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Top Trends: The Word of the Year in Digital is “Integration” (Thinks Out Loud Episode 356)

Group of men and women sitting around a table in a restaurant while shopping on their mobile phones to illustrate the concept that the word of the year in digital is "integration"

You and your customers have lived through massive transformation in the last two-plus years. Not just “digital transformation.” But transformation of every aspect of our lives. We’re not the same people we were two years ago. You’ve changed. I’ve changed. Our customers have changed. And one feature of that change is that customers don’t want “offline” or “online.” They don’t want “physical” or “digital.” They want holistic, human, fully integrated experiences that acknowledge physical and digital and offline and online are all part of a single whole. They want you to help them, regardless of where they are and what device they happen to be using.

This episode of Thinks Out Loud takes a look at what your customers expect right now. We look at what these expectations mean for your business. And we reveal why the word of the year in digital is “integration.”

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Doing Digital in the Weirdest Economy Ever — Relevant Links and Show Notes

Free Downloads

We have some free downloads for you to help you navigate the current situation, which you can find right here:

Thinks Out Loud is sponsored by SoloSegment: SoloSegment increases large-enterprise, B2B website conversion with easy-to-install software that automatically connects website visitors to the content they need to see to achieve their goals. SoloSegment does this using anonymous data and machine learning ensuring privacy compliance, addressing the many anonymous visitors, and improving the efficiency of marketing teams. Visit SoloSegment.com.

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Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 23m 07s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Transcript: The Word of the Year in Digital is "Integration"

Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 356 of the big show, and I think we’ve got a cool discussion for you today. This one’s going to be a little weird, even by my standards. This show’s called Thinks Out Loud, because sometimes I think out loud, and this is one of those episodes. I want to build on what I was talking about last week, in terms of how you can deal with marketing, how you can deal with digital in the weirdest economy many of us have ever seen. I also want to share where I think we’re going a little bit. Not about the economy, but where we’re going as professionals, where we’re going as people. So, this one’s a little broader and a little more "thinky" than many of the other topics we cover here.

I also want to point out there is research that supports some of what I’m saying, and we’ve seen lots of people talking about various pieces of what I’m saying, but I’m mostly thinking out loud. I’m mostly doing what the show title is in this specific case, and I want to hear what you think. Am I missing something here?

How Much Change is "Normal"?

Because this all started with a conversation with a friend who said, "If you’d told me just a couple of years ago, that this is where we’d be in just a few short years, I’d never have believed it. There’s been too much change. It’s been incredibly fast."

And it really got me thinking, the pandemic and everything that’s surrounded it, essentially started, what, two and a half years ago? If you’re here in the States, two years and three months ago, maybe. We’re talking March of 2020. Have you ever experienced more change in three short years, at least as an adult? I mean maybe high school, maybe college, but in your adult life, have you ever seen this much change in so short a period?

How You and I Adapt to Change

Now, I think many of us are coping with these changes well, and I know many of us are struggling with changes. And I don’t think it’s a binary state. I don’t think it’s entirely, "oh, yeah, the change is no big deal. It’s a piece of cake. I have no problem with it." And I don’t think it’s entirely, "oh, my gosh, it’s terrible and I can’t cope" or things along those lines. I think it’s a spectrum and I think it’s both of those things at the same time for each of us in our own way, based on where we are.

I’m sure many of you have had good days and I’m sure many of you have had bad days in coming to terms with the amount of change we’ve lived through. I know I have. I don’t think I’m alone in that by any stretch.

We Live in a Different, More Holistic, More Integrated World Now

What I also think is true is that it’s leading us to a new place as business professionals, as marketers, as digital folks, as human beings. We are in a different world. We have lived into a different world than the one we left before the pandemic hit. And the word that best describes that world, to me, anyway, is integrated or integration. We live in a more integrated world than we lived in just a few short years ago. I don’t just mean digital integration, I mean all the corners and pieces of our lives have become more integrated, more connected.

Digital Delivered Integration

Digital has played a key role. I think digital enabled where we are right now. If digital hadn’t existed, when the pandemic hit, I suspect we’d have experienced a very different set of changes than the ones we have lived through. And I think that’s got pros and cons. You’ve heard me say many times on this show that when we build a ship, we build a shipwreck. So, there are many, many things about this that are a shipwreck, and I think there’s many, many things that are a ship.

As I’ve long said on this show, I think the benefits of digital far outweigh the risks and far outweigh the downsides. It’s also true that, of course, there are downsides. Without digital, though, we clearly would be living in a different world than the different world we’ve ended up in. Digital has opened our homes and our offices and our worlds to people we used to interact with in entirely different ways. And it’s reshaping our behaviors and our mindsets in all sorts of ways.

"Work From Home" Integrated Our Work and Personal Lives

And I want to give you some specific examples. Think about work from home. Think about when we started working from home. If you are listening to this show, I suspect you work from home a good chunk of the time, or you are a business owner who does plenty of work at home when you’re not at your business, just knowing what I know about the folks who listen to this show. So, if you think about when we started doing Zoom calls, we had pets, and kids, and spouses, and partners, and friends, roommates walking by in the background. It’s not a separate space when we’re at home in the way that it was. Yes, people need dedicated places where they can be productive, and I think we’ve mostly learned how to do that, most of us who are working from home still. We’re still seeing many people sort out though, what integrated means in this context, what it means when they’re trying to separate their work life from their home life.

And one of the things that I think has emerged from this, is we’re seeing more of each other, a more genuine, more authentic, more integrated version of our coworkers and our peers, and our leaders, and our teams. We’re literally in each other’s pockets. I’m holding up a phone right now, literally in each other’s pockets all throughout our day. We’re showing different sides of ourselves to our coworkers, and our peers, and our leaders, and our teams, in ways that we never did before. It’s a more integrated and more holistic view of who we are as people. If you look at work from anywhere, work from home has led to anywhere. People have come to realize, "Well, if I go to work, looking at a computer, I could look at a computer lots of places."

"Work From Anywhere" Integrated Our Business and Leisure Travel Experiences

And so, we’ve seen an integration in the travel industry, between business travel and leisure travel. People aren’t taking business trips in the way that they used to. And in many cases, they’re not taking vacations or leisure travel in the way that they used to.

We’re seeing more "blended travel," or if you prefer in the context of this show, "integrated travel," where we’re just taking our work with us wherever we go, and we’re taking our leisure with us wherever we go. It’s not "either/or," it is "both/and." It is integrated.

It’s All E-commerce and Integrated Lives

Now, long time listeners of this show know that I have said "it’s all e-commerce" for a very long time. And the idea behind "its all e-ommerce," is that there isn’t "physical or digital." There isn’t "offline or online." Our customers seek us out wherever they are, and whenever they need, based on what’s happening around them at any given time. And that’s become even more the case over the last couple of years. Customers now integrate you and your business into their lives in whatever way makes sense for them, in whatever context they happen to be.

People who listen to the show a lot are very familiar with me talking about the fact that "Content is king, customer experience queen, and data is the crown jewels." Well, if you go way back, I didn’t used to say "customer experience is queen," I used to say "context is queen." And I do think customer experience is more important than context. I think customer experience is more holistic and more integrated than context. What’s also true is we have to keep context in mind when we think about how we create these deep, enriching, engaging, engrossing experiences for our customers, in a way that is truly integrated. Think about what you see. If you have a store or if you have a hotel or you have a restaurant, think about the people who are browsing on their phone for news and information and entertainment, while they’re walking your store aisles or sitting at your tables or sitting in your lobby.

They’re not showrooming, a thing we used to talk about a lot a handful of years ago. They’re not shopping for other things—though that sometimes happens—but they’re simply enjoying other aspects of their lives while experiencing whatever they’re experiencing with you. We also see the same thing in reverse, where customers are shopping and they’re buying and they’re browsing for things that they need in the middle of their lives, while they’re picking up kids from school, or sports, or out on a date, or things like that, if the date’s not going super well. But these are things that people just do naturally.

Integration of Digital and Physical into a Holistic Customer Experience

Customers don’t want a "digital experience" or a "physical experience." They want a customer experience. They want their needs met. That’s what I mean by integrated. It’s no longer any form of "either/or." It is "both/and." And you might be "and, and, and, and, and," again, and again and again because your customers are bringing all of these different pieces of themselves, all of these different parts to themselves together in one place and at one time. They are integrating all of the different components of their lives into whatever place and means works for them.

When we’ve talked about customers looking for authenticity, they’re not really looking for you to be authentic. What they’re looking for is honest communication. They’re looking for you to be present in the moment for their needs. It’s about understanding and addressing their needs more fully as a holistic human being, as an integrated person, and not just a buyer, not just a persona.

This has always been true. It’s become more necessary now, though. Customers have seen what’s possible. They’ve lived through massive transformation in their lives, digital and real life, in the last two years. They’re continuing to live through it. I talked about this last week, we’re in the middle of the weirdest economy, maybe ever, on top of one of the strangest housing markets ever, on top of a, hopefully, once in a lifetime pandemic, on top of major political upheavals in the states and everywhere else in the world. On top of recovery from, hopefully, once in a lifetime financial crisis, and on and on, and on. This ain’t normal, kids. This is not normal. This is a strange, strange time and different than what any of us have lived through at any time in our lives.

Even if, like me, you’ve been around for a while, we lived through the financial crash in 2008, we lived through 9/11, and the recession that followed that. We lived through the recession in the early ’90s. But this is new, this is strange, this is different. And this quest among customers for authenticity, for honesty, for integrity, for integration, is built on customers saying, "I can’t take any more bullshit in my lives. Integrate into my life in a natural, authentic, honest, human way, and I’ll make room for you. Treat me like a number or a means to an end, and I’m going to tell you to get lost." That’s what we’re seeing. That’s what I think we’re seeing. We’re seeing customers say, "Be here for me in a human way, be here for me in a natural way. Don’t just make this business as usual, because there is no usual anymore. That ship has sailed."

What Companies Are Customers Integrating into Their Lives?

Companies that recognize this, companies that respond to it are doing better, are going to be in better shape. I’ll give you two examples.

Google. Look at all of the ways Google has tried to make search more intuitive, more responsive to where you are in the moment. Do a search for five different terms. Search for a product, search for a doctor, search for a restaurant, search for, oh, I don’t know, search for information. And note that the search results page for each of those looks dramatically different, because Google is saying, "You have very different needs when you’re asking these kinds of questions, and we are going to give you dramatically different responses to make sure you get the information that you want."

We can gripe about Google all that we want, but let’s not pretend that they don’t respond to the needs of what customers are looking for and try to do a better job of it again and again, and again. I’m going to have a lot more about Google in the next week or two. But right now, let’s just acknowledge they recognize what’s happening and they’re doing their best to respond to it.

Airbnb. At the same time, look at Airbnb and how they’ve changed their search to focus on experiences, rather than starting with a place. They’ve recognized that place doesn’t matter when we’re all connected, when our digital and our physical and our work and our personal lives are entirely integrated. So, who cares where you want to go? What do you want to do when you get there?

How You Can Provide More Integrated Experiences for Your Customers

Google and Airbnb recognize that it’s all eCommerce, that it’s not limited by device, that it’s not limited by particular context, it’s really all integrated. And it’s time we start helping our customers live their lives in an integrated fashion, before they choose others who do. Well, what does that mean?

  • Well, it means we’ve got to empower them. We’ve got to give them control of the experience, provide robust content, obviously, but also provide robust search and navigation that helps customers find what they need when they need it, help them on their way.
  • Assume they’re distracted; we have to write more simply. Customers are probably on a small screen when they’re looking at this and they’ve got lots going on around them. They’re multitasking. Make it easy to accomplish whatever task they’re turning to you for, or else they’re going to turn to someone else.
  • We have to be flexible, we have to continue to test, we have to continue to learn, and especially, as we learn, adjust quickly to changing behaviors, to changing contexts.

Conclusion: The Word of the Year in Digital is Integration

I really believe the word of the year is integration. The way that we’re going to work best with our customers and for our customers is to think about their lives in a holistic and integrated way. And that if we can do that well, if we can do that in a way that is holistic and integrated and human, we’re not just going to create customers, we’re going to create relationships that are going to pay off for us from a business perspective, but also for us as human beings, help us be happier and be able to live more holistic, authentic, integrated lives too.

What do you think? Am I nuts? Did I miss the boat here? Am I thinking about this all wrong? I would love for you to reach out to me at podcast@timpeter.com and let me know what you think. I really want to hear from you. It matters so much to me that we get this right. Not just me, not just my business, but all of us as a community, how do we do a better job of helping our customers in times like these? So, let me hear what you think. I can’t wait to talk with you.

Show Wrap-Up and Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. As always, I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all episodes, by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 356.

Subscribe to Thinks Out Loud

Don’t forget, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find there, to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found.

Leave a Review for Thinks Out Loud

I would also very much appreciate it if you could provide a positive rating or review for the show. If you like what you hear on Thinks Out Loud, if you enjoy what we talk about, if you like being part of our community, give us a positive rating or review out on one of those services. It helps other listeners find the podcast, it helps them understand what Thinks Out Loud is all about, it helps to build our community, and it means the world to me. I would very, very much appreciate it.

Thinks Out Loud on Social Media

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to facebook.com/timpeterassociates. You can find us on LinkedIn by going to linkedin.com/timpeterassociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course, you can send an email to the podcast at podcast@timpeter.com. Again, that’s podcast@timpeter.com.

Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do each week, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment provides search as a service to help customers of large enterprises find the content they need. SoloSegment powers content experiences with a focus on business results, to help customers find content that matters to them and direct customers toward business results for you.

SoloSegment uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing, plus a whole host of other really cool technology, but does all of this while protecting customer privacy and delivering business results. You can learn more about SoloSegment and all the wonderful work that they do by going to solosegment.com. Again, that’s solosegment.com.

Show Outro

Finally, I want to say to you personally, thank you so much for tuning in. I know I say this again and again and again, but I say it again and again and again, because it’s really important to me. I would not do this show without you. Your support means everything to be. So, with that said, I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please, be safe, be well. And as always, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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