This year’s Mindtree-IGD dinner on May 21st lived up to the high standards set last year, when the dinner celebrated our inaugural Ecommerce Award. This year’s, set in the historic Shoreditch neighborhood of London, a hub for galleries, theatre and fashion, celebrated not just the launch of Ecommerce Award but also Digital Engagement Award., Minutes away from the London Stock Exchange, with a nighttime view of the Tower of London from the 7th floor of the Ace Hotel, guests started off on a high and creative juices were bound to flow.
The idea to “use digital to serve better, not just to sell more” rang out loud and clear in an animated discussion with distinguished executives drawn from a diverse set of industries. The topic was “Making Businesses Digital” and the dinner attendees were from leading global retail, CPG, and travel organisations. When the CIO of a travel company made the aforementioned statement in the midst of discussions around how to reach and engage with consumers better, the flow of conversation paused, and then turned. Clearly it had struck a chord. Till then the conversation was all about reaching the right consumer and converting them more effectively. Suddenly the spotlight turned to service. One executive from a major U.K. retailer spoke about the challenges of delivering a customer order in 20 minutes. Their competition has changed the game and business because the old world speed is no longer acceptable. Clearly, this is not just a problem for the front end. Their entire value chain has to be digitized and integrated to operate harmoniously.
Conversations around the dinner tables were wonderfully in sync, as if coming from one centralized flow of thought. While recognizing the need for personalising interactions with consumers, discussion on two tables simultaneously focused on the potential perils of personalisation. One of the attendees, a consumer insights specialist whose life is centred on segmenting consumers finely to know each of them (almost) individually, spoke of how her own purchases of baby wipes to use for makeup removal leads to ridiculous offers for pregnancy test kits and baby products.
While the data and analytical tools available today do make it possible to contextualise the service and marketing messages to the consumer’s unique tastes, the challenge of holding a consumer’s attention has also increased. Whereas television programs could hold viewer attention for 10-15 minutes at a time just few years ago, in today’s world, it is almost impossible to keep consumer attention for more than a few seconds. Someone mentioned that human attention spans are now supposed to be less than that of a goldfish! Conversation dwelt on the fact that for a big segment of consumers, there is a lot of money to spend, but too little time is on hand, and instant gratification is the norm. The ability to tap demand at the moment of need generation or need awareness is key.
The great food and spectacular setting kept the mood cheery through twists and turns. A greying digital marketing leader from a major beverages company, joking about himself, pointed out that consumers are changing at such a remarkable pace, with new habits and expectations; and yet, sales and marketing organisations are often led by the older generation, who sometimes do not understand these changes. This makes organisational change even more difficult, he said. Another leader mentioned that their fleet of cars have enough technology to talk to them and tell them exactly where any customer was at any point of time. However, they can’t use that technology or data enough, out of respect for the consumers’ privacy. Many consumers may not even want their employers or family to know their exact whereabouts all the time! So why would they want retailers to know?
And, with the presence of executives from a few social media biggies, can any discussion be complete without questions being raised about whether any social media platform can stay relevant for an extended period of time? Considering that an overwhelming share of the attendees were senior executives, inquiry and questions about the long-term relevance of some social media brands was only natural.
Over desserts and coffee, conversation got deeper into the challenges of executing change at scale in large global organisations with diverse work forces. On the one hand, management has to be careful not to get ahead of themselves and to calibrate changes to the pace of change of consumers; and on the other hand, they have to lead with vision. Closing remarks by an IT visionary were most appropriate. He lamented that even today, despite the digitalisation that the world has seen, often senior leadership in organisations are not entirely connected with the changes their target consumers are experiencing. He made a strong case for greater agility in thinking, and the ability to build and lead with a vision that sees past the bend on the road.
Mindtree’s Radha R, EVP for Digital Business, brought the evening to a close with a characteristic human twist to world of digital possibilities, sharing a remarkable instance where web and mobile technologies are being used to bring about change in a city’s waste management practices while improving the livelihoods and safety of the poor, unorganised workforce that handles the city waste.
Great food for thought as a parting gift for the night. The same technology that brings a world of augmented reality to the privileged, also has the potential to change life for the working class and take humans to a better, more caring way of living!