The Rise Of The E-Channel – Traditional Channels Beware

 

Lurking in the tech channel shadows are the various manifestations of the newly emerging e-channel: online application stores, online communities, group buying sites, and e-purchasing services. For example, the number of small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) that sourced software products from online application stores increased almost 40% from 2009 to 2010. (I’ll publish the 2011 channel numbers next quarter.)

Joining the application store ranks of Intuit Marktplace, NetSuite SuiteApp.com, and salesforce.com AppExchange this year have been Adobe Marketplace, Cisco AppHQ, Constant Contact Marketplace, Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace, and Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace. Online communities OfficeArrow, OpenForum, and Spiceworks now offer software products. You could imagine e-purchasing services, like Rearden Commerce and Concur, expanding their travel services domain to other B2B products and services (like software). And this is just the tip of the iceberg – believe me, there are a lot more tech vendors and communities that will launch e-channels in the next six months.

All this e-channel activity, from both the provider and customer sides, has got to toll a warning bell for traditional channel companies – and their vendor partners, who have to keep them appeased. Perhaps most vulnerable are the DMRs (direct market resellers) (although the DMR gorilla, CDW, is taking strategic steps to expand its services portfolio in becoming more of a solutions provider).

I’ll be researching the impact of this emerging e-channel further, so if you have ideas or perspective to help guide my research, please share.

The Who And How Of Customers’ Technology Decisions

 

Tech marketers often fret over their marketing mix, but it’s usually couched in terms of “how” – e.g., “How do customers get information about us?” or, “Do we have the right mix of web content, events, blogs and [now, of course] social media conversations?”

We know that all those “how” things are not equal. Customers utilize web content more than events, and events more than blogs. But every bit as important (if not more), and sometimes not taken into consideration, is the “who” of the “how.” In general, customers highly value tech vendors’ websites and events, industry analysts’ research reports and blogs, channel partners’ online videos, and social media conversations with peers. But customers’ go-to information source preferences vary by industry, company size, and geography. [For more information, see the Forrester report on “The Who And How of Influencing Customers’ BT Decisions.”]

With social media stacked on top of websites stacked on top of events stacked on top of collateral … well, I don’t have to tell you how complex marketing-mix allocation budgeting has come to be. But designing your mix model on a “who-what” framework simplifies the model, and goes a long way to ensuring that you’re investing in the information sources that customers are tapping. 

The Data Digest: Use WOM To Reach Consumers In Metro China

Companies like Coca-Cola, Nike, Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G), McDonald’s, and Johnson & Johnson have done a great job converting their brands into household names in Metro China, mainly by investing big in advertising and promotions. Having pockets deep enough to put these messages in front of the Chinese people is great, but if your firm is interested in entering this market of 1.37 billion people but doesn’t have access to the advertising financial resources of a Coca-Cola or P&G, what do you do?

Start thinking about word-of-mouth (WOM) campaigns. Due to historic events and their family teachings, Chinese people tend not to trust content coming from strange sources. However, Chinese people are known to be loyal to their friends and family. Forrester Technographics® data shows that “recommendations from friends and family” (44%) is the primary source of content people trust in Metro China. Interestingly, among the top five sources, we also see “email from people you know” (40%) and “social networking site profiles from people you know” (25%). These are both forms of word of mouth that have transitioned from the offline world to the online world.

 

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Break Down The Walls Of Shopper Marketing

As the economic malaise lingers on, a more frugal consumer mindset is spurring consumers to embrace new digital technologies to make more informed buying decisions. This shift in behavior is releasing shopper marketing from the confines of the store walls, as consumers make purchase decisions at home and on-the-go. Once a tactical outpost in the sales organization, shopper marketing is now being embraced by forward-thinking marketers like Kellogg’s and Clorox, which are focused on getting on their consumer’s shopping list before she even gets to the store. But with this new opportunity comes potential organization confusion. Where does shopper marketing end and brand marketing begin? And where should it sit in the organization? Check out my report, “Shopper Marketing Breaks Out Of The Store,” to find out how consumers' shopping habits are changing, how retailers are responding, and what it means for brand marketers.

How is your consumer shopping differently? And how is shopper marketing changing your organization? Answer here or join the discussion on The Forrester Community For CMO & Marketing Leadership Professionals here.

Thanks!

Google Shakes Up Web Analytics, Again

 

Google changed the web analytics market forever with the introduction of Google Analytics in 2005 (for a dose of nostalgia check out Brett Crosby’s original blog post).  It was easy to use, delivered as a service, integrated with Google AdWords, and most of all it was FREE! This was revolutionary, and in the beginning it was an exciting way to democratize analytics, giving companies of all sizes access to tools that had traditionally been the domain of large, well funded corporations. It’s no surprise that in terms of sheer adoption, Google Analytics became – and still is – the most popular web analytics tool on Earth, serving hundreds of thousands of businesses.

But then something interesting happened: Google Analytics took on a life of its own. Strictly speaking, Google Analytics was not the leading offering in terms of features and functionality, and Google didn’t even offer direct services or support. So what accounts for its success?

  • Community. Google cultivated a large, active, and cooperative community of users, bolstered by strong online resources and their base of certified partners.
  • Ease of use. Google innovated in usability, making analytics accessible – even appealing – for non-analysts and marketers.
  • Enterprise penetration. Google Analytics gradually found its way into the enterprise as a secondary tool – sometimes by design, sometimes not! – for marketing applications and audit or backup purposes.
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Amazon Silk Is Amazon's Secret CI Agent

The new Amazon Silk promises to speed tablet web browsing. It also provides Amazon's core business with a secret weapon against other retailers. Amazon Silk is essentially a browser that, by default, routes all traffic through a proxy server. Amazon's back end consolidates multiple calls for images, libraries, and cookies into a single request. The proxy can even pre-fetch future page requests by users (think of search results pages).

Is Kindle Silk Amazon's 007?How does Amazon Silk provide a competitive advantage to Amazon? Each Kindle Fire device is registered with an individual who is known to and maintains an extensive purchase history with Amazon. Amazon Silk allows Amazon to collect the users' browse behavior beyond Amazon-owned web properties. Regardless of where customers make purchases and whether those products are digital or material, Amazon can use the data collected to its advantage.

Amazon's new layer of Customer Intelligence permits it to:

  • Improve customer recognition. Amazon can maintain customer identity without facing the problems of cookie deletion or Flash LSOs. Should users access Twitter or Facebook through the browser, Amazon will have access to social identity as well.
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The Frustrating Pursuit Of Experience Design Excellence In Healthcare

I had a meeting yesterday with a very well-respected experience design agency. The purpose was to try to identify opportunities within the healthcare sector (writ large) for the kind of work that they do. Its approach sits between what a traditional agency does (which focuses on campaigns and visual design) and what a consultant/systems integrator does (which focuses on technical architecture and systems design). Its focus is on designing technology-based experiences that are engineered — from the back end to the front — to meet users’ needs.

We could collectively identify a plethora of opportunities where healthcare firms (payers and providers) could benefit from its services: health insurance member service sites that need a user-centered re-engineering to achieve their self-service mission; wellness initiatives that need to engage users in difficult and sometimes-unappealing tasks; patient communication platforms for hospitals; and even EMR interfaces to streamline clinician workflow.

Where we struggled was to find the buyers with the vision and appetite to undertake the kinds of changes these experience overhauls would entail. On the health insurance side, we stumbled up against the fact that the typical website/mobile solution owner has no control over the content presented on digital platforms (and most of that content can best be described as inscrutable). She also often has little ability to access the kinds of source data (read claims, billing, and benefits data and rules) that would enable her to display meaningful information online — as opposed to simply regurgitating the incomplete content that is distributed to health insurance consumers in offline media.

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Amazon Kindle Fire: Tablet Product Strategy Done Right

Today Amazon revealed its new Kindle lineup, including a touchscreen E Ink eReader and Amazon’s first color touchscreen tablet, the Kindle Fire. I can’t say I’m surprised. The day the iPad launched, my colleague James McQuivey wrote that Amazon should “go head to head with Apple on a media tablet.” In March of this year, I wrote that “iPad 2 won’t have much competition in 2011, unless it’s from Amazon,” and more recently I published a report outlining the competitive advantages and disadvantages Amazon’s product strategists will face if they launch a tablet.

Looking back at that report, here’s what we got right:

  • Amazon is competing on price, content, and commerce. The Kindle Fire, a 7-inch Wi-Fi only device, will retail for $199—less than half the price of the iPad, less than the 7-inch Barnes & Noble Nook Color, BlackBerry Playbook, and HTC Flyer. As I predicted, Amazon is indeed drawing on all its content and commerce assets including video, music, games, as well as magazines, apps, and services—the Kindle Fire comes with a 30-day free subscription to Amazon Prime, and a pre-installed Amazon shopping app. It also features a spiffy custom-built browser, called Amazon Silk, which interfaces with EC2, Amazon’s cloud server, to optimize performance. (Meaning: it’s really fast.)
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Some Observations On The Evolving eCommerce Landscape In China

Last week I joined a few of my colleagues in China to meet with a variety of eBusinesses in both Beijing and Shanghai. We met with online retailers, technology companies, and other players in industry. For those used to selling online in countries other than China, some of the takeaways included:

Multichannel remains in its infancy. With the leading online retailers in China being pureplays, multichannel remains at very early stages. In-store pickup or returns are not widespread – however, there are emerging multichannel initiatives. In a recent, high-profile online-to-offline expansion, for example, Taobao opened a new furniture showroom in Beijing to enable consumers to experience different furniture brands sold on the site. The furniture sellers rent out space in the showroom to display their products. We had an opportunity to visit the huge showroom, which was somewhat quiet when we were there – terminals stationed throughout the showroom (see below) enabled consumers to insert a card and select products online, then proceed to checkout to pay.

    

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Just Published: Forrester Wave™ Of Enterprise Feedback Management Satisfaction And Loyalty Solutions

Enterprise feedback management (EFM) solutions help voice of the customer (VoC) programs scale up. They enable customer experience professionals to gather customer feedback from a range of sources, make that feedback relevant and usable for a range of employees, and distribute the insight out to drive customer-centric decisions — without relying on excessive manual analysis and reporting.

Despite EFM’s value, the space has been difficult to navigate because of its dozens of small vendors, evolving market segments, and frequent mergers-and-acquisitions (M&A) activity. This has left customer experience pros with a lot of detective work to do. Even educated buyers have had a hard time coming up with logical shortlists, and vendors have regularly avoided going head to head with competitors.

To shed some light on the EFM space and help customer experience leaders find the right partners, we conducted an in-depth evaluation over the past several months and (finally!) published the results here: The Forrester Wave™: EFM Satisfaction And Loyalty Solutions, Q3 2011.

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