While the twitter world rocked with #AlexFromTarget this Tuesday, we wonder who the hell Alex is. To quote from the Washington Post – with more than 60 plus news articles and a million plus tweets, Alex from Target is certainly the new internet sensation. As I write this post, the guy is with Ellen DeGeneres of the famous ‘The Ellen Show’. Do I need to tell more? Target is a mega retail store chain in the US and Alex is one of their many young cashiers. The chocolaty teen had no clue he would become an overnight internet rage until a certain fan-girl named Abby clicked a picture of him at the cash counter and tweeted while crushing over him. Several other fan groups picked it from there and within hours, the internet was buzzing with #AlexFromTarget memes, news, posts and what not. From Google to YouTube to Ellen to of course even Target posted about #AlexFromTarget. The point to note here is that this was an impromptu gig initiated by a customer which went on to become exponentially viral. While Alex still remains perplexed with the sudden stardom, it is “Target” which is smiling all the way. The brand got some HUGE Publicity without spending a dime.
This whole brouhaha signals a significant change in the way marketing needs to be thought through in the current times. Like we saw in the case of Alex from Target, customers and prospects are now taking charge of the buying process. They are empowered by the internet and in this process, are revealing a lot about themselves. On the other hand, most brands are still struggling to follow the customer journey, let alone understand it. Well, if we want to grow our business, we must understand it. It is critical to not only understand the individual customer but also to help direct and optimize his or her journey. This paves the path to the next level of engagement.
While online engagement provides an excellent opportunity to get to know the customers in a better fashion, we often see that even successful brands struggle and strive for richer online engagement. Why so? The answer to that could be that they suffer from the “campaign complex”. To inspire and push customer engagement and get improved ROIs, brands need to move away from the campaign mentality and join the customer journey and in the process identify their characteristics, needs, interests and emotions in order to win their hearts and minds with contextual experiences, along with useful content.
Critics may argue that there is a marketing blind spot in online channels, which is usually the period of anonymity before you get to know your customers. Yes, it does take a little time to know the customer and the knowing happens with engagement. This blind spot can be eliminated by becoming part of the customer journey in its early stage. The advantage to start engaging early is that you have a better chance to create competitive advantage, increase sales and build brand advocacy. Social CRM could help a great deal if you want to start soon.
Merging offline/online intelligence and engagement, and eliminating the marketing blind spot can bridge two significant gaps that hinder our ability to create mutual marketing success for both the brand and the customer. Yes, this does make the customer journey a bit complex and wide but once you have mapped it well, chances of success are much stronger. In this scenario, the customer journey flows from first awareness through purchase and referral. Of course, it does incorporate traditional outbound channels and no doubt, advertising, trade shows, direct mail, customer call centers, retail outlets etc. still play substantial roles; even as marketing and sales evolve toward the digital dominion.
However, the evolution is happening with a break-neck speed as customers — both B2B and B2C — are now adopting multiple inbound/online channels across multiple devices — Website, Social Media, Mobile, Search, Content Marketing, etc. They are not afraid to tread on newer paths that take advantage of the channels most useful to them as they search for services and products to meet their ever changing needs.
Therefore, we should put a considerable effort in changing our online mentality from ‘campaign’ to customer experience and develop an integrated approach. If we are able to bridge this transition well, it will open up a plethora of great opportunities – considering the smart online tools- to provide the right offer to the right customer at the right moment – pretty much in real time !
Just like Ellen, we could leverage our investment in the content that is curated (or created) and put some real time intelligence to use the information that we have gathered about our customers to develop and deliver more evocative offers. When Ellen met Alex and together they sold her brand new holiday compilation CD at Target’s store, she applied the genius of turning the simply funny viral content into an experience with context – a sure shot method to win the hearts and minds of her prospects and customers. Period.