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When I joined SAP Ariba, I also switched to an electric car. I quickly realized that if I was not the first one to arrive to the office in the morning, I would have to wait my turn to charge my car which at times would not happen until the afternoon resulting in me getting home late. Long story short, I decided to wake up a little earlier and eat breakfast in the SAP Palo Alto Campus café. As I began this new routine, I also started noticing the people. I asked for their names and as we got to see each other almost every morning, we started calling each other by our names. Respect and sympathy started, then conversations. It has now become a cherished ritual.

As I order my breakfast, I look forward to saying hi and starting my day with genuine interactions with great people I would have otherwise not known if I hadn’t asked their names. And it matters because it creates experiences. And these connections matter because it makes people feel good, recognized and valued. These days, we can order food online and have it delivered 20 minutes later. What this doesn’t give you is the experience of connecting genuinely with people and creating lasting memories.

Digitization can isolate people. How often have you seen a couple in a restaurant, both of them on their phones, not engaging with each other? Or a child constantly playing on an iPad alone, instead of outside with their friends? People don’t even realize how disconnected from the world their devices can make them. While technology is helpful and even necessary in the right context, technology for the sake of technology can prevent meaningful human connections from being made.

In the business world, it’s time for marketers to assess what value their technology is providing them and ask the question, “is it helping me build genuine connections with my customers?” The degree of empathy needed to achieve deep customer engagement often goes overlooked. It’s this type of emotional connection that IT purchase makers tend to cast aside when implementing new technologies; when it should be revered as a digital transformation driver. With more choices than ever available to consumers, they’re increasingly making purchases based on the emotional connections they have with a brand. In the B2B world, we need to consider our emotional connection, too.

How do you get there? Consider this:

  1. Learn What Motivates Your Customers: It’s not always all about saving money. For example, I’m motivated by helping people connect and reach their potential. As a marketer, I am not only given the opportunity to do this every day, but I find I am more successful at my job when I do. It’s our duty as marketers to understand what drives our customers to make decisions, so we can best serve them. I make it a point to get to know my customers, prioritizing understanding their individual motivations to form stronger, more personal and lasting connections. Research from the Fashion Institute of Technology finds that 48 percent of millennials are more likely to buy from a brand if they know the people behind it. Once you get close enough to your customers to understand their motivations, nurture that relationship and honor it by providing personalized interactions and experiences based on that insight.
  2. Strategize Early and Plan Extensively: Digital innovations like machine learning and artificial intelligence are transforming the way marketing gets done. In many cases, they are making it easier to get closer to your customers and reach them with engaging and authentic customer experiences. On the other hand, without the appropriate planning and strategy, they can create a company that is out of touch with customer demands, awash with data, with no path for how to properly leverage it. When building your digital strategy, start early and try looking at it from the perspective of how you can use digital channels to make connections. Ask yourself which technology will help you get closer to your customer, rather than which technology can be used in place of a touch point. Many of these technologies can be used to improve the customer experience, which is a driver of emotional connections.
  3. Genuinely care about people, starting with your own team: Don’t just focus on your customers, your team is just as important. Employees that feel appreciated are better employees. When they believe in the company they work for and the product they represent, stronger customer connections can be made. Additionally, employees are more likely to stay at a company when they’ve made strong bonds with their colleagues and managers. Seize every moment with your employees to not only talk strategy, but also get to know them on a more personal level. Plan team bonding events and never pass up an opportunity to show your employees that their contributions matter.

Digitization is not the enemy. As CMO of a company helping to lead an industry’s digital transformation, I whole-heartedly believe in the need for strong digital strategies – marketing and otherwise. But to truly be effective, such strategies must start and end with people. The one constant in marketing is the fact that our customers are all individual human beings. Everyone has the same basic human needs: they want to feel important, listened to, respected, and that their actions are making a difference. If you remember a person’s name and smile at them, you have the power to establish long-lasting connections. Once these connections are made, we can then leverage technology to deepen the relationships and create loyal customers.

Written by Tifenn Dano Kwan, CMO, SAP Ariba

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