Over the last decade every organization has had its own, unique digital transformation journey. From vertical-specific needs to overcoming legacy challenges, trying to prescribe a single recommendation for digital transformation success is akin to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole – it just doesn’t work. Yet, there is a single, core takeaway that’s applicable to any business operating in today’s economy: surviving and thriving rests on agility and remaining relevant. If your brand isn’t hyper-focused on eliminating the lead time between information analysis and action, there is a competitor who is already filling that gap.
The need for constant evolution and value-add is increasingly being driven by highly educated customers with even higher expectations. They’re the next-day-delivery generation, the micro-influencers who wield their voice through social networks as both carrot and stick. When it comes to experience, they make no distinction between ordering a new set of speakers online or assessing a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) suite for their business – every single brand is chasing a single bar of excellence. And playing it safe in today’s world simply won’t cut it.
In an era where experience is the deciding factor between economic success and stagnation, brands are forced to rethink their core identity. Can a retailer just be a retailer and expect consistent year-over-year growth? Can a pharmacy just stick to the tried-and-true formula and deliver the best, personalized healthcare to local communities? Can a real estate developer just finance an office complex and still attract sustainability-cognizant start-up tenants? Or can big data, AI, machine learning and other next-gen solutions transform any business, across any vertical?
When changing customer expectations make the line between what is and what is not a traditional tech company irrelevant, X-Tech embraces and expands upon the idea that every brand is a technology brand. EcoTech, InsuranceTech, LegalTech, FinTech – there isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been disrupted and reshaped in this image. But it’s the organizations that embrace and operationalize this marriage of technology and opportunity that stand to earn the greatest customer loyalty, advocacy and market share.
X-Tech builds upon the foundation laid by digital transformation and reflects hyper-segmented business models that reach up, down and across an organization. It captures the voice and needs the digital-native consumers who are contributing to the shift and forges meaningful, life-long relationships with a diverse range of audiences. As the customer journey becomes longer and longer, it’s on businesses to find new ways to deliver value to every individual it touches – regardless of how niche their role.
Embracing X-Tech isn’t a matter of delighting your customers, but rather making your brand indispensable.
Verticalizing Digital Transformation
If you look at the top five World’s Most Valuable Brands, as according to Forbes, there are sure to be no surprises: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook. On the surface, the most glaring similarity is that they’re all mainstream consumer tech companies. In fact, these are the undisputed leaders in experience. Apple made smartphones seamless and intuitive, Amazon pioneered next-day-delivery, Facebook made social media accessible to an entire generation – putting experience above everything is the fastest way to earn and foster brand fanaticism.
But it’s not just consumer tech, as Coca-Cola, Disney and McDonald’s all enjoy spots within the top 10 Most Valuable Brands. It’s worth noting, however, that consumer-facing businesses can often capitalize on the efficiencies and opportunities born from digital transformation without many of the restrictions faced by vertical brands. A few examples: Capital One (FinTech), Liberty Mutual (InsuranceTech) or Valassis (RetailTech). Between regulatory compliance and nuanced industry demands, these businesses are playing on a much more complicated field. It’s even further complicated among enterprises reaching across business functions (i.e. HR, finance, sales, marketing) and verticals.
From the vertical perspective, there’s no one single path to operationalizing digital transformation, hindering their ability to keep up with their consumer-facing cousins.
That said, it doesn’t mean that vertical organizations aren’t taking digital transformation seriously. Research firm IDC has found that worldwide spending on the technologies and services that enable the digital transformation (DX) of business practices, products, and organizations is forecast to reach $1.97 trillion by 2022. Furthermore, they recognize its importance in achieving a similar level of experience excellence, with half of all organizations citing CX as a core influence when implementing a digital transformation strategy according to PwC. These brands understand that the adoption of resources like artificial intelligence and machine learning are creating a widening chasm between experience leaders and the rest of the pack – one they need to close to stay relevant.
For vertical brands, embracing X-Tech is an opportunity to recast themselves in the image of the experience leaders. To become data-driven, experience-obsessed and customer-centric. It isn’t about becoming a technology company, it’s about leveraging technology to deliver bigger and bolder experiences within their sector.
Generational Drives, Not Divides
Much has been made over the rise of Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace and culture. Pew found that Millennials became the largest generation in the workplace as of 2016, and Gen Z has begun to enter in earnest. The post-9/11 generations were raised on and by the Internet, learning to effortlessly navigate an endless stream of channels by the time they reached maturity. Because technology has been so infused throughout their development, it isn’t surprising that they’ve carried these experiences and expectations into the working world and beyond.
That’s already had a tremendous impact on the development of workplace technology, with the rise of consumerization in department-driven solutions. HRTech, AdTech, MarTech – they’re all designed to mirror consumer tools because these professionals grew up on them and are more than willing to ditch company-sanctioned tools if there’s a consumer app that they know will get the job done more efficiently. Slack, for example, is highly attractive to anyone who spent their teenage years making plans and socializing over AOL instant messenger. With a purchasing power exceeding $1.4 trillion according to Accenture, there’s a newfound pressure for vertical organizations to meet the same standard in the products, services and experiences they deliver.
This model of seamless, intuitive experience driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning is a ripe opportunity for vertical brands to surprise and delight digital-natives. These solutions enable businesses to replicate and scale the integrated experiences Millennials and Gen Z have on a day-to-day basis. For example, in the consumer realm, when a digital native has a question about a recent purchase, say a television, they’re comfortable tweeting, chatting or emailing the brand for a response. Then, once that conversation is initiated, they expect a single through-line with all the relevant information carried through until the query is resolved. Consumer brands, for the most part, have mastered this. But what if the purchase was something a little more complex, like insurance or real estate? Just as blurring the line between B2B and B2C tools has vaulted brands to new heights, blurring the line between B2B and B2C experiences can have the same impact.
That’s where the value in next-gen solutions lies for vertical brands: deeply personal, integrated, omnichannel experiences and solving traditional pain points that have existed for years. It enables any organization to speak to digital-natives as individuals, and tap their insight to remain relevant and find new ways to achieve value.
Embracing What Your Brand Can Be
The rise of X-Tech comes at a time when brand identity itself is being shaken to the core. Rather than emphasizing the value propositions of their products and services, enterprises are identifying new ways to spotlight their humanity. From their mission, values and ethics to the societal issues they champion, B2B organizations are looking to foster deeper emotional connections that get customers truly invested in the brand community. That is, in part, why experience has become such a powerful brand differentiator. When there are innumerable options to choose from, mapping a seamless purchasing experience to a shared cause or value system changes the nature of the brand-customer relationship.
For vertical brands who have historically been function-first at the cost of experience exceptionalism, looking at technology to create deeper emotional connections is an important path towards brand sustainability. Consider real estate, for example. Rather than spending 3 hours touring hit-or-miss properties, what if buyers could designate their preferences within a platform, take virtual tours and chat with their broker online in real-time before ever setting foot on-site? Or what if legal teams could leverage natural language processing and AI to simplify contracts and streamline documentation in a way personalized to the needs of individual clients, partners and their stakeholders. That extra layer of curation transforms function into relationship building, and customers into partners.
The Path to X-Tech
Customers aren’t settling, so neither should brands. Technology is fueling deeper brand-customer relationships, driven by the deeper insights and efficiency. As the leading IM and PR agency, PAN Communications is putting clients on the path to X-Tech, analyzing the data in order to bring to life the stories that build deeper connections and fuel long-term growth. Over the next few months, we’ll be diving deeper into the opportunities of X-Tech, along with the strategies and tactics relevant for verticals including LegalTech, RealEstateTech (think PropTech, facilities, etc.) and EcoTech to name a few.
In the meantime, learn how to get started on building an advocacy strategy with our latest eBook, Advocacy for the Experience Economy: