What keeps me up at night is customer expectations.” - overheard at the FUTR Europe Summit. A retail, marketing, and commerce gathering sponsored by Salesforce.

This year I had the pleasure of participating in the FUTR Europe Summit, a modern conference covering the freshest thinking and practical insights on how companies are evolving to meet the needs of our ever-changing consumers.

The sessions I attended were very informative around the trends that are shaping consumer-facing industries as well as the challenges they are facing. Overall, the theme I gathered from all sessions was that customers are in control today. They expect retailers to know them, be consistent and offer a great experience.

What this implies is consumer insight is still king - and data will enable companies to get closer to their customers than ever before.


The Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Movement

Take for example the rise of direct-to-consumer brands that are disrupting every category with innovative product and authentic storytelling. This was the topic of a panel session I particularly enjoyed at FUTR. The panellists shared their own authentic stories around their company culture that is relentlessly focused on their customer.

For example, greeting card company Moonpig stated they are in the business of emotions not transactions - and this is supported by their data showing there are 24 subconscious criteria when selecting a card (who knew!) and the majority of recipients store the cards they receive.

For footwear brand Allbirds, they ensure employees see yesterday's NPS figures the moment they walk into the office.

While the power of DTC is to be close to the customer, it's not a silver bullet - DTC is about ensuring you commit to meeting customer standards of engagement, and the only way to do that is to become super focused on insights.


Harnessing Customer Data for new Shopping Experiences

This was the panel topic I had the opportunity to speak about, alongside experts from Dyson, AXA and the NHS. It's a critically important one as today's retailers struggle to meet customer expectations due to their disjointed data, legacy systems and operational silos. Therefore, I was delighted to have the opportunity to share and take questions and answers.

We kicked off the panel speaking about new consumer engagement tools that leverage data such as social listening and AI. My view is mobile still remains one of the key channels for retailers, and mobile engagement tools are still not widely adopted in the UK. Mobile is the biggest disrupter since e-commerce 20 years ago as customers now have all information they need at their finger tips.

Retail is a people business, however, to know and meet their customers rising expectations in a timely, consistent and accurate way, this requires data. Current ways of working are broken, manual, and are not designed with data governance in mind. Therefore, they are failing to produce the accurate insights that enable them to know, personalise and engage with their customers on a 1:1 basis, with relevancy - at scale.

For retailers to truly know their customer and service their needs on a 1:1 basis at scale, their businesses rely on clean data. If they don't fix the departmental silos, controls & processes that govern the data from start to finish, they compromise the benefits that automation can bring, thus failing to service their customer's needs.

This is why tech partnerships was also a huge focus of our discussion. Dyson emphasised that this relationship indeed needs to be partnership, not simply a transactional engagement. AXA added to this saying that true partnership also means adaptability of the tech company - not providing a black box solution but to really get under the hood to understand what are the challenges and unique factors about a company before offering the right tailored solution. Interestingly, the NHS wants to move from an illness to wellness company → more partnerships with health tech companies.


Marketers Play a Key Role in the Future of the Customer Experience

The following day after having the chance to digest everything from day 1 at FUTR, I hosted a Backstage Brunch to present Salesforce's research. In the lead up to the event I noticed how many marketers were attending FUTR, so the presentation focused on trends in retail and consumer goods marketing.

Perhaps this comes as no surprise as marketer's are increasingly pushing for more cohesive experiences for customer, with 51% actively mapping the customer journey across their company - including all commerce, service, sales and marketing touchpoints. With so much data to process to get to useful customer insights, the research projected significant growth of AI adoption by retail and consumer goods marketers. Still, 80% agree that balancing privacy and personalisation is a priority.

I was delighted by the amazing customer engagement in the room. There really was a fantastic atmosphere for great conversations. If you are interested to find out more about the state of marketing within the retail and consumer goods industry download our latest report to get insights from nearly 900 marketing leaders.