September 11th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

The word is officially out and it looks like most of the rumors (or at least some of them…) were true. Apple is, in fact, releasing two versions of the iPhone 6, and is also finally debuting a highly anticipated wearable device, the Apple Watch. Now I’m not going to pretend like I don’t have an alarm set for 3am tomorrow so that I can preorder my new phone, but I do have to admit that it seems like the buzz around the flashy new hardware is stealing the spotlight from an even more exciting development: the software. I, for one, am pretty excited that Apple is getting serious about the mobile wallet.

Just two days after the announcement, Apple Pay is already a polarizing issue. Despite critics arguing that security concerns will prevent the technology from becoming mainstream, tech junkies are already hailing it as a revolutionary tool. In reality, both are probably at least partially true.

On the security side, Apple is still reeling from the recent celebrity nude photo scandal, and it’s not easy to stand on stage and introduce a virtual wallet technology just weeks after leaving dozens of accounts vulnerable. With that said, I’m going to assume Apple really is taking a closer look at their security measures, and is confident that similar problems wouldn’t plague Apple Pay. As it stands now, the security standards are already a notch above Apple’s typically approach.

To make payments with the iPhone 6, consumers will have to use the phone’s Touch ID technology. No passcodes, or passwords–just biometrics. The phones will collect credit card information by taking a photo of the card once, but will not store any of the credit or debit card data on Apple servers. This, however, begs the question: What will happen to those photos and how will Apple store them securely? (As we know from the Snapchat fiasco, even disappearing photos never really disappear.)

Photo concern aside, paying with a mobile wallet should theoretically be more secure than swiping a credit card. Each device will have its own unique code, as will each individual transaction, and businesses that accept Apple Pay will never have to see the numbers. And, perhaps more importantly, counterfeited magnetic stripes and other point-of-sale bugs that target physical cards could become a thing of the past. But the technology does open the door to other types of threats.

Apple Pay will rely on NFC, a technology that allows payments to take place wirelessly through a scanning action. It’s already widely available (think Starbucks), but it’s not fool proof. If a thief gets close enough, he could hack into a consumer’s device and take over. It would have to be really close though.

So how promising is Apple Pay? Even if the company can prove that the payment system is secure, there is still a major adoption hurdle to overcome. Just look at Google Wallet.

To Apple’s credit though, it’s already trying to avoid the mistakes Google made. Unlike Google, Apple is aiming to unify offline and online mobile payment. “It may in fact be the m-commerce dimension of Apple Pay that really helps it take off,” MarketingLand’s Greg Sterling wrote. “To the extent developers incorporate Apple Pay into their apps, we could see a meaningful uptick in mobile commerce. The friction-removing simplicity of the in-app Apple Pay experience is what may get people hooked and give them confidence to try the offline, NFC experience…Google didn’t offer a truly unified online and offline payment experience. The two haves were called “Google Wallet” but there wasn’t an element like Touch ID to tie them together. ” he added.

Ultimately, the reason why Apple Pay will likely gain traction is simple: Apple does it better. With the Apple Watch, the company has taken a clunky wearable device and made it beautiful, appealing, versatile… And just like that, it’s no longer a clunky piece of hardware; it’s jewelry. With Apple Pay, it’ll be the same story. “Apple Pay, because it is Apple, is one way Apple will succeed where others have failed,” Tom Redd of SAP Global told Forbes. “Hey, the Millennials live by Apple, and if Apple says, ‘Do it,’ consider it done.”

September 4th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Most schools and universities throughout the country are back in session by now, and with those extensive shopping lists finally complete, it’s time to tally up the numbers. Back in August, the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted that back to school spending would hit roughly $74.9 billion this year, representing a 3.3 percent increase from last year. Taking the college kids and their pricy bean bag chairs out of the picture, the average family with kids in K-12 would spend approximately $669 this season, totaling $26.5 billion, which is 5 percent more than last year, according to the NRF. So what’s the reason for this growth?

The NRF predicted that technology would play a major part. Increasingly, high schools (and even some middle schools) are requiring parents to purchase laptops, tablets, and other expensive electronics for students to use in the classroom and at home. Overall, 16.4 percent of parents said their decisions to purchase electronics were driven by classroom lists, the NRF found.

More advertising could also be the reason for more spending. Twenty six percent of retailers said they planned to spend more on advertising than they did in 2013, Fox News Latino reported, citing a Nielsen survey. Many advertisers including Staples and Target began campaigning as early as July to get the word out earlier and encourage parents to start shopping way in advance, giving them more time to come back and spend more.

And when all was said and done, here’s how sales shaped up, courtesy of the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.

All Online Sales Grew…

…by roughly 11 percent in August as compared to the same period last year.

Mobile Traffic and Sales Grew Too 

In August, mobile traffic accounted for  41.5 percent of all online traffic–that’s 34 percent higher than last year. Mobile sales saw strong growth too, improving by 39 percent and constituting 7.8 percent of all online sales.

“Smartphones Browse, Tablets Buy”

Smartphones drove 27 percent of all online traffic while tablets drove 13.8 percent. However, tablets drove 11.5 percent of all online sales while smartphones accounted for only 6.2 percent.  Tablet users also spent more–the average order totaled $110.93, which is slightly higher than the average total for a smartphone sale, which was about $95.65.

Apparel Stores Saw the Most Sales Growth 

Total online sales in August were 17 percent higher this year, and mobile sales grew by 31 percent. Total online sales at department stores, on the other hand, grew by 16 percent while mobile sales were up by 24 percent.

Despite Predictions, Technology Sales Didn’t Skyrocket

Total online sales grew by a mere 3 percent as compared to last year. Mobile growth was more impressive; sales were up by almost 32 percent.

August 28th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Last week, I dumped a bucket of ice water on my head, and if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people that have taken the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, chances are you’ve done the same. At first, I have to admit, I was reluctant. It just seemed like another one of those viral memes, like that time the cool thing to do on Facebook was to replace your profile photo with a picture of Steve Buscemi. But seriously, I just didn’t get the point. No doubt it was for a great cause but what did it have to do with dumping a bucket of water on your head, especially if the challenge was to either donate or dump the water? I started to understand it more when I realized that most people were actually doing both, but didn’t fully come around to the whole idea until I myself got nominated.

I figured that once I was nominated, I’d just quietly donate money and go on my merry way, but when a friend posted his video and nominated me, it was exciting! Suddenly, I wasn’t complaining about how much water is being wasted (which is a valid point, ice bucketers…), or how pointless the whole thing was. I liked the video he made, and wanted to make my own. The ball was in my court, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to be, if only for a few seconds, in the social media spotlight. So I made a video (and donated), and that’s when I realized why the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is pure gold.

It’s Totally Organic

The challenge started spreading in July when Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player diagnosed with ALS, started posting about it on social media with his father’s help.  Soon, his friends and family began taking part in the ice bucket challenge, and within a week or so, it went viral.

It Harnesses the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing

I had absolutely no plans to take part in this challenge when celebrities and strangers were doing it. As soon as a friend of mine took the challenge, however, I was sold. There’s no campaign message that can compete with a recommendation (or, in this case, a nomination) from a friend, and in the age of social media, word of mouth is as important as ever.

It Earned the ALSA a Good Deal Money

As of August 24, the total amount pledged to ALSA has reached $70.2 million since July, and estimates indicate that the $100 million mark is well within reach. This, my friends, illustrates the power of a campaign that centers around compelling content. I mean, who’s going to argue that seeing people drench themselves in ice water isn’t great stuff?

It’s a Lesson in the Power of Cause Marketing

As I work on a feature story centered on cause marketing for our December issue, I can’t help but think that there’s a lesson to be learned here for brands. People are passionate and compassionate, and companies that demonstrate the same qualities by getting behind important causes that represent a true need stand to gain not only business and loyalty, but also respect. It’s powerful stuff.


In closing, I offer you this video of Benedict Cumberbatch taking the Ice Bucket Challenge, because it’s my favorite.


August 22nd, 2014 by Leonard Klie

Following a number of very high-profile customer data security breaches in the past year or so, Congress and several  state governments are now considering legislation that would require businesses and organizations that manage databases of personal information to put in place safeguards against hacking . Companies that don’t could  face significant fines after a breach.

In the U.S. Congress, a pending bill, S. 1976, introduced by Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.) would require any company or organization that becomes the victim of a data breach to promptly notify a handful of government agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Postal Service (if mail fraud was also involved), as well as the attorney general of states involved and any other appropriate federal or state agencies.

Some of the other legislative changes would give the FTC regulatory authority over breaches, spell out the responsibilities organizations have to protect personal data from being hacked, and provide for severe penalties of up to $5 million for failure to comply.

On the state level,  California,  Florida,  Iowa,  Kentucky,  Louisiana,  Minnesota, and New Mexico are all considering legislation that identify very specific steps that must be taken to protect consumer information, with penalties for non-compliance. Twelve other states are toughening data breach reporting requirements.

With ever-increasing numbers of data breaches like those that hit Target and Netflix earlier this year and late last year, it’s certainly welcome news that lawmakers are determined to hold firms accountable for managing personal information. It’s a welcome change. Unfortunately, not everyone is convinced.

360 Advanced, an accounting and security  assessment firm, recently issued a statement against the new legislation.

“Our analysis of pending legislation requiring data security safeguards and stiff penalties for non-compliance sends a chill across an entire industry that is already moving swiftly toward voluntary compliance on numerous levels,” said Dan Collins, president of  360 Advanced, in a statement. “It is one thing for state and federal legislators to strengthen data breach reporting requirements, which is indeed appropriate, but it’s another matter entirely when they consider legislation that would punish service providers for being hacked.”

Granted, ultimate responsibility for a data breacb lies with the individuals or organizations doing the hacking, but ultimately companies have an obligation to protect their data from such attacks.

August 21st, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Aside from a slightly depressing declaration from Microsoft Dynamics’ Bob Stutz that “CRM is dead,” this year’s CRM Evolution was an optimistic gathering of analysts, vendors, and customers. So what was the theme of this year’s conference? As the silos between marketing, sales and customer service come down and social, mobile and digital channels continue to blur into holistic customer experiences, there’s one key thing that companies should be focusing on at every level of the organization: engagement.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from conference presenters:

1. “The digital disruption is more than just a technological shift. It’s about transforming the business model and how we engage… We’re no longer selling products. We’re selling experiences.”


-Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder, Constellation Research

2. “Engagement must be internal and with the customer. “If there’s no engagement between marketing, sales and service, you can’t even begin to effectively engage the customer.”


-Bob Stutz, Group VP, Dynamics CRM, Microsoft

3. ” When thinking about engagement, we need to acknowledge that the power has shifted. The customers are in control now.”


-Volker Hildebrand, VP Product Marketing of CRM, SAP

4. “When it comes to VoC, most organizations are doing a little bit of everything, everywhere and in silos. Stop the madness! Be consistent and smart about how you approach customer feedback.” 


-Leslie Ament, SVP, Research, & Principal Analyst, Hypatia Research Group

5. “Connected mobile has big implications for virtually all areas of business. Mobile is the one place where people’s converged identities can be pinpointed…Connected experiences are better experiences, and you have to deliver experiences that customers can’t live without.”


-Michael Fauscette, GVP, Software Business Solutions, IDC

6. “Because of social media, marketing, sales and customer service teams are finally in the room together.”


-Katy Keim, Chief Marketing Officer, Lithium Technologies

7. “Social used to be all about listening, but now it’s about converting that insight into action.”


-Steve Kraus, Senior Director, CRM Product Marketing, Pegasystems

8. “To align sales, marketing, and customer service, you have to align metrics.”


-Bob Dunfee, VP, ONE Evangelist, 

9. “We need to start thinking of engagement as a service, and engage customers on a one-to-one basis consistently while maintaining context throughout the buying cycle.”


-Charlie Isaacs, CTO, Customer Connection,

10. “When you take a customer driven perspective, every conversation shouldn’t be about selling a product.”


-George Wright, Senior Vice President and General Manager,


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