At the recent IBM Amplify gathering in San Diego, California, the focus was on customer engagement. Speakers at the general and breakout sessions filled my head with information, and I thought it would be fun to summarize my top five takeaways.

In the first session, I met online marketer Chris Heuer. He gave the perfect definition of the new standard of customer engagement: “Engagement is the interaction with intention that goes beyond concern for the transaction.” In other words, you’re focused on the customer, not the sale. When a fast-food restaurant tries to upsell you an order of fries, they’re focusing on the sale. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the alternative is to focus on the customer. If you focus on the customer and her needs, the sale will follow. You may not get the incremental sale of an extra order of fries, but customer-focused engagement will earn you a loyal, long-term customer.

In the first general session, Deepak Advani, the general manager of IBM Commerce, mentioned Starbucks as the perfect example of a customer-focused company. He referenced CEO Howard Schultz’s philosophy that “Starbucks believes they are not in the coffee business serving people. They are in the people business serving coffee.” Once again, the focus is on the customer above all else.

Professor Jonah Berger of the Wharton School of Business talked about the kind of engagement that leads to customer loyalty. He referenced statistics that made the case for the power of word-of-mouth marketing. The opinions of friends, family members and even strangers are more influential than paid advertising. In addition, he talked about the power of being top of mind. If you can get a customer to think about you, they will likely talk about you. His comment was spot on: “If something is to top of mind, it is likely to be tip of tongue.”

IBM arranged for me to spend some one-on-one time with Senior Product Strategist David Haucke. We talked about the technology they have created to manage the customer’s experience. In this new era of marketing customers, you’ll be intrigued by this takeaway: “It’s not what we want to tell our customers. It’s what our customers want us to tell them.”

Let’s wrap up this list with one of my favorite comments from the conference. Venture capitalist Alex Banayan, who hosted a general session, really summed up what the conference was all about: “The four Ps of marketing are dead. There is just one C (not P) — the customer!” 

With all the discussion of analytics, automation, data and cool technology, the focus of the conference was customer engagement. It is, and always will be, all about the customer.

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