All major consumer-facing brands are in the midst of difficult digital transformations, but rarely do they go it alone. Instead, they reach out to one professional services firm or another for help with the details.

In the digital world, however, there is no clear choice for such outside help, as a diverse cadre of players have thrown their hat into the digital ring.

Advertising agencies are a common starting point. Such agencies focus on branding, often extending to the customer experience – important for a digital effort to be sure, but typically such firms are rather light when it comes to technology expertise.

Then there are the development shops. These companies have all moved to digital, of course – and if all you need is a mobile app or responsive web site, then there are hundreds of such companies to choose from. But if you ask one about digital marketing or branding, they’ll give you little more than a blank stare.

What about the big consulting firms and system integrators? These behemoths are all going digital too, with varying levels of success. But do you really want to get bogged down by the complexities of a big firm, when you have a laser focus on moving quickly?

Fortunately, there is a new class of digital professional services firm that has both the technical chops to build modern mobile apps as well as expertise with brand and customer experience challenges – sans the baggage of the big guys.

Photon is just such a firm. Its global presence provides access to a deep bench of over 4,200 technical and designer resources, enabling it to focus on mobile development as one of its calling cards. But it has extensive experience with retail brands as well.

As a result, Photon has been able to help major brands like Walgreens, Neiman-Marcus, and L’Oréal not only implement mobile apps, but digitally transform themselves to provide greater value to their customers.

Photon’s Point of View on Digital

Photon CTO Mukund Balasubramanian (source: Photon)

I recently interviewed Mukund Balasubramanian, CTO of Photon, to get a better view of Photon’s perspective on digital and how it helps its customers with their digital transformation initiatives.

Photon’s digital offering begins with the customer journey. “As Photon, we’re an end-to-end provider,” Balasubramanian explains. “We go all the way from conceptualizing the journey, persona mapping, and understanding the customer moments.”

Let’s take these three concepts in turn. First, the customer journey, consisting of all the interactions a particular customer has with a brand. Balasubramanian explains the customer journey this way: “The journey of the customer, where their moments could start with digital, or in a store, or with customer support, like calling into a call center, but all empowering the customer.”

Balasubramanian is making an important point here: even though we’re talking about digital, technology may only play a limited role in the customer journey, depending upon what the customer wants as well as the brand expectation. Most significantly, the customer is squarely at the center of the customer journey, not the technology.

Second, Balasubramanian mentions persona mapping – segmenting the customer base into different types of customers with different preferences, and hence different journeys. In the retail context, examples include value-conscious customers, price insensitive customers, brand aware customers, and other personas, depending again upon the brand expectation.

Balasubramanian uses Neiman-Marcus as an example of the importance of customer personas. “We start with segmenting users into different personas, because their journeys are different,” he explains. “Neiman-Marcus’ customer moments and journeys are significantly different from a commodity retailer’s. As a luxury retailer, their customer journeys start with interactions with a sales associate.”

For Neiman-Marcus, personal interactions are part of its brand expectation, and thus align with the luxury shopper persona the retailer focuses on. Its digital effort, therefore, supports but does not replace the personal touch.

The third topic Balasubramanian emphasizes are customer moments. “Moments are that facet of a customer’s journey where the interaction matters,” he explains. “Embracing that customer moment, wherever it might be, is a core part of how you design these digital experiences.”

Customer moments, in fact, are uniquely digital, in that they are only relevant in the context of mobile technology. A decade ago, people had to sit in front of their computers to interact with web sites, so what people were doing when they weren’t in front of their computer was irrelevant to the web experience.

Today, however, people bring their smartphones and other devices wherever they go – and they might interact with the device at any time for any purpose. The challenge for brands, therefore, is building a holistic experience around these moments.

The resulting mobile apps or web sites must do more than passively await interaction from the user. Instead, they must move customers along to the next best action and eventually to the next best offer. “You need to glean very quickly the next best action and next best offer in order to satisfy the customer,” Balasubramanian says.

In other words, the interactivity available for any particular mobile moment must be sensitive to the user context at that moment. Balasubramanian provided a powerful example: the photo processing mobile app Photon developed for Walgreens. This app uses the geolocation on the smartphone to recognize when the customer is in a Walgreens store in order to transform itself into a different app.

This app quickly proved its value, as customers who used the app in stores purchased more from Walgreens than customers who made their purchases elsewhere. “Walgreens reported six times the revenue from a single customer who interacted through multiple channels,” Balasubramanian says.

Focus on Omnichannel

The Walgreens example, in fact, is an example of omnichannel, where from the customer perspective, the various channels (mobile app and in-store in this case) all combine into a single brand experience.

For Photon, omnichannel is a unifying concept that drives their end-to-end value for their customers. “When a customer interacts with a brand, they expect the same experience to carry over, whether it’s within the store or whether it’s when they’re interacting with a sales associate, from a true omnichannel perspective,” Balasubramanian explains. “Putting the customer in the center of that overall experience, whether it be analog or digital or otherwise, we believe are the foundational pieces for omnichannel.”

Omnichannel, therefore, puts customers at the center of the customer journey where they belong – and that customer-centric philosophy drives how Photon approaches mobile development. “Mobile experiences quickly span into what we call adaptive, responsive web experiences,” Balasubramanian says. “When we talk about experiences, we talk about continuous experiences, which is the same brand, the same story, being told across multiple touchpoints, wherever the customer is.”

For brands struggling with digital transformation, Photon’s perspective on mobile development, customer journeys, and omnichannel bring desperately needed clarity. “When I look at transformative change from an omnichannel perspective, it’s actually a continuous experience,” Balasubramanian says, “You’re putting the power in the hands of a customer, and therefore deriving value.”

In the final analysis, such digital transformation goes straight to the bottom line. “Evolve to truly personalized digital experiences,” Balasubramanian advises. “The customer should know you, they should love you as a brand, but eventually you have to drive sales.” For the brands that number themselves among Photon’s customers, that bottom line is what digital is all about.

Photon is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, none of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this article. Image credit: Photon.

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