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GUEST COMMENT Intelligent Experiences: A recipe for next-generation loyalty  

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Benoit Soucaret, chief experience officer at Merkle Experience & Commerce, UK

Today’s commerce isn’t just about transactions, just as customer experience isn’t solely about how long the line at the checkout is. Today’s brands are in the business of experience, a new paradigm that demands a 360-degree personalised approach.  

Modern data-driven strategies coalesce to form the ‘intelligent experience’; a multi-channel, personalised, transformational approach that enables brands to form individual human relationships. Modern data strategy meets powerful technology with deep behavioural understanding and creativity. But what goes into creating a strategy of intelligent experiences – today’s recipe for growth and long-term success? 

1. The personal experience

Being personal is the foundation of intelligent experiences, putting the customer at the centre, rather than the product or service being sold. To do this, brands not only have to understand who their customers are but also what they want and how they will act at any given moment across every touchpoint. 

Next-generation customer analytics is the enabler that brings brand, product, service and buying experiences together, leading to a new era of personalisation powered by technology, data, and content. Predictive analytics and AI have become essential capabilities in unlocking insights that drive this kind of next-level personalisation.  

Personalisation is not a gimmick. It’s not a nice-to-have. It is the bedrock of experience commerce.  

2. The phygital experience

Omnichannel commerce experiences must fit into and fuel a connected digital and physical ecosystem. Phygital — the blending of physical and digital experiences —  is the realisation of seamlessly connected experiences that bring together all touchpoints in a cohesive way. This is all about an aligned, optimised customer experience that breeds engagement on a personal level, no matter what channel, and using that strategy to create stand-out moments that matter. For example, we know that traditional retail is dead, but shops still matter. It just means that they must become a shopfront for the intelligent experience.  

Moving from product-focused stores to experience spaces provides a point of differentiation and connection. Digitally enabled stores harness customer data to make each visit special, giving customers a reason not only to leave their homes but to come back time and again.  

Consumers are accelerating their shift to digital-first buying; personalised, online interactions fuel continued connection, while elevated stores cement loyalty through emotional, joyful, human experiences.  

3. The empowering experience

Delivering intelligent experiences for customers also means empowering brand employees, especially sales representatives and front-line customer service colleagues. Harnessing personalised, data-driven approaches provides them with the insight they need to quickly build rapport and relationships with their customers.  

For example, in-store and online sales assistants need to feel more empowered to offer personal suggestions or rewards, based on the customer’s preferences, such as recommending a product they can see the customer has bought in the past, or asking how they got on with previous purchases.  This starts with ensuring the employee experience is great. Happy and engaged employees create better customer experiences, which lead to more satisfied and loyal customers.  

4. The purposeful experience

Customers aren’t simply looking for transactions with brands. They choose brands that affirm their values. Purpose-driven commerce is not new, but with an ever-increasing focus on sustainability, diversity and inclusion, social responsibility, and even social justice, brands that do not connect with their customers’ values in genuine, authentic ways will never achieve true loyalty. Understanding what customers really care about requires insight that is sensitive to individual preferences through a socially conscious lens.  

5. The social experience

Social commerce has boomed in the last decade, with Instagram influencers and Snapchat brand takeovers resulting in spikes and fads that brands have hooked onto, some with great effect. However, social is changing. Generation Alpha, and Millennials have deserted their parents’ stomping ground of Facebook, towards TikTok.  

Brands are using TikTok to meet these audiences where they are, so this shouldn’t be a disruptive experience for consumers. Brands need to blend into the environment in an authentic way, otherwise be blasted by audiences as an outsider invading their space. 

Shopify’s recent collaboration with TikTok has upped the game for brands who previously may have used the platform to build awareness but are now able to capitalise on it as a commerce platform too.  

This brings opportunity to further the use of data to drive personalised and responsive experiences for consumers. But the scene is very different. Brands must harness authenticity and creativity to win socially minded hearts. Alongside data-driven campaign management, the social experience enables brands to connect to users at scale, without losing the personal touch.  

6. The data-driven, measurable experience

It’s all well and good having data and providing experiences, but if brands don’t have sufficient ways to measure success, how will they know it’s working? The right metrics are essential, as is data validity. You simply cannot create intelligent experiences without intelligent measurement. Ensure your success measurements align with your business KPIs — don’t just measure for measurement’s sake. 

Here is the bottom line. Intelligent experiences are data-driven experiences. Data is the core ingredient in this mix. And you need the best quality data possible to pass the taste test. To personalise experiences at an individual level requires powerful analytics. This goes beyond generic customer personas. This is data that helps brands understand the ‘why’ not just the ‘what’. Without an encompassing data capability, hyper-personalisation is just not possible.  

7. The collaborative (and interactive) experience

A successful digital experience is how end-users interact with digital touchpoints, but there are multiple services and teams that affect how those experiences turn out. To grow and improve websites and mobile applications so customers can do more, and gain visibility into complex environments that involves different teams throughout the company, business users must collaborate with design, development, and ops teams to measure and make improvements to the experience. 

8. The transformational experience

Intelligent Experiences cannot exist without a wholehearted focus on the transformation of strategy, internal structures, and digital approaches, and more.  

Brands must ditch siloed business models. Adopting a strategy of intelligent experience is not one department’s responsibility. It is an organisation-wide approach that puts aside roadblocks of the past and embraces a connected ecosystem that propagates customer-first innovation that drives value for all. 

9. The emerging experience

From AR to VR, conversational commerce to the metaverse, emerging technologies will increasingly affect intelligent experience strategies. Already, virtual and augmented reality experiences have been adopted by ambitious brands, especially within the luxury space where the value lies in creative differentiation, trendsetting, personalisation, and exclusivity.  

The use of voice technologies such as Alexa are also at a nascent stage, though have already been the subject of amazing brand experiential. Importantly, brands must realise that no matter the emerging technology, adoption must be viewed as a long-term strategy, not a single activation. There is no point in creating ambitious metaverse worlds that wither and die. In the world of intelligent experiences, each touchpoint is a living, breathing entity.  

10. The loyal experience and bringing it all together

The hunger that drives this new approach is customer loyalty. That’s what brands crave.  Achieving that requires personal, connected, and human experiences that feed individual customers’ desires, understanding their needs, and responding to them dynamically.  

Realising long-term loyalty means investing in all the ingredients that create intelligent experiences. That is the path to loyalty. Commerce is experience — the two are now inextricably linked. Those who do not feed intelligent experiences can only go hungry.


Benoit Soucaret, chief experience officer at Merkle Experience & Commerce, UK

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