Digital Transformation to Drive Future Customer Experience

By Sydney Wells, Director of Digital Strategy, Theodore Alexander

Sydney Wells, Director of Digital Strategy, Theodore Alexander

Digital leader with 15 years experience creating highly successfully marketing campaigns aimed at increasing brand awareness, driving online revenue, and expanding search engine visibility. Able to engage existing customers and future prospects by functioning as the online voice of a company, implementing a strong brand presence, and escalating thought leadership in digital content.

In the light of your experience what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening in the Digital Experience space?

One of the biggest trends, and simultaneously the biggest challenges, is Augmented Reality (AR). I’m interested to incorporate this into my current digital strategy, but have found the costs and systems upgrades needed are causing roadblocks. Even still, I strongly believe that 360 views and integrating product into your home to see how it will look, will be imperative for brands who want to stay ahead of the curve. Being able to “touch” or “feel” a product through digital gives users a “brick and mortar experience” online and solidifies an ongoing relationship with your brand.

Beacon technology is another interesting trend I’ve been looking into. I currently direct the digital strategy for a furniture brand and beacon technology is a great way to integrate digital into brick and mortar. For example, I envision walking through our showroom where beacons setup throughout trigger content or videos to pop up on your phone, through an app or similar, to tell you about a certain piece or give you the story behind a collection. Some of the bigger furniture retailers and brands have already integrated this technology and I think our customers would enjoy the intimate experience of learning about pieces and collections on their personal phones or ipads as they walk through our showroom. It brings the digital experience to life and could help our brand stand out among our competitors.

Another interesting trend I’ve been playing around with is social engagement through in-person, onsite activities. My company participates in the High Point Furniture Market every year and it is important to gather visitor’s information and get that follow or like from them onsite. This past Market we integrated an Everwall live feed so people could see their posts, using our branded hashtag, and they would pop up on screens throughout our showroom. Being able to see themselves on screens in the showroom and having our brand acknowledge/interact with their posts, helped increase the number of people posting on social and ultimately, increased our brand exposure and engagement. This was done organically or for “free,” other than the cost of the software. There are other interesting in-person activities you could do including hashtag printers, interactive hashtag mosaics, and live on-site twitter chats.

The biggest trend I am focused on going into 2020 is Influencer Marketing. I don’t look at our partners as just influencers, they are so much more than that. They are content creators, social media gurus, video makers, designers, and copywriters. I am interested in forming true, meaningful relationships with people who take creating content and engaging with their audience seriously. Forming relationships with people outside of your brand integrates trust and honesty with your marketing. Your brand and product have to be on point, though. These people will quickly let you know if you are not up to par. We all know there is nothing better than word-of-mouth, friend-to-friend advertising and for this reason alone, Influencer Marketing is a huge focus for me going into 2020.

Could you talk about your approach to identifying the right partnership providers from the lot?

When looking at a software or new technology, it has to be easy to use and easy to incorporate into our strategy. I don’t want to hire a new person or team every time we bring on a new software/ technology. It also needs to have some type of perceived ROI or value. This doesn’t mean it has to directly drive sales, but it should increase brand exposure or solve a problem that will save us time/ energy. I also look for how these companies treat customers who call in with questions. If I can’t find a number to call or chat feature that has an actual person on the other end, I will probably pass on the software. I need people to talk to if I’m in a bind. I also want to partner with a company that’s proactive in making sure I’m happy with their service. Whether it is a call to check in or emails with simple how-to webinars, it means a lot when companies reach out to find out how we’re doing. It’s also an added bonus when companies have customizable plans and programs, or if I’m able to pause a service when it’s a monthly subscription based plan.

What are some of the points of discussion that go on in your leadership panel? What are the strategic points that you go by to steer the company forward?

Leadership means finding people who have more experience than you, know how to do things better than you do or know more about a certain area, then giving them the space and freedom to get the job done. Micromanaging can be toxic and create people who are scared to do their best work. Setting people up for success and providing ongoing feedback of their performance are key elements in being an effective leader.

The main strategic point to steer a company forward, for me, is effective scalability. I’m constantly thinking, “How I can make this bigger and better but still keep a quality product?” Figuring out your roadblocks and knowing how to increase productivity without affecting quality, are essential skills to have. For example, custom emails look great and could bring in a good amount of revenue. How many people and how long is it taking you to create each of those custom, one-off emails? Would you get more ROI from a personalized email template that your team can just pop content into and is triggered based on a user’s interaction with your site? My guess is, yes. I call these “set it and forget it” type email and they will end up bringing in more revenue and a better customer experience at the end of the day.

It’s also important to cut through as much red tape as possible. Give people room to make decisions, and more importantly, to make mistakes. It’s okay to fail, just make sure you fail fast and have measures in place to track your learnings so you don’t keep making the same mistakes.

How do you see the evolution of the Digital Experience arena a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

I see more AI and AR being introduced as innovators and early adopters spend the money to work out the kinks for the rest of us. I see more wearable and integrated technologies coming to market. I think the whole “Internet of Things Revolution” will really start to take hold and IOT will become an option available to the masses, not just a luxury meant for the affluent or wealthy. I see more digital experiences being brought into brick and mortar and vice versa. I think it’s very important for those two adversaries, digital & brick and mortar, to learn how to work together and realize that they are not competing and that their relationship can be mutually beneficial.

What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?

It‘s important to set expectations and manage those expectations with high-level stakeholders. Teach your CEO, COO and CFO enough about the digital space (without making it overwhelming) so that they trust you and give you the support you need to be successful. Digital strategist and marketers can’t be “yes men.” We have to be “Yes, but men.” Meaning that we will try to find a solution to the company’s problem, but with the understanding that our solution might fail. Social and digital are always changing and very subjective when it comes to what will actually work for your brand. Many factors go in to figuring out what will work for your company, it is imperative you set realistic expectations and teach a little along the way.

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