The Right Role for Marketing

Marketers – especially those working in agencies for a variety of clients – tend to have a firm grasp of the terminology of marketing, the lingo, the concepts, and therefore claim to understand what exactly marketing is. But from a corporate perspective, the answer is far from clear.

What is marketing?

Marketing can be done large-scale or minimalist, it can be a very personal activity with a lot of human interaction, or a pure exercise in the deployment of technology. For some people, marketing is the same as sales, and for others, it is little more but a fancy word for advertising. It is all of these things and none of those.

As an inter-cultural marketer, I am keenly aware not just how difficult it is to pin down the true meaning of marketing, but also how different cultures understand the term.

Take Chinese for example. Marketing is either translated as “xing-xiao”, meaning “to go forth and sell”, or as “ying-xiao”, meaning “to execute the selling”. Neither term comes even close to the English meaning of “creating a market”. Maybe it is this bad translation that causes Chinese speakers to see marketing as a very limited and uncreative exercise, and why most companies working in Chinese are unwilling to embrace modern forms of marketing, such as inbound or content marketing.

More important than the linguistic difference is the cultural one. In the West, people are encouraged to be individualistic, outgoing, and develop a personal brand. In the age of social media, marketing has become just that: an exercise in personalization and self-promotion. Companies and products alike need a personal experience, and “authenticity”. Influencer marketing is the pinnacle of this philosophy, even though it is nothing more but an old-fashioned endorsement.

In Asian cultures, on the other hand, the group is more important than the individual, the firm greater than the employee. In Asia, you hardly ever find a star marketer or a personality cult around one outstanding individual. In the age of social media, that creates an obstacle for Asian companies that, as technology and social trends advance hand-in-hand, will become greater and greater.

The third difference isn’t one between Asia and the West, but between marketers and companies, especially companies who make physical products.

Read also: Inbound Marketing Explained and So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

I don’t need to understand your product in order to market it

Every first client meeting I have ever had starts with a lengthy explanation of the client’s product. Sometimes these can go into excruciating detail. One time it was so technical – and irrelevant to marketing – that I nodded off.

The company CEO who had given us a screw-by-screw rundown of the product caught me and said: “if you are not interested in our product, how can you market it?” I replied, “if you can’t tell me in one sentence what the product does for the consumer, why are you bothering to make it?” Proud engineers make very bad marketers.

How we do marketing depends on what we are trying to achieve. Do we want to boost sales of a specific product, or do we want to make the brand better known overall? Are we trying to compete against a market leader or are we setting the standards? We have such a superior product, how come nobody is paying attention? Why is it that our Facebook group has 90’000 likes yet no one is buying our face mask? Should we use Snapchat? How much will it cost to launch our new app? Which logo is better? Do we need a new CIS? What channels are right for us?

All these are marketing questions, but all of them require different expertise. Some are a question of technology, others of artistic expression. Marketing is an amalgam of science and art, but most of all, marketing is not the individual activity someone has in mind, but the strategy and the overall concept behind it.

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

 

Marketing is not an afterthought to product development

Yes, we can market your product, but if it is badly designed with horrible packaging and a ridiculous logo, what’s the point? My agency will not take cases like this lest our reputation suffer. Yes, we can increase engagement on Facebook, but don’t you want to know the real reason people are not buying your facemask? Why do you let the company owner choose the logo if all he knows is his own limited view of the world and questionable aesthetic sense? Why are you selling in cheap supermarkets yet call yourself a high-end product? In too many enterprises, marketing is called in after all the important decisions have been made by the wrong people.

Marketing is not the execution of an individual campaign. It is not the design of a logo or the naming of a project. Marketing must be at the very core of a company’s strategy. Marketing must be involved in all the crucial business decisions, in product development as much as in financial planning.

Read also: The Importance of Customer Feedback and How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

If management is the brain, marketing is the heart

In the last century, fueled by innovation in management thinking (Drucker etc) the CFO became elevated and almost surpassed the CEO in importance. Those days are long gone.

In the age of social media, of instant gratification, or data-driven enterprises, of online product reviews and personalized marketing, of boundless innovation in marketing technology, it is time to make the Chief Marketing Officer head of the company. For no matter what product or service you offer, the core of your enterprise is not management, finance, or HR. The heart of every firm must always be the marketing team. 

So there is my answer. Marketing is the heart. Let management be the brains, and finance be the lungs, but marketing must the heart: both an efficient pump that keeps the company going, and the (allegorical, admittedly) locus of your feelings and emotions.

Nothing in a company should happen without the marketing team. Whether you acquire a new startup, expand into a new market, develop new products, or hire a new IT specialist: the marketing team must be involved in all the crucial decisions. If it is not, if marketing is kept in a silo, and abused to make shoddy ads and manage a Facebook page, it will never create value: not for the firm, nor for the customer.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

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

Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from an online business asking why their sales are going down, why their site isn’t taking off, why nobody is subscribing to their product demo, what they could do to improve online sales, and so forth.

Sometimes the flaws are obvious, but more often than not finding the reason for low conversion rates can be a challenge.

It is especially frustrating when you have a lot of traffic. Traffic is good, traffic is nice, but just like a bee visiting flowers, it’s not the number of buzzing bees that counts, it is what they do on the flower.

So what can you do if you have all the traffic you need, but visits still aren’t converting?

Of course, there is A/B testing. But before you get busy testing, make sure you lay the groundwork. That means creating landing pages that are actually worth analyzing, looking closely at visitors’ behavior on your site, and, sometimes, asking direct questions.

So, let’s get busy then.

Create simple landing pages

Websites are usually chock full of distractions. There is simply too much information to decide which particular element turns away customers or reduces conversion rates. Often the very design of the navigation tools is a conversion killer.

A landing page should have the bare minimum of information and clear visuals. One or two product images are usually enough, and a short description will do. You can include options to expand text or images to see more or click through to a more thorough description. Technical details, usage in specific cases, or comparisons should be done on separate pages, that way you know who is really interested in your offering. There should be one clear call to action rather than a bewildering selection of what to do next.

If you use landing pages for lead generation, A/B testing is, of course, the logical next step.

Analyzing behavior is fun

Online behavior used to be a bit of a mystery, and a lot had to be inferred from sparse Google Analytics data. Time spent on a page doesn’t really tell you much for most content, while the bounce rate can be terribly misleading.

Happily, for marketers, there are now a number of nifty tools available to get to the bottom of things. Analyzing what people are doing on your site is not just essential, it’s also fun.

There are a lot of things you can learn from the analysis. How much of a blog post do people actually read? The best headlines are useless if the first paragraph makes people lose interest. What are they clicking on first?

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer

The more you know about your site visitors, the better you will get at creating content they like, and offering products they actually buy. Analyzing online behavior and segmenting audiences with cleverly designed navigation options are the first steps, followed by A/B testing. Together these “hidden” analysis options can give you insights without actively asking customers.

Sometimes you want to know more of course, and then you need to turn to questions. Google Forms is a great way to design simple questionnaires. In our experience, customers are willing to answer 3-5 questions as long as they don’t have to write out the answers. Just make sure you ask the right questions, however. I recently was asked to reply to the question “Do you think our product price is right, or should it be a) lower or b) higher?” I seriously doubt that large numbers of customers would choose b, so the responses are perfectly meaningless.

Stay in touch and build relationships

If you have analyzed your website traffic and done your A/B testing, and you know your product is great but website visits still aren’t converting, it’s time to look at your funnel.

One reason why I don’t like advertising is that it distorts the funnel too much. You can spend millions on the flashiest ads with the biggest superstars, but what percentage of the people who respond to the creativity of an ad, or the allure of a star, actually end up being your customer? Unless you are a ubiquitous brand like Coke or McDonalds, advertising is probably not the most cost-effective way to promote your product.

There are a lot of content marketing options you can use to engage audiences and increase conversion rates. For shopping websites and B2B business alike, email newsletters are still a fantastic tool to stay in touch with customers. They also help improve conversion rates, sometimes very significantly. We recently started a newsletter for a niche fashion website and doubled their sales in just 3 months. Don’t underestimate the power of good old email!

The more you know about your visitors, the better your relationship will become. Better relationships mean higher trust, and that, in turn, leads to higher conversions. Investing the time in simple analysis or A/B testing is a lot more cost effective than increasing your ad budget, that’s for sure, and finding out about visitor behavior on your site can offer you a lot of valuable insights not just for your digital marketing, but also for your overall business strategy.

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.

influencers

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

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