Category Archives: Business process

The Social Maze

Where are all my customers?

 The funny thing about all the endless advocacy of social media is that nothing has really changed in the business of matching consumers with brands. Oh sure, now that consumers ‘control the brand’, companies are at the mercy of infantile twittering tantrums such  as when consumers don’t get their way (especially on an airline) hoping to unleash a social firestorm primarily with the hope of getting noticed for a nanosecond or two. (The same folks likely get back on the same airline, content to collect their frequent flyer points.) 

One would think, with all those folks splaying their private lives out in public via the likes of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare – lest we forget this thing called a phonebook or the science of geodemographics and credit card purchase data – that people would be easy to find. In fact, with all of the yottabytes of data out there about consumers, it should, in the year 2010, be a matter of running an algorithm or two to find customers, understand preferences and match any product or offer with any consumer 24/7 in any country with high Internet penetration.  It would be the end to the need to advertise using traditional channels.

Funny indeed. The search and storage/processing technology required to make the social web possible has, as the main output, data. Whether you call it media or content it’s still really just more data taking up space on some distant server farm deep in the Mariana Trench. As such, are we all the wiser? Not really. With free cloud apps having a shelf life not much longer that the vegetables in your local supermarket, many are wary of the risks of implementing something that will be obsolete by the time it gets traction in the marketplace. With the yet to be proven value of social media monitoring and analytics, it’s not as if the world has abandoned representative random sampling or in-market product trials.  

Do companies really have the strategies, skill sets or business processes to effectively leverage the social web? With only $2 billion slated for social media spending in the USA this year, I doubt it. Yet, evangelists are forever hopeful, as that is their stock in trade. Like Charles Revson, founder of Revlon once said, “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.”  

On the other hand, Charles Revson didn’t have social networks at his disposal but his customers had no trouble finding the Revlon counter.  

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensMedia

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Marketing Technology: Mobile People & Portable Brands

The idea of mobile communications is not something new, it’s just that things have progressed immensely since the days prior to the Internet and PDA devices.

What lies ahead is a huge opportunity for brands to get closer to their customers daily lives by  becoming integral to their cutomers’ processes. For me, the idea orignated when I was at IBM where self-serve technologies, such as the ATM and airline check-in kiosk were beginning to take hold. One of my colleagues quipped “Yes, it’s really about the customer saying to the brand ‘come into my process’ but I will remain in control of the transaction”.

This was compelling as it freed the customer not only from delays (lineups at the airport) but it suggested that the customer could transact when and where they pleased – on their own terms.

With mobile devices – PDA’s if you will, customer (and brands) can enjoy more freedom than ever before. No longer encumbered by a fixed location to transact, bank customers can now do their banking from wherever and whenever they choose. The same goes for those who travel by air, say, using Air Canada or Virgin Airways.

Mobile applications can and are being developed for many brand categories. Pharmaceutical apps can help patients with prescription continuance and information on disease states; automotive dealerships send service alerts so that maintenance schedules are adhered to; transit systems can notify passengers when the next bus is about to arrive at a stop.

At the end of the day, its about people who are mobile, devices that enable ‘anywhere computing’ and brands that are portable – the ultimate engagement & collaboration.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

Data: The New Capital of the Digital Age

Data: The New Green

The Economist recently ran a special report on managing information that prompted some thinking. First, some big numbers from the report: Wal-Mart handles over 1 million sales transactions per hour. Facebook houses some 40 billion photos (after only 4 years of operation). Cisco estimates that Internet traffic will reach 667 exabytes by 2013.

 With some 60 million people on Twitter, according to comScore data (November 2009), there are roughly 10 million tweets a day. This doesn’t account for the content – characters, photos, articles and video content. I also found that YouTube has generated more video content than all of the television networks combined have ever generated. The current upload rate is equivalent to about 100,000 Hollywood movies being made on a monthly basis. Finally, almost 100 trillion e-mails were sent in 2009.  

Bringing this a bit closer to home, consider the number of daily transactions that take place for banking, air travel, credit card processing, phone calls and e-commerce. You end up with some very large numbers indeed. This data also says a lot about how we behave. Most intriguing perhaps is what it can tell us, through the use of complex algorithms, how we might behave at some future point in time – and where new business opportunity may dwell.  

This growth in the information industry is not reflective of recessionary times. It points to a shift in investment, new business models, the laying of new infrastructure (servers, storage, cloud computing, software) and global workforce expansion in business information. It’s also transformational as the CIO’s role is increasingly one of contributing directly to business growth in contrast to the dogmatic notion of keeping the lights on in the boiler rooms of Enterprise Resource Planning and Supply Chain Management.  

It’s the effect of the peta, exa and yottabyte world that is most intriguing. Conventional ways to sense and understand consumer behaviour  will be challenged by the new wave of business analytics. Marketing research is but one example. If predictive analytics can do a better job of identifying which category of SKU’s is trending upward or which meal combo is gaining favour, what will marketing research be used for? Data analytics can also be used to generate new ideas for services, products and as importantly, help companies shed under-performing assets and balance inventories. By implication, there is a clear line of sight to the financial payback as firms like Amazon and Marriott have learned.  

This point from the Economist is worth noting:  

“…all these data are turning the social sciences upside down, he [Sinan Aral, NYU] explains. Researchers are now able to understand human behaviour at the population level rather than the individual level.”  

It’s no wonder Big Tech (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP etc.) is loading up on search, storage and processing capability. In exchange they will reap new profits from the digital age, largely unnoticed from behind the curtain of social networks and online store fronts.   

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM  

CRM Not Working? Try Brian.

I like to play golf. I also use fairly good equipment. My Taylor Made clubs are fitted. I have had them for over 10 years and I really like them. The other day, my 3-iron (21 degree loft) club head came loose so I needed to have it repaired. I went to Golf Town, a chain of ‘big box’ stores in Canada.

At first, I was skeptical that Golf Town actually had people who could do much beyond chatting me up about the lastest in golf equipment technology. If I want to improve my game I have 2 basic choices: take lessons, play more often. In fact,  the only technology that has really led to the amateur’s game improvement over the years has been the lawn mower rather than golf equipment. Well, maybe the golf ball. As Sam Snead once said, “You can not go into a shop and buy a good game of golf.”

So I went to Golf Town. At the repair counter and was greeted by Brian, an elderly chap replete with apron, all kinds of club heads, shafts, vices and grips. Brian informed me that indeed all he had to do was put the club head back on with epoxy glue and it would be fine. There was no damage to the club itself. Brian also noted the club as a Taylor Made Rescue, a fine utility club in his view, that needed a new grip and he just happened to have the last one for that particular model in stock. I was skeptical – I first thought Brian was trying to upsell me on a new grip that I didn’t really need.

Then Brian said “You’ve had this grip the entire time you owned the club”. He was dead right. I looked at the club again and realized how much the grip had worn down. Brian also explain that because of Taylor’s “bubble shaft” design that was now out of production, so were the replacement grips. It all made sense so I agreed to have the club re-gripped. The only catch was that the club was not going to be ready until Wednesday morning. I then explained to Brian this was fine, in that I could live without my 3-iron for a day as I had a game lined up very early Wednesday, out of town.

Much to my delight, Brian then said to me: “No problem, I’ll move some orders around and have the club ready by 3 pm today”.  Lo and behold, just as I returned to pick up my club, Brian was actually on the phone calling me to let me know everything was ready.

Was this customer service? At it’s most basic level maybe. At the core, this was really textbook relationship management, not of the ‘experience engineering’ sort but a natural and effortless execution of a memorable customer experience. It was building loyalty and forming a bond between a customer and a craftsman. I left the store feeling that I can now trust someone to repair my golf equipment from now on. All it took was someone – Brian – to understand how to treat people. The transaction, the sale, took care of itself.

You cannot go to your technology provider and buy a good game of CRM.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

No Ticky No Laundry: The Unservice Service

My 75 year-old mother-in-law recently inquired, via the web, about a laundry product that she has been using for years.  In response,  Church & Dwight employed what is known in CRM-Customer Relationship Management as “the customer service apology” method:

 Subject: Reply from Web Form Regarding ARM & HAMMER® Super Washing Soda

Thank you for visiting our web site recently.  We have received your e-mail regarding ARM & HAMMER® So Clean! Super Washing Soda. We appreciate your interest in our product and are sorry you are having difficulty finding it in your area.

Because so many products compete for space on grocers’ shelves, stores sometimes must limit their offerings to those with the greatest demand. You might mention your interest in our product to the store manager where you shop and he or she may be able to order it for you.

Please understand that we are not able to process individual consumer orders.  And since we work through brokers that distribute our products to retailers, we are unable to give you the names of specific stores in your area that carry our products.

Again, thank you for taking the time and having the interest to contact us.  If you have any questions or concerns in the future, please call us at 1-866-931-9741.

We hope you will visit our web site again at: WWW.CHURCHDWIGHT.CA for information about our company, products, history, and financial information.

Church & Dwight Consumer Relations Representative

 

You may wonder why, in this age of location technology (bar codes, RFID), how a manufacturer could be so clueless as to where its own product is within the distribution channels. By contrast, food companies can locate any shipment.

Being a resourceful sort, my mother in-law has gone with Team Borax.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

Cross-posted @ cloudave: http://www.cloudave.com/link/no-ticky-no-laundry-the-unservice-service

Social Networks: The Unseen Dangers

SOCIAL NETWORKS: THE #1 MALWARE SOURCE – Last year, I predicted that the web was the battleground and social networks would get ugly. Both those predictions proved true. This year’s threat is no different – just more specific. Social networks have in fact become so ugly that they will be the #1 source of malware infections. Why? Nielsen Online says social networks have become more popular communication tools than email. Also, social networks by their very nature are gathering places, which tends to imply increased levels of trust. Finally, social networks leverage complex, Web 2.0 technologies that can suffer serious security vulnerabilities. When you add those factors together, it’s no wonder that social networks will become to malware what email used to be to the virus; the #1 source of infection.Corey Nachreiner, WatchGuard® Senior Security Analyst, CISSP www.watchguard.com

I spent a few years working for a technology services company that provided online detection of various forms of malware that posed a security and privacy threat to both consumers and business. Some of the work spanned various industries such as financial institutions and insurance companies as well as law enforcement agencies to detect fraud, counterfeiting and cybercrime in general. This was well before Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter became universal social networking platforms. Clearly the problem is much worse today as underscored by the above quote.

One thing that users seem to be oblivious to, whether they be business managers or consumers, is that social networks are cloud computing applications. They sit out on the Internet, a relatively open and unsecure environment where all types of predators lurk – identity thieves, terrorists and scam artists. Their ‘corporate’ vision and mission is carried out with the sole intent of stealing your identity, emptying your bank account and infecting your IT system with malware and harmful viruses, all without a shred of moral fibre or social conciousness. Beneath the surface are some very social criminals that want to be your ‘friend’ in a most unwarranted way.

It is unfortunate that social networks platforms do not, as a rule, provide disclaimers or warnings for people before they sign on. While the premise of ‘friending’ or ‘following’ people is innocent enough, there is little in the way that protects people from the possibility of online identity theft, fraud or in the worst cases, stalking and surveillance. The most egregious cases come from those who arrogantly declare privacy as a thing of the past, knowing full well that those who profit most are those who engage in online criminal activity.

It’s not surprising that many business are reluctant to take up social networking platforms. These software applications, mostly free, do not have the security safeguards that would prevent unwarranted intrusions into an enterprise’s data bases or email systems containing confidential and proprietary information. Security Solutions is one of the fastest growing areas of IT services and a facet of corporate governance that has taken on strategic importance in the digital age. As much as social networks have seen incredible growth in the past 5 years, so has online fraud. Concurrent with this has been the growth in security solutions such anti-malware applications, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing.

At some point, marketers and social media advocates need to wake up and understand the risks inherent in open and unsecure software systems. In doing so, they might be a bit more successful in moving their social media agenda forward. The responsibility to ensure that consumers are well out of harm’s way needs to be a serious consideration.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

(Cross-posted at http://www.cloudave.com)

The New Corporate Trust Agent

My previous post “Marketing Research Mindset: Stop Debating Social” was about the opportunity that Social Networks presents to the corporate marketing research function. Here are some further thoughts on moving forward.

Marketing Research professionals who look past the ‘research’ shortcomings of social media monitoring, see the wealth of organic, continuous streaming of customer conversation on the web. This view is echoed by the ARF – Advertising Research Foundation in their most recent publication The Listening Playbook.  This new breed of research professionals is reinforcing its position as the Voice of the Customer within their organization (or their client’s domain). They are also the small minority that organizations are turning to for help in solving complex business challenges brought about by the Social Web.

Marketing Research should be the ‘go to’ place to sense the marketplace and be the primary source for social network guidance.  Consider the following: 

You Can Handle The Truth

The Voice of the Customer (VOC): Consumer research is, in part,  about understanding wants and needs, whether explicit or implicit. The best methods afford the enterprise a window to see many possible futures rather than the world as viewed through a rear-view mirror. VOC input also enables strategic planning in the broadest context and tactical business process improvement at the transactional levels of the organization.

Analytical Rigor: Those who do it right and avoid analytical rigor mortis bring an objective view to the decision-making process. Marketing Research sits at the table as a key input that is fact-based and provides insight into the risk and potential rewards of business decisions. Like the accounting function, Marketing Research employs its own version of GAAP that can both replicated and audited for accuracy. Unlike accounting, Marketing Research has the added benefit of providing a qualitative perspective that can be applied to innovation.

Business is filled with risk: As in golf, business is ‘a game of mistakes’, risks and rewards.  As some like to ask, “With all of that marketing research, why do so many new products fail?” One might also wonder then why do so many advertising and public relations campaigns miss the mark, M&A deals go awry, startups fail, product quality glitches occur, costs are overun, brands lose market share and so on.  As one venture capitalist recenty told me, success is often about timing and luck. We both agreed however, that data, research and insight help to manage the “known unknowns”.

Enter the Golden Age: The best thing about Marketing Research, as I see it, is that it knits together Customer Relationship Management and Social Media as a primary step of customer engagement. It is catalyst in unifying the enterprise and the customer through insight. CRM needs research to design the customer experience; Social Media, in proving its business utility, needs market research to make sense of the millions of consumer-generated comments that are posted every day about brands. Social Media and CRM are where Marketing Research insight is put into action. Similar links exist at the functional level with product development, media, advertising, sales, public relations,  marketing and manufacturing.

In the new consumer world of social and mobile, has there ever been a better time for Marketing Research to be the new Corporate Trust Agent? 

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM