It’s All About the Customer. Really.

The PSFK 2016 Conference, which was held in New York City in mid-May, featured speakers from both renowned and up-and-coming brands who presented innovative ideas for engaging today’s “always on” customers. Here are our key takeaways from the conference that are impacting the evolving state of marketing.

1. Brands must create human-centric experiences.

In order to succeed in the evolving digital landscape, brands must find ways to make the experiences they create more human and personal. Some ways to do this include developing customer experience maps that help in thinking through how a customer interacts with a brand and how to improve their experience, and by performing user experience (UX) research and usability testing. Leveraging methods like these can help ensure we understand our very human customers, including their needs, attitudes, expectations and behaviors, so we can design customer-centric experiences that allow both our customers and brands to win.

Here are some examples of brands that are working to create human-centric experiences that improve our “connected life”:

  • Jibo, a social robot, exemplified the idea that as Artificial Intelligence (AI) personal assistants (think Siri, Alexa and Cortana) become a more ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, it is important to inject humanity into the interactions we have with them, by way of context and simulated empathy.

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    Image source: www.jibo.com

  • In 2013, Gatorade was asked by the Brazilian National Soccer team to help them win the World Cup. The mission started as a way to optimize the performance of each player with personalized hydration, and has resulted in GatoradeGX, the company’s new data-centric personalized sports fueling platform. The platform is intended to seamlessly tie together innovations in packaging and personal data tracking to allow athletes of all kinds to easily personalize their fuel to achieve maximum performance.

2. Retailers must help customers connect to things they care about.

To survive in an increasingly digital world, retailers must create a broader brand mission that is bigger than the products or services they offer; one that people want to connect to. By helping customers more easily connect to the things that matter to them, such as healthier eating or better sleep, brands can earn not only a loyal following, but also a passionate base of brand advocates.

The conference featured retailers that are disrupting traditional retail models and finding ways to build strong, loyal communities around their brands. Here are a couple examples:

  • Sweetgreen is a growing fast-casual, salad restaurant chain with a mission to “inspire healthier communities. One way the company does this is by locally sourcing its food and offering seasonally-changing menus. Another is by finding creative ways to build a community around healthier eating, such as holding an annual music and food festival, aptly named Sweetlife. In a world where our phones allow us to have almost anything delivered to us instantly, Sweetgreen has made a conscious decision not to offer delivery, but instead created an app for placing pick-up orders, to encourage customers to come into the store location to experience the brand, while still providing convenience.
  • Casper is a brand built around the idea of bridging the gap between the science and realities of sleep by reframing what we expect from a mattress, as well as the experience of buying a mattress. The company has differentiated itself through a refreshing, no pressure showroom experience, a 100-night trail with free return pick-up, and building a community around sleep by producing content about the science of better sleep. By reimagining the entire experience around sleep and buying a mattress, Casper is driving new excitement within a seemingly stagnant category.

3. Brands must tell the right stories in the right ways to engage customers.

Brand storytelling is more important than ever for engaging customers. However, evolving channels and customer expectations present new challenges and opportunities for telling these stories. Brands must find ways to tell the right stories to the right audiences at the right time. Some ways to accomplish this include performing primary customer research and leveraging user data to inform the types of messages that will resonate with a brand’s audience, as well as the places and times when they are most receptive to these messages.

Here are some examples of brands that recognize the the importance of storytelling in building a strong, desirable brand:

  • As part of Microsoft’s effort over the last several years to shift its business model, including a dedication to new product innovations, in 2015 the company launched a new mission statement to “empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, explained how his team works to change the perception of Microsoft through stories, such as how the company brought Wi-Fi access to a village in Kenya, and the positive impact it has had on the community. The emphasis on storytelling also lead to the launch of the “Microsoft Stories” content site.
  • When drone racing first came on the scene, it was dubbed “the sport of the future.” However, The Drone Racing League quickly realized that high expectations for the sport were based on unrealistic scenarios from movies, such as pod-racing in Star Wars: Episode I, and that disappointment in the reality of the sport could mean a quick life and death. By embracing expectations and carefully crafting the right story around how drone racing is executed, The Drone Racing League has succeeded in maintaining excitement and drawing a growing fan base.

All in all, the PSFK 2016 Conference offered a lot of inspiration for how brands and marketers can innovate today to create more human-centric experiences, help connect their customers to the things that matter to them, and craft more engaging stories. It also emphasized that in order to transform, we must rethink established ideas and concepts and constantly look at them from different perspectives.

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