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Customer Experience And The Future of Retail Bookstores

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The bookstore is dead, long live the bookstore. As the years pass by, we hear endlessly sad premonitions about the imminent death of the physical books shop. Today, the entire retail industry is facing a digital revolution but somehow bookstores seem to lag behind.

When online shopping offers choice, competitive prices and constant availability, why should you care to search for an actual store? What happens for clothes, furniture and design, is even more true for music, movies and books. And their only chance to survive could be the digital customer experience.

The experience has always been a huge part of retail success in the past decades. The very idea of a ‘favorite brand’ in customers’ mind has always been related to a sense of participation of people in peculiar values and narrative. The purchase decision, however, was ultimately influenced by external factors such as quality, price, advertising.

Then, the Internet came in and opened the business competition to the global arena: with the avalanche of E-Commerce firms, the traditional marketing levers have lost a great part of their appeal. In digital markets, the customer is the core of any business strategy, and the experience the key to create genuine engagement and loyalty.

Innovative brands are already at work to change the whole idea of customer experience, from something abstract and generic to something immersive and personal(ized). While other retailers are evolving to adapt - implementing tech innovations in their customer journey - bookstores are failing to accomplish this task.

We can highlight three main trends in this evolving scenario:

  • The growth and expansion of digital retailers, that have made book selling a worldwide competition, based on the quality of service more than the catalogue.
  • The arise of e-books, that are replacing printed ones, offering exclusive benefits: they are cheaper, easy to carry along and more immersive with extra features.
  • The revival of audio books, formerly known as books on tape: the most unlikely challenger that is outselling paper books and is set to compete with e-books.

Statistics say that digital books are expected to outsell print titles by 2018 (at least in U.S. and U.K.), but it does not mean that printed books are destined to disappear anytime soon - and bookstores with them. 

Books and ebooks are not necessarily enemies: they are different and can work together to help editors and authors survive the digital transformation. The same way, shelves and new technologies can work together to reinvent the store as we know it. In the name of the experience.

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Is it true that an innovative digital customer experience could revamp the future of retail bookstores? Recently, we have witnessed something unexpected and - in many ways - pivotal: Amazon’s decision to open its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, an interesting example of business development that also tells a much more interesting story.

Many analysts have seen this move - in a simplistic way - as the extreme attempt by the E-Commerce giant to kill the competition in both digital and physical worlds. On the contrary, we see it as the demonstration that the retail store is not doomed; it just needs to evolve, embracing the technological disruption to involve customers in more meaningful ways. It is the same lesson that Starbucks has taught to any single coffee retailer out there. 

To remain successful, retailers must improve the experience of buying books. They have to stop refusing innovation and review their entire marketing funnel. Just like any other company involved in the digital age, they have to find new methods to engage and monetize digital customers, delivering compelling experiences in any moment of truth.

The inebriating smell of paper alone will not help them to compete with the giants of digital commerce. In a world redesigned by mobile devices and social networks, there must be something more: a whole new customer experience, easy, amazing and powerful.

The connection between the experience and the future of retail is everlasting. You ‘just’ need to find a way to convey it in a unique, exclusive branded essence.  

Here are few ideas book shops should consider to use disruptive technologies to win the challenge of digital darwinism.

IMPROVE DIGITAL PRESENCE

Small and indipendent bookstores usually think that they do not need a digital presence. The reason is that they mistake digital with E-Commerce. When the smartphone becomes the first screen, there is no business strategy without ‘digital’, even when you do not want to sell books online.

As stated in a recent research by Google about Micro Moments, we find out that ‘Near Me’ searches have grown 2x in the past year. You need to be there when people are looking for a local business or are considering buying at a local store. And ‘being there’ means a strong online, mobile, and social presence to connect the digital life to the physical world.

PROMOTE LOYALTY AND RETENTION

Retaining a customer is 6x cheaper than acquiring a new one. Customer retention is one of the key factors of an healthy business growth. It is a fact. But how can you convert random users into loyal customers? When you connect with empowered customers, you cannot rely on traditional fidelity cards, offers and discounts.

That is old times engagement that will never work in the ‘membership era’. What you need to do is to set-up a strategy that encourages customer engagement; to tranform existing clients into brand advocates; to focus on different dynamics of in-store and mobile involvement (beacons, push notifications, contextual contents, gamification).

CREATE A PERSONAL JOURNEY

The personalization is the main trait of a successful marketing strategy. No bookstore can live without shelves, a critical touch point of the retail customer journey, both in the digital and physical worlds. Just, the shelves do not have to be necessarily tangible. They could also be 'tappable'. 

In the mobile era, though, there are many more points of contact that you must involve in your journey map. Attraction, engagement and delight happen in-store and - more often - online. The personalization of the shopping experience (through creative contents and tech applications) is the only way to stay relevant: the book store is not only a place where books are sold.

BUILD THE NEW (DIGITAL) STORE

Every path described till now brings to one inevitable conclusion: to survive the retail revolution, the book shop must to be reinvented. This is not just a suggestion, this is the rule. Even the digital presence is important but not enough to engage digital customers and convince them to buy.

The old dusty shops are fascinating but not ineffective. Technology - the one they fear so much - is the only life vest: multimedia interfaces that allow for digital purchasing, reading and other sensory experiences; the Internet of Things; with interactive shopping windows; digital shelves; augmented reality and 3D environments to boost the customer experience.

The bookstore is dead, long live the bookstore.

 

To help you provide a strategic advantage to your organization, Neosperience has crafted the first DCX 7-Steps Checklist, with requirements and insights for a successful digital transformation. Download the free guide here:

Download DCX 7-Steps Checklist
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in November 2014 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy with the latest trends and advancements of mobile technology and retail customer experience.
 

Topics: Digital Customer Experience Retail Mobile Internet of Things

5 Key Takeaways From SXSW 2016

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SXSW Interactive is mostly known as a hub of innovation in everything digital and marketing. The 2016 edition made no exception. Every year, for an entire week, Austin is where the future happens. It is the place to be if you want to stay at the forefront of the tech world we all live in.

Between all day conference sessions, an agenda packed with meetings, and the nightlife, you come out of the event full of new business ideas and insights. Now that we are safe back home, here are the 5 most important things we have learned from SXSW 2016.

Last year, when we had to compile the report for the 2015 conference, we started by pointing out that mobile marketing and customer experience management have become the two sides of the same business coin.

This year’s edition of the South By Southwest confirmed that marketing, technology and digital customer experience are now closer than ever. So close, in fact, that you cannot even imagine:

  • A marketing strategy that does not think and act digital (and mobile) first;
  • A marketing strategy that does not start with customers and their experience;
  • A customer experience that is not influenced by smart and connected technology;
  • Tech trends that are not influenced by the evolution of society and markets;
  • Technological innovations that do not imply a deep change in how we live, buy and communicate.

Put all the pieces together and you will see a completely renewed customer journey; a complex map that moves across multiple touch points, and is not easily predictable. This suggests that the ability to engage and monetize customers in the moments of truth is the key to winning the competition for relevance.

As an example of this inextricable link, we can mention:

  • The pervasiveness of the smartphone, that has become the first reference to access online information, and is changing our purchase behaviors;
  • The spread of the wearable technology, that is forcing an evolution of the health experience, and is the primary force behind the self-tracking mania;
  • The importance of social networks, that have created a wider concept of community and human relationships, mostly lived in mobility;
  • The emergence of smart objects, that are able to communicate without human intervention, and to learn from habits and behaviors.

We have seen the breadcrumbs of this evolution in almost any keynote and panel at the Interactive week of the 2016 SXSW, with a schedule that could count on the likes of Barack Obama, Brian Solis, Brené Brown, Andy Puddicombe, Kevin Kelly, and Pedro Domingos.

EXPERIENCE IS THE NEW BRANDING

We want to start with Brian Solis, an analyst that we particularly appreciate for his ability to highlight the business disruption caused by the digital transformation. In his session, “The Future of Brand, Tech & Business is Experience”, Solis stressed out the idea that ‘experience’ is not a buzzword destined to fade, but the present (and future) of branding. It is the heart of all things disrupting our world.

The experience is the X factor in the evolution of marketing, but we need to define what is exactly this variable of the equation. What makes and experience “an experience”? It is not just mere theory: “Without defining experiences, brands will become victim to whatever people feel and share.

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MACHINE INTELLIGENCE IS THE FUTURE

Just like customer experience is now essential to deliver on the brand promise, the evolution of smart technology will soon set the boundaries of what we call business. Pedro Domingos, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington and the author of The Master Algorithm, talked about this topic in his keynote “The Secrets of Machine Learning Revealed”.

Artificial Intelligence is not (or, at least, should not be) so scary as it seems when it translates into “artificial smartness”. Objects learn from us, and they can teach a lot about ourselves, in return. We especially loved the description of the five tribes of machine learning - Symbolists, Connectionists, Evolutionaries, Bayesians, and Analogizers - tipping points for the rules to invent your own master algorithm.

TECHNOLOGY WILL SHAPE OUR LIFE

Smart machines took the center stage also in Kevin Kelly’s keynote, titled “12 Inevitable Tech Forces That Will Shape Our Future” and based on the new book that will soon hit the shelves. Today, technology evolves at a faster pace, and there is nothing we can do about it. We will face many revolutions, and the ability to embrace the force will decide whether we survive them or not.

Much of what will happen in the next decades is independent of where we live or what we do. The evolution will be driven by tech trends that are already in motion, even though the future is often difficult to believe. Cognifying, tracking and interacting are just three of these trends; they amplify each other, they push our lives in new directions … and they are inevitable.

HIDDEN FORCES SHAPE BEHAVIORS

Actually, “Invisible Influence and Winning at SXSW 2016” looked more like a metadiscourse than a keynote. Jonah Berger, a professor at The Wharton School, tried to teach us how we could take the best from SXSW Interactive, and how it could change our life. It has been, after all, one of the most intriguing sessions of the entire week.

Based in part on the acclaimed book Invisible Influence, the speech explored the hidden forces and influences that affect every single decision we make. Yes, even how we decide to live the SXSW experience. Berger, in fact, focused on how to make our days a time to remember, how to make better choices, and how to have more fulfilling interactions and improve other people’s life.

WE ALL NEED A HEALTHIER LIFE

If you think about it, any experience we live in our daily routine is partly made of technology and partly of emotions. Smart objects and revolutionary devices can improve our lives, but they cannot bring us happiness like some sort of black magic. This was the starting point for the keynote by Andy Puddicombe.

Why Happiness Is Hard and How to Make It Easier”: the title and the main question at the same time. Pubbicombe, former Buddhist monk and co-founder of Headspace, led us to an exploration of ourselves, blending science, technology, and mindfulness on a path to discover what it means to be happy and how we can tap into our creative potential. To reach a healthier life.

If you want to know more about what has happened at SXSW Interactive 2016, here are few articles that you should read:

The Top Digital Marketing Takeaways from SXSW

11 Things We Learned at SXSW 2016

 

To help you provide a strategic advantage to your organization, Neosperience has crafted the first DCX 7-Steps Checklist, with requirements and insights for a successful digital transformation. Download the free guide here:

Download DCX 7-Steps Checklist

Topics: Digital Customer Experience Innovation Content Marketing Mobile Internet of Things

10 Keywords To Improve Customer Experience In The Next Years

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Words have always been important, the ground to establish relationships between human beings. In the Internet era, we have learned that keywords also play a critical role in determining the success of business.

Content marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, mobile app stores: they all rely on the power of keywords. The connection between a brand and customers makes no exception: when you plan your digital customer experience, there are pivotal keywords you cannot ignore.

"Words are free. It is how you use them that may cost you." (Anonymous)

What do you do when planning a piece of content for your company blog? You look for the most interesting and searched keywords. And when you are about to launch a new website? You take care of the meta and connect the contents to the context (your brand, your identity).

What happens if you put online an AdWords campaign without deep keywords analysis? You will likely spend your budget in useless clicks and bad positioning.

Keywords make the foundations of your storytelling and, at the same time, create the context for your digital customer experience. They have the power to guide your development strategy, not just to influence on your content.

At this point, it is important to clarify that the experience cannot be reduced to SEO tricks, advertising, and optimized online contents. The customer journey unravels across many touch points, in the physical and digital worlds.

What you do to engage customers and create a meaningful experience in each touch point is always more important than what you say. The management of experiences is not just a declaration of intent; excellence is not a copy.

"Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality." (Edgar Allan Poe) 

There is nothing worse than facts that do not match the promises. Aiming too high with your words can jeopardize your position in customers’ mind if you cannot meet (not to tell exceed) expectations with facts.

For example, in a recent report, Google states that only 9 percent of users will stay on a mobile site or app if it does not satisfy their needs, in terms of information provided or overall experience. Also, 28 percent will be less likely to purchase products from that company in the future.

However, in the same report, we find out that 69 percent of customers agree that the quality, timing, and relevance of a company’s message influences their perception of a brand.

To sum up, keywords are extremely helpful:

  • For customers, as a compass to find a product, identify the essence of a brand and create an emotional relationship with a company.
  • For businesses, as a compass narrate the inner values of a brand, and to give a sense (meaning and direction) to every action in a holistic view.

For their own nature, keywords are unstable. Just like there are no tools that work for any kind of business without distinctions, the same happens with keywords: they are very peculiar and change with the evolution of society and technology.

So, keep in mind that what we are about to say might be not valid in five years. Nothing is forever, even more so in an age shaped by mobile devices.

EXPERIENCE

What is the most critical keyword when you need to create and manage digital customer experience? Experience, of course. And yet, you might be surprised to know how many companies still do not understand that ‘experience’ is not just smoke and mirrors to hide a product-centered strategy.

CONNECTION

The customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a company. In the Age of the Customer, the key to succeeding is not product-based; it is concealed in the connection between your brand and people, and constantly rewritten as a result of the digital and mobile transformation.

ENGAGEMENT

To sell is the ultimate goal of your business strategy. How can you get there, ensuring that those sales are not once and for all? Engagement is the answer. Customer engagement and employee engagement. You need to engage digital customers and employees, leveraging technology and social media to increase loyalty.

MOMENTS

The smartphone and all other digital and mobile technologies split our daily routine into a sequence of moments, each with a specific intent and importance. In a company’s perspective, finding the micro moments of truth (mostly live in connectivity) become critical to engage customers with meaningful experience.  

EMOTIONS

The spread of smart objects and mobile devices does not hide an obvious fact: a meaningful experience always comes from rational and emotional elements. The digital transformation of your business involves both aspects: Loyalty is the result of products or services as much as it is the result of emotional, fulfilling connections.

BEHAVIORS

Businesses must acknowledge that human behaviors and technology evolve together. The analysis of customer behaviors has become a critical part of the experience management. Remember that not all customers were born alike: they embark on very different journeys, with different touch points that can be influenced by very different causes.

MEMBERSHIP

In markets where the experience replaces the product as the main element of differentiation, the competition is mostly played on the field of relationships. One-time sales may boost short-term revenues, but it is only customer retention that will sustain your business in the long-term. This is the essence of the membership economy.  

TESTING

We have said that engagement is the primary objective of any marketing strategy for the Age of the Customer. How can you build genuine engagement? Creating digital contents that resonate well with customers and entice them to spend is not easy. The only way to figure out what works is testing, in other words A/B testing.

ANALYZE

There is no testing without a precise analysis. Data analysis should be inherent to the entire process of planning and executing a customer experience strategy. Digital screens and mobile devices generate a huge amount of information that you must learn to select, examine and transform into actionable insights. In short, smart data.

HACKING

No doubt that growth hacking is one of the buzzwords that marketers love the most right now. It revolves around a new approach that supports the adoption of low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional tools, hacking the business development with growth-focused activities and technologies.

Of course, this is just a selection of the keywords that will guide your strategy in the years to come. You are more than welcome to add your list to the discussion.

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 5 Customer Experience Questions For Your 2016 Digital Strategy

To help you provide a strategic advantage to your organization, Neosperience has crafted the first DCX 7-Steps Checklist, with requirements and insights for a successful digital transformation. Download the free guide here:

Download DCX 7-Steps Checklist

 

Topics: Digital Customer Experience Innovation Branding Content Marketing customer engagement

6 Growth Hacking Tips To Improve Your Business Strategy

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Growth, there is no sweeter word for entrepreneurs. They love the idea of growing their business exponentially without spending tons of money. The truth is, developing a successful business is not easy, even more so in markets overcrowded with brilliant minds.

What if you could ‘hack’ your growth, blending technological knowledge and innovative marketing tactics? This is the essence of growth hacking, a technique designed and developed for startups but useful for any company out there.

The term ‘growth hacker’ was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis, entrepreneur and angel investor. In a blog post, he defined “a growth hacker a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.

Being directed primarily at young entrepreneurs and small businesses, this new mindset mostly revolves around low-cost and creative alternatives to traditional marketing, replacing costly investments and high budgets with growth-focused innovation.

Traditional media and old-style advertising are replaced by a more systematic approach that blends cheaper digital tools such as social media, content marketing, search engine optimization, website analytics, and A/B testing.

Growth hacking requires a long-term approach, as it usually sacrifices immediate revenues and shares in the name of fast growth. In this perspective, growth always comes before budgets. It is evident why startups love it, and why structured organizations look at it with suspicion.

And yet, hacking their business is the change many digital leaders ask for. The reason is all in the success stories, the best cases that show the power of growth hacks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Dropbox, Quora, YouTube.

Twitter is still considered one of the best examples. When the company first started out, it was able to gain a lot of quick - and mostly free - publicity, thanks to the word-of-mouth, tech blogs, and other social networks.

Not everything was roses. Thousands of users were signing up, but the use of the product was not continuous, and the retention rate suddenly fell to the lower point. The company, then, decided to test and study customers’ behaviors instead of spending on traditional marketing and advertising.

The growth hack mentality has two compass points: the product and the customer. Well aware of the importance of the customer experience, Twitter began testing the UX and the UI, revolutionizing the product based on the information gathered from the tests.  

Focusing on what customers want - and what actually do with the product - Twitter has chosen a path of constant evolution that adds value to the entire platform.

Airbnb is another great example of how growth hacks can bring your business from basement size to billion dollars funding. The peer-to-peer vacation rentals giant has tackled its startup phase taking advantage of any possible channel, tapping into an existing website to gain publicity.

Again, word-of-mouth and tech websites have been critical to spreading the voice, but the real hack by the company was the use of the so-called ‘Craigslist spam’. It is, in fact, a brilliant use of email marketing.

Long story short, they used Craigslist to find listings of rentals, then contacted the renters and asked them to place their ads on Airbnb instead. This risky move allowed them to collect thousands of users, to increase awareness and transform Airbnb into a buzz word.

These two examples sum up how the business hacking works:

  • You aim at reaching cheap publicity;
  • You set up viral marketing actions;
  • You exploit already-existing channels;
  • You open your products to users (even in Beta);
  • You let the users do the work for you;
  • You study their behaviors and test alternatives;
  • You analyze to see what works and what needs to be improved;
  • You accept that there is not perfect, only perfectible.

As said, growth hacking is particularly critical for startups because they do not have a mighty marketing team or huge budgets. However, it can be used by any type of company that wants to get quick visibility, acquire a strong user base and convert traffic into leads and sales.

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In an era of digital transformation, it may guide you to find creative ways to build a new business model that actually works. It may teach you how to stop wasting valuable money on marketing techniques that just don’t work with digital customers. It may ultimately help you deliver a unique customer experience.

With that in mind, here are few ideas and tips to start your hacking for growth.

SET ACHIEVABLE GOALS

Growth is, of course, the ultimate objective for any growth hacker, but how can you get there as fast as you can? The answer is: You will only be able to go from your actual situation to the optimal growth if you set short-term and mid-term achievable goals. Break down your primary growth goal into realistic, smaller and measurable goals: i.e. 10% increase in traffic on the website by the end of the month, or 200 leads from social posting in two weeks.

GO FROM OUTBOUND TO INBOUND

Lead generation is critical to proceed swiftly along the path of sustainable growth. If acquiring new users is the key, it is ‘how’ you actually do it that qualifies your hacking strategy. Traditional outbound marketing relies on tools like advertising, a one-way communication that is too expensive. Inbound marketing, on the contrary, focuses on cheaper and automated tools (i.e. blogging and link building) that set your brand as the best solution to solve your customer’s problems.

FOCUS ON RETAINING CUSTOMERS

Acquiring new users is important in the startup phase; in the long-term, however, customer retention becomes the most critical element for healthy growth. The Twitter story is a brilliant example of how you should never take customers for granted. Whenever you work hard to improve your product or brand experience, do not focus all your efforts on potential new customers. Start with existing customers. They will tell you everything you need to know, and they will help you grow (loyalty is the most precious currency in digital markets).

DEVELOP A MOBILE PRESENCE

Growth always generates from the harmonious mix of marketing and technology elements. In this moment of business transformation, there is no growing without digital tools. This is real ‘level zero’ but, today, everyone has a digital presence (be it a website, social accounts, or a blog). Customers, though, have done a further step: they have gone mobile, they live online 24/7. If you do not develop a coherent mobile presence (mobile app and responsive site above all), you will lose your place in customer’s mind (and Google SERP).

TEST, MEASURE, AND TEST AGAIN

Again, Twitter success story teaches that testing is the foundation of product improvement and experience management. Innovative companies have grounded their business development strategy in the use of testing and analytics tools. Growth hackers constantly unlock the power of A/B test on the one side and (web and mobile) analytics on the other one. All the data you need to grow is already there, hidden in your customer base; their use habits and behaviors will show you the best alternative to take the next step toward success.

ENCOURAGE MEMBERSHIP

The fastest way to grow is to transform actual users into loyal advocates. We have seen how the word-of-mouth and social reach have helped Airbnb and Twitter. Customers want to be part of your story, not just random users of a random product. Uniqueness comes from the customer experience, and that is the reason why you should always encourage membership. We have entered the membership economy, where customer retention is the top priority, and you need to learn how to build relationships and monetize your customers.

One final advice: Every decision or action that growth hackers make is informed by growth. However, do not let growth hacking ruin your digital customer experience. Do not forget that exceptional business growth is not sustainable if you let your customers behind.

 

To help you provide a strategic advantage to your organization, Neosperience has crafted the first DCX 7-Steps Checklist, with requirements and insights for a successful digital transformation. Download the free guide here:

Download DCX 7-Steps Checklist

Topics: Digital Customer Experience Innovation Content Marketing Mobile