Shopping Gets Messy in 2016

01/15/2016 11:08 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2017

By Peter Cloutier, Chief Marketing Officer, Catapult     

Expect shopping habits to get much messier in 2016.

New technologies and an explosion of media channels are expanding the potential places consumers encounter a brand. No longer is it a linear affair from TV to perhaps a coupon to the store.

Now, in no particular order, people ask friends. They go to Facebook.  Scroll Pinterest. See an ad. Call a 1-800 number. They visit a store and window shop some of the alternatives. Encounter a store-within-a-store. And then, almost mysteriously, they buy.

Consumers have decisions to make at every turn. No two journeys are exactly the same for any category or person. Consumers learn about, share, engage and decide on their purchases in ways that are unique to them, and potentially almost limitless in number. Understanding where the decision points take place and their mindset when they do drives the effectiveness of the process.

So how can your brand manage to be in all of these places at just the right time to convert a consumer to a shopper, shopper to buyer, and with luck, an advocate? Embrace the chaos and learn from it. Let technology help you. And focus your team by always being true to your brand promise.

Use data to drive personalization.

Reams of data may look like an uncontrollable mess, but when sorted with an eye toward conversion, it can make each interaction more intimate and harder working through unique IDs and marketing automation.

You can apply highly personalized communication based on loyalty club information. For example, for Marriott, we might append their Marriott Rewards data with frequent purchasers of Broadway show tickets. Messages might read "Buy two tickets to Wicked at the Shubert Theater, and get upgraded at the Marriott Marquis." The nominal charge for the upgrade might be $25, but it's offset by the commission from the Shubert. Then a nice charge at the hotel restaurant is factored in and the personalized offer more than pays for itself. The moral of the story? By observing consumers over time and across different transactional channels, we can identify recurring trends to influence a media buy or tailor any storyline.

Connect storytelling to transactions.

Ask yourself what content will work best for each touch point. Your goal is to create story lines that create a spark, complement one another, and become richer in detail as consumers close in on a purchase.  The best storytelling is flexible enough to work wherever a customer interacts with your brand.

Create order with a clear view of what to say about your brand promise at each touch point - and understand each major user group will be seeking out slightly different pieces of information from the brand.

Remember, each point of engagement can itself be highly complex, and they're not always digital. The consumer standing in-line at a Subway includes a whopping 10 key decision points - and that's just in-store. Each touch point has its own communication objective, whether it's flagging a new sandwich on curbside signage or upselling during meal prep.

Just as customers tailor their sandwich orders, so does Subway its storytelling. It turns what could be a cacophony of mixed messages into a simple story. It creates enjoyable and easy interaction, whether they are on a diet or getting a foot-long to refuel for their second shift.

Outmaneuver slower-moving competitors with technology.

But a good story isn't enough to prompt a transaction in-store or online. It's critical to develop and deploy all content in a way that maximizes the potential value for each piece, with a view of full consumer experience.

Think about the core communication channels and the brand messaging you'll create. Then, repurpose the heck out of it: Build each piece once, but then use it many times. No brand can afford content developed uniquely for each channel and situation. There aren't enough hours in the day nor shoe boxes to put the information in.  Your content needs to be flexible and easily distributed to meet the needs of your key targets.

The good news is marketers now have the tools to call audibles and easily adjust their game plan on the fly. Content management systems can organize the experience and which message to send based on past purchases, clicks, shares, posts, downloads, and how a customer reacted to each. Done right, the customer's experience with your brand feels tailored, and consistent to their particular experience. All while delivering on your brand's overall promise.

For example, to create the customer journey for a food brand, the marketer maps potential experiences, identifying the goals, roles and content timing of every potential point of contact. The digital footprint includes short-form recipe videos that live alongside a hard-working website, social media and automated email campaigns.

The Power of Conversion Marketing

These more accurate targeted responses, along with programmatic media buying, can quickly become powerful ROI multipliers that clean up the increasingly messy consumer journey.

These three strategies all show the power of conversion marketing. Take advantage of them. They will drive results. They will organize your team for success. And they will help make you a power brand this year. Mapping a brand's content and communications across each consumer's journey is the difference between winning by accident and winning by design.