SXSW Interactive 2016 blazed through Austin this past week in typical disruptive fashion, bringing the tech industry’s brightest minds into town for a five-day festival that was all business during the day and all party during the night.
No matter the application, the topic of how to engage customers was at the forefront of the most prominent conversations. From machine learning to data analytics to mobile, all technology pointed to one focal point – the customer and their engagement.
However, during all of the discussions one thing became apparent: while we now have technology that can help us track and study customers’ actions throughout the engagement cycle, we cannot yet decipher what prompted the customer to begin the engagement process with a particular brand.
Zappos Product Manager Kandis Yaokum best described it during the panel session titled “Future of Cool: Predicting What’s Next in Fashion”. Sitting alongside ThoughtWorks Senior Retail Consultant Rachel Brooks, Google Fashion Data Scientist Olivier Zimmer and Shoptelligence Founder Laura Khoury, Yaokum discussed how data analytics is helping fashion retailers predict what will be the industry’s next big trend. When Yaokum was asked “what kept her up at night?,” she answered that it was not knowing why a particular customer decided that a certain product was the “cool one” to buy and what stirred the initial curiosity to engage with a brand.
All the panel members described how data analytics is historical by nature, and can help deliver better insights into overall trends that can help predict the future. However, understanding what sparked a customer’s initial attention is still something that technology cannot yet decipher.
It seems we are at an inflection point, however; additional sessions all pointed to a better understanding of the customer and different ways we can look at the convergence of brand and technology to spark and measure customer’s attention. Key themes that emerged included:
It’s all about psychology: a brand’s engagement with a consumer should have personal and organic connection.
- Marcela Sapone, founder of the New York based startup, Hello Alfred, discussed that how brands make you feel is all about perception, and brands can use this perception alongside technology as a metric to continue innovating and building a better product.
Going beyond the product – A physical store setting should be more about the overall experience and providing content customers can immerse themselves in.
- STORY founder Rachel Shecthman discussed how the retail store should be utilized as a media channel to create an experience that immerses customers in the overall story and gives them something to do. We should think about physical stores as living labs and places of entertainment that are enabled by technology.
Democratizing access to luxury: luxury is now defined as a combination of access, experiences and usability.
- Discussing wearables, Uri Minkoff and Decoded’s Liz Bacelar emphasized how luxury items should be both about usability and functionality and how the wearables of the future will be more about portraying emotion than tracking health data.
ALL customers are individuals.
- Refinery29’s Phillipe von Borries discussed how all brands should look to people as individuals instead of grouping them into a block such as a generational age group. The power, he says, lies in niches – people who are defined by their overall passions and hobbies.
At the end of the day, the customer is the key driver, and brands that look to incorporate innovative technologies and tactics into their overall customer experience philosophy will continue to spark their attention.