What Should A Virtual Agent Look Like?

Not all companies that offer a virtual agent elect to have an avatar. However, many companies choose to make cartoon, 2D or 3D renderings of a human to personalize the experience, support the brand, and reinforce the conversational nature of the interaction.

 But what should an avatar look like? Here are some considerations for eBusiness professionals who are designing a virtual agent avatar. Your avatar should:

  • Resonate with your audience. Pam Kosta, CMO at VirtuOz advises, “It’s key to make the user feel like this is someone they can get help from.” Marketing & Creative Services Manager at Next IT Jennifer Snell agrees, “When it gets right down to it, if your consumers don’t like it, they aren’t going to trust it or use it.” Here are two examples of avatars designed to appeal to their respective audiences: The Army’s “SGT STAR,” which reaches 18- to 22-year-old potential Army recruits, is a 3-D animation while AT&T’s “Charlie” looks warm and caring, with a vague ethnicity and age to appeal to a broader demographic base.
  • Have a look that reflects your brand. Sometimes a company has a prominent brand persona like the Michelin Man. Though less common, others may take elements from their logo. Most frequently, brand will influence what an avatar is wearing, hair style, etc. For example, a brand appealing to a younger segment should choose edgier clothing, while a conservative brand should dress its avatar in a more button-down fashion. eGain suggests companies model their avatars after their spokesperson in other media.
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Why It Matters That 1,914 People “Like” Being Able To Stream The Dark Knight on Facebook

At first blush, the decision by Warner Bros to rent movies on Facebook seems a little out of place. Sure, people watch a lot of video (mostly YouTube) on Facebook, but they don't go there to watch two hour movies, right? Well, for now they don't, but with some tweaks, they could start doing so very soon.

As my colleague Nick Thomas said yesterday in his blog post about Facebook's potential as a premium content platform, the future of traditional and social media are likely to be intertwined. Most of us, myself included, have been imagining them blending in the living room, where viewers can access Facebook on any number of devices while watching a movie on the TV. But would people be interested in exactly the reverse? When I checked in on Facebook I found the first evidence that the answer is yes.

A screen capture of a the Facebook fan page for The Dark Knight

You see here that within 11 hours of being posted, 1,914 people liked the idea of watching The Dark Knight on Facebook. This is compared to the 1,433 people who have liked the App Edition of Dark Knight that was announced nearly a month ago. (Don't try this at home; for some reason, the post announcing Facebook viewing has since been removed and I can't check for more recent numbers.)

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Youth Research At Marketing Forum 2011: A Glimpse Into 21st Century Market Insights

As my colleague Tamara Barber mentioned, we are in full countdown mode to our Marketing Forum 2011, to be held April 5 and 6 in San Francisco — only four weeks to go! For me, the weather isn’t quite the draw it is for Tamara (I’m based in Denver, and we’ve had some very nice spring weather as of late). But I’m very excited about two things. First, the ocean views (this is what I miss most about the East Coast, and I need to soak up the sight of the ocean any chance I get). Second, the content we’ll be unveiling over the course of the two days, three if you count the Market Insights Council sessions on Monday. These days are going to be jam-packed with fabulous speakers , so many that I’m glad I still have four weeks to figure out how I’m going to fit them all in!

Of course, I’m partial to the sessions that we’ve created just for Market Insight professionals. And even more partial to my session: “What Can Youth Research Teach Us About 21st-Century Market Insights?”Throughout our sessions, we’re exploring the future of market insights, and what better way to dive into the topic than to examine researching the very consumers who are companies’ futures?

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HubSpot Investment Validates Online Marketing Suite Model For SMBs

I first got to know HubSpot last summer when I was researching for the report: "Interactive Marketing Priorities For SMBs."  Born out of MIT’s Sloan School in 2006, HubSpot is an all-in-one marketing suite for small businesses. It provides blog building, content management, SEO, email marketing, lead management and social media tools, templates, and reporting for marketers at small and medium-sized companies. The model? To provide automated solutions for multiple marketing functions together in an easy-to-use system, tailored for the SMB market. Forrester loves the idea of the online marketing suite, so we think HubSpot’s approach is right-on.

Well, HubSpot just announced today that it has two new investors: Google and salesforce.com.

To me this investment signifies two things:

1)  Google wants to expand its reach into marketing budgets of small companies, many of whom currently use mostly local search. I've said before that I think Google is moving away from its core search business and into expanded media opportunities like television media. I think this investment is further evidence of Google's expanding priorities, now into the SMB market.

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Just How Big A Deal Is Spotify’s 1 Million Subscribers Milestone?

Spotify have announced their 1 millionth premium subscriber. No doubt about it, 1 million paying subscribers is a big deal.  No one else has done it in Europe or the US despite years of trying (that’s including stalwarts Rhapsody and Napster and new boys MOG and rDio).  But the true significance of the milestone will be defined by what comes next. 

1 million subscribers is an achievement worthy of celebration, but it is not (yet) evidence that premium subscriptions are a mass-market value proposition.  Indeed when you take an impassioned view of Spotify’s premium offering, it’s actually not a lot different from what’s been in the market for years in the shape of Napster’s and Rhapsody’s portable subscription products.  Sure, it is implemented in a superior manner (offline playlists, etc.) but the fundamentals remain the same: pay a monthly fee for music you never own.

The simple fact is that rented music for a monthly 9.99 fee is not a mass-market value proposition.  Spotify’s 1 million represents 10% of their total installed base (though closer to 15% of their active users).  So it is clear that the free Spotify product is many many times more popular than the paid-for product.

To break through to the mass market, Spotify will need to more aggressively pursue their subsidized partnerships (e.g., 3 and TeliaSonera) where the end user pays little or nothing for the service with it bundled with another product.  That third way, navigating between the mass-market free consumers and the niche premium customers is the long-term route to mainstream premium customers for Spotify (and all other subscription services).

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The Secret To Loyal Financial Services Customers

Eight years ago, Forrester set out to find the corporate trait that does the most to create loyalty among financial services consumers. Loyalty, of course, is about more than simply retaining customers: Loyal customers are willing to buy more, borrow more, save more, and invest more with the firms they already use. We tested dozens of variables, including the length of the customer’s relationship with the firm, the quality of the firm’s customer service, and the firm’s money management skills. One trait emerged above all others: the perception on the part of customers that the firm does what’s best for them, not just what’s best for the firm’s own bottom line. We call it customer advocacy.

Our research continues to show that customers who rate their firm highest on customer advocacy are most likely to stay at and do more business with the firms they use. In the just-published “Customer Advocacy 2011: How Customers Rate US Banks, Investment Firms, and Insurers,” we show which firms are ranked highest by their customers – and which ones bring up the rear. 

The Big US banks dominate the bottom of our rankings of 47 firms. Thirteen of the bottom 14 firms are banks, including all of the nation’s 10 largest banks. Fewer than one-in-four customers of Citibank and Capital One Bank believe that the firm has their best interests at heart.  Small banking institutions, on the other hand, are among the customer advocacy leaders – and are winning market share in the process. Two-thirds of the customers of credit unions and well over half of the customers of regional and local banks rate their firms high on customer advocacy.

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Can Facebook Become A Premium Content Platform?

Amid the recent kerfuffle over Apple’s plans to relieve publishers of 30% of their subscription revenues, and Google’s swift counter offer, did we forget about that other great disruptor, Facebook? The social net is still growing: we were told last week that it has 30m active users in the UK. And despite denying that it is interested in becoming a content provider, it is becoming an increasingly important platform for consuming content. The announcement that Warner Bros is offering Facebook users the chance to rent The Dark Knight (for 30 Facebook credits, or $3) reminds us that the futures of traditional and social media are intertwined.

Facebook was never going to sustain its growth based on status updates alone. It needs a steady supply of content, like a fire that needs vast quantities of fuel. Social gaming has done a great job of bringing users in and keeping them on the site, ensuring a healthy mix of content and communications. But Facebook’s sheer scale means that it has become a significant platform for consuming and sharing other content such as music and now video (according to comScore it’s now one of the top 5 video sites by views in the US). With a massive user base and its own virtual currency, Facebook could yet become a significant platform for paid content (beyond the virtual goods of social gaming), especially via connected TVs.

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We're Looking For Advisors To Manage The Rapid Growth Of Our eBusiness & Channel Strategy Executive Council

The barometer of success for today's eBusiness and channel strategy professionals is changing rapidly. The emergence of new connected devices, global and empowered customers, and the management of "traditional" channels all present difficult challenges. 

  • How will customer behavior determine your evolving commerce strategy?
  • How should you optimize your people, process, and technology to serve today's empowered customers across touchpoints?
  • How should you apply social and mobile to drive commerce?
  • What approach should you employ for your commerce globalization and international expansion efforts?
  • What technology should you apply to best support commerce and service, drive revenue, and reduce costs?

Our team works to help you address these questions every day. Specifically, within our growing council of eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, our advisors manage relationships with eBusiness executives at top-tier firms to help them address these and other challenges. And based on our growth, we're looking for help. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming an advisor on our team, please consider the following open positions for which we are hiring:

  • Senior Advisor - Serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals (US)
  • Advisor - Serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals (US)

I hope we'll have the opportunity to work together!

Brand Experience Workshop: Learn The Tools Of Website Brand Experience Reviews (April 4th, San Francisco Marriott Marquis)

Ever wonder why websites offer such lackluster brand experiences? Want to know how your site can help you differentiate your brand?

If you care about how your brand succeeds online and are attending Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2011, I encourage you to consider attending our Website Brand Experience Review Workshop on Monday, April 4th (the day before the forum), at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis.

During this one-day session, I will be presenting insights into the dos and don’ts of creating website experiences that effectively build brands. Attendees will learn the same methodology Forrester uses to evaluate how well sites build brands as published in reports such as “Best And Worst Of Brand Building Web Sites, 2008,” “Best And Worst Of Financial Services Brand Building Web Sites, 2009,” and "The Best Of Website Brand Experiences 2010." 

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The Hidden Genius Of Jeff Bezos

When Jeff Bezos announced to his Amazon staff his concept for the Amazon Marketplace in November 2000, many people — inside and outside Amazon — thought he was crazy. Amazon was inviting in other sellers — individuals and merchants — to compete against Amazon’s owned inventory on Amazon.com.  As full price merchants were added in categories such as consumer electronics, apparel, and baby products in the early 2000s, the head shaking continued. To paraphrase, Jeff Bezos claimed this was about “the world of perfect information.” Customers are going to find the lowest price online if they really want to, and they should be trained to find it on Amazon. Maybe Amazon could grab a piece of the pie along the way.

Of course, what was once seen as crazy is now viewed with envy, as the marketplace now represents approximately 35% of Amazon’s revenues and 30% of total units sold in Q4 2010.* Amazon charges anywhere from a 5% to a 25% revenue share on a sale through its marketplace, roughly determined by dividing the expected margins in a category in half — to be shared with the merchant. With only limited incremental technology and category management costs, the profitability of this for Amazon is easy to see. And as a result, it has also solidified Amazon’s role as the leading product search site. This success is already breeding imitators in Buy.com, Sears, Walmart, NewEgg, and soon a whole host of large UK retailers. And let’s not ignore Apple’s iTunes, clearly a very successful marketplace, though of a somewhat different flavor.

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