Revealed: In 2016 Customers Want This

They want to feel like you know them, hear them, and you’re their trusted friend -- you’re there when they need you, and sometimes when they don’t, but you’re helpful and fun, and enhance their life by being you.

Let’s face it, marketing is sometimes still seen as an adversary, an invader, and an impersonal entity that just “doesn’t get me”. When I share that I’m an email Marketing Consultant with Marketing Cloud, my friends often share their frustrations, “I don’t get it. I’ve unsubscribed and I still get emails.” So, I’ve modified my elevator pitch to, “I help make email less annoying.” I now recognize that this adopts an inherent defensiveness, but also serves as my olive branch to help position me as a relatable person behind marketing with a strategy who gets their pain points and highlights that I, too, am a consumer. And, remember the early days of pop-up ads that were such an interruption, x-ing out of them wasn’t an easy task? Marketers quickly learned that wasn’t going to win the hearts and minds of customers.

Luckily, a transformative shift is happening. Products and service providers have found creative ways to empower customers to steer their own experiences, on their own time, with their preferred technologies. Let’s take winning content curators like Thrillist, where subscribers trust and thirst for the content so much, ‘Allied Content’, or sponsored stories, aren’t shunned -- they might even be welcomed if it means readers will uncover the latest trend they must know about. Or, Spotify, Hulu, Netflix - the media streaming services that inhabit most of our smart devices. Consumers are willing to endure short-stint (albeit super hip and relevant, I might add) commercials, if that means they can watch their favorite shows at their own convenience. Maybe the “chill” part of “Netflix and chill” is taking place during commercials breaks...but I digress.

So, what’s the moral of the story? After attending four Chicago Ideas Week 2015 events over the past seven days and witnessing one avante garde train platform performance, the following 5 trends are apparent and warranted as we approach marketing in 2016. And, they all point to customers just wanting brands to be their friend.

For Retail, Physical & Virtual Environments Convergence

Most people have an email address and a smartphone. They might have an Apple Watch, a digital device that tracks their every physical move. They might get together in person for lunch, and have their phone join the party. People are no longer either categorized as digital, or physical--they are both. So, marketers need to think that way too. After attending The Future of Retail with designer Rebecca Minkoff, and according to, “The Greatest Hoodie Ever Made,” American Giant, two points became clear.

1. Dressing rooms with touch-screen mirrors that help you select products and sizes and personally curated recommendations converges the physical and the virtual, helping the connected customer find what they need and what they might want in a customer service-centric environment.

2. Quality, fit, comfort, and the can’t-live-without-it feel of a handcrafted classic sweatshirt wins. (Pssst-notice, they also mimic the best traits in a best friend?)

Delivering on Need. Customers Raise Their Hands, We Deliver.

If we have learned one thing from the Uber disruptor, it’s that people want in-demand, on-demand products and services. Free shipping, buy online, pick-up in store (BOPS), geo-targeted personal delivery, ‘find the closest store to me’ features, and in-store experiences where you can choose what you want to try on by touching a screen, and a sales associate (or a mini elevator-like device delivers it personally to your room) is what customers want. They want what they want, when they want it, and they’re open to ideas of what else will help them while they’re at it. I heard from Nadia Shouraboura, founder of Hointer, who noticed minimalistic retail stores with all of the sizes and stock hidden from the shopper’s eye, was the way to deliver to dressing rooms. She also created a revolutionary, yet logical system, where shoppers have a chute for clothes they want to try comes to them in the fitting room, and a chute to drop unwanted clothes -- just like a hamper. Customers want ease, convenience, and to cut the clutter, whether shopping online or in store.

Minimalism & Simplicity

The Technology: Disruptive Innovation session at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 brought an important fact to the surface. In a panel with Caterpillar’s CEO, Doug Oberhelman, Uptake and Chicago Ideas Week’s Brad Keywell, and Fast Company’s Chuck Salter, the following was asserted: We now have the ability to gather so much data, but the end user’s expectation of simplicity increases with it. This could not be more ‘on fleek’ (to use a trending phrase for spot-on). As marketers, we have so many ways to gather, track, and bundle data, but let’s make sure to sift through it and present the clarified results or outputs for our audience.

Location Driven Relevancy

In the Makers of America session, Shinola handmade manufacturing CEO, Jacques Panis, and Back to the Roots home-grown produce company’s Alejandro Velez, highlighted customers’ deep desire to now know the story behind the products they buy, and the personal connection to products that reflect the geography of where they are made.

Shareworthy Content = Share-worthy/Relatable Experiences

Lastly, I was waiting in a train station on my way home from Chicago Ideas Week, and live music by a group called Remedy and energetic, synchronized choreography was in play, capturing the attention of bystanders. I recognized the urge to take out my phone and film them and I came to a conclusion: marketers’ audiences simply want an experience they can enjoy, connect to, and one that moves them. And, when that happy magic happens, they’re likely to share it too. (Hello, viral marketing!) Let’s set out to create that experience that has customers singing, “because I’m happy…” Ready, set…

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