My sister is a Counter Burger fan and frequent air traveler. When I shared on Twitter that she chooses to layover at San Diego International Airport (SAN) because of The Counter, Co-CEO Craig Albert responded. Our initial Twitter exchange was friendly and brief.

Fast forward a few weeks. My sister was again headed to SAN, but risked missing The Counter’s closing time by 15 minutes. I tweeted and Craig immediately took action. We coordinated flight arrival time and burger service with the efficiency and excitement of a lunar landing. The result: a fun tweet stream, a great photo, and a brand advocacy story that’s hard to beat. Here’s the interaction:

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Craig’s tone and communication style is reflected in every Counter Burger touchpoint: on their website, in social media, and behind the sales counter. The company has created one voice – a voice that’s open, human, and fresh – and that obviously resonates with their loyal customers.

Many thanks to Craig and The Counter team.

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I recently moved back to an executive position on the client side from a C-Level role at a leading midsize digital agency. Many aspects of the client side have changed in my five-year hiatus, but the following client-agency pitfalls remain the same. If you’re an agency pitching new business, an AOR, or mid-project, take note of these red flags.

Tell me why you matter

Answer these two questions:

1. Why does your company exist?

2. Do you have experience and success in my business sector?

If you can demonstrate both, let’s talk.

Do your research

Show me that you know my target audiences and that your team has a basic understanding of my competitor set. Be sure to have a point of view when you walk in the door.

Get the green light

Make it easy for me to sell. Give me a Powerpoint that is easy to understand, based in researched fact, and that I can sell to management. Making me reformat work that we’ve agreed to or that we’re co-developing will simply delay the project.

Bring KPIs

KPIs are not an afterthought. When you show up with the big idea, tell me how we’re going to measure it. It’s okay to have softer goals with social initiatives, but you can’t show up without them. Better yet, show me how our solution drives compound results, e.g., how SEO and social work together to create activation.

Wins

Demonstrate short-term wins and show a clear time to value. I’m running both sprints and marathon efforts; don’t suggest a strategy with zero short-term wins. If there is a technical or pass-through cost, show me how it will pay off and when. This helps me manage expectations inside my company.

Responsibility

Manage our budget. Synch our spending with our timeline and let me know when we’re being inefficient. I can make decisions and staff changes that get us back on track. The worst thing you can do is to tell me when we’re almost out of funds and only 50-percent through the project.

Account management 

Account management changes cause disruption. We both have to reinvest in a shared understanding of goals, history, and ‘the roadmap.’ Assign a senior person to oversee this transition or risk creating an inflection point for a change in the relationship.

Know our Plan B

What if what we’re doing isn’t working? When do we cut our losses, and what’s our Plan B? We should develop alternatives together. No one gets fired for executing on a shared plan.

Think ahead to what’s next

If you want more work, proactively pitch initiatives that are going to provide greater customer insight and generate activation. I’m not holding back a bucket of money; I have to justify greater expenditures, and budget approval can take internal pre-sales and procurement time.

The future of retail does not hinge on any one device or technology. The future of retail demands a commitment to the customer experience above all else; technology is simply an enabler for a brand’s contextual and personalized connection to the customer.

The biggest challenge for CMOs and their agencies is threefold:

  1. To engage: create moments that engage, surprise and delight the customer
  2. To bring context and relevance to the customer experience: harness multichannel data to increase engagement and conversion
  3. To drive actionable insight: through data, to derive an accurate view of the successes, failures, and opportunities that new technologies afford the business

What is hype? It depends on your desired business outcomes. If your goal is to be seen as a progressive organization whose use of Google Glass personalizes the customer experience – such as Virgin Airlines use of Glass – then Glass is not hype. If iBeacon successfully delivers incentives and streamlines checkout, then iBeacon is not hype. Hype is a condition of unsuccessful implementations.

I believe that the future of retail can be found at the intersection of personalization, utility, and stopping power, or engagement; to synch the shopper’s journey with the right technology – tools, data inputs, and measured insights – to enrich the shopper’s experience.

What do we know?

“70% of the buying process in a complex sale is already complete by the time prospects interact with a sales person.” – Sirius Decisions Research

“80 percent of people who own three devices switch between devices to complete tasks or activities.” – GfK Market Research

“60% of Millennials are already willing to provide their details about their personal preferences and habits with marketers.” – Mintel

“For Starbucks, more than 11 percent of transactions per week are now happening with a mobile device in-store.” – Starbucks

“I say that my job here is 10 times harder and 100 times more interesting than it was 3 years ago.” – Carolyn Feinstein, SVP of Global Consumer Marketing for Electronic Arts

Who will clean up the multichannel data mess? Clients are experimenting with new roles such as the Chief Omnichannel Officer, or “COCO” for short. Apparel retailer “Finish Line” installed its first COCO this year. His (in this case) job is not to tie together customer data one API at a time, but to be a strong marketing and digital leader – to be accountable and responsible for the customer experience across the multichannel retail landscape.

Where and when is the transition from experimentation to practical implementation? That time is now. What we’re experiencing is the Big Bang of data, technology, design, and customer experience. The question is whether your organization is ready to create a strategic planet for these elements or if you’re going to end up with a lot of hot air.

Choice is now available locally and globally on and offline for pretty much any good or service a consumer could want. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands looking to reach customers across the device universe (mobile, desktop, tablet, gadget, etc.).

Marketers have better access to customers, but customers are better informed as they go into purchasing mode. Comparison shopping, product forums, social media, and other information sources have given the consumer the ability to make informed decisions before, as well as at the point of purchase.

As a result, brands can no longer solely dictate pricing and product delivery timetables – their customers are playing an active and real-time role. Social media, showroom price matching, and price comparison marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon make it difficult for any brand that’s not dictating MAP (minimized advertised price) to be undersold or commoditized.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the B2C world, 66 percent of Moms say that the Internet has changed the way they get information about products, but this savvy comes with caveats. They want to initiate the conversation. Source
  • In the B2B world, 70 percent of B2B tech buyers surveyed said that the amount of budget spent electronically would increase if it were easier and more convenient to browse and purchase items directly from suppliers and their websites. Source
  • Then there are the Internet-born brands such as Warby Parker and others that are making costs and benefits more transparent, disrupting traditional retail margins. Eyewear was a market ripe for disruption. B2C lighting and plumbing supplies are markets currently being disrupted. Source

What does this mean for marketers? It means that brand narrative, data-aided personalization, rich product information, and access to company experts is more critical than ever before. It means that integrated marketing is here to stay.

The minute you accept that your brand or product is replaceable is the moment you start working on great things like positioning, merchandising, packaging, product development, measurement, and an integrated marketing approach. This is the time when you start thinking about how to surprise and delight customers and obsessing about how to remove friction from the buying process. This is when the product finds its voice, and you as the marketer find your power.