Customer Experience Requires Seamless Integration to Reduce Friction

As customers and prospects use more devices in their personal and business lives, B2B and B2C organizations need to engage them on the devices and in the channels they prefer to ensure a positive user and customer experience.

As customers and prospects use more devices in their personal and business lives, B2B and B2C organizations need to engage them on the devices and in the channels they prefer to ensure a positive user and customer experience.

There’s a proliferation of devices with customers and prospects interacting with computers (laptops, desktops and tablet) mobile devices, televisions, voice assistants, watches, glasses, automobiles and whatever the future holds.

There’s also a proliferation of channels — brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, channel partners, social media, direct-to-consumer, as well as web and mobile apps. Customers and prospects expect the companies and the apps they interact with to know them, their activity, their purchase and search history, the questions they’ve asked and the answers they’ve received, interactions in every channel, and social media activity.

Lyft, Amazon, Netflix and Apple have all raised consumer expectations — the same consumers who are employees. Today, employees expect the same intuitive ease of use with the tools they use to do their jobs as the B2C apps they use in their daily lives.

Your customers, prospects, and employees want their product and service providers to know what they’re looking for and do everything they can to make their lives simpler and easier. Customers will not tolerate irrelevant content, apps, or tools that fail to make their lives and jobs simpler and easier.

Starbucks has done this with its mobile app. Spotify has done this for streaming audio. The Progressive mobile app has actually turned “fender benders” into an opportunity to provide “aha” customer experiences.

Listen to customers and employees to learn where friction is in their lives and explore ways to reduce that friction. Let your customers know you hear them. Doing so will enable you to disrupt your industry, earn customers for life and become the preferred place to work. All ensure a successful future. Failure to do so ensures a premature death.

The Web is Dying. Long Live the Web!

Will apps disappear as browsers became more capable? Or will apps supplant the Web as the dominant tool of the next generation online?

Email, Mobile and Social Media Marketing: Lessons from top-performing B-to-B and B-to-C brandsTwo recent articles (here and here) got me to thinking about whether “the Web as we know it” is dying or whether “single purpose apps are dead.” These arguments have been around since the iPhone became the next big thing …

And it’s no different in our office, where this has long been a topic of discussion. Will apps disappear as browsers became more capable? Or will apps supplant the Web as the dominant tool of the next generation online?

Clearly, mobile devices are a big part of the equation, since their smaller screens, among other things, all but demanded apps — particularly when the iPhone first came out.

But with the advent of HTML5 and the ability to do all sorts of things in a browser “natively” that used to require plugins and widgets, wouldn’t the apps disappear, replaced by little icons on our phones and tablets that link us to that game’s web page?

Perhaps, though I don’t think we’re close to answering that question. Browsers continue to add great functionality and apps continue to proliferate. Each has it strengths. For example, if you’re looking for a restaurant? You want an app. Whether it’s Yelp, Urban Spoon or something else, one or more of these apps has you covered.

And an app makes sense for most games, of course. Directions? App again, whether Google, Apple or Waze is your preference.

But what about a video? The obvious answer would seem to be the YouTube app, but doesn’t that come with an asterisk? Not every video on a particular topic is going to be on YouTube, even though the overwhelming majority likely are.

And that leads us to other instances where all the answers may not be in one place. For example, information on bike racks for your car? Amazon might list most of the available models, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll get the most comprehensive picture of the market through Amazon.

A search of the broader Web will find all sorts of sites with relevant information on bike racks that just don’t lend themselves to apps — bicycling enthusiast sites, sites that sell trailers and hitches and related car accessories, general fitness sites …

So perhaps the Web isn’t dying but continuing to evolve as a great generalist tool — an incredible repository of information. The place to go when you aren’t quite sure what the question is. Or when the answer doesn’t lend itself to being answered under the wing of a single marketer or other entity.

For us as marketers, this means we need to decide what will work best for our audience. That is true whether you’re considering creating an app as a marketing tool or considering advertising on app or Web networks. Your audience really makes this decision for you, and they make the decision based on what’s most useful to them.

Retail’s Future: The Store as Entertainment

When was the last time you went to a store and felt happy just by being there? Remember the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? In it, Holly Golightly lovingly looks into the Tiffany store window on Fifth Avenue and says “… nothing very bad could happen to you there …” In today’s digital world, how can stores create the feeling of engagement and excitement that Holly felt?

Audrey Hepburn
Source: Pixabay

When was the last time you went to a store and felt happy just by being there? Remember the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? In it, Holly Golightly lovingly looks into the Tiffany store window on Fifth Avenue and says “… nothing very bad could happen to you there …” How wonderful to feel that about a store experience! Whether feeling special or entertained or valued, stores that make you feel that “nothing bad can happen” have a special place in the hearts of their customers.

In today’s digital world, how can stores create the feeling of engagement and excitement that Holly felt when looking at the Tiffany’s store window? Our surveys show that customers are still interested in shopping at stores, but the store experience they value today is very different than what they valued in the past. And their expectations of the future will be very different as well.

In the “Synchrony Financial Future of Retail Study,” when asked about the most exciting ideas for the future, 55 percent of consumers surveyed picked “an in-store experience that entertains me” as one of the top three most exciting ideas. And according to the “Synchrony 2016 Affluent Study,” about 70 percent of shoppers say they would rather spend money on experiences over spending on things. The message is clear — shoppers want to be entertained when shopping.

Below are some new shopping formats that we may see in the coming years as brands respond to this sentiment:

  • Experiences merged with shopping. Various categories are now being added to the retail experience. Examples include coffee shops, cafés, music experiences, bars or complimentary products or services inside the store. It’s a big reason why local “markets” are making a resurgence across America. Some call it “retail-tainment.” The retail experience can be a place to gather or a place to just relax and have fun.
  • Crafts and learning within the store. Retailers can let shoppers see how a product (like a leather belt) is made from scratch. While this experience is already being used, it may become more mainstream in the future.
  • Retailer apps that are interactive and combine the digital and store experience. For instance, a customer can pick out clothes and reserve a dressing room right from the retailer’s app. This is both a timesaver and a delighter.

Ryan Mathews, a Futurist at Black Monk Consulting says,

“So, the question then is, if you don’t need to go to a place to get stuff, what do you need to go to a place for? And that’s kind of what we call higher engagement things: the experience, advice, consultation, fun. It’s moved beyond transactions into real relationships.”

So, looking to the future, the bricks-and-mortar store may no longer be a place to just pick up a sweater or a pair of shoes. It may be a place to meet your friend for a drink, learn to mix a cocktail and pick up that cute scarf that goes perfectly with the pants you’re wearing. For the Holly Golightly of the future, that could be the next “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” experience.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial.

The Making of a ‘Perfect’ Mobile Ad

The Verve whitepaper, “The Rise of Mobile Prodigies™: Millennials, Gen Z and the Future of Mobile Marketing,” provides some useful insights on engaging younger cohorts on smartphones (Millennials now have buying power of between $200-600 billion and Gen Z currently has $44 billion, according to the report).

Deliver_Brand_In_Digital2-2(1)While I was attending LiveRamp’s RampUp 2017 Summit last week, I attended a session on the “Skeptical Consumer,” which included a reference to recent research: “The Rise of Mobile Prodigies: Millennials, Gen Z and the Future of Mobile Marketing” (Verve, 2016). A good part of this session — which included speakers from the Digital Advertising Alliance, Venable, TRUSTe and Gap, as well as Verve — focused on how brands can overcome consumer skepticism over data collection with regard to digital/mobile advertising. (There’s much hope here.) The Verve white paper provided some useful insights on engaging younger cohorts on smartphones (Millennials now have buying power of between $200 and $600 billion and Gen Z, currently $44 billion, according to the report).

There’s a bevy of insights in the research, but I was particularly intrigued with one finding: What Makes a More “Perfect” Mobile Ad, as reported by these Mobile-First (mobile-only) users:

Source: “The Rise of Mobile Prodigies,” Verve, 2016, p 11.
Source: “The Rise of Mobile Prodigies,” Verve, 2016, p 11.

Too often, mobile is not driving most marketers’ brand engagement strategies — but not for long. These “Mobile Prodigies” are here and now, and they’re spending up to 90 percent of their smartphone time in the app environment — perhaps the majority of these apps are financed by advertising.

More than 55 percent of these consumers are using ad-blocking software and 82 percent delete apps that they perceive to fail to deliver value for the data collected … but oh, what relevance can do! Six in 10 would download more free apps, connect apps to their Facebook accounts, share location data and even share fitness and sleep data in exchange for a personalized experience. One in three say they reverse opt-out permissions when personalized ads, based on context and behavior, are offered.

Verve writes, “If we serve Mobile Prodigies best-in-class mobile experiences, they are willing to share their personal information — their permission comes down to relevance and reward.”

That sentiment actually mirrors that of Generation X and Baby Boomers. However, how that value is demonstrated in mobile requires a whole new level of branded experiences for Millennials and Gen Z, with a demand to use data in highly relevant and creative ways that still largely remains elusive on smartphones. Perhaps that’s why 2,500 were in San Francisco to examine better ways to deploy data in service to consumers, and 108,000 were in Barcelona a few days before — in part, in quest for the perfect mobile ad.

Report: Mobile Apps May Be Peaking

The latest comScore report, “The 2016 U.S. Mobile App Report,” had me wondering if we had hit “peak-app.” Just how many apps can users crowd onto their smartphones and tablets? And while looking for such insights in the report, I learned quite a lot of other details useful for marketers. Did you now know that:

Deliver_Brand_In_Digital2-2(1)The latest comScore report on “The 2016 U.S. Mobile App Report” had me wondering if we had hit “peak-app” — just how many apps can users crowd onto their smartphones and tablets?

And while looking for such insights in the report [downloadable here], I learned quite a lot of other details useful for marketers. Did you now know that:

  • Digital Love, Mobile Lust — Over the past three years, our total digital media time has grown by 53 percent, driven mostly by mobile apps. Our actual time spent on desktop media during the past year actually declined by 11 percent. Mobile now represents two of every three digital media minutes.
  • App Share of Digital — Smartphone apps all by themselves account for nearly half of all digital media time spent, and three of every four minutes while on mobile.
  • Hours and Hours — Millennials love their apps: the 18-24 age segment spends 93.5 hours a month (June 2016) on smartphone apps and ages 25-34 spends about 85.6 hours. Baby Boomers spend 55.6 hours and posted year-over-year growth of 37 percent!
  • App vs Web — We spend seven times more time in mobile apps than we do on mobile Web – that’s actually remained steady, even as our tablet use had dropped off
  • Peak App? — Roughly half of smartphone users download one or more apps per month and half don’t download apps at all. Six percent download eight or more apps a month. Those who download five or more per month are largely ages 18-44, male and Hispanic.
  • Organizing Apps — Sixty-one percent of age 18-34 users organize their apps into folders, while just 25 percent of age 55 and older users do, primarily because Millennials download more apps and don’t want to have more than four screens with apps on them.
  • Pushback or “Push notification fatigue” — More smartphone users are rejecting app update notifications. Thirty-eight percent never or rarely agree to such notifications (up 31 percent last year) while 27 percent often or always agree to them (down from 33 percent in 2015).
  • Loyalty at the Top — Most smartphone users use 27 apps per month, but nine of every 10 mobile app minutes are spent with a user’s top five apps. Try breaking into that group!
  • App Herding — Millennials concentrate more mobile app time within “Top 10” ranked apps in their cohort than older age groups do.
  • Thumbs Up — My absolute favorite: Baby boomers are six times more likely as Millennials to only operate their smartphone with two hands. Of one-handed smartphone users, Millennials are most likely to position apps on their phones within “thumb reach.”

This report raises a lot of questions about designing, reinvigorating and reimagining apps. Can a brand break through? As bullish this current app report from comScore is, Gartner is foretelling a decline in app dominance. Whichever future holds, I foresee lots of thumb surgeries and reading glasses.

Defined by a Screen

I grew up with TV. My eyes prefer a larger screen. I focus on what I watch. I can’t multitask between screens and I have no tolerance for audio from multiple devices chiming at me concurrently. Who can even watch stuff on a tiny screen? Well, plenty do.

chet tv picWhen one watches TV as much as I do, it’s indeed tough to break the habit.

Sports, public television, movie classics, local and national news and weather — I consume a lot of content. Habitually, when I wake up, the TV comes on. When I go to bed, the TV goes off … unless I fall asleep first.

And while laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets (and movie screens) are also a part of my life, for work, info in transit, games and entertainment, it’s the home television that is my preference to consume content. I’m less scheduled to the TV these days than I used to be thanks to on-demand programming and the media bingeing that goes with it. However, I’m still, most of the time, passively engaged nonetheless by whatever channel is programmed to send to me at whatever hour of day or night.

It’s a matter of demographics. I grew up with TV. My eyes prefer (or were trained to prefer) a larger screen. I’m immersed in TV as if it’s a miniature experience inside a movie theater. I focus on what I watch. I can’t multitask between screens and I have no tolerance for audio from multiple devices chiming at me concurrently. Who can even watch stuff on a tiny screen?

Well, plenty do.

As reported by eMarketer, “Millward Brown, which surveyed — via smartphone or tablet — more than 13,500 16- to 45-year-old multiscreen users across 42 countries, found that half of all video viewing happens on TV sets — split between live TV and on-demand TV. The other half comprises mainly mobile devices, which includes smartphones and tablets. Smartphones take the largest digital share, encompassing 22 percent of total daily time spent viewing video.”

Personally, I prefer my TV at home — I like to watch the world when I’m outside my house. Mobile video, however, is exploding. The survey states, “The rise in mobile video viewing is part of a larger transition to multiscreen usage. In fact, mobile users worldwide spend 52 percent of their daily internet and viewing video time on mobile phones. To compare, the share of daily time spent with computers makes up 21 percent, while TV accounts for 27 percent.”

Less tethered. Less structured. Less scheduled. Smaller screens. More on demand, with one exception. What’s happening to video content today is largely leaving me behind.

But, not for long.

Those other devices are creeping more and more into my leisure mainstream.

  • When I watch sports on TV, the tablet concurrently gives me real-time stats.
  • When a TV commercial pops on (and on and on), I clear my email on my smartphone.
  • I use caller ID to screen calls — and often send a text in response.
  • I reach for a mobile app when I hear a song on the TV (or radio) and I want to download it later.
  • And four out of five TV breaks most often involves Words With Friends or some other tiny screen pursuit.

I’m really getting tired of paying $200 per month for cable triple package, plus $170 per month for a smartphone/tablet and mobile wifi — and watching my 15 gigabytes of monthly data get chewed up in one or two movie downloads. This is not sustainable and it’s pretty dumb not to do something about it.

You know what I’m gonna do? I’ll look to cut the cord tomorrow, because right now I’ve got to get back to my program.

3 Ways to Introduce Augmented Reality in Your Direct Mail

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very savvy when it comes to direct mail and technology. Although I use them a lot now, I was a late adopter in scanning QR codes. So when augmented reality (AR) first came along, I was a little skeptical that I would ever use it, or care about it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very savvy when it comes to direct mail and technology. Although I use them a lot now, I was a late adopter in scanning QR codes. So when augmented reality (AR) first came along, I was a little skeptical that I would ever use it, or care about it.

Now that I’ve seen it in action, I’m very convinced that it can really make some direct mail campaigns stand out, and provide a more enriching experience with print materials for customers.

At our Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk Virtual Conference & Expo in March, Cindy Walas of Walas Younger Ltd. delivered a good overview of AR’s capabilities. She’ll get into more of the nitty-gritty how-to’s at next month’s Integrated Marketing Virtual Conference.

But ahead of that, I thought I’d provide a quick look at some mail from Who’s Mailing What!. Here’s how a few marketers deal with a steep learning curve in getting customers started with AR.

1. Make It Easy
Don’t assume your audience knows what to do. You have to tell them or show them what app to download, and from where. And customers need to know what content is enhanced with AR on the pages or panels of your direct mail piece. Icons are a simple but effective way to designate them.


Ikea_031This key is a good example I found from the 2015 Ikea catalog. It not only explains the basics of how to identify AR content but also what types of experiences customers can have.

2. Make It Worthwhile
Your customers should know that the additional content they can access may be worth their time and effort.

Raymour_01Home furnishings retailer Raymour & Flanigan regularly sends out a direct mail style guide that provides customers with something of value — ideas on home decorating — as well as drive traffic to its brick-and-mortar stores and website. As this page from a recent issue shows, the AR symbol promises additional value.

3. Make It Fun
Most toy catalogs are already pretty cool, but Toys “R” Us did something interesting with its 2015 Christmas catalog: it tied in AR to a game.

TRU_01First, kids (and their parents) had to download an app. Then, they had to open it and scan wherever they found a gold coin featuring Geoffrey (the store’s mascot) to win prizes, as explained by this page.

AR really has a lot of potential to make a big difference in how some brands use direct mail and print. It’s important to remember though, that even with a 2 percent USPS discount for using an “enhanced” or interactive form of AR in 2016, you still have to understand what your audience needs before you get started. Like any other direct mail campaign, you’ll also have to have a clear goal for your campaign, a smart design in both technologies, and a precise call to action.

SEO Myths vs. Realities in 2016

Search engine optimization is a never-ending game with constantly changing rules — so much so, that eventually old rules become blurred or obsolete. But old habits are hard to break, and many SEO experts are guilty of pressing forward with less-effective strategies.

Link building? What are you, a blacksmith?Search engine optimization is a never-ending game with constantly changing rules — so much so, that eventually old rules become blurred or obsolete. But old habits are hard to break, and many SEO experts are guilty of pressing forward with less-effective strategies.

It’s understandable, given the monumental shifts taking place in the SEO world. Just a few years ago, few people imagined that mobile websites, social media and smartphone apps would make such a big impact on the SEO landscape. And yet here we are, and these emerging technologies have already changed the game.

Building a good SEO strategy in 2016 means dispelling myths and accepting new realities. The way people interact with the Internet has evolved, and SEO experts who don’t adjust accordingly will eventually be riding the bench.

Myth: Written content is still the most important kind of content.
Reality: Video content has pulled even with text.

If written content is still more important, then it’s hanging on by a fingernail. The truth is that video content may have already pulled even with text content in terms of overall importance to SEO efforts, and it won’t be long until engaging video content dethrones written content. The simple truth is that video content is far more engaging and is more likely to be shared on forums, on websites and in social media. As search engines shift to reflect the kinds of user experiences that people want — and as social media posts become part of Google’s organic search rankings — the importance of quality video content will be undebatable.

Myth: My desktop site is more important than my mobile site.
Reality: Mobile websites are more important than desktop sites in some industries.

Most people now use the Internet more via mobile devices than desktop PCs. In April 2015, Google unleashed an update known by SEO experts as “Mobilegeddon” that gave priority to websites with suitable mobile versions — so we already know this is one of Google’s top priorities. In the past, it was easy to view mobile sites as optional novelties that accompanied desktop sites. That’s no longer the case. The way people interact with websites changes significantly when viewing the Internet through smartphones and tablets. Google is already embracing this reality, and SEO experts must do the same.

Myth: Building inbound links to my website is no longer important.
Reality: Inbound links never went out of style.

It’s easy to think that, with the growing importance of mobile websites and social media, perhaps the tried-and-true practice of link-building is no longer a necessity. Turns out, that couldn’t be more false. While backlinks aren’t as critical now as they were a few years ago, they’re still highly important and will help your site’s SEO ranking. If anything, the popularity of sharable content on social media has allowed opportunistic SEO experts to expand their networks of backlinks even further.

Myth: Social media marketing isn’t relevant to my SEO efforts.
Reality: Social media marketing is not only important, but it’s becoming vital.

This can’t be said enough — social media is dramatically changing people’s relationships with the Internet. An increasing number of people use Facebook and Twitter as their jumping-off points to other types of content. If you impress people on social media with engaging articles, videos or infographics, the result could be scores of new links being pointed back at your website. More links and more traffic means a better SEO ranking.

Also, Google now has a contract with Twitter to display tweets in the search rankings. Google is also indexing Facebook pages — this started last year — and it’s not uncommon for Facebook pages to be returned as search results to people’s queries. Going forward, social media marketing is only going to become more entwined with winning SEO strategies.

Influencing Consumer Decisions at the “Last Meter”

Forget about the last mile, it’s all about the last meter. Where the rubber meets the road. The final chance to whisper “choose me.” As marketers, you’re pros at top-of-funnel techniques like building brand awareness and generating interest and desire, which (fingers crossed) will convert into sales. But the one place where you have the least control is at the moment of decision, where consumers decide what to buy and what to bypass.

Forget about the last mile, it’s all about the last meter. Where the rubber meets the road. The final chance to whisper “choose me.” As marketers, you’re pros at top-of-funnel techniques like building brand awareness and generating interest and desire, which (fingers crossed) will convert into sales. But the one place where you have the least control is at the moment of decision, where consumers decide what to buy and what to bypass.

Are location-based apps the answer?
The latest entries to the last meter game are location-based applications. Every company, from the corner dry cleaner to the nationwide chain, has been jumping on the bandwagon. This is the godsend you’ve been hoping for — or is it?

Forrester Research provided a reality check earlier this year when it concluded that only 4 percent of U.S. online adults have used location-based apps, and only 1 percent use them regularly. Expectedly, the believers countered with stats about the unstoppable momentum of smartphone adoption and argued that the current state is not an accurate indicator of future potential. We do know who’s embracing these apps today — men ranging from 19 to 34 years old. But even if that is your target audience, there are no guarantees. And if it’s not, the road to adoption may be even longer.

What’s the ROI for your customers?
To start, you have to consider your customers’ return on investment. This universal formula applies to anything that requires a shift in behavior, and location-based apps are no exception. Let’s start with the “I.” What are you asking them to invest? In the case of apps, it’s the effort of seeking out, downloading and using the application, hopefully over and over again.

And in return, what’s the “R” that they’re getting back for their investment of time? That is, what exactly is it that you’re making better, cheaper and faster to justify the additional effort? Until recently, the sole focus had been on the gaming aspect, where virtual rewards such as mayorships and badges are earned for check-ins. But there’s a collective realization that it will take more for these apps to break out beyond being a mere novelty.

Services like Shopkick, Foursquare and Loopt are offering deals and savings, or other real-world rewards. But will their appeal extend beyond those hardcore deal seekers who will do whatever it takes to get a bargain? For most consumers, all this stuff feels like work. For them, the discounts or whatever rewards you’re doling out need to justify the effort. And if you’re not willing to give the farm away and bump up the “R” of consumer return, are there other ways to reduce the required “I” of investment?

What else should marketers be thinking about?
 Beyond apps, the conversation should embrace other innovations that are already hitting stores near you. One excellent example is Stop & Shop/Giant Food’s hand-held Scan It! device. It lets customers scan items as they’re placed into their shopping carts for faster checkout, while also proactively sending alerts of special savings throughout the store. Purchases made using Scan It! account for 13 percent of the grocer’s sales.

A bit further out are other innovations, such as radio frequency identification (RFID). Unfortunately, RFID has been battered and bruised by privacy concerns and sky-high implementation costs, but it’s still standing. Wal-Mart, one of the early adopters of RFID-tagged pallets for logistics purposes, recently announced it will implement RFID tags for individual products. Further out yet, but already in trial, are intelligent digital displays like those from NEC Corp. that use facial recognition to recommend products based on your estimated gender and age.

Maybe these won’t be the ultimate solutions. One thing they have in common is they require little to no investment on the consumer’s part; they work with the way consumers shop today and at the same time deliver additional value.

There are a lot of options out there to bridge the last meter. Just don’t forget the two critical questions: One, how hard are you making your customers work? And two, what’s in it for them?