The meteoric rise of digital (and digital expectations)
“In my mind, this is the year that changed digital transformation,” explains Wesley ter Haar, founder of MediaMonks.
It’s a succinct analysis of a year which has seen nearly every business need to boost its digital presence in order to keep operating as vast swathes of the population move in and out of lockdowns.
“COVID-19 has shown a lot of our clients where the holes in their digital ecosystem were, and pushed them to solve these problems very quickly and try to replicate some of that human experience through digital channels,” he adds.
Ter Haar believes helping clients adapt to this new normal will come from future planning, rather than just focusing on a singular problem in the digital space they may be encountering.
He says: “Now we’re looking at finding different ways for brands to turn up in a space. I think we've seen brands really trying to understand that they have a role and responsibility with what's happening in society today.
“And that to me has been a really interesting process to be part of. And then we're just thinking about what happens when the masks come off after everything is over.”
Financial institutions to the fore
Anojan Abel, Head of Platform Partnerships at Facebook for Australia and New Zealand, agrees that digital transformation will continue at pace as consumers demand more from online experiences, singling out some clear examples emerging in the financial sector.
“We know 35% of Australians report using contactless payments more now in this COVID-19 environment,” explains Abel.
“So certainly, once you use it, you're going to keep using it as that consumer behaviour becomes ingrained. What's clear from a consumer standpoint is that a purely financial experience when it comes to banking apps isn't good enough. People are expecting their mobile experiences to be as good as any other consumer app.”
Ter Haar agrees, saying, “A lot of traditional financial institutions and companies have been able to get away with a less than ideal customer experience via digital channels, but now that’s the only experience, it’s going to put a lot more weight on how businesses actually turn up.”
Abel notes that some of the larger financial institutions out there have nimbly shifted their digital tactics to assist customers of all ages.
“Westpac did this great campaign”, Abel explains, “where it used Messenger to help younger people educate their grandparents, by utilising the bank in a more digital savvy way.
“They were polled to ask a few questions, then they were given bespoke content they could pass on to their elders. Messenger is just a very viral way of sharing this information.”
Connecting with customers
As we turn to digital in the wake of physical restrictions, the ecommerce sector is embracing its opportunity to flourish. For this reason, ter Haar says the customer experience must be at the heart of an offering. He cites Nike as a brand that has done well to connect with audiences during lockdown.
“We did amazing live streaming training with Nike right after the lockdown in the US,” says ter Haar.
“It was all about keeping people active, keeping people engaged, physical and mental wellness, and health. And Nike, of course, could turn up very well in that space. So we were live streaming personal trainers to 100,000-500,000 people at a time. That type of thinking I really like because it’s what's natural for this brand to lean into.”
For Abel, positive consumer experiences are coming from those brands who solidified their digital offering long before they needed to.
“I always find Uber Eats to be a completely seamless experience. Canva’s mobile app is another one that is dominating the space just because of what it can do. The way these businesses scale and how they reach beyond just one market with the investments that they make in their apps is just staggering,” he explains.
Technology is evolving - so evolve with it
Ter Haar highlights some technologies he sees starting to grow into this new ecosystem, saying the best are focusing on the chaos of human nature and using “their scale and their connectivity to create new experiences”.
“I like the serendipitous nature of some of what I am seeing happen in our Messenger channel because I think that's the one thing that's been very difficult to replicate with digital - the slightly unorganised chaos that you get from people just being together,” he explains.
For Abel, the future of genuinely exciting technology is already here: “The game-changing technology I'm most excited about comes via user behaviour - it’s people contacting businesses on messaging devices.
“If you can make that experience fast, fun and reliable, it’s a great time to start building that muscle early to capitalise for the future.”
Abel says an evolution in security will also enable banks to reassess how it connects with consumers in a way that strengthens businesses: “The game changer for our platforms, and specifically for the banks or the financial institutions is going to be around finance and the topic of end-to-end encryption. We're building a lot of these things that customers are telling us they need.”
Abel acknowledges this digital evolution isn’t something that can happen overnight, but is a great opportunity for those looking to grow. Those that build capability now will be in a strong position in the near future, much like those businesses that took the initiative digitally before circumstances compelled them to act.
“The important thing is really to start small, and remember there isn't going to be a game-changer that takes an experience from zero to great. It's about building those really small things and being ready,” he says.
As the pandemic reveals the gaps in our digital ecosystem that need attention, it has also highlighted the success stories, which ter Haar says is cause for celebration.
He expounds: “I think digital when done well, there is something magical to it. It's joyous and celebratory, because there is this tactile and interactive component to it. It brings people together.”
For both, connecting with customers now and into the future will mean fast and seamless experiences which are also able to serve up a bit of serendipity and broaden peoples’ horizons beyond what many algorithms are currently able to serve up.
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