You (may not) need a digital revolution

Waleed El Zoghbi | 10/06/2021

Without context, a digital strategy is no strategy at all. That single-minded thought permeates every conversation I have with every retailer I speak to these days. Reality is changing. Markets are evolving. Be aware of current context — both your customers’ and your own — and work backwards from there to apply digital accordingly. Anything less isn’t enough.

What kind of context counts? All of it — where your customers live and how they’ve been impacted by rotating lockdowns. What your consumers buy online and how their habits have changed. When people shop and how that ties into your operations.

Channelling that up-to-date, contextual insight into smarter digital experiences that speak directly to what your clients are up against can cement relationships, generate loyalty and build brands. That’s as true for national retailers or chains as it is for up-and-coming businesses and mid-market powerhouses.

How can you ground digital experiences in enough context to win the long game?

  1. Refuse to believe digital must be all or nothing. Outdated thinking will push an “e-commerce or bust” mentality that’s precisely that: outdated. To work effectively, your digital experience must be built around the specific activities, services or products your buyers are most interested in accessing online. Laser focus on the features and capabilities that are most relevant to them. 

    By this spring, 86% of Canadian consumers had changed the way they shop, yet only 36% of companies were investing to speed up the digitization of customer journeys and business processes. That’s a real disconnect, which only widens if the transformation pursued isn’t reflective of end users’ current context.  

    In the studio, we often meet clients who may think they need to go full e-commerce. Then the context reveals that the customization their clients require means they’ll probably always make actual purchases in store. In cases like that, evolving your digital strategy to reflect a holistic and helpful experience where customers can learn, research, browse, schedule or access services becomes exactly what they need. Nothing more, nothing less.  

    Generate context around which elements of the consumer experience should be digital. Prioritize your investments in those areas. Cultivate more sophisticated and specific online interactions that tell your customers: we get you.
  2. Double down on personas. If you’re basing the digital experience you employ next on what you knew about your customers before the pandemic, you may have lost the race before you’ve begun. Assume nothing. Some high-level points may remain true, but it’s time to refresh your personas to understand today’s context as best you can. The good news is COVID-19 pandemic has made Canadian consumers much more likely to share consumer data. More than half say they’ll share data in exchange for healthier product recommendations. Build on that willingness to re-engage with customers and figure out what they’re after today.  

    Whether you’re a far-reaching chain or a medium-sized, bricks and mortar operation, there are myriad ways to get to the bottom of who you’re selling to now, and how their context has changed. The right workshop accelerators and interview techniques can unlock a ton of insight from your customers. Distilling it all into a fresh set of personas to guide digital strategy is your first step to building a more impactful digital experience.
  3. Lean into what makes you different. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. A consumer shift towards movements like shop local or farm-to-table took hold well before the pandemic began. Why? Because they felt personal, authentic and real. Your digital strategy should reflect those nuances by factoring in another key aspect of context: your own.  

    Nearly 70% of consumers now believe brands must positively change the world. But you can’t deliver on that promise without looking inward to understand your own context. That includes the purpose, values and fundamental characteristics that make your business different. Similar companies or brands will have similar capabilities. Combat that sameness by digging into what makes you different.  

    In our studio, that comes to life through our relentless commitment to putting EY clients’ interests before our own. People are hungry for your purpose, but you’ve got to understand it fully before sharing it meaningfully with the market. That’s context at its best and highest use.

You can’t apply digital effectively without understanding context comprehensively. Use it to jump beyond investing in digital to bolster better digital experiences that work best for your specific business.

Above all, remember that context isn’t static. Embedding continuous means of gathering and evaluating context can make the resulting digital experience you create as flexible as it is robust. Hit the mark there and you can unlock needed agility this year and beyond.