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Authenticity and personalisation are key to unlocking the post-pandemic consumer

Following the challenges of the pandemic, brands are now facing severe economic headwinds caused by inflation and reduced consumer confidence. Those who show real authenticity are best placed to prosper, argues Sitecore CEO Steve Tzikakis

The pandemic caused almost every brand and retailer to rethink their strategies and reconsider how they connect with and service their customers. Now, with the virus at bay but inflation rising, many consumers are counting the pennies. A new set of challenges is being created by a combination of supply chain disruption and what threatens to be the worst period of economic turbulence and adversity in a generation. 

How can brands adapt so that they not only survive but thrive in this new economic landscape? The latest research from Sitecore, an end-to-end, composable digital experience platform that provides web content management, headless commerce, personalisation solutions and multichannel marketing automation software, offers some important insights. 

“New opportunities are opening up for brands,” says Sitecore’s CEO, Steve Tzikakis. “We feel that many consumers are still looking to spend the money they saved over the two years in which they couldn’t travel or do many of the things that they were used to doing. In order to make the most of the opportunity that this potential consumer spending offers, brands have to be more engaged. They need to be more authentic, in terms of what they stand for and how they interact with society.” 

This might include being more open and transparent about their supply chains and the provenance of raw materials, and production methods. According to Sitecore’s research, 89% of consumers believe that brands should prove that they treat their customers and employee fairly. 

Tzikakis believes that being able to demonstrate transparency and authenticity will be key to gaining a competitive advantage over the new few years. “Customers appreciate brands that keep them engaged and informed post-sales and during delivery,” he says.

Technology now offers an essential tool, according to Tzikakis. They can use personalisation, he explains, to demonstrate to consumers that they are authentic and mean what they say when they claim to care about consumer needs and preferences. The move towards online shopping – whether it be groceries or jewellery – has given retailers and brands unprecedented knowledge and insight into an individual consumer’s behaviour. But are they willing and able to use this data to good effect? 

“It’s more important than ever to know who your customer is,” says Tzikakis. According to Sitecore’s research, a full 83% of those surveyed believe that brands should try to ensure that customers feel represented in their marketing and communications, while 87% report that it is “very” or “somewhat powerful” that brands “illustrate empathy and understanding of what I need in this moment.”

He argues that most brands still have a long way to go here. “There’s no textbook for this,” he points out. The risks are very real – but so are the rewards. “We always advise our clients that as well as knowing their customers and introducing hyper-personalisation wherever possible, they need to focus on optimisation.” 

Imagine that a potential customer is visiting a website but they’re hesitating about interacting with it. “This is where you’re constantly measuring interaction and constantly innovating. It could be as simple as whether your consumers prefer the red or green background. Do they like your font? Do they want to hear music? Do they like the static version of your site or the one that has a certain dynamism?”

There are a wide and growing range of tools to enable marketers to identify and measure customer preferences, and to help implement changes as a result of these findings. However, too many are still unwilling or unable to use them, according to Tzikakis. Lessons from e-commerce, with its wealth of customer data, can be translated into the physical world and into omnichannel operations. 

“If I’m online, I might be sitting at home or on a train or plane,” he says. “I’ve got the time to provide you with information such as my birthday, my location, or my marital status. But the question always is, ‘If I give you that information, what are you going to do with it? I don’t want it sold to vendors who aren’t relevant to me’.” Sitecore research revealed that 71% of customers would not return to a brand who, they felt, had not lived up to their expectations. 

The survey also suggests that the health and wellbeing and consumer technology sectors poll well for trust among consumers. “The automotive industry also scored high with transparency. They’ve had problems with their supply chain but they’ve been open about it.” 

Looking further ahead Tzikakis believes that 5G and 6G will transform the consumer experience, as will the growth of the metaverse. The avalanche of data that will be created by consumer interactions with this more engaging, more immersive online experience can enable even greater personalisation, he says. But here, too, authenticity is essential. Those brands that are transparent about this exciting and profoundly impactful but controversial technology will manage it best and derive the greatest benefit from it. 

Putting all of their eggs in the metaverse basket requires consideration and long-term thinking from businesses that are digital. “People want to explore the metaverse and enjoy the ease of online shopping, but they also want to be out there, enjoying the real world,” says Tzikakis. “Brands have got to meet the customer wherever the customer is and, is in this post-pandemic world, they’ve also got to develop authenticity and create a hyper-personalised experience to keep those customers happy.”

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