NBA: Next Best Action for Businesses AND their Customers

NBA 2Interactions between businesses and their customers are typically defined from one perspective or the other. Businesses conduct marketing activities to acquire, cross-sell and retain customers.  Many tools–including CRM, marketing automation and campaign management–are utilized for these purposes. However, with increasing commoditization of products and services, providing a better customer experience has become the key differentiator among businesses competing for customer attention. Despite such terminology as customer experience management and customer relationship management, however, businesses cannot manage the customer experience. Indeed, the power has shifted to customers, who want to be treated on their own terms.

Another term, Next Best Action (NBA) reflects the efforts of marketers to present the offer that a particular customer is most likely to accept, or any content, moreover, that is most appreciated by the customer. When the right offer is delivered to the right customer, via the right communication channel, the needs of marketers and customers are aligned. But when customers receive irrelevant offers and messages, it damages both their experience of the brand and the brand’s ability to sell products. When done well, NBA dramatically increases customer acquisition rates, cross-sell revenues, as well as long-term customer loyalty and value. It also provides a superlative experience for customers, underlying the point that what is best for the customer is also best for the business. So what do marketers need to do to implement an NBA strategy?

Enablers of Next Best Action

NBA ArchitectureFigure 1: NBA Functional Architecture

Figure 1 depicts the high level functional architecture for NBA solutions.  Let’s take a look at each of the key enablers of next best action, noted in the blue shapes above:.

Data Integration. First and foremost, NBA relies upon extreme personalization.  The next best action for one customer is usually not the best action for another. Personalized messaging and offer management, however, requires a tremendous understanding of one’s customers. For most companies, customer data resides in disparate databases. Data may be siloed by business function (e.g., marketing, sales, customer service, and finance), business unit, or communications channel.  The implications of fragmented data are numerous. When various functional departments have their own data sets, their interactions with customers cannot be coordinated in a consistent manner. This results in a fragmented customer experience for the customer. When each business unit or product group has separate databases, they cannot offer the relevant cross-sells to customers of other business units, inhibiting the growth of Enterprise revenues. When different channels are unaware of the customer’s activity in other channels, moreover, offers cannot be coordinated across these channels, also resulting in a fragmented customer experience and reduced revenues.

As customer journeys move from one channel to another, businesses need to provide continuity. For instance, if customers are trying to accomplish something on the company’s website, and encounter difficulty, they are likely to call the call center for help.  When a customer service representative answers the phone, s/he should know what the customer was trying to accomplish on the website and where he or she got stuck, without having to ask the customer. As another example, if a customer already accepted an offer by signing up on the web, s/he will not be happy to receive the same offer via email.  Offers that have been accepted in one channel must be suppressed from appearing in other channels. Each channel, moreover, needs to reinforce the messaging in other channels in order to efficiently convert prospects to customers and customers to more lucrative customers.

Unfortunately, the data not only resides within different databases, but is typically organized in disparate formats, where it is difficult, at best, to integrate the data to develop the needed 3600 view of customers.  One solution is to develop an integrated customer data warehouse, leveraging ETL, whereby the data is extracted from the original database, translated into a common data format, and loaded into the integrated data warehouse. Of course, this requires a tremendous amount of storage and effort.  When new data sources become relevant, these too need to be integrated in a similar manner.  A more recent trend is to leverage “big data” or “in-memory computing” solutions.  These solutions are able to take disparate data from each of the data sources and place them in computer memory where they can be analyzed and acted on in real time–to help derive the next best action.

Predictive Analytics.

For data to be useful toward presenting the next best action, it must help predict the likelihood that any given offer will be accepted by a given prospect or customer. Based upon the patterns of data that are mined, predictive analytics are used to score each potential offer or other form of content.  First, predictive models need to be built that demonstrate their ability to predict outcomes of a marketing campaign. Second, the relevant data for each customer or prospect must be entered into the model.  Models are typically modified based upon new data about campaign outcomes for continuous improvement. The results of predictive modeling comprise one of the key inputs into making the right decision about the next best offer for any given individual.

Business RulesEvery business has a set of rules that dictate how and when offers are presented to prospects and customers.  For instance, to ensure customers are not inundated with more offers than they care to see, businesses establish rules as to how often customers can be contacted, how often an offer should be presented, etc.They often apply other types of rules as well.  For instance, with all other things being equal, a business might decide to offer the most profitable, high-margin product or service to the customer.  Industry regulations must also be translated into business rules to ensure businesses are compliant with the law. In the B2B world, contracts between suppliers and customers may dictate the types of products or services that suppliers can offer to their customers.  Some contracts might stipulate, for instance, that a supplier may only offer a basic service or product to the customers’ employees.  This requires a business rule to be established to suppress any up-sell or cross-sell offers for such customers.

Decision EngineOnce the competing offers or messages are loaded into the system, a platform is required to make the decision regarding the next best offer or message for a given customer based upon the available data, predictive analytics and business rules. These can range from generic decision engines to complete campaign management solutions that address the entire process.  Some of the leading decision engines are Oracle RTD (for real-time decisions), SAS Real-Time Decision Manager and SAP Real-Time Offer Management.

A more complete multichannel campaign management solution includes some type of decision engine, but also provides list management, campaign management and channel delivery across multiple communications channels.  These solutions are either sold stand-alone or as (somewhat) integrated product suites.  Examples include IBM Campaign, which handles outbound communications channels (e.g., direct mail, email, SMS texts, outbound phone calls, and mobile notifications) and IBM Interact for inbound channels (e.g., web/mobile, social media, inbound call centers and point-of-sale or retail).  Teradata also has complementary products to manage multichannel campaigns.  SAS Marketing Automation handles both inbound and outbound campaigns and integrates its data science tools to improve predictive modeling. Adobes provides perhaps the most complete (and most expensive) solution—the Adobe Marketing Cloud—which includes modules for Campaign Management (outbound), Experience Management (inbound), Social Media, Analytics and others.  Both Gartner and Forrester publish ongoing reports comparing the various platforms available from these vendors.

Whether a company needs to invest in a real-time decision platform depends largely upon delivery channels and the frequency of interaction with the target audience. . For instance if a bank is merely sending out occasional statements with marketing messages, only batch processes, easily handled by mainframe computers, are really required.  However, for companies who have a broad number of offers that change rapidly in importance or value, real-time decisions are required.  This is especially true when leveraging highly interactive channels such as the web, mobile and social.  When an individual is on a company’s website, for instance, offers should be updated in real-time depending upon the latest actions of, or information about, that individual.

In summary, marketers and their customers have mutual interests.  A customer’s experience is derived from the sum of their interactions with a brand. The most relevant and timely offers or messages will not only provide a better experience for the customer, but also increase take rates on marketing offers. That, of course, leads to increased customer acquisitions amd sales as well as greater customer retention and lifetime value, the key goals of marketers.

Social Marketing Grows Up! From Social Media to Social Business and ROI

social businessThe first wave of social media provided tremendous benefits to consumers.  Suddenly, corporate communications became  more than one-way messaging for companies who wanted to deliver their canned content to their customers. Social sharing sites—including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram—grew rapidly as users generated their own multimedia content and required brands to come up with more  interactive and engaging ways to attract and retain them as customers.  Large parts of the web became customer-centric  rather than company-centric, as users distrusted the blatant self-interest of brands in favor of information derived from  friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. Even the opinions of strangers became more influential than corporate ads,  direct marketing, and promotions.

As consumers, we gained control over the companies we chose to conduct business with.  But what about our work lives? How  is the millennial, who grew up with social media and is joining the workforce, supposed to react to a typical SharePoint site as  a way to learn what’s going on?  And how can businesses benefit from social media as much, if not more than, consumers? Social business leverages social listening, collaboration, analytics and other “industrialized” versions of Web 2.0 technologies to improve business effectiveness and ROI. The following applications of social business demonstrate some of its power.

Social Intranets provide a more dynamic and personal way to consume and share corporate knowledge. They work very much like the social networks we use as consumers, but in a highly secure manner that is limited to a company’s employees.  Similar to LinkedIn, all users have a personal profile that describes their role in the company, areas of interest and expertise, as well as they type of content they publish. This enables individual employees to follow people who can help them perform their jobs more effectively.  Every time some you follow publishes new content, you receive a notification via a mobile application or through your email.  Just click on the link and the information is available for your use. Social intranets fosters knowledge exchange and collaboration within project teams, departments, and entire enterprises.

Social Listening provides an excellent way to understand what customers think of a particular brand, competitor, product or service provided by a company.  Marketers simply set-up the keywords that determine the content that is mined across social networks, blogs and the web at-large.  The highly unstructured information is given quantitative structure through the development of customized dictionaries and natural language processing to parse the information into a structured framework that can be analyzed and acted on.  The resulting market research data—collected unobtrusively without the bias inherent in questionnaires–provides tremendous feedback as to how the company can improve its products, services and reputation. Social listening tools often come with an engagement console that enables customer service representatives and product managers to respond to specific posts.  This enables companies to mitigate the viral spread of negative information that could damage the brand and to amplify the viral spread of positive information to enhance the brand image.

Branded Community Sites are developed for entire industries but also serve the interests of a sponsoring brand.  By providing content that is relevant to the entire community and enabling members to share their own insights, experts across the entire industry are motivated to join the community.  Once they join, they will experience the thought leadership provided by the sponsoring company and are likely to click on links that will enable you to market more directly to prospects who may currently be a customer of one of your competitors.  Branded community sites drive customer acquisition and retention efforts.

Social Customer Service solutions range from a presence on such open social networks as Facebook and Twitter to branded sites that are restricted to customers. Many companies have been successful providing proactive customer service on Facebook and Twitter.  In addition to responding to posts about service issues, customer service representatives can post resolutions to known issues generated from other sources.  When companies establish their own social sites for customers, they can provide an enhanced version of the experience. Gamification is often used to reward customers who answer questions raised by other customers.  For instance, every time a customer provides the correct answer to a question, they can be given rewards points.  It isn’t even necessary for rewards points to have monetary value.  As social beings, we are often satisfied with being recognized as a community leader as our screen names climb the leader board. Social Customer Service solutions not only increase customer engagement levels, but also reduce servicing costs by deflecting questions that would otherwise be answered by phone conversations with customer service agents.  The fact that the answers are seen by whole groups of people further improves operational efficiencies.

Social CRM shares some of the capabilities of social customer service, but serves as an extension of a company’s existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. This enables businesses to market their products and services to prospects on social networks through both social and traditional communications channels.  It also enables companies to provide better service to existing customers via the social channels where so many people spend their time.

Crowdsourcing solutions foster corporate innovation as product managers and engineers collaborate with customers and suppliers. They can be used to develop new products and services, as well as ways to market and distribute them to customers. This is another area where gamification is helpful.  Because real profits are made by the new products and services, however, participants are given lump sums or percentages of profits commensurate with their contributions, rather than token rewards points.

Social Commerce applications leverage the recommendations of friends, family and others to stimulate e-commerce revenues.  This can be accomplished through marketplaces (remember e-Bay) and great e-commerce sites such as Amazon, where recommendations are made to the buyer based upon other customers with a similar purchasing behavior.  The large numbers of reviews on Amazon, moreover, have a far greater impact on purchase decisions than do the reviews of so-called experts.  A company can also integrate e-commerce with their Facebook page or with their branded community sites. There are also numerous applications that help friends view the same merchandise (at least virtually) to help one another on purchase decisions.  One class of such applications enables one of the friends to be in a store, while the other friend is on a PC or mobile device.  Videos, texting and voice communications can support the making of yay or nay recommendations.  Another class pertains to situations where both friends are online.  The combination of co-browsing, multimedia and texting becomes the next best thing to shopping together.

So we have come a long way from the early days of social media, when businesses seemed to lose their ability to control the messages received by prospects and customers.  Even if benefits were to be gained, there was no way to understand the ROI associated with their social media initiatives. This made it difficult, at best, to figure out how much to invest in their labor-intensive social media efforts or the specific areas that merited investment.  Today, companies have a broad range of social business applications that can be tailored to achieve a large array of business objectives.







Top Internet Trends for 2013

Mary Meeker and Liang Wu of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers just published the industry’s most highly regarded study of Internet Trends for 2013. While I have linked to their original Slideshare document below, some of the most striking findings from this year’s reports include:

  • US is losing its dominance in internet users. While Iran has the fastest growing internet population (205% within the last year), China, has the highest number of overall internet users worldwide (204 million).
  • Ad money spent is not proportional to the amount of time people spend with different media sources. Thus while people spend on 6% of their media time reading print publications, companies spend 23% of their ad budget on print. Conversely, while people spend 12% on mobile devices, companies spend only 3% of the budgets on mobile advertising.
  • Content is growing multiplicatively, as the amount of digital content has increased 9X over the last five years and is still expected to quadruple by 2015.
  • Mobile usage continues to grow at staggering rates, particularly among tablet users.
  • Wearable devices will become more prevalent, providing more functionality with less interruptions, than current devices.
  • Short form media is overtaking longer formats as photos are increasingly uploaded to Snapchats (where they last for only 5 seconds) and videos uploaded to Vine (with a maximum length of 6 seconds

The original Slideshare presentation can be found at KPCB Internet Trends for 2013

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Latest Internet, Social and Mobile Stats, Trends, Forecasts and Implications

This has been yet another dramatic year in the growth of the internet, including the penetration of mobile devices and social communities.

How much growth has there been in social media?  What are the current numbers? Count on the 2012  annual gift from Erik Qualman to provide the answers in a concise, fast-paced video.

Seeking a deeper understanding of these trends and their impact on our culture and economics?  The latest update from Kleiner PerkinsMary Meeker and Liang Wu provide the data and the analysis, presented at Stanford University earlier this month.

Which stats/trends surprise you the most?  The least? What additional societal implications do you think are relevant?


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Microsoft Takes Page From 1980s Playbook by Acquiring Yammer

Microsoft LogoHave you ever heard of Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, Harvard Graphics, cc: Mail or Netscape Navigator?  If not, you are probably too young to remember a PC world that was not yet dominated by Microsoft Windows.  Those that know of these products may recall that they were once the most innovative, best-of-breed and market-dominating software for such PC applications as word processing, spreadsheets, graphics, email and web browsing, respectively.    That is, until Microsoft decided to buy/build similar software programs  (e.g.,  Outlook, MS Word, Excel,  PowerPoint, Paint and Internet Explorer) and bundle them with MS Windows.  Due to bundled pricing, a common user interface and tighter integration, the original innovative products became obsolete once Microsoft took these actions.

Now, hot on the heels of’s acquisition of Buddy Media (to complement Radian 6 and Chatter for a strong social business offering), Microsoft announced Friday that they are acquiring Yammer for $1.2B. Yammer, provides Facebook-like features (e.g., profiles, activity streams) to improve the collaboration within enterprises. Microsoft of course already has a product a product within this space, SharePoint.  However SharePoint is generally simply used for content and document management.  While it is a favorite of IT, adoption among employees is generally poor.  This is generally attributed to difficulties users experience when  trying to find the information housed within SharePoint.  It also fails to have a social component that has been a critical aspect of the consumerization of IT, the underlying trend that has forced IT organizations to adopt some of the more compelling experiences that employees have in their personal lives.

Microsoft can take a page from its 1980s playbook by bundling Yammer functionality with numerous Microsoft products.  This might not only provide the most significant upgrades to such products to date, but also weaken or eliminate some of their competitors within the space.  By integrating Yammer functionality with several existing Microsoft applications, MS can provide product bundles that weaken or even eliminate competitors, as they did in the 1980s. By integrating with MS Outlook, Microsoft could bring Yammer’s social business functionality to the PC application that is almost always open on most  employee’s desktops. Rather than going to a separate application, relevant activity streams would be visible from within Outlook itself.  Integration with MS Office applications, moreover, will enable users to easily collaborate to co-author Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.  Better collaboration within MS Project would ensure that updates to project plans can more easily be seen so each member on the project team can adjust their work accordingly or negotiate further changes.

Yammer’s potential also extends to Microsoft’s enterprise solutions. By integrating Yammer functionality with Microsoft Commerce Server, Microsoft may be able to offer a social commerce solution, whereby the opinions of community members could influence the purchase decisions of others.  And of course SharePoint itself can be improved dramatically via integration with Yammer’s user-friendly, social features, as described above.

What does this mean for other vendors who have developed social business software (SBS)?  For instance, Jive software also integrates with MS Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and SharePoint.  But won’t Microsoft have the advantage by owning the source code for these programs?

Upon learning of the acquisition, Jive Chairman and CEO Tony Zingale gave eWEEK an optimistic assessment of the acquisition, as one would expect.

“No question that this news is a huge validation for the space. If you remember, the world’s largest software supplier claimed for at least five years that the SharePoint content management system was, in fact, their social offering. They tried in ’07, they tried in 2010; they were going to try in 2013 to put out SharePoint versions that were going to add social features. So by evidence of this announcement today, a $1.2 billion all-cash purchase, of a company that was nothing more than an activities stream and a ‘freemium’ supplier, it’s pretty significant evidence that as the enterprise retools, that Microsoft was behind. And they needed to take action to integrate social capabilities–not only into SharePoint, but also Office 365, their CRM tool Dynamics, and a host of other things inside that Microsoft stack.”

Yammer also has several known flaws.  Probably the most notorious shortcomings are related to its poor administrative features and security. These, of course, can easily be fixed by Microsoft, a true enterprise player. However, Yammer’s SBS functionality is itself quite limited when compared to other solutions available in the marketplace, as noted above by Zingage and what Moxie CEO Tom Kelly told eWEEK: 

“Microsoft’s acquisition validates the critical nature of social connectivity as an enterprise capability. However, the activity stream supported by Yammer is only one slice of the value possible through enterprise collaboration. If over the coming years MSFT is able to build out a fuller capability, they and the companies that invest in this technology  might see a return on their investment. What the market needs to know is that fuller capabilities are available now…”

Yammer also lacks the the externally facing features that other  Software Business Solutions (SBS) have to:

  • Provide better and more cost-effective customer service experiences.  Jive, for example, empowers customers to answer one another’s questions and customer service representatives (CSR) to find expertise throughout the enterprise to quickly provide better answers than CSR scripts or FAQs could possibly contain.  Such social customer service solutions improve customer service and engagement while reducing service-related costs.
  • Enable sales and marketing to leverage the entire enterprise to respond more quickly to customers and support marketing campaigns.  This capability impacts both top line revenues and bottom-line profits by facilitating customer acquisition and retention while increasing the productivity levels for sales and marketing personnel.
  • Drive product innovation by collaborating with customers, partners and suppliers.
Therefore, vendors that provide such externally facing social business solutions–including Jive, Telligent, Moxie, Chatter and Lithium–may fare better than those who do not.  The biggest loser appears to be Newsgator, who served as Microsoft’s partner to build social business functionality around SharePoint prior to the acquisition of Yammer.
So what do you think of Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer?  
How do you think it will impact other vendors who provide social business collaboration solutions?  
How do you expect other large players (e.g., Oracle, Adobe and IBM) to react to this news?
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Quirky: The Ultimate in Social Product Development and Commerce

So, what do you think of Quirky?  Have you seen other examples where crowdsourcing, co-creation and/or social commerce come together to produce great ideas or products?

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Will QR codes rescue print?

QR Code for http://robkaminoff.comAs a multichannel marketer, I have worked with many magazines to secure print advertising as well as printing companies to print brochures, catalogs and direct mail pieces. As the world (including me) moved toward less expensive and more trackable digital media, the last several years have been miserable for a lot of my contacts in these fields. Many print advertising salespeople have lost their jobs and many printers have gone out of business. Generally speaking, print advertising is good for branding, but not for lead generation.  People are not likely to put down a newspaper or magazine to go on a computer to respond to a call to action on the web.  (When is the last time you put down a magazine or newspaper to type an advertised URL into a computer?). When your smartphone or tablet scans a printed QR code, it takes you into the digital world.  Most applications transport you to a website (which should certainly be optimized for mobile devices) and show you additional information–such as videos, product specs, coupons and contests,  as well as “Buy Now” and social sharing buttons that you can take action on.  Now your printed information is no longer static; it is fully interactive and far more engaging!  For the first time, businesses can track, test, measure and optimize the effectiveness and ROI of their offline advertising campaigns, including an understanding of the messages, QR codes and print media that result in more scans and conversions.

Growth of QR Codes

While QR codes are still relatively new to the United States, they’ve been actively used for over a decade in Japan, where they were invented.  However, QR code adoption in the US has increased 4589% from the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of  2011 and eleven of the Fortune 50 companies are integrating QR codes into their marketing strategy.  Some factors fueling this grow include:

Increased smartphone usage.   While standard feature phones have the ability to scan these QR codes, they do not provide a very good mobile experience.  Smartphones, on the other hand, offer consumers the ability to seamlessly transition through information with ease.  This provides businesses the opportunity to engage more deeply with customers and prospects.  According to  Nielsen, sales of smartphones will overtake those of  feature phones in the US by the end of this year.

Acceleration of Tablet Computing. Tablets also offer QR code scanning capabilities. The added real estate and power of tablet computers have the potential to offer consumers incredibly rich, engaging and unique online experiences.  In a 2011 report, Forrester says many etailers report that half of their mobile traffic is already coming from tablet devices.  Be sure to stay tuned on this trend!

Improved scanning and generating applications.  In the past, a big obstacle for this technology was a lack of good, free QR code scanning applications.  Now many such apps are available.   Blackberry and Nokia already provide  QR scanning capabilities in their native camera apps. Soon enough, we will see these capabilities bundled with the OS of iPhones, iPads, Android and Windows Mobile devices. There are even free apps for businesses to generate their own QR codes that will trigger unique experiences for those who scan them.  Of course those that can most easily be customized and provide powerful metrics may cost a small amount of money.  More often than not, the advanced capabilities provided by paid apps yield a high ROI.

Standardization. In recent years, several companies unsuccessfully tried to push their own proprietary codes and scanning application, causing a lot of confusion for both businesses and consumers as to which code/scanner to use. The industry needed consistency to to ensure cross-platform applicability. The battle is over and QR codes have won, providing universal compatibility and the confidence that applications can scale and provide a consistent user experience.

Google’s Integration of QR Codes With Local Search. Google has sent hundreds of thousands of window decals to storefront businesses to seed the market.  The decals include QR codes that people can scan to pull up the business’ Google Places page to get directions, reviews, hours of operation, news and coupons. This effort is still morphing as Google adds more features for local advertisers.

Our Move to an ‘On Demand’ Economy, where we “want our information and want it now.”  Due to incredible advances in technology, consumers can now instantly gain access to almost all desired information; they no longer have to make a mental note to look up the information later in the day. This caters to our impulse desires by connecting our curiosity with the information that we are curious about.

Powerful Mobile Commerce Tool.  Merchandisers can quickly provide a lot more information about products so that consumers have the confidence to buy them right away.  mCommerce is actually safer than standard eCommerce due to the strict information protection by the carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc). Once trust is gained, QR codes will be an invaluable asset to mobile commerce campaigns as they will be able to instantly direct consumers to a category or product page where the items can be purchased.  Instead of “batch” processing a bunch of transactions on a computer, users can conduct them singularly “on-the-spot” wherever and whenever they like.

What exactly are QR codes and how can I use them?

A QR code is a 2-D version of a bar code. Because QR codes  contain a second dimension, they can contain 1,000 times more information than barcodes.  Two types of applications, one for businesses and the other for consumers, are required for QR codes to make their magic.

smartphone with QR readerConsumers need a QR code scanner/reader to be able to read the QR code.  Although this is included in the native camera applications for Blackberry and Nokia smartphones, there are dozens of apps that provide this functionality for iPhones and Android devices.  It is rumored that the iOS5, the iPhone operating system to be bundled with the iPhone5 (or 4Gs, whatever they call it!), will contain this functionality too, and its only a matter of time when this gets incorporated new versiond of the Android and Windows Mobile platforms.  The screen to the left, shows how a third-party app integrates this functionality into the iPhone’s camera application.

Businesses require a QR code generator to  determine the action taken by the consumer’s smartphone when it scans a QR code (e.g., open a web page, dial a number, or send an email).  The business can include the QR code in print ads, direct mail pieces, packaging, merchandise tags, articles of clothing, signs, storefront stickers, business cards, etc.  The action takes place when a consumer scans the code with his or her smartphone.  Most applications open a smartphone’s web browser where additional information can be acted upon, including videos, product specs, coupons, contests,  “Buy Now” and social sharing buttons.

Advanced analytics. Businesses can integrate their QR codes  with campaign and web analytics, and learn how many people scanned a particular code via different print channels and associated conversion activities (such as providing an email address, placing a phone call, buying a product, or sharing with friends on a social network).  For the first time, marketers can understand the effectiveness and ROI of their offline marketing campaigns as they can with online campaigns (although they will still have to wait until the next ad or printing to incorporate their learnings!).

Sample Applications

QR codes offer immense value for businesses and their customers.   They give customers the ability to interact with businesses in new ways and obtain more information about companies, as well as the products and services they offer.  They help businesses track the effectiveness and ROI of their offline marketing efforts and differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Here are some illustrative examples:

QR code in Ralph Lauren ad

Print Advertising. Place QR codes into your print advertisements and other marketing materials.  You can connect them to a specific website or video that elaborates on the advertising, enables social sharing or e-commerce. Ralph Lauren has started doing this with their magazine ads.  Note that the advertiser gave instructions as to how the QR code can be used.  This represents a best practice until the use of these codes become more prevalent among businesses and consumers.  You can also use QR codes in any of your marketing materials to direct viewers to a how-to video,  review site, your blog, Twitter and/or Facebook  account, or a mobile coupon.  If you have a mailing list, add a QR code to direct interested customers to a sign-up form.

QR code on real estate signBillboards and Signs. Another great place to print your QR code is a billboard or sign. In this case, a real estate sign includes a QR code.  When scanned, it can take the individual to a virtual home tour, a listing of comps in the neighborhood, or other properties listed by the broker. For signs and billboards, it is important to make the QR code large enough so it can be scanned from the appropriate distance. 


QR card on business cardsBusiness Cards.  A relatively simple way to leverage QR codes is to put them on your business cards.  It can have the same result as a vCard so that your contact information–including name, phone number, email address, physical address and URLs for you website and social network presence–can be saved in the scanning phone’s contact list or address book.  A related application is to put such codes on your name tag when attending events.  This is terrific conversation starter, as well as a way for people to network with you on a go forward basis.

QR code on t-shirtArticles of Clothing.  Turn your fans into walking brand ambassadors by getting them to wear QR codes that, when scanned, provide the messaging that you want to present. This can provide a powerful viral effect!



QR code in storefront windowStorefront Sticker.  Point people to your Google local listing, Yelp page, Foursquare check-in, reviews, menu, products, services, people, company website, etc.  Offer coupons that can be used right then and there, or later.  Show your hours of operation and enable people to make appointments or reservations.



Payment.  Starbucks accepts payments by scanning a QR code on your Starbucks Card!  In general, Starbucks has been on the forefront of experimenting with QR codes.  The myStarbucks application enables a consumer to store the recipe for their favorite coffee concoction and share it with other people. They can send their request for a grande skinny caramel macchiato with two sugars to a co-worker heading to a Starbucks and be assured that they get it right. The application can even help people choose the flavor of their coffee, be it earthy, nutty, bold, smooth or balanced. Users can also find nutritional information for everything offered in the store, a list of nearby Starbucks stores, and the amenities that each provide, such as changing tables in the restroom.


QR codes for electronics in best buyIn-Store Placement.  Place QR codes around your establishment and on merchandise tags, for users to scan and learn more about certain products and/or your company. Best Buy uses QR codes in their product merchandising, enabling customers to obtain much more interactive information than what is provided in standard point-of-purchase cards (or even salespeople for that matter!), including expert and consumer reviews, comparison specs, and how-to videos. Restaurants can place them on napkins to obtain reviews.  Although people typically do not go out of their way to provide positive reviews, they often find a way to rant about their negative experiences. By making the review experience simple, a restaurant can increase the ratio of positive to negative reviews. QR codes placed next to pieces of art can help art galleries sell more pieces, while museums can finally replace those aging audio tape tours! Hardware stores can link to how-to videos on YouTube for each power tool. Food manufacturers or groceries can link to pages that address how their products are sourced or provide additional benefit statements.
QR codes for scavenger hunt
Scavenger Hunts.  Scavenger hunts have become one of the most popular QR applications because they are highly interactive and engaging and offer the opportunity for participants to win prizes.   People are asked to scan as many of the QR codes that have been placed in an area.  Some are relatively easy to find, while other more difficult.  The individual who scans the most QR codes wins the contest!

United Airlines boarding pass with QR codeOnline Ticketing and Boarding Passes.  In your rush to the airport, have you ever lost your boarding pass? United Airlines was the first to allow customers to use QR codes on their phones as boarding passes.  Since then, scores of airlines, sports venues, concert halls, museums and theaters have jumped on board with similar ticketing applications and passes.

The list of potential applications for QR codes is endless.  What examples and applications have you seen that look or sound interesting?

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The 6 Ways to Increase E-Commerce Revenues and Profits

e-commerce shopping cartMy e-commerce clients typically  ask me “How can you increase my e-commerce revenues?” My answer usually references what I have dubbed The E-Commerce Equation.  In its simplest form, monthly revenues = average number of new customers (C) per month X the average monthly revenue per customer (R/C)). So R = C x (R/C).  This simplest of equations doesn’t help us figure out how to increase the number of new customers per month or the amount that customers spend per month. To inform our strategies and tactics for increasing e-commerce revenues, we need to understand how these numbers are derived. Continue reading

Social Commerce: How and why its a big deal!

groupon2 Driving traffic to a site is much easier than converting that traffic into sales.  Average e-commerce conversion rates are pitifully low, ranging from 2-4%.  For an etailer who purchases media (e.g., keywords for paid search, banners on other sites),  96%-98% of their budget is wasted by driving traffic to their site without making a sale, resulting in horrifically negative ROIs (aka, spending much more than you make!).  We have already discussed the importance of multivariate testing of landing pages and better online merchandising to improving e-commerce conversion rates.  Two trends have emerged that are dramatically improving conversion rates: Social Commerce and Mobile Commerce.  Today, I will discuss the impact of social commerce and reserve my thoughts regarding mobile commerce for my next post. Continue reading

What Are The Likely Impacts of Google Instant?

google-logoSince Google announced its search enhancement Google Instant last month, approximately 40,000 articles have appeared about its likely impacts on Organic and Paid Search. At this point, much of the discussion has been speculative because only time will provide the empirical evidence to support the implications that have been hypothesized. Continue reading

A Brief History of Online Merchandising and Thoughts About the Future

shopping-websiteBefore the web came along, catalog companies were the first to experiment with merchandising techniques designed to overcome the lack of a fully immersive in-store shopping experience. Punchy and persuasive product descriptions, detailed specifications, and imagery were needed to compensate for the lack of interaction with sales agents. The better catalogs have included lifestyle shots of how customers use their products, rather than merely listing products or showing photographs of products. Instead of listing products in alphabetical order, they tried groupings based on themes, styles, designers, complete outfits, etc. Continue reading

Landing Page Optimization: If They Come, Will They Convert?

field-of-dreams2When the World Wide Web was first utilized by companies before the end of the 20th Century, the objective was simply to have a website.  Just as in the movie, Field of Dreams,  there was this idealist belief that “If you build it, they will come.” Since then, you have been able to leverage search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), banner ads,  contextual ads, comparative shopping engines, affiliate networks, emails, blogs and your presence on social networks to drive traffic to your site.  As a result of these efforts you hopefully have lots of people coming to your site.   But what have you been able to do with these visitors once they arrive on your site?  Hopefully, you’ve either converted them to a qualified lead or sold them something.  Right? Continue reading

Why Tweet?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...

I can’t believe how many people still can’t see the value of  Twitter! That’s because the hype has focused on the tremendous growth of Twitter as a social network. and the apparent lack of  Twitter’s ability to monetize their traffic (although this too is changing). That leads many veterans of the 2000 tech bubble to be wary of  “eyeball metrics” when business models haven’t been fully thought through or well executed.  Then of course everyone gets in on the 7 Tips for Optimizing Your Presence on Twitter gravy train which propels the lemmings into the Twitter sea, with no sense of  why they are there or where they are actually going. Continue reading

Marketing Your Way Through The Great Recession

RecessionSo your company is taking a big hit during this severe recession and analysts tell us that things will get worse before they improve.   Typically, marketing expenditures are the first to be cut in order make up for losses in revenue.  But is this the right thing for your business? Continue reading

B2B Sales & Marketing: Why can’t we just get along?

Barbed wire fenceDid you know that:

Approximately one-half  of the material Marketing generates for Sales never gets used?

Salespeople typically spend about 40% of their time creating customer-facing collateral rather than selling?

Only 10%-15% of the collateral Sales produces is consistent with corporate strategy and messaging?

Continue reading

An About Face for Facebook

Facebook LogoLast Sunday, it became clear that some of the changes to Facebook‘s Terms of Service (ToS) enacted earlier in the month were detrimental to users’ privacy and granted the company total control over the content you share on their site.   Facebook changed the ToS to to say it owns any content you upload to the site until hell freezes over, even after you delete your profile.  This means they could reuse any of your content whenever and wherever it want. More specifically Facebook declared they have an:  Continue reading

Wow! We can now select among three fonts for Adsense ad appearance!

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

It doesn’t sound revolutionary does it? But for those who have been dying to have some impact on the design of their AdSense ad appearance, this could be the start of something very useful.  For the first time, Google is now offering the opportunity for non-premium users  to select among three fonts for their AdSense text ads:  Arial, Times and Verdana. (Larger premium publishers already had more control of the appearance of text ads on their sites.)  Hopefully,  Adsense  will increase these offerings in the future.  Google has already received a number of requests for Trebuchet MS,  since many websites utilize this font for content.  Others have asked for flexibility in the size of the font face.

How to Do It

To customize the ad units, AdSense users need to visit the “Ad Display” section within their Account settings and select the custom font they want to use for their ads.  Once they pick that font, they can update their account and, as soon as the updated code is copied to their site, all of their ads will immediately change.

The Value of Additional Fonts

By enabling website owners to match the look and feel of their Adsense text ads with the rest of the content on the site,  they are able to blur the distinction between the ads and editorial content on the site.  This should theoretically increase click-thrus and revenues for the publisher.    Of course its always best to test the different alternatives to see which actually outperforms the others.

What do you think?

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The Many Aspects of Integrated Marketing

To be effective (i.e., instrumental to sales), marketing must be integrated in several ways:

1. Consistency of messaging across different marketing vehicles and communications channels. So that you do not confuse your customers and prospects, the look, feel and messaging of your print advertising needs to be consistent with that of your website, exhibit displays at events, (as well as the venues themselves), direct mail, online advertising, social media and public relations activities. This helps to solidify and extend your brand.

2. Consistency of messaging over time. Instead of chasing “the opportunity de jour” with messaging that appears random to your constituents, you need to have a long-term strategy and the patience to stick with it for an enduring period of time. After all, repetition is the key to brand-building. Yes, mid-course corrections are sometimes needed as you continue to learn from the marketplace. While specific words and positioning can always change, overall themes must be preserved until you are ready for a major re-branding initiative.

3. Continuity of marketing processes from setting objectives > market research > product/service strategy > product/service development > communications strategy > communications tactics > analysis of results, with a feedback loop to ensure that past learnings improve future performance.

4. Integration of marketing with other corporate functions. Think of marketing as efforts to predispose prospects to say yes to your sales people, who are needed to close the deal. If the marketing message is inconsistent with what the salespeople are saying, you will confuse prospects and diminish sales. Every part of the company that touches the customer must be in tune with the marketing messages, including receptionists and customer service representatives. Each touch point with the customer either reinforces or diminishes your brand.

Future posts on this blog will provide more detail and illustrative examples of each aspect Integrated Marketing.

Value is the new “Black”

The proportion of Canadians who are living in ...
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It used  to be that the newest, hottest must have would set you back a paycheck or two, or at least a few hundred bucks. These days everyone is looking for value. A Star Ledger article today mentioned that many are looking to do without the frills. This goes from ditching organic foods to buying used cars.

No industry will be immune. With the expcetion of the ultra-rich everyone these days wants a bargin and they are willing to hunt for it. As with any downturn there will be winners and losers.

Did your company plan for a downturn? Do you have a product that fits into the “value” segment? If not ask yourself the following.

  1. Can I reposition one of my current products into the value category?
  2. Can I dumb-down some of my current product/offerings to fit this new niche?
  3. Can I get new product to market that serves the basic needs without going over the top?

These are by no means the only way to attract the new value consumer but it’s a good place to start.