysis is often an obstacle to transformation, so facing the problem and identifying a direction is better than not taking action.

If you’d like more information on how VMLY&R can help transform your brand’s customer experience journey, email david.shulman@vmlyr.com.