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The Story of Digital Commerce in Eight Parts

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So, you are a large enterprise and you have a brand into which you have poured large amounts of resources and effort in order to create a recognisable and memorable and consistent brand experience. And then along come the Digital Strategists like me talking of interfaces, on-brand digital interactions, brand experience strategies and the like. But to you that is all gobbledygook. "The internet is very simple" you say, "it is no different to out of home, TV, radio etc. It is a broadcast channel and therefore what is good for TV is good for Internet (with a little repurposing of course)."

Voila! Job done. Knock off early and down the pub for a pie and a pint. That's the most revolutionary interactive invention in the history of mankind sorted then. Easy this digital stuff - what's all the fuss about you ask?

But just a moment. This digital thing that you believe just to be another channel for your megaphone is an 'enterprise extincter' no less! It will, if you choose to ignore it, become the thing which will make your competitors grow faster and more profitable than you, will make your products and services become obsolete, leave your organisation dumb to your customer needs and market changes, will cause your employees to be bored and disaffected and leave for a more 'social' company, and ultimately turn your business into a has-been from the pre-digital age. You feel I am exaggerating of course, but I'm not I promise.

"But what is the problem?" you ask. "We have a website, we have a brand, we have some very nice (and expensive) marcomms. We even have a twitter account we tweet our press releases with. What more is there to this noxious unsmellable digital gas, which according to you is going take our company down?"

Take a seat. Get comfortable. I'll tell you a story. The story of digital commerce in eight parts.

1. Once upon a time, a long time ago there were large enterprises who roamed the business world broadcasting their latest products and services. They liked to be in control of the message and made sure only their view was heard. Their customers interacted with them through controlled channels in very specific ways and these interactions were predictable and repeatable.

All was good and they grew large and prosperous.

2. But then things changed. The information superhighway was invented and companies began to put their information on digital shop fronts along this highway. The shops on the highway very quickly grew into small villages and then into a thriving metropolis and the small shop fronts became massive superstores. And then because of the convenience of these digital versions of the real shops customers slowly stopped buying from the real shops and did most of their shopping in digital ones.

Now the enterprises were not too worried as they had the technological resources to build the digital versions of their shops and in fact they found it was cheaper which pleased them no end. This new digital fad thing was a good thing.

3. But then things changed, again. Customers began to realise that now they were not limited by geography they could buy their products and services anywhere they liked. So customers began looking for cheaper versions from non-local brands.

This again did not worry the enterprises because their volumes made them able to compete with anyone on price and they were still happy with the digital revolution.

4. But then things changed, again. Customers now had easy and immediate choices of many different brands all selling the same thing at around the same price. They started basing their buying decisions on their online brand experience.

Again, this did not worry the enterprises because as they saw it they had the biggest and most well known brands out of all their competitors on the Internet and they spent lots of money on advertising and other traditional marketing activities.

5. But then things changed, again. Customers, lots of who now interacted exclusively with brands via the brand's digital shops and rarely came into contact with them offline, wanted real & unique digital brand experiences - not just a rehash of the offline marcomms. They wanted what they used to get when they shopped on the high street - a little human to human interaction. They wanted to feel that they were buying from a digital someone that cared about them.

Now this completely bamboozled the enterprises. How could a computer interface be human and why would anyone want it to? They didn't take it seriously and as a result slowly but surely small flexible and friendly digital-only companies began to take their customers by offering a much more personalised and human shopping experience.

6. But then things changed, again. Customers started talking to other customers and began sharing information about good and bad experiences of products and services. And therefore they began to make buying decisions based on this information rather than trusting the company who made the product.

This began to scare the enterprises. If customers talked to other customers and swapped recommendations then how could they influence their buying behaviour? Where did that leave them in the customer's buying cycle?

7. But then things changed, again. The small digital-only companies started to listen and engage with the customers. They began to interact with them. And these companies were then able to quickly change their products and services with the knowledge they had gained from the engagements to make sure they were selling exactly what the customers wanted. These small digital-only companies began acting as if they were not companies but humans.

This made the enterprises want to run for the hills. There was nothing they feared more than the prospect of their company having to step off their high-up pedestal and come down to the ground floor and interact with their customers. They refused to do it and stuck to what they knew best - shouting the superiority of their products and services from their pedestals and expecting their customers to lap it up.

8. Unfortunately for them their customers didn't lap it up. And the enterprises that were unable or unwilling to change disappeared or were subsumed into one of their more digitally mature competitors and were never heard of again. The End.

That was the end of their story but does it have to be the end for yours? Hopefully not.

My next post will detail the necessary steps in the process of building a Digital Brand Experience Strategy in order to create in-character digital interfaces and interactions which lead your customers to perceive coherent digital humanness within all of your digital touch-points.