eCommerce vs Digital Landscape OR eCommerce Within Digital Landscape?

In an ever evolving and highly complex digital landscape, nothing is a simple straight line let alone the consumer journey or even the consumer’s final destination that has gone way beyond the traditional conversion or selling point. As a matter of fact, you may argue that the real journey or the true battle for the brand with the consumer begins after the first conversion or the “satisfactory” moment. It is a brand’s ongoing 2-way “interaction” (no longer communication) with the consumer at every digital touch-point to deliver that relevant connected experience that may finally lead to brand loyalty and ongoing stream of conversions or satisfactory moments.

No business model is benefited more from this brand loyalty and lasting customer experience than eCommerce which leads us to an interesting debate around what role does “marketing in a digital world” for a brand plays in a successful eCommerce practice, especially in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) space. A few questions and sentiments that I have seen pop up from leaders with varying backgrounds:

  • Can you think of ecommerce in isolation simply as a “buying” and “selling” capabilitiy for brands or just having an eStore?
  • Does it warrant a more holistic digital ecosystem that has the consumer at the center and the brand message as implicit and embedded in every interaction as blood cells in our DNA?
  • Can we go ahead and bring IBM or ATG to implement a global commerce platform to meet our commerce revenue goals and we will solve for the larger digital platform in the future?
  • Is it eCommerce vs Digital Marketing Platform/Ecosystem in terms of business priorities and approach or are these really NOT exclusive?
  • What comes first? I have a limited budget.

Before we dig into some of these, let’s take a look at what the so called Digital Ecosystem or an overarching Digital Marketing Platform may look like – an extension with ecommerce to what I had published on my blog A Digital Experience Platform – Beyond just a WCM.

It is a wired and integrated digital platform that has the different components not simply co-existing in a possibly distributed on a virtual cloud based environment but more importantly where the components work as coherent wheels of a massive load truck, coordinating and attributing to each other’s success. It is a well-oiled digital machinery without the conventional silos.

Digital & Commerce Experience Platform

The answer to the BIG question around eCommerce vs Digital Platform is a BIG NO. eCommerce can exist in isolation but cannot be successful without the backing of the brand built on top of a cross channel digital strategy enabled by the digital platform. WHY?

Industry Evolution
A long journey and evolution from siloed marketing and sales channels and a series of one-way communications way back in the early 90s and prior. The digital space saw a radical shift with the introduction of online commerce & marketing strategies and tools. From the invent of Amazon, eBay, Google and Yahoo gave boost to the concept of Online Web as a meaningful and strong business opportunity to the current era of massive connectivity and overlap across digital marketing, commerce and Brick & Mortar sellers. To top that, mobile innovation has re-shaped consumer behavior and expectations, introduced newer channels and touchpoints and have pushed social & mobile to be used not as a privilege but as a mandate. Considering these as isolated spheres would be a step in the opposite direction.

Digital Marketing & Commerce Evolution

Complexity of Consumer Journey – Evolution of Consumer Behavior & Expectation
The “new” consumer journey is far more complex, in fact it’s an endless loop that does not end with a satisfactory moment. Today’s consumer is not waiting for communication, the model has shifted towards an interactive connection with the brands where the brands need to continuously evolve and push to deliver the frictionless cross channel experience. It’s imperative now to infuse a behavior which is channel agnostic to meet the needs of an agile and “on the move” consumer. This complex ecosystem of multiple devices and touchpoints cannot be orchestrated without a strong cohesive digital platform enabled through innovative technologies constantly creating the 360 view of the consumer.

Omni Channel Consumer Journey

What drives a consumer to a CPG commerce touchpoint BRAND or RETAIL?
A strategic yet simple point – what inspires a consumer to visit a CPG brand site or eStore to transact when they have more options and opportunities with big retailers like Target, Walmart, Best Buy etc? It is the BRAND and the BRAND MESSAGE that can hope to build loyalty. Ignoring the “brand” in eCommerce is buying a car with great exterior and interior but without the engine. Consistency of the brand message and presence across channels, capability to connect with the consumer and continue to build the relationship with a series of “moments” will translate into commerce. An absence of the “brand” can definitely trigger a moment but will never lead to loyalty.

Cross Channel or Omni-Channel vs Multi-Channel
A common and unsurprising question, what is the difference and why should we care? I think until a couple of years back being multi-channel enabled would have been the end goal ie have you “ticked off” every channel in your digital strategy and roadmap within the online and offline landscape. At best it is an isolated channel delivery and experience capability to reach through all different online and offline channels however still remaining reasonably disconnected from a consumer standpoint. While a truly cross and omni channel platform pushes for a frictionless, seamless and connected experience. It is the need of the hour where the consumer hops from one channel to the other in the space of a few seconds, enabling the continuity and extension of his/her experience and leveraging the behavior & signals across them, a channel and device agnostic connection.

Role of Content
Content is still KING, it’s impact on the consumer behavior cannot be undermined especially in the digital world. Having the right level of sophistication in your digital ecosystem is imperative. Targeting, personalizing the content for the consumer is no longer an option but an implicit expectation. Capability to manage multi-lingual content based on in-built translation modules creates the need to have a content management system tightly integrated with a back end commerce platform.

Consumer Insights for a truly Connected Experience
This is an integrated CRM that is the foundation of every single consumer touchpoint. It is the art of knowing the consumer personally without knowing them personally and using that knowledge and the insight to give them before they could ask for, it is an impactful and lasting ZMOT moment.

Social & Mobile Collaboration – Personalized Commerce
Both social and mobile are driving forces within the consumer landscape and can no longer be ignored. Social brings a tremendous market place and target audience for any brand while mobile is no longer a channel but consumer behavior in totality. With an aggregate population of almost a billion, Facebook alone is the 3rd largest country on the planetJ. Combining the social data with commerce capabilities and marketing strategies forms a compelling opportunity for brands. Mobile on the other hand has surpassed all expectations just in the last 3 years. Sales of smartphones & tablets in 2011 outpaced PCs, mobile web usage in the next 3 years will go beyond conventional desktop. There are already 30 million NFC enabled phones and expected to reach 700 million by 2016.

Innovation – New Consumer Touchpoints
Being static is moving backwards, without an approach to innovation you may well be heading in that direction. There is a continuous need to identify new digital touchpoints, test consumer behavior and response and make appropriate adjustments to your overall brand & commerce strategy. Building an innovation lab to prove newer business & technology models can provide you the nimbleness & get you ahead of the curve.

This list will only continue to grow and while marketers, technologists and organizations rally around to create that optimum digital and commerce platform, one thing is certain that the world of isolated enterprise solutions and packages is a thing of the past. It’s time for connected thinking, shifting the focus from individual technology components to digital and commerce ecosystems with the consumer right the helm.