Most of them are US startups initially backed by venture capital (VC). Some of them are now worth more than $1 billion; others are planning for an IPO; and a couple of them have been acquired for a lot of money while generating little (if any) revenue. Most originated in social media, in the collaborative economy, and pretty much all of them depend on mobile as a significant and growing part of their business. They represent the typical attendees at the LeWeb conference in Paris, looking to become the next Facebook or Amazon in the next 10 years. Some other smaller and less well-known startups competing in LeWeb's startup competition this year may join this list: http://paris.leweb.co/programme/startup-competition
In fact, what they really have in common is that they are all digital disruptors leveraging digital platforms to create new experiences on top of connected devices. They are taking advantage of open development tools and free infrastructure resources to overhaul products, invert category economics, and redefine customer relationships. They are more agile than traditional companies. As my colleague James L. McQuivey stated recently, digital disruption requires an organizational fix if you don’t want your company to be disrupted.
WeChat (Weixin in Chinese), the hottest mobile social app in China, now has more than 600 million users. Because WeChat dominates mobile Internet usage, marketers are putting high expectations on its marketing potential. However, WeChat is not a good marketing tool yet for most brands, as it has several limitations:
WeChat has core features of privacy and one-to-one communications. User behavior on WeChat is very different from on Weibo. The information that users share on WeChat is private and can be seen only by personally approved friends; as a result, WeChat is used more as a communication tool for friends to keep in contact. Users are less likely to repost brands’ information massively, as marketers expect them to do on Weibo.
Branded accounts have restrictions in sending messages. There are two types of public accounts — service accounts and subscription accounts — that marketers can use to send one-to-many messages to their WeChat followers, but each type has restrictions. A service account has custom-menu functionality that works almost as a mini-site embedded in the WeChat platform, but it allows only one message per month. A subscription account allows, at most, two messages per day, but with less advanced functionalities. In addition, all subscription accounts are folded together, so it's hard for users to notice new messages.
Next month will mark the (gulp) 20th year of my tenure in "digital strategy." I started working on projects back in 1994 using Mozilla, Usenet, and WebCrawler as my guides. The World (its 2006 website is still live at www.std.com) was my ISP. We were still more attentive to CD-ROMs than graphical websites. Hair was still on my head, my dogs were not yet born, and my career was still developing. It was also 20 years ago, in 1994, that the first web design agencies — what became USWeb, Agency.com, and others — started to emerge.
I mention this anniversary, because, like other industries that evolve quickly, the concept of a "digital agency" has become somewhat of an anachronism, if not categorized properly. Specialized agencies that deliver digital capabilities are common, as are the digital or interactive practices within tradition creative, media, and consulting firms. Because of this new and more complicated mix of participants, marketers have shifted their agency relationships to more project based work, at more types of agencies, and with less long term commitment to any one firm.
As we ramp up our coverage of the digital store, we recently researched the role of retail sales associates to understand their impact in the age of the customer. There’s no doubt that technology has dramatically impacted the way in which consumers discover, explore, buy, and engage with brands, products, and services. However, the impact of technology on sales associates is unclear, as is the degree to which the role of the sales associate needs to evolve to leverage these new capabilities.
In the new report A New Generation Of Clienteling, we tackle the role of sales associates and their use of technology in the digital store. In the report, we note a number of trends, including the following:
The role of the associate will change from an information provider to a facilitator of engagement. The sales associate is no longer the sole provider of information in stores: Customers can now find product information via their mobile device without the help of an associate. This scenario provides an opportunity for the sales associate to pivot and drive increased engagement with the customer.
Digitally connected sales associates are trusted. Less than a quarter of US online adult today state that sales associates are the best source for product information. However, when armed with mobile devices, the associate is seen as a trusted advisor. The breadth of information available to sales associates via mobile devices allows them to consider a broader array of information when making product recommendations to customers in the store.
What is “customer experience maturity”? We define it as the extent to which an organization routinely performs the practices required to design, implement, and manage customer experience in a disciplined way. In other words, does the organization apply the same level of business discipline to customer experience as it does to well-established business practices like marketing, logistics, and accounting?
In our study of how companies become mature at the practices in the customer experience discipline, we’ve discovered that successful firms all follow the same path, which passes through four phases:
Repair. Companies find broken experiences, fix them, and measure the results.
Elevate. Firms start to adopt practices that lead them to deliver sound experiences in the first place.
Optimize. Companies become systematic at customer experience practices.
Differentiate. Firms reframe business challenges in the context of unmet customer needs, connect innovation ideas to their customer experience ecosystem, and infuse innovations with the brand.
Last week, my colleague Sucharita Mulpuru published Forrester’s annual US online holiday retail forecast. In her blog, she shared that Forrester expects this year’s holiday season to generate $78.7 billion in US online sales, a 15% increase on 2012's total. This optimism is largely due to ever-increasing numbers of consumers choosing the Web over physical stores as well as the rise in mobile commerce.
To better understand consumers’ attitudes and behaviors regarding shopping during the holiday season, my team conducted a qualitative research project last year with our ConsumerVoices market research online community, starting before Thanksgiving and ending the first week of January. We found that consumers are always on the hunt for holiday deals, not just during the holiday season. Most consumers have an idea of what they are willing to spend on holiday gifts, and while most stay within their budget, they will gladly spend the extra money if it comes down to staying on budget or giving the ideal gift.
This week, Apple confirmed the longstanding rumors that the company has agreed to acquire PrimeSense, the Israeli company that invented the technology behind the original Kinect for Xbox 360. All of Apple's moves are scrutinized closely, but this one is worth paying closer attention to than most.
The PrimeSense technology was astounding when it was first incorporated into the Kinect. This was not only because of what it could do — see you in 3D and model your skeletal structure as it observed you moving in physical space — but also because of how the company did it. Instead of imitating the $10,000 military-grade hardware of its predecessors, the company insisted on using off-the-shelf technology, whether hardware or software, so that the cost to deploy the solution would be laughably low, compared with prior imaging solutions. That's what made Microsoft so interested — Microsoft's own motion-sensing engineering group was years away from a homegrown Kinect experience and saw a chance to jump ahead of the market with PrimeSense. And jump it did, selling by our estimate more than 30 million cameras around the world, boosting sales of the Xbox 360 console even after it was already nearly five years old.
Now that Microsoft has moved beyond PrimeSense with the Xbox One and Apple has swooped in to buy the company, it will be tempting to think that Apple wants the technology so that it can finally make a successful play for the living room, something it has repeatedly failed to do with Apple TV. Certainly, the Primesense tech works great in the living room, and Apple would be foolish not to try it out there.
As we head into the fourth year of the age of the customer — a 20-year business cycle that began in 2010 in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers — focused marketing innovation programs are now table stakes to enter this new customer-controlled game.
My latest report on marketing innovation discusses how companies are creating and where they are locating marketing innovation labs and talent to meet aggressive goals to win in this new age of increasingly empowered customers — "The Costs And Benefits Of Marketing Innovation Labs" (paid subscriber access required). The primary goal of these labs is to create new customer experiences and brand engagement that take divergent and discontinuous leaps from previous efforts. Some of the labs are focused more on technology transfer back into the organization, while others are focused on changing the culture of the organization and laying the groundwork for an entirely new mindset to emerge. Whichever focus they choose for their innovation labs, these organizations know they now must invest in customer experience and brand engagement innovation just like they did during the age of information (1990-2010) in supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, and back-office systems innovation and talent.
Anyone who’s heard me speak at a conference over the last couple of years stands a fair chance of having listened to me talk about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, considering I typically talk about agile commerce, digital transformation, and occasionally mobile retail strategies, that might sound odd, but I talk about the fall of the Wall as an icon for revolution and for change.
And change is exactly what’s happening east of the old Iron Curtain now.
We just published our new online retail forecast report for Asia Pacific (clients can read the report here). In our forecast, we look at top-line growth in five markets across Asia Pacific: China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Australia. China will be responsible for the lion’s share of growth in these markets, which, combined, will reach some $854 billion by 2018.
In the report, we note a number of trends across the region, including the following:
The heavy dominance of web-only retailers in many countries. In many markets in Asia Pacific, traditional retailers do not play as strong a role in eCommerce as they do in the US, UK, or even Latin America. Internet Retailer’s Asia 500 list, for example, includes just one traditional retailer among the top 10 retail websites in the region (China’s Suning). And while some markets like Australia see traditional retailers now playing a bigger role in eCommerce, in fast-growing eCommerce markets like India as well as China, web-only retailers are very much dominant today.
The increased focus on omnichannel functionality. The strong role that many traditional retailers play in eCommerce in the US and Europe often translates into robust omnichannel initiatives. By contrast, it’s taken a while for many retailers across Asia Pacific to launch offerings that link their online and offline channels. Increasingly, however, digitally savvy retailers in the region are focused on developing new offerings. In Australia, for example, where traditional domestic retailers were long notably lagging (or absent) when it came to eCommerce, there is renewed interest not just in the online channel but also in building out key omnichannel features.