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April 03, 2018

By Shravya Kaparthi, Director, Analytics and Decision Sciences, RAPP Dallas

Mobile devices and personalization have revolutionized the consumer experience. And this rise of an experience economy — primarily driven by technology-led solutions — has changed how we all interact with both traditional industries (such as finance and healthcare) and newer industries (such as e-commerce).

Modern consumers now make big decisions through apps. For home purchases, for example, people rely on Zillow or Redfin. In the stock market, millions of people eschew brokers in favor of E*TRADE and Robinhood. In healthcare, tracking and monitoring tools create connections between doctors and patients, while consumer products like Fitbit put fitness in the hands of users. Brands are making consumers explore and adapt to new behaviors, creating new habits and expectations.

Across industries, this disruption empowers brands to craft more consumer-focused experiences. People today expect not only tangible life improvements from their chosen brands, but also more meaningful relationships. To keep pace in this new world, marketers must understand two things: 1) how they can weave in this new cultural fabric by taking cues from strong cultural moments, connections, and the existing fabric; and 2) how they can leverage existing behaviors to craft and build new ones.

Understanding the Evolving Role of Marketers
With IoT devices, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and social media platforms, today's communication is instant and exact. While everything around us is changing so rapidly, two aspects remain the same: human truth and emotions (i.e., how we feel). It's even more important, then, for brands to be present during some of the more iconic cultural elements and moments that are still alive to build stronger consumer connections and relationships. These elements/moments include family values, certain holidays, movies, music, popular culture, and media and cultural traditions like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and Mardi Gras.

Even in a highly connected world, not everyone moves at the same pace. Those who feel overwhelmed by all these changes often lean on familiarity for comfort. With consumers caught between rapid technological change and familiarity and the fundamental disruptions happening to our cultural fabric, brands have a real opportunity to help their target audiences navigate through this change at their own pace and comfort by making the user experience simple, transparent, and contextualized.

Moreover, they can help make sure they deliver on the values that resonate with their target audience. In a sense, this means providing content that actually speaks to core consumer values and opinions through the right engagement and experiences. But this can happen only when all workers involved in marketing — from data professionals to consumer strategists to technology enablers — understand how their roles have changed when it comes to driving contextual relevance to platforms that actually enable consumers to navigate through a deep sense of nostalgia and tension.

Making Behavioral Changes Less Overwhelming
This nostalgia and tension results from technology adaptation and any resistance that arises to new types of interaction with various goods and services. And because adaptation and interaction happen at different paces for different people, the role of nostalgia is highly impactful in helping consumers navigate these changes and in easing the tension of behavioral changes.

Thus, marketers should utilize this phenomenon to help them create the right experiences. Reaching both the tech-savvy and the tech-cautious requires brands to establish a presence in human-centric moments that build relationships with consumers in comfortable environments. Brands must recognize which moments they belong in and which they do not, and marketers should then deliver content that resonates with the target audience's values.

In this way and by humanizing technology, brands can empower consumers to navigate through the technological change at their own paces and comfort levels. After all, the more intuitive the customer experience, the easier the change is to accept.

Keys to Weaving the New Cultural Fabric With the Old 
Chatbots, for instance, can use data on both a consumer’s general mindset and current mood to deliver the best experiences. And augmented reality in retail blends the online and offline to provide intuitive consumer experiences that don’t feel alien to non-techy shoppers.

Marketers can use these technological advancements to build stronger human relationships, invest in the growth of consumers, and empower people to lead better lives. This requires a more qualitative approach and high-quality data visualization. By sharing information, thoughts, and ideas, though, brands can find common ground with their target audiences, demonstrating empathy for important causes and creating emotional connections that drive brand loyalty.

So rather than confusing consumers with unfamiliar technology, brands that focus on the following three areas can incorporate the latest tech advancements without pushing consumers too far outside their comfort zones.

1. Adaptive Intelligence Systems With a Human-Centric Design
Provide intuitive user interfaces with simple, easy-to-comprehend instructions, and create experiences that target a problem and solve a need. Then, you can increase the relevance of those systems by soliciting customer feedback.

Though AI's efficacy used to be highly spotty, today's tools like enterprise search allow systems to continuously and independently improve through machine learning and deep learning. These technologies enable brands to facilitate better conversations and experiences and develop new ideas, tools, and models that can influence consumer behaviors and decision-making — particularly if you invest in natural language processing and natural language question and answering that can make the system smarter and, consequently, more efficient. 

Moreover, implementing technology that helps consumers perform actions the way they would naturally allows brands to ingratiate familiarity in consumers by encouraging them to (and helping them) adapt new behaviors.

2. Dynamic Context to Reimagine Nostalgia
Using technology and data to keep conversations relevant and in real time creates more meaningful connections that lead to stronger brand affinity and, eventually, brand loyalty. Brands should be investing in the personal growth of its consumers, improving their lives individually and collectively.

Moreover, you can use these conversations and this growth to reimagine the role of nostalgia. Helping consumers balance the technology-infused changes in behavior by using nostalgia as a tool that empowers them to reclaim the past and boldly embrace the future simultaneously is essential.

3. More Helpful Data
Data that provides context for key points — i.e., triggers — around behavioral changes or conflicts enables brands to craft more creative user experiences, which could be relevant product enhancements, superior user interfaces, or something as simple as reminders or goal trackers. The better the information on consumer actions, the smarter the solutions for the brand and its products and the better consumer relationships that brand creates.

While technology will continue to disrupt our lives, it doesn’t have to disrupt relationships between brands and consumers. By focusing on adaptive systems, brands can leverage data to create dynamic, relevant, and helpful experiences that forge deeper bonds with audiences at all levels of technological prowess. 

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