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Digital Edge In Marketing: The Customer Experience in ‘real time’

by Mark P. McDonald  |  January 28, 2013  |  8 Comments

Automation, communication and brut force describe IT’s relationship with Marketing.  Pre-digital information technologies such as CRM, eCommerce Sites, eMail marketing provided new technology tools to perform old marketing tasks. Sure, marketers sought out a 1:1 relationship by substituting  traditional coupons for eCoupons,  website URL’s for QPC codes and working recommendations into shopping carts and checkout screens, but the fundamentals of marketing were largely unchanged.

Pre-digital Technology and Digital Marketing

Pre-digital Technology automated the fundamentals of researching and identifying a target audience, crafting a message and getting that message to that audience.  Online marketing technology in the digital world will remain the same, an issue of capturing ‘eyeballs’, so long as it views itself as ‘the set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.’

Digital marketing, according to Wikipedia and numerous other web sites, is marketing that makes use of electronic devices such as computers, tablets, smartphones, cellphones, digital billboards, and game consoles to engage with consumers and other business partners.

Digital technologies, like analytics, big data, social and mobile, can further amplify traditional marketing practices.  Analytics and big data make it possible to ‘boil the ocean of bytes’ now generated online.  Social makes it easier to spread word-of-mouth advertising and engage interested parties in discussions.  Mobile platforms provide a new means to displaying marketing messages and initiating transactions.

Digital technology and digital marketing can do much more than provide new means to target, engage and transact between customers, products and companies. Digital technology has the potential to shape behavior and experience in real time.

There are two sides to behavior.  One is marketing in real time, which the Gartner for Marketing Leaders team defines as “a deliberate, sustained commitment to garnering business advantages through speed.”  Real time in this sense focuses on increasing the dynamism within the customer – company marketing dialog to enable organizations to sense and respond quickly to changing demands, for example airlines use of dynamic pricing, dynamic offers, and the like. The focus on real time in this sense is on organization for speed, agility and rapid response to unplanned events — within time frames that can impact business advantage.

The other side of digital marketing emerging is a deeper integration and engagement through an expanded customer experience.  Borrowing from Seth Godin, digital technology can enable people to understand your story and incorporate that story into their own.  That does not happen by reading a message, or receiving an alert, etc.  Rather it comes from incorporating your information into their experience in real time.

A digital edge in marketing comes from the customer experience

Digital technology is transforming the customer experience from one based on ‘being easy to do business with’ ETDBW to one based on realizing individual human ability and potential. Consider that just about every company thinks about the customer experience rests in following our steps, work our system and you will have a great experience.  The best that experience can hope for is not to get in the way, and suck less than the competitors – think airlines again, or automobiles, or consumer products, etc.

A digital edge customer experience realizes that the best experience an individual can have is one that they create for themselves, in real time.  Consider an experience shaped by the customer, open to their context, past experience and delivered in their own time, on their own terms and specific to their situation. You have the experience, you value it, etc. and the more you are in control, influence and see yourself in that experience the better it is.

Digital marketing changes when it moves away from yapping at people via a constant stream of messages henpecking the customer toward distraction and tuning out.  Examples of the fusion of marketing, experience and behavior are emerging around the world.  We identified a number of them in researching our recent book The Digital Edge: exploiting information and technology for business advantage.  At the lower end, Transport for London is one of a number of transportation companies providing information to travelers that allows them to intelligently choose their route and experience.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, a featured case study in the book and featured online, provides an example of this type of digital edge as it uses digital technologies to allow passengers to shape their own experience based on unique combinations of digital technology, information and physical resources.  They are a prime example of human ability based customer experiences as they have created an experience where passenger choice rather than company control creates an experience as grand as the ship itself.

Creating a digital edge customer experience and marketing in real time

Achieving real time marketing and customer experiences requires creating a combination of digital edges throughout the enterprise.  A digital edge exists when you create new combinations of digital and physical resources that achieve goals and create business value.  There are five types of digital edges shown in the figure below.

Three of these types apply to real time marketing and a real time customer experience.  They are:

  • An automation edge based on digital technology creates new capabilities based on new applications of processing power and capacity.  Real-time marketing requires new levels of automation to handle volume of information, decisions and micro transactions required to deliver contextually relevant information individually to the masses.
  • Applying digital technology to the customer and associate experience in terms of how information, technology devices and the physical environment. Digital signage, mobile apps and location-based services are some of the solutions supporting this type of digital edge.
  • Abstraction is a type of ‘digital on digital’ edge normally associated with analytics and big data.  Rather than just crunching the numbers abstraction combines with the other types of edges to present the offer in context as an extension of the customer experience and intent.  One hospitality company in the hospitality industry using this approach gets a greater than 50% take up rate on the digital offers presented in this manner.

The potential of digital marketing technology is limited only by the definition of marketing goals, tools and techniques.  Most digital marketing technologies concentrate on further automation and refinement of a rather traditional definition of marketing.  Expand your view on marketing and you expand its contribution to business results and technology’s ability to amplify marketing in the customer experience.  That broader view realizes the promise of digital marketing in real time by delivering a deliberate, sustained commitment to garnering business advantages through speed, by being better as well as faster.

Related posts on Digital Technology and Marketing

Beyond social media marketing, Part 1

It is time to ‘breakout’ of social media’s marketing beach head

Digital Business: How Technology Will Support Growth – Forbes

The Digital Edge in Retail

Digitalization creates new dimensions for disruption

Mapping three paths for digitalizing the business

Category: customer-experience  digital-edge  digitalization  innovation  marketing  technology  

Tags: customer-experience  digital-edge  digital-marketing-2  innovation  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Digital Edge In Marketing: The Customer Experience in ‘real time’

  1. There are some good reminders in this blog post, that real time marketing isn’t about blasting your message with faster and more frequency, it’s using information to improve the customer experience. Marketers at Royal Carribean Cruise Line for example, found that long lines at activities greatly diminish the experience – and even bruise the brand by lowering the luxery aspsect of the cruise. Technologists attacked the problem directly, putting technology in the hands of customers to optimize their time – and prevent lines from forming in the process. As marketers we are oftened reminded that “it’s the little things” that make a huge difference. Imagine how many customers might not have been retained due to this one factor? When cruises can cost $10,000 this is significant.

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  3. Digital age is here to stay. For companies is adapt or die :P

  4. […] Mark P. McDonald, a group vice president and head of research for Gartner Executive Programs, wrote about the role of digital technology in shaping consumers’ behavior and experiences in real […]

  5. […] The Digital Edge in Marketing: the customer experience in real time […]

  6. Even with digital/online media, most companies are not taking advantage of the full potential of this technology and are resorting to stone age techniques on a digital real-time platform. As you state, airlines provide real time updating of seat availability. Advertisers also should be taking advantage of real-time updating of inventory, restaurant seat, appointments, etc., adjusting promotions and discounts to provide real time incentives to customers who are viewing their site in real time. Online innovators such as Mindwarp are creating a platform for small businesses to take control of their online advertising in real time. More are sure to follow.

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