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The chatter about DIY research and listening platforms driving traditional market research to obsolescence is enough to give any Market Research professional pause for thought. Management teams can point to cost savings by empowering different departments to conduct their own “research.” While this debate is very interesting, and one that could go on for hours, the important piece that shouldn’t be lost in the debate is that the research still needs to happen. Case in point: Summer’s Eve.

In case you missed it, women (and men) everywhere have been heatedly debating a Summer’s Eve ad placed in the October 2010 issue of Women’s Day. I actually received the issue this weekend and when I stumbled across the ad, I did a double take. Even without my background in media research and gender studies, my inner alarm was ringing. Was this ad serious? Evidently I was not the only one who noticed because the blogosphere and Twitter were all a-flutter with other individuals who took notice as well. (Blogs from BlogHer.com to Salon.com to AdWeek.com above all had coverage. One blog even had more than 900 comments.) After I got over the initial shock of the ad, I asked myself, “Did they do any ad testing?”

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Is A Virtual Agent Right For Your Web Site?

One of the questions I'm frequently asked by clients is if virtual agents are a good idea. Many of us have had frustrating interactive agent experiences over the years (recall Clippy, Microsoft’s animated paperclip that launched a thousand parodies).

Times have changed, and I think virtual agents are worth taking a look at. Today’s virtual agents can guide consumers through your Web site while answering questions effectively and conversationally. 

As virtual agent technology continues to become more sophisticated — features such as integrating with enterprise systems like shipping and delivery or CRM availability on mobile devices — virtual agents will continue to take on more complex customer service issues.

One of the benefits that I think is really compelling is that if a consumer escalates to live help, the transcript is pushed to the call rep, reducing call resolution times and sparing customers the annoyance of having to start from the beginning to explain their problem.

These features matter for many reasons. Here are two big ones.

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Connected TVs Will Sell, But Will They Get Used?

I'm a big fan of the digital home, even if the phrase itself has slipped from popular use lately. I cannot wait for it to happen to me -- I'll have connected displays (does the word TV even apply anymore?) throughout the house, including the ones in my pocket, in my lap, or otherwise within reach at all times. Those displays will all speak IP, the language of the Internet, and they'll all speak to each other as well, allowing me to control one display -- say, my TV -- with another one -- my Droid X, for example. There's so much product innovation yet to come in the digital home that I love my job.

I'm not the only one who sees it, of course. If you follow the excited announcements from TV makers and electronics retailers like Best Buy, the next TV we all buy will be a connected TV (defined as a TV set with its own Internet connection whether wired or wireless and some kind of software platform), a critical first step toward that future digital home nirvana.

Connected TVs are going to be a big deal; to understand why, read my latest report which includes US survey results about connected TVs along with a forecast for connected TV penetration through the middle of the decade. It just went live to Forrester clients last week. In the report, we show that thanks to the enthusiasm on the supply side, connected TVs are going to sell like proverbial hotcakes. By 2015, we forecast that more than 43 million US homes will have at least one. That's a remarkable number, especially considering that we entered 2010 with fewer than 2 million connected TV homes in the US.

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What Every Exec Needs To Know About The Future of eCommerce Technology

We are in a highly transformative time as changing customer expectations, commerce capabilities, and technology continue to evolve rapidly. Initiatives that just a few short years ago would have seemed a long way off — such as mobile commerce, app stores, multichannel order management, or embedding shopping on Facebook — are now squarely on the priority list of eCommerce business and technology leaders. And as consumer expectations, client needs, and the competitive environment continue to evolve, pressure on executives to make the right choices in technology and operational capabilities continues to mount. With this research, we highlight what every exec should know as they navigate these choices and position their company to succeed and fully capitalize on the transformation technology is enabling across their business.

As we have talked to many executives across many verticals consistent questions emerge on how to work ahead of these changes and stay ahead of the curve. The report we just published today looks to address these questions, based on many conversations across the vendor and client community and across verticals.

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The Data Digest: Cross-Channel Media Usage

Throughout the past 12 years of our Technographics® surveys, we’ve observed digital technology’s role in consumers’ lives increasing steadily.

Today, technologies like PCs and mobile phones, which were once reserved for the most well-heeled tech freaks, are in three-quarters of US households. For media consumption, however, new formats don't necessarily replace old ones. Our Technographics data shows that while new media sources occupy more of young consumers’ time, it’s the traditional media sources that continue to maintain popularity across both younger and older consumer groups.

This continued reliance on traditional media explains why cross-channel media adoption is still seeing slow growth. The Weather Channel leads this race, as it did in previous years, with one-quarter of respondents indicating they both watch The Weather Channel and log in online.

My colleague Jackie Anderson is very busy at the moment analyzing and writing an update to our annual State Of Consumers And Technology Benchmark report that covers topics such as the one mentioned above. When it's published, we'll share some updated numbers. Hint: Some others in the list have done a good job in the past year of engaging people across channels!

Paid And Earned Media: An Unlikely Marriage

It’s clear by now that groundswell technologies, especially social media, are disrupting the advertising world. You can’t read a major marketing magazine or Web site without at least one headline talking about how social is changing the world. Yet, we still find there are many people in the interactive marketing industry on two extremes: those who think social is just another channel in the advertising mix and those who think social media will full on replace advertising.

The reality is that both sides are wrong. On one hand, advertising has done a poor job of incorporating social media. For instance, why was the idea of Old Spice actually responding to the audience through social media such a big deal? Considering all of the hype over the past couple of years, you’d think this was something every TV campaign included (for the record, I completely agree with Augie Ray’s assessment that the campaign was a great use of social media). On the other hand, there are still many social media “experts” who believe that paid media has no role in social media marketing. This is also wrong.

In fact, paid and earned media can have a very close relationship and should be leveraged together (along with owned media) for the best results. Here are some ways in which paid and earned media can work together:

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Don’t Shortchange Your Agency Search

I don’t know if it was the Great Recession, the emergence of social media, or the result of new decision-makers coming on the scene, but marketers have been on a shopping spree for new agency partners. Over the past 18 months, we’ve witnessed everything from Zappo's RFP gone wild to the sudden agency changes at Chevrolet and Cadillac. In my latest report "When To Outsource Your Agency Search," I found that:

  • Agency reviews have been rampant. According to the 4A's list of publicly known accounts in review, there have been more agency reviews over the past 18 months (1,006) than in the prior three years combined (917).
  • Yet interestingly, search consultants haven’t been called to the table as frequently. Using the same 4A's list of accounts in review, search consultants were involved in approximately 23% of agency reviews, compared with 34% in 2008 and 40% in 2007.

Marketers Need To Know When To Outsource The Agency Search Process

Considering the importance of the decision and the commitment required to conduct a search, it’s surprising that more marketers have been handling the agency review process internally. Especially when CMOs and marketing leaders are saddled with more responsibility than ever. That's why Forrester believes there are four cases when marketers would be better off using a third-party advisor for their agency search process.

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1 + 1 = 3. Why Research Vendors Should Collaborate

As mentioned in some earlier posts, in the past quarters, I have been looking into the role that Market Research professionals play (and can play) with regard to information management. I’ve had many enlightening conversations about this topic with both vendors and client-side market researchers.

Technology developments result in more and more information becoming available internally, and at different parts of the organization. Just think about all the data an average company collects or buys — media measurement data, advertising awareness, advertising spend, retail data, sales data, competitive intelligence, Web-tracking data (from listening tools), Web site tracking, marketing data (e.g., Nielsen Claritas), customer satisfaction surveys, brand trackers, and other primary research data, to name just a few. One vendor estimated that the average research department handles around 50 different research sources!

When I spoke with vendors about their relationship with clients, each and every one of them was looking for ways to increase the level of engagement. For one thing, they are working on best-in-class reporting tools to make it easier for clients to process their data and make it visually more interesting — and hopefully easier to use. However, not many vendors think further than their own set of data. When questioned, they mention that their systems don’t allow for third-party data. Yes, it’s possible to link to internal CRM systems, but that’s about as far as things go.

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Do You Want To Succeed At Social Media Or Social Media Marketing?

Do you want to succeed at social media or social media marketing?  There is a difference—a huge difference.  It’s the difference between using social media tools and adopting social media philosophy; the difference between sparking posts about your marketing and posts about your product or service; and the difference between marketers who focus externally on how the brand is broadcast versus internally on how the brand is realized. 

So do you want to succeed at social media or social media marketing?  The answer is the former, but many marketers focus on the latter.  I’d like to make this difference more real by sharing two examples—the first in the entertainment industry and the second my own experiences in a mall this weekend. 

Snakes on a Plane (SoaP) is the entertainment industry’s greatest pre-release social media success story to date.  The Guardian called it, “Perhaps the most internet-hyped film of all time.”  Fans produced their own T-shirts, posters, trailers, novelty songs, and parodies.  Producers organized a contest to select a fan's music for use in the movie. The filmmakers added shooting days in order to implement changes suggested by fans on the Internet (including Samuel Jackson’s famous and unprintable-on-this-blog line about “m&f%*#f+!@ing snakes”).  

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The Problem With Tech Vendors’ “SMB Specialist” Partner Certification

SMBs have historically led the way out of recessions – and with the impression in mind that this recovery will prove likewise, tech vendors have been clamoring to roll out new “SMB Specialist” partner certifications. The problem is that most of these SMB certifications are meaningless. The requirement for channel partners to achieve SMB certification in many vendors’ channel programs is that the channel partner has to prove that they have successfully sold to and supported SMB customers. Huh? Sounds like the “chicken and egg” syndrome, doesn’t it?

A few vendors, primarily those with large product portfolios, place the appropriate “breadth” value requirement on their SMB channel partners (as opposed to “depth”, i.e., deep knowledge in one particular technology domain) and require their SMB partners to test on several technology domains, albeit at the “101” (“beginner”) level. Note that most vendors, too, provide no path for their SMB-certified partners to reach their top partner tier (most vendors still reward revenue contribution over everything else), so those partners are at a competitive disadvantage to large channel partners that target both the enterprise and SMB markets.

The problem is vendors’ view of “breadth” with respect to SMB partner certification. Cisco Systems’ view of “breadth” is competency across the network and collaboration domains; Symantec’s is competency across the security spectrum; Microsoft’s is office suite and application software; and HP’s is primarily hardware and IT management (at least until it integrates the 3Com channel program).

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