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Customer Science Blog

By Julian Highley

The new year has well and truly passed us and so too have the plethora of companies shouting about “the trends to watch out for in 2015!”. While the voices clamouring about this year’s trends have fallen silent, the trends themselves will continue to make their presence felt – well into the future. It’s an oxymoron to talk about “trends” for a single year. Trends should have longevity to justify significant investment. If you’ve been lucky enough to ride the coat-tails of a short-lived fad, great; however for trends to be useful and form a basis for strategy, retailers and brands should be looking at a multi-year time horizon.

Our ‘2020’ trends series will explore in depth the opportunities presented to retailers and brands through nine important trends. As we help retailers and brands navigate the waters of consumer insight, part of our role is to identify the trends impacting customer behaviour. These are the foundation upon which to build strategies to drive loyalty and growth.  But how do you spot a truly useful trend, and more importantly, how can you be sure it will impact customer behaviour in the retail environment?

We humans are creatures of habit – what drives and motivates us stays fairly constant – it’s the context in which we live which shapes change and drives trends.  Human needs are the filter we use to determine what is a useful trend – and the nine trends we have identified as significantly influential all tap into basic human needs and desires. From convenient solutions to make busy lives easier, to personalised products and services to help consumers feel unique.

Over the coming months we will be taking a deep dive into each of these nine trends. In the meantime, get introduced to them through our new report.  Click here to download your copy.

By Julian Highley

The new year has well and truly passed us and so too have the plethora of companies shouting about “the trends to watch out for in 2015!”. While the voices clamouring about this year’s trends have fallen silent, the trends themselves will continue to make their presence felt – well into the future. It’s an oxymoron to talk about “trends” for a single year. Trends should have longevity to justify significant investment. If you’ve been lucky enough to ride the coat-tails of a short-lived fad, great; however for trends to be useful and form a basis for strategy, retailers and brands should be looking at a multi-year time horizon.

Our ‘2020’ trends series will explore in depth the opportunities presented to retailers and brands through nine important trends. As we help retailers and brands navigate the waters of consumer insight, part of our role is to identify the trends impacting customer behaviour. These are the foundation upon which to build strategies to drive loyalty and growth.  But how do you spot a truly useful trend, and more importantly, how can you be sure it will impact customer behaviour in the retail environment?

We humans are creatures of habit – what drives and motivates us stays fairly constant – it’s the context in which we live which shapes change and drives trends.  Human needs are the filter we use to determine what is a useful trend – and the nine trends we have identified as significantly influential all tap into basic human needs and desires. From convenient solutions to make busy lives easier, to personalised products and services to help consumers feel unique.

Over the coming months we will be taking a deep dive into each of these nine trends. In the meantime, get introduced to them through our new report.  Click here to download your copy.

25 Mar 2015

By Emilie Kroner

Published on Mediapost

When I was a child, I loved shopping with my mother at our local Hallmark retailer. I could always count on my mom to never miss a birthday or a special occasion — whether it was for family or a close friend. Deep to her Southern roots and despite having three children and working full-time, she’d have a birthday or Valentines’ Day card for me, and I cherished knowing that. When she walked into our Hallmark, I remember her interacting with their associates — they knew her and they knew me. But not only was there a connection and a relationship between my mom and the Hallmark associates, they knew what she wanted; they knew how to ask the right questions, they knew how to best serve her needs. 

In today’s shopping environment, I’m lucky if a sales associate even greets me at many of the retailers that I frequent. Not because retailers don’t care about me as a customer, but as the competitive marketplace has continued to explode, retailers have had to get smarter around cost efficiencies and labor challenges. Unfortunately, the operational workforces have more responsibility, less training, and fewer opportunities to serve their customers and make crucial relationships, which has significantly changed the level of personal service that you or I as customers receive. 

It’s ironic: In the age of personalization, have we lost our ability to get personal at the store level? 

We don’t have to. We have an extraordinary opportunity to bring the power of personalization in the age of customer data, to the people, but that requires us to make smarter and clear strategic choices; change the structure and organization to ensure teams are able to deliver to the customer, and ensure that, as leaders, we are creating a culture that empowers, rewards, and provides our teams with the opportunities to learn and grow — all with the customer in mind.

Many of today’s strongest organizations differentiate themselves by ensuring that their business is structured and supported to constantly deliver to the customer. From the initial interview process at Zappos, employees are screened to make sure they have the values and passion around customer service. Baristas at Starbucks are educated and tested on all products so that they can educate customers as well as make recommendations. Ritz Carlton employees are empowered to provide great personal experiences to customers, with limited parameters. Nordstrom trusts their employees to deliver great experiences by using their “best judgment in all situations.” 

For most companies, the people who have a direct ability to change the way customers think about the brand comprise over 98% of an organization. so why aren’t we focusing more on them? After all, imagine that each of your 10,000 customers can help only one customer a week to buy one more item at a $5 AUR (average unit retail), resulting in a $2.6M incremental sales lift. Sounds like a pretty solid investment for relatively small changes. 

I say we start using the vast amounts of consumer data we have to start truly transforming the way we deliver to customers. The key is pushing this knowledge down to the front lines and getting the customer information to those who day-in and day-out have the ability to impact the customer experience within minutes. 

Using data, we can discover what customers want and make internal customer promises to stay focused on what matters most to customers. Brands and retailers must hold themselves accountable as a business to these promises,  making them the cornerstone to business strategies. 

  • Educate your business on what’s important to customers and how to use emotional intelligence to deliver personalized experiences. 
  • Reward great customer-focused behavior – not just strong sales results. Lead with a customer focus – consistently communicating the importance of the customer in your strategy. 
  • Equip your store teams with the data to make decisions and do what’s best for your customers – after all, they know the customer better than anyone. 

While it may not be realistic to get back to the personalized model of the “mom and pop” stores, the data is there to help us get closer to our customer in a number of ways that are important to them, and that will ultimately help build loyalty with them. As business leaders, the onus is on us to make the data accessible to everyone in the organization, as an integrated part of our culture.

By Emilie Kroner

Published on Mediapost

When I was a child, I loved shopping with my mother at our local Hallmark retailer. I could always count on my mom to never miss a birthday or a special occasion — whether it was for family or a close friend. Deep to her Southern roots and despite having three children and working full-time, she’d have a birthday or Valentines’ Day card for me, and I cherished knowing that. When she walked into our Hallmark, I remember her interacting with their associates — they knew her and they knew me. But not only was there a connection and a relationship between my mom and the Hallmark associates, they knew what she wanted; they knew how to ask the right questions, they knew how to best serve her needs. 

In today’s shopping environment, I’m lucky if a sales associate even greets me at many of the retailers that I frequent. Not because retailers don’t care about me as a customer, but as the competitive marketplace has continued to explode, retailers have had to get smarter around cost efficiencies and labor challenges. Unfortunately, the operational workforces have more responsibility, less training, and fewer opportunities to serve their customers and make crucial relationships, which has significantly changed the level of personal service that you or I as customers receive. 

It’s ironic: In the age of personalization, have we lost our ability to get personal at the store level? 

We don’t have to. We have an extraordinary opportunity to bring the power of personalization in the age of customer data, to the people, but that requires us to make smarter and clear strategic choices; change the structure and organization to ensure teams are able to deliver to the customer, and ensure that, as leaders, we are creating a culture that empowers, rewards, and provides our teams with the opportunities to learn and grow — all with the customer in mind.

Many of today’s strongest organizations differentiate themselves by ensuring that their business is structured and supported to constantly deliver to the customer. From the initial interview process at Zappos, employees are screened to make sure they have the values and passion around customer service. Baristas at Starbucks are educated and tested on all products so that they can educate customers as well as make recommendations. Ritz Carlton employees are empowered to provide great personal experiences to customers, with limited parameters. Nordstrom trusts their employees to deliver great experiences by using their “best judgment in all situations.” 

For most companies, the people who have a direct ability to change the way customers think about the brand comprise over 98% of an organization. so why aren’t we focusing more on them? After all, imagine that each of your 10,000 customers can help only one customer a week to buy one more item at a $5 AUR (average unit retail), resulting in a $2.6M incremental sales lift. Sounds like a pretty solid investment for relatively small changes. 

I say we start using the vast amounts of consumer data we have to start truly transforming the way we deliver to customers. The key is pushing this knowledge down to the front lines and getting the customer information to those who day-in and day-out have the ability to impact the customer experience within minutes. 

Using data, we can discover what customers want and make internal customer promises to stay focused on what matters most to customers. Brands and retailers must hold themselves accountable as a business to these promises,  making them the cornerstone to business strategies. 

  • Educate your business on what’s important to customers and how to use emotional intelligence to deliver personalized experiences. 
  • Reward great customer-focused behavior – not just strong sales results. Lead with a customer focus – consistently communicating the importance of the customer in your strategy. 
  • Equip your store teams with the data to make decisions and do what’s best for your customers – after all, they know the customer better than anyone. 

While it may not be realistic to get back to the personalized model of the “mom and pop” stores, the data is there to help us get closer to our customer in a number of ways that are important to them, and that will ultimately help build loyalty with them. As business leaders, the onus is on us to make the data accessible to everyone in the organization, as an integrated part of our culture.

24 Mar 2015

By Karen Oakland

ImageIt’s no secret that price remains one of the top factors influencing where consumers choose to shop. And while digital and mobile tools provide consumers with more access to price information than ever before – retailers have greater access to sophisticated, science-driven demand analytics that can help optimize those prices.

Price and promotion optimization technology remains one of the key tools merchandising and category management teams can use to make sure their prices are competitive in the products and departments that matter most for their shoppers, while protecting themselves against financial losses. Yet why do so many retailers struggle with unsuccessful optimization projects?

Gartner retail industry analyst Robert Hetu discusses these issues in a new report: “Prioritize 10 Best Practices for Successful Price Optimization Implementations,” available to Gartner subscribers and previewed on the Gartner blog.

According to Hetu,

“Even when optimization applications have been implemented, they frequently remain outside the business process that buyers, planners, category managers and pricing specialists use to determine pricing. Unfortunately, optimized prices are ignored by the user community or so tightly constrained by business rules that no optimization can take place. Much of this can be directly attributed to an ineffective implementation process.”

We agree with Hetu that this doesn’t have to be the case. In our experience working with both large and small retailers, there’s a better way to go forward, following best practices we’ve learned by working through successful projects. The reality is, like any enterprise technology, price optimization requires time and effort to realize the financial ROI it has been proven to deliver.

Hetu references three primary areas retailers need to address:

  1. Human Resources Preparation (Including executive sponsorship, IT, and staffing strategy)
  2. Data and System Preparation (Including a review of your business processes)
  3. Pricing Strategy Preparation (In other words, software is just a tool – it won’t fix a bad strategy or help you define your new one.)

One thing Hetu doesn’t address in detail is the importance of having a measurement strategy. That’s why we often work with clients on a “Test and Learn” approach that defines the measures and means of reporting financial lift that can be attributed to using the solution. Demonstrating results creates project momentum and helps to win the hearts and minds of key stakeholders.

We’ve got a free resource that addresses a number of these same issues covered by Gartner. Download our e-book: “Top 10 Price Optimization Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them” so you can put together your own checklist and identify best practices around areas such as change management, category and product roles, evaluating rules, and documenting success.

If done right, we know that most companies will realize a significant uplift in both revenue and profit through price optimization software. Analyst surveys report that price optimization typically leads to a 2-3% increase in revenue and a 1-2% increase in profit. So if you’ve struggled to achieve these results – or you’re looking at investing in optimization for the first time – we hope these resources will provide food for thought.

 

By Karen Oakland

ImageIt’s no secret that price remains one of the top factors influencing where consumers choose to shop. And while digital and mobile tools provide consumers with more access to price information than ever before – retailers have greater access to sophisticated, science-driven demand analytics that can help optimize those prices.

Price and promotion optimization technology remains one of the key tools merchandising and category management teams can use to make sure their prices are competitive in the products and departments that matter most for their shoppers, while protecting themselves against financial losses. Yet why do so many retailers struggle with unsuccessful optimization projects?

Gartner retail industry analyst Robert Hetu discusses these issues in a new report: “Prioritize 10 Best Practices for Successful Price Optimization Implementations,” available to Gartner subscribers and previewed on the Gartner blog.

According to Hetu,

“Even when optimization applications have been implemented, they frequently remain outside the business process that buyers, planners, category managers and pricing specialists use to determine pricing. Unfortunately, optimized prices are ignored by the user community or so tightly constrained by business rules that no optimization can take place. Much of this can be directly attributed to an ineffective implementation process.”

We agree with Hetu that this doesn’t have to be the case. In our experience working with both large and small retailers, there’s a better way to go forward, following best practices we’ve learned by working through successful projects. The reality is, like any enterprise technology, price optimization requires time and effort to realize the financial ROI it has been proven to deliver.

Hetu references three primary areas retailers need to address:

  1. Human Resources Preparation (Including executive sponsorship, IT, and staffing strategy)
  2. Data and System Preparation (Including a review of your business processes)
  3. Pricing Strategy Preparation (In other words, software is just a tool – it won’t fix a bad strategy or help you define your new one.)

One thing Hetu doesn’t address in detail is the importance of having a measurement strategy. That’s why we often work with clients on a “Test and Learn” approach that defines the measures and means of reporting financial lift that can be attributed to using the solution. Demonstrating results creates project momentum and helps to win the hearts and minds of key stakeholders.

We’ve got a free resource that addresses a number of these same issues covered by Gartner. Download our e-book: “Top 10 Price Optimization Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them” so you can put together your own checklist and identify best practices around areas such as change management, category and product roles, evaluating rules, and documenting success.

If done right, we know that most companies will realize a significant uplift in both revenue and profit through price optimization software. Analyst surveys report that price optimization typically leads to a 2-3% increase in revenue and a 1-2% increase in profit. So if you’ve struggled to achieve these results – or you’re looking at investing in optimization for the first time – we hope these resources will provide food for thought.

 

23 Mar 2015

By Barbara Connors

Earlier this week, I left behind a cold and rainy Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the annual SXSW Interactive Festival in sunny Austin, Texas.  After 5 days of sessions, workshops and panels presented by a mix of start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, I am left amazed by the ingenuity and creativity present in our industry and inspired by what we will deliver in the coming years. 

I attended sessions with topics ranging the spectrum of technology, big data, analytics, advertising, content marketing, personalization, retail, corporate culture, innovation, ethics, privacy, and even saw a princess talk about entrance of women into the Saudi workforce.  On my way back home, I walk away with some common themes that emerged among the diversity of sessions and opinions.  Below are my observations and learnings.  Hopefully you will find them inspiring and also take away a few ideas to embed into your work-week.

Four familiar tensions within the media ecosystem are alive and well.Image

It seems as though we always believe our industry is at a “crossroads.”  2015 is no different.  As we harness new technologies, platforms and data to make better business decisions, the following competing interests permeate our landscape:

Agency vs. Advertiser: 

As brands build in-house agencies, specialty boutiques focus of different parts of the marketing mix, and consumer-generated content is leveraged as advertising, the role of the traditional agency is changing.GE has worked with BBDO for 90 years and is proud of this lasting partnership.However, while a small consortium of people made strategy decisions in the past, ten agencies now have a seat at the table.This can naturally make everyone a little uncomfortable.However, aren’t ten heads better than one?

Data vs. Gut: 

Big Data brings with it the promise of relevance and efficiency, but threatens to devalue human instinct.The truth is they can co-exist, and Mashable and Stitch Fix can prove it.Mashable’s Velocity algorithm predicts the viral impact potential of stories within minutes, and is responsible for 50% of the content published on their homepage.This frees up time for their reporters to create great content.Stitch Fix employs a Netflix-like algorithm to generate outfit recommendations, but empowers stylists deviate from predictions if their gut says a client will like sweater anyway.

Google vs. Facebook vs. the Open Web:  

It was only a few years ago that Facebook was the new kid in town.Along with search (still dominated by Google), Facebook now offers one of the most effective digital media spends.It seems both of these players garner a bit of a love/hate relationship from the marketing community.Both companies have come under strong scrutiny that they know too much about us, and the growth of “walled gardens” is challenging data flows across the digital ecosystem.

Personalization vs. Privacy:  

As consumers, we expect every interaction a brand has with us to be relevant and provide value.However, the methods through which we achieve this can cause some discomfort.While the industry is engaged in a serious dialogue over terms for appropriate collection, usage, and dissemination of the individual data, the internet of things has adds a new layer to this conversation.As and more “simple” objects become “smart,” it doesn’t take a huge leap for a thermostat to go from helpful tool that keeps heating bills down to a trigger that alerts burglars when we are not home.

Two major convergences will revolutionize how we interact with brands and each other.

Tension creates opportunity for innovation, and I believe much of the innovation we will see in the coming years will come from collision of the following:

The convergence of the physical world with the digital:

To say that the “internet of things” and “beacons” are buzz-words would be an understatement.  SXSW hosted 28 sessions on the topic of IoT and 8 on beacon technology.  There is no doubt that new technology will change how and where we consume media, how we buy products, what we buy, and how we interact with each other.  However, this convergence penetrates deeply into media and retail, and will enable us to truly deliver relevant and impactful cross-platform media and shopping experiences.

The marriage of media and commerce:

A company’s core asset is, and always has been, their relationship with their consumers.  This direct relationship creates access to opportunity.  However, what retailers, brands, and agencies are realizing is that we have the ability to speak to our target consumers both at the point of inspiration and the point of purchase.  Amazon was a pioneer in this space.  However, we will see a growth in brands and retailers owning and selling media content as well as media companies acquiring sales channels.  The companies that succeed in doing this will be those who create a seamless transition from inspiration to purchase, while maintaining trust and relevance.

Two universal constants remain.

2015 is shaping up to be a pivotal year.  However, throughout all of the changes we experiencing, two universal truths remain at the core of every successful company. 

  1. Creativity is a renewable resource.  We never run out of it.  Tensions always create new possibilities if you are willing to adapt and be creative.  This creativity is particularly present in Austin in the middle of March.  I mean, did you know that Twitter was incorporated after a trip to SXSW?
  1. Humanity wins every time.   Underpinning the best sessions was an acknowledgement of our humanity, and our responsibility to market respectfully, innovate responsibly and help people to lead better lives more engaged with the world and each other.  Simply put, keep the consumer at the center.

Brands who get it will transform the industry.

Science-fiction author William Gibson told NPR in 1993, “the future is already here - it’s just not evenly distributed.”  This statement still rings true today.  Below are just a few examples of transitions we already see taking place as companies break down barriers of the physical and digital experience and connect media with commerce: 

The face, bones and brains of retail are changing, quite literally:  

E-commerce still only represents 8% of total retail sales, but its growth trajectory is undeniable.  To capitalize on the power of omni-channel shopping experience, e-commerce can no longer operate as a separate division that competes with physical divisions, and the two should not serve the same objectives.  For some brands, physical stores of the future may not be expected to drive sales at all, but rather serve as showrooms for online sales and become a marketing line item.  For others, stores may become drop-off and pick-up centers, drastically decreasing square footage and inventory management. 

David Roth of WPP predicts that the future of retail will be driven by smart products, on smart shelves in smart stores.  However, while retail will adapt to include sentient stores and partner with wearable payables, he is confident that physical stores will still exist.  Check out Rebecca Minkoff’s retail store in Manhattan, or click on this link, to see how one retailer is bringing the power of the digital experience into the store.

New players are democratizing distribution:

Cutting-edge brands are taking advantage of consumer behavior, and entering the market with a bang.  Companies like Airbnb, Uber and Etsy are breaking down the traditional distribution chain to sell goods and services, each doing so without opening a single physical store. 

Simultaneously, marketers are seeing a democratization of content distribution.  With the proliferation of brand-generated, agency-generated, and user-generated content, advertisers find themselves swimming in options.  This creates possibilities for personalized communication, especially through the use of data-driven algorithms.  What will separate the people who sink or swim will be the ability to balance the use of programmatic selection with human-led curation. 

Brands are closing the gap between “want” and “get”:   

Across industries, consumers are choosing ethereal experiences over ownership, and new companies are taking notice.  This evidenced through companies selling consumption of services over products (ex. honeymoon registries), companies renting products that were predominately owned just a few years ago (ex. Spotify and Rent the Runway), and even platforms facilitating short-lived social sharing (ex. Snapchat).

Technology is enabling us remove friction across steps in the path to purchase in ways never before possible.  Beacons enable marketers to push relevant content to consumers truly at the moment of truth, wherever they decide that to be.  Soon RFID tags will turn products into moving advertisements, enabling us to discover, explore, and purchase a purse we spot across the street without ever needing to ask the woman carrying it where it “where do you get that?!”

The advent of 3D printing brings the promise of immediate gratification to the physical world.  Companies like Bite Lip Lab allow consumers to customize the perfect lipstick at a kiosk and have it custom-printed for them in a matter of minutes. 

Companies who creatively embrace both the conflicting and converging realities while keeping consumers at the center of their business will succeed.  They always do.

By Barbara Connors

Earlier this week, I left behind a cold and rainy Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the annual SXSW Interactive Festival in sunny Austin, Texas.  After 5 days of sessions, workshops and panels presented by a mix of start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, I am left amazed by the ingenuity and creativity present in our industry and inspired by what we will deliver in the coming years. 

I attended sessions with topics ranging the spectrum of technology, big data, analytics, advertising, content marketing, personalization, retail, corporate culture, innovation, ethics, privacy, and even saw a princess talk about entrance of women into the Saudi workforce.  On my way back home, I walk away with some common themes that emerged among the diversity of sessions and opinions.  Below are my observations and learnings.  Hopefully you will find them inspiring and also take away a few ideas to embed into your work-week.

Four familiar tensions within the media ecosystem are alive and well.Image

It seems as though we always believe our industry is at a “crossroads.”  2015 is no different.  As we harness new technologies, platforms and data to make better business decisions, the following competing interests permeate our landscape:

Agency vs. Advertiser: 

As brands build in-house agencies, specialty boutiques focus of different parts of the marketing mix, and consumer-generated content is leveraged as advertising, the role of the traditional agency is changing.GE has worked with BBDO for 90 years and is proud of this lasting partnership.However, while a small consortium of people made strategy decisions in the past, ten agencies now have a seat at the table.This can naturally make everyone a little uncomfortable.However, aren’t ten heads better than one?

Data vs. Gut: 

Big Data brings with it the promise of relevance and efficiency, but threatens to devalue human instinct.The truth is they can co-exist, and Mashable and Stitch Fix can prove it.Mashable’s Velocity algorithm predicts the viral impact potential of stories within minutes, and is responsible for 50% of the content published on their homepage.This frees up time for their reporters to create great content.Stitch Fix employs a Netflix-like algorithm to generate outfit recommendations, but empowers stylists deviate from predictions if their gut says a client will like sweater anyway.

Google vs. Facebook vs. the Open Web:  

It was only a few years ago that Facebook was the new kid in town.Along with search (still dominated by Google), Facebook now offers one of the most effective digital media spends.It seems both of these players garner a bit of a love/hate relationship from the marketing community.Both companies have come under strong scrutiny that they know too much about us, and the growth of “walled gardens” is challenging data flows across the digital ecosystem.

Personalization vs. Privacy:  

As consumers, we expect every interaction a brand has with us to be relevant and provide value.However, the methods through which we achieve this can cause some discomfort.While the industry is engaged in a serious dialogue over terms for appropriate collection, usage, and dissemination of the individual data, the internet of things has adds a new layer to this conversation.As and more “simple” objects become “smart,” it doesn’t take a huge leap for a thermostat to go from helpful tool that keeps heating bills down to a trigger that alerts burglars when we are not home.

Two major convergences will revolutionize how we interact with brands and each other.

Tension creates opportunity for innovation, and I believe much of the innovation we will see in the coming years will come from collision of the following:

The convergence of the physical world with the digital:

To say that the “internet of things” and “beacons” are buzz-words would be an understatement.  SXSW hosted 28 sessions on the topic of IoT and 8 on beacon technology.  There is no doubt that new technology will change how and where we consume media, how we buy products, what we buy, and how we interact with each other.  However, this convergence penetrates deeply into media and retail, and will enable us to truly deliver relevant and impactful cross-platform media and shopping experiences.

The marriage of media and commerce:

A company’s core asset is, and always has been, their relationship with their consumers.  This direct relationship creates access to opportunity.  However, what retailers, brands, and agencies are realizing is that we have the ability to speak to our target consumers both at the point of inspiration and the point of purchase.  Amazon was a pioneer in this space.  However, we will see a growth in brands and retailers owning and selling media content as well as media companies acquiring sales channels.  The companies that succeed in doing this will be those who create a seamless transition from inspiration to purchase, while maintaining trust and relevance.

Two universal constants remain.

2015 is shaping up to be a pivotal year.  However, throughout all of the changes we experiencing, two universal truths remain at the core of every successful company. 

  1. Creativity is a renewable resource.  We never run out of it.  Tensions always create new possibilities if you are willing to adapt and be creative.  This creativity is particularly present in Austin in the middle of March.  I mean, did you know that Twitter was incorporated after a trip to SXSW?
  1. Humanity wins every time.   Underpinning the best sessions was an acknowledgement of our humanity, and our responsibility to market respectfully, innovate responsibly and help people to lead better lives more engaged with the world and each other.  Simply put, keep the consumer at the center.

Brands who get it will transform the industry.

Science-fiction author William Gibson told NPR in 1993, “the future is already here - it’s just not evenly distributed.”  This statement still rings true today.  Below are just a few examples of transitions we already see taking place as companies break down barriers of the physical and digital experience and connect media with commerce: 

The face, bones and brains of retail are changing, quite literally:  

E-commerce still only represents 8% of total retail sales, but its growth trajectory is undeniable.  To capitalize on the power of omni-channel shopping experience, e-commerce can no longer operate as a separate division that competes with physical divisions, and the two should not serve the same objectives.  For some brands, physical stores of the future may not be expected to drive sales at all, but rather serve as showrooms for online sales and become a marketing line item.  For others, stores may become drop-off and pick-up centers, drastically decreasing square footage and inventory management. 

David Roth of WPP predicts that the future of retail will be driven by smart products, on smart shelves in smart stores.  However, while retail will adapt to include sentient stores and partner with wearable payables, he is confident that physical stores will still exist.  Check out Rebecca Minkoff’s retail store in Manhattan, or click on this link, to see how one retailer is bringing the power of the digital experience into the store.

New players are democratizing distribution:

Cutting-edge brands are taking advantage of consumer behavior, and entering the market with a bang.  Companies like Airbnb, Uber and Etsy are breaking down the traditional distribution chain to sell goods and services, each doing so without opening a single physical store. 

Simultaneously, marketers are seeing a democratization of content distribution.  With the proliferation of brand-generated, agency-generated, and user-generated content, advertisers find themselves swimming in options.  This creates possibilities for personalized communication, especially through the use of data-driven algorithms.  What will separate the people who sink or swim will be the ability to balance the use of programmatic selection with human-led curation. 

Brands are closing the gap between “want” and “get”:   

Across industries, consumers are choosing ethereal experiences over ownership, and new companies are taking notice.  This evidenced through companies selling consumption of services over products (ex. honeymoon registries), companies renting products that were predominately owned just a few years ago (ex. Spotify and Rent the Runway), and even platforms facilitating short-lived social sharing (ex. Snapchat).

Technology is enabling us remove friction across steps in the path to purchase in ways never before possible.  Beacons enable marketers to push relevant content to consumers truly at the moment of truth, wherever they decide that to be.  Soon RFID tags will turn products into moving advertisements, enabling us to discover, explore, and purchase a purse we spot across the street without ever needing to ask the woman carrying it where it “where do you get that?!”

The advent of 3D printing brings the promise of immediate gratification to the physical world.  Companies like Bite Lip Lab allow consumers to customize the perfect lipstick at a kiosk and have it custom-printed for them in a matter of minutes. 

Companies who creatively embrace both the conflicting and converging realities while keeping consumers at the center of their business will succeed.  They always do.

19 Mar 2015