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Why “atomic moments of truth” are so vital to customer experience and engagement

4 min read

Marketing Strategy

As we approach the holiday season, brands will be competing for the attention of customers and every single interaction will be crucial. So what can they do to make the most of their interactions, or what I like to call “atomic moments of truth?”

Let’s begin by examining a typical atomic moment of truth. A fan of your brand posts a tweet one evening in early December that her daughter’s holiday wish list is growing, and she doesn’t know where to begin: a #stressedmommy. If you’re able to recognize this instance where a customer is engaged and has a problem that you can solve, then you can take what you know about them, for example where they live, presence of and age of children in their household, past purchase behavior and contact information, and  engage that customer and create a meaningful brand experience. You can do this by delivering a personalized e-mail communication, at that very moment, that offers gift ideas, a special online coupon/offer and an invitation to an exclusive, in-store holiday shopping event.

Or maybe you don’t recognize this interaction at all. Rather, you send this customer a standard marketing e-mail first thing the following morning, when her inbox is flooded with communications from dozens of other brands. You don’t stand out. You don’t impact behavior. You miss your opportunity.

Consumers are communicating all the time, with brands and with each other. They may be looking for information, generating feedback from their peers, commenting on products or brands and, of course, making purchases both online and offline. These tiny decisions are all examples of atomic moments of truth. And every one of them is an opportunity for a brand to understand and impact engagement and experience, and to create value for a customer (and for a brand) – or to destroy it.

I use the word “atomic” to describe such moments because the word has two meanings here. “Atomic” describes the scale of matter down to the smallest level as well as its ubiquity. Atoms also contain volatile energy that can be constructive or destructive.

A good example of the destructive nature of an atomic moment of truth is customer feedback. Customers can share their opinions with the world via social media, forums and across the Web. This raises the stakes in terms of how brands respond to customers and work to resolve issues and appease concerns.

In the context of marketing, how a brand responds when confronted with an “atomic moment of truth” can make or break a brand. These moments are happening 24/7,  online and in-store, and it is up to the brand to deliver value, forge deeper customer relationships, potentially gain new customers and foster long-term growth.

Historically, marketing has been campaign-centric, but that concept is now obsolete.

Marketers can reach a multitude of new customers with a single click, an e-mail, a post or a tweet. While technology alone can’t produce great marketing, great marketing today depends on the strategic use of technology and data to uncover even the tiniest customer insight or opportunity to make deeper connections and add value.

Here are some of the basic foundations a brand must have in place to be able to manage atomic moments of truth:

  • Identification. Being able to identify and understand a consumer’s identity can come from consumer authentication in a channel by using a cookie match, or by relying on other techniques to understand and identify consumers.
  • Intelligence. Understanding customers as they communicate with or about your brand. This information can come via sources such as third-party data or your own interaction and customer records such as what page of your website they visited and past purchase behavior.
  • Data management. Having deep stores of data is necessary, but so are the tools for brands to be able to make decisions based on that data in real time.
  • Content management. Creating and managing content and channel-agnostic distribution.
  • A clear record of interactions. Each and every atomic moment of truth is created by, and in turn, creates new data. Brands must figure out how to collect information customers are generating with every interaction and then use it to feed the next interaction in a positive way.

Having all of these elements in place to identify and manage atomic moments of truth across all customers and channels is an enormous task that requires a good amount of capital investment in systems and technologies. But those two challenges are not excuses to do nothing. The equity of your brand and business depends on it.

Andy Frawley is president of Epsilon and the author of “Igniting Customer Connections” (Wiley).