Use Customer Knowledge to Innovate

Digital disruption is here; customer insight can help companies be disruptors instead of being disrupted.


“Digital disruptions are threatening business norms,” Shar VanBoskirk asserted during her keynote at Sailthru Lift 2015.

But far too many businesses are unprepared for this new digital reality, said VanBoskirk, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. According to Forrester, 79% of e-business professionals surveyed think that their CEOs have a solid plan in place to become truly digital businesses. “What keeps us from being digital is that we don’t know how to disrupt ourselves,” she said.

VanBoskirk recommends using—but rethinking—agile innovation to disrupt your own business. There are four elements she advised taking a different approach to:

Interactions override processes. This should change to “everything is a point of interaction.” Her advice here is to look for interaction points or friction points with customers that are ripe for innovation.

Trial developments are better than blueprints. Instead, launch quickly then test to improve. Don’t wait until a campaign, interaction strategy, or product is perfect; jump in and see if it works, gets adopted, or creates engagement. Then make improvements.

Stakeholders contribute to development. Move to collaborating with internal and external advocates. One effective way to do this is crowdsourcing with customers.

Development happens continuously. Enhance this by adjusting based on market conditions. Respond quickly to opportunities that present themselves. In some cases companies can use this to turn a negative situation to a positive experience.

VanBoskirk used email marketing as one example of an approach that marketers can improve through innovation. “Most emails fail because they don’t balance user needs with business goals,” she said. “Most over-index on one side or the other—usually on the business side.”

The question marketers need to ask, she said, is: Are you applying context to your email? One way to do so is triggered email, VanBoskirk pointed out. It’s a great example of applying context, because triggered emails respond to a situation the customer is in in the moment. She cited IHG as an example. Customers repeatedly open its reservation confirmation emails prior to traveling to check the local weather forecasts in the email to plan for their trip. VanBoskirk suggested that, like IHG, marketers should think not just about dynamic content based on open time or place, but instead think like a concierge.

So, what can marketers do right now? “Challenge conventional thinking at your firm,” VanBoskirk said. “Use your customer knowledge to push the boundaries of what your business could do.”

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