November 25th, 2015 by Sam Del Rowe

Competition will be fierce as usual this holiday season, and brand loyalty continues to decrease. Neil O’Keefe, senior vice president, CRM & Member Engagement at DMA, provides insight into marketing trends and customer expectations for the 2015 holiday season.

“The biggest shift this year is the increase in use of what we’re calling channel synchronicity,” O’Keefe says. “There’s no longer a focus on any one particular channel or even the hot new channel, it’s all about marketers delivering a relevant message in a digital environment.”

O’Keefe sees mobile platforms as significantly driving customer behavior during the holidays and in general. “The amount of commerce that is going to be researched on the mobile phone this year versus prior years is significantly higher,” he says. “Everybody’s been talking about the year of mobile forever, for the last ten years it’s going to be the year of mobile. This year we’re looking at a trillion dollars in retail sales that will be influenced by mobile searches.”

Additionally, O’Keefe notes that the holiday shopping season has extended. “It’s no longer about one day, it’s not about Black Friday, it’s arguably not even (about) Black Friday week any longer,” he says. “Everybody seems to have kicked in as of Halloween.”

Ultimately, O’Keefe believes that customers are seeking a cohesive shopping experience across multiple channels. “I think what’s going to set apart the successful marketer this season is to be out in a synchronous way so that customers will find you and your offers and your brand experience the same whether they’re shopping through a mobile phone, shopping through a tablet, or a laptop, or going into your store,” O’Keefe says.

“That disconnect is not going to be tolerated any more by the consumer, they want to have a cohesive shopping experience, so it’s up to the marketers to create a sense of channel synchronicity across all of their efforts in order to engage the consumer.”

Nevertheless, the focus on digital and mobile marketing in particular does not mean that the physical realm will become obsolete. “Physical—whether it be a brick-and-mortar store or a physical printed piece—is always going to play a significant role in shopping, especially this time of year. There’s no better way to experience the brand than to be inside of the four walls of a retail store—that allows the merchant to utterly define the look and feel of their brand.”

November 20th, 2015 by Leonard Klie

We already know that IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system is the smartest computer in the world. And while it might not be able to actually do my holiday shopping for me, with a new app that IBM launched this week, it will be able to tell me what to buy for those special people on my list.

watsonThe IBM Watson Trend App, available for free download in the Apple App Store, will be able to predict the hottest products of the season before they sell out, but also help shoppers to understand the reasons behind the top trends.

To do this, the IBM Watson Trend app will distill the sentiment of tens of millions of online conversations across 10,000 social media sites, blogs, forums, and ratings and review sites to uncover exactly how consumers feel about the products they are considering or have already purchased. The app also uses predictive analytics to forecast if a particular trend is  fleeting or will remain strong throughout the holiday buying season.

According to IBM, this is how it will work: Watson’s natural language engine will aggregate insights into distinct trend groups (content, context, and sentiment). Each group is given a relative daily Trend Score, ranging from 0 to 100, based on the impact (size of the conversation) and the momentum (the rate of growth of the conversation). Users can view the top 100 trending products and stories behind them across three categories (consumer electronics, toys, and health/fitness).

Based on the data that Watson has already collected, it presicts that some of the top gifts this season will include professional-grade cameras, Star Wars-themed Lego block sets, Mattel’s Hello Barbie, and wearable tech like the Minecraft and Oculus Rift gaming systems.

As consumers use the IBM Watson Trend app to pinpoint which products are popular and why, IBM also predicts that, for the first time, more consumers will turn to their mobile devices than their desktop computers to seek out the best buys.  Mobile traffic is expected to increase by nearly 57 percent, up 17 percent from last year.  Mobile sales are predicted to increase by more than 36 percent, up 34 percent from last year.

And IBM isn’t done there when it comes to Watson’s hoiliday retail capabilities. The company expects the Watson Trend App to continue to evolve with the addition of new capabilities, including geographic and language data, and an increased level of personalization that caters to each consumer’s unique interests and preferences.

So, Sant’a not getting my gift list this year. I’m giving it to IBM.

November 16th, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

When people hear the words “Ritz Carlton”, they’re likely to envision instances of royal treatment. It’s no coincidence that for nearly a century, people have been using the adjective “ritzy” to describe something upscale or fancy, (according to Merriam-Webster, at least).

I’ve never actually stayed at a Ritz Carlton hotel, but have visited  three, and each time I did feel like I was getting VIP-level treatment. Doors opened instantly, fresh apples were always available at arm’s reach, and, if it was raining, umbrellas were offered at the door.

But can such a customer experience maestro really do no wrong?

I certainly thought so, until the other week, when I had occasion to spend a few days at the Half Moon Bay Ritz for an industry event.

Granted, part of the issue had to do with the location of this particular hotel. Situated just outside of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is not the biggest town, and definitely not easy to navigate without a car. Since the hotel I was staying at was about six miles from the Ritz, I had to find ride to and back from the show at the end of each day.

As expected, the experience inside the hotel itself bordered on the flawless. The only problem I had was in getting to and from the hotel, which could have cost me big time had I been in a hurry to get anywhere else.

At the end of my second day at the event, I was having trouble tracking down a ride. I tried Uber, but the only driver for miles around was 25 minutes away, and unwilling to make the journey.

My natural inclination was to ask someone for help,  so I went to the concierge’s desk. Maybe my expectations were too high. For a hotel of such repute, I was banking on them being able to provide me with reliable transportation at the snap of my fingers. But when I approached the desk,  I could see that wasn’t going to happen.  The concierge was already on the phone, frantically trying to get a taxi for a family of three. As he wrapped up the call, I overheard him tell the family that it would be a half hour or so before they would be picked up.

He asked how he could help me and I then told him I also needed a taxi. He seemed distressed by this, and explained the situation: the hotel’s local taxi partner was short on drivers tonight, so there would definitely be a long wait. “Have you tried Uber?” he asked me.

I told him that I had, but with no success.

“I’ll work on getting a taxi, but definitely take an Uber if you can get one,” he said.

That he recommended I call an Uber was interesting to me.  But also interesting was that when I asked him if there were any other services he could point me to, he said there were and that I was welcome to find them myself, but he couldn’t recommend them. I asked why, and he said that they didn’t want to be held responsible for any potential bad experiences a guest might have in another cab.

Fortunately, I wasn’t in a rush to leave, so I didn’t mind hanging out for a few hours until they called me on the phone.

About an hour and a half later, my cab arrived. When I got in, the worker who insisted on opening my door asked if I’d like some water for the road. And before I could say ‘sure,’ he’d sprinted to the entrance to grab a bottle.

It didn’t surprise me to see that the staff of the Ritz Carlton were concerned with getting me on the road as quickly as possible,  but I wonder if perhaps that should have factored into the overall experience of waiting for a cab.

November 13th, 2015 by Leonard Klie

I keep getting automated phone calls from a debt collection agency in Chicago, but they’re not even for me. The calls are directed at someone else who presumably had my telephone number before me. Repeated calls to the company explaining this situation have fallen on deaf ears; the company must think I’m lying to skip out on my financial obligations. Or maybe, it’s just too lazy to verify my story.

In either case, I’m getting annoyed. I can, however, take solace in knowing that I’m not alone. During the month of October alone, 683 million robocalls were placed to U.S. phones, according to the YouMail Robocall Index, a free monthly report that tracks robocall volume across the United States. This is a new service launched yesterday by YouMail, a provider of cloud-based telecommuncations services for small businesses and consumers. It found that roughly one in six phone calls received by the average consumer is a robocall—a computer-generated phone call that can range from dangerous phishing scams and sales calls to important doctor appointments or bill-pay reminders.

Not surprisingly, 17 of the top 20 robocallers in the United States in October were debt collectors representing banks and credit card companies.

But, I guess I should consider myself lucky that the calls are coming from legitimate businesses. The YouMail index also identified more than 80 million  scam or fraudulent robocalls during the month. Those kinds of calls bilked American consumers and businesses of  an estimated $8.6 billion last year alone, according to YouMail.

“Robocallers are dangerous, much more so than email spammers, because we tend to trust caller ID more than email addresses. Organizations are getting more sophisticated by spoofing local numbers and caller IDs, which makes them harder to detect. It’s impossible to block calls at the source because every call takes a different tack,” Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, said in a statement.

The index, Quilici,said, is designed “to give consumers and lawmakers a comprehensive view of the problem.”

The government shouldn’t need this index to know that. Robocalls have been a major public concern for decades.

The government has made some attempts to stop them, including the 2003 National Do-Not-Call Registry, but most efforts thus far have been largely ineffective. Robocallers can place tens of thousands of calls every day from overseas dialers outside of the U.S. government’s jurisdiction.

There’s got to be more the government can do.

November 5th, 2015 by Leonard Klie

twitterheartSocial media giant Twitter has replaced the star-shaped icon that people used to “favorite” posts on its site with a heart-shaped icon and a “like” button, all in an effort to make posts more engaging. The heart, the company said in a blog post explaining the change, is a universal symbol that is more recognizable and more expressive.

The company, which has been experiencing a growth slowdown, now joins Facebook and Google’s YouTube in offering “like” buttons. Perhaps coincidentally, or maybe not, Facebook-owned Instagram already uses a heart-shaped icon for users to “like” pictures on its site.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has made it a pririty to improve user engagement on the site. That has also included the introduction of a “Buy Now” button on the site to enable customers to make purchases from right within posts. And though yet unconfirmed, the company is reportedly considering a move to eliminate the 140-character limit on posts.

User reaction to the “change-of-heart” at Twitter has been less than positive so far, with few users and social media industry analysts giving it the love that Twitter had hoped. “You Facebooked my Twitter,” one angry Twitter user tweeted.

Still, it’s clear that Twitter had to do something. After all, Facebook is reported to be testing out seven animated emoticons that its users will be able to tie to posts to show love, happiness, anger, and a range of other emotions.

So give the new Twitter icon a chance. After all, we don’t want to break Jack Dorsey’s heart.


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