B2B Marketing Summit, held in June, gathered some industry leaders around a number of relevant B2B and CX topics. Customer Experience Magazine was their media partner, and now we are presenting you an interesting article from two of their speakers on the subject: The Power of Customer Advocacy in Times of Disruptive Transformation. Thanks again to Alison Orsi from IBM Corporation and Jane Hiscock from Farland Group on their valuable insights.

Whether your company is a nimble startup that’s disrupting the status quo or is a large, established global entity that’s going through a change in its business model, every business is in a constant state of transformation. Some more prominent than others.

These days, sweeping changes in the marketing function, as well as the evolution of technology, are disrupting nearly every business. Specifically, the radical shift in marketing, the rise in marketing technology, big data and behavioral economics, and the fusion of these forces are having a major impact on customer engagement and advocacy.

The impact of data, behavior, and emotions on customer advocacy

As customers spend more time online, this has led to a spate of new digital marketing technologies designed to entice them to spend even more time online. Thus, leaving behind more breadcrumbs for marketersto gather customer insight, inform positioning, spark creative campaigns, drive sales, and nurture customer relationships. In the ideal scenario, those relationships evolve from initial interest to online fans to paying customers to customer champions.

If it sounds like a tall order, it is. It gets even more challenging when you factor in the use of data to shape campaigns and drive high response rates that never quite live up to a marketer’s expectations. Why? This is where behavioral economics, the study of how thoughts and emotions influence our decisions, comes into play. At its core, behavioral economics says that emotions – not rational thinking – drive behavior. A perfect example is when we say one thing yet do another. It helps explain why there might be a delta between marketing campaign projections and actual results.

Putting data and behavioral economics into the context of customer advocacy, you can see how it cuts both ways. On the one hand, you have more data at your fingertips to create new value for customers. But then again, the ability to quickly analyze those mountains of data and effectively reach customers at the right time and right place, and intuit their emotions is challenging. It’s clear that finding new and innovative ways to engage customers is critical to the stability of businesses. Responding to these changes has ushered in the “thinking era.”

Thinking about customers so customers think about you

The thinking era enables businesses to respond to individual needs, at scale, and to know what customers need or want, often before they do.

We see evidence of the thinking era in the rise of personalized apps on phones and the technology in cars and homes that truly recognizes customers as individuals. It’s also being used for personalized online shopping experiences that are far more sophisticated than referral engines. And we’re seeing more interest from the healthcare community to deliver proactive recommendations tailored to individual lifestyles and DNA. In its most impressive instantiation, the thinking era is seen in Thinking Machines, like IBM’s Watson and helping to solve difficult challenges like cancer and simpler questions like how to engage with customers.

At the heart of the thinking era is this: The more engaged customers and patients are, the more engaging experiences become through increasingly personalized recommendations that are not only relevant to them, but also relevant in the context of the situation. Done right, this leaves an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of customers and paves the way for more authentic customer interactions, loyalty, and advocacy.

As with any new era, there are those who meet it with skepticism. In the thinking era, this often leads to healthy discussions about man versus machine. But it’s not an either/or situation. Rather, it’s man and machine working together to create more enriching customer experiences. It allows businesses to create new value by further personalizing the way they approach and engage customers as individuals. These are the new realities of marketing and business. Understanding and embracing them is critical to the success of customer advocacy programs.

Now is the time to double down on customer engagement, especially given the latest facts on customer retention and engagement. According to Gallup Research 70% of B2B customers at any moment are willing to take their business elsewhere. Also, only 30% of B2B customers identify as being engaged with the brands they procure. Meanwhile, B2B businesses with highly engaged customers experience 55% higher share of wallet; 63% lower attrition rates; 50% higher revenue sales.

Make no mistake – the thinking era is upon us. As it evolves, it will change the business model of forward-looking companies. Winners will embrace it as a way to engage customers in new and innovative ways.

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