Traditional sales and marketing techniques - such as using demographic data for CRM-driven campaigns - could become irrelevant in the online world thanks to the emergence of 'Generation Virtual', according to a market trend report by IT advisory firm Gartner.
The company warned that marketers will increasingly need to develop new skills and techniques to engage with 'Generation V' consumers and remain relevant in the rapidly evolving online world.
Unlike previous generations, Generation V is not defined by age, gender, social demographics, or geography. It is defined by achievements, accomplishments, and a strong preference for the use of digital media channels to find information, gain knowledge, and share insights. Essentially, to recognise the emergence of Generation V is to recognise that many consumer behaviours, attitudes, and interests are starting to merge and become less clearly defined in the online environment.
According to Adam Sarner, principal analyst for Gartner, conventional wisdom has focused on customer identification as being the foundation for one-to-one marketing campaigns. But the reality of Generation V is that consumers create anonymous online personas (often several of them at once), and the sheer power of their online influence means that companies will need to change their methods for customer acquisition and relationship building.
Dealing with online personas
CRM-focused companies - and particularly their marketing departments - will need to take notice of this growing change, and make more effort to engage with online personas, Sarner warned: "Businesses need to adapt and attune to the needs of Generation V, or face the wrath of 'virtual mobs' and potentially the mass defection of existing customers."
In the future, whether marketers like the idea or not, customers' true identities will have less importance during the advocacy, word-of-mouth, and recommendation stages of the relationship, and companies will need to understand the role that customers are playing at each stage, and treat them accordingly.
Gartner said that providers of third-party customer data, business intelligence, and analytical tools are likely to shift toward consumer applications and eventually automated artificial intelligence (AI) and self-learning "persona bots" to find out more about customers' needs and desires.
Gartner's five main recommendations for CRM-focused companies include:
- Focus on the persona, not the person
Collect persona data for product development, customer feedback, loyalty management, customer segmentation, campaign targeting and persona group customer satisfaction management. This data can be used for marketing and selling, and can provide insight into how customers want to be treated.
- Accept that traditional customer segmentation has changed
Move away from product-based segmentation toward "wants-based" segmentation. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, already provide "sandbox scenarios" in which multiple personas can explore wants and desires that companies are attempting to fulfil.
- Achieve customer loyalty through relevance
A company that develops a mutually beneficial relationship with its customer base through data collection and communication enables the valuable flow of information between the customer and the company.
- Embrace and develop new skills
Focus on social sciences, anthropology, and game design skills that will attract, connect with, contribute to, and gain insight from personas in virtual environments. Few companies currently employ people with these skills, but they will eventually be vital in understanding how personas interact, drawing insight from various cultures, and creating engaging virtual environments.
- Sell to the persona bot with a bot of your own
A 'persona bot' is an automated, personality-infused, self-replicating, virtual representative that can be used as a tool to facilitate life events in an online environment. Gartner predicts that, by 2017, the persona bot will be mass-adopted with more than 20 million active persona bots in the US alone. To fully engage with Generation V, companies will need to have their own automated bots for critical relationship handling matters (such as sales, customer service, and marketing). Key drivers, such as a 24/7 presence and the ability to provide relevant information will greatly help consumers navigate toward purchases.