During 2010, my colleagues on the Customer Experience team at Forrester and I evaluated the Brand Experience at the Web sites of 14 companies across three industries (and wrote individual reports for each industry). Specifically, we reviewed five auto manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota), four hotels (Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton), and five skin care brands (Dove, L’Oreal Paris, Neutrogena, Nivea, and Olay). We’ve summarized our findings in my latest report, “The Best Of Web Site Brand Experiences 2010.”
Using our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology, we set out to test 1) how well the sites supported their key brand attributes in a manner consistent with other channels (Brand Image), and 2) how well the site supported user goals (Brand Action). While none of the 14 sites Forrester reviewed with our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology passed both dimensions of our tests (Brand Image and Brand Action), there were some good practices that companies across industries can learn from.
Forrester’s "US Online Holiday Retail Forecast, 2010" launches today, reporting quite a bit of optimism this shopping season. November and December alone are expected to pull in nearly $52 billion, a 16% increase over 2009. Several key factors contribute to this projection:
Consumers are shifting more and more to online retail.
Offline retail is still a significant player.
Consumers are cooperating, too. They’re looking to spend more this season and do so through a variety of means (mobile, apps, etc.).
Retailers are responding with numerous strategies, such as larger promotional budgets, honing in on key dates, and experimenting with new shipping options.
Consider it an inauguration of sorts, a celebration of the eBook industry becoming a member of the major media club just as digital music and online video have before them. When you influence a billion dollars, people have to take you seriously. In the book business, it means that traditional publishers can no longer live in deny-and-delay mode; meanwhile, digital publishers get invited to better parties and people in other media businesses like TV and magazines look over and wonder if they could cut a slice of this new pie just for them.
To honor the occasion, we have just published our five-year forecast for eBooks in the US for Forrester clients. The punchline is this: 2010 will end with $966 million in eBooks sold to consumers. By 2015, the industry will have nearly tripled to almost $3 billion, a point at which the industry will be forever altered.
Right now, the number to track – and the one that determines how many eBooks will sell – is the percent of a consumer’s books that are bought and consumed digitally. To get at this number, we have to understand how people get books today. Did you know that the two most common ways people get books today is borrowing them from a friend or getting them from the library? Evidently content – at least in the book business – is already quite free, even without the help of digital.
Having analyzed consumers' technology behavior for more than 11 years now here at Forrester, I've seen a certain pattern surface in the uptake of technology: When new technologies become available, it's Generation X (ages 31 to 44) that adopts it first, but it's Generation Y (ages 18-30) that runs with it. Gen Xers have money to spend on technologies when they're still premium-priced, but Gen Yers have the time on their hands to really explore all possibilities. For example, when we look at online activities, young consumers spend more time online and are involved in more activities (especially when we look at social networking). However, for mobile Internet, we see a different pattern emerge.
Forrester's Technographics® data shows that Gen Xers are equally active on their mobile phones, and in some instances, like playing games, they rival the usage of their younger counterparts. In other instances, like checking news, sports, or weather or checking travel status, Gen Xers actually outpace Gen Yers.
Companies that want to target these groups should ensure that their mobile Internet experience is consistent with the regular Internet presence, ensuring a seamless experience for their consumers. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is a perfect example of a company that identified the mobile needs of its clientele and then created a unique experience that allowed users to effortlessly connect both through their mobile device and online.
Competitive & marketing intelligence (CMI) leaders are currently being torn between two points of view. But, these two views cannot be reconciled, and CMI leaders cannot sit on the fence! I know because I tried!
As a CMI leader, I participated on a team to restructure the company's approach to pricing. On one side of the table sat the "corporate" team who wanted to simplify the product catalog, making it easier to manage. On the other side sat the "field" team, who wanted to simplify pricing when talking with customers. I wanted to find an "elegant negotiable" that would achieve both objectives.
A talented sales engineer put me in my right mind! One day, she came into my office, closed the door, and proceeded to "school" me. She rightly pointed out that there could not be two different design points - we needed to decide whether the company would design around back-office operations or frontline conversations with customers.
CMI leaders across the tech industry face a similar choice, albeit with less drama!
Earlier today, the CEO of a sales-tool provider made this point: "In the past, salespeople for tech vendors had to educate customers on what a product could do, how it worked, and process orders. In today's Internet economy, customers already know what your products do from your web site, have already compared it to your competitors, and probably spoken to some of your existing customers through social media links. What is the role of a salesperson?"
CMI leaders need to reposition their organizations back to the place where competition matters - the frontline.
Cloud computing has arrived on the market in a big way, with virtually every tech vendor, regardless of size, geography, or solution, vying for a cloud position. But in the race to the cloud, many tech vendors have forgotten that ever-critical customer relationship vehicle: the channel. Or, if they haven’t forgotten it, they’ve coaxed channel partners with the pat mantra, “Do more consulting” (“… while we take care of delivery”). To get channel partners’ perspectives on how the technology value chain is changing in an as-a-service delivery model world, Forrester recently teamed with Outsource Channel Executives (OCE) to survey executives of channel companies across 39 countries, from the local level to the global.
The results of the survey are in, and they tell quite a story: that there is a good deal of angst and confusion among channel partners over their role/value in the cloud services technology value chain; that they aren’t sitting on their hands, waiting for tech vendors to tell them what to do; and that they need a lot of help in transforming their marketing and business models in this new era of cloud computing.
Now, not all channel companies are going to be able to make that transformation (nor should they – after all, cloud computing will never represent 100% of the technology market). But there are going to be many that will try and fail, ultimately resulting in a 12%-15% channel company washout. So think about it – supply (the number of channel companies) goes down; demand (for channel partner assets) remains high. It’s those tech vendors that amp their channel game to enable their partners’ cloud aspirations that are going to come away as the new “channel chiefs.”
Last week I was at Forrester's Consumer Forum in Chicago, where I gave a presentation with the title “If The Company Only Knew What The Company Knows: Introduction Of A Knowledge Center Can Empower Market Research Professionals.” For this presentation I did quite a lot of research and talked to many market researchers who have implemented some kind of knowledge management system. Knowledge management systems come in all kinds of flavors and with varying degrees of success, but the market researchers who managed to build a successful, engaging, and widely used system all agreed that it had changed their role.
In fact, the companies we spoke to all saw their knowledge management as a competitive advantage. Although we found a number of market researchers willing to participate in our research, none of them wanted to share all the ins and outs. In keeping with the theme, they said, "We don’t want others to know what we know."
But how can market researchers introduce knowledge management to their organizations? Based on our research, we see three different levels:
Build a research center of excellence within the department.
Implement a system for sharing and distributing (research) information with the organization.
Develop a companywide knowledge management system.
A few years ago, I took the helm of customer & market intelligence (CMI) for a large vendor. Executives wanted analysis that was more relevant — intelligence that was “deeper,” “more actionable,” and provided “knock-out punches.”
As a CMI leader, you likely hear the same thing. But, as you try to improve, you get feedback such as “the material is not helpful,” “looks the same as before,” or “isn’t specific enough.”
In hindsight, if I were to join a CMI team again, I would take a completely different approach — instead of trying to refine the research itself, I would change the design point.
CMI’s sales-oriented purpose is to prepare sales teams for customer conversations!
Earlier this week, during an interview with Forrester, a CMI leader commented, “CMI can make a strategic impact on sales because it prepares sales teams about important topics and potential surprises in customer conversations.”
But across the tech industry, CMI is not succeeding:
A Forrester survey of technology buyers shows that only 38% of sales “reps understand the customer’s issues and are able to identify how the vendor can help.”
Preliminary data from a Forrester study of marketing executives shows that 65% claim that one of their biggest strengths is “knowledge of the markets and customers we serve.”[i]
We are currently cranking the data collected in our 2010 Marketing Organization and Investment survey, and the results already look spectacularly significant. So, over the next months, we’ll be reporting and commenting on how tech marketing organizations are assigning priorities and allocating their budgets for 2011. We have even designed a benchmark framework where we can compare various tech vendors’ marketing spends against each other (small versus large, country versus country, market versus market, previous year versus next year) and make some calls for you. And this year’s survey includes vendors headquartered in Europe as well!
For me, the most important data point in last year’s survey was the background of tech vendor CMOs, especially product vendors. Twenty-eight percent of those CMOs have an engineering background, and another 15% are from sales. With all respect, neither background is an optimal preparation to be running marketing in today’s tech industry — where IT is now BT, customers care less about speeds and feeds and more about business outcomes, and brand and multichannel experience count as much as in other industries. I’ll be talking about this at Forrester’s Marketing & Strategy Forum EMEA in London on November 18–19 in my “Marketing Is the New Differentiation in the Tech Industry” presentation.