The Importance of Customer Feedback and What to Do With It

Getting feedback is the right thing to do, everybody can agree on that. At every workshop I have ever conducted, 100% of participants agreed that customer feedback is essential. In reality, though, very few companies solicit feedback, and even fewer actually use it.

The feedback you don’t listen to isn’t feedback, it’s a wasted opportunity.

Obviously, we don’t want to hear negative feedback about the products we worked so hard to deliver. But customer feedback is essential, not just for marketers, but for everyone from R&D all the way to top management.

Not collecting feedback is unforgivable, but the real problem is with companies who collect feedback and don’t do anything meaningful with it.

Read also: How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

Why companies don’t listen to feedback

There are a number of reasons why companies don’t listen to feedback. Here are the most common:

1. Bridges to nowhere

90% of the time companies build feedback bridges to nowhere. A system to collect feedback is in place, but it ends up unread, and thus useless, in a lonely folder on a hard disk. Or in a database no one ever opens. Or a department that doesn’t do anything with it.

Collecting data is great, but it is what you do with it that matters.

Solution: assign one person in the enterprise to exclusively deal with feedback and make sure it is collected, analyzed, and the results distributed to reach the right departments.

Read also: The New Frontier: Improving Customer Experience through AI

2. No SOP

Perhaps there is someone in charge of collecting feedback and presenting it in regular meetings, but everything is handled case-by-case and there is no proper SOP in place what to do with feedback. For what type of feedback do we alert which kind of manager? What gets channeled back to product development? How do we know which feedback is actionable? How do we handle offensive or aggressive feedback? How do we analyze numbers? What percentage of negative feedback about a feature triggers what kind of response?

Many of my clients are confronted with negative feedback. They call me and say thing like, “so-and-so posted on something negative on our Facebook page, what do we do?”

Solution: The question is not what you do in an individual case, but how do you standardize the handling of negative (or positive comments). Proper SOP will say something like, “react to negative comments within 24 hours, don’t delete them, offer posters and email address to channel their anger away from the public forum, etc.) SOP is key to handling complaints and praise alike.

No follow up

Even when a company has proper feedback channels and an SOP, there is often no follow up what happens to feedback. After receiving 100 complaints about feature X, was it eventually changed? Who was responsible for the change? Did the change reflect what customers said in the feedback? Good feedback systems must always be traceable and accountable.

Solution: Make sure your SOP includes the feedback to the feedback. Everyone in the organization who receives customer feedback should, in turn, be responsible to document their reaction to that feedback. Just like doctors in hospitals have to do presentations after a patient dies, R&D engineers, managers, customer service staff etc. should be required to report how they reacted to customer feedback both immediately (responding to a complaint) and in the long term (changing product features).

 

What does feedback do for your business?

To understand why customer feedback is vital for any business, you have to look at the economy itself. It consists of producers and consumers: companies are producers while individuals and other companies are consumers of goods.

The economy works by the law of supply and demand. Demand means consumers want something. If they don’t like it, they won’t want it. It is therefore essential to know what they like, otherwise, companies will produce for a demand that does not exist.

Thus, once you have a good feedback channel, SOP, and follow-up strategy in place, feedback can help you achieve the following:

Improving Products

By taking feedback into consideration, faults of the product can be easily detected and fixed, leading to a higher overall quality and better sales.

It sounds so simple but it is too often overlooked. I recently completed a project with a client who made an IT product. 90% of customers gave feedback that the setup procedure and connecting the device to other devices was far too cumbersome. That feedback never entered the minds of the managers, who only heard from their engineers: we can’t do it any other way.

In the end, the company produced over 2 million pieces of a product, which received horrible feedback on Amazon and similar websites. Demand disappeared overnight.

Not listening to customers = losing money.

Aside from improving the product, listening to customer feedback is also an effective method of evaluating your team. For example, with online employee information available, customers of the service industry can easily rate your employees based on their performance.

Feedback Creates Relationships

Customers will remain faithful to the products they helped shape. Truly listening to your customers creates a relationship with them that, if carefully maintained, can provide consistent benefits to a company. People are much more likely to give their business to a company that is known to them, and which respond to feedback in a meaningful way. Customers are more likely to forgive a company for slipups if it usually listens and responds to feedback.

This, of course, has a great impact on digital marketing efforts. If you don’t respond to feedback you receive online, you will not garner the goodwill of your customers, and they will be less forgiving when you mess up.

Customer retention and fidelity is the welcomed by-product of a good customer relations policy. Satisfied that they have been listened to, customers will remain faithful to the products they helped shape and mend. Moreover, the company will receive good PR – the kind that cannot be bought with a media campaign. A responsive company is a good company.

Some companies even show off how much they value customer feedback. See this KFC ad campaign based on a tweet they received:

Or this ad by a ski resort using a one star review by a customer:

Gaining Competitive Advantage

People always say Apple is successful because they are innovative. Apple is not an innovative company. Almost every feature or product they ever came up with was a knockoff.

Apple is a listening company. They listen to feedback, over and over again, until the vast majority of customers are satisfied with the experience.

No matter what you do, your product may not always be the best and your ideas might not always be the most innovative. Even when such is the case, a larger company might outspend and outproduce your capabilities, selling at a price which would put you out of business.

Because the market is always changing and the trends are always shifting, staying ahead of the curve can put you ahead of the larger companies in terms of understanding the preferences of customers. Aided by a good relationship, your customers may even prefer your product above others for personal, emotional reasons that don’t relate to product quality.

Stay Ahead of Future Trends

Aside from improving your products and the opinion that customers have of your company, listening and reacting to customer feedback can also provide valuable data regarding future trends. If the focus of the consumer is on a single feature of the product, that should tell you something about the importance of that feature, and where you should place the emphasis for future development.

Keeps Your Employees Creative

Making feedback part of the conversation inside the company keeps your employees on their toes. Why did you not listen to this feedback? Does R&D think we can do better? Feedback from engaged customers is a valuable pool of ideas that can inspire researchers, engineers, and even your customer service department.

For customer service employees, knowing what a lot of people say about the product can prepare them for answering calls and emails in a professional way, reducing friction with complaining customers and creating a much better user experience.

In conclusion, gathering and using feedback isn’t really an option for a modern enterprise. If you don’t do it, you will be less profitable, you may even lose money, you will certainly disappoint your customers, and you will fall behind the competition. Before you know it, you are out of business

Read also: The Intersection of Personal and Corporate Brand

Read also: Employee Advocacy: The Key to Digital Marketing Success

Why You Should Always Put Your Retail Strategy First

Parts of the world, especially in Asia, are in a startup frenzy.

Not a week goes by without a new startup looking for branding and marketing advice.

Because this is Asia, which has a long history of making things and the most brilliant engineers in the world, most of these startups make hardware. Established companies too are making use of the rapid changes in technology and are launching new products at record speed.

All of them have the same plan: they want to come up with a name, create a logo, a brand identity, CIS; perhaps make a video then build a website with an online commerce function, or manage their crowdfunding campaign and social media accounts.

As important as all these things are, one crucial element is always missing from the business plan: a retailer marketing strategy. 

Depending on your target market, you will need a strategy for the locally dominant company. But because almost all my clients want to sell in the United States or Europe first, I will talk mostly about Amazon in this article.

However, much of what I will cover applies to other retail platforms and even traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Online retailers are not websites, they are ecosystems

Amazon isn’t just a webshop. It is most of all a review website. Everyone checks Amazon for product reviews. If your product is not reviewed here, it doesn’t exist. If your reviews are bad, it won’t sell.

Amazon is not merely an online retailer anymore, it is an ecosystem with a best-selling voice assistant that is redefining shopping as we know it. The company is expanding its technology into everything from drone delivery to the grocery business and recently brick-and-mortar stores without checkout.

Amazon Prime is used by over 70% of American households. That means free shipping. Your own website with your own warehouse can never ever compete with that.

Brand-owned e-commerce solutions, bar a few lucky exceptions, don’t work. Consumers don’t want to pay for shipping. Most buying processes on brand websites break off on the page where the shipping costs are displayed.

If you don’t believe me, check your Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel data. Psychologically, the page with the shipping charges is saying to the user: “Hey, look at that. Perhaps you can get this product cheaper somewhere else.”

Having shipping charges is bad UX, period.

Even if your brand doesn’t want to interact with Amazon, your customers certainly do, and more do so every day as the company expands.

With more and more people shopping online, logistics and sustainability will become hot issues. A lot of deliveries with old trucks means air pollution and global warming; only big retailers will have the resources and innovation skills to combat this trend by embracing e-vehicles, drone delivery, and data-based logistics optimization. As they do so, even more consumers will flock to Amazon and its peers.

How to develop a Retailer Marketing Strategy

By now you should have realized that every startup, every brand, every new product launch needs a retail marketing strategy. Now let’s find out how to go about developing such a strategy, regardless whether you are launching in America or South-East Asia.

Step 1: Open Your Eyes

The first step is to check out similar products and examine what people say about the product. Let’s say there is a top-loading, cold-water washing machine, and you are trying to build one.

Careful study of the reviews will tell you that 90% of customers do not like top-loading, cold-water washing machines. There goes your business plan. I know it sounds ridiculous, but no hardware startup that contacted me in the last few years had done this simple step of verifying consumer preferences.

Developing a product shouldn’t be based on your engineering capabilities but on consumer preferences.

Reviewing data is hugely important in many ways. It allows you to find out what people really care about in a product and how they use it.

If every phone at a certain price point has hundreds of reviews saying that “the short battery life sucks”, then you need to build a phone at that price point which has a significantly longer battery life. You can save yourself a lot of time, money, and hassle, but opening your eyes before starting the tinkering.

Step 2: Get a feel

Even if a product category is accepted by consumers, you can learn even more by carefully analyzing the reviews on the retail platform. What do consumers love about a specific product? What do they hate? What excites them? Emotions are the key to successful marketing, and if your new product cannot awake emotions, then it will likely fail.

Step 3: Embrace opportunities

Once you have confirmed that the product you are trying to launch is worth launching, you need to understand how consumers buy it. Do they use a particular website? Do they prefer to see the product in real life before buying? Is testing and comparing the key to success?

Will consumers be talking about that product, or is it a routine purchase (social media marketing opportunities! Cf. Kindle vs. washing powder) Are they using Amazon Prime Video? Are they ordering it through Voice AI Alexa?

Amazon and other retailers offer a wide variety of choices so you will have to look beyond the obvious.

For example, will your product fit into an Amazon Go scenario, and what does that mean from a geo-fencing standpoint? How many of your customers are consuming content on Youtube, Twitch, and do you have opportunities for a partnership?

A comprehensive opportunities audit is key to developing a good marketing plan and refining your product offering!

Step 4: Data, data, and more data

You really need to make use of all the data retailers offer. Amazon Retail Analytics (ARA) and Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) offer great insights into what works, and what doesn’t, from consumer preferences to product categories, hobbies, activities, etc. If 90% of the people who bought a specific type of bag also like “Hiking”, then optimizing your stylish new backpack for avid hikers makes perfect sense.

Thus you can avoid designing the wrong product from the start. Go to Facebook and study what people are saying about it there. Check for any hashtags and Twitter accounts, or whatever your local social media networks are.

Research into data must also include the third-party apps that connect with Alexa for example. What people are doing with AI greatly influences which products they will stumble across, and ultimately buy.

Step 5: Redo your business plan, redesign your product

After gathering all these insights you will perhaps realize that certain aspects of your product design or marketing strategy, or even your entire business plan, will need redoing.

Starting a business or launching a new product is not about what you and your team can do (in terms of hardware engineering capabilities, say) but about what you can do for your prospective customers.

Are you really meeting their needs? Are you really delivering a product or service that will convince them? Are you solving your customers’ problems?

Step 6: Decide how to work with your retailer

There are a lot of different ways to work with retailers. Amazon, for example, offers fulfillment services which greatly reduce the need for companies to deal with warehousing and logistics in a country where they don’t necessarily have a presence.

Even though Amazon does charge for its services (and the more you use, the higher the fee), it usually comes cheaper than having to deal with all the logistics, shipping, delivery, returns, and customer complaints yourself. And because Amazon customer service is commonly acknowledged as very good, it may even improve the value of your own brand by trusting them.

Conclusion

I have used Amazon as an example because it is so dominant has so much data on consumers. But I realize your target market may not be covered by Amazon, or you may not want to work with them. That is beside the point.

What you should take home from reading this article is simply this: Startups and new product ideas should always start with a close look at the dominant retailers, online and offline.

Always look at the data out there, or hire an experienced marketer to do that for you. Doing so will save you tons of money in the long run.

Is Digital Advertising the Biggest Fraud in History?

Enron is commonly referred to as the biggest fraud ever, costing investors over 70 billion USD. Perhaps Lehman Brothers did even more damage. Or Bernie Madoff. It’s hard to say. But without a doubt, we do now have a new candidate, and it’s not a company or a person. It’s an industry; digital advertising.

Listen to marketing podcast and read the more critical marketing blogs, and you will find that advertising and under siege.

But what is really behind the accusations that billions are lost every year to fraudulent practices in the industry? I discussed the issue with three industry experts.

Here is our in-depth analysis of everything that is wrong with digital advertising, and how to solve the conundrum. We try to explain the issues with as little technical jargon as possible because we do not want to be guilty of the same tactics ad networks use to lure advertisers into highly questionable schemes.

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With contributions from

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We all agree that digital advertising seems like a fantastic idea, whether it is Google Adwords, display ads on YouTube and the expanded Google network, Facebook, native advertising, reward ads, etc. They don’t cost much to produce, and you can reach millions of potential customers around the world.

But the same technologies that made advertising online possible are now causing advertisers to lose millions of dollars every day.

Part of it is unscrupulous behavior by agencies and ad networks, who work with publishers who specialize in creating ad inventory out of nothing. Part of it is stupidity or willful blindness by advertisers and agencies, bad targeting, and a lack of understanding of how ad placement works.

But a large part of it is just plain fraud.

Let’s start with the simplest problem.

Digital ads show up in the wrong place

Even with expert targeting, ads interrupt the consumption of media in the most annoying way. Let’s say you are interested in hand tools. The advertisers know that, so they will show you an ad while you are reading an article about travel in Tuscany. While the targeting of ads has become better, the placement of ads is still terrible. I’m not in the market for hand tools while dreaming of Tuscany. You caught me off guard, and I will find your ad inappropriate.

Some of the misplacement is hilarious. Ads for diapers and baby products spawned on gay dating apps, ads in German following you around for months just because you logged in the Wifi at Frankfurt airport one time. I bought a new ASUS notebook computer two months ago, and I still see ads for ASUS notebooks everywhere I go on the internet. As much as like my notebook, I am now annoyed by the brand unnecessarily stalking me online. I already bought the notebook, so why am I still seeing ads. Hashtag #techfailure

There is hope, however, notes Lyle Wagner: With improvements in data collection this targeting is getting better as cookies are placed on user’s devices which track user behavior and compared with other cookies to create an image of the user.

Although this has potentially negative implications in terms of privacy, and may run afoul of data privacy laws, in the arena of ‘advertising annoyance’ it actually shows great promise in showing better, more relevant and interesting ads to users.

In Europe and Canada, privacy laws make the collection of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) illegal, so privacy concerns are being dealt with in some key markets. Strict privacy laws may actually prevent the ad experience from improving. Users are forced to choose between privacy and relevance. (This is one of the key criticisms of GDPR).

Reward ads

Increasingly ad inventory is sold to networks using them for things like Wi-Fi log-in, receiving freebies, or as rewards in games. “Click on the ad to get 10 minutes of free Wi-Fi” is a way to incur costs for the advertiser, but it has zero value for the consumer if the ad is not relevant. I am going to click on the ad, just to get my 10 minutes, not to buy your skin mask.

Whole business models are built around this practice. In many cities, there are now Wi-Fi-networks, some of them run by big telecoms operators, which force users to click on an ad to get initial access, and on one or more ads to continue using the network after several minutes.

Most advertisers we spoke to are not aware that their ads are being used for this purpose. By offering up to 10 different ads to click on, operators claim to give users a choice and thus “target’ them. That is nonsense.

The majority of users randomly click on any ad available, skip it, and then go on to do what they really came to do: use the Wi-Fi network. Much the same is true for in-game reward ads.

Even if a user is potentially interested in a product, he or she very likely is logging on to the network for another purpose and will not be distracted by the ad. Hardly any gamer will be derailed from his path to glory by an ad about hair shampoo.

Yet not all reward ads are a waste of money. “Watch the ad to upgrade to a magic sword” again creates value for the player, but does a disservice to the advertiser if the user has no interest in the product.

Here the industry is slowly improving. Better quality and more interesting ads (think of puzzles or arcade-style mini-games) when used appropriately, have been shown to create a positive brand association and resulting brand lift on users exposed to them. An astonishingly high number of users react to these interactive ads by clicking through to the brand’s website, so not all is bad.

Video ads: stop interrupting me

Youtube’s ad model is essentially copying television, and it is annoying as hell. Ads in videos are increasingly irrelevant (I see nothing but skin care products and car ads in my location; I do public transport and my skin is great, thank you very much.)

Digital natives have already been conditioned to wait for the few seconds it takes to click the ad away. Ad content is not absorbed at all, and yet those few seconds count as an ad view, and incur costs to advertisers.

Recently, YouTube has begun to show more in-video ads. They are so annoying – if you are following the plot of the video you are watching – that most people just click them away after 3,4,5 of whatever how many seconds. That’s not advertising, that’s just click fraud.

Here too, better targeting and data collection are needed to show only really relevant ads in the relevant environment. The same data collection that causes all those privacy concerns, remember?

And if only brands could start making ads that are actually fun to watch, instead of the same boring stuff they’ve annoyed us on television with for decades. Yes, some brands are getting the message, but it’s still interruptive advertising because at that point you have been watching something else. Small wonder people are switching to Netflix & Co.

But I mean, who cares, because …

Most ads are never seen by humans

The final straw is of course real fraud, and here it gets hairy.

Websites created just to show ads, bots watching ads instead of humans, apps programmed just to get as many ad clicks as possible, are all losing advertisers billions each year. According to a number of security firms, as reported in the  Telegraph, criminals use “armies” of hijacked computers to mimic humans browsing.

Such computers create fake websites and watch as many as 300 million videos there per day. An estimated 70% of online adverts are never seen by humans, the paper reports.

“Bots are rampant and ad fraud is at its highest ever point,” Dr Augustine Fou, a cybersecurity expert, told The Telegraph.

WhiteOps reports that MethBot, an ad-fraud scam, costs advertisers at least 3 million USD and probably more than 5 m every single day. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. How did that happen?

Programmatic is evil

This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by the rise of programmatic advertising which replaced the old network-publisher relationship business with a more automated approach where machine-based ad exchanges control the ad placement process without human oversight. This led to a massive drop in price and quality.

This is finally starting to be rectified by more and better technology. Ad verification technologies have been developed that are able to monitor and detect suspicious ad viewing behavior, and they may succeed in saving the ad industry from implosion. The problem is that some of this software isn’t in compliance with privacy laws.

Before it gets better, it may get worse.

The biggest scam of all: attribution fraud

Attribution fraud in app marketing is probably the biggest scam of all. All the big networks from AdColony, AdAction to unity, Tapjoy, Applift, Taptica, etc. have at one point or another been accused of massaging the numbers.

Part of the blame here goes straight to Apple and Google for refusing to cooperate with attribution companies by offering a transparent and simple way to track users and traffic sources.

Attribution companies have had to develop ‘fingerprinting’ technologies as a workaround thanks to the big OS’ insistence on controlling the install process. But the bottom line is, even without the fraud, an ad you must click on to get something else is just annoying.

Egocentric Irritation: Anti-social Ads

Simon Kemp thinks that even when advertisers do manage to display a relevant ad to someone in their audience, far too many of them waste that opportunity by delivering ads that focus on egocentric brand content.

“We’re being as anti-social as it gets; we’re going on a date and only talking about ourselves. As a result, more and more people around the world are blocking ads completely. We’ve irritated our audiences so much that they’re actually willing to spend their own money on tools that help them avoid the nonsense that most advertisers are spewing out.”

“There’s only one sustainable answer to this problem: advertisers need to get better at building meaningful exchanges of value with their audiences, instead of interrupting them with more and more irrelevant crap.”

How Will Digital Advertising Survive?

So, if digital advertising is to survive, we ‘re going to need to make some radical changes. Companies will have to turn to more sophisticated methods of content marketing and building audiences.

The big brands will be better at this than smaller firms, who lack resources. But for most companies, the whole concept of “audience building” and creating your own digital assets is an anathema: no expertise, no strategy, no vision.

Secondly, ads have to become better. More interesting, interactive ads, better quality video and in future VR and AR implementation will lead to a better ad experience. Anti-social is out, real connections are in. This is a challenge for marketers everywhere; it is even more a challenge for brands who will have to abandon decades of accepted practice and embrace a completely new way of thinking about ads.

Thirdly, technology must solve many of the problems it has created. Verification of users through accurate data, probabilistic and deterministic verification, analysis of in-app/site user behavior analytics in conjunction with media buys etc. have a long way to go.

Finally, we have to solve the conundrum of privacy.

Consumers, in particular in Europe and Canada, are screaming for stricter privacy laws without understanding what that does to their online experience. Regulators have no sympathy for advertisers and thus play their part in dismantling the industry. GDPR, in particular, was a huge step backward in making online advertising better and more relevant. And yet consumers love it.

More privacy means more ad-blocking, which means that much of what is available for free will no longer be available as ad revenues dwindle.

It is bad ad policy but also strict privacy laws which make even websites like CNN and Forbes look spammier every day by serving the bottom of the inventory barrel to consumers.

A few years ago there was one rotten apple. Now the barrel is slowly spoiling.

Light at the end of the tunnel

I believe technology will solve part of the problem, and brands will slowly embrace other forms of marketing.

But for the immediate future, fraud in digital advertising is a serious issue and will only get worse, unless brands wake up to the amount of money they are wasting, regulators stop appeasing consumers without considering the industry, and ad networks aren’t held accountable for their fraudulent practices.

It’s high time we took this issue seriously.

How to Influence the Customer Journey

Branding and marketing experts are increasingly talking about the “customer journey” – a fancy word encompassing everything from product discovery to actual purchase action. But what exactly is this “journey” and how, as product or service providers, can we influence it?

Think about it that way: the last time you purchased something other than a routine commodity, did you directly go to the brand’s or retailer’s website and put in your order? Probably not.

There is a very good chance you took a whole load of other actions before finally making the leap and reaching for your credit card.

You may have seen a post on Instagram, then checked out the reviews on Amazon or Tripadvisor. Then you asked your friends or checked out the brand’s website, before finally ending up on a random retail website and making your purchase. This is your “journey”: a long and winding road

Read also: Why You Should Always Put Your Retail Strategy First

 

The Obscure Road

In most cases, neither consumers nor clients rarely exactly what they want or how they ended up on a particular purchasing point. And this is the exact problem for marketers or business owners. Customers take a journey, but neither they nor brands know exactly how that journey progressed.

With increasingly strict privacy protection laws, it will be harder and harder to trace that journey.

Customers read blog content, check out YouTube, ‘Like’ their friend’s Facebook posts and scour Twitter for information. They might see a native ad that piques their interest, although they may not even be aware it is an ad. Similarly, they can be steered by multiple remarketing campaigns, white papers or in-store interaction tech.

Unless you are one of these predictable individuals who always by the same things at the same stores, the path you took remains obscure. If laws like GDPR spread and get expanded further, even routine purchased will be untraceable.

Brands want three outcomes of the journey: We want the customer

  1. To choose the brand at the end of the journey
  2. To spend the money you want them to spend
  3. To buy the products or services you would prefer them to purchase

Read also: Data Protection is a Marketing Issue

 

How Do We Influence A Journey We Know Nothing About? 

In the past, marketers used the idea of the “funnel” as a simile for that customer journey. Attract, Engage, Convert, and so on. There are countless variations of the purchasing funnel. They used to look something like this:

marketing-funnel-diagram.png

Looks intuitive, doesn’t it? Expect it no longer works like this. And even if it does, we no longer have a way of knowing where the “intent” occurs, how the “evaluation” progresses, even where exactly we “attract”. Least of all we know how we ended up at the “purchase” stage.

The customer journey is not a direct route, but a meandering path that frequently doubles back and takes unexpected turns. It can be easily aborted, diverted, interrupted and resumed months later … We just don’t know. 

A typical customer journey takes anything from minutes to months, it can start anywhere in that “funnel”; it invariably involves multiple platforms and channels; it always involves multiple devices and may be influenced by a long list of people from family and friends to influencers and celebrities; and finally, it can be easily aborted due to a long list of factors, from disappointing content, bad web design, negative reviews, and so on.

 

Every Journey Is Unique

Every journey is unique; every journey has pitfalls. You can’t possibly estimate where a potential customer is headed without some kind of guidance and a way to measure success.

Great marketing isn’t based on gut feeling or guesswork. Increasingly, it’s all about data. In other words, the only way to influence the customer journey is data.

Consumers have never been savvier. They know they will find more information online than they’ve ever found in a physical store. As helpful as this may be for them, it is also a golden opportunity for you to influence their journey. That is, within the rules of data privacy laws and actual technical possibilities.

There are four key elements in influencing the journey: the right way to attract, measuring outputs, solving problems, and building on success.

1. Attraction

You are going to need to provide the right content to the ideal audience. That means different media and content for each platform, updated content depending on changes in the media landscape, and the right tone or brand voice for the right audience.

2. Measuring

While increasingly difficult due to changes in privacy law, we can still gather some data about customers. Whatever data can be collected can be measured, quantified, and analyzed.

Measuring influence isn’t an easy task, particularly when consumers are moving across devices and channels so frequently. Yet the vast amounts of data gained from this process make it incredibly powerful for sellers.

There are many software tools available for that purpose, even though some of them may be running afoul of privacy laws already or in the near future.

3. Solving Problems

Customers may move any which way through the funnel, but they are nonetheless on a distinct journey. They are looking for help to solve a problem or satisfy a need. They are looking for somebody to provide a solution. And the closer to the point of purchasing or fulfilling a CTA they get, the more detailed information or convincing arguments they will need.

Your goal as a brand is to provide the right content at the right time, in sync with the customer’s expectations.

20 years ago, it would be normal to delve into the demographics watching a certain TV show then design adverts to tap into their presumed interests. But now, you have instant access to qualified data that lets you reach out to people in a hyper-personalized, ultra-tailored way. Within the norms of privacy laws of course.

Personalization is not about being pushy or intrusive. Don’t turn into that creepy, pushy sales guy we all dislike. But the more you know somebody; the better you can solve their problems.

4. Build on Success

Examine the way you plan, influence, measure and analyze customer journeys, and use them again for future projects. Building on successful campaigns is the key to improving your bottom line in the long run

Final Take-Aways

In a digital world, marketing is constantly changing. Platforms emerge, fall out of use; new players take the spoils and unsuccessful ones disappear. The pace of change is rapid and it affects businesses of all sizes. Customers are progressively sophisticated in the methods they use to research purchases. Just think of the fortunes of SnapChat. One tweet by a disgruntled celebrity can change the journey path for millions of prospective customers.

The most successful businesses are meeting customers on their journey and adapting this path in order to influence what (and how) they buy.

To achieve your goals, you must accurately anticipate and guide customer journeys by making better use of the available data, without violating local or global privacy laws. The best way to do this is to

  • Collaborate
  • Personalize
  • React in Real Time

For businesses of all sizes, there is really no way to plan multi-channel campaigns, even with the best of planning software. Credible, customized, content, and collaboration with influencers and the right inbound marketing strategies are the only way to success.

The Intersection of Personal and Corporate Brand

The Internet and social media, in particular, have turned the world into a global marketplace for attention. People, products, companies, political parties, NGOs and governments all need to present a “digital image”. How to be noticed and perceived positively in the digital space is a tedious and often painful exercise in self-promotion.

It can also be hugely rewarding.

 

Social media doesn’t make you famous

Here is the hard truth: social media doesn’t make you famous. Ellen Degeneres doesn’t have 55 million Twitter followers because she knows how to tweet. Apple doesn’t have millions of fans because it knows how to use Facebook. Every Instagram celebrity you can name has done other things besides making awesome posts. Every YouTube celebrity has peppered their way to fame with live appearances, participation in gaming tournaments or singing contests, or appeared on television.

It is most of all the things you do OFFLINE which help you get noticed ONLINE. Digital personal branding is more your about non-digital life, not your online click-through rate.

By being global, social media sites exacerbate the problem. Ever noticed how many profiles in Asia are faceless? I spend a lot of my time advising people and companies on their overall digital strategy. The subject which always comes up is self-esteem. “I don’t want I put my face pic because I’m ugly.” “We don’t want that because we are not a real brand.” “I don’t want people to see me, I want them to see the product.”

A lack of personal presence harms your corporate performance.

Read also: Which ketchup? or: What is a brand in the digital age?

 

It’s all about meaning

Corporate brands aren’t liked because they are cool, but because what they produce adds value to consumers’ lives.

What all these clients miss is the concept of meaning and value. Oprah isn’t famous because she’s good looking. She is liked because what she does gives meaning to people’s lives. Corporate brands aren’t liked because they are cool, but because what they produce adds value to consumers’ lives.

The Internet has taught us that appearances are important. They are not as important as you may think. Actions are way more important. If you deceive your customers with empty promises they will desert you. If your online posts are blatant advertisement or copies of other people’s ideas, or just “thin content” as Google calls it, you shall be unfollowed.

Even seemingly shallow accounts – of handsome people, posh houses, or fabulous holiday destinations – are about meaning. These are aspirational accounts, they show people what they could achieve or at least dream of, a lifestyle or look they can never achieve. While this may have negative psychological implications especially for young people, it is still all about meaning added to user’s lives.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

 

Be an inspiration

No matter how ugly you are and how bad your brand image, if you offer genuine value to other people, you will be noticed. So ask yourself this: is what I am doing useful to anyone else? Is my online presence an inspiration to others?

Or simply, why should my friends or customers care?

This is the hardest question you can ask yourself. It’s also the most important one, as a person, and as a brand.

In the past, we have clearly distinguished between corporations and people. People used to hide behind corporate brands.

In a digital economy that is no longer viable. Companies are made up of people. People have brands, just like companies do.  Your profile picture on LinkedIn isn’t a photograph, it’s a personal logo. Apple is as much linked to the image of Steve Jobs and his successor as to the utility of its products. Alibaba’s brand is both formed by its online offering and the persona of Jack Ma. TSMC’s story is a lot less compelling without the father figure of Morris Chang. And Tesla’s branding is all about the personality of Elon Musk, rather than the actual features of the cars.

Companies outside the US, in particular, have a hard time with that concept. European companies tend to overemphasize corporate culture and values, product functionality and company tradition.

Asian companies sometimes forbid their employees to have explicit online profiles, fearing that individuals could damage the company’s image or overshadow the owner or founder’s brand. On the other hand, their leaders are often so reclusive the don’t have an online presence at all. Try finding the bosses of Asia’s top 100 companies on LinkedIn! In these collectivist cultures, the group may come before the individual, but that is problematic in an age where users focus increasingly on authentic experiences.

It is much easier to have an “authentic” experience with a brand that puts people first, rather than intangible assets.

 

Corporate vs. private branding

The fortunes of companies and organizations, in general, are increasingly linked to the image of their leaders or the influencers with whom they are associated. You cannot hide behind a corporate brand. You are part of it.

Which brings me to my passion: digital marketing. It’s much more effective if it’s personal. If you only espouse corporate values you won’t get far.

It is personal values as much as corporate integrity which attracts customers by adding value. Personal stories resonate more with people than all the blah blah about your corporate vision and values. Who reads these corporate mission statements anyway? 

A corporate leader or influencer espousing the right values has more power than a mission statement, corporate values, or cool brand image.

Not everybody can be a charismatic leader. Not everyone has the ability to inspire millions. Not everyone has the confidence or looks to stand on stage and represent a brand.

But in a digital world you only have one choice: Put yourself out there or be left behind.

Why is Marketing Automation so Painful?

Disruptive innovation has been a buzzword ever since Clayton Christensen coined it way back in the mid-1990s. The latest disrupter was none other than Oracle and their customer management applications business sector, then by Salesforce. And currently, Salesforce faces the risk of being disrupted by another industry honcho, HubSpot. Interestingly, HubSpot is now on the verge of being disrupted by incumbents at lower market tiers.

The marketing automation (MA) industry is dominated by several established players like Marketo, HubSpot, Act-On, Eloqua and many more. And there are new entrants popping up every single day.

If there are a host of solutions that cater to any company’s requirements, what are the reasons for businesses still not adopting the technology even though it’s been over half a decade since MA has been around?

Techcrunch once reported that nearly 70% of marketers are either marginally happy or not satisfied with their marketing automation tools. It’s apparent that MA is going upmarket and has started overshooting some of the earlier needs of customers.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

 

Here are some reasons why MA has been a curse rather than a boon to marketers:

Lacking Automation

MA platforms lack the fundamental automation part. An ideal situation for a marketer is to pull out of the box solutions, turn them, and let them function on their own. We can all undoubtedly agree that we haven’t reached there yet, but most of us expect our MA tool to be intelligent enough to handle a decent chunk of all our marketing work. Although most platforms make this tall promise but there are some conflicting issues.

According to B2B Marketing Automation Report, 17% of businesses take a year, and 59% up to six months to adopt and implement MA software. Approximately 61% businesses find implementing the process difficult, based on a post by Email Mondal.

Autopilot states that 44% of businesses are not happy since they find it extremely difficult to learn the software. However, some larger platforms offer free training to their customers.

The most important hindrance that impedes the success of MA for marketers is the dearth of content.

There are many companies who have bought the software, implemented, and then let it sit, unused for years. The only cause was they didn’t find the software automating all the important aspects of their business.

Heavy Fees

Since MA companies entail the software to be implemented, they normally pass the buck on to the customers. For enterprises, this may be nothing new, but it’s the SMEs that have to face the brunt. And most companies ask for year-long commitments with payment up-front. This translates to massive deployment of capital for such companies. Once again, enterprises are used to these types of terms.

The evidence can be seen from the fact that more than 51% of Fortune 500 firms having adopted MA, a considerably higher percentage compared to their smaller brethren. The adoption continues to grow at a relatively rapid pace within enterprise organizations compared to smaller companies.

There are some ways to cut off the cost issues. Partners, for example, can modify payment terms to a quarterly payment system to east the costs related to the contract. But most importantly, it is important to understand the leverage and potential benefits from analytics:

Read: How Leading Organizations are Leveraging Big Data and Analytics

Miss Out On Current Events

If you schedule all of your tweets and posts weeks or even months in advance, you’ll fail to have a good grasp of current events. The only way to engage your fans on social media is to involve yourself in hot topics. If you automate your social messages, you’ll not be able to use current events as a way to engage your fans. Though current events may not have a direct relation to your brand, sharing your thoughts is a way to get people notice your company.

Not Designed Your Niche

This is a complaint we at Geber Brand Consulting here all the time: our industry is different, our business model is business, that software isn’t suited to our needs.

Yes, automation tools aren’t always designed to cater to your business needs. It’s logical to state that there will be a disparity when deploying tools that aren’t built for your niche; still, most businesses are doing it. Most of these tools are programmed with generalized functionalities and data, indicating that they may not be smart enough to address your specific market or/and respond to users on the other end of the computer.

Prospects Want To Talk To Real People

While MA can assist your business in various ways, it can also give you a harrowing experience. Your prospects want to talk to a real person and not to a computer. Trying to strike a conversation with artificial intelligence can be frustrating and tiresome at times. Think about the number of times you’ve been on the phone talking to a machine. Isn’t it frustrating to press 10 buttons just to talk to someone? And that’s exactly how your customers/prospects will feel if you are automating your social media.

MA is still in its early stage and a solution should crop up that fixes all of the issues mentioned above. Or companies need to accept the fact that there are things that cannot be automated and scaled up and move on. That said, larger platforms have taken massive strides in addressing the challenges pointed out, with marketers coining 2018 “The Year Of Marketing Automation.” So we should see massive advances (especially through the use of Artificial Intelligence) in the coming years.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

Why B2B Companies Need to Embrace Millennials

As a marketer, I work mostly with big B2B companies in the semiconductor, electronics, pharmaceutical, and machinery sector. These are conservative industries with little need for hype – on the contrary. Fluff pieces, unrealistic promises, and sensational advertising tactics harm these companies more than help them.

So at first glance, we have very little to do with millennials or the “next generation” of customers, whatever you call it. We inhabit a universe of often boring industries that haven’t really kept up with the social media revolution and companies that have made little effort to digitize their operations and marketing.

And yet, the changing attitude and habits of the new consumers mean that even the most boring old industries need to start engaging with new tools, concepts, and ideas.

Disruptive Marketing Is No Longer An Option

I came to me when I heard a seasoned marketing manager of an electronics company give a presentation in which he said: “All that inbound marketing, all that influencer marketing, that is just a fad. It’s got nothing to do with our business.”

He still bets on exhibitions (attendance falling), printing product spec sheets (young customers look for them on the Internet), and spamming people via e-mail (with questionable success).

The reason we had been invited to consult for that company was that market share had fallen from 20% to 8% and margins had halved in the last 3 years. Time to update your thinking maybe?

40 mill

What you need to understand is that by 2020, so-called millennials will make up 40% of the workforce.

Think about that. This is a generation that grew up with mobile devices, Instagram profiles, and Twitter accounts; employees that perchance found their last job on LinkedIn and who share their mood, experiences, and aspirations on Facebook. These are not the people that will respond to disruptive marketing techniques.

It is also a generation that does no longer trust advertising and brand messages, and relies on testimonials shared experiences; a generation that trusts influencers over brand ambassadors, Amazon reviews over product blurb; a generation that watches reviews on Youtube rather than read a 10-page report by a product testing agency.

We did a project recently for a server manufacturer who was convinced that reviews in industry magazines and special IT forums were the primary sources of product information for their potential clients. They spent millions on a promotional film to show on aircraft and hours on discussions which giveaways to prepare for their next trade show.

After a 6-week in-depth questionnaire sent to hundreds of IT managers, purchasers and CTOs, we found that over 90% of the people instrumental in buying new equipment got basically all their product information from YouTube.

Their clients, essentially IT managers under 40, spent up to 4 hours a day watching YouTube while sitting in the server room managing a company’s hardware. They didn’t read magazines, didn’t participate in forum discussions, and never bothered to attend poorly organized product presentations in hotels. Instead, they consumed in excess of 120 hours of video content on the Internet.

I have covered the details of inbound and content marketing – the only form of marketing millennials respond to – in articles like

Inbound Marketing Explained

So What is Content Marketing Anyway

Using Content Marketing to Strengthen Your Brand

There Is Money In That Content Man!

The 4 Key Success Factors of Content Marketing

While these are comprehensive articles about the different aspects of inbound and content strategies, let’s look at how industrial companies can and must leverage the new digital environment for their marketing.

One of the most successful examples of marketing in the industrial space is the German company Kuka. They make robots. What robots do in a factory is usually boring repetitive stuff, but not if you look at these examples:

table tnees

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. Kuka Robot

Here, machines are taking to their extremes, with creativity and the power of influencers and celebrities. As of 2018, the video has over 11 million views on YouTube, as have many of their other productions. The marketing message is clear: extremely brought reach with the right generation and a clear statement that if the robot can do this, there’s nothing it can’t handle at a customer’s plant.

GE is another brilliant example. A company that covers engineering in almost every industry from aviation to renewable energy has managed almost 1/2 million followers on Instagram, a platform better known for promoting food and fashion, by using exceptional photography, video marketing, and engagement with global influencers.

Industrial giants like Siemens have managed to engage over 2 million of potential customers on platforms like LinkedIn by producing and sharing industry-relevant content, like statistics, case studies, product news, and reports about the challenges of tomorrow. Schneider Electric, one of the most B2B companies imaginable, manages over 1 million followers.

So, if 40% of your technical professionals will be millennials, and good content marketing is the only way to reach them, the question is, how do you get started with it?

 

Getting Started With Industrial Content Marketing

The key here is to remember that just like everyone else, engineers and technical professionals have access to more information sources than ever before in history. They used to go to libraries and take part in training seminars to get access to the latest news about their industries; now they google what they need. The content they want to see must be part of their customer’s buying journey, i.e. deliver content that is informative, valuable, and solves problems or helps to increase efficiency.

Industrial marketers and influencers want content to help with customer base understand technologies, implement changes, and make informed decisions. 

Beyond doubt, one of the most powerful tools for engaging with customers in the realm are case studies; high-quality, in-depth, often long-form content, distributed over social networks through the help for great images and captivating videos. Content marketing isn’t about selling a specific product on the spot, it enables manufacturers to become a trusted resource for potential customers and be in a better position to win their business. Nowhere is this more important than with the millennial segment.

Millennials, already used to consuming content from trust sources like industry blogs and influencers, will keep following these sources as long as they deliver value. The investment into creating this content is minimal compared to what it costs to ship machines across the globe for exhibitions or engaging PR firms, not to mention advertising. All you need is a good camera or smartphone, and a marketer with a knack for journalism, able to tell the right stories in the right way.

Produce compelling content that resonates with your desired audience, and devote sufficient resources to ensure your content reaches the correct audience.

Content marketing is attractive to many industrial marketers because, in theory, no significant investment is required to implement a program. However, content creation is resource intensive and often strains an organization’s limited marketing resources to produce engaging content in a consistent manner. So many companies find that a key to content marketing success is engaging with a media partner, influencers, and other 3rd parties, who can provide a professional portfolio of end-to-end services that help to overcome such challenges.

In particular, industry exhibitions and trade shows should be leveraged through global B2B influencers. For very little investment, such industry celebrities often produce highly engaging content, live reports, blog posts, and product videos that may not be up to Hollywood production standards, but thanks to their hundreds of thousands of followers on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, allow for wide distribution of great content.

What Content Does Not Work for Industrial Millennials?

In short: advertising. Millennials no longer believe brand messages and overly promotional content. Especially engineers, doctors, scientific staff or technical professionals are hardly ever influenced by promotional messages. On the contrary, when asked what they think about such content, most millennials will tell you that in their eyes, it lowers the respect for a brand. “If they have to resort to advertising, their product can’t be that good.”

Finally, millennials, at the start of their careers, are looking to the future. Therefore forward-looking content about industry trends, future technologies, the potential of new technologies, or the limits of technical solutions will always be more engaging than stale content about projects completed a decade ago. Don’t just do this on your website though. Content creation in and of itself is not enough: you have to get the message out there. Use social media platforms, industry blogs, industry publications, newsletters, and industry influencer to make sure your laboriously produced, informative, content actually gets seen and heard.

 

Marketing Keeps Evolving, So Must You

And one last thought, if you are just getting started with content marketing for your industry: it is not enough to implement a strategy and then stick to it stubbornly.

Digital marketing is not a static process. It is evolving over time. New tools and platforms come online, and the behavior of users changes. Two years ago, LinkedIn wasn’t exactly the most popular platform for marketing in most countries, now it’s growing rapidly and become more and more relevant for B2B marketing. People put great hopes in Snapchat, and then Instagram did hit back. What works and what doesn’t seems to change by the minute.

One way to keep abreast is to have a dedicated “technology advisor” with regular meetings. This may be a person in your company or an outside agency. Having these regular briefings will help assure your strategy isn’t outdated before it is even launched.

Content marketing is a journey. It is not just another way of marketing, it is part of the digitalization of our world. And one thing is sure, companies that don’t become digital will be left behind.

 

 

 

 

The New Frontier: Improving Customer Experience through AI

There are actually two frontiers when it comes to improving customer experience in an enterprise, namely the voice of your customer and the voice of your employees.

Customer feedback is integral to optimizing service offerings, improving products, and increasing operational efficiency. Yet a lot of feedback is misplaced, irrelevant, or even vicious.

Disgruntled customers with unrealistic expectations do not offer feedback that makes your company any better, more efficient, or more profitable.

Read also: The Importance of Customer Feedback

Employee feedback is probably the most overlooked source of improvement ideas in any corporation. Employees have their own agenda, their own career ideas, and their incentives, dreams, and values may be entirely misaligned with those of the enterprise. Yet employees experiences offer a great source of feedback for anything from marketing decisions to future product design.

The key to utilizing both frontiers is filtering. This is where AI and NLP (natural language processing) comes in. Using these new technologies in a practical way takes away the fear, increasing understanding of processes, feedback motivation, and the value of feedback itself.

The Voice of the Customer

Applying AI in the customer experience improvement process is one of the easiest ways to familiarize yourself with artificial intelligence. You do not need to dismantle existing systems and you don’t need expensive data scientists or machine learning experts to see the results.

The voice of the customer – if listened to correctly and efficiently – can improve other aspects of your business. Complaints processing may lead to insights into compliance issues, allowing future iterations of a service or product to offer a better UX/UI and a higher level of compliance, thus reducing incidents of future complaints.

The main reasons this does not work with artificial intelligence is that without data gathering, analysis, and quantifiable results, any customer feedback remains anecdotal. Handled by differing operators at differing times, management may never get the overall picture. To give you an example from one of our clients: over 90 complaints about problems streaming video through a hand-held projector were handled by 11 different support engineers, all of them trying to solve the technical problem on a case-by-case basis using existing checklists and protocols. Implementing a simple AI was able to trace all of the problems to a licensing issue, which, once solved, effectively stopped new complaints about the streaming issue entirely.

In the hospitality business, AI offers a plethora of insights normal human supervision would simply miss.

A hotel in central Taiwan had complaints about malfunctioning air-conditioners and followed up each of them by a visit from the A/C repair guy. Implementing an AI solution would have shown how all of the complaints happened on rainy days with a particular employee on duty – who habitually changed the settings of the room A/C thinking that high humidity required different operating parameters.

Read also: The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

In short, AI makes the “anecdotal” quantifiable, thus saving countless hours or repetitive support tasks and avoiding future problems.

This process has a direct impact on a company’s KPIs and spending. If AI analysis can drastically reduce the number of complaints on a specific issue, KPIs improve and costs go down.

But AI is not just about complaints. Getting feedback on new features can align future R&D spending, reducing waste and trial-and-error. Taking a large number of product reviews and employing simple NLP algorithms will give you more meaningful insight than anecdotally reading perhaps 1/10 of them. Solving the problems or adding the most demanded features can significantly increase sales and elevate the brand.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

What about the Employees?

Employees know a lot about the business, its products and how they are perceived by customers. In retail especially, employees on the ground receive a lot more insightful feedback than ever reaches the complaints inbox of HQ. Listening to employees and employing AI/NLP to analyze incident reports can help streamline operations and improve efficiency.

That, of course, means making sure employees have a reason, an incentive, or some kind of motivating factor to share their voice. Very often external factors are far more important to users experience than the service offering itself. Long waiting times make customers edgy, long forms to fill in annoy them. Yet when asked about the service itself, customer and employees may not be able to pinpoint a single factor that made their experience less than desirable.

Taiwan’s Tax Office analyzed the experience of thousands of foreign residents and found that understanding existing reporting forms was the biggest headache. New forms and temporary assistance from students and interns during peak season reduced complaints by over 80%. The AI necessary to identify such problem areas is rudimentary, available, and does not interfere with existing business processes.

As AI evolves, usage cases will become more and more transparent and ubiquitous. Companies who are familiar with AI/NLP will always have a lead over others, and the longer you wait, the farther you will fall behind.

Read also: Employee Advocacy: The Key to Digital Marketing Success

8 Reasons why Branding in the Medical Business is Different – and Difficult

Trust. Branding is about it. The goal of creating and maintaining a good brand is to gain your stakeholders’ implicit trust.

I just got back from a biotech conference where I spoke on the challenges of branding and marketing in the medical, pharmaceutical and biotech industry. Here’s a summary of my talk.

Few industries depend more on trust than the medical businesses. Whether it’s pharmaceutical companies and the drugs they produce, hospitals and the care they deliver, or biotech and medtech startup trying to break into a new market, they all need to create trust. Patients have to trust them, doctors have to trust them, the managers of medical facilities have to trust them. And ultimately, the public has to trust them too.

Why then is branding in this industry such a challenge? Why do we still see pharmaceutical companies whose logos haven’t changed in 30 years? Why do so many companies not even bother with proper CIS, while other change their corporate look every few years? Why are there still hospitals without marketing departments? And why do many medical start-ups fail despite having really revolutionary products?

I came up with 8 major points why branding and marketing are different when it comes to human health.

1. State of the Art

Regardless of your position in the medical industry, you need to be state of the art, and your brand needs to reflect that. That means state-of-the-art facilities, the latest technologies, the best care, the most advanced research. Otherwise, you’ll just be a has-been and an also-ran.

Staying at the cutting edge of the industry, however, takes a lot of time and effort – and valuable resources, which are then not available for marketing. Only recently I got a call from one of the nation’s most advanced hospitals with a clear cry for help. A high-flying VIP had been referred to them, but upon arrival had refused to be treated there. The image of the hospital just didn’t reflect state-of-the-art care. “It looked liked it hadn’t changed in 40 years!” Small wonder that the leading companies in the field update their CIS and logos more often than in other industries.

2. Competence

Very much related is the concept of competence. Even if you don’t have the latest MRI machine or access to top-notch research, you need to be competent in your field.

How does a medical brand project competence? How do you choose the right visuals, in a constant struggle between authenticity (which sometimes isn’t pretty) and professional imagery (which is rarely authentic?)

3. Attention to details

If you buy a home entertainment product you probably won’t be upset if the manual isn’t laid out perfectly, or the logo on the product isn’t exactly the same color as the one of the packagings.

Not so in the medical industry. We expect medical professionals to pay attention to details! How else could they run clinical tries, treat you for cancer, or analyze that x-ray? Medical brands need even more brand management than other companies because a lack of attention to detail reflects on their standard of care, of excellence, and technological prowess.

4. Vulnerable clients

Regardless of your firm’s role in the medical industry, your product will sooner or later come in contact with end-users, i.e. patients. These customers are in a very vulnerable position. They are weakened and debilitated by disease, relying on others to make difficult choices, perhaps even unconscious or incompetent, yet your brand, whether it’s the name on the hospital bed or the label on the bottle in the pharmacy, need to project all the values your brand espouses.

5. Arrogant clients

If the patient isn’t the client, the doctor surely is, and doctors can be a horribly arrogant bunch. One of my clients stormed out of a meeting with the words “hey I am saving lives here, I don’t have time to discuss whether our logo should be slightly less or slightly more green”.

The same professionality and experience that makes doctors indispensable, wonderful miracle workers in our society, often makes them bad marketers. The same goes for researchers, technicians, clinicians, and almost everyone in the medical environment. The last time I checked, even hospital management courses at good universities didn’t spend a lot of time on “marketing and branding” courses.

6. Local prisms

Because the medical industry is by and large a local endeavor, with professional networks hardly ever extending across national or even county and state boundaries, people in the medical industry often lack global experience when it comes to branding.

If you look at the logos of medical facilities in most Asian countries, for example, they certainly do not attract an international audience. Yet the same is true for Western countries and even those who should know better. When a Singaporean hospital asked for my advice on their rebranding effort of a brochure meant to attract wealthy Chinese, I had to point out that all the colors they had chosen basically signified death and negative outcomes in Chinese culture.

7. Strong externalities

Medical companies’ images rise and fall with the reputation of their home country. Some time ago Korean companies were seen as reputable. After one doctor faked his research results on stem stells, the image of the entire country was dragged own. Taiwan is associated with cheap Asian solutions, even though it has the best medical care and health insurance in Asia, if not the world, whereas Switzerland and Germany, where you have to wait months for even the most basic of treatments enjoy the best brand image imaginable, despite a stale, unimaginative marketplace that favors incumbents and discourages innovation and competition. Everybody adores American health care standards, but nobody wants to pay the price for them. All of these factors affect how your brand is perceived internationally.

8. Complex system of consumption

Finally, perhaps most importantly of all, the medical industry is a very complex system, in which the user (patient) doesn’t choose the brand and doesn’t pay, the payee (insurance) doesn’t choose and is not using the product, and the person who actually makes the choice (doctor or hospital) doesn’t pay or use. Well, that’s a simplification, but you get the point.

At whom should the branding of – e.g., a maker of implants – be directed. Certainly not at the patient, she doesn’t care what brand of him joint the doctor puts in. So at the physician? That depends, in some countries the insurance company makes the short-list of available products. And so on and so forth.

Marketing medical products is about the most difficult exercise you can think of, and therefore, the way your branding reflects your brand’s core values is even more important. Which brings us back to point 1.

So go back and read the list again. Twice daily, preferably before meals.

There Is No Such Thing As “Going Viral”

Social media marketing has a holy grail, and it is called “going viral”. Unfortunately, “virality” is largely a myth. Nothing ever really goes “viral” by itself.

Every now and then we come across content that “went viral”. It seems like millions of people discovered it, liked it, shared it, and we don’t know exactly how. It bestows importance on the post – it makes it seem really important if all by itself it can climb the pinnacle of social media marketing.

But how do things go viral? How does a post on an obscure website with 100 readers a month suddenly get shared and liked by millions upon millions?

It is anything but an organic, “viral” process.

True “virality” – in the sense of a “virus” would mean it gets passed on from person to person. The truth is, if you look closely, we can almost always identify why something went viral. It has little to do with organic “virality” of the content, i.e. it is not a powerful “infection” that gets passed on from person to person.

One big guy is enough

Most content goes viral because one (sometimes more, but one is enough) major distributor picks up the content. The news of a woman laughing after buying a Halloween mask was broadcast by a TV station and went “viral” from there. It is in fact very often traditional media such as television that is responsible for content going viral. 

If content really went “viral” in the epidemiological sense, passing only from person to person, it would take a lot longer. In reality, there is invariably a large mass distributor involved.

The biggest “superspreaders” are not bloggers, influencers, or other individuals with online personalities, but very traditional media channels.

Television

Around the world, television channels are picking up Youtube and other Internet content. This is a sure way of content to go viral. Some TV channels even take money to take your content “viral”. Almost every country now has entire channels or at least programs which take content from the Internet and repeat it.

Facebook groups

Sometimes the distributor is not TV, but a single large Facebook group, or whatever social medium is popular in your country. The content that is meant to go “viral” is intentionally posted in these groups.

Celebrities

Many posts go viral because a celebrity reposts or retweets them. That too is not strictly “viral” – it is a single large multiplier that influences millions of people at once.

In other words, popularity on the Internet is mostly driven, not by a million one-to-one shares, but rather by a handful of one-to-one-million blasts.

Targeting

More often than not, the content is specifically targeted. A funny post about a new tea shop doesn’t go viral because 20 people liked the tea, but because the shop spent money targeting the post to tea lovers.

Money Rules the Virus

The sad truth is that a lot of content that goes viral does so because someone put money where their post is. Many “viral” posts become popular because there was some seed promotion. Even big media outlets often “frontload” content by spending money on targeting. The money is likely recovered by the increased exposure, new followers, income from advertising, or payments from third parties.

As you can see, there is very little organic virality here. Very little content goes slowly viral, rather it “explodes” onto the scene by very specific means.

What does that mean for marketers?

Don’t chase virality. Don’t try to write the next viral post or create the next viral video. Instead, work on a distribution strategy that works.

If you want your content to go “viral”, you need to identify the ideal “superspreader”. For most marketers, it means spending money. Only in the rarest of cases does content naturally spread around the Internet by entirely organic, viral means.

It is Time for B2B Enterprises to Embrace Global Influencers

We’ve all heard of influencers in the consumer brand space, real estate, restaurant or travel industry.

Increasingly, however, B2B brands, e.g. in the industrial space, are relying on influencers too. For many traditional manufacturing companies, it is not easy to understand and manage this transition.

Read also: The 7 Deadly Sins of Influencer Marketing

Why use B2B influencers?

Influencers should always be part of a successful inbound marketing strategy. Influencer marketing is without a doubt a trending area for marketers and public relations professionals. In retail, travel, and entertainment, savvy marketers are connecting with people who have a great number of followers and compensating them with cash, gifts or experience, such as a stay in a resort or a cameo in a show.

The idea of connecting with the right people and working on those relationships is both a refreshing and seemingly simple approach. However, how does influencer marketing apply to complex selling environments, such as within regulated industries such as industrial solutions, environmental engineering, manufacturing, or healthcare?

An Instagram or Facebook mention by a celebrity is not going to have a meaningful impact on shortening long sales cycles. There are, however, people and organizations that have pull with buyers and industry organizations that are worth investing in relationships with.

Read also: Inbound Marketing Explained

Your success is made easier with positive relationships with outside influencers. Using manufacturing as an example, your influencer strategy must achieve the following targets:

  1. Convince the client (usually the owner of the company)
  2. Satisfy a host of people involved in the decision, which may include the board of directors, IT department and procurement.
  3. Reach the right audience in the right country
  4. Assure the legal department you don’t run afoul of compliance
  5. Demonstrate that your company is reliable and competent enough to satisfy the client.

For technology sellers, companies are also faced with demonstrating integration with at least one other existing critical system, such as a “core” platform and demonstrating that the company is operationally mature and disciplined enough to handle the prospect’s business.

Read also: Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

Who are the right influencers for your industry?

The right kind of influencers are people who advise or provide services to your prospects and maintain stable relationships of trust with them. They should have the ear of key decision makers, such as the Head of Purchasing or CEO. They are trusted industry authorities or other vendors that are already serving the bank. Some examples of super-influencers include:

  • Senior consultants with decades of experience in a particular industry
  • Attorneys who advise management
  • Consultants hired to manage a transition or guide strategy.
  • Executives of industry associations who drive education and governmental affairs
  • Industry analysts covering specific operational areas
  • Regulators who advise what changes would be acceptable to them
  • Key vendors that are already entrenched in the industry
  • Media and event organizers who drive conference agendas and what topics are elevated within their channels

For Asian manufacturers and anyone engaging in international B2B authorities, there are also

  • Expats with wide networks of business acquaintances
  • Chambers of commerce in a foreign country
  • Global brand and industry influencers keen to expand their own following in a market

While media is often the target for public relations outreach, trade media is frequently made up of industry experts in their own right. These people deserve an intelligent approach to building relationships.

Super influencers typically have the power to sway a decision. As such, super-influencer marketing is a programmatic approach to identify them, reach out and build relationships.

Read also: Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs

What is the key message an influencer should bring across?

Just as you expect a trusted friend or mentor to provide sound counsel, so do those who turn to their accountants, attorneys and key executives for professional services. As such, these super influencers continue to invest in their development and understanding of forces shaping their industries.

Manufacturers need solutions that meet demands of efficiency, reliability, or regulation (such as ISO standards. Doctors read about new treatments. Researchers seek answers to challenging questions. And educators study, write and publish to broaden their understanding and to influence others. This quest for knowledge is the basis for connecting with great influencers.

When determining the story, consider the following:

  • How are you changing the industry?
  • Is there an example of a client company that is achieving outstanding results?
  • How does your product or service fit into the landscape of the target country
  • Are you applying lessons from another industry?
  • Are you working with partners to provide more comprehensive solutions?
  • Does your solution meet the target markets requirements and regulatory demands?

Piggybacking on the industry giants

One of the best influencer strategies is to backpack on the vast global network of industry giants. I have worked with huge multinationals such as Microsoft, SAP, Siemens, and Deutsche Bank, to engage influencers on a global scale. Likewise, we have identified key influencers for various Asian markets to carry the message of multinational companies across.

Regardless of the channel or communications tactics, the underlying strategy for reaching super influencers has to be based on appealing to their curiosity, helping them broaden their understanding of their industry and doing a better job for their customers and the business community.

How much do you pay good influencers?

Many super influencers are paid to recommend the right solution or company or provide an informed opinion or guidance. Consider the people and organizations you know with strong reputations — protecting their reputation drives their actions and decisions. The bottom line is that tactics found in retail or entertainment influencer marketing programs do not translate well to business-to-business (B2B) super influencers because they do not trade their reputation for short-term profits or trivial gifts.

In broad strokes, utilizing super-influencer marketing requires you to build and prioritize audiences, determine what assets or content you’ll need for them and continually foster mutually beneficial relationships.

Read also: The 7 Deadly Sins of Influencer Marketing

How to manage your relationship with influencers

While some relationships can be based on information sharing or leads, others can provide opportunities to work together on projects that would reflect well on both parties. For example, an attorney and PR practitioner could collaborate on articles about crisis planning and responses. An accountant and consulting firm might create webinars that address operational risks associated with new regulations. And two complementary software companies might create co-branded educational materials about transforming a segment of the industry.

In manufacturing, it often makes sense to identify which complimentary or associated products your clients are buying from another company (e.g. the controller for your machine from a separate software-focused partner) and develop an influencer strategy that benefits both companies.

If you are a B2B marketer operating within a complex environment or regulated industry, you know there are no shortcuts. Embrace the complicated and practice these super-influencer marketing tactics — together they represent your competitive advantage. Partner with truly influential people rather than trying to save money by engaging minor B2B influencers.

Read also:

6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

The Importance of Customer Feedback

The 4 Key Success Factors of Content Marketing

The Secret Sauce: Working Effectively With B2B Influencers

As traditional advertising loses is glamor and agencies convince their clients that influencers are the way forward, companies face countless pitfalls in their attempt to target audiences in meaningful ways.

Influencers are a fickle bunch. You can never really know how valuable they are until you pay them; their reputation relies on word-of-mouth recommendations rather than hard evidence, and there are too many charlatans out there trying to raise their klout with fake followers and inflated likes and shares.

Read also: The 7 Deadly Sins of Influencer Marketing

How Should B2B Businesses Engage With Influencers?

First of all, lets cut the crap. Most influencers aren’t influencers. It’s called endorsement if you get paid for it. At least the tax code says so. A famous “influencer” talking up a perfume or underwear brand in exchange for cash is nothing else but celebrity endorsement. End of story.

True influencer marketing is much more subtle. It happens often without payments changing hands. I blog about lots of technologies and companies without ever getting paid. I mention the companies and products I like, and I don’t endorse products I don’t believe in, no matter how much you pay me. I also focus on technologies and trends more than individual products.

These are the features of a good B2B marketer. B2B companies like Siemens, ABB, or GE, can do marketing by focusing on the solutions they provide, not the products they sell. This is true influencer marketing.

Around 3/4 of agencies rely on influencers in some way or another. This rapid rise of a centuries-old strategy, combined with the latest advances in technology, has lead to a push for automation in influencer marketing. Which is a total oxymoron at first glance, because influencers are meant to build meaningful relationships between real people. Bots have no place there.

Some companies have come up with innovative solutions to the problem of finding and nurturing influencers, in particular for small brands. Linqia, for example, connects people with a following between 10’000 and 250’000 with brands and agencies. Onalytica lets you find influencers for specific subjects and industry. Content creation, approval, and distribution are still done manually, so influencers’ posts retain their authenticity.

Read also: How to Make Better Marketing Decisions

The Curse of Automation

Even though this is called automation, it is a subtle one. The “automation” is mostly about the analysis of posts, matching of brands and people, and optimizing content for future delivery. But combine that with MeetEdgar or Hootsuite and you’ve ruined a good idea.

Even when done right, many companies are reluctant to embrace this technology because they crave control over their influencer. Managers are paranoid about influencers taking a wrong step. By choosing a platform like Linqia, companies are relinquishing control to an AI system and the ethical standards of the platform. If an influencer falls out of line and tarnishes the brand, heads will role in the marketing department. With the strict hierarchies in more traditional companies, no CMO is willing to bet his reputation on some dodgy AI startup.

That timidity is of course misplaced. In today’s digital world, it doesn’t matter if once in a while an influencer does the wrong thing. Consumers have never been more forgiving. Even big cock-ups like Susan (Doyle’s) Album Party hashtag from 2011 are easily forgiven. They can even drive business.

But of course, conservative firms are shocked by the idea of misrepresentation and scandal. What’s more, they can’t abide the fact that influencers may have had or still work for competing clients. All these fears are misplaced; B2B companies should spend far more money on influencers than they are doing now. The top 20 influencers for the IoT / mobile / automation space reach a whopping 2 million people. Enough to build a solid client base and get news of your product out there.

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The Virtual Influencer

Which points to the probably ultimate solution for influencer marketing: the artificial influencer. The perfect avatar. Already agencies are experimenting with characters that don’t really exist. Photos are taken either from real people, free databases, or a good Photoshop session. (Note to young people: here’s a job opportunity. Sell your face as a marketing avatar!)

In such an artificial environment, content is entirely controlled by the brand or agency. As technology improves, we will see countless Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat accounts for people who do not really exist. Most consumers won’t mind because they won’t be able to tell the difference. Just as Hollywood wants never-aging artificial, cheap actors, marketers want avatars who never say a wrong word or tweet a picture of their genitals.

At the end of this road, you will be able to offer an online AI system a handful of keywords, brand guidelines, sample images and target audiences, and the AI will create the influencers from scratch from a flat fee.

Then brands will have total control of their influencers, and lost the last shred of authenticity altogether. Just what the doctor ordered.

How to Work with Influencers

For companies who take their influencer marketing seriously, in the meantime, there are a few tips on how to select the right one. I am not talking about celebrities endorsing cars or hair dye, I am talking about real B2B influencers; down-to-earth experts in their field that make Huawei, Siemens, and SAP the influential brands that they are.

Your first step is to select an influencer in a specific industry. Go to Onalytica and similar platforms to find them, or simply search on Twitter.

Secondly, check that the influencer is real. A person with 200K followers looks great at first glance, but if every tweet only has 1-2 likes, there is something wrong. They may have bought their followers, or have a following that doesn’t really engage with their message. A good influencer should have multiple tweets a week with 50-100 retweets and likes.

Check if the person is real. Look for images of them in public forums, speaking at conferences, and check their Twitter feed whether they have real conversations with followers and fellow influencers. Only then are they worth their money.

Check the influencer’s other social profiles. Regular posts on LinkedIn are a must, as are daily tweets about the subjects you care about. A good influencer is already working in the field you wish to target, they don’t just start once you contact them.

Influencers in the B2B space are most efficient when they show up at industry events. Send them a plane ticket and pay their hotel room at major conventions and exhibitions. Equip them with cameras, smartphones, microphones, and everything else they need to create vivid, live reports from your show booth – these are the most credible and effective testimonials for your product or service.

Finally, don’t scrimp on pay. A good influencer is worth the expenditure. Trying to negotiate the lowest possible rate means you will get the worst service amongst their current client base. An influencer will always work hardest for the brand that is willing to support them the most.

 

 

Old Style Marketing That Still Works on Social Media

Social media is all new and shiny, and every year there’s a new app waiting to reach the 100 million, the 500 million, the 1 billion user threshold. Marketers seem to have to learn new skills all the time, familiarize themselves with new formats, new concepts, new technologies. But there are a few tactics in marketing that are as old as the discipline itself. Things that will never change, can never change, must never change.

Tactics that are still relevant in the digital age:

Meaningful Interactions with Your Followers

It requires more time and effort, but a real human-to-human interaction with your customer or follower goes a long way. It gives the brand authenticity and the marketer clout. Automation has made our lives easier, but because of so many companies are deploying automated strategies, personal interaction goes further than ever before. It becomes more valuable in the eye of engaged consumers and amplified the customer-orientation of your brand.

Remember: Don’t automate all your marketing, and don’t send out canned replies. 

Focus on Creating Memorable, Useful Content

It’s fairly obvious: you should create memorable content that people want to engage with. Emotions count, whether it is awe or anger. But so does valuable content that actually solves your customer’s questions. Just like before the digital age, creating customer value is still at the heart of good marketing

Remember: Focus on what you can offer the customer to improve their experience. 

Use Influencers and Partnerships

Influencers don’t just work for B2C brands like cosmetics or food, they are also essential for B2B brand in the industrial space. Influencers are more believable than advertising or direct messages from a brand, even when their interest in the brand is declared.

Likewise, without partnerships, your company is nothing. Don’t build silos and kingdoms, but focus on networks and friendships. You will be rewarded. REMEMBER: THe key to influencers is quality, not quality. One really good influencers can bring you millions in new business.

Remember: Find influencers on Twitter, LinkedIn and special platforms like Onalytica.

Repurposing Good Content

If something works, do it again. This worked before the Internet, and it will work once we have moved on to new technologies. That doesn’t mean you should become repetitive in your approach. Repurposing can mean turning content into new formats such as infographics, videos, or podcasts.

Remember: On social media, the best strategy is to analyze past content, improve on the formula perhaps, but stick to the principle. 

Share for a Benefit

Give your audience a reason to share, or a reward. Incentivizing your followers (without resorting to blatant baiting or misleading rewards) is a great way to ensure they stay engage and like your brand.

Consider offering free services, pro bono work, charity work, and try to link the brand’s core values to these efforts.

Remember: Choose the right cause, stay authentic and focussed. 

Use Visual Content

Before the internet, images worked, and in the digital age, they work even more. People watch a lot of television, and they will so, increasingly, on Facebook or Youtube or Instagram. Whereas B2B brands still need to rely on testimonials, product descriptions, and long from text content, even industrial companies are increasingly turning to video as a messaging tool. The next generation of consumers – a generation that grew up with the Internet – are much more used to consuming video content than reading long whitepapers.

Remember: Video production doesn’t have to be expensive. Short, authentic documentation of a product or service add credibility to the brand. 

Read also: Word of the Year: Instagrammable

Sincerity, honesty, transparency

Experienced marketers know that dishonest brands won’t be around for long. You may reap financial benefits in the short run, but for a long-term enterprise strategy, it pays to keep your marketing sincere and honest.

Don’t go out of your way to hide product flaws or features that are inferior to the competition. An open discussion of your product offering will show that you are sincere about solving the client’s real issues and are not out to rip them off.

Remember: Honesty is a rare quality in marketing; successful brands embrace transparency for long-term success. 

Build an audience on trust

These are the oldest question in marketing: How do we build trust with our target audience? How do we make sure we don’t betray that trust? How can we build long-term relationships based on trust.

On digital media, building this trust must be based on honest discussion of products, product features, customer experience with the product, and responsiveness to customer questions. No artificial intelligence system can do this; real people need to engage with your customers. Only brands that have learned this lesson will ultimately prevail.

Remember: Automation can only go so far. At the end of the day, trust happens between real people. 

Build a community

Part of building trust, and an easy way to satisfy our renewed need for engagement, is building communities of followers, fans, users, and people tangentially involved with the brand. Quality leads are hard to find, but building communities around brand-related topics makes it actually easier to generate real leads.

Creating communities, groups, and a page following around topics rather than individual products may benefit brands more than a strict product focus, e.g. focus on “health”, not your nutrition bar; focus on “fitness”, not your running shoes, focus on “manufacturing excellence”, not a spec sheet of your latest CNC machine. Successful brands already do that in their marketing. It’s called content marketing, and it works. Now it is obligatory.

These are just some of the evergreen values of marketing. Whether it is in television and radio in the last century, on your website and social media today, or in virtual and augmented reality tomorrow: these values never change. Good marketers know that.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook Forever: What Marketers Need to Know in the Face of Constant Changes

It began in January 2018, and it hasn’t stopped. It will never stop. It will only get worse.

Just like Google is making changes to its algorithms every day, affecting the efforts of SEO specialists, Facebook has started to tweak its algorithms and rules massively since the fake news crisis in 2017.

The recent (summer 2018) Facebook news feed changes could completely destroy your marketing strategy, but only if your marketing strategy was misguided in the first place. However, there are a few reasons why the new ranking method is actually a step in the right direction for companies looking to improve the quality of organic traffic.

Gone are the days when simply posting a nice picture and product description on your feed actually brought you leads. These days you cannot even be sure that the people who follow your page see your posts.

Every time a change in the way Facebook works takes effect, the Internet explodes with wise tips from serious marketers on how to cope with the new features. Marketers can hardly keep up. There are however a few evergreen truths that will not change over the next few years; a few simple rules marketers can stick to whatever changes Facebook throws our way.

Facebook is about interaction with people you care about

This is the recipe Zuckerberg’s team have chosen to combat a flood of commercial messages, fake news, and clickbait. For years to come, the algorithm will favor posts from people you know and have interacted with. For marketers, this means that more meaningful posts, discussions, and engagement with influencers will be more important than glitzy product pictures on your company page.

Facebook must make money: prepare to pay

For a while, it looked like the Facebook team thought most of the management of posts could be automated and undesirable posts removed by machine learning algorithms. We aren’t there yet. Facebook continues to rely on armies of human operators to monitor and censor the network. This, combined with pressure from investors, means that Facebook must make money. The way to make money is to have commercial participants pay for being seen.

Page following is no longer enough

Because of the focus on interaction, engagement, family, and friends, you will see fewer posts from commercial pages you follow, even if those posts are liked by lots of people. Whereas in the past many marketers focused on getting more people to follow a page, it is now necessary to sponsor individual posts so that page followers and their friends will see them. You must have a budget for post sponsoring, otherwise, your efforts on Facebook will be futile.

U-turn on video

Facebook has made a U-turn on their video strategy, moving it instead to Instagram. Video content is no longer a panacea for Facebook marketing because videos are consumed passively and do not encourage comments, interactions, and engagement. For brands, again, this means that videos will have to be sponsored. In certain industries, you may be better off with Instagram TG (IGTV) as your core channel, rather than Facebook.

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Sincerity, honesty, transparency are key

As Facebook continues to train its algorithms to combat misinformation, violence, pornography, fake news and what have you, it will focus on meaningful discussions even for public or commercial posts. Without these qualities, your organic traffic will fall further.  Facebook has actually come out and acknowledged “that passively consuming articles or videos that don’t spark engagement or interaction is bad for a person’s mood,” and Facebook certainly doesn’t want the stigma of ruining people’s mood or perhaps even contributing to depression or suicide.

Build an audience on trust

After a decade in the Wild West, we have returned to the basics of marketing on Facebook: How do we build trust with our target audience? How do we make sure we don’t betray that trust? These are not new questions, they are as old as marketing itself. On digital media, building this trust must be based on honest discussion of products, product features, customer experience with the product, and responsiveness to customer questions. No artificial intelligence system can do this; real people need to engage with your customers. Only brands that have learned this lesson will ultimately prevail.

Build a community

Part of building trust, and an easy way to satisfy Facebook’s renewed need for engagement, is building communities of followers, fans, users, and people tangentially involved with the brand. Quality leads are hard to find, but Facebook’s recent changes to the news feed – focused on genuine engagement – changes may actually help to find them. Creating communities, groups, and a page following around topics rather than individual products may benefit brands more than a strict product focus, e.g. focus on “health”, not your nutrition bar; focus on “fitness”, not your running shoes. Successful brands already do that in their marketing. It’s called content marketing, and it works. Now it is obligatory.

Start the conversation

The types of content that will now see more distribution on Facebook are “intimate” posts from friends and family, friend posts seeking recommendations or advice, and public posts or news articles and videos that spark sincere conversation. Brands should aim to start a conversation about a topic rather than “end” the conversation with a definitive statement. Ask questions, seek feedback, and welcome criticism. Influencers are a great way to start conversations; groups, where users can speak freely about your product, will enhance your exposure.

Stop baiting

One last warning: encouraging engagement does not mean you should bait people. For the foreseeable time, the Facebook algorithms will punish posts that blatantly ask people to follow or like, especially if such follow or like offers a reward.

Overall, the recent changes in Facebook technology are a positive sign that the platform will stay true to its community-building spirit; perhaps it will even see a renaissance after a generation of teenagers has abandoned it in favor of Instagram. Even though Facebook marketing has become more expensive for brands, it is still worthwhile. After all, it offers access to over a billion users worldwide. No other platforms come close to that level of popularity.

 

Employee Advocacy: The Key to Digital Marketing Success

One of the most overlooked tools in creating engagement and distributing your digital marketing content surely is employee advocacy. Yet even the marketing teams of very large corporations don’t make use of it. Have you ever wondered how a blog post by a 60’000 employee organization ends up having only 80 views? How is that even possible?

We have discussed how content marketing is a great way to strengthen your brand internally. In-house magazines, websites, a Twitter account everyone follows, or the LinkedIn company page are all great places to build loyalty and increase transparency in the organization.

Once you have your employees on board, you can leverage their attention for the marketing efforts of your organization. Engineering companies like Siemens and GE do a great job here. By mixing internal and external content in digital newsletters, the efforts of the content marketing team get magnified.

Don’t force, encourage!

Of course, you cannot force your employees to like and share content, but you can encourage them. What’s more, you can include them in the creation process and personalize the content. Personalization and humanization sound like highfaluting marketing keywords, but all they mean is giving the company a human face.

Consider this example of an American manufacturer of fishing trousers

Not only does it show the manufacturing skills of the company, it gives a face to names and the brand itself, making it approachable and likable. Employees are a lot more likely to get behind this kind of content and are more willing to share it. The human face of a brand is indeed its most important asset.

Your employees are your best marketing asset

Our content strategy for a client in the semiconductor industry includes posts about outstanding individuals in the company, management, but also “a day in the life of” style posts of the average Joe. We share those posts in the internal newsletter before distributing the link publicly, and we actively ask employees to like, share and comment, so by the time a post really goes live, it already has a significant number of likes and comments. That’s because employees see themselves in the videos, point out where other employees and friends can be seen, and see the social marketing associated with it more as a social engagement than the forced marketing of their company assets.

This kind of personalized, humanized, boost is increasingly essential. The algorithms of Facebook, Twitter, and Google are punishing you for mediocrity. That means that if you have a series of posts no one likes or shares, your next post may be actively hidden from users, so even if it is a great post, it may never get traction. The way to combat this is by engaging your employees so that every post has a guaranteed baseline of likes and shares from the instant it gets posted.

Authenticity over perfection

Of course, employee advocacy in digital marketing only works if it is authentic and believable. That means you actually have to create engaging content. But hold on — here is an excellent opportunity to test your content: your own people! If your own employees can’t get behind it, why should your customers?

For some, especially very large organizations, it even may make sense to limit the distribution of content based on the results of an employee program. Instead of flooding the Internet with thousands of posts, why not limit yourself to those which got liked and shared by employees the most. This can validate digital marketing efforts, help improve quality, catch mistakes, avoid embarrassing gaffes, etc.

Employee programs can also be great content brainstorming tools. For one client, we set up an employee-only Facebook page where everyone can post images related to their daily activities. Every three months we take the most popular images as the basis for a new blog post. Employees are incentivized to join the program with cash prices and food vouchers.

Employee advocacy is a critical part of the corporate digitalization process. Only companies which fully embrace digital interaction between the various parts of the organization will ultimately excel in digital marketing and digital business overall.

Read also: Inbound Marketing Explained

Digital Transformation: How to Create an Intelligent Company

Companies are besieged by information and bedazzled by IT solutions. With the rapid advancements in information technology, high-speed Internet, mobile technology and artificial intelligence, we now have access to huge amounts of data about customers, their demographics, and their online behavior across all touch points.

The advantage of access to so much information is not just increased revenue and long-lasting customer relationships, but also the ability to develop sensitivity to warning signals, which allow companies to prevent or mitigate disasters. The avoidance of conflict, the management of cyclical downturns or strategic missteps, and the management of the company’s future are at the core of creating intelligent businesses.

 

Plenty of Data, But What To Do?

Companies have improved their practices with respect to capturing greater amounts of data. However, most organizations pass on these data to decision-makers in bulk, leaving them to sift through it and identify relevant segments on which to base strategic and operational decisions.

Although they may have gotten good at collecting data, most companies have yet to develop the ability to generate actionable insights which they can quickly share with decision makers and clients.

Organizations need to focus on retrieving knowledge that is actionable and to use effective processes and tools to share and take actions effectively. In other words, there needs to be an increased focus and on the analytics strengths and tooling of the modern company.

The concept of the intelligent company has evolved as a reaction to these new requirements. Massive amounts of data and rapidly evolving technologies conflict with our inability to adapt to the speed of change. An intelligent company is a company that ensures that the data it collects is quickly and continuously translated into actionable knowledge, and makes the relevant technologies part of its business model.

Read also: The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

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So how do we create an intelligent company?

For a company to shift towards becoming intelligent, it needs to have more than just the technology to enable the transformation. There is a need for significant changes in the way employees think about data and how it can be effectively processed and acted on, i.e. a change in culture and the way employees go about their daily business. In particular, data scientist Ronald van Loon has identified the following areas as key to creating intelligent processes that augment the abilities and efficiency of employees:

Design Thinking

Design thinking is part of a broad methodology that amalgamates elements of imagination, intuition, holistic reasoning, and logic, to explore all the probable solutions for a given problem. It includes the identification of all unarticulated needs expressed by a consumer. After identifying the needs, the team creates solutions that address all those needs and end up creating the “wow” effect. The solutions are generated creatively and analytically. Design thing should always be more solution-oriented than problem-oriented.

Data

Data is frequently used by organizations to find and extract information that can be used to assist or help in setting strategic goals. The efficiency and utility of these strategic goals go on to define the future of the organization and how it fares against the competition.

Once you understand the importance of data, it is easy to quantify the negative impact of low-quality information and badly structured data. In fact, bad data is estimated to coast global businesses in excess of 10 trillion dollars a year.

The data you are using should be flawless and should work in tandem with any artificial intelligence system deployed in the organization. Both AI and good data work hand in hand to assure the success of process analytics, especially predictive analytics. Business risk analysis, in particular, should always be based on meticulously curated and optimized data.

Successful organizations have been using data they gather from clients to follow them over multiple channels and to send them personalized messages and signals. Such practices may conflict with recently enacted data privacy laws, such as the GDPR; the intelligent company will manage such conflicts easily by making all levels of management aware of the challenges and potential solutions.

IoT

IoT or the Internet of Things combines all the technology and sensors gathering useful information, analyzing and storing it at the edge (locally) or centrally, to help in the optimization of the business processes and models. IoT and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) will impact manufacturing for years to come and change the way supply chains and logistics operate.

Read also: The Future of the Internet of Things

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Big Data Management and Analytics

Managing the data that organizations have is an integral part of digital transformation. Only after sifting through the hype and recognizing nuggets of insight and garnering a core understanding of the new business model will organizations be able to leverage these new competencies to their advantage.

Machine Learning and AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a technology that works similar to the way our brains work. It tries to automate reasoning within certain boundaries. It augments humans and supports our capabilities to process a lot more data that we can otherwise. Its offshoot Machine learning will soon be the core of every enterprise.

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

Machine learning has a number of advantages: It removes physical restrictions: If we only accomplish one thing by automating and digitalizing business processes, it must be the removal of physical limitations that restrict growth. Before the technological age, the biggest problem faced by businesses was operating within a limited space accessible only by a limited number of people. By embracing machine learning and diving into the world of e-commerce, for example, you don’t ever have to worry about running out of shelves. Data gathered from open source pools can improve manufacturing processes for all manner of operators.

Machine learning provides a deeper understanding of consumers: With the introduction of automated processes, businesses have become increasingly consumer-centric. Business owners need to understand the needs and wants of consumers.

If you do not deliver what consumers are looking for, there is a high probability that you will lose potential customers to the competition. Machine learning plays an important part in solving the mystery of consumer preferences. All required information is hidden behind the data accumulated by the business. You just have to crunch the code, and voila—you know what your customers are actively searching for.

Machine learning boosts efficiency: Machine learning solutions offer the opportunity to automate hitherto unconnected processes in the enterprise. Recent advances in algorithms, deep learning, and more efficient use of data have allowed machine learning to boost anything from legal research to medical diagnosis.

Data Governance

Data governance is a concept similar to that of data management. With the rise in hybrid data management solutions, the accessibility of data for repeated usage has significantly increased. Data quality and communication gaps can hinder the decisions taken as data flows through the organization.

Blockchain

Initiated through the concept of cryptocurrencies, blockchain is indeed the future of how information is distributed between parties. Smart contracts are one interesting innovation that they bring. Smart contracts can enhance the utility and feasibility of real-life contracts, through the benefits that they offer.

Read more: Blockchain Is the Most Disruptive Invention Since the Internet

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Business Models

There are countless innovative global trends that have signaled changes in the way that companies create their business models and operate their businesses. Instant gratification is anticipated, hyper-personalized products are leading the way, companies and the individuals working with them are operating 24/7 in a more authentic manner, and machine-to-machine artificial communication is being widely adopted. These changes, coupled with a few other trends, are driving companies to rethink their business models and how they do business.

The new business models are based on:

  • Real outcomes and tangible results
  • Expanding into new markets and industries
  • The shared economy
  • Intricate, multi-layered networks
  • Digital platforms (e.g. for marketing or CRM)
  • Digitization of products and services
  • Competing as a whole ecosystem

Innovations in business models require new digital strategies, talent, people, and technologies. However you go about your digital journey, one thing is sure: digital transformation is unavoidable.

Read also: CIO 101: How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

Augmenting Digital Marketing Through Artificial Intelligence

Consumer Experience Changes Continuously

Customer behavior and experience change over time and there is much organizations can do to use that change to their own advantage. The customer experience changes all the time. The challenge this presents for businesses is to place the customer at the center of their organizational chart.

Customers do not care about the people in the organization chart, nor do they care about hierarchy. They probably won’t even be aware whether the person they are talking to is from the marketing or the sales department. All they do care about is how much emphasis you and your brand are placing on understanding them, their behavior, and most of all, their needs.

Creating the right level of customer satisfaction can only be done with the help of artificial intelligence. 

New analytics tools can change the way enterprises personalize the customer experience. As a human, personalizing to even an audience of 20 to 30 people can be a hard job, but this job gets even tougher when you have an audience of say a million customers. The cost of employing humans to create personalized experiences for such a large amount of customers would be prohibitive, perhaps even impossible.

But nowadays you see websites that personalize brilliantly. They reach out to each and every customer by calling out their names and letting them know that they are of immense importance to them. Artificial intelligence offers incredible potential to take this personalization even further

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

 

The Role of AI

The role of machine learning and artificial intelligence is to augment the activities of every department in the organization. They allow enterprises and C-level management the luxury to get enhanced features and increased profitability from their operations. So far, customers have reacted well to the changes that have been brought forward through the use of ML and AI. The enhanced, more personalized interactions machine learning and artificial facilitate improve customer experience, and thus brand loyalty and retention.

While we can all testify to the success of AI in increasing interactions between customers and businesses, the role of artificial intelligence in augmenting digital marketers is still dubious. Primitive AI systems have been abused to spam; programmatic advertising has annoyed consumers.

 

 

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Here are four ways digital marketers can embrace AI productively:

Managing the Customer Journey

Managing customer trends is an important part of the journey for every digital marketer. Digital marketers need to know the psyche of customers and understand trends and anomalies present in the market.

Moreover, the marketer should also know which anomaly is helpful for them, and which can harm their efforts. AI augments marketers in understanding such trends at the right time in the customer acquisition process. Once an anomaly is found, AI will suggest a list of reasons behind the anomaly, because this is what these machines are superb at.

Moreover, the system will record all such anomalies and reproduce them in a graph. Such charts show the performance of the marketer and how it was affected by trends. Every up and down within the chart will come with a description regarding why the change transpired, allowing managers to better evaluate marketing performance and plan ahead.

Read also: How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

Personalization at Scale

The ability to personalize at scale is something that will further showcase the augmentation effect of AI for digital marketers. It is tough for humans to personalize to large audiences; intelligent systems are much more efficient for this purpose.

With the use of AI and ML, you can also personalize your website or app experience. Users come with numerous diverse preferences, so it is insane to develop one single page to cater to all their preferences. Thus by personalizing the page for their preferences through the use of AI, you will have the luxury of creating a personalized web page for all users.

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Finding the Right Content

There are over a hundred million assets present on the Internet. Your own website might have various pictures, blogs, and a catalog that may not really help people in getting the right results. The aim behind augmentation from AI is to help people search these assets and get to the right results in an efficient way.

Artificial intelligence can assist users in sifting through thousands upon thousands of blog posts, images, videos and other content to curate the right message for their business.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

 

Creating the Right Content

With the use of artificial intelligence, digital marketers can know the results of content ideas right at the click of a button. If you are creating infographics, you can easily go through the graphics that best suits your needs. If you want to implement changes on a large scale, you can also see these changes before the content goes online. Creating the right content was never easier.

The main challenge in the future will be to assess the content deemed feasible for posting. Content requirements and preferences will change over time, and it is the responsibility of digital marketers to manage this change.

Read also: CIO 101: How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs and AI and the Future of Marketing

Opportunities Created by AI Outweigh Imminent Threats

Artificial Intelligence is in the headlines. You can’t escape it. Some fear its job-destroying impact, others its threat to human self-worth. The immediate future of AI is a lot more complicated — and promising.

People are confused. AI is either considered to be a giant leap towards modernization or a catalyst for massive unemployment. For the foreseeable future, it will be neither. AI will gradually affect everything we do; it will create more jobs than it destroys, and it will improve everything from customer experience to patient care. It all depends what we do with it. In other words, the future of AI lies in the hands of those controlling the characteristics of this revolutionary tool. 

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

 

“A” stands for “augmentation

AI is advancing by leaps and bounds. Today we can imagine applications that seemed preposterous only a few years ago. From a computer system playing Go to driverless cars, from marketing tools to AI healthcare solutions; the possibilities seem endless. The one thing that is certain is that for years to come, AI will augment humans, improve our capabilities, and help us become better at every task. AI will take over repetitive, data-driven processes, and leave us more time to focus on creative, complex ones. In short, AI will augment humans, not replace them.

The superiority of machines over human brains must be understood in terms of speed and scale of computation. Anything that requires vast amounts of data and complex calculations we should leave to the machines. That includes data collection, analysis, and prediction, but not the actual result or its implementation. Humans are still better than machines at judgment and making sure that the AI’s goals are aligned with our human goals. So while AI can tell you what happens when in a city, it won’t be enacting traffic laws anytime soon.

Considering the high level of analytical skills AI professes, the technology will primarily be used to expand human capabilities, to optimize the use of resources, and to enhance productivity, rather than replace human actors. A few of the areas which will immediately benefit from AI are listed below.

Read also: Augmenting Digital Marketing Through Artificial Intelligence

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Daily Life

When you think of how AI can assist and automate our everyday lives, just think of the voice assistants in your mobile phone, or the friendly shopping assistant in the Amazon Echo. Alexa can understand and react to commands, like setting a timer, playing music, order washing powder, or answer general questions based on web searches. It’s not much of an “AI” yet, but it will quickly improve.

The more you use Alexa, the more it will adjust to your speech patterns and your tone. All the data it collects are stored in the cloud, and the more you use it, the better it will get. As millions of users provide more and more data, machine learning algorithms will ensure that Alexa grows up very quickly. For now, it won’t replace genuine human advice, because ultimately all it does it recognize questions and look up the answer in a database.

The Internet of Things

Much more than voice assistants, smart sensors, and other Internet-connected devices will augment these primitive AI interfaces and make everyday living easier for humans. Smart sensors take input from the environment and then follow built-in resources to carry out predefined functions. They are meant to collect vast amounts of data much more efficiently and are already an integral part of many companies’ approaches to AI. Telling Alexa to lower the ambient temperature, for example, involves measuring the actual temperature and then adjusting a thermostat. As IoT devices become ubiquitous, AI will become more useful in practice.

READ ALSO: The Future of the Internet of Things

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Manufacturing

Manufacturing businesses can benefit from smart devices that detect and regulate the use of inputs, production parameters, or the quality of goods manufactured. With the help of collaborative robots that take over tasks that are normally considered repetitive, unsafe, and difficult, AI will be a major part of any manufacturing process. Humans will assure smooth operations, while robots, smart devices, machine learning, and AI will ensure maximum efficiency.

This integration of new technologies is already being implemented by leading manufacturing everywhere; adoption will accelerate quickly as improved efficiency means higher margins and capacity.

The same technologies will be deployed in every aspect of the enterprise. Smart systems will order their own raw materials; smart sensors will track quality and notify suppliers upstream; quality and performance feedback from downstream players will improve the manufacturing process. Integration with order processing and accounting will assure that companies get better and better at their tasks.

As data usage increases, employment opportunities will multiply too. The early robotic systems won’t replace workers, but rather allow them to focus on creative solutions and implementation tasks that will always need to be the forte of human workers. AI will make mission-critical and dangerous tasks safer, faster, and more reliable.

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Transportation and Logistics

The race to produce fully automated vehicles is on, but long before we get there, we will use AI to improve incrementally various stages of the transportation and logistics process. That means moving parts in factories and warehouses, reducing haulage times on long-distance operations, loading, sorting and packing, and improving fuel efficiency.

Again, humans will play an important role throughout this process by making sure all the new technologies work together to achieve the desired outcomes.

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Healthcare

Machines with inherent abilities and knowledge can help medical professionals and doctors come up with wider, more accurate, and personalized diagnosis techniques. Yes, IBM Watson can analyze more chest x-rays in shorter times than radiologists, but the optimal treatment and effective cure of diseases will, for many decades to come, involve human doctors, human experiences, and the human touch.

If anything, AI will increase employment opportunities for medical professionals, as we learn to diagnose and prevent many conditions will now lead to unexpected and unfavorable outcomes. Fewer doctors will be busy cutting out tumors, yet many more of them will be required to interpret AI-based test results, recalibrate AI-based diagnostics, refine treatment regimes, and offer to counsel. If you consider that most medical staff spend over 60% of their time doing repetitive tasks like documentation, blood collection, or data analysis and comparison, AI will be a boon for the medical profession that will help improve the experience and quality of life of all patients.

Read also: 8 Reasons why Branding in the Medical Business is Different – and Difficult

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Agriculture

Our agriculture is primitive and reliant on hard-to-control factors like weather, soil conditions, availability of sunshine, scarcity of nutrients, and many other random ingredients.

AI-based, high-tech agriculture solutions, comprising, sensors, robots, data analysis, machine learning, irrigation systems, pest warning systems, fertilization and crop optimization methods will greatly increase yields and the quality of products. These practices will help reduce the burden from humans and will also help increase agricultural productivity.

Read also: Tech Countries Will Soon Become Agriculture Giants and There Will Always be Enough Food

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Smart retailing

Alexa & Co., combined with sensors in your fridge, can already tell you when you are running low on supplies, and where you can order them cheap and fast. Once you confirm your order, she will let you know when you can pick them up from your local outlet, or when the delivery drone will arrive.

While AI has useful applications in many other areas as well, it is really tailor-made for the retail sector. Amazon, Apple, and Google are exceeding all consumer expectations by delivering the unexpected with the aid of AI, and many local providers around the world will follow.

The massive increase in home deliveries at no extra cost may seem ideal for large countries like the US, but even in densely populated cities, there are plenty of opportunities for smart retail. In the stores themselves, the prediction of sales numbers (more beer on Friday, more coffee in the morning) will optimize supply chains and production cycles.

The smart assistants of the next generation will predict information based on the habits of the user, and make a smart guess as to what will be required when it will be required, and where. 24-h convenience stores in Asia are already using AI and machine learning not just to predict the number of beef noodles sold on Tuesdays, but also how much beef and how much flower to order for the next quarter.

Read also: Why You Should Always Put Your Retail Strategy First

 

People Algorithms

One thing AI is still very bad at is understanding its environment. But modern machine learning has solved that problem too. AI can now adapt to the changing environment and predict how user preferences can vary. Examples of ML can be found in healthcare where patients can be differentiated on the basis of what disease they are suffering from. ML, through its advancements in judging the environment, can predict the symptoms of a disease and form a solution based on its knowledge.

However, it is imperative that the algorithms and control of AI be democratized and provided to all stakeholders. The algorithms will work best when they are augmented and controlled by humans. After all, we understand our own goals and needs better than any machine (at least for now). By opening up the ecosystem and assuring participation by creators, producers, and consumers alike, we can assure better control and management over the algorithms that define artificial intelligence.

Beyond any doubt, AI, if properly implemented, will open doors to endless opportunities and possibilities, long before it becomes any kind of threat to humanity.

Read also: The Future of the Internet of Things

Data Protection is a Marketing Issue

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is upon us, and most companies are still woefully unprepared. But beware, failure to comply leaves firms everywhere in the world vulnerable to heavy penalties. 

Very likely, all the news about GDPR went into the wrong silo of your company, because it is inherently a marketing issue, not a compliance issue.

What you need to know

  • GDPR came into effect in March 2018
  • It is an update to the 1995 EU directive 95/46/c
  • GDPR requires businesses around the world to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens for transactions that occur within EU member states
  • If you have EU customers, you are affected
  • Non-compliance carries heavy fines

Which businesses are affected?

  • Companies with a legal presence in an EU country.
  • Companies without a legal presence, but in possession of personal data of EU residents (Yes that means your newsletter and customer database!)
  • The distinction between companies larger than 250 employees and smaller is effectively cosmetic. If you have fewer than 250 employees, you will still be affected.

How much can we get fined?

The GDPR allows for penalties of up to €20 million or 4 percent of global annual turnover, whichever is higher

What do you need to do?

Unfortunately for compliance departments, the GDPR isn’t exactly very clear on details. It takes a very comprehensive view of personal information. Certainly affected are names, addresses, ID numbers, but also IP addresses and other items not immediately obvious, such as

  • Web data such as location, IP address, cookie data and RFID tags
  • Health and genetic data
  • Biometric data
  • Racial or ethnic data
  • Political opinions
  • Sexual orientation

In short, any information that can be used to identify a person. Especially if you have acquired that data “without the express consent” of the person, you are liable to penalties in case of violation.

What must I do?

GDPR requires that companies employ a reasonable level of protection, without defining reasonable. In a knee-jerk reaction, compliance departments might just tell marketing and sales departments to stop what they are doing.

I only have distributors in Europe, am I affected?

Very likely yes. According to EU legislation, sole distributors act on behalf of their client, and the protection of customer data is the job of the supplier, not the distributor (unless otherwise stipulated in the distribution contract).

We are just a B2B business, does this affect us?

Yes, it does. Very much so. Because you have client relationships too. Your B2B customers are also people.

So, what do we need to do?

First of all, find out who is in charge and who has the expertise to deal with this. GDPR requires organizations to have a dedicated chief privacy or data officer. If you don’t have anyone in this role, you need to hire someone or get someone certified. Ideally, it should be a trusted employee with more than just a legal or compliance background, but someone who also understands marketing.

Secondly, make sure you understand your data, what is in it, where you store it, and most importantly, how you capture it. If necessary, hire an agency to do a data audit. Once you have done this, make sure you have a database management system in place to avoid future slip-ups.

Thirdly, you’ll need to add the necessary language to your website, newsletter signup, vendor agreements, and so on.

Make sure that throughout this process the marketing team is involved, because at the end of the day, GDPR is not a compliance issue, but a marketing issue.

GDPR is a marketing issue, not a compliance issue

Which brings us to the main point: GDPR is a marketing concern. Compliance departments have a strong incentive to send out warnings and stop sales and marketing teams continuing their traditional marketing because of uncertainty.

Marketing departments around the world will be told by legal “you can’t do that anymore!”

GDPR is a great opportunity

Which is a perfect opportunity for companies to finally embrace content marketing and inbound marketing (see Inbound Marketing Explained), where potential clients actively sign up and express a clear wish to receive information and engage with your brand.

That means a small update to your website and marcom materials and probably a few workshops for your marketing department to finally get them on board with non-invasive marketing techniques.

Overall, GDPR is a good thing

GDPR – and future regulations in other countries – will force companies to improve data management, abandon outdated disruptive marketing practices, cut down on spammy advertising, and develop new products and services that could help them be more successful. As such it is a great opportunity more than a threat.

 

5 Ways Towards a Data-Driven Business Culture

The pressure on organizations to make accurate and timely business decisions has turned data into an important strategic asset. The key challenges are to determine which data to use, whether the data is valuable, and how to derive actionable value from it. 

In today’s dynamic marketplace, businesses’ ability to use data to identify challenges, spot opportunities, and adapt to change with agility is critical to survival and long-term success. It has become an absolute necessity for businesses to establish an objective, data-driven culture that empowers employees with the capabilities and skills they need to analyze data and use the insights extracted from it to facilitate a faster, more accurate decision-making process.

Contrary to what many people think, cultivating a data-driven culture is not just a one-time transformation. Instead, it is more like a journey that requires efforts from employees and direction from both managers and executives. Data scientists and management consultants have come up with five different ways businesses can accelerate their transformation into a data-driven enterprise, all of which are crucial to the long-term viability of the data strategy – and the business.

Establish a Clear Vision

Establishing a clear vision is essential for putting data to work and ingrain working with data into every process of the organization. An executive, preferably the CIO or CDO, should present the vision to the workforce and provide the rationale for this shift in culture and in benefits. This, in turn, will set the stage for the work ahead and provide an opportunity to clear misconceptions.

Just like with every important strategic decision, it is important that data-driven culture changes have the support of the C-suite. A management team removed from the daily data operations will ultimately lead to the erosion of data-driven culture, lower profitability, and threaten the survival of the organization.

Ensure Easy and Secure Access to Data

Data can only be considered a real asset when its accuracy is trusted, its provenance is well established, and its complete security is ensured. On the other hand, optimal utilization of data requires governance and openness. To ensure this, you should consider a layered approach to make data available in a manner for which its security, governance, and confidentiality are not compromised.

Keep Your Data Clean and Up-to-Date

It is very hard to analyze and extract something valuable from poorly organized, inaccurate, dated information. Therefore, you should develop clear mechanisms regarding the collection, storage, and analysis of data. Make sure all your data inputs are centralized in a single location for easy integration and regular updates. This way, your employees can gather the most recent information from a single place and make more accurate decisions.

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

Create Agile Multi-Disciplinary Teams

People, not tools, drive the culture of a company. In order to create a fact-driven work environment, businesses should invest in the skills of their people. Make sure that each team contains at least one member who is skilled and experienced in data analytics.

Develop Reward Mechanisms

Sharing data successes is important to inspire others and develop a healthy, competitive, data-driven culture. To share the results achieved by a team or an individual, you can use a variety of different communication tools, such as videos and blogs, organize special gatherings, or share the results on your company portal.

Make sure that you choose initiatives that are in line with your company’s long-term strategy. For example, if your objective is to penetrate new markets or gather more information about your target customers, you should acknowledge and reward the initiatives that help you make progress towards these strategic goals.

Unless communicated across an organization, data remains worthless. To extract the right information and insights from structured and unstructured data, it is important that you focus your efforts on cultivating a data-driven culture that empowers employees with the resources and skills they need to leverage data and obtain the right information at the right time to make more accurate decisions.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

Read also: Beyond the Hype: The difference between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

We are experiencing a digital revolution. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data are the buzzwords of the day. Yet most corporations are having a hard time to start implementing machine learning solutions or even see the usefulness of these new technologies. Unfortunately, organizations which don’t get to grips with concepts like deep learning and big data soon will be left behind. (See also: Sayonara, sucker! How digital companies are leaving the rest behind)

 

A History Of Big Data

Truth be told, most companies face challenges similar to what their own clients are facing. Before the advent of modern computing capacities and advanced machine learning concepts, data was always complicated; piling up on hard disks without ever becoming useful.

There was a lot of manual aggregation and crunching of data stored mostly locally. Few people had access, few people knew what to do with it, and management had no idea how to make these data useful for corporate decisions or the optimization of processes.

The biggest challenge was cleaning up the data, and trusting the available data enough to apply the different analytical algorithms, and analyze the raw data, and visualize the results in meaningful ways for the business to understand. Data was always there, but it was always useless.

To be truly useful, data did not just have to be analyzed once, but continuously updated over months and years, in order to discover trends and the effect of strategic business decisions. With manual data engineering practices, it was very difficult to meet the requirements of clients. What was need was trustworthy, easily manageable and affordable data management platforms.

Automation and Data Science 

Most economists and social scientists are concerned about automation taking over manufacturing processes and commercial activities. If digitalization and automation continue to grow at the same pace as is currently happening, there is a high probability of machines partly replacing humans in the workforce. We are seeing some examples in our world today, but this trend will be even more prominent in the future.

There is another form of automation though that is going mostly unnoticed. Data scientists are providing solutions to intricate and complex problems confronted by managers and operators today. They are utilizing useful information from data analysis to understand, fix, and predict correlations, events, and problems. In that sense, data science is a kind of input, and the output is a form of invisible automation.

There is thus a balance between the demand for human knowledge and know-how and the services machines deliver based on structured data. Automation and data science go hand-in-hand; one process is incomplete without the other.

Raw data is worth nothing if it cannot be manipulated to produce meaningful results and similarly, machine learning cannot happen without sufficient and relevant data.

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Incorporating Machine Learning into Business Models

Enterprises are realizing the importance of data, and are incorporating big data and machine learning into business models. Whether it is e-commerce or manufacturing or even banking and finance, there is a lot of data out there; data which has lain dormant for decades, waiting to be finally utilized. The demand for such data analysis has always been there, but it is only now that we are learning how to use it, visualize it, share it, and benefit from it on a larger scale.

Still today, the biggest challenge for most organization is the selection and verification of essential data in one place so that complex algorithms can be run simultaneously and results can be viewed in easy-to-interpret form.

Rapid Digitalization Is Threatening Laggards

We are experiencing rapid digitalization mostly due to two major reasons. Firstly, technology has evolved at an exponential rate in the last couple of years and secondly, organization culture has evolved to embrace data and data analysis. Herein lie the two biggest challenges for organizations:

  1. Understanding the technological change and selecting the right tools
  2. Changing the corporate culture and creating a data-friendly, open environment

With the advent of open source technologies and cloud platforms, data is now more accessible; it is easier to use interpret, visualize, distribute. More people have access to information, and they are using this information to their benefit. This is a great motivator for everyone in the organization.

In addition to the advancements and developments in technology, there is also the workforce effect: a whole new generation of young people is joining the talent pool, people who are tech-savvy and are used to relying on technology for mundane tasks. They are more open to transparent communication and used to working with data as the basis of business decisions and operational processes. They are also used to sharing data and it is easier to gather data from this generation because they are ready to talk about their opinions and preferences. \

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Integrating The New World And The Old World

Apart from technology and corporate culture, organizations also face challenges related to the data itself. Data collection, data ingestion, data curation (quality) and then data aggregation are hot topics. Legal challenges to the way corporations gather and use data abound (e.g. GDPR). But these are comparatively easy to overcome. Far bigger ist the human resources challenge; there is a massive lack of human skills in data engineering, advanced analytics, and machine learning.

The old world relied heavily on data collection while the new world focuses mainly on the data solutions. There are limited solutions in the industry today satisfy both demands at once.

Data engineering is probably the job most in demand in the coming years. Without data engineers who understand the source, quality, and treatment of data, machine learning, deep learning, and even artificial intelligence, cannot progress. After all, any solution is only as good as the data it is based on.

3 Outdated SEO Tactics You Should Stop Immediately

The battle between search engines and the SEO crowd is one of the most exciting events nerds can observe today because it is perhaps the first global fight between human and artificial intelligence.

Here are the players in this epic battle: on the one side the search engines, which try to serve up the most relevant, original search results; on the other side your website, which you want to see ranking as high as possible.

The algorithms which control search results are being tweaked several times a day, partly by humans, and increasingly by AI. So in essence, you are up against a machine learning algorithm that is getting smarter by the second. That means, of course, that you will lose.

The SEO business will die out eventually. As the artificial intelligence behind the algorithms is getting more and more sophisticated, the only thing that will be able to game it is another AI. So all the technical little tricks we now use to improve SEO will become a thing of the past.

We are not there yet. But what was true about SEO last year may no longer be relevant. It’s a rat race, and the tactics that used to be successful only recently may by now harm your SEO.

Here are three (of many) things often touted as highly important to SEO which you should absolutely avoid from now on.

Building backlinks

Google’s initial approach was simple: if many sites link back to site X, site X must be relevant. But it is easy to build multiple sites that link to one site. Back in mid-2013, Google realized that this feature was being manipulated on a massive scale. Websites sprung up with the sole purpose of creating backlinks; whole pyramid schemes emerged to make content look more important.

Today, the algorithm considers only relevant backlinks important, i.e. one backlink from the BBC to your site is more important than 1000 backlinks from irrelevant sites.

To determine what a “relevant backlink” is, Google uses thousands of factors over which you have no control. The lesson to learn here is simple: don’t waste time attempting to create backlinks, and don’t pay a dodgy consultant to do so.

Instead focus on content that people actually want to link back to. Having lots of backlinks from irrelevant sites will actually lower your SEO results.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

Writing keyword content

It is incredible how persistent this myth is. You still find articles around today that tell you to do your keyword research and stuff your content with a few relevant keywords.

But the almighty algorithm has evolved. Google and other search engines now use advanced textual analysis to determine whether the content is actually valuable information, recognizing synonyms, meaningless drivel, copies, rewrites, and even translations.

Content trying to game the systems with keyword inflation are now being punished as thin content. Remember you are righting for human beings not algorithms.

Guest blogging for SEO

It sounds like such a meaningful thing, getting your guest article posted on other sites. But what started as a perfectly legitimate trend was soon being abused, creating far too much spammy and irrelevant content.

This is why Google now punishes it. Guest blogs should only be used if you have a good relationship with someone, if that someone’s site is actually a valuable resource and has a high SEO ranking already, or on reputable websites with strict editorial processes. Don’t accept guest blogs from nobodies, and don’t do guest blogs on irrelevant sites. It will harm your SEO in the long term.

AI is taking over

There is a pattern here: every tactic that tries to game the system will end up being punished by Google, because Google has a legitimate interest in blocking spammy and irrelevant content. If something is purposely manipulated to rank higher, it is by definition less valuable to Google.

As the AI behind it evolves, all tactics will become ineffective, leading ultimately to the demise of the entire concept of SEO. There is only one rule of SEO in the future: writing useful, relevant content.

So stop wasting your time on tactics, and focus instead on relevance and authenticity. It may take more effort and time, but it is ultimately a more rewarding way to SEO results.

Read also:

How to Make Better Marketing Decisions

6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

Busy Like a Bee: 3 Simple Ways to Improve Conversion Rates

Marketing for Boring Industries

We would all like to work for exciting companies. The latest VR headset, a luxury car, that awesome new food brand. Truth be told, most us work for companies that are neither sexy nor exciting. What do you do with boring industries in the age of digital media, visual platforms, and content marketing?

Here are eight strategies to deal with boring industries as a marketer

1. Don’t focus on your product, but what your clients do with it

We did a big marketing project for one of the most boring industries you can imagine: plastic raw materials. Turns out what Chimei’s clients do with the plastic is a lot more interesting than Chimei’s original product. So instead of marketing plastic, we focused on the million uses ABS & Co have, from golf balls to kitchenware.

2. FAQ blogging: Answer questions about the product

Many “boring” industries are actually quite exciting once you think about the project in geek terms. Marketers can use images and charts, or even explainer video to share tips and tricks regarding the use of a product.

3. Delve into history

While semiconductor machinery itself may be boring, the development of the semiconductor itself is actually quite fascinating. How the first wafer was grown and what changes the industry has gone through over the years, are actually worthwhile topics for marketers.

4. Imagine unusual, funny uses of your product

Funny content goes viral, and viral posts are good for business. Place your product in the hands of a child to see what they would do with it. For a CNC machine manufacturer, we are currently producing a content strategy focused on weird things to build with a CNC machine vs a 3D printer.

5. Get visual

Microscopes may be boring, but images taken with microscopes can be absolutely fascinating. For a microscope company, we curated the most freakish headshots of tiny of bugs. Instagram is awesome of this kind of marketing. That filtration system for swimming pools is best marketed with images of stunning pools.

6. Create tools

Assessment tools, cost calculators, product selection and comparison tools on your website all add value for your customers. Or develop a cool app that allows users to select products, or identify them with the camera. A lot of pharmaceutical companies who face legal restrictions in marketing have embraced this strategy.

7. Have an opinion

Every industry faces issues, whether it is investment rules in China, lack of groundwater, pollution, or disruption through future technology. Taking a stand and envisaging the future of an industry are hot topics for marketers that create engagement and drive growth.

8. Embrace Video

A lot of things you tend to say in text form can be said much better with video. In the age of smartphones and squared Facebook video, it doesn’t cost a lot to create engaging video content. Time-lapse videos of industrial processes are cool to watch. Or interview your existing customers. Spec sheets are out, animated explainer videos are in.

The key to digital marketing for boring industries is to never think of your industry as boring in the first place. A broader and more courageous approach to ideation may serve you well and set you apart from the competition.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

7 Crucial Things to do Before Buying Digital Ads

There is so much abuse, fraud, and deception in the digital ad industry, I sometimes think we are living in the Wild West. It is a lawless and confusing country indeed. There are thousands of startups and even established marketing companies out there who intentionally mislead and misinform clients in order to profit from badly designed digital ad schemes and questionable ad tech.

That’s because digital advertising is a great business for agencies. They usually take 20% of your ad budget and claim that this amount is what their “expertise” in writing and targeting is worth. Really? You passed the Google Adwords exam! Good for you! Now an algorithm is doing all the work!

Anyway. No rants today. But we do keep a collection of worst examples: government ads to sign up for insurance where the website crashes; cosmetics ads leading to pages with products priced in the wrong currency; ads leading to products “currently out of stock”, ads run in one language leading to a page in another, and most all of, ads that never go anywhere because the website is too slow.

If you don’t lay the groundwork, your ad score will be low. That means you are wasting time and money!

 

Laying the groundwork

Lots of things should be done before spending your first cent on advertising, but here is a list of seven absolute must-do items.

1. Make your website faster

That is if it isn’t already 10 years old and needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Speed is not just the key to SEO ranking and user experience, it is also a factor in the ad score. If your page doesn’t come up fast enough after someone clicks on an ad, you have wasted money on a click. Nobody waits more than 5 seconds for a page to load.

2. Make your website mobile friendly

There is a reason why Google is putting mobile first. Mobile devices are the way we consume content today, on the go, on the road, on the move. A website has to work on mobile, fast and fluently, with the right design focus and usability. Too many dollars are wasted on ads that lead to pages you can’t see on mobile.

3. Improve UX

Even if your website is fast and mobile, that doesn’t mean it offers a good user experience. There are plenty of examples around with too many forms, too hard to fill in, too much or too little content, confusing choices or selections, ridiculously complicated checkout procedures, etc. And trust me, even big brands get it wrong.

Bad UX/UI design can and will interrupt the customer’s willingness to proceed with whatever they were doing on your site. You have spent money to lure the customer into your store, but they are leaving long before they reach the checkout line. That’s money wasted on digital advertising.

4. Content, content, content

No matter what industry you are in, content is king. Whether it’s good graphics, informative posts, inspiring videos, if your website doesn’t convince, there won’t be any conversions. Again, every dollar spent on ad clicks is wasted further down the line.

The way to combat this is by really starting with content for the website first, and then appropriating it for ads. You’d be surprised how many companies silo off the ad creative so it ends up looking totally different from the website. Such a disconnect is poison and a guarantee for wasted ad dollars.

5. Improve your SEO

With new clients, I always use proprietary software tools to check their SEO score for whatever they want to advertise. If that score is below 75, meaning that they are not in the top 25% of sites for that product, I send them to the SEO department.

While not directly related, there is really no point in making Google and Facebook richer if you can’t even do basic SEO. It may even be that with the comparatively cheap investment in SEO you can avoid advertising altogether. And that, without a doubt, makes you a better communicator and a better brand.

6. Build a landing page

We all know that landing pages are important, but too few companies build them. Either because the web department is siloed, every web project goes through 50 levels of approval, or because they don’t understand the concept of a landing page in the first place.

If your ad simply leads to your company’s homepage, you are probably wasting 80% of your ad spending. Consumers can’t find their way around confusing menus or don’t make the connection between ad text and web content.

7. Research the competition and your keywords

Companies often come up with new product names and concepts and then promote them regardless of what is already out there. If you just go for ads without re-thinking for your product or service’s name, you may be competing against people in completely different and unrelated industries. This raises your ad spending significantly!

One such example is the insurance industry. UBI insurance concepts may be a boon, but the same abbreviation conflicts with “universal basic income”, the “Union Bank of India”, and 20 more brand names and products. Clicks on your ad “Get the best UBI” might thus be wasted, because people are misunderstanding what you are selling.

There are lots of other factors you need to consider before spending money on Google or Facebook ads, but the seven factors listed above you can’t do without. So, before calling any one of the digital marketing agencies for help with Google Adwords, think what you can do yourself to save some money. And if the agency you are talking to doesn’t tell you about the seven points above, then don’t trust them. You deserve better service.

10 Common Misconceptions About Inbound Marketing

For years now “inbound marketing” has been a buzzword. Yet surprisingly, a lot of businesses still don’t understand what it is, why it is better for companies and customers alike, why it is the natural way of marketing, and how to go about it.

Even those who do it often do it without a real strategy in place. What’s worse, there are a number of misconceptions out there which are plainly wrong. Here are the 10 greatest myths about inbound marketing:

1. Inbound marketing is optional

Inbound Marketing is not a fad. The tactics we use may change over the years and with different digital platforms coming online, but the basic tenet, to build lasting relationships between customers and brands and to engage customers where they want without disrupting their lives with intrusions is here to stay. You may want to read the article “Inbound Marketing Explained” to understand this better.

2. There is too much competition in my industry

There is a lot of competition in every industry. Very few companies have the luxury of dominating markets and not having to worry about marketing or advertising.

Even in highly competitive markets, there is always something you can do to stand out. If your marketing team can’t come up with ideas, hire a consultant. Consultants have experience in many industries and can port ideas from one industry to the other.

3. My industry isn’t right for inbound marketing

You may think your business model is unsuitable for inbound marketing, or your industry too boring to actively attract customers without advertising. But that is not true, not for any industry.

Everybody needs to do inbound marketing, and everybody can.
Here are some tips for marketing in boring industries.

Alternatively, you may think that your industry is simply underrepresented on social media. But your friends on Facebook, and their friends may actually be working in your industry. Social media networks aren’t limited to a specific industry. Even lawyers, who are notoriously absent from social media due to confidentiality issues, can get leads and improve their image with a coherent inbound marketing strategy. Even regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals or cosmetic surgery can get around legal restrictions with creative inbound marketing strategies.

4. Anyone can do inbound marketing

Companies getting started with inbound marketing often rely on existing employees to get the job done. How often have we seen situations where web designers, secretaries, or even technical managers have been put in charge of social media.

Inbound marketing requires a specific skill set, journalistic qualities, and at the very least an understanding of digital marketing in its entire scope, from SEO to digital advertising.

What’s more, inbound marketing isn’t about individual, separate efforts, it’s about a coherent strategy. 

If you are getting started with inbound marketing, hire an expert. New talent can re-invigorate your marketing team in many other ways. Someone with a clear concept of an inbound strategy has valuable skills to teach your existing marketing team. A good content marketing strategy can also help to improve cohesion inside your company. 

5. Inbound marketing results are instant

Inbound marketing isn’t advertising. You don’t just start a campaign and see the immediate result. Inbound marketing is a long-term commitment, where all the components build up to establishing lasting relationships with customers. It takes months or even years.

6. Inbound marketing needs its own department

Silos are always bad in companies, but inbound marketing, in particular, should involve as many people in the company as possible. Especially in high-tech, machinery, or B2B companies, inbound marketing invariably means getting technical staff on the team.

Everybody in the company can contribute to inbound marketing, from accounting to sales. Experts in a particular field can give public talks, personal profiles of loyal long-term employees can improve the image of your firm. Inbound marketing involves a change in the entire company’s culture. Only then can you build solid assets that will serve you well in the long term.

7. Once you do inbound marketing, you don’t need anything else

Some companies get so caught up in the new world of inbound marketing, they throw all traditional forms of marketing overboard. But for many companies, it makes sense to keep doing what you have been doing for decades.

Machinery and medical are just two examples where trade shows still provide value, especially in Asia. For local business, radio is still effective, and certain industries will continue to rely on television advertisements for years to come. To understand what kind of outbound marketing to keep in your mix, talk to a consultant.

8. You can’t measure the effectiveness of inbound marketing

Oh yes, you can. Inbound marketing as a whole isn’t quite at the stage where smart software can measure, and AI predict the effects of individual marketing efforts, but there are many different tools you can use to gauge if what you are doing is leading to tangible results.

But you do not have to invest in marketing automation and ROI tools. For most purposes, the reporting tools offered by social media sites and an Excel spreadsheet is all you need.

Read also: Why is Marketing Automation so Painful?

9. Inbound marketing is cheaper

Outbound marketing is usually more expensive, but the numbers presented by marketing agencies are heavily skewed by ad budgets.

Inbound isn’t necessarily the cheaper option. For example, if public speaking in many different locations is part of your inbound strategy, travel and hotel expenses should be included in the calculations. Also, inbound marketing may appear cheaper because you are using bad talent. If you are letting your existing team do all the blogging, you may pay less, but your blog posts may not have the journalistic quality or appeal that comes with a professional blogger.

Creating good content often means video production, and even though prices for filming have dropped a lot lately, good quality video content still costs money.

Read also: Busy Like a Bee: 3 Simple Ways to Improve Conversion Rates

10. We just need a new website

Too many companies still use websites designed 10-15 years ago. In the meantime, the world has moved on, largely from desktop to mobile. So while building a new website may be absolutely necessary, switching to RWD alone won’t guarantee success. Also, with retail websites dominating the online shopping space, many e-stores will never get off the ground.

But there are lots of other ingredients in making a new web presence a success. Good SEO, for example, is an ongoing process and often requires the help of SEO agencies with experience in your industry. Then there is the problem of SEO versus social media activities, which should you focus on? Google’s algorithms don’t like static websites which don’t offer value to visitors, so a blogging strategy and original content creation are essential to making that new website worth its while.

Read also:

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

There is Money in that Content!

As marketers, we have proven that content marketing works, that it is often cheaper than advertising, that it makes your enterprise look better, and, well, that it is the only choice anyway. At the same time, we are having a hell of a hard time convincing clients that it really drives revenue.

Businesses must look at the bottom line. Marketers who do not work hand-in-hand with the client to improve the bottom line will sooner or later be out of a job. This is even more so in traditional business environments like Asia, where marketing and sales are often synonymous, and salespeople have way more influence over business decisions than marketers. (Read here about the ideal role of marketing in the enterprise.)

Therefore, we marketers must find a way to show clearly how content marketing drives revenue throughout the enterprise. Only then can we prove our value and keep our accounts.

 

There is real money in content marketing

The easiest way to show ROI on content is to have a clear call-to-action and install the necessary tracking tools to show revenue derived from that content piece. Remember to do this through your distribution also, such as the Facebook Pixel. Whether you are writing about software or gardening tips, there is always a way to link your blog, infographic, video or podcast to your sales momentum.

What works particularly well is content that is timely and campaign-specific, such as content written around a holiday, special event, company milestone; combined with offers that are linked to that content in a meaningful way. “Download the white paper and get 20% off your next purchase,” that kind of thing.

 

Customers are in a buying mind when they consume the right content

Customers are actually more inclined to shop when they are in the right mindset, and they are in the right mindset when they are reading a post or watching a video they have actively chosen – as opposed to one that was pushed in their faces in the form of advertising. “I like what I see, where can I get that?” is the surest way to sales. If you manage to identify that path and track the journey, analytics can show a clear return.

Of course, this works only if you do your inbound marketing right.

 

Monetizing your audience

Not everyone will make a purchase when first reading a single piece of content. Sometimes it takes longer and the customer journey is getting more complicated by the day. Even without sophisticated tools like IBM Journey Designer, you can still track your customers through a variety of smart, guided designs.

Whether it is the sneak preview of your new product, the signup before the launch, or the monthly newsletter, customers who are interested in your brand will sign up to these even if they are not quite ready for a purchase. In our agency, we find that clients return to our site 2-3 times before signing up to the newsletter, and are subscribed an average of four months before they end up contacting us.

Still, we can track every single contact back to the original content published. You can use different tags, examine the referral traffic, or use more sophisticated subscription-based automation tool. It is a little more complex than simple call-to-action measuring, but rocket science it ain’t.

For retailers, coupons are a simple option to measure ROI. Coupons also work well for events or signup for software.

 

Just ask, for goodness’ sakes!

One of the simplest ways to measure ROI on content is to ask when customers call where they found you. I have to remind my colleagues twice a day to do that, but it’s an amazingly easy and too-often overlooked way of tracking. Every new lead that reaches us via phone needs to have an entry in the Lead Source field of our CRM. The answer “I found you on the web” is not an answer. Find out whether the new client read a specific article (ROI on content marketing) or found you through Google search (ROI on SEO) etc. Make sure everyone in the organization knows that this kind of attribution is necessary to measure marketing efforts.

 

That SEO thing is ROI too!

Which brings us to one of the most important aspects of ROI on content: indirect ROI. The more authoritative content you have on your website, the high the content authority points Google awards you, which improves your search ranking.

Thus content ends up boosting your site performance overall. Which means that if you ask people how they found you – or use Google Analytics – you have a clear way to measure ROI of your content marketing efforts.

While this may not be directly attributable to the newest post or video, you should be able to tell when you published new content. Your ranking will increase for new search terms as time goes by. Therefore, a good SEO analytics tool should be part of the toolset of any marketer.

You can then plot your ranking results on a timeline and correlate them with revenue earned. Not always 100% reproducible, but more than enough to convince your boss that you are creating value for the company.

 

Compare that to advertising!

So now you know. If anyone tells you that measuring revenue on content marketing is impossible or too technical, just show them this article. It’s not that difficult to find and collect the right data. What is important is to show the results of your efforts so that when the time comes time to renew the client’s contract or pass your annual review, you can show how much revenue was tied specifically to your and your team’s efforts.

Sometimes clients or your boss want to compare the results to your advertising efforts. Very often advertising (especially TV) doesn’t offer a good way to track effectiveness. Traditional corporate structures may mean that any and all improvement in revenue is attributed to advertising.

As content marketers transforming businesses with our efforts, we must make sure that we get credit for our work. For advertising-heavy industries, it may make sense to run an occasional questionnaire on your content platform to find out what percentage of people have also seen advertising for the brand.

Make sure you aren’t comparing apples and oranges. In a recent case study, we found that over 80% of respondents of a car manufacturer had also seen the TV ads, but more than half of those said that it was the social media content that actually prompted them to visit a showroom. This got us into a kerfuffle with the ad people who wanted to defend their turf, so we had the client go one month without TV ads while intensifying content production. Visits to showrooms went up, not down. Content marketing 1, advertising 0.

Of course, the exact numbers vary from industry to industry, but one thing is sure: content marketing ROI isn’t hard to measure, and taking on old-fashioned advertising is a lot of fun. Go, content marketers, go!

Use Content Marketing to Strengthen Your Brand from Within

Content marketing, the holy grail of the digital age, isn’t just a tool to market your company’s products and services. It is also a great way to strengthen your brand from the inside, retain employees, and improve sales. 

There is a reason large corporations and organizations have in-house magazines, and believe it or not, the reason is not to let you know next week’s cafeteria menu or changes to your employee benefits. The real aim of the age-old idea of internal communication is to make everyone better at their job.

At the start of the digital age, many companies abandoned these so-called “in-house organs” in favor of primitive, unwieldy, and ultimately boring intranets. Intranets never lived up to the promise of better communication and largely became bulletin boards. At my old employer, the most viewed page (over 10000 times a month) was indeed the cafeteria menu, while discussion forums were empty and blogs remained unread. By now, communication tools like Slack or Teamwork have made these Intranets completely obsolete.

 

Reviving those organs

It is time to revive the in-house organs and activate content marketing inside the organization. Whether in print or in digital form, every good company should have a magazine, newsletter or blog that is at the very heart of the organization. Good old-fashioned print gives people a break from staring at screens, whereas digital allows for better interaction. The right choice depends also on your company ideology and readiness to embrace new technologies. VR/AR is definitely in the cards.

Personally, I prefer getting everyone engaged on social platforms like LinkedIn, e.g. in closed groups, and combining that with print. Moving away from Facebook also gives our employees more privacy as they tend to share a lot of personal content on Facebook which has no place in the workplace. Anyway, the medium is not the key. It’s what you do with it.

 

Benefits of in-house content marketing

In-house content marketing has enormous benefits. Here are some of the most obvious, but the list is not exhaustive by any means:

  • In-house content marketing builds cohesion, allowing stakeholders to learn about the past, present, and future of the organization, its successes and struggles, and how it compares to similar outfits. It serves as the organization’s anchor in the word.
  • By including feedback forms and comment sections, you get a grip on what is going on in the organization and can nip problems in the bud.
  • Inspiring stories about employees, events, awards, success etc. encourage people and improve morale, creating goodwill.
  • Career stories can focus on people and allows them to reflect on their place in the organization. This helps to put the right people in the right roles.
  • Conversations about products and development in the in-house magazine will save salespeople lots of time. You will need fewer meetings, fewer training seminars, and save on travel cost.
  • By making the in-house content available to the outside world and creating a more transparent organization, you are creating trust with customers. Potential employees can see what awaits them, which greatly reduces the time HR has to spend on finding candidates. New recruits spend less time in training.
  • You are creating value across the organization by building an audience that is informed and engaged.
  • Ideas inside the organization are spread much faster, thus potential false directions in R&D or management can be detected much sooner. Honestly, you’d be surprised how many valuable opinions your other employees have about product development. After all, they are users and consumers too.
  • There is even a role for visual platforms like Instagram: some companies use their accounts to foster cohesion within a global workforce rather than to generate business. 

Doing it right involves working with a consultant and/or hiring someone with journalism experience. The larger the organization, the more experienced this “head of in-house content” should be.

 

What you want to achieve with content marketing

The aim of the internal content marketing, just like with the external sort, should be to create valuable and engaging content. If you are, say, an engineering company, you probably lack the talent to manage good content, as engineers will get stuck in nerd talk and everybody else’s opinion is dismissed. Across the organization, the content should be evenly spread and address the needs of all departments. Most of all, it should add value to everyone: management, employees, shareholders, clients, and partners.

Companies need to tear down the barrier between internal communication platforms and outgoing marketing content. The more engaged everyone becomes in the content, the more content and marketing ideas will spring from this openness and creativity.

By bringing content marketing inside the organization you are making everyone a better marketer and salesperson.

So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

Because the term has been abused, misunderstood, and the marketing executed so poorly by big and small companies alike, content marketing is said to be in trouble. So what is it anyway, and how should you go about it?

Content marketing is not really a special thing. It is common sense for any enterprise or organization. It is also the thing that will save your business in the coming years. 

 

Ads are less and less effective

Ads are problematic. They always show up in the wrong place, bots click on them and retargeted they follow you around long after you made the purchase. Ad blockers are getting more popular every day. Most of your potential customers never see your ad. And too many ads are shown where no one pays any attention to them, e.g. when you log onto a free WiFi service or pop up on media websites where they are quickly clicked away. Programmatic advertisement works — if you are a spammy B2C brand.

Digital ad agencies, as well as digital media companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are trying to convince you that ads work because they want your money. They rarely do. But targeting ads simply does not work well enough to ensure a reasonable ROI. They are one part of the marketing mix, but ads should never be your only strategy. Think about it, how often do you really see an advertisement that interests you in any way?

With ads being less and less effective, you will have to embrace content marketing sooner or later.

Read also:

AI and the Future of Marketing

Is Digital Advertising the Biggest Fraud in History?

ContentMarketing810

So then, what is content marketing?

Content marketing is about showing your brand, your products, your solutions, in an interesting and engaging way. It is creating interesting articles, images, videos etc. about the utility of your business. What are you doing to add value to your customers’ lives? How are you using your products to improve other companies’ bottom line? Simply said, content marketing is the answer to the question, why should people care?

Let’s say you are an engineering company. There are plenty of cases where your services have solved tangible problems. Write about them, show images, create videos explaining what and how you did for your customer. Document your efforts and celebrate your success.

If you are the world’s largest maker of garden furniture, don’t push ads for wicker chairs to people who don’t have a yard, but create an Instagram account with awesome images instead. If you are making cycling equipment, start a cycling club in your target market and show stories of individual success in the sport. If you are in factory automation, write a blog about future trends, implementation of new technology, and solutions to problems manufacturers face. If you are a school, show how your latest teaching efforts improved the lives of individual students. Do it on Facebook, LinkedIn, on your own website or blog, or do it in print magazines. But definitely, do it.

I am interested in machinery. Facebook and Google know that. So I keep getting shown ads by CNC manufacturers all the time, even though I will never buy a CNC machine. I would much rather read an informative article about the latest trends in manufacturing technology. If you can’t showcase your products in that manner, you are not doing a good job at marketing, while wasting massive amounts of money on unappealing ads.

Read also:

Why B2B Companies Need to Embrace Millennials

Marketing for Boring Industries

Doing content marketing right

Content marketing is probably the most misunderstood concept in all of marketing. It goes against the grain of every traditional marketer, especially in B2B where companies still confuse “content” with “product spec sheet.” Content marketing, as fancy as the name sounds, is essential branded journalism. That’s why marketers use the term “storytelling”.

Content marketing is necessary because people are spending more on more time on digital platforms. They don’t see your bus ad anymore, and they never paid much attention to your television commercial anyway. As we move towards the adoption of AR and VR technologies, the ad industry will lose even more eyeballs. In other words, you cannot afford not to produce engaging content. 

If you don’t start doing content marketing now, you will become invisible.

Read also: Curiosity Marketing: The Ideal Solution for Digital Natives

Content marketing is the backbone of funnel creation. Interested consumers will read or watch your content and start paying attention to you. They may sign up for a newsletter or follow your corporate page. At one point, they may become customers.

In the B2B space, companies like GE and Siemens are very good at showcasing the results of their efforts in the real world, with engaging stories and sometimes fantastic photography.

Yes, it is hard to measure exactly what your ROI on content marketing is. But think of it that way: you are saving tons of money buy not wasting money on ads, while at the same time improving the overall image of your enterprise (if your content is good). Content marketing is usually cheaper than advertising but can be more expensive. It all depends on how hard you want to work on improving your brand image.

Read also: Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

 

Content marketing and digital assets

Content marketing is also about ownership of digital assets. In the coming years, you will see a lot of big brands acquiring digital media companies. Electronics companies buying magazines and Facebook pages for example, or sports brand snapping up Instagram accounts. That means that apart from investing in content creation, you must also consider buying or creating digital assets where potential customers can find you. That’s because you can’t build a house on rented property. Just think about it that way: it is entirely possible that a global food brand like Nestle would acquire a major Facebook channel like Tasty. Do you think a competitor would then be able to showcase products on that channel?

Companies constantly need to rethink their marketing strategy. But the most important step is to understand that traditional business development and advertising must move aside for their new cousin.

So my suggestion for the future: cut your ad budget in half and hire a journalist instead. Or a good marketing agency. It will pay off.

Read also: 6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

Branding is Overrated! Why not all Companies Need to be Brands

This may sound like blasphemy in an age where every organization, person, and product seems to be chasing after the right branding. If you have ever studied for an EMBA anywhere in the world you will be in agony now. What’s more, you may think this is a weird title for a blog on the website of a branding and marketing expert.

The heydays of branding in the 1960-80s were based on the simple idea of standing out in an increasingly large crowd of competitors. Building customer loyalty was based on the basic principles of branding: identification.

Read also: Which Ketchup? on the origin of branding and branding in the digital age.

Back then, branding was essential, whether for the corporation or the product. Creating a memorable brand was key to gaining a share of the customer’s mind … and wallet. Yet in the digital age of easily accessible information, price comparison, diminishing brand loyalty, and ultimate customer experiences, it is becoming increasingly hard to create new brands that stand out.

We’re unapologetically redefining what it means to be a brand,” said Tina Sharkey, co-founder and CEO of the startup CPG company Brandless, in a recent interview with FastCompany. More and more startups go for plain packaging and intrinsic value rather than flashy logos and corporate design.

It makes sense. Consumers are overwhelmed by choice in the digital and physical space and cannot keep up with the carefully constructed, convoluted narratives brands have built around themselves. Who has ever read a “brand vision” statement? 9 out of 10 companies in a particular industry share the same values and “mission statement”. So what’s the point?

“After decades of new brands rising by virtue of storytelling, some upstarts are turning down the noise and letting their customers color in the lines,” says Sharkey.

Read also: 6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

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What Makes Brands Less Relevant

But what exactly is it that makes brand less relevant, and what should companies focus on instead? Let’s examine the main factors one by one; they hold the key to understanding what startups and established corporations can and should do in lieu, or in addition to, branding.

Easily Accessible Information

Easily accessible information about products and organizations means that the brand itself is much more than its image, however diligently constructed over multiple decades. No manner of branding and marketing by United Airlines can erase the stain of seeing a passenger removed from a plane. What would have been a single news report in a local newspaper 50 years ago is now forever on the internet, Youtube and Co. tarnishing the brand for years to come.

What is hurting businesses the most are review sites. It does not matter how much you spent on your logo, CIS, and package design, a string of negative reviews on Amazon will destroy your product. Restaurants are losing business over negative reviews on Google Business. The new store sign, the new uniforms, and the new DMs the dentist recently produced do not change the fact that on Google Business he has only 2 stars from 170 reviews, many customers calling him “aloof” and “arrogant”. The actual customer experience is far more important than any branding.

Quick Price Comparison

Established, aspirational brands such as Apple or Nike may still command irrational loyalty, but for new entrants, there is one major hurdle to conquer: the ability of consumers to quickly compare prices over a wide range of products. Some companies would be better off spending money on lowering product costs than on branding because for many products price is all that counts. If you can’t make a better product, make a cheaper one; branding won’t save you if you can’t do either. A client recently contacted me with a request for toilet paper branding; we focused instead on designing better sales promotions and home-delivery services.

Diminishing Brand Loyalty

Because of the easy access to information, strong competition, and bad experiences even with the best brands, brand loyalty is diminishing across the world. With a few exceptions, customers will easily switch between brands after just one negative experience, or simply because they are looking for something new and exciting. Particularly in Asia, brand loyalty is almost zero: we buy the new, the cheap, and the novel. Bombarded by a constant stream of new product information on Facebook and Youtube, consumers switch between brands based on recommendations from influencers and friends; they see no reason for loyalty.

Customer Experience

Ultimately, the “user experience” or UX is the experience that counts, whether online or instore, from first contact to final purchase. The experience consumers have with a particular brand is far more important than the brand itself. Too many fields in a form and the purchase funnel will be abandoned; long delivery times or extra charges for additional features and customers will turn away for good. I love Apple’s Airpods because of their ingenious design, quick charging time, and great sound quality — but I have no love for the “brand” Apple. I enjoy banking with HSBC because of the way I am treated at my local branch – quick, efficient, with a minimum of forms to fill in. That doesn’t mean I love the HSBC brand; I just enjoy the experience at my local bank.

Brands should not confuse success with a particular product, asset, or locality, with brand affinity. Your brand is only as strong as the worst experience customers have with it. 

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So What Should Companies Focus On in the Digital Age?

In the face of these strong headwinds, what should companies focus on along with basic branding?

Management Consulting: Train the C-suite

Very often the problem is not the marketing strategy or the brand, but the understanding and attitude of management. There is no point in spending millions on a new look if the C-suite keeps making the wrong decisions, doesn’t understand the marketplace, or only works for its own benefit. Owners must make sure the people in charge of strategy understand the importance of customer experience. They should also be familiar with the basic concepts of digital marketing and inbound marketing; too many companies have fancy websites without good SEO, or Facebook pages with embarrassing posts or no ad strategy.

It was feasible in the last century to silo off marketing and advertising into separate departments; in the interconnected digital age, everyone from copy editors to the CEO has to understand the basic concepts of digital marketing and digital processes in the enterprise.

Most of all, the C-suite has to manage the balance between actually improving customer satisfaction and marketing: the best advertisement, after all, is a happy customer.

Business Development Strategies

Good business development is very often the key to keeping companies in the black. Every electronics company that ever contacted me wanted to go to market in Europe and the US and asked for branding and marketing advice for these markets, while most of them would be much more successful in the Middle East or South East Asia. Good business development, with sound inbound marketing strategies, [link] may be better for your bottom line than branding. This means understanding consumers, distribution channels, and consumers behavior.

Understanding Markets & Technologies

Knowing which markets and technologies have potential is key to business success, but very few companies spend the time and money to do proper research. Market research will show up countries or market segments you never considered before. Technology research will show which products sell and why, and where the next threat is coming from. All these efforts together may be more essential to a company’s bottom line than a strong focus on “branding.”

One of our clients spent 10 million on a logo, CIS, a corporate video and fancy packaging design for a medical product whose technology was about to be made obsolete by a disruptive invention. (Hashtag #nomoreneedles) 10 thousand USD in market & technology research would have saved them a lot of money.

Business Transformation Strategies

Sometimes the cure is a complete overhaul of the business strategy. When the time for small fixes has passed, you need help from a consultant with an eye on the big picture. Is what you are doing still relevant, and will it be relevant tomorrow? How can you transform your company, embrace digital technologies, and find new purpose? How can you leverage existing assets in your enterprise that may lie dormant due to managerial inefficiency?

The “extended workbench” (moving to a new country and continue the same business model) is no longer working, mostly because we are running out of countries. China and Vietnam are becoming as expensive as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Additive manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics and automation will make manufacturing cheaper and possible practically anywhere. It doesn’t matter where you do it, what matters is what you do, and how. A review of your core business strategies and competencies should be part of any (re-)branding exercise. Before you can “brand” it, you have to understand it.

Finding New Uses for Old Assets

Manufacturing companies in transition often embrace branding as a last resort, thinking that after decades of contract manufacturing only their “own brand” can save them. This may not be true. Faced with dwindling demand, an iron auto-parts manufacturer came to me with the idea to make iron-cast pots and pans and create a new brand; after doing careful research we convinced them to find a different and much more profitable use for their old manufacturing plant.

Finding New Consumer Segments

Aging populations and fickle millennials mean that there are consumer segments out there you have never thought of profitable extensions of your brand. Whether it’s coding for kids, phones for the elderly, an app with larger fonts; home delivery of bulky items, offering help with installation and setup; there are a million options to improve the customer experience for new segments that companies overlook in favor or empty, meaningless branding.

Competing on Real Value

Many startups are choosing to forgo expensive branding and marketing in favor or offering real value. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are full of bright ideas. Optimizing products, gathering extensive customer feedback, and continuous product improvement may be far more important for your new venture than getting the best-looking logo and coolest slogan. Consumers simply aren’t as gullible as they used to be.

Ultimately, of course, all of these exercises are part of branding. A brand is only as good as the customer experience it provides.

Read also:

How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

10 Common Misconceptions About Inbound Marketing

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Future of the Internet of Things

Imagine yourself in the future. You get up and your coffee is already made for you, perhaps even your entire breakfast. Smart kitchen utensils are preparing your scrambled eggs, and the smart fridge reorders soy milk as you take out the almost empty bottle.

You are probably not reaching for your phone; instead, voice commands will bring up the latest information – messages, news, weather or traffic reports, on any surface you want: the TV, the fridge door, the bathroom mirror. Or no surface at all, if holograms and virtual displays replace OLEDs and plasma devices.

An AI system has prepared the daily schedule, ordered the Uber or the autonomous car at exactly the time you need to leave the house for work. In the car, you link to the local display and check your stocks and bitcoin holdings. When you arrive at work there is no entering the parking garage; you simply leave the car while your payment is processed. The car moves to an induction charging platform while waiting for the next customer.

There are no queues at the elevator because not everybody arrives at the same peak hour. The elevator, prompted by you walking through the main door, arrives and takes you to your floor, without you ever pressing a button. You enter the office where the lights and AC are already on.

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Virtual screens pop up in front of you and you start your day at work, perhaps monitoring environmental conditions or the waste management systems of this smart city. Data from millions of sensors is collected, analyzed, and actions are recommended as pipes in one part threaten to overload, and toxic effluent is detected at the edge of an industrial estate. An AI notices the local maintenance crews or inspectors while typing up a report of the night’s events, which is read out to you while you lean back and dream of your next vacation.

It is 9:30 in the morning and the Internet of Things around you has already processed millions of gigabyte of data. Chips implanted in your body remind you to exercise and the AI schedules a doctor’s appointment and makes a restaurant reservation based on your registered preferences after you confirm that you’d like today’s special lab-grown meat burger at a particular brand new restaurant. And on the way home, the autonomous electric car makes a slight detour to avoid traffic or pollution or to pick up your date for tonight, who has been notified by the AI 3 minutes before you arrive at their doorstep.

At this point, you are screaming STOP! What about privacy? All these interconnected systems know way too much about you, your routines, your physical condition, your dating habit, and your work attendance. And what about safety? Everything has been working smoothly so far, but what if any component gets hacked? The dream of ultimate efficiency and convenience becomes a nightmare of social control once we take security under consideration. The technological overlord controls far too much of your life.

 

Is this the future we want?

Yes, of course, but only if you, the consumer, are ultimately in control of your data. If the AI supports you and doesn’t manipulate you. If the systems work hand-in-hand with humans. If machines serve humans, rather than the other way round.

Right now this is not possible, because the big collectors of data, from Apple and Amazon to Google and Uber, and all the industrial systems data agents in between want to be in control of your data. We have let the Internet revolution create corporate giants that are not accountable to anyone but themselves, and if you happen to live in places like China, where you have been watched and monitored through face recognition from the moment you got up in the morning, to the time you go to bed, you feel even more helpless. That doesn’t even include your health bracelet or implanted glucose monitoring chip.

 

Where is the balance between convenience and security?

The answer to the question of privacy, security, safety, and human rights, may be the blockchain. We cannot create an IoT ecosystem fit for humans if private companies or governments control all the data.

Big corporations control our data, but we the consumers offer these companies something very valuable: massive amounts of personal data. To be honest, we are getting very little in return. It’s a bad deal. As automation and robots are taking our jobs, many of us will be left with only one option: monetizing these data.

Read also: Blockchain Is the Most Disruptive Invention Since the Internet

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Is blockchain the key to monetizing?

Some startups proclaim with conviction that blockchain technology is the way to safely monetize personal data in the future. And don’t underestimate how much data there is and how valuable it is! Google and Apple know, based on your phone’s GPS position, where you will likely be at a certain time of day; meal ordering services like UberEats know what you are likely to order. Selling the combined dataset of thousands of people could influence the pricing in local restaurants or the choices on their menus.

In medicine, big data, machine learning, and medical records controlled by insurers, big pharma, or even your local hospital, may decide whether giving you a specific drug is worth it or not.

It goes further. We now have pavements that create kinetic energy, and your house may generate energy through solar panels or intelligent coating on the walls. Your walking makes money in the form of energy, your mere living in your connected house produces data for the grid. Your recycled and purified wastewater could be sold back to the utilities. That data too is valuable, and you should be reimbursed for it.

 

How does blockchain monetization work?

Blockchain’s distributed ledger approach could combine all these data streams and reimburse you in crypto assets or hard currency. But there is a problem. People don’t live just in one place, they move around, from city to city, from country to country. Cities around the world would have to coordinate their approach to blockchain monetization or adopt open protocols that are transferable between locations. In other words, a global, neutral, decentralized system. In a system so vast, one good hacker could bring the world to a standstill

Blockchain proponents claim that the decentralized, distributed ledger is absolutely hacker proof. Any security expert will tell you that every system ever called hacker-proof has ultimately been hacked. Even if it isn’t a malicious attack, solar flares, earthquakes, wildfires and any number of misadventures could bring even a global, decentralized system to its knees, as long as it is sufficiently interconnected.

Finally, whole regions of the planet will be left behind, because they do not have the wealth, the political will, or the physical infrastructure to benefit from any of this. And then there are the Luddites: there will be a huge number of people who will want to opt out of this technological overlord. If their jobs have been automated, how are they to survive?

The future of the internet of things is not a question of technology, but social planning … and quantum computing.

It’s not the ledger, it’s the proof of work

In other words, the blockchain enthusiasts and technology futurists are confusing technological revolution with social revolution. It does not matter how many problems blockchain solves, what matters is how many problems it creates. At the heart of blockchain is not the distributed ledger concept, but the proof of work. Trillions of blockchain entries of work will require a huge amount of “proof or work” steps. Those take time and energy.

Only quantum computing will bring this increase in computing power. But quantum computing makes all our security protocols and encryption systems obsolete, which brings us back to the problem of hacking. We still don’t have the answers, but one thing is clear:

We should not attempt to build a global IoT ecosystem until we have addressed all these problems. 

Biomaterials are Revolutionizing Whole Industries

You are probably sick and tired of the buzzwords of the 4th Industrial Revolution. We are being replaced by robots, manipulated by cobots, we are employing 5G and RPA, optimizing processes and digitizing factories; yet the real revolution in manufacturing going on now is much more subtle. It’s all about materials.

Material science has developed so rapidly in the last few years there wasn’t even time to create a buzzword. From airplane wings that change physical properties according to altitude, to wristbands telling you that you are too intoxicated to drive and plastic made from shrimps – material science is revolutionizing manufacturing. And much of it is due to innovative concepts in biomaterials.

Biodesign is invading plants

Spider silk, fungi, bacteria are all our friends in the industrial revolution. Bacteria for example need nutrients to produce stuff: whether its a specific pigment, a vitamin, or paper. A company called Ecovative runs The Mycelium Biofabrication Platform, making plastics out of mushrooms and the harvest leftovers of corn (maize).

With enough research, experts say, there is nothing we can’t make out of biological substances.

A company in New York called Modern Meadow is growing leather without the cows, producing the collagen directly and allowing it to control durability, composition, flexibility, and other physical properties.

Most of the companies in this space are not aiming to imitate existing materials, but to create new and better materials. Biomaterials mean less suffering for animals, less chemistry, fewer additives and toxic cleaning processes, and greater production efficiency.

In the medical implant industry, the US-based Invibio has 15 years of experience using Peek polymers to create medical devices in implants. They recently launched a spinal stabilization system in China that helps create semi-rigid spinal rods. As of 2015 they had produced over five million peek polymer medical implants worldwide.

Adidas has released a spider silk and is working on growing sportswear in giant vats. Until now, most materials were natural or synthetic. Biofabrication means a whole new generation of materials, ones that are “naturally synthetic”.

Naturally synthetic materials

There is no field not affected by this shift in material science. Decellularized scaffolds, ultra-light gels with almost magical durability, self-assembling biomaterials

While still siloed and experimental, experts are predicting a giant shift in manufacturing in the next years. The seat in your car, the table you eat your breakfast, and the glass you pour your wine in may all be made from entirely new and sustainable materials.

Industrial biorefineries are the key to implementing national bio-economy strategy and promoting the development towards renewable resource utilization. The reduction of waste and optimization of high value-added final products are currently the biggest challenge.

Many governments are behind the push into biomaterials. Finland’s 3D-Biomat research program is divided into three stages: I) fundamental research of polymeric
biomaterials, I) use of the materials developed and, III) creation of business and cyber/digitalization concepts to monetize them.

The other drivers are the leading research institutes such as ITRI in Taiwan or the Fraunhofer Institut of Germany, both focussing on functional materials to replace existing choices in manufacturing or to be applied to the surfaces of finished products made of anything from steel to plastic.

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The 5th Industrial Revolution is Starting in Medical Laboratories

It is beyond doubt that the biggest impact from biomaterials will come together with what futurists are calling 5IR or the 5th Industrial Revolution when we gradually switch to additive and molecular production techniques. Perhaps surprisingly, the early stages of this development are happening in the medical sector. Skin grafts, bones, and whole organs are being printing, paving the way for similar changing in the way we make products.

In the medical implant industry, the US-based Invibio has 15 years of experience using Peek polymers to create medical devices in implants. They recently launched a spinal stabilization system that helps create semi-rigid spinal rods.

Another medial company, Organovo, is using 3D bioprinting to create human liver tissue. From this tissue they are making human liver models for medical research that are alive and function for 28 days.

In the skin regeneration and protection field, the Spanish company Histocell has created a naturally occurring gel found in the umbilical cords of animals that has tremendous regenerative properties.

The list goes on. Medical applications are opening new frontiers to the technologies that will shape manufacturing in the coming decades.

 

 

How to Become a Smarter Marketer

Most marketers, even those with academic credentials, are too busy implementing corporate marketing strategies and working with the products they need to sell. We write copy, we blog, we post, we distribute, and we learn how to use the latest marketing automation tools. We waste endless hours on pointless meetings with clients who want us to understand their product and follow corporate guidelines. We chase likes and shares and retweets and spend hours trying to figure out how to best measure ROI, for that crucial final presentation with the boss.

We sacrifice our private time, time for the family, relaxation, or sport, in order to meet ridiculous KPIs and misguided client expectations.

None of that makes us better marketers, it just makes us busy, overworked, marketers. We do not have the time to look at marketing data, social studies, the psychology of the consumer, and hard evidence. That’s a bit like a doctor trying to cure your ailment without ever consulting the latest studies on a specific disease.

Spend More Time Studying

Studying marketing and then doing marketing just isn’t enough. You need to know the latest trends, facts, and figures. You need to know the usage patterns and the changing landscape. In order to become a smarter marketer, you need to spend less time marketing and more time studying.

Did you know for example that almost 80% of social media users on average use Facebook, but only 29% use LinkedIn (September 2017 data)? Most use Facebook daily but LinkedIn only 2-3 times a month? Why have a daily post content schedule if users only check-in once a month?

And then you spend all that time making a nice website and Facebook page for your shoe business, but forget that most people under 30 get their food, fashion and travel ideas from Instagram? Instagram on the other hand just released IGTV – which will disrupt not just Youtube but ever live broadcasting app influencers are currently relying on. Within hours of the launch, some videos on IGTV had over a million views, just as Instagram’s total user base has grown to over a billion people.

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Know Your Stats, and Adapt

Digital marketing is not about what worked, or what works, but about the next things on the horizon. Brands need to understand how users in different markets and industries use different digital platforms, and the changes these platforms are about to make in the future.

You make that WhatsApp group for your Asia marketing without knowing that a messaging tool called Line is the weapon of choice in your target market. We’ve had a client asking for a Facebook strategy for China, where it is banned.

And then everyone tells you that video content is king, whereas in many Asian countries, in particular, Chinese or Japanese speaking ones, there is still a great demand for informed long-form content in the local language. Or that marketing automation without human contact just doesn’t work in Asia.

And then you make that campaign for a computer server manufacturer on Facebook and special tech blogs, before you realize that 92% of IT professionals get their latest product news, tech news, server maintenance tips and tricks from Youtube. Or you have that fantastic website for your beauty products, hosting your own make-up videos, forgetting that over 90% of cosmetics are now launched on Instagram?

Or that 75% of Instagram users in a specific country are women? Or that in country X people will never engage with health websites or Facebook pages in fear or public shame? Or that over 60% of Facebook profiles in Indonesia use fake names and pictures? Or that customers in country Y hate to enter their credit card details and prefer payment on delivery?

You can get a lot of data from studies by local academic institutions and marketing agencies. One of the best for global marketing is emarketer, one of the most informative publications comes from wearesocial

36% of Instagram users want to find out what you or our brand are doing.
10% to document their own lives
8% because they want to be seen as popular

There is some useful data for you. And it changes from month to month.

Psychology First

Understanding the psychology of social media users is the basis of becoming a smarter marketer. Only 2% of users go to LinkedIn to “learn about new IT products or product updates”, yet we continuously see IT companies pushing their latest Notebooks and Smartphones on the platform. Not smart.

LinkedIn itself is promoting learning modules and solutions, yet in most countries, the platform is still seen only as a tool to find a new job, not a networking website or an online university. Google never made Google+ a success, despite its clout and insight, and Snapchat is struggling with every strategy it has tried: even the platforms themselves have a hard time remaining relevant in an ever-changing digital landscape.

Competition Chaos

Facebook just rolled out their “Jobs” function globally, making it easy to post job openings, apply for jobs, filter and follow up with candidates. Which should lead to more authentic CVs on Facebook, where too many profiles are incomplete or even fake. The move is of course intended to take on LinkedIn, whose HR hiring functionality is still so buggy few companies use it with complete satisfaction.

62% of users go to social media to get news, about 80% of them regularly (Source: Pew). That means that marketing content in news form gets more attention than spammy ads. 44% of Americans get news from Facebook and 10% get their news form Youtube. (I know, weird, isn’t it?) But not all news sources are traditional journalism outlets. Increasingly, users are following alternative news sources, brands, and influencers, rather than a Reuters or AFP.

In Germany, even though 30% go for news to Facebook, only 2% actually trust the news they read on Facebook. People in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong click more on ads and have fewer ad-blockers installed that Europeans or Americans. Asian users scroll from post to post, while Europeans are much more likely to search for keywords.

Users on LinkedIn are 3x more likely to actively seek news. Sharing relevant content about your brand on your PRIVATE LinkedIn profile is the best way to engage users and create a following. The same is not true for Facebook. (Source: Buffer)

Consumers who actively engage with products online are much more likely to advocate your brand. But how many marketers know how to find and target those consumers? What’s the difference between a like on Facebook and one on Instagram? Why do people click like? Because of the picture? Or the accompanying text? Users in certain countries are much more likely to like something, in other cultures, it is common to only show dislike but never active approval. Psychology is behind everything we do in marketing, and even more so in digital marketing.

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AI and Homework

Two things will make you a better marketer. The first is Artificial Intelligence, which will continue to invade the marketing space and allow to better filter content and understand trends.

However, even the best AI will not eliminate the need for marketers to do their homework. Content production cycles will continue to shrink, type of content and the way it is produced will continue to change. Smartphones now have cameras that rival professional equipment – startups and established firms alike can do their own content with a bit of creativity and will rely less and less on professionally created content. Micromoments on video platforms like IGTV will replace image and text posts, to the point where perhaps only long-form, in-depth content for the few, and user-generated short video content for the masses, will remain? And when AR and VR take off, everything will change again.

The only thing you can do as a marketer is learn, learn, and learn some more.

 

There Will Always be Enough Food

Sometimes you hear these warnings by doom-mongers that by 2050, when the world population is projected to reach close to ten billion people, we will no longer be able to feed the huddled masses.

That is nonsense. Technology is already being developed to solve all the food problems we could ever have.

Agriculture embracing technology

First of all, there is the marriage of technology and agriculture. Just look at the tiny Netherlands which has recently become the world’s 2nd largest food producer. Hi intensity, high-tech farming is profitable and will be affordable even in the poorer places responsible for the fastest population growth, like India or Nigeria.

Innovative new concepts

Secondly, around the world, people are coming up with really innovative new concepts, like this fish farm on a rooftop in Stratford which supplies restaurants in the area with herbs and leafy vegetables. It uses agriculture LED lighting (more blue and better than sunlight)

More than half the population worldwide lives in cities, and there are plenty of spaces where we could produce food indoors. Vertical farms can be many stories high, and virtually every plant on this earth could be grown indoors. Japan turned to the indoor growing industry after the Fukushima disaster and is today the world’s leader in growing everything from tubers to salad and even rice indoors.

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WATCH VIDEO: Japan’s Indoor Farms
WATCH VIDEO: The Future of Agriculture and Farming

Thirdly, there is lab-made food

Memphis Meats and a handful of other startups around the globe want to change the world by growing meat from cells in the lab. There are other solutions made from soy for example, but lab-grown mean results in actual meat, just without all the animal torture and slaughter.

And that goes even for eggs. Hampton Creek has produced an egg substitute made from mung beans that foodies say tastes like the real deal.

Finally, the smarter we get at molecular manufacturing the easier it will be to simply create food by assembling the right molecules. Perhaps in a replicator, like in Star Trek. But that will surely take a few more years in the making.

So, in the meantime, all we need to do is make sure it is not huge corporations that build all these shiny farms, but everyone who wants to. Blockchain might have a few solutions for that. 

How Blockchain Will Save the World

Two years ago nobody talked about blockchain. Now the distributed ledger technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin is suddenly everywhere.

(See: Blockchain Is the Most Disruptive Invention Since the Internet Not Just In Finance)

Enthusiastic experts predict that in the coming 10 years, blockchain will change the way we do everything, from financial markets to health records to supply chain management, and so much more. It’s near impossible to name all the applications for the new technologies, but here are a few that will contribute to making our world a better place (or even save the planet).

 

Energy

Most visible for average users will be the impact of blockchain on the energy sector. The power grids of today are usually centralized oligopolies dependent on a very small selection of power sources (i.e. a few nuclear plants, augmented by oil and gas).

That means long distribution lines, bad management of demand, and susceptible to power outages during earthquakes and other natural disasters.

A peer-to-peer blockchain-based energy system would reduce the need to transmit electricity over long distances. It will certainly reduce the need to store energy in inefficient ways, which means fewer batteries, for example, which are expensive and need a lot of raw materials whose extraction often causes massive pollution. Imagine if every house had a solar panel and a wind turbine, or produced electricity from new smart materials on the outer walls.

Add road surfaces that produce kinetic or solar energy, and add in all the existing infrastructure like nuclear plants, oil or coal. Now imagine every one of these sources could trade with every other source, all managed automatically by a computer system, with unfalsifiable records based on the blockchain. And everyone gets paid for it into their digital wallet. This is the future of energy.

 

Waste Recycling

Current systems for recycling are often cumbersome and don’t give enough incentives to participate. Even the best intentions fall foul to human greed and laziness.

Here then is the future of recycling: you identify yourself with your smartphone at any recycling station and deposit your empty bottles (or batteries etc.). The system scans what you deposit and credits your electronic wallet.

If done right, this system could enable users in countries without local recycling industries to get paid the same way as users in locations with large recycling operations.

Companies could set up recycling plants and literally collect garbage from anywhere in the world. It would make it easy to transparently track data like volume, cost, shipping data, and profit, and to evaluate the impact of each location, company, or individual participating in the program.

Think one step further and the recycling containers could be fitted with solar drone technology and fly themselves to the recycling center when full.

 

Supply Chain Management

The way we transport goods around the world is wasteful and damages the environment. Industry 4.0 is bringing us a revolution of already connected devices; 3D printing means more decentralized manufacturing in much smaller batches.

See also: What Industry 4.0 Really Means for Asian Manufacturers

Blockchains can be used to track products from the manufacturer to the shelf and help prevent waste, inefficiency, fraud, and unethical practices by making supply chains more transparent.

They improve shipping ways, volumes, avoid empty shipments and will thus allow for fewer ships and trucks. Combined with drones and solar-powered airships we could even see pollutant-free solar shipments of individual consignments over long distances, secured, tracked and paid for through blockchain technology.

Or think about this: a blockchain enabled 3D-printer as a public service, secured, tracked, and monetized through blockchain.

The food industry is forging ahead hear with the tracking of origin and transportation paths of food.

Environmental Protection

From waste and transportation, it is an easy jump to the overall enforcement of environmental protection. Blockchain is ideally suited to manage records and incentives.

In can be difficult to track the real impact of environmental protection plans, agreements, or even international treaties. Very often incentives are misaligned, or corporate interests and even criminal elements prevent successful implementation.

Blockchain could discourage stakeholders from reneging on their commitments, misreporting progress, or giving in to pressure from nefarious players because the technology would allow the reliable tracking of important environmental data.

After all, data in the public ledger of the blockchain is transparent and traceable forever. Environmental protection is at its core a contractual problem. Just like blockchain will revolutionize the storage and manipulation of legal records, it will reduce or eliminate fraud and manipulation of environmental schemes.

Development Programs

Like environmental protection, development programs are contracts between remote parties that need to be enforced.

When you donate to a charity, non-profit, development program or similar entity, you hardly ever know what really happens with your money. Bureaucracy, corruption, and inefficiency are still common in the charity space. Blockchain technology can ensure that money intended to be a reward for conservation, or a payment to a specific cause does not disappear into unintended pockets through bureaucratic labyrinths.

Blockchain-based money could even be released automatically to the correct parties in response to meeting specific environmental targets. This is particularly relevant in countries without modern banking structures. In particular, there are several schemes under consideration for the tracking of water usage in very dry areas of the planet.

 

Carbon Tax

In the current system, the environmental impact of each product is difficult to determine, and its carbon footprint is not factored into the price.

This means that there is little incentive for consumers to buy products with a low carbon footprint and little incentive for companies to sell such products.

Tracking the carbon footprint of each product using the blockchain would protect this data from tampering, and it can be used to determine the amount of carbon tax to be charged on at the point of sale. If a product with a big carbon footprint is more expensive to buy, this would encourage buyers to buy products that are more environmentally friendly, and would, therefore, encourage companies to restructure their supply chains to meet the demand for such products.

Such a blockchain-based reputation system would compute a score for each company and product. This would make manufacturing more transparent, and discourage wasteful and environmentally unfriendly practices.

You could automatically see (e.g. by scanning a barcode on a product) if it was made by an environmentally sound low-carbon facility or a wasteful polluter.

 

Access to credit

Just as it tracks financial payments and all the data mentioned above, blockchains could be configured to manage access to credit.

This would enable millions of people to escape poverty, by giving them easy access to small amounts of money and start their own business. Unlike the microfinance banking model, such a credit blockchain would be entirely transparent and thus safe from abuse.

 

Summary

In short, blockchain technology allows the management of incentives.

Consumers, companies, and governments would immediately see the direct effects of their actions on the planet. The blockchain can be used to transparently track a variety of data like the carbon footprint of each product, the greenhouse gas or waste emissions of a factory, or a company’s overall history of compliance to environmental standards.

Companies and individuals can be incentivized to act in an environmentally sustainable way through the availability of information, tokenized credits being issued for taking certain actions, or blockchain-based reputation systems.

There are many hurdles to overcome. We still do not know if the blockchain is really as safe and unhackable as promised. As a cybersecurity consultant I spoke to for this article said: “sooner or later, everything will be hacked.”

The second hurdle is the willingness of governments to change, and the willingness of participants to live in such a transparent world.

But I believe that managing incentives on the micro-level with blockchain could completely change the drivers of our economy, and benefit not only us but the future generations living on our planet.

The Singularity Is Already Here

According to the common understanding (and Wikipedia), the technological singularity refers to a point in time when artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.

As a marketer first and futurist second, I have always had a slightly different definition of the singularity. I believe it is the time when companies and governments simply can no longer keep up with technological change.

I think we have reached that point.

Over the long span of human history, technological changes have sped up remarkable. China had an almost 2000 year monopoly on the product of silk before Japanese travelers stole a few worms and abducted a handful of crafty maidens. Its dominance in ceramics lasted a thousand years before the Europeans caught on. The printing press wasn’t replaced for 300 years, and the loom lasted a hundred. The PC endured for 40, and processor speeds double every 18 months. Soon quantum computers will stir things up again.

If technologies and the products they bring forth last for centuries and decades, that is still very much in line with human life expectancy and our ability to cope with change. But there are a number of fields where technological change is becoming unmanageable. We may call this an “early singularity”.

Here are some of the most obvious:

Cryptocurrencies

Despite emerging regulation in certain countries, governments are still pretty much in the dark about the future of finance and the impact of cryptocurrencies. At a recent government consultative meeting, one advisor to the Central Bank of China told me “We simply don’t know what to do. By the time we have new rules, everything will have changed again.”

Whether they are an asset, a currency, or equity, banks and exchanges are precariously behind when it comes to understanding, assessing, or regulating these new technologies.

The technology behind cryptcurrencies, blockchain, is revolutionizing everything from real estate to medical records.

Read more: Blockchain Is the Most Disruptive Invention Since the Internet

Industry 4.0

It’s all the rage, and it’s happening now: the complete transformation of the manufacturing landscape.

New machinery, robots, a bit of cloud computing and some machine learning for good measure.

Yet if you are equipping a new manufacturing plant today, it will be almost entirely obsolete within 2 years, when 5G really kicks in. 5G offers the bandwidth and low latency that makes full and safe automation possible. Only the best and most expensive is easily upgradeable. The speed at which technologies in the IoT and IIoT space are changing is breathtaking.

Medicine

The regulatory schemes around the world will have to change drastically over the next decade. The FDA has moved to allow more experimental treatments for critically ill patients, but there is a slew of new treatments, therapies, and especially diagnostic tools coming out that they will never get around to licensing before they will be replaced with something else.

While some companies bet on growing human organs in animals, others bet on stem cells and 3d printing. And then we have artificial organs. Very likely not all of these will win the day.

There are numerous technologies for measuring glucose levels by drawing blood yet also efforts using Apple’s smartwatch. Lots of startups are working on diagnosing heart disease through markers in the blood, and then Google came along and announced it only has to look at your eyes.

It is even worse in the medical praxis. There is so much innovation going on yet nothing has the time to sink it and make it into clinical practice. “We are too busy treating patients and don’t have enough time to adopt new technologies,” a hospital surgeon told me recently.

Robotics and Machine Learning

There are thousands of robotics companies out there, but almost every single robot is obsolete the moment it goes on sale or is announced. Add to it machine learning and the race becomes unwinnable.

Hundreds of startups focussing on programming robots have been put out of business by robots that learn by themselves, in swarms, or through machine learning. Cloud-enabled, connected robots will learn so fast from each other that any form of training or programming them will soon be obsolete.

Artificial Intelligence

A number of companies are competing at the forefront of artificial intelligence, you know who they are. The problem with AI is that it doesn’t forget. Once you reach a “cross-over point” where the AI is able to learn at superhuman speed, the race is over for the competitors. Google’s AI has already created its own “baby AI”, and is exhibiting creativity, empathy, and other human traits.

Nick Bostrom in his book “Superintelligence” explains that brilliantly. In short, if two AI systems compete for the same domain, whoever is ahead even by days or weeks can effectively put the competitor out of business.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

Material science

Material science is advancing so fast that by the time an airliner goes into production, every single material on the aircraft could already be replaced with a lighter, more efficient, and smarter material. HCG, a Taiwanese maker of toilets, has recently abandoned production of an ultra-clean, antibacterial, smart toilet because advances in material science have made the use of the recently developed coating obsolete.

Read also: Biomaterials are Revolutionizing Whole Industries

Energy and Environment

Finally, energy. Whether it’s solar, wind, or even coal, by the time you got all the permissions, planned and built a new power plant, there are more efficient panels, turbines, filters and furnaces available.

I am sure you can think of examples in other industries. We are still building old-fashioned ships that need large crews, while Rolls Royce is working on a global control center of unmanned ships. Many of the autonomous transport vehicles in development will never be used — drones are proving much more efficient. Even leading innovators like Tesla find themselves in a conundrum. You can update the software remotely, but in order to keep your Tesla really state of the art, you would have to replace parts every 2-3 months.

Is the speed of change hampering investment?

A friend of mine planned to open a fully automated restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan. He found suppliers, robots, the right software, and the right layout, and by the time he was done finding a location and securing the financing, technology had changed so much that all his plans were obsolete and overpriced.

By the time a Taiwanese industrial conglomerate had finished work on their first indoor farming concept, new LED lighting and water filtration system had made their concept farm look entirely out of date.

Another company had decided to develop a hand-held scanner specifically for 3D printing applications when along came QIone, a mobile phone app that does the same thing for free. Then there is the company that made an iPad app to visualize furniture in your apartment, when along came the Hololens and put them out of business.

Never in the history of humankind has technology changed so quickly. Even the highly efficient German Patent Office has recently announced they would need 300 more people to clear up the backlog of over 20’000 applications. Brazil is considering granting “emergency patents” to clear a backlog of over 200’000 applications.

For most people, the rate of change is already far too chaotic. But we are starting to see the first companies abandoning plans for investment and innovation because by the time a project is finished technology may have changed so much that it is not just looking old, but also not financially viable.

How can we cope with the pace of innovation? How should companies manage change? Where do you see “early singularities” in your industry? Let me know your thoughts.

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The 4 Key Success Factors of Content Marketing

Maybe you just got started with content marketing in the past year, maybe you are planning to do so in the near future. Perhaps you are even an experienced content marketer?

Whatever the case, there are people out there who came before you, and they have gained some insights over the years. We went around the world and looked at blog posts from successful content marketers in the US, Europe, and Asia, and distilled their insights into the simple question, “What makes a good content marketer?”

In these articles, we explained the basic concepts, such as:

Inbound Marketing Explained

So What is Content Marketing Anyway

Using Content Marketing to Strengthen Your Brand

There Is Money In That Content Man!

Now, let’s look at the personal level. What makes a good content marketer? What does a good content marketing team look like? Which key decisions to you need to take in your organization if you are embarking on your content marketing journey? From over 40 articles, we picked out the four key issues everybody can agree on.

Make a real commitment

Like with everything else in life, you better do it right, or you don’t do it at all. If you decide to try content marketing “for a bit”, with an understaffed team and not enough time and money, then don’t bother. You will fail. You won’t even begin to see results.

Successful content marketers confirm that whatever their industry or brand, their organization is extremely or very committed to content marketing. If the company believes in content marketing and provides the marketing team with the right resources, chances of success are much higher.

Content marketing is a complex endeavor. It means understanding the principles of inbound marketing and what companies do wrong with inbound marketing. Content marketing encompasses such creative domains as writing for an international audience or technical aspects like A/B Testing or SEO, and the impact of machine learning on SEO. As artificial intelligence evolves, it will have a profound influence on content marketing. And you need to measure the effectiveness of your marketing.

Understandably, smaller companies are struggling to find experts in all of these fields. But it’s not rocket science. All you need is …

A solid content marketing strategy

Content marketing is not just about writing and publishing articles, shooting videos, or managing a Facebook page. Your marketing efforts must have a solid strategy behind them.

A strategy needs to answer in no uncertain terms the question, what is it you want to achieve? Do you want to drive online sales, or create brand awareness? What should people do after seeing and engaging with your content? Do you want them to pick up the phone or subscribe to email newsletters? We discuss the effects of a missing strategy in this article: The 7 Deadly Sins of Digital Marketing 

A good strategy also involves team management, project management, rules for creation and distribution, regularity and consistency in execution, and patience. Whereas the effects of a TV ad can be measured immediately, a solid content strategy may take months or years to bear fruit. (But when it does, be prepared to be awed). Having realistic expectations is key to success. The level of commitment and your expectations should of course match.

Quality over quantity

It seems obvious, but because posting on digital media is so easy and doesn’t cost anything, many brands produce far too much content.

A well-written article, a very creative explainer video, or that meaningful infographic – in short, content that offers users real value and is therefore appreciated – are way more important than producing massive amounts of content. It may, for example, make more sense to spend more money on distribution or content and employing fewer content creators.

Some platforms like Facebook even punish you for posting too much. Large amounts of posts with minimum engagement tells the AI behind Facebook that your content may be shallow or irrelevant, which reduces the exposure for your entire pay. Less is often more, in other words.

Stay on top of your game

Finally, digital marketing is not a static process. It is evolving over time. New tools and platforms come online, and the behavior of users changes. Two years ago, LinkedIn wasn’t exactly the most popular platform for marketing in most countries, now it’s growing rapidly and become more and more relevant for B2B marketing. People put great hopes in Snapchat, and then Instagram did hit back. What works and what doesn’t seems to change by the minute.

One way to keep abreast is to have a dedicated “technology advisor” with regular meetings. This may be a person in your company or an outside agency. Having these regular briefings will help assure your strategy isn’t outdated before it is even launched.

Content marketing is a journey. It is not just another way of marketing, it is part of the digitalization of our world. And one thing is sure, companies that don’t become digital will be left behind.

READ ALSO

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What Facebook Really Knows About You

Data pricacy is a hot issue, especially with the new European GDPR affecting the entire world. (See: GDPR is not a compliance but a marketing issue. Companies like hotjar who track your mouse movements on websites are already in hot water. But the real question is what the behemoth of social media, Facebook, will do.

In several countries parliamentary inquiries are under way to find out how Russia and other dodgy players affect local elections. At the core of this issue is the ability to target Facebook users with precision.

Precise targeting depends on what Facebook knows about its users. Facebook is notoriously secretive about what it knows and how it uses the information, not least because it really does know a lot; too much, some data privacy activists claim.

Facebook’s business model

Facebook has a very clear business model: it wants to know every about you, so it can sell this information for the purpose of precision-targeted advertising. That means it has to keep you on the platform as long as possible and gather as much information as possible.

For many people, Facebook is already equivalent to “the Internet”. In countries like Taiwan, Facebook has a penetration rate of close to 90% of the population, with an average of 3.5 hours a day spent on the platform. Which means that a large percentage of the population get their news from Facebook. Sounds scary?

Facebook is doing everything to make itself relevant. It shows you the news and the weather, prioritizes information sources you want to see, lets you play games, interact with friends, shop for products, and find a new job. It is continuously launching new products with the sole goal of gathering even more information about you.

But what  does Facebook really know about you?

Some of the information Facebook has on you is pretty obvious. It knows your email address and your phone number, and, through GPS and Wifi, your location. If you filled in your Facebook profile truthfully, it has data on your education and your profession.

That basic data set alone is often enough to target ads and even identify you. If you live in a small town and your profession is “baker”, you are probably identifiable even if you chose a pseudonym on your Facebook account. (How many bakeries are there in your village?)

However, it’s really once you start using Facebook that the platform gathers the most valuable data. Let me stress this: the biggest value comes from data you don’t turn over to Facebook consciously.

Because it knows your location, Facebook knows your movements. I go from place A (my home) to place B (my office) almost every day at the same time. That means Facebook knows the absolutely best times to show me those ads for breakfast joints or dinner restaurants.

By the same token, Facebook knows when and where you go on holiday. It knows the class of hotel you stay in and thus probably your income or at least your position in a company. Try staying at a 5-star hotel a few times and you’ll soon see Jaguar and Gucci ads.

According to Facebook terms, the information is gathered from the “family of Facebook apps”. That means even if you avoid using Facebook on vacation, it can correlate that data from Whatsapp (owned by Facebook), and of course Messenger, Instagram, and whatever else it will buy or create in the future.

Because it owns different apps and knows your usage patterns, it can target ads even more precisely. Many people don’t turn on Facebook during the day, but use Whatsapp for business communication. That means Facebook knows your working hours, and thus very likely your profession.

Someone using Whatsapp exactly from 9-5 every day is hardly going to be the CEO of a company, regardless of what you put in your profile. If you use Facebook at exactly 5-7 pm every day, with changing GPS data, machine learning algorithms are inferring that you can’t be reached during the day but have a long commute.

If you stop at the same pub every day at 6, the same hospital every two days, or a Church three times a week, Facebook can tell that you are either an alcoholic, a diabetic, or a religious fanatic.

Facebook even knows if you are a smoker or not: If you move outside your building and spend 5 minutes on Facebook every 2 hours, you probably left the office for a fag. And if you move between home and the local pool every morning, it’s time for Speedo ads.

Check-ins help Facebook confirm your intentions

Of course location data isn’t always accurate: my pool is part of a hospital complex, so I could equally be going for medical treatment, or work at the hospital. This is where the “check-in” feature comes in.

Check in is like saying to Facebook “yup, I confirm that”.  The app already knows you are at a restaurant (GPS data), but if you actively check in, that data point gets a lot more weight. If GPS shows me at the aforementioned hospital-slash-gym, checking in at the pool tells Facebook that I’m not visiting my doctor but going for a swim.

The same is true for every group you join and every page you like. Once you share a post, Facebook is even happier. Sharing is more of a commitment than Liking or reacting to a post in another way. You are not alone.

Of course Facebook also considers the people you are connected to. If most of your connections are gay men, it will fairly assume that you are gay too. If two-thirds of them like gyms, the algorithm will rightly assume that you are either a stalker or a gym rat. If you spend 3 hours at the gym, and regularly post pics of your buff torso, Facebook (GPS data + image recognition) will show you different ads than if you are 60+ and only spend 30 minutes in that location.

Likewise, if all of your friends continuously share posts about anti-abortion rallies and check in at church on Sundays, Facebook can infer that you are a conservative redneck even if your profile is empty and you’ve never shared or liked a post in your life.

All that data

All in all, Facebook takes about one hundred data points to put you into specific categories. You can check your own by opening Facebook on your computer and clicking on the triangle in the tool bar. Select “Settings” and the “Ads” on the left. Now scroll down and click on “Your information”. Under “Your categories” you will now find your full “advertisers profile”.

Be prepared to be shocked. What Facebook shows you here is the bare minimum of what they have to disclose by law. It does not include all the inferences the algorithm made by correlating various data points, image analysis and machine learning results.

If you find yourself in the category “parents” and “frequent international traveler”, they will  assume that you will be traveling with children. If you are connected to your spouse and children on Facebook, the platform will know whether this time you are traveling alone or not.

Although I have never actively told Facebook my political views, they have me down as a “Liberal”.  Must be all those Anti-Trump posts I like share. There is a lot more to explore on those pages, for example “Interests” and “People”. My list includes Barack Obama, Ray Kurtzweil and Amy Schumer, and a whole list of people I honestly have never heard of. But overall, the data is pretty accurate.

And there is more…

Facebook Pixel is another way Facebook collects data about you: outside the Facebook app. But I am sure by now you get the picture: most of the data Facebook has about you is not data you actively provided or can control.

The smarter machine learning and artificial intelligence will become, the less your privacy. It’s nice that Facebook lets you select which information can and cannot be used to target ads, but so far no one has forced Facebook to delete privacy data, not to mention inferred meta data.

More worrying is the use of Messenger or WhatsApp data for targeting. Users have alleged that after chatting with someone about a specific product or topic, they have started to see relevant ads. While most people will accept that Location, Likes and Shares can be used for targeting, I don’t want Facebook to listen to my private chats. If I am telling my significant other that I am “going to buy you some underwear” and subsequently see Calvin Klein ads, I will be seriously pissed.

The more the merrier

Now imagine if Facebook did admit to buying external data, like credit reports, loyalty programs from stores or airlines (they deny that). Facebook would then be in a position (which, again, they fervently deny) to show you ads for milk when you are about to run out (based on your purchase data).

The more data they have, the more correlation is possible, and the more accurate the ad experience, and the more worrisome the privacy issues.

According to its terms of usage, Facebook can do whatever it wants with your data. This is exactly the point that brings it in conflict with laws like GDPR and privacy activists. I don’t want to see an ad for bread after I send my spouse “don’t forget to buy bread” on WhatsApp.

The more Facebook is involved in political processes like elections, the more it will feature in discussions about digital citizenship and digital democracy, meaning that sooner or later, its domineering approach to data ownership and usage will cause its downfall.

Some governments will ban it, others will force it to limit the amount of information it gathers and how it uses that information. It would not surprise me if sooner or later Facebook will be treated like a public utility. Whatever the future holds, the challenges are real, both for users and operators of social networks.

Inbound Marketing Explained

Traditional marketing is dead, and the future is all about “Inbound”. Come again?

For years now “inbound marketing” has been a buzzword around the world. Yet surprisingly, a lot of businesses still don’t understand what it is, why it is better for companies and customers alike, why it is the natural way of marketing, and how to go about it. Even those who do it often do it without a real strategy in place.

This article will explain the concept and its five primary stages so that everyone can finally get aboard.Read also:  Why B2B companies must embrace millennials. 

 

Traditional marketing is all about the brand

Up to a decade or two ago, depending on where you are in the world, the main forms of getting your message out were events like trade shows or conferences, advertisement (whether on TV, radio, print etc.), directories like Yellow Pages, direct mailings, sales calls, and various forms of that most pernicious of tactics, the sales call. There were simply no other ways to reach customers, unless of course, your brand was so spectacularly good it could rely solely on word of mouth.

All of these traditional forms are about you, your business, your product. You are literally pushing your marketing message into people’s faces, whether they are interested or not. This form of doing business is immensely time-consuming. Think of how much time the traveling vacuum cleaner salesperson spent on explaining a product the bored customer had no intention of buying in the first place. It also alienates potential customers by its intrusive nature. Even trade shows, which are sticking around for good reason, are ultimately a waste of resources unless you are an established business using such events to connect with existing customers.

All the traditional forms of sales are “interruptions”. I hate TV commercials, and I hate them even more on the radio. I don’t read ads, and I don’t take note of fliers pushed under my door. These days, if I get a cold call, I hang up immediately without even the pretense of politeness. I have no patience for people who don’t get how very offensive and annoying these forms of “marketing” are. One cold call and your business is on my blacklist. I don’t even consider such tactics marketing, I call them spam. And me no likey spam.

People became so sick and tired of being bombarded with advertisements that countries enacted various laws regulating the delivery of intrusive messages, be it through your mailbox or the telephone. For a while, set-top boxes and DVD recorders skipping commercials seemed to threaten the traditional advertising channels. But then, the Internet came to the rescue. To the rescue of both businesses and consumers. For the first time in history, digital media gave us a plethora of options to reach customers, and let them find us.

 

Inbound Marketing is all about the customer

Digital media and social networks have allowed businesses to embrace a whole new world of customer-oriented marketing. By using websites and social media platforms to present your product offering, a trend started away from interruptive advertisement (pushing from the business to the customer) to an attractive form of marketing (pulling the customer in).

Inbound marketing, as it is called, is marvelous. The leads you get are people who actually have an interest in your product. Very likely they have already done their homework and know about the product, so the sales department has to do a lot less work. (Which is why I think Sales and Marketing departments should be merged anyway, but that is another story.)

Consumers now have the power. We can do the research, we can get informed, either by perusing material published by the business, or reading reviews from other users. Most consumers read reviews on retail platforms before making a decision, many trust those reviews.

Inbound marketing empowers the consumer and saves the business valuable time, time which can be used to improve the product offering. In some industries, a large junk of the sales process is already completed by the time a customer contacts a sales agent. I believe inbound marketing done right is so powerful it should have already made all Sales departments redundant. The reason why they are still around is simply this: many businesses are still so very bad at inbound marketing.

Read also: 10 Common Misconceptions About Inbound Marketing

money-2696229_960_720

Inbound marketing saves time and money

Inbound marketing is about attracting people, about engaging with customers, and about guiding them toward becoming customers.

At the beginning of this process, you have many people interested, at the end of it, you get a handful of real customers. That’s why it is called a funnel. The good thing about inbound marketing is that those customers are here voluntarily and have been engaged with the brand for some time, i.e. the time it takes from first attraction to conversion. Therefore they see the purchase as something positive, something they themselves initiated, and not something that was forced on them. Therefore, they are much more likely to engage with a brand and much more likely to influence others.

Last year I got into a real fight about this with a software company that produces video editing software. VIDEO. EDITING. SOFTWARE. What better way to market it than to showcase all the amazing stuff you can do with that software and put that content on Youtube and Facebook. Or hold a competition and create tons of user-generated content. They wouldn’t have any of it. Instead, they opted for 600’000 USD per year in Facebook ads. It just drives me nuts.

There is so much you can do in inbound marketing. Every brand can use it. from B2B industrial services to ice cream parlors. All it takes is creativity and the realization that ads really do alienate more people than they bring in business.

Whether it is a cool Instagram account, an informative Facebook page, a Snapchat influencer, an online forum, an email newsletter, seminars, blogs, podcasts, or a public speech, there are a hundred ways of showing what your business, product or service is all about without interrupting or annoying the customer along the way with advertisement. But beware. Just doing any of these things is not called inbound marketing. It’s called dabbling. In order to be worthwhile, measurable, and ultimately effective, inbound marketing also needs a solid strategy.

 

Inbound is not Inbound if you don’t have a strategy

Now the important thing here is that inbound marketing isn’t just email or social or podcasts. It is not any of these things individually, and it is not all of these things lumped together. Inbound marketing is the strategy behind all your activities. It is the construction of the funnel which turns casually interested parties into engaged followers and ultimately good customers.

Many businesses do social media without an inbound strategy. They don’t offer that very useful whitepaper on that interesting issue, they don’t invite people to subscribe to a newsletter and they don’t create that funnel that turns digital acquaintances into flesh-and-blood customers. Which means that ultimately they have no way of measuring the ROI on their digital marketing investment, no idea how one platform growth affects another, and no insight into what customers really value about their products or services.

 

From Attraction to Advocate: 5 stages of inbound marketing

A good inbound strategy involves 5 stages, which we call Attract > Retain > Convert > Close > Advocate.

 

2016-buyers-journey-web

Attract is the broadest stage in the process. Use any and all of the tools at your disposal to create awareness for your business and attract interest in what you are doing.

Retain is the phase that is most often forgotten. It is important to have a broad retaining strategy. Most purchases (conversions) don’t happen the first time a customer encounters a brand. So you want to retain their attention, either by binding them to your platform (like, follow, sign up) or simply by making your content so attractive that they come back again and again. One of the measurements (not KPIs, we hate those) of our in-house strategy, for example, is called “repeat visits to our blogs”.

Step three is Convert, where we convert anonymous readers and visitors into actual potential customers. That’s when they reach for the phone and explore your offering, or visit your store to check out your products.

Stage four, Close, is when the lead becomes a customer, and in stage five, the satisfied customer goes back out and tells others what a delightful experience he had with your brand. He becomes an Advocate of your business.

Having a solid inbound strategy means that you offer help at every step of the way, even the last one. We use different content types and engagement strategies for each stage, even the last one: there are a number of tools you can use to make it easy and desirable for customers to spread the word about your brand. And since most people trust recommendations from friends and even strangers on digital media, that last step of influencing is the crowning achievement of any successful inbound strategy.

Read also: How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

Marketers are tour guides

 

All the above is called the “Customer Journey”, usually divided into “awareness”, “consideration” and “decision”. Too many businesses still fail to understand that journey.

People don’t just see your ad, click on it, and buy your product. They’d be stupid to. An ad for a video editing software shouldn’t lead to a Buy button, it should lead to a trial offer. A Facebook post for an energy drink shouldn’t lead to an e-shop where you can buy the drink in bulk.

Customers expect to try out stuff and experience it before making a decision. Customer journeys aren’t high-speed train rides from A to B, they are like the meandering perambulations of tourists in a foreign city.

Some customers spend months in awareness limbo before reaching even marginal “consideration”. Most never make a decision, not because they don’t like your product, but because you have not created the right funnel to retain their interest. Like a bad tour guide, you have lost one of your charges while walking through the ruins of Rome.

Inbound marketing is all about guiding customers on that journey, no matter how long and complicated it is.  Like a good tour guide, you must answer every question, and make sure everyone is still with you when you leave the Forum.

Simple enough, isn’t it? And yet so many businesses still refuse to take customer’s hands and guide them with patience and kindness. Instead, they hold on to advertisement methods created in the pre-digital age, simply because ROI is slightly easier to measure for advertising than for complex inbound marketing (not really true, but the myth persists). The truth is that with for every sale you get your advertising, you alienate nine potential customers, whereas, with a solid inbound marketing strategy, you can build a loyal audience that will sustain your business for years to come.

Read also:

Curiosity Marketing: The Ideal Solution for Digital Natives

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Augmenting Digital Marketing Through Artificial Intelligence

AI and the Future of Marketing

Yes, yes, artificial intelligence is threatening millions of jobs, everyone will be replaced by robots, machines will do every job better and faster, yadda yadda yadda. We know all that. We’ve been going on and on about it for years.

But so far, it ain’t happening. Not on the ground. Not with the companies that we work with. Apart from a handful of digital leaders perhaps, the rest of the business world has precious little to do with AI for now. Chatbots are still crappy and most AI solutions available for marketing are nothing but rudimentary automation tools.

So, when will it happen, and where will it happen first? Let’s discuss!

First way of the dodo: PPC

Whereas branding, creative, and strategy are – for the moment – safe from AI, there are some aspects of marketing that can already be executed better by AI. The first industry to bite the dust will be PPC and its cousins. There is no use for humans fidgeting with ad formats, bid adjustment, and link optimization. You are trying to beat an algorithm that gets smarter by the day.

At the moment, Google itself is offering AI-based suggestions on how to improve your campaign, Very often the suggestions are useless. We run a campaign for branding and marketing consulting and Google keeps telling me to add the keyword “movie theater” for whatever reason. But it is improving.

The next level of AI involvement will be automated adjustments to bids, alerts for quality scores, and budget optimization. This will have to be done by a third-party provider with access to your PPC data. You wouldn’t trust Google or Facebook to “optimize your budget”.

Soon you will see Google and Facebook offer fully automated solutions, so don’t bother with your PPC certificate. Optimizing digital campaigns is the first marketing activity to be done completely by AI. There is also an incentive for Google to offer data-driven creative solutions, but we expect more trial-and-error before these really make an impact.

Death to A/B testing!

I love A/B testing, but it’s the next thing on the dodo list. Companies which base their business on A/B testing services will ultimately go under as sophisticated AI will do the testing for you. IBM Watson’s Cognitive Technology for marketing can already suggest what to test and how to test it. Phrasee is a tool which analyzes customer reactions and responses and then, through machine learning, suggests how to adapt your language to better engage with your audience. Many more are on the horizon.

Goodbye SEO companies!

At this point, SEO companies are still offering values, because there are still things that have to be done manually, by programmers and coders. But as we move forward, most of what an SEO company does can be done by AI. Amongst the thousands of SEO consultants out there, only those that offer extra value or develop their own analytics tools and sell subscriptions will survive.

We are more inclined to think that Google will come out with a service that automatically optimizes your pages. AMP hasn’t lived up to the promise but it is growing. WordPress is another candidate to offer fully-optimized web presence that continuously optimizes for SEO.

Social media posting

Social media posting will also be a victim of AI–to a point. There are many software solutions available already, many of them cloud-based, all with different strengths and weaknesses. We can expect this kind of AI to get better over time, not just posting at random intervals, but posting and re-posting content that actually makes the most impact, taking under consideration reader reactions, shares, and likes, etc. Using this kind of basic posting AI will free up time for the marketing team, who can now concentrate on the creative process.

Who’s next?

In general, we see the areas most likely to be impacted by AI as follows:

  • Repetitive tasks such as posting and reposting
  • Data analysis tasks, with the results, then used to improve creative
  • Optimization based on machine learning
  • Processes following strict rules (“if this then that”)
  • Interface to business intelligence systems
  • Comparing investments and ROI balancing
  • Analysis and reporting, although the current output of analytics tools is far too technical for management to accept

What AI will not replace (for now)

Marketers should not be threatened by this development. The tasks we listed above should be taken over by a computer. They are repetitive, data-driven, and uncreative. By turning them over to machines, marketing teams will have more time to focus on the creative process, strategy, and all other tasks humans excel at.

What AI certainly can’t replace is experience and intuition. Most AI systems are blissfully unaware of the difference between countries and cultures, and will blindly make suggestions based on their creator’s inherent bias. So if you are working in multi-cultural marketing, bridging gaps in understanding and helping companies to internationalize, then your job is safe.

We also expect a backlash against machines, in various degrees. The more automated the digital space becomes, the more users will see through the fact that they are being shown ads and fed content through algorithms. There will be a movement for “humanity” and marketing and a craze for authenticity. For the foreseeable future, marketers will grapple with AI, and employ machines to make their lives easier. Any talk of AI replacing marketers in large numbers is surely premature.

How digital companies are leaving the rest behind

My favorite hashtags: digital transformation, digital company, digital business, digital everything! I am all about digital, I live it and I breathe it. And then I have to make a bank transfer and have to fill in a bunch of paper forms and “sign here, here, here, and initial here please.” Sigh!

We have been talking about digital for two decades, and there are still myriad obstacles to full digitalization of enterprises. We haven’t even figured out bank transfers yet, not to mention electronic voting! There are real companies out there who haven’t heard of machine learning! Half the reception desks in my home Taiwan still hand you a clipboard to sign in when you visit a company! When we delivered the final product of a government tender in 2017, we had to send 10 printed copies (close to 1000 pages!) along with the hard disk full of design data. On the other hand, some countries and companies have banned paper completely: if you want to become an Intel supplier or open an account with Citibank, they no longer accept paper documents.

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

A divide has opened and I am not talking about the one between rich and poor countries. Because let’s face it, some poorer countries are more digital than many rich ones. Just think of American paper cheques vs Kenyan online banking. I am talking about the massive divide between digital and non-digital organizations, between those who get it and those who don’t. And I have a message for those who don’t: Sayonara, suckers! 

I recently went to a conference on marketing in the machinery industry. The moderator of the panel asked me “how can we update our marketing strategies and bring them into the 21st century?” I asked if he had already connected with me on LinkedIn. He said: “Oh no, we don’t allow our employees on LinkedIn. They could divulge sensitive information.” I gave my little talk on inbound and content marketing and was mostly met by blank stares. At the end of the conference, I had to sign an attendance list. Pen on paper!

Around the world, organizations, governments, and companies are falling behind when it comes to digital transformation. Even in the US, the majority of companies are not keeping up. According to research from the McKinsey Global Institute, the U.S. economy operates at only 18% of its digital potential, and the sort of productivity gains that digital technologies should be enabling, are not showing up in the broader economy. For Asia, the figures are presumably worse. Very few countries have significantly better figures, usually due to the influence of trailblazing individuals or enterprises.

 

The Digital Divide

The digital divide is massive, and even though technology companies are doing slightly better, there are huge gaps in every industry. Those gaps are not about buying IT equipment, but about the adoption of digital processes and digitally enabling employees. One of our clients is a large electronics manufacturer of the latest gadgets and gimmicks, and yet their employees still punch in every morning on a 40-year-old machine and sign paper payment slips.

The reasons for digital backwardness are manifold; some of it has to do with government regulation, some of it with management. We can’t influence government regulation, but we can listen to our clients. So we went and asked 200 companies what keeps them from adopting more digital business processes and digital marketing strategies, and how they use data to drive company culture. The results were shocking, but not unexpected.

74% of companies said that there was no pressure from management to change; 62% said management didn’t understand digitalization; 55% said the transformation was too complicated and/or expensive, and a full 78% didn’t know exactly what kind of processes could or should be digitized for greater efficiency.

 

Modernization and Digitalization go hand-in-hand

The process of modernizing a business to use new tools and technologies is key to digital adoption. Yet even in countries like the UK or Germany, most small and medium-size companies are lagging far behind. At the same time, savvy multinationals are pulling away from the pack and leaving everyone else in the dust. The results for the Mittelstand around the world will ultimately be disastrous. While Adidas is busy setting up fully digital, robotic manufacturing sites near customers, Asian manufacturers are wondering why their OEM business is shrinking year-on-year.

Read also: The True Meaning of Industry 4.0 for Manufacturers

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In Summer 2017 I did a brand and marketing audit for a company that completely missed out on digitalization and digital marketing. It was one of two manufacturers of portable audio equipment of a specific type. In 2010, it had slightly higher sales than its digitally savvy competitor. In November 2017, it was acquired by the very same competitor, who had grown tenfold in the same period, simply by modernizing and adopting digital marketing strategies such as, in this particular case, Instagram, and introducing digital co-working tools throughout the enterprise.

Taiwan has a low birth rate and not enough talent for its many high-tech industries. Yet only 8% of companies surveyed actively use LinkedIn to look for and engage with potential candidates. The same companies that don’t understand digital platforms for HR or marketing are also behind when it comes to the digitalization of other businesses processes.

 

Be Digital, or Be Disrupted

The threat of disruption due to a lack of digital skills is very real. We handle the recruiting marketing for a big semiconductor company. During the development phase of our strategy, we asked 5000 students how they rated employment opportunities at various companies. 72% of students said they would not bother applying at a company without a professional LinkedIn profile because such a company was probably “not a great, modern, place to work.” (A surprising 48% said they wouldn’t even trust a company without an Instagram account.)

The next generation of employees grew up digitally native, and they don’t trust companies that aren’t digitally savvy.

If your company is older than ten years, it is probably not native to the cloud and has to deal with outdated IT infrastructure, legacy software systems, and, very often, inefficient, analog processes. When confronted with these facts, the most common answer we get from management is “why change when it works so well.” See, that’s the problem! Your competitors are increasingly lean, efficient, digitally native, and agile. They make much better use of their capital and delight their customers by engaging with them across multiple channels in the most resource and time-efficient manner.

For another client, I evaluated ten of their competitors – all in the CNC machining and injection molding business. The two companies with the highest growth rates over the past years were those who had implemented full digital submission of files, video conferencing and collaboration software, as well as digital invoicing and procurement. In fact, those two were the only ones growing since 2012.

If you don’t digitize, you won’t win new business, won’t keep existing customers; you will be eliminated as a supplier to multinational companies who have embraced digital business processes and will fall behind the competition in every possible way.

There is simply no way of staying relevant without embracing digital transformation.

Disruption Starts with Digital

It seems that disruptive start-ups are everywhere these days, from agriculture to banking, from pharma to contract manufacturing. Before the emergence of cloud computing, the world saw around 2-3 billion-dollar companies emerge every year. Since the advent of cloud computing over 5 years ago, that number has grown to over 50 a year. That’s a lot of unicorns threatening your existing business.

There is a reason sales of servers are going down, and the reason is cloud computing and fog computing. Yet in our survey, over 65% of company executives said they were “not familiar with the advantages of cloud computing” and 59% said they were not “ready to trust cloud computing services with their data.” While data privacy and safety concerns are highly relevant, they also mask a tremendous ignorance when it comes to the latest computing platforms and services. Only 1% of responders had heard the term “fog computing” or knew what 5G would do for the Internet of Things.

Change is Terrifying, Change is Necessary

Yes, change can be terrifying. But change is not an option. Not only does redefining business models mean increased risk and a significant investment of time and money. it can also challenge the position of executives who are no longer willing to adapt to a changing business environment. Over 80% of companies in our survey said that “personnel issues are a significant obstacle to the modernization of business processes.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Regular training courses or adoption of mentor principles (where an older exec is given a younger, digitally native, side-kick) are keys to keeping the organization relevant. Such innovations are a lot more important at the moment than trying to figure out which country to invest in or which machine to buy. Rather than choosing between three brands of server architecture, companies should think about how to replace antiquated IT infrastructure and move to more efficient cloud solutions.

Read also: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Marketing

 

Where to begin your digital transformation?

Digitalization changes the way your company appears to partners, customers, and suppliers. Their experience is key. The so-called UX/UI isn’t just a design feature of an app, it is the entire interaction with your company. “Customer first” has become something of a cliché, but it is now more important than ever. With even more choice and an easy way to compare, the consumer has all the power. I personally removed all my accounts from one bank recently because I was fed up with the amount of paperwork they require for every single process.

Product digitalization is the second pillar of change, i.e. using technology to enhance your offer or service. That means virtual manufacturing processes, the adoption of digital document management, internet of things, remote management, and so on. All of this makes the production, distribution, tracking, warehousing and repairing of goods and services faster and more efficient.

Process optimization is the third pillar of digital transformation. It required the most coordination, the biggest changes, and, very often, the largest investment in new technologies. However, done right, process optimization can significantly cut the cost of dealing with all kinds of problems in the enterprise, from customer complaints to failure rates. One of my customers, YCS, is a Taiwan SME that improves efficiency in manufacturing by monitoring and controlling every part of the value chain, eliminating the need for time-consuming manual checks.

Process optimation begins with questioning everything you do.

Process optimation begins with questioning everything you do. How many people have to sign off on an order? Do we really need to fill in paper check-lists for every single control step? Who has a say in creating a new marketing strategy? What part of marketing can be handled more efficiency by artificial intelligence?

Start by asking all the teams in your organization to map out everything they do, and then search for elements that are unnecessary or redundant. A lot can be delegated to lower-level management if the right checks and balances are in place. At one of our clients, we found that a 200+ employee company had to get every single document signed by the boss, from the requisition order for brooms to the contract with the local health-care provider. Almost all the inefficiencies at that company could be removed by eliminating the outdated idea that a signature by a manager (who is probably not paying attention to what he or she is signing anyway) confers some kind of authority, or prevents fraud or misuse.

 

Digital adoption is a culture change

At the end, however, you can do all the customer experience and product digitalization you want; if you don’t have employees who are behind the digital change, you will not be able to create an intelligent company.

Changing business processes means taking authority away from people and enabling others. It may be hard for older employees to accept that, but it is absolutely necessary for growth and competitiveness. Employee engagement is not just about improved collaboration or messaging tools, but involves creating a more efficient experience for everyone, from the doorman to the board members.

Read also: Employee Advocacy and Digital Marketing

Adoption of digital processes will allow you to move away from 9 to 5 (or rather 9 to 9 here in Asia) drudgery to more flexible work models and thus greater employee satisfaction. The more competitive your industry, the more important this employee satisfaction will be for retention and acquisition of talent. Many companies – especially in Asia – expect employees to be available on digital messaging tools even outside normal working hours, while at the same time completely failing to adopt digital processes that would allow said employees to become more productive. A whopping 94% of companies we surveyed said that “finding and retaining employees is the biggest challenge.”

And then there is the infrastructure

Underpinning the entire digital transformation is, of course, IT. That means exploring and adopting the latest tools and making the best use of data. It makes sense for a company of a certain size to have someone on the team who looks for and evaluates the latest software solutions for every team or department.

Cloud and fog computing mean that managing your own hardware is a bad use of your time and resources. Most of what we used to do on our in-house infrastructure can now be done more efficiently and significantly cheaper with cloud-based tools. That means managers must understand data, data usage, privacy, data warehousing, and security issues.

A modern IT manager must understand what these mean and what they can do for your organization. IT departments are not there to maintain PCs, upgrade memory, or change printer cartridges. The must lead the enterprise-wide understanding of emerging technologies, platforms, and software solutions.

Read here: How to Start Incorporating Machine Learning in Enterprises

 

Machine Learning, AI, Big Data and Analytics

Finally, there is machine learning and artificial intelligence, big data and analytics. Machine learning is the grease that makes businesses successful. Data visualization is one of the most overlooked components. Many solutions are readily available in the cloud, and visually interpreted data about your sales, your clients, and your internal processes, will allow you to modernize much faster and more efficiently.

Artificial intelligence isn’t just a buzzword for the future, it is changing the enterprise of today. Machine learning solutions should be incorporated today, in order to improve product development and customer experience.  Machine learning is key to securing competitive advantage.

Digital transformation is a hot topic, but what it comes down to is simply staying with the ball. You can’t stay competitive without digitalization, and you won’t be able to recruit new people if you are not digitally savvy. Nobody wants to work for a dinosaur company, and no dinosaur company has ever won a prize for innovation.

Digital transformation is not something you do once, it is a continuous process and a complete change of mindset in the enterprise. Use corporate training to help your teams change, reskill where necessary, and change your employee’s mindset. We don’t just need to accept change, we need to love it. If you don’t get started with it today, it’s already too late. The sample principles of “continuous improvement” that guide manufacturers must be part of your entire corporate DNA.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

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