MP sat down with Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach, who leads the go-to-market strategy and marketing organization. He’s spent much of his career focusing on the transformation of digital customer engagement and commerce, and has been fortunate to have learned the ins and outs of the industry from quite a few different vantage points. Walker has held roles ranging from practitioner and analyst to consultant and vendor.

How have the Tokyo Olympics shown the changing landscape of marketing?

The results from Tokyo show a dramatic shift in traditional brand advertising and marketing. Viewership was down considerably this year for the Olympics; you even had advertisers who had already spent specific sums on sponsorships pulling back from executing on their brand marketing initiatives related to the Olympics. 

However, what did work very effectively were brands that were involved with sponsoring athletes around their products to market to customers via direct marketing and social media. They could use the advocacy and stories behind the athletes to promote directly to their customers in a more meaningful way. In many senses, they saw significant results, including in the sales of those products. It reflects the dramatic shift to digital direct marketing, which has reached a key inflection point. 

What does this changing landscape mean for the small startup looking to grow?

In today’s marketing landscape, you can certainly reach and acquire customers through various vehicles. Still, many digitally native startups have seen success with single product marketing via social media to first engage with customers around a lifestyle or interest. Then it’s about investing in an ongoing relationship with that customer and communicating with them in a relevant way — through your direct channels, which include email, text, social media, and then with follow-through of that first customer engagement, including status updates on the order they placed and then how the customer can take further advantage. 

The brands doing that well can drive a profitable return on the cost of customer acquisition. More importantly, they can build a sustainable business long term. That’s something that every brand has available to them in a way that was not true in the past when it took massive marketing budgets to reach customers through broadcast media. 

Why are big events like the Olympics no longer worth the investment for brands?

The viewership and reach of these big events are not what they used to be — whether that’s the Oscars, the Emmys, or the Olympics. Large sporting events draw a more significant viewership than most. Still, the advertisements and sponsorships are not as relevant to consumers as the marketing they may see in other channels. With digital tools like phones or iPads, we interact with content differently than we used to. So, the effectiveness of sponsorship and advertising on broadcast platforms has lost some impact. Where people are spending their time has dramatically shifted. 

Why is reaching customers in the moment and developing those relationships more worthwhile in reaching those customers and driving brand awareness?

It’s critical to reach the customer in the moment to convert them before they’re distracted. For example, when you spend money on brand marketing or advertising for a certain product, you might plant the idea in the customer’s mind that they want that product, but you have not converted them to your product. Whereas if you convert them in the moment, you capture the sale.     

How can the brands that realize this pivot begin selling more directly to consumers?

Focus on product discovery and leveraging customer data to personalize in real-time and at scale effectively. Enlist the right technology and tools to help you create a digital experience that is seamless and impactful, unifying customer and product data to ensure you’re putting the right product in front of the right customer at the right time. 

How can these brands use digital platforms beyond e-commerce to reach their customers in a relevant way?

Every aspect of a brand’s digital engagement needs to work together to drive a consistent, relevant experience for the customer. Your e-commerce site is just one component of driving that kind of relationship. That’s why investing in tools like Customer Data Platforms, and AI and personalization are so important — so that you can execute across all your digital channels in a way that connects with the customer. In today’s digital marketing landscape, you can micro-target the customers in a way that was not available 15-20 years ago. The more personalized you can make your outreach, the more it will resonate with customers. 

What advice can you share with entrepreneurs who want to begin focusing more on digital?

Understand what the customer is trying to achieve — the motivation that drove them to your brand first — and then figure out how your product supports that deeper motivation. Focus on the ‘why’ behind the search and the ‘why’ behind the product as you start, design an experience for your customers that will connect with them, resonate with them, and build a long-term relationship.

What free resources are you aware of that can help jumpstart an entrepreneur’s shift into digital?

Understanding the market you’re trying to serve is imperative. Several free sources of data and market research can help you better understand your industry and the consumer trends that can make or break your business. For example, at Bloomreach, we put out monthly Commerce Pulse data that provides insight into e-commerce trends overall and in several relevant categories. We’ve also done larger studies, such as our State of Commerce Experience Report with Forrester, that can give you insight into the state of digital and where companies are putting their investments. Any entrepreneur should utilize resources like this to give them a more informed understanding of their market. 

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