Marketing Automation: Masters of the User-verse

The customer is King, but Users are your Universe – your “User-verse”.   How do you stay at their center?

According to Forrester Research, by mid-decade over half of all purchasing will be done online.   For post-digital people (think: Millenials & their iGen progeny), who represent the incoming wave of buyers, influencers and decision makers, this has already come to pass.  Millenials are comfortable with technology; iGens are uncomfortable without it.  Today’s post-digital citizens deftly filter and apply information to move smartly through life.   Socializing and transacting online is ordinary and commonplace.  Today’s cadre of decision makers, too, use mobile and social filters to navigate decisions and find relevance in the bit-torrent of change.  Collectively, we are your expanding User-verse.  For us, B2C and B2B are becoming less different.  Now it’s U2E (Users to Everybody), and therein lies a challenge: filtering and relevance.

The challenge is especially acute for Marketing leaders, who are now being held accountable for ROI while also striving to maintain respect and relevance with audiences.   Some organizations do a great job at meeting the needs of our always-on audience. I call them Fan Foundries.  We recognize them by their digital presence in our lives: everything real-word is mirrored and ehanced online, where it can be detected and consumed by customers, suppliers, employees etc.  In turn, our digital travels are observed by these smart Fan Foundries to determine how best to help us through our decision journey and, where appropriate, engage and buy.  You know you’re dealing with a Fan Foundry when your next interaction feels like a continuation or enhancement of the prior one, rather than another blind date.

How are you doing?

How is your organization doing?  Are you at the center of your Userverse?  You probably know that answer, but try this experiment.  Visit Amazon, iTunes, or some other online account you admire.  Compare that online experience to that of your own business.  If you don’t measure up, be assured somebody is going to steal your business soon.  How soon?  How about…while you’re reading this?  If you’re still doing mainly interruptive, outbound marketing, yet your audience is filtering out your messages (via spamblock, TiVo, Unsubscribe, delete key, etc.), what are you doing to help yourself get found and stay relevant?

Fortunately, you no longer need a massive budget to master your User-verse.  What, then, do you need?   What does a balanced, humming Fan Foundry look like?  Layer by layer, it might resemble this:

A Marketing and Sales Governance Model
click to enlarge
  1. Front end – Web interfaces (desktop, mobile, kiosk, email, social media, etc.).   The online experience these days is spotty at best, but many good examples exist and they’re in plain view.  Good poets borrow, so why not learn from the best, then adapt and refine it based on what you learn from your User-verse as they navigate your content, make choices, and send you signals about what they buy and why.
  2. Content layer – main website content, product/service literature, user-generated content (reviews, comments, etc.), custom apps, partner portals, blogs, e-newsletters, online forums, social media, customer care & service channels, etc.   Rich content, re-formatted for channels and micro-audiences, is a golden opportunity to anticipate and delight users, keep you appropriately centered, and signal you on when and how to engage.  Just like your web navigation, your content navigation can be tested and refined based on user behavior.
  3. Information management layer – CRM, marketing automation, analytics, modeling, planning, supply chain, financial datastores, etc. Here, with an array of connected technologies, you can dashboard, orchestrate and analyze the flow of people, information and material to discover competitive advantage and facilitate progress.  Don’t let the geek factor frighten you from implementing some basic, essential tools.  Dig in and ask for help. Or not.  And be toast.  (Suggestion: call us)
  4. Records/data layer – In an age where more and more data is publicly available and public-generated, your ability to harness data to learn and adapt more quickly could spell success or failure.  Master this layer, and you can spend more time selling, transacting business and nurturing future customers while cutting out time-wasters.  By cultivating your own data sources and applying your own relevance filters you can speed learning and adaptation, and improve your ability to reliably forecast a profitable future.

What stands in the way of progress?  The usual responses are resources, people, skills, time, money, and appetite for change.   Okay, but wouldn’t you like to delight customers and win new ones?   Wouldn’t you like to substantially and sustainably grow revenue? Wouldn’t you like to still be in business and growing – or, if losing, at least know why you’re losing so you can adapt and improve?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, and you just need resources and expertise to make it happen, contact us.

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Get started today! Visit our Resources page to download free planning tools.

Mobile App vs. Mobile Website: Which, When, Why?

2015 update

Having worked with Nexaweb Technologies , who modernize legacy b2b enterprise apps for secure Web access and live transaction enablement, and with QVew on b2c mobile/social campaigns for tourism, travel, entertainment and event marketing, we’ve learned some lessons that will keep you out of the weeds.  As usual, we’ve added some bonus links at the end of this article.  ~Ed

More smart phones with full web browsing capability are sold than TVs, PCs and laptops in the US.  Ninety percent of us keep the cell phone within reach 24/7.  If you are contemplating ways to reach your mobile audience via mobile and web apps, what criteria would you use to decide?  The following chart shows general considerations for investing in mobile apps and mobile websites.

Factors affecting mobile and web app investment decisions

Here is an expanded discussion on technical considerations for investing in mobile apps vs. mobile website solutions.   For a discussion on audience, fanbase, user experience and other marketing considerations, contact us.

Technical Factors

1. Audience

Ask yourself: Who is my audience?  Do they use mobile devices?  Do they prefer native apps or mobile websites? Native App audiences are generally more affluent, and the most affluent are the most active app users.   If that info alone sufficiently defines your target audience, then, Bingo! A native app strategy would suit you.  Be mindful that most native apps are device-specific i.e. what works on an iPhone usually won’t work on an Android or a Blackberry.  If your audience cannot be defined  by a single platform (iPhone, Blackberry etc.), then expect to build and maintain several versions of your app – one for each device type.

If you find that an immersive brand experience is essential, to serve existing customers and tailor the experience to their needs, interests and account-based behavior,  then the tighter integration offered by native apps for each device’s native features seems the best solution.

Web apps, on the other hand, are far easier to distribute.  Unlike native apps, which require you to market and distribute therm, Web apps work on any device with a browser and require no download, thus their distribution is more easily supported by the Web’s linking technology.  So, if your audience is broad and cannot be defined by socio-economic factors or a specific platform, a web app may be your best bet.  Another perk:   HTML 5 has arrived just in time.  HTML5 enables app-like performance such as embedded video, so it won’t matter whether your device uses Flash Player,  QuickTime, or some other installed video player;  HTML 5 doesn’t need those plugins to run video.  As for cost: Web development talent is not as rare and costly as native app development talent, further cementing the budget-friendly appeal of Web apps.

Distribution of Web based apps is much easier, because anyone can do a web search on any device, or click on a link, to immediately use your app.  Native apps, by contrast, have to be downloaded, and you will need to spend some effort and resources to promote each native app and spur people to download your app.  This is not a huge obstacle, especially with existing customers, but it’s a necessary one that doesn’t apply to mobile websites.  This difference is becoming less of a technical issue and more of a pure marketing /distribution issue, as technical advances have made the app download/install/update process more smooth.

2. Function and Purpose

Ask: What will my App actually do? If you expect your app to make use of device features like GPS, account info, etc., then a native app is the way to go.  Also, if you intend to engage your audience via games that work offline and only occasionally connect online, again a native app is the better choice.

If, on the other hand, you plan to simply host an information-gathering user experience online, and require users to access data sources controlled by you via a Web server, then a web based app seems a better choice.  A nice advantage of a Web based app is that you can completely and whimsically make daily changes to the user interface and content, and even dynamically serve targeted content, and immediately those changes become available to your Web app visitor.

3. Time

If you want to get instant updates and enhancements in the hands of all users, and you contemplate frequent time-sensitive updates, then unquestionably a mobile website or web based app is for you.  If, on the other hand, you contemplate a relatively stable app experience that deeply engages customers, and you have secure account information or a few data sets you need to deploy, and you also require tight integration with device features, then a native app solution seems more fitting.  It’s also feasible to place some Web-like (HTML) components in a native app when Web performance is needed, resulting in a sort of hybrid app – part native app, part Website.

Another consideration is turnaround time for launches and changes.   With native apps, that timeline is longer and rather more unpredictable than with web apps, since native apps are usually hosted by an online app store whose approval process can be lengthy and opaque – and the rejection process is often equally mysterious.  You can get around the app store mystery, though, if your typical user audience is well-defined and securely controlled, such as employees, customers or organization members rather than the general public, and you contemplate launching multiple apps that each perform different sets of functions.  If such is the case, consider launching your own app store and hosting your apps yourself.

4.   Budget and Talent

Chalk up another win for Web apps here.  With a Web app, you only need one or two versions.  A  .mobi version may be necessary unless your main website is architected using, say, CSS, to re-format on-the-fly and fit any size screen.  Web development talent is less scarce and expensive than native app development talent.  By contrast, if you go the Native App route and need to create multiple device versions to reach various user audiences, expect a compounded cost of development, maintenance and upgrade, not to mention the coordination and management of uniform performance across all versions in your app portfolio.  Only the most disciplined development teams can pull this off.

Conclusion

Along the continuum of user experience, native apps are killer – for now.   They can make use of a device’s native resources (hence their name) like geolocation, phone, camera, address book, secure wallet, etc.  And they don’t require an online connection unless you want to offer some sort of group play or data interchange.   The trade-off is that building a mobile app will cost you in terms of talent, lack of control over approval process and launch/update timelines in the app stores, costs and time involved in marketing and distribution, and the effort and tooling needed to maintain multiple versions for various devices.

Web apps, by contrast, are relatively less costly to build and maintain because the talent is less scarce, giving you flexibility to respond to customer requirements with changes and enhancements – an attractive consideration. The emergence of HTML5 is further impetus to consider Web app versions, since HTML 5 solves performance issues, enabling web developers to create many app-like performance experiences in an ordinary Web browser.

Epilogue:  Customers Have the Last Word

According to a 2011 study by Modapt and Morrisey & Company, the three top dissatisfactions among mobile users are:

  1. Navigation difficulties
  2. Slow download speed
  3. Difficulty reading and finding information

With this information in mind, think about what it would take to plan and execute a mobile experience that “wows” your audience.  If you plan to create an experience that is on par with everything that exists out there today,  think again.  Mobile users are frustrated.  This is your opportunity to outshine.

What has your experience been?  Still have questions?  Ask away!

I’ll add to these based on new information and your recommendations  (use the “Leave a comment” link in the “Share this” section below).  To get updates, use the “Keep in Touch”  feature (top right).  Thanks!

Viral Marketing Backlash

A slight departure from the usual scholarly tone

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Viral, Schmiral.

Every occupation seems to have its share of humorous, derogatory pet names.  Lawyers, for example, are often depicted as sharks.  Similarly, marketing professionals have been depicted as snake oil merchants who peddle snappy-labeled bottles of an elixir that promises to cure whatever ails you.  The seller conveniently skips town with our gullible buyers’ money before we can all compare notes and discover the hoax.

This brings me to the subject of the phrase “viral marketing“.

Origin of the term “Snake Oil”

In truth, what often masquerades as viral marketing is merely the ability to reach an initial audience of online influencers in hopes of stimulating broader audience-generated distribution.   More often than not, the hoped-for result doesn’t materialize, and we all know hope is not a strategy.  You could no sooner engage in viral marketing than you could instruct a real virus who to infect next.  We’d all like our marketing messages to take on a life of their own and become distributed to an exponentially larger audience we couldn’t possibly reach on our own.  But to promise your client you can deliver viruslike results?  I’d like a slice, please.  Oh, and I also have this twitch in my neck I’d like you to examine.

The deception is that any business that professes to specialize in Viral Marketing is in fact promising something they cannot deliver.  I recommend we not profess to offer viral marketing as a service that can be packaged.  ROI projections, anyone?

What Viral Is – and Isn’t

If viral marketing were something you could package and market, complete with its list of features and exact processes you could carry out successfully every time, resulting in a marketing message that predictably, reliably spreads exponentially beyond its original audience, then I’d like to shake your hand, personally apologize, retract this article and become your reseller, if you’ll have me.  If you can’t do those things, however, then stop giving your profession a black eye by promising what you can’t deliver.  And get out of town.  After you give back my money.  On the contrary, if Viral Marketing were so successful, more of us would be doing it — which, ironically, would only saturate online channels with so much content that our short attention spans would be challenged to digest any of it.

I have sounded out this issue with a number of other professionals – marketers and non-marketers alike – and visited with real and imaginary people who profess to offer “viral marketing” solutions, to try to figure out this “viral marketing” thing.  So far, I have found nothing new under the sun.  What passes for viral marketing is at best an ability to address a large audience, or perhaps a few influential people.  Hmmm…I thought viral meant able to spread on its own beyond your immediate audience, altruistically, without further intervention from you.  Being able to blog, tweet, Friend, Link, broadcast, narrowcast or influence someone at the outset hardly seems to match the concept of viral.

Let’s please call Viral Marketing something else, something that says what it does.  How about simply calling it Social Marketing or, maybe, Advertising? What am I missing?   Holla back.

Social Media ROI, a Case Study (Tech Event)

Many of the social media success stories kicking around the interwebs these days are indeed inspirational, yet I get frequent client comments along the lines of: “Oh, sure, Dell and Cisco can do it, but what about my small to mid-size enterprise?  What is realistically achievable? Our experimental budget is limited.”

The following true story may offer some insight as to how one small organization leveraged its existing relationships creatively.  I have withheld names by request, however if you contact me for specifics, I can share more.  It is told from the point of view of my experience with a start-up software company.  In this story, everybody wins, and social media makes it possible.  No, it’s not a multi-million dollar landslide victory, but it’s an important demonstration of how incremental change yields great results.
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Today’s Featured Post:

Social Media ROI, a Case Study

Case study: Executive Summit event

The Players:  
1. Startup Software company
2. Online community
3. Executive Summit (event management organization)
4. Industry portals

Their needs:
1. Software company – customers, inbound prospects, PR
2. Online community  – affordable professional development
3. Executive Summit – speakers, tuition, attendee satisfaction
4. Industry portals – enrichment, community, reputation

PART 1 – THE CAMPAIGN

Software company purchases speaker/sponsor role at Executive Summit, and negotiates with summit management to discount* sponsor/speaker fee for every attendee the software company recruits.

*Note: discount arrangement was only possible because the Summit management company and the Software company had previously exchanged value by partnering on other successful events that similarly enriched their communities.

PART 2 – THE COMMUNITY

Software company announces Summit registration discount:
– via email to precisely targeted clients and prospects in its enriched database
– on industry portals, professional organization sites, and communities such as LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

Announcement goes “somewhat” viral – LinkedIn, re-Tweeted, blogged.  Event website, SW firm site and community portals are linked back from those sources – expanding the community’s resources and increasing brand value for all involved web properties.
PART 3 – THE ROI

Discount code announcement combined with viral circulation results in increased event revenue sufficient to WIPE OUT entire speaker/sponsor fee (over ten thousand dollars) for Software company while significantly increasing the value of the event for all.

Community members’ recent referral activity, combined with additional Profiles of affiliations, interests, networks, corporate roles etc., leads to refined lead scoring and fast identification of previously unknown high potential prospects

THE RESULT

Everybody wins – as stated earlier:
1. Software company – customers, prospects, PR
2. Online community – affordable professional development
3. Executive Summit – speakers, tuition, attendee satisfaction
4. Industry portals – enrichment, community, reputation

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Commentary:

This success story has no precise ending, because we have agreed to continue the partnership.  One thing seems reasonably certain at this juncture: there is no going back.  Heightened audience expectations must be nurtured to keep bringing the mutual benefits to this enriched community.   Once you have built a community, it requires care and feeding to thrive.

How have your community building efforts fared?  Do you have a story to share?  Love to hear your comments.

‘ Til soon,

~Ed

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