Earlier this year, The New Yorker published an article entitled "Twilight of the Brands," which posited that due to the abundance of information now available to consumers, brands are irrelevant. For all the die-hard brand marketers out there — myself included — it felt like a blow to the chest. But the analysis is flawed and the conclusion is erroneous because the abundance of information now available to consumers makes brands more — not less — relevant. Brands have always been a shortcut to decision-making, and in a world where consumers are increasingly overwhelmed with information, that role becomes even more important. But what has changed is the art and science of brand building. In the age of the customer, we see that:
Brand communications have shifted from controlled to chaotic. In the pre-digital world, marketers had the luxury of being able to control most of their customers’ interactions with their brands — through ads, packaging, POS, and carefully solicited PR editorial. But in today’s post-digital era, most of consumers’ information about a brand originates from sources outside of the brand’s control, such as user-generated content, ratings and reviews, or social chatter.
Behavior tracking data is the new black. It is a type of big data that can help you better understand your target consumers — everything from the amount of time they spend on each social media outlet to their most popular time of day to visit shopping websites. Compared with other data sources, it allows you to capture actions at a very detailed level with precision, eliminating measurement errors by analyzing usage of what consumers do, not what they say they do.
In our recent publication, Mobile Behavioral Data: UK, we analyzed Forrester's UK Consumer Technographics® Behavioral Study, November 2013 to March 2014, and found that:
WhatsAppkeeps UK smartphone owners engaged the longest. Forty-one percent of UK adults use the app for just over 8 hours per month (or about 2 hours per week). That is longer user engagement than for any of the other top 10 most popular apps that UK consumers use on their smartphone; this includes Facebook, the most popular app, which keeps smartphone users engaged for a little over 90 minutes per week.
Young UK smartphone owners are most likely to use finance/banking apps. More than half of 18- to 24-year-old UK smartphone owners use finance/banking apps, like the Lloyds Bank app and the NatWest app. These youngsters show the highest adoption of finance/banking apps in the UK, and rates decline with age; about 40% of 25- to 44-year-olds and 34% of 45- to 54-year-olds use finance/banking apps.
Will the iPhone 6, to be announced on September 9, have NFC and a Sapphire Crystal display?
What about the new Samsung Galaxy Note 4, to be announced at Unpacked on September 3? And will the new Nokia Lumia 730 (a.k.a Superman), to be announced on September 4, have a 5-Megapixel rear-facing camera?
As my colleague Frank Gillett puts it, “Samsung's challenge is to establish an enduring relationship with customers, rather than being an interchangeable Android device maker – and it will take more than a new Galaxy Note to do that.”
Language is evolving; the written word is giving way to visual vocabulary.
Interpersonal communications are shifting from being text-based to image-based, and you don't have to look far for the evidence: We spell using the Emoji alphabet; we comment with photographs; we engage through pictures.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that consumer adoption of visual social networks is growing and that social chatter is becoming increasingly pictorial. Forrester's Consumer Technographics® data shows that US online consumers across generations are interacting with content on Instagram and Pinterest more than before:
As consumers become increasingly versed in the language of visual content, curated images become a powerful means of expressing opinions, conveying emotion, and recounting experiences. As a result, pure text analytics no longer suffice to interpret social chatter; instead, insights professionals have an opportunity to mine the wealth of media-rich data that increasingly pervades social networking sites.
[UPDATE 4 Sept: I have updated this post to the original draft, which includes specific and strong recommendations to publishers and marketers. They had been redacted, but a colleague asked "What would you DO about this?" so I saw fit to reinclude them. These are my answers; there are no easy solutions, but these are a step towards guidelines. Updates at the end of the piece, in bold.]
Publishers Are Engaged In Self-Harm, With Marketers As An Accessory
You remember when the email spam problem maxed out almost a decade ago? Or when content farms threatened to turn Google search results into useless piles of keyword-slurry? Or peak belly fat?
There should be a word for the moments when the mechanisms that aim to keep our electronic information corridors running well fail.
It’s shaping up to be one of those moments for the content distribution space (and particularly its subdiscipline native advertising, or sponsored content).
You can pity the reader who arrives at an article on many publishers’ websites today; I’m talking about you, Guardian and Forbes, but also you, New York Times and Washington Post. How is the reader to know if the article they’ve come to read is the product of a straightforward pay-to-publish play, an informal “link exchange” relationship, an “influencer” play, an independent opinion piece, or a piece of pure editorial? They can’t.
For the record: The “clear labeling” commandment is a fig leaf. By the time a reader has gotten so far through the article that they’re wondering why it keeps promoting a particular mindset, product, or opinion and started searching for cruft around the article, the trust in the information, the source, and the medium is lost.
Last week, Aetna decided to decommission CarePass, its consumer data aggregation platform. It was initially much heralded; however, this development highlights some of the fundamental problems with the health plan’s early forays into this space. I have outlined these issues in my new report, “The Unfulfilled Promise of Plan-Owned Digital Health and Wellness Platforms.” The report went to publication before the CarePass development was announced, but this decision is not at all surprising and validates many of the fundamental challenges with early platforms identified in the report.
The decision to unplug CarePass underscores the fact that there are lots of hurdles for enterprises when it comes to growing digital health as a business. What’s interesting about CarePass is it actually cycled through several different business models during the course of its evolution – ultimately repositioning the business model late last year to go directly after employers. With this pivot, CarePass essentially became a “bring your own” wellness tool servicing the traditional book of health plan business. This may have been the best approach for CarePass, but it came late in the game. Insurance, as a whole, is going to change dramatically over the next three years — with exchanges, defined contribution, etc. Given the competing priorities and the struggles to gain adoption, CarePass may have been doomed before the final pivot back to the employer. However, CarePass did a lot of things right and the CarePass team should be congratulated for their forward approach to the market.
I cut my teeth as a data analyst helping brands communicate more effectively—building segmentation and targeting models that differentiated contact frequency, offers, and messaging across a brand’s customer base. But in the face of today’s more empowered customers building static scoring models and relying on batch-based campaigns is insufficient to win, serve and retain customers. Today most enterprises rely heavily on technology to help them interact with customers across channels, and as we evaluated in the newly published Forrester Wave: Cross Channel Campaign Management, Q3 2014, brands have several compelling choices.
We identified, researched, and scored solutions from nine vendors: Adobe, IBM, Infor, Pitney Bowes, RedPoint Global, SAP, SAS Institute, SDL, and Teradata. Our approach consisted of a 41-criteria evaluation; reference calls and online surveys of 96 companies; executive briefings; and product demonstrations.
We identified four leaders in this mature, but evolving category. What sets leaders apart?
Depth of cross-channel capabilities. Leaders consistently received high scores in cross-channel data integration capabilities, which includes cross-channel customer identification and centralized response history management. But the purpose of collecting this data is so marketers can make smarter—more customer obsessed—decisions. Not surprisingly then, leaders also receive high marks in areas of interaction management such as cross-channel decision management and real-time analytics.
Today, both Jive and Salesforce announced updates to their customer community offerings. Although their updates do not include any groundbreaking innovations (where is McKayla Maroney when you need her?), I find it interesting that Jive and Salesforce have significantly dialed up their marketing efforts for their external-facing community solutions. Historically, both vendors have primarily focused on their internal enterprise community tools and seemed to be on a gradual trajectory to building out their external customer-facing community products. Today's announcements reflect my position that customer communities are becoming the tour de force of social marketing strategies. In fact, last year we published a Forrester Wave that evaluated the ecosystem of community platform vendors in which Lithium was the leader. In that report, I discuss how brands will increasingly seek out the best-of-breed social depth tools and/or enterprise community platforms that facilitate digital interactions with their prospects and customers — on their owned web properties. In response to this demand, Jive, Salesforce
It’s with great pleasure that I announce the agenda for Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in Anaheim, CA, on November 6 & 7. We’re mixing things up this year — new formats for speakers, new hands-on, activity-based workshops in addition to track sessions, and a stellar gallery of guest speakers. And we’ve wrapped all of this up with an overarching theme: “Why Good Is Not Good Enough.”
We picked this theme because our Customer Experience Index (CXi) told us to. Seriously. Check this out: According to the latest CXi, the number of brands scoring in the “very poor” category is down to one out of 175. What’s more, only a handful of brands — 10% — are in the “poor” category. Together, these findings show that as customer experience improvement efforts gained momentum over the past year or so, the number of truly awful experiences declined, dramatically. That’s reassuring. Kudos to all the businesses out there that screw up less!
Now for the sobering news: Only 11% of brands in the CXi made it into the “excellent” category.
What that means of course is that most brands are clustering in the middle of the curve — they’re not awful in the eyes of their customers, but they’re not remarkable either. Translation: A merely good customer experience is no longer good enough if you want to deliver a differentiated experience and reap incremental sales, positive word of mouth, and better customer retention. You’re gonna have to raise your game.
In his excellent book, The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande makes a compelling case for the power of simple checklists to avoid issues and mistakes during the decisioning process. Gawande's thesis is essentially this: A consistently applied, step-by-step checklist can be enormously valuable for a range of professionals from doctors to software designers to executives at major companies.
Add to this group the lowly mobile banking strategist.