Forget B2B. Forget B2C. Embrace E2E: Everyone to Everyone. Business and consumers alike are voting with their wallets and making mobile, tablet and personal 2-in-1 devices the “first screen” – relegating laptops, desktop PCs and wall-mounted flat screen TVs to “second screen” status. They are messaging one another. And they are talking about you. Are you listening? Hello?
A few organizations have adopted the playbook to address this shift. It seems, however, that most are not even thinking about the user-centric, user-generated, user-driven, mobile-first, E2E experience. That makes it a huge opportunity, if you set your mind to it.
Aaron Shapiro, blogging for the Harvard Business Review, cited the “Software Layer” as an area of focus for optimizing this E2E User experience, no matter what business you are in. I have incorporated some of his thoughts into the following 20-page storybook. It’s a quick read (lots of pictures), and it outlines a framework for how Users interact with your Business through a Software Layer. Enjoy!
I hope you find it useful in framing your thoughts on how to compete and excel.
Suffice to say, the race is on, and competing is not optional.
Make this the year you embrace the Software Layer of your business to drive User engagement, new opportunity, and new levels of success.
How is your organization adapting to the “Everyone to Everyone” world? Love to hear your stories.
A recent IBM survey found that over half of business leaders today realize they don’t have access to the insights they need to do their jobs. They just aren’t harnessing the data.
Today, surrounded by sensors, apps and systems, we have ability to generate and store data cheaply like never before. Ironically, as the data piles up, the ranks of organizations able to process it is declining, and the talent shortage for managing it is increasing.
The ability to harness and leverage data is now a big competitive advantage. This doesn’t mean that experience, judgment and intuition are less relevant; on the contrary, you need those attributes to evaluate data.
You do not need a million dollar budget or a Ph.D.in Computer Science to be a Big Data Voodoo Daddy – one who knows where the data is, can harness it, and mines it daily to delight customers and boost revenue. Devise a basic plan or framework, select a few tools, apply them to your most important data, and you’re started. Just be sure you’re improving on existing data and processes; you can’t automate a vacuum.
Ask: Where is your data? What does it look like? It generally has 3 characteristics:
Volume – nobody is scared anymore by the prefix “giga” as in gigabytes (GB). The average hard drive stores hundreds of GB. So, the average U.S. household has a place for it. Of course, there is always the cloud computing and storage option, as long as you don’t mind internet and power outages bringing your business to its knees.
Variety – here it gets a little hairy. Data is everywhere, but not organized. Some of it lies dormant in locked spreadsheets; some of it is in silos, like Point of Sale receipt reports, accounting ledgers, and customer records. Some of it is “unstructured” i.e. not contained in nice neat rows and columns, but rather in text records and notes. You need tools to organize and standardize data so it will fit nicely into your main database. This is tedious and messy, but worth doing. Fortunately, most major software providers understand this too and have enabled their products to interoperate with one another.
Velocity – some data is historic; some is collected periodically and batched; some data is streaming live (example: your location in a GPS app, your favorite mobile shopping app). Does live streaming data matter to you? It should if your customers are mobile, and these days who isn’t?
You need 3 things to harness the volume, variety and velocity of your data:
a database / storage place (love that cloud storage option!)
software to help you access, manage, report, cleanse, update, analyze and act on it;
helper apps to get help standardize data from multiple “feeds” so they can enter your main storage place.
While some of this may sound geeky, be assured that the tooling and resources are becoming more usable. For some large organizations, however, expert talent and technology remain the best option.
One Big challenge Remains
The single biggest challenge of data these days is its quality. In that huge haystack of data, there are some gems and usually a bunch of stale (call it historical) data. Stale and historical data are okay, and even valuable for trend spotting and progress reporting. You can easily take steps to update it via customer surveys, sorting, web / email response forms, etc. Most people and related data sources will happily keep their info in your database current if it helps you stay relevant to one another. Just be sure to keep that process easy, and clearly spell out the benefits. Consider sharing your data discoveries with them, too – at least to the extent that you do not infringe on people’s privacy.
Best Uses for Big Data
According to McKinsey Global Institute, big data has five broad opportunity areas: increased transparency and use, improved performance management, better decisions, greater precision in meeting customer demand, and more targeted R&D. If you are in Sales and Marketing management, web and social media analytics, financial reporting, call center reporting, fraud and security detection, energy usage, safety management, risk and opportunity management, inventory, assets, logistics, agriculture or health care, you have the opportunity to excel and lead in your marketplace by leveraging available data.
You must use these powers only to do good. Concerns about privacy, access, security, intellectual property rights and liability must be factored into our thinking, policies and practice concerning the use of data.
Got data challenges? Drop a comment. I’ve listed a few helpful resources below.
Additional Resources (see sidebar on this site for tool ideas)
Pluris Intro (Pluris Marketing) – OCDP (omni-channel dynamic profiling) so big orgs can treat people as individuals
QR Codes work well, except when they don’t – but they can! Following my New Year’s Resolution to stop doing dumb things (wish me luck), and coming on the heels of multiple successes in which QR codes have helped my clients win new customers, I offer herewith my take on the value of QR codes.
I love QR Codes and all 2-dimensional (“2D”) codes for two reasons. First, they help to combine the best of the physical world with the best of the digital world. Second, they make life easier by eliminating the need to memorize, type, or otherwise manually translate a URL in order to render content digitally. The highest use of 2D codes is to bridge an excellent real world experience to an excellent online experience.
As of this writing, however, we are in a place where their use is not widespread, so be aware of situations in which your printed content and your online content probably should not substitute and, rather, might need to be a bit redundant. Each version must still stand on its own, since many people just haven’t added the QR code app on their phones and are thus not yet acclimated. As businesses continue to slowly adopt QR codes, the inflection point where more widespread adoption occurs will probably come when a large consumer market play embeds it into the way they do business. Think: retail.
Marketers love QR codes because they make interaction with the physical world clickable and, therefore, measurable. I get to do more of what I love, too: obsess about large CRM data sets, mining and combining it to detect the faint signals of user behavior that can help our clients personalize the customer experience and delight people. Everybody wins!
What’s Broken – Why QR Codes Disappoint
According to Forrester Research, however, those who do click on QR codes – primarily young, affluent males – generally hate them. This is mainly due to the bumbling mis-steps of marketers.
Firstly, QR codes are ugly – – although plenty of people have found ways to fix that (read on).
Secondly, many people are confused about how to scan them. This is exacerbated by the walled gardens created by competing companies. Microsoft (just one example) has/had its own unique 2D code technology, which require(d) its own unique reader app. How lovely.
Third: the various free downloadable apps required to read QR codes don’t all function the same way, although that condition is improving.
Last and worst: user disappointment. Simply being redirected to the same byzantine website available via large screen device is uninspiring, to say the least. People typically avoid browsing websites on a small phone screen, so why use a QR code to force them? Effective QR codes don’t link to ordinary websites. Instead, they link to an instantly satisfying, sharable experience – on a par with music, photos and email, or content that is uniquely useful wherever the QR code is displayed.
Try thinking of a QR code as new type of “share this” or “dig deeper” button, a way to augment enjoyment of the real world, and a delightful sharable experience. That thinking alone should keep you out of the weeds, but to be thorough, here is a list of best practices.
How to Fix It – Turn QR Codes into a Viral Experience
Here are some basic items to consider when contemplating use of 2D and QR codes.
1. Audience awareness. Again, most people are not acclimated. Do the obvious: include instructions to help new users engage. Even savvy users need to be informed on what rewards to expect. Include a caption below the QR code explaining where it leads. For some examples, see the last page of this QR Code usage guide I created for a print / QR code campaign promoting an iPhone app.
2. Usage patterns. If you plan to use QR codes multiple times for multiple campaigns, treat each as its own campaign – complete with strategy, goals, success measures, etc. Then, for each instance, caption each code with the URL, app instructions, Call to Action and reward info. Set the stage for fulfillment by setting user expectations before they scan your code. See the example linked in section 1 above.
3. Size and placement. Your 2D code must be of sufficient size, placement and proximity to be easily scanned. This excludes TV (too fleeting), subway (no wireless signal means no way to access the online content) and Billboard (too distant; depending on which reader software you use, your own pulse may cause your handheld phone/camera to shake too much to reliably scan the code). Ideal: printed material or flat surface, within arm’s reach, up close and personal.
4. Visual Appeal. You can beautify a QR code, either through free experimentation, or for a price using a reputable designer. It’s not just a nice touch, it’s also a branding opportunity, so we can expect this beautification trend to increase. Whereas the lowly barcode has faded like a footnote into the borders of package labels, the comparatively prominent physical placement of a QR code could harm the beauty of your content or its location – a slippery slope, indeed. Who wants a future where a physical, beautiful world is obscured by electromechanical codes? Fine for robots, not for me. Moral: beautifying and right-sizing your QR code makes it buzzworthy and increases sharing.
5. Mobile-optimized. Create an experience that is based on portability, location, SMS, sharing, or instant fulfillment and feedback – anything but an ordinary website. The destination content must be consumable on a mobile device and, preferably, enrich the user experience or advance the user toward fulfillment of an expectation or promise that motivated their interest.
6. Convenience. Think: Is a 2D code the fastest, easiest and/or only way to access the content, share it, and/or fulfill some need? If so, great; go for it. If not, think about other ways to deliver content more effectively. Again, an ordinary website is not a value-add experience and not a fulfilling one. Please stop that.
7. Engagement. Make it memorable. Reward users, rather than disappoint them. Make your destination content instantly useful and satisfying. Include share buttons so your audience can tweet, email, post and rave about the cool experience you provide. Give users an experience that makes them feel connected, excited, curious, interested and productive. Want viral? Do that!
My take on QR codes: end of a fad! They are here to stay. QR codes and 2D codes can help you create a satisfying customer experience and, done well, convert sales.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Slow download speed
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!
Update: Since posting this article in June 2011, I have met some analysts who strongly argue against the scenario I predicted, in part because of HTML5 – most notably venture capitalist and Facebook investor Roger McNamee. You decide. ~Ed
Let me start by saying I admire Apple. I am in awe of their fanatical focus and gorgeous customer experience. They find ways to improve on existing concepts better than anyone previously imagined. And yes, it’s hard to argue with their revenue, but will Apple’s “walled garden” approach to owning the app ecosystem create an opening for Google, Microsoft and others to overtake? I predict “yes”, and several analysts agree, although they express it differently.
The Garden Wall will Tumble Again
The Apple love fest may soon be over, for a variety of reasons, but one particular reason that I and many people can’t stand is the “Walled Garden” phenomenon: you must subscribe to the right phone service, purchase a specialized device, and endlessly search, discover and download app after app, which is then trapped on your device, and then you must access content available exclusively via curated channels. Of course, that world is expanding (100 million Apple device sales and counting, for example), and certainly, controlling the channel enables them to control the quality and the attendant revenue.
Good for Apple and their customers. But there comes a point at which the profit motive, the curated experience and security issues come up against real world practicalities, such as need and desire of users to access and freely (or securely) share information without having to care about what device they’re holding. It should just work…kind of like a Web browsing experience, eh?
Just as the Walled Gardens tumbled 15 years ago (who remembers GeoCities? Excite? Magellan? CompuServe?), so too will today’s Splinternet factions (app wars) be reunited, simply because (a) people prefer choice and access; (b) reliable alternatives exist; (c) they aren’t scarce or expensive, and (d) the value of the experience must outweigh the pain and inconvenience of its use – not presently the case with most apps.
Think of it: with an Internet account, you can go just about anywhere you want on the Worldwide Web. You can share information with others, and the only thing your buddies need is an Internet account – ANY Internet account. Even web based email works reliably, mainly because it complies with W3C standards (“Web standards”).
Today’s mobile app providers have built gorgeous, shiny front-ends that distract us temporarily from the restricted-access conditions of their “app” use. Apps have to be promoted and downloaded, sometimes for a fee, and they only live on your device. Your buddy has to have the exact same app to share the experience with you. This is like re-starting the Web all over again, except you make the App provider or the app store provider rich on toll fees while they restrict your access. (Cue dorky announcer voice: “Now how much would you pay?!”)
Don’t Mistake Shiny for Better
Let’s not let the gorgeous experience and the shiny new toy hype blind us to the restricted access and curated content phenomena. Take a look at what companies like QVew and Nexaweb are doing. Upstart QVew (update: now defunct) makes a write-once, run-everywhere content platform that let account holders launch mobile-ready mini-websites, hypercharged landing pages, etc. – as many as you can imagine – all for one price, and they work everywhere. Or, if you are an enterprise and need large scale heavy lifting on large databases, Nexaweb helps your enterprise modernize its legacy applications so that real-time, fast changing data can be accessed remotely via any Web-connected device, large or small. Full disclosure: I own a smidgin of stock in Nexaweb.
When will we collectively come to our senses and realize that the great Kool Aid that Apple, Google, Microsoft et. al. have been peddling won’t quench our real need for on-demand, anywhere-access to our preferred data, or just-in-time support for our real-world experience?
The June 2011 report from Flurry that indicates App usage has now exceeded PC deceptively compares two different data sets (app usage and Web usage) as if they correlate somehow. According to the report, 79% of App usage time is spent on games and social media sites. Most PC and phone-based Web browsing is done for business purposes. All this does is reinforce my point that most activity inside today’s Walled Gardens is comparatively frivolous, not serious computing, and after we get over the “shiny new toy” hype, we should again insist on what works – Open Standards – and take back the Web. I predict it’s just a matter of time. Check in. Discuss!