“Business as usual” isn’t enough anymore.
It’s not breaking news that digital transformation has changed the way we work. eCommerce, most notably, has driven countless companies into the ground over the last decade despite the longest uninterrupted period of economic growth in United States history. Some have gone as far to claim that retail is dead, and the Amazon effect has emptied hundreds of strip mall storefronts once occupied by the likes of Borders, Toys R Us, and Sears.
In some ways, they’re right to say that retail is dead. But then how can the unprecedented growth of a subset of traditional brick-and-mortar be explained? Some of it can be attributed to specialty goods and services. Some of it is driven by the in-store experience economy, where the brand experience goes far beyond a product itself. Some of it comes from an approach that uses eCommerce to augment the in-store experience.
But above all, these successful companies haven’t taken digital transformation as an excuse to merely adapt and survive. Rather, they’ve seen it as a chance to adapt and thrive.
Masters of Change
Pick your favorite business buzzword. Is it “disruption?” How about “big data?” Maybe it’s “customer journey.” Understanding, nay, personifying these transformative hot-button ideas explains technology’s dominant control of change in the 21st-century economy. One might even say that “big data helps companies understand the customer journey to disrupt” their chosen industry.
But to be blunt, it’s a gross oversimplification to explain such radical change in so few words. It’s true that “disruptive” companies like Amazon are, at their core, technology companies. Their differentiator often isn’t a radically new product, it’s a radically new approach to the customer experience, powered by technology.
In their heart of hearts, companies using technology to understand the customer experience are attending to marketing precision; one of the primary functions of any successful marketer is to be the voice of the customer, informing the corporation’s internal decisions with insight about behavior and preferences. Technology’s marketers have the opportunity to harness mountains of behavioral data from on and offline sources (See: Alexa, Stop Recording Me), but that’s not the only piece of the puzzle. The data we can collect online tells us what consumers have demanded in the past and even what they demand today, but it is useless if we don’t put it to work to constantly test new strategies.
Still, “business as usual” isn’t enough. Unless, of course, you envy Toys R Us.
What is the agile method?
Let’s take a page out of the book of marketing in the world of eCommerce: They didn’t come up with the methodology that killed traditional retail on their own. Companies built online are extremely reliant on their IT teams, many of which adopted the agile method somewhere in the last two decades. Agile works in software development because it allows teams to focus on smaller, bite-sized builds with a rapid speed to market. These short “sprints,” as they’ve come to be called, aren’t just about risk aversion. They’re about flexibility. Living in a constant state of iteration allows software teams to “move closer” to their users— or, in plain English, to create the most effective and user-friendly product.
“Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating.” (McKinsey)
Agile translates so well from tech to marketing because successful teams in both realms are customer-centric. My team has been operating on an agile schedule here at Xyngular since late 2014, and our success has led the entire company to adopt our model. It’s easy to get lost in the small stuff when muddling through the day-to-day, but staying agile forces us to make deliverables more often. Increased frequency of delivery means that those individual deliverables are typically smaller, but that’s exactly what helps us “move closer” to our customers and understand what they really value.
Too often, direct selling companies struggle to grow sustainably. In our world, it may seem attractive to launch new market after new market, but a lack of focus on the long-term customer journey can bleed those new markets dry before they have the chance to become viable in the long term. Too many companies fail because they run out of real estate without laying down deep roots.
When married to a commitment to understanding the consumer experience, agile methodology is the answer to building a loyal customer base.
Agile methodology allows us to react. That’s not to say your efforts shouldn’t be proactive, but as a 21st century marketer, you can’t just launch a campaign and hope for the best. Without diving into the nitty-gritty of a tactic like paid search, it’s clear that one of digital marketing’s most powerful characteristics is its ability to react by connecting your brand with customers who will truly value it because they’ve taken an action (like a search) that indicates interest.
Your approach to overall strategy in the digital age should mirror this reactive approach by tailoring the customer experience based on those behaviors that indicate interest— in your brand or in a specific product or category. It’s all about adaptability, and the success Xyngular has had in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the value we’ve found in that ability to pivot. Staying agile has allowed us to quickly shift our messaging in a way that reflects the rapid changes we’re seeing that boost eCommerce sales, but it also allows us to reach out and be part of the community in a way that not only matches our brand, but has a positive impact.
Agile is a methodology, not a process. When we buy in to the idea of constant iteration for the sake of moving closer to our customers, we become better at communicating within our team and in turn more efficient in everything we do.
Michelle Luchansky-Marostica is the Senior Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at Xyngular in Lehi, Utah.
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