The Future of Marketing: 3 things overwhelmed marketers can do to embrace the experience economy

Ann Handley

For the past two weeks I’ve been on the road, speaking at a string of marketing events and conferences. I’ve discovered two things:

  1. After about a week, I start to fiercely miss my little dog Abby.

  2. Sometimes the chasm is deep and vast between what’s being said on stage and what the audience feels capable of.

After one high-profile keynoter finished sharing her impressive vision on stage last week, an audience member seated to my left turned to me, panicked. “We are so far behind,” he said. I could see the fear in his eyes.

If you’ve gone to a marketing event recently, maybe you can relate:

  • Every other company already seems to be customer-centric and data-savvy.

  • Everyone else seems to be stacking their martech stack higher than yours.

  • Everyone else seems to be opting hard into omnichannel when you’re still trying to do something great with ... well, uni-channel.


Breathe in. (Deep inhale.)

Breathe out. (Cleansing exhale.)

Relax. You got this.

Here’s the deal: Everyone feels behind in something.

Most of us keep buying more technology. 

Yet we’re all struggling to cope with fully implementing and managing that technology.

Everyone feels like they need to more effectively harness customer data and insights. Yet much of that data is fragmented and squirreled away in various nests throughout the organization.

In a recent conversation, my friend Christopher S. Penn quoted an IBM stat: "80% of all corporate data is so-called dark data, meaning it's not analyzed. In marketing, that figure spikes to 88%."

Everyone is trying to wrap their arms around the experience economy and the customer experience mandate, which holds that customers don’t just want products and services: They want seamless experiences.

The result of all of this? Uncertainty. Worry.

Which is in part why half of us are freaked out that we don’t know as much as our peers, according to the MarketingProfs Marketer Happiness Report.

So where to from here?

I believe that all of this uncertainty is ultimately good news for marketing.

The hyper focus on serving the customer spells opportunity for marketing leaders: 90% of organizations view the CMO as the connective tissue between the different business functions of IT, marketing, sales, and customer care, says Accenture.

But the opportunity comes coupled with some anxiety, too, as my deer-in-headlights conference friend articulated.

That's especially true for small and medium-sized organizations with limited resources, time, and a foreboding sense of doom that they’re being left far behind.

So here are a few practical steps you can take immediately to start embracing a more customer-centric mindset. Or—as I heard time and again at marketing conferences over the past few weeks—to begin embracing the new experience economy.

1. Conduct a customer experience audit.

Customer experience audits can easily become complicated and too detailed. There are a hundred vendors that can do it for you, too.

But we’re intentionally going to keep things contained, simple, and manageable. (Breathe in, breathe out.)

Interview a few of your prospects and customers about their experiences with your brand, both pre-sale and post-sale.

Pre-sale, ask questions around awareness, nurturing, and decision to buy (or not):

  • How did they hear of you?

  • What was their first impression of their first interaction?

  • Did that square with their impression of interacting with you later?

  • Why did they decide to buy? Or not?

Post-sale, inquire about overall satisfaction, loyalty, advocacy:

  • How delighted are they by you? Or not?

  • What would make them look elsewhere?

  • When they talk about you, what do they say?

Listen more than you talk. Note what problems or opportunities surface. Look for patterns.

The most important follow-up question is, why do you feel that way?

2. Undercover Boss your own brand.

Sign up for your own service. Opt-in to your own email list. Place a call to your support center. Interact on your social channels. Ask a customer care rep what patterns they see day in, day out.

Your goal here is to gain insight into the customer experience.

Your goal is to be pathologically empathic to your customers. Why? Because:

Empathy is the Miracle-Gro of a thriving customer-centric business.

3. Omni-audit your channels

In traditional marketing-speak, “omnichannel” means that we seek to give our customers a seamless and unified experience via multiple channels.

Omnis (Latin for “every” or “all”) traditionally has sought to unify the experience a customer has with you—whether the customer is interacting online from a desktop or mobile device, by phone, in person (or by catalog, social apps, or whatever).

But today, omnichannel isn’t just an advertising or a technology or shopping play. It’s more broadly the brand experience that a customer has with you across various platforms and channels, every step of the way. It integrates technology, data, content, and communication efforts across an organization to deliver a seamless experience to the customer or prospects.

In other words: What your customer experiences over here also matches what they experience over there.

When all touchpoints are aligned, it’s a powerful thing. And when they aren’t, your customers and prospects end up feeling uneasy and disappointed at the mismatch.

Haven’t we all had the experience of an amazing brand with a disappointing user experience or rude customer service person? So take a hard look at all of your customer channels and customer touchpoints.

And, when you do, pay particular attention to the voice and tone of your messaging.

Does your email newsletter feel like it comes from the same company as your Instagram feed? Does your YouTube channel have the same perspective as your in-store experience? Does your FAQ page jibe with your packaging?

Every channel has a different audience and a different vibe. And that’s okay. But the point is to be sure that your voice is consistent, even if your tone changes to match the circumstance.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the in-person experience you’re offering customers and prospects matching the brand you’ve cultivated online?

  • Have you strategically aligned the digital and physical elements of your brand to deliver a seamless customer experience—through a store you own, a retail partner network, or anyplace you are meeting customers face to face?

  • Have you identified your brand voice? Are you consistently using it across all digital and physical channels, from your website to your emails to your packaging?

Final thought

Listen, I know these three “simple” steps are actually quite time-consuming. So try one. Move to two. Then three.

Big changes start with small steps, as a Pinterest quote will tell you. The point is to keep moving forward: left foot, right foot. Breathe in, breathe out.

Avoid parking yourself in the same spot, because, to quote Will Rogers: “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.”


About the Author

Ann Handley

Ann Handley is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of two books including Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. She’s the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. Her bi-weekly newsletter, Total Annarchy, can help you become a better marketer and writer.

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