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POINT OF view

New Commerce: The Way Forward By Mohammad Wasim, Global Infrastructure Practice Lead, Sapient

Business is simple. Companies connect with customers, and customers connect with companies via their brands. The brand is everything in today’s digital world; and brand loyalty is a recurring business. For instance, I drive a Ford, and I am so obsessed with the brand’s engineering and the service that it offers that I recommend the same brand to others. When I buy a second car, it too is a Ford. Evolving nature of brand alignment Brand alignment used to be quite simple in the past. In the ‘70s, people bought commodities on the recommendations of their family and friends. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, business was achieved via all forms of media whether print such as newspapers, pamphlets, and hoardings; or the showroom window; or the audio visual medium such as the radio, and the television; and even through websites during the dot-com era in the early ‘90s. But they were isolated channels of communication and functioned in one way, which is primarily to give information to the people about the brand. The audio visual organizations broadcast their messages to the consumers, irrespective of whether the consumer was willing to listen, just like the numerous pamphlets that were distributed whether the consumer read it or not and the billboards, which people saw, but had the option of ignoring them. IT brings brands closer to customers IT innovation and proliferation has brought the brand closer to the customers and has unfolded a whole new brand experience for them. The customers have begun to feel the brand need and are demanding greater interaction with it. Today, the customer has become the master, who either enjoys the brand or shuns it. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s during the one-way communication era, customers didn’t have the opportunity to cross-question or gather feedback from the other customers about a particular brand. Now, the technology-equipped and enabled customer demands that business organizations speak to them, and when they do so they must convince them that their company is a lot more than a mere mission statement, and more than a shining logo; it is a brand that engages the customer and interacts with him or her. Technology is making businesses far more complex. Its fast pace is making business organisations chaotic because to enable ‘brand interactiveness’ for all business functions of an organisation, for all channels, is very challenging. In the yesteryears, the marketing function alone was responsible for making consumers aware of the brand, while sales pushed the products down to the customers. IT’s operations were to collate information separately for different functions; its core focus was to expedite operations and keep the lights on. Businesses functioned in silos and were losing out on the opportunity to leverage the information of other departments. With little coordination of different functions with each other, there was duplication of effort by individual functions, which hurt the overall efficiency of the organisation. An organisation’s functions need to be coherent, with an eye for detail to map each business function to multiple digital (online,

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POINT OF view kiosk, email among others) and conventional (like pamphlets, newspapers, billboards) channels. Stitching all these together on various technology platforms (commerce, content, CRM, social network, analytics, Business Intelligence, recommendation and review, and order management among others) is a colossal and tedious task. Businesses are striving hard to achieve it. Some have done it well and are reaping the benefits, for example Coca-Cola and Netflix, and others who ignored it lost their ground like Blockbuster, and Wall Street Journal. Going forward, business will be more challenging where aspects of doing business (product, transaction, and relationship) have to be digitised to ensure the company and brand is experienced by the customers in the relevant time and place. A consistent brand experience across all communication channels (conventional and digital) has become of utmost importance. Here are the top four factors that will put businesses on a competitive pace: • Channel proliferation – Technology progression has made gadgets inter-operative and always connected to the network. Devices like the tablet, mobile, kiosk, interactive display, IPTV, vending machines, and call centres among others, can talk with each other all the time. These channels are available to customers today. They expect information (in the form of blogs, white papers, reviews, and comments, among others) as well as the capability to do transactions, at all times and everywhere. It is very important that the customer can experience the brand consistently, at all times. For example, while buying apparel, the customer should be able to get all the details on the apparel anywhere, and at all times. For instance, information on the fabric used, availability of sizes at different outlets, the reviews on it, and also the facility where the customer can buy it without human intervention. The interactive experience should not only be limited to the customer’s computer but also from other portal devices (like tablets and mobiles), and even kiosks in malls or the roadside. Wall’s ice cream does this very well – its ice-cream vendors build relations with their customers by giving out free ice cream accompanied with a big smile. They also do commerce transaction by selling the ice cream and taking feedback from their customers. • Convergence - Different business functions need to converge on priority, as business decisions taken by departments in isolation will lose the competitiveness that it will gain from technology advancement. All the C-level executives need to be in the same room to understand and align with each other to propel the boat for maximum returns. CIOs will be able to architect, rationalise, consolidate, and integrate all the functions together. A good data curator will be able to loop all the data from different functions into one central system and provide intelligence for the company to take strategic decisions. An un-orchestrated approach will give an opportunity to the customer to poke fun at (the brand). • Hyper-personalisation - Today, the customer is multifaceted and wears different personalities. Each personality is unique with respect to human likings and the mood that the person is in. With technology (phone, chat, and video call) the world has become a much smaller place as it also provides the platform (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among others) for people to engage in business. Technology allows businesses to reach out to their customers depending on the time of the day, to which it has mapped a certain expected mood of the customer. For instance, in the morning, the customer is expectedly a sportsman, willing to engage in serious conversation around his sport, and he may even be willing to buy it. But during the course of the day, customers are focused on their businesses and wish not to be disturbed for any other activity than work. Any attempt to reach out to customers for brand connection (marketing or selling)

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POINT OF view

during this period may adversely impact the brand relationship. In the evenings, the customers are expected to be relaxing, either catching up with their friends over social networking sites, or uploading photos, or chatting with people back in their home town. This is the right time to give them the brand experience. Companies also need to understand the change in the behaviour and mood of their customers, in relation to the time of the day in order to be able to serve him the most relevant business information. For example, most online retailers have started advertising on social networks, but they usually publish static content through the day when their customers are at work. However, whatever time of day, the data that they post on their websites has to be relevant, so that the customer will be inclined to visit their site when he is in a mood to listen, talk, and interact. It is highly likely to influence and connect him or her to the brand at that time. • Intercept marketing (influencing than targeting) - Learn the art of influencing and the science of putting hooks in the customer’s mind so that when the customer decides to do a transaction later, the hooks come into play and influence him or her towards the brand. For example, creating an online fan club for an automobile company and gradually letting the fans understand the USP of the brand’s products, which later influence the customer when he or she wishes to buy a car. Targeting customers in groups has resulted in broadcast and mass messaging, but such efforts often go to waste and are short-lived. At times, this approach may even make some customers unhappy as the information is forced on them. Such customers may unknowingly drift away from the brand. Conclusion We are not very far off from the time when a channel as simple as a vending machine will hold the stakes for all business units of an organisation. The vending machine will do commerce transactions (sales) by dispensing goods; build relationships (marketing) by interacting with the visitors by issuing coupons or gifts; collect customer (operations) data for analytics; build a community of like-minded customers; and even offer concierge services or act as a friendly information kiosk. It may even carry out Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), for the brand. This article was originally published in CFO Connect, India, August 2011.

Wasim leads the global delivery infrastructure and performance groups at Sapient and has over 13 years of work experience in the IT industry. He has been a key contributor and an evangelist in growing the groups and has rolled out many successful initiatives in the organization, e.g., Sapient’s India expansion, multiple shared services, Sapient’s private cloud, ISO27001. In his current role, he is responsible for driving the strategy, value growth, and expansion of Sapient’s infrastructure group across geographical locations. He is also responsible for building service portfolios, expanding the company into new markets and developing strategic relationships. Earlier at Sapient, Wasim had been involved in various roles in critical engagements across the globe with Fortune 500 organizations in telecom, travel, technology, healthcare and financial services domains.

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New Commerce: The Way Forward