My mailbox went from “Here’s something you’ll love!” to “We’re updating our privacy statement . . .”

As I scroll down my mailbox for the past few weeks, I spot a pattern in many subject lines from the brands I like and interact with. It went from “Here’s something you’ll love!” to “We’re updating our privacy statement . . .” Sigh.

I could easily blame the GDPR readiness brigade for this legal takeover of our mailboxes, but while I understand that the rushed efforts to derisk a leaking ship are necessary, they are not sufficient.

I must admit I find it bemusing that we”, the ones who, over the past few decades, have designed the world’s digital ecosystems; the ones who speak passionately and authentically about the importance of customer centricity and connected, delightful experiences have allowed the world to reach the current state of affairs. “We”, the agencies; the consultancies; the systems integrators; the internal technology, marketing and digital departments.

“We”, the centralisation-loving, effectiveness oriented and horizontally-leaning “transformation” gurus; motivated to create beautifully designed libraries that most will never use or reuse as well as rulebooks so onerous that they grind the organisation to a halt. And yet, with all the investment made in heavy, top-down “transformations” that were set to deliver coherent, connected experiences, when the rubber hits the road, we still hide behind the T&Cs.

“We”, the sprinting prone agile, lean and innovation rebel alliance; a cohort too fast to worry about technical and organisational debt; delivering continuous vertical value at speed and equal amounts of fragmentation.

“We”, the performance “SWAT” teams, working on our myopic, channel-oriented acquisition targets. Asked to deliver fast return on investment at all costs. And, the costs are staring us right in the face.

“We”, the savvy digital creative geniuses; the brilliant storytellers, just a digital nudge away from viral fame and fortune. Brilliantly connecting toilet paper, puppies and Facebook in pursuit of clicks and awards. Prone to wander away from the brand promise into the realms of fantasy, because implementation details are boring and just not “our thing”.

“We”, we are more than complicit; we are responsible. No matter how little or how much influence we have on our client’s business, or where we are positioned in the digital value chain; we are the digital experts, it’s our job to tell the truth, particularly when it hurts our bottom line. The current digital ecosystem is our doing.

Having said all that, now let’s talk about “you” — the brand owner; the person who is ultimately responsible for delivering the brand promise to your customers. You, who have delegated your customers’ journey and experience to a disjointed ecosystem of internal teams and service providers fueled by a bunch of carrots and sticks that are disconnected and at odds with the single most important metric in the age of exponential digital disruption — customer value.

And so, here we are, now that we are finally panicking about the onerous consequences of regulatory breaches and consumer backlash, the only way you can quickly derisk this mess is by sending an opaque email to your customers with a bunch of legalese as long as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. You do this to buy some time, while hordes of lawyers and engineers engage in bottom-up audits of spaghetti-like policies and software, and an army of data analysts assess what is stored in your databases and backups and how it is being used. Sounds familiar? If it helps, according to my mailbox, you are not alone.

But, it doesn’t help, does it? So perhaps we should go back to focus on what really matters — the customer.

1 — Start with the current journey!

No shit, Sherlock! I don’t like to sound like a broken record; I know we’ve been speaking about this for many years, but it’s still the most relevant and pressing matter that you must address. Are you in control of your customers’ journey and experience on every single touch point? Have you mapped it? Do you know where and when you are asking for permission to collect personal information online and offline? Do you know where, when and why you are collecting data at every touchpoint?

2 — Panels, carrots, sticks, boxes and their true costs.

As you sketch and review your current customer journey, be sure to identify how many participants are engaged in designing or delivering your brand’s customer experience. Where do you find more fragmentation, opacity, complexity? Where do you struggle to get clear, up to date information from the participants? Note these down.

Don’t you love “agency” panels? Such a simple way to create some healthy competition between professional services providers and “keep them honest” and working hard. But, what is the cost of a fragmented digital ecosystem? As customer experience is delegated to service providers, internal departments and lawyers, who keeps all these cohorts aligned to customer vision? Who keeps fragmentation at bay? Who reviews the KPIs, processes and structures that are getting in the way of delivering exceptional customer value? And, if you need to keep people honest, are they the right people?

3 — Spot the bot-centred-design

Let me tell you a little secret; a blind spot impacting the way brands and service providers think about Customer Experience. You see, historically, the Design Thinking movement has always been more aligned with the technology ecosystem than with traditional marketing and advertising. Customer experience has been focusing on the apps, the websites and the in-store experiences. The adtech and martech providers and the agencies that connect prospects to brands have not been the main focus of the human-centred design tribe. In this world, we left the hawkish programmatic cohort in charge of the first contact with our prospect, the first opaque “opt-in”, and the early data capture.

How many service design blueprints have you seen delivered that include any level of detail regarding digital marketing channels?

It’s imperative that as you engage in current state journey mapping, you ask your experience specialists to look into awareness and acquisition touchpoints no matter how opaque and complex they may be.

4 — Look under the hood

Sure, you must engage in bottom-up assessments of your systems, privacy and security policy, and data, but please do this as a complement to seeking a clear understanding of your current state experiences, and the operating model and ecosystems that realise them. Start with the customer’s best interest, not with the data, process or policy, and everything else will fall into place.

We must also look at our core platforms. As “best-in-class” experience platforms work to empower marketers with self-service features, the decentralised orchestration and automation of customers’ journeys in pursuit of personalisation requires careful consideration. We must look to provide customer-centric guardrails and playbooks.

5 — Design the data-for-value exchange experience

Now that we know where we stand, it’s time to envision a better future, and you must start this journey by crafting your customer experience principles. Just because you can capture data, it doesn’t mean you should. Define the value, the utility of the product or service you are providing in exchange for the data you need to deliver it. Be clear and transparent with your prospects and customers about the exchange. Communicate with simplicity and authenticity.

Design proactive and clear opt-ins that are baked into well-crafted experiences. Apply the principle of privacy by design where continuous consent is necessary and can be withdrawn at any time and just in time without any friction or complexity.

6 — Scrub up

Engage in some spring cleaning. Scrub up your partner and provider ecosystem and evolve your digital operating model to serve your customer vision.

Don’t be afraid of dancing right in the middle of the tension between effectiveness and responsiveness, centralisation and decentralisation, horizontally and vertically oriented cohorts. It’s a good tension; one we must manage thoughtfully.

What next?

The future holds some exciting possibilities in regards to privacy, acquisition and loyalty. In a few years, as the blockchain ecosystem goes mainstream we will hopefully be talking seriously about models of self-sovereign identity, disintermediation of the fragmented adtech/martech toxic ecosystem, and the birth of fair value exchange directly between brands and their prospects or clients. This exchange will be particularly focused on driving awareness, acquisition or loyalty. There is a lot to unpack here, so I will leave it to a future post as right now we have some work to do, and we must start immediately.

I hope I haven’t offended you with my all-encompassing takedown of all participants in this ecosystem. “We”, the self-nominated digital gurus tend to take ourselves too seriously, and there is no time like today, to engage in some self-reflection across the board. I would be delighted to discuss, debate and collaborate with you to resolve the trust crisis that is impacting the digital landscape. This one is ours to fix, and I know just the right team to tackle such a mighty task, thoughtfully and at speed.


Living in my own simulated reality

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