2018 will be another challenging year for brands and retailers unwilling, or unable, to adapt to the new consumer landscape. The bright side is that big changes also create big opportunities. At Talkoot, we identified six strategies that working together will help brands and retailers succeed this year.

1. Embrace Direct-to-Consumer

D2C” is a do-or-die strategy, and an e-commerce site alone is not enough. The D2C model demands an entire organization shift toward the consumer. In order to build more direct customer relationships, all departments must embrace D2C. The entire organization should incorporate D2C cross-functionally. Companies cannot treat it as separate and isolated, as the sole responsibility of the e-commerce team, as someone’s specific job function. Separating out D2C causes a disconnect with consumers and within a company. It allows the status quo to remain in the graveyard of old-world commerce. Any D2C strategy should work across the entire organization because D2C is really a company-wide imperative focused on reinventing customer relationships and not just an e-commerce shopping cart tacked onto website. 

D2C disruption isn’t just a new channel. It’s often simply “the familiar done differently.” Dollar Shave Club, AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Casper, Warby Parker and deliver recognizable products and services to consumers, but in a much better way. Also, all of these companies invested heavily and early in their brand style and brand story.

2. IT Needs to Become Customer Centric

“Amazon is a technology company” is a common cliché reiterated to make the point that successful companies must now become technology companies. This misses the target, and Jeff Bezos disagrees with the sentiment that places technology first. He wrote:

A lot of this, not all, rests on the IT department. The problem is rooted in the core of IT’s experience creating complicated technical solutions that don’t put people first. Technical concerns like “syndication” and “governance,” while relevant, should not take precedence over enabling content creators to create.  IT needs to shift from a storage-centric, cover-your-ass mentality to become the heart of a thriving, agile and collaborative workforce. To succeed in today’s market it’s not just about product, marketing or sales. It’s about enabling a culture of innovation and action. Most look to the CEO for this shift but for IT this means seeking solutions (tools) that emphasize collaboration and work efficiencies.

3. Focus on Customer Relationships Over Price

Many startups have emerged in the fertile ground of the slash-and-burn retail space. These digital natives are very nimble and understand the dynamics of a new marketplace where purchase decisions are driven less by bargain hunting and more by online research and socially-minded consumers who feel want to feel more connected to their purchasing decisions for things they are passionate about. Groupon shows that bargain hunting is not the wave of the future. Daily deals is a novelty, not a business model. Consumers want more experience, connection, and loyalty from their brands, and they are willing to pay for it.

Passion is a magical emotion that when tapped correctly can overcome price. If a company wins on price alone, they lose a small piece of brand loyalty with each purchase. Most D2C minded companies know that a returning, loyal customer is far more valuable than a onetime buyer. Earning loyal customers requires a deep customer understanding that can only be achieved through D2C strategies and a smart, agile content strategy.

4. Speed Up Content Creation (and Adopt Agile Software Development)

Cars, phones, outdoor gear and clothing have all historically been built using a Waterfall process that progresses through unique stages of development and ends in a final and ultimate release. Most product still fall into this pattern. However, product life-cycles are speeding up and, as a result, organizations are going through a reboot, or they’re going under.

Agile software development enabled tech companies to ditch traditional waterfall practices. Over the past two decades, tech companies have developed mature Agile development methods to build a world where frequent software releases quickly fix existing problems and roll out new features in response to customer feedback.

Consumers now expect to have the latest and greatest across all industries. Accustomed to Agile software practices, consumers have high expectations that all brands keep up with and respond to their needs. Product brands now need to adopt more agile methodologies in order to meet changing customer demand. The Agile shift has already begun with apparel offering pre-collections and seasonless clothing. Information, products and consumers all move faster, and shopping moves at an instantaneous “see-now-buy-now” pace. This relentless pace disrupts the entire product supply chain life cycle, including the content creation life cycle. 

Agile embraces agility, innovation and the ability to respond to change. It won’t make things easier, that’s not the point, but if done right can help a brand better prepare and predict. Content creation is an easy and safe place to start thinking about Agile methodologies. Starting here will do wonders to drive innovation up into the broader organization. Content is a brand’s version of software. Product content can iterate, change quickly and is a surprisingly important part of a online product. 

5. Align With Customer Experience, Don’t Create Experience

Brands need to align with customer experiences rather than try to control and create consumer experiences. Consider that an individual created #vanlife, which, in turn, created a new segment for companies to align with — not the other way around. With all the talk about customer experience, it’s easy for forget who’s creating these experiences. Customers are out in the real world, consuming, living and creating. Socially, they influence each other much more than brands do, hence the rise of “influencers” as a major marketing powerhouse. (Ever heard of “Dark Social”?) This shift requires subtle changes in the way products are marketed. Brands need to use digital technologies to connect with and interact with people and experiences, meanwhile recognizing that consumer interact socially. Brands can’t expect customers to come to them; they must reach out and find customers across a wide spectrum of platforms. The problem? Platforms are moving targets that change very quickly, especially with teens. 

Focusing even on the platforms that marketers typically understand (Instagram, Facebook) can be difficult. Successful companies will not only use the new modern tools to find and connect with their audience but will need to constantly adapt to shift when the inevitable moment arises. It’s kind of like this humorous commercial from Kayak.

6. Rediscover Product and Product Descriptions

Far too often, marketers forget a simple truth about shoppers. While advertising and branding are indispensable, product still remains king. Product is still the final step in the customer journey. In fact, the primary reason customers try a new brand is the quality and usefulness of a product. If brands don’t offer consumers a worthwhile product, no amount of loyalty program incentives, creative advertisements, or the host of other areas that marketers tend to place much of their focus will convince them. In other words, a brand’s loyalty is only as strong as the customers’ feelings toward the products associated with it. And online, digital product content stands in for the physical product.

In the two-dimensional world of e-commerce, physical interaction with products is replaced by digital videos, photos, reviews and the product descriptions. Too many companies ignore these golden nuggets, especially the product description. More and more, study after study, shows that the product description does a surprising amount of work in building brand loyalty and closing the sale. But don’t be fooled into thinking any product description will suffice. When looking for ways to connect with consumers ask if the description is technical dribble or actually speaks the language of the customer.