Visa’s Alex Craddock on the Future Consumer, the Power of Observing, and Why He Tweets

The convergence of physical, digital, and social commerce is giving consumers radically new expectations of the marketplace. They want these three worlds integrated into a seamless experience.

May 6, 2014

“We used to talk about this as the future,” Alex Craddock, Senior Vice President of North America Marketing at Visa Inc., told YCCI in a recent interview. “But that future is here, now.” Craddock, who is responsible for the Visa Brand and the marketing of Visa’s consumer and commercial products across the U.S. and Canada, will present at this year’s Center for Customer Insights annual conference on how the company is repositioning itself in light of this change. Join us there to hear more.

The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.

To tease your presentation at this year’s conference, can you talk about what you mean by “the future is Omni-commerce”?

What we’ve observed over the last fourteen years is a significant transformation in terms of the world we as consumers live in and, with that, a significant transformation in how we consume media. This transformation has been enabled by the technology revolution—firstly the rise of the internet, recently accelerated by the smartphone. The way we consume media is emblematic of the way we like to shop, heightening our expectations of the purchase experience.

We think of Omni-commerce as the total convergence of commerce across physical, digital, and social dimensions, providing a consumer-centric, intelligent, and seamless experience for consumers. We used to talk about this as the future, but that future is here, now.

What were some of the first indications that the world of commerce was moving this way?

The transformation started in 2000, with the emergence of e-commerce and the convergence of physical shopping and the digital world. It wasn’t a very seamless experience at the time. Consumers would research a product online at home, maybe price compare, and would then travel to the store to make the purchase in person. The physical and digital worlds were not that well integrated. However, the purchase experience has increasingly converged across physical, digital, and now social dimensions, enabled and significantly accelerated by the adoption of smartphones and tablets. These allow us to be online whenever and wherever we want, accessing instantaneously the vast amount of information there is about products, services, and the experiences others have had with that product or service.

Merchants are having to harness the power of this converged world and the evolved consumer behavior to transform the purchase experience to one that is consumer-centric, intelligent, and seamless across physical, digital and social worlds in order to meet the expectations of a connected, influential, and powerful consumer.

Though physical, digital and social may be converging in a single experience, do you, as a marketer, still think of them separately?

We’ve had to transform the way we think of these channels. Today, consumers will transition seamlessly from the physical to the online to the social, and they do this mostly on smartphones with the flick of a thumb. As a marketer, we have had to recognize and understand this behavior and its impact on the consumer decision journey and the way consumers are engaging with content along the decision journey. We strive to know where and when we have to be present with the right content in order to engage and impact the consumer’s payment decision. This is increasingly influencing us to move away from a “campaign” led approach and thinking with a channel mindset to an “always on” approach, thinking with a mindset that will help us to deliver the right content, in the right format, at the right time seamlessly across this entire purchase experience.

How do you define an insight?

Defining an insight is hard. The word is overused in many respects, and the definition has been diluted over the years. I’m often asked this question by young marketers in the team or when I give talks and the best definition for me is: an insight is when the head understands what the heart feels.

But even if you get what an insight is, they are very difficult to uncover. To arrive at a powerful insight is very hard, you need to observe things that the consumer doesn’t consciously know—emotions they are feeling or behaviors they are exhibiting. And it’s important for marketers to differentiate an insight from a smart observation, because they’re really distinct from one another. You might make a great observation based on data analysis, for example, but that doesn’t make it an insight.

Do you have any formalized structure or method for arriving at insights?

We’re forever questioning and evolving our methods to identify insights. Visa is a company with vast amounts of data, so we obviously harness the power or our own data and that of third parties. But, as I remind people: it’s not just about analytics and mining data. That process gives us powerful observations and powerful indicators of where to look for an insight and potentially what to look for, but to get to a powerful insight you have to spend time with the consumer. You have to observe what they do and understand why they do what they do. Sometimes it can be as simple as getting out of the office, walking down the street, and observing the purchase experience, observing how a cardholder uses our product to enable a purchase. I guarantee that you’ll see something that you didn’t expect to see. It’s the power of observation that can lead to a truly a powerful insight.

You're quite active on Twitter. I’m wondering why and how you use it, what you get out of it?

Most of the time I use Twitter to educate or inspire myself about topics I’m interested in, as well as to share content about the topics that I’m interested in, both in my professional as well as personal life. As a naturally curious individual, I find Twitter a great source of information to feed my curiosity; if I’m curious or passionate about a particular topic and want to find out more, there is invariably somebody on Twitter who is posting informative or thought-provoking content about that topic. Or if I find something that inspires me, I find Twitter a great platform for sharing, not just with my immediate network of friends and work colleagues. I like being able to share with people around the world who, in turn, share inspirational content.

Twitter enables you to create a diverse network of people you may never have met face to face, but who you have something in common with. As a person who has lived and worked around the world and met people from all over, I find the ability to create and connect with a global network really valuable.