Mobile World Congress 2017 – Barcelona calling.

As digital specialists we get to work in an exciting environment. New, technology-driven topics are part of everyday life for us. Trade fairs like CES, MWC etc. are a Mecca for innovation. For what’s important. For relentless progress. The most important event on the calendar for all mobile technology enthusiasts kicks off once more today with the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Just like last year I will rush through the halls – searching for new ideas, the most exotic, exciting gadgets, system solutions and digital products as well as, of course, interesting discussions. Face-to-face and fully analogue.

I am expecting that the MWC will focus on the following five trends:

  • Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence
  • Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality
  • Internet of Things and Smart Homes
  • Shy Techs
  • Robots

Many of these topics featured prominently at the trade fair last year too. What will be exciting is to see where the technologies are heading in the future – and when they will become commonplace in our everyday lives.

1) Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence

Chatbots are an exciting example of how a rather minor trend topic – since such a simple bot is ultimately constructed relatively quickly – develops into something of much greater relevance. Chatbots fulfil the wishes of consumers to quickly and easily access information that is tailored precisely to their personal needs and is available whenever and wherever. However, the simple interface alone will by no means be enough. The systems only become powerful when the accuracy of the responses is optimised by CRM, product and other database connections. A chatbot has to be able to address communication histories with the customer and learn constantly. It will be exciting to see which system solutions will be offered at MWC and which environments will be used to demonstrate chatbots. A social media messenger is ultimately just one of many possible applications.

2) Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality

It is really overwhelming to see the hardware that has been launched on the market in this field over the past year. Virtual reality became reality in 2016. New gadgets have spurred our imagination and given us a foretaste of the future. No question. These exciting times are set to continue with providers like Samsung having already announced many new developments that are to be presented at MWC. Sensational opportunities are waiting to be discovered in selected areas. But even if companies like Oculus, HTC etc. are recording increased sales in the area of True, that is to say fully immersive, VR, really wide-scale availability is not yet achievable. It is the brand stagings at the POS or at trade fairs that are the most exciting at present from a marketing perspective. In terms of certain aspects anyhow.
Augmented reality has also not made the major breakthrough as yet. Even if this was promised by so many owing to a short-lived but fierce battle with Pokémon Go. Most players had probably not activated the camera anyway when playing. And HoloLens also is primarily a great problem solver for a couple of individual application scenarios – for example in the framework of training measures. The focus at the moment though is still on “one-offs”.
However, I am really excited to see whether a real augmented reality breakthrough can be achieved here at MWC (or at an upcoming Apple Keynote?). The usability of these functions from a system perspective can all of a sudden provide the breakthrough in terms of real availability and exciting services. In a time when basically all information is already provided with a spatial coordinate, this information can also be linked with the camera function. Additional information on locations, on a person you are talking to or individual products as basic features – now that would be something!

3) Internet of Things & Smart Homes

No question. Anything that can be wired will be wired. CES and MWC will also compete in this sense for the most amazing products. But what else is left other than to wire hairbrushes? All will be revealed… With all of this absurdity, however, we should not forget that there are definitely exciting applications in the area of home automation. There’s no going back once the wireless speakers are established in your living room. And if you’re not sure if you switched off the lights, the oven or the hob, a quick look at the smart home app will ease your mind. Whether or not you are already signed up for all of this: just say you notice that toilet paper stocks are running low and can order supplies on the spot, then the entire household will benefit. These functions and others will increasingly – and, quite understandably – find their way into our homes.

4) Shy Techs

At the end of the day, most people simply want an easier working environment and a seamless living environment. This is the case even if they are not technology nerds. The term Shy Tech seems to aptly describe such people. No keyboards, not even monitors are absolutely necessary to control functions or retrieve information. Amazon has taken an initial giant step in this direction with “Echo”. Google Home is set to follow and Apple is planning to continue developing Siri, probably more likely with the iPhone as hardware than with its own loudspeaker. Great, if everything works smoothly. An army of clever bots will support us comprehensively.
At this point at the latest, a little reflection is always needed: where will the data actually be stored, where can I find information about this? Can the practice of law really keep up if product development is entering new grey areas or completely uncharted waters every day? Developing ideas and content for these systems is certainly the right thing to do. But maybe we should start off with cookery recipes and not immediately have medical records read aloud to us by these voice control systems. In any case, I am expecting to see every conceivable application at MWC. It will be interesting!

5) Robots

If Alexa and Siri learn to walk in the course of the digital evolution then robots will probably be the final outcome. Already last year you could use a smartphone to roll small robotic balls through an empty apartment and use integrated cameras to keep an eye on the apartment even from the café or play with the cat. Smartphone-based control is likely to stay, but the robots inside the rolling balls will probably unveil themselves as fully-fledged robots for use in the home. I am very excited to see what innovations will emerge in this area. Maybe I’ll meet “Kuri”, the small Bosch robot, or one of its fellow species. Apart from the quite legitimate question that Bill Gates recently asked as to whether taxes would not have to be levied on commercially used robots in the future to compensate for any impending decline in revenues from income tax, robots will probably become established somewhat slowly in our private everyday lives.
After all, I still prefer it when I can ask a human for directions in the shopping centre as opposed to a robot. And I am not alone in this. That’s why we have to take a step back from all of the euphoria that surrounds trade fairs like MWC. Our goal is to support our customers optimally in ensuring they are successful and equipped for the future. We keep an eye on all trends, analyse, make recommendations and advise. It’s not about being the fastest at implementing new technologies, rather finding the best and most suitable solution for the customer. Even if this sometimes means initially forsaking the latest hype.

More information and pictures from the Mobile World Congress can be found on Tumblr: sp-url.com/correspondent

Digital transformation – In the end it’s all down to the individual

When companies contemplate digital transformation, they usually concern themselves first of all with business models, technologies, platforms and processes. This is not wrong but yet not enough. That’s because companies need to focus on the individual if digital transformation is to be successful for them. She or he is the greatest hurdle and at the same time the best opportunity in this process. And this applies in two respects: on the one hand, companies have to understand the impact of digitalisation on the needs and behaviours of their own customers and future target groups. This is the only way that digital offers, platforms and communication can develop, which are relevant for current and future users and thus have the prospect of success. On the other hand, change projects can only be sustainable if the company’s own employees understand the effects of digitalisation on the company and the sector and support the corresponding changes required.

Admittedly, we receive private messages via newsfeeds or from Facebook, we stream films, music or TV series when and where we want. We communicate via social networks and messenger, book travel online, do our shopping over the net and control the heating via an app. Progressive and all-pervasive digitalisation has changed our everyday lives – and is continuing to do so at an increasing pace. Whereas yesterday we were still fascinated by being able to order groceries online, now we get news of political upheaval via Twitter, meanwhile tomorrow we will of course use Echo to order toilet tissue. We are experiencing and witnessing change in practically every area of life. When it comes to our job and our own company, however, the attitude and perception of many people change.

From onlooker to stakeholder

Notwithstanding the fact that digitalisation affects almost every sector, managers and employees can nevertheless be found at all hierarchical levels who still quote various reasons why this topic is not at all relevant in their sector or professional life – regardless, incidentally, of industry and age. Complete rejection, major scepticism or the general dread of change – especially change processes – is only too human. Anyone who shuts out this aspect and believes that digital transformation can be decreed “top down” – in the truest sense – will in all probability fail.

Companies that want to successfully master digital transformation must encourage understanding of the transformation among their employees as well as a willingness and desire to change. The switch from onlooker to stakeholder is essential.

The buzzword “digital transformation” very rarely means anything definite to employees. The word is too unwieldy and at the same time can be interpreted in any number of ways. It is considerably easier to approach the issue by asking concrete questions and communicating and discussing these openly. How is media usage by our customers changing as a result of digital transformation? How are their needs and purchasing patterns changing? Are new target groups emerging and what makes them tick? Is there a significant demand for our products in new channels and platforms? Do we need to reassess the role and mix of communication and sales channels? How are our existing competitors dealing with the new situation? Where are new competitors emerging, who perhaps offer just part of our value chain but at a previously unknown level of quality? It is only when answers can be found collectively to these questions that change processes in the company can be justified in an objective and transparent manner. If decisive changes are the result of analysis, all employees have to know the reasons for this. Digital transformation can only be successful for companies if they take the anxieties and any reservations of their employees seriously.

Digital expertise you can touch

Gather together the employees you need in the first step to initiate the transformation, preferably using different training formats. Only by experiencing something in practice and trying it out is it possible to properly grasp a subject. This is true for mobile payment options for your own company in the same way as for deliberations on introducing agile forms of project management. For example, introduce new tools and approaches using concrete use cases in a two-day workshop – with external support too. Visit start-ups together from outside of the sector also and test and try out technologies in practice. Exchange information with digital natives on their media usage and consumer behaviour. The aim is to allow things and developments to become touchable, tangible and therefore intelligible so as to identify the opportunities and challenges for your own company. Jointly elaborating specific goals and visions in workshops can also be helpful to dispel any trepidations that may arise from any sense of lack of expertise. Play planning games with a very practical orientation and, wherever possible, avoid using jargon. Buzzword bingo is counter-productive in everyday life. The draft of a digital strategy for your company can result at the end of the introductory and conceptualisation phase. This is of course just a first draft that has to be substantiated and revised in detail. But you will get a collective view of exactly how the concept could look in practice.

It is also clear: once the strategy has been developed and fundamental decisions made, these will not remain correct and valid for years to come. Only one thing is certain: the next update will definitely come. The iteration should therefore be planned in as a principle from the outset and be made a permanent feature of the strategy and reflection process.

Internal communication as a key success factor

Active and open communication must therefore be an integral part of all processes. Include employees – in decisions, new ideas and strategies. The feeling of being taken seriously and having a say, at least in one’s own field, can break down resistance. So that ultimately everyone in the company understands and is convinced that change is a constant part of the new work environment.

Digital Creation: The art of concentration or the return of pragmatism

Not so long ago a digital creative approached me and wanted to discuss a problem with me: “When I get a briefing I have absolutely no idea where to begin. There are so many possibilities. And platforms. And innovations. Somehow you can make everything – and nothing”. I understand him completely. That is precisely why, on the one hand, being a creative in 2017 is really difficult. On the other hand, exactly why it is so exciting.

And, of course, a lot of things used to be simpler. You settled down with a couple of sheets of white paper, copious amounts of coffee and maybe a packet of cigarettes and  “used your imagination”. Created familiar formats like 35-second TV spots from nothing, or filled a double page in a magazine with new contents. You wrote ten articles and the Creative Director had the in hindsight comparatively easy task: he had to decide which of them was the funniest, most surprising or most amazing. Then you scribbled ten notices, edited them and repeated the process. In those days everything was prepared fairly quickly and you knew that it would be turned on its head later.

Today it’s all different.

In-depth knowledge, huge amounts of research, a seamless strategy, intelligent data- aggregation and, based on this, precise target group segmentation; nowadays, these often seem to be the basic prerequisites before you can even begin to think about a headline. At least, that’s the theory. And it does make complete sense. In this – admittedly exaggerated – form it is, however, extremely costly, both in terms of expense and time. Above all, though, one factor is often forgotten, which hasn’t changed since the “good old days”: healthy understanding of people and a creative talent. Of course, as a creative one should be up to date with current technology and platforms and ideally be able to use them. Close cooperation with media and strategy is also absolutely essential. But a good idea is still a good idea today. Only the basis on which it can be developed has changed. New formats want to be fulfilled and technical possibilities exploited.

A solution to the problem or a solution looking for a problem?

An innovative, creative task is characterised, by definition, by providing a new solution for an existing problem. At a time in which, however, many things are happening “because they can”, the tables are turned in many instances. Today there are new solutions and to a certain extent problems for these have first to be found. For example: only seven years ago there was no iPad. Then suddenly there it was and agencies and customers alike asked themselves what effect this technical achievement would have on their business. Suddenly the supply was determining demand. Almost overnight creatives were forced to invent useful applications for a new device. It’s just as if the wireless were discovered today and tomorrow copywriters are having to write radio spots.

The principle of trial and error

So the only thing we can do is just try things out – because they are there and because we can, because it’s fun and not because we feel forced into it. Whether it’s VR, Chat-Bots, Facebook Live or Alexa. We should transfer this innovative gold-rush fever, which the tech start-ups demonstrate, to our own work. We should allow ourselves to be infected by this almost childlike impulse to play in this fascinating period and try things out. And if something doesn’t work, well that’s no bad thing. Then we just have to do things better, change them – or leave them and do something else. It sounds banal but it is nothing other than prototyping. Quickly changing something to test whether it works.

Of course there are no comparison values and no market research can answer our acquired urge to know whether something is right or wrong. But it doesn’t have to because nowadays the most important test group of all tells us whether it likes something – the consumers themselves.

Four tips for successful product content

Many e-commerce strategies focus on excellence in design and optimum tailoring of shops for the mobile world, exciting campaigns as well as media planning that will attract a great deal of attention and ensure extensive coverage. There is no doubting that all of this is important. Yet even the best planned marketing euro is wasted if the product detail page that customers eventually reach at the end of their journey throws up more questions than answers. What are the product features? What does the material look like exactly? Are the details correct?

The user is often just presented with the most basic information: height, width, depth, size, material. Such information would not be adequate to sell a product in brick-and-mortar retailing. We want to experience products and grasp them in the truest sense of the word. And this is precisely where a large gap exists all too often – despite all connected commerce efforts – between store-based and digital retail or between aspiration and reality. Carelessly designed product detail pages – and we are not referring here to usability or design, rather the main product information – are the final blow to the successful outcome of the user journey. No purchase is made, because the customer simply does not find adequate information about the particular product. An even more bitter pill for the online retailer is if the customer decides to purchase – despite poor or inadequate information – but then is not satisfied on receiving the goods. Expensive returns, negative reviews and dissatisfied customers are the result. We therefore recommend following the four steps outlined below to optimise the product content and thus prevent precisely these negative consequences.

1.    Address the topic of content early on

Preparing high-quality and unique product content takes time: time for coordinating internal processes, time for consulting with manufacturers and time for preparing, enriching or refining the content. Texts have to be written, attributes maintained and photos taken as well as edited. These processes have to be done and dusted before good content can be produced quickly in large quantities. In the meantime, you avoid the error of relying on a service provider just before the go-live that, despite not knowing your product range, promises to caption 100,000 products virtually overnight and enrich them with attributes. This cannot go well. You should therefore place the topic of product content among the top items on your agenda.

2.    Do not rely on the manufacturer

“We will get the product details from the manufacturer” is a widely held belief. Yet many manufacturers only have very basic product content at their disposal and sometimes not even any product photos as yet. Moreover, you have to transfer the information from the manufacturer to your system. Non-standardised interfaces and different formats often require laborious manual reworking and end up costing you time. And don’t forget: the same manufacturer will be supplying its product details to different retailers – your competitors. This is far removed from unique content.

3.    Invest in unique content

Product content is primarily intended for the visitors to your shop. It should inform and encourage the visitor to make a purchase. But getting to the product detail page is a long journey. That’s why good editorial product content has to be prepared optimally for the search engine. Search engine-optimised content promotes the right keywords, is detectable by bots and above all is unique. Duplicate content is penalised in the rankings by Google and others. An investment in unique content is therefore an investment in the performance of your shop. Regardless of whether you have product texts created in-house or by an agency, you invest time in sensible briefings, engage authors who are competent in the most important SEO requirements and familiarise the authors with your product range.

4.    Think user-centred – not in channels

The mantra of “media-neutral content” applied for years. The same product content should work in all channels. However, the quest for the smallest common denominator results in content that is then suboptimal in all channels. Print content has to be prepared differently than web content. Product detail pages accessed on mobile phones have to look different to detail pages opened on tablets or on the desktop PC. While customers perform extensive searches on the desktop at home and check every detail, they primarily want to see all key details at first glance on their smartphone when on the move. At the end of the day, what is important is to generate the ideal content in each case for the user to suit their respective usage situation. Therefore, take on board the views of your customers and answer the question as to when which product information is interesting for whom and where. “Media-neutral” content on the other hand patronises your customers.

Top-class product content is not rocket science and – admittedly – not exactly the topic the CDO or Digital Manager will tackle first. But experience shows that it is what concerns your customers. The topic has therefore deserved more attention.

This article was also published on internetworld.de.

Trends 2017: Austria

In 2017 topics like programmatic advertising, business intelligence, data management, data security, mobile commerce and data-driven marketing per se will gain in importance. That’s not new. In reality, we already have to master all these areas and have to do “our homework” next year to drive and consolidate our knowledge and competences. Within the developments in the communication industry, especially in the digital field, we notice following main trends, which will more and more decide about “top or flop”:

  • Responsive Content
    2016 was the year of native advertising and content strategies – the focus was definitely on “CONTENT”. Online websites are (in most cases) responsive concerning the layout. BUT in the ideal case also the content adapts itself to the mobile device. There are many opportunities to improve usability and effectiveness of communication, with the background of the changing media usage. New ways and strategies to create and spread content successfully will gain a meaning – in this case in bits and pieces and not in 30‘‘.
  • Visuality & Iconic Turn
    Our world is becoming more and more “illustrated” – our environment is full of icons, pictures, videos. In the age of information overload we have to process information faster and more contextual. This means for the communication industry: Pictorial language and new ways of visualization will continue to be an important success factor.
  • Structuring data – Reducing complexity 
    Data management, data security, data-driven marketing, business intelligence – 2017 structured data will be more important than ever before. For all innovative systems handling data-driven marketing the ability of structuring data in a meaningful way is essential and inevitable. Making a complex world more simple – for everyone (customers & companies)!
  • Transition between Apps & Web 
    On the smartphone, we spend most of our time in apps, not in the browser. But marketers still focus their communication measures on the Web. 2017 priorities will shift. For example, there will be important questions about how to make the transition between app and web better – deeplinks and other gadgets can quickly become powerful marketing tools, especially in the area of mobile commerce.
  • Messenger Marketing
    Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are the most important chat programmes and apps for communicating. Facebook is currently starting to monetize the Messenger, Whatsapp could follow soon. In 2017 mobile marketers must be there, where the target group is – and this is in any case also the messenger. It is time to enter into a dialogue on Facebook Bots.
  • Mobile Video content 
    In the meanwhile, the biggest “video problem” is solved for mobile devices. The size of videos is hardly an obstacle in LTE times. Videos are popular in all (personal) environments – with the strong tendency to live videos. Mobile video marketing must already be ensure in the production process that videos can be consumed in all living situations. Subtitling or a suitable call-to-action can be a way out.

Nevertheless we do not want to forget about the real communication trends, which we do not find in the media every day, but with which trend researchers are mainly concerned with. Digital detox, the non-existing disruption and related retro-trend, Postgenderism, (finally) customer-oriented NFC solutions and innovative e-governmental services will also be increasingly focussed in 2017.

Trends 2017 from the Middle East

TECHUCATION THANKS TO AR & VR

Technology and education is on the rise, with companies like IBM and Apple working hand in hand to release Watson Element in a bid to help teachers gain insights into individual learning behaviors. In Dubai, the vision of Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum to provide “NEW GENERATIONS with the skills needed for the future” is prompting VR giant, Samsung, to seek content cooperation partners like Serviceplan to create VR experiences in both the classroom and the workplace. Brands can take advantage of AR and VR by creating content, instead of merely looking at devices to push content through. This will be a tall order for VR and AR content creators, as International Data Corporation (IDC) reports that the augmented and virtual reality market for the Middle East and Africa will grow robustly over the next five years, projecting annual growth rates of more than 100 per cent by 2020.

REALTIME INFLUENCER MARKETING

Realtime Influencer Markting will now, more than ever, require brands to slowly give up creative control. With new social tools like Facebook Live and Instagram Stories now available to supplement Snapchat, transparency between brands and influencers, as well as authenticity in influencer content, will become more apparent in 2017. Brands will want to see immediacy in content, regardless of its ephemeral nature, but will, in turn, require statistics behind it. This means shorter lead-times to conceptualize and create content, giving influencers more control of the pieces they publish. Consequently, influencers will start choosing to collaborate only with brands that allow them to stay true to their personalities, and to maintain the core of their online following. With real-time now invading our social spaces, influencer authenticity will replace influencer popularity. Brands will come to realize that fame does not necessarily equate to quality, and that quality, served to a smaller, more targeted audience will hold more value and influence. Other, more established brands will revert to celebrities over mere influencers, if only to defy the already dizzying predominance of so-called “social voices”. Dubai’s clever use of Sharuk Khan in its latest promotional film is one such example.

ATTENTION ECONOMY AND THE 5 SECONDS OF OPPORTUNITY

Today, attention is a rising commodity in itself, as smartphones have left humans with such short attention spans that there is only a 3-5 second window of opportunity to grab the consumer’s attention. This change in consumer behavior places increased value on content marketing with short video at its core. In this new landscape, social platforms are assuming the role traditionally occupied by broadcast media. Brands and marketers should start looking into innovative content that would make their platforms more and more relevant to the already hooked Arab audience. Live video, for one, is now being experimented with by brands (primarily from owned events to amplify reach) and this will be utilized even more in 2017.

Trends 2017: Belgium

To achieve the best results possible for the brands that we serve, and as part of our quest to embrace emerging marketing and communication movements, we need to take a closer look at some social trends.

Looking forward, the thing that strikes us in particular is a general sense of “harmonious contradiction”. There are two intriguing, big and bold contradictions going on which brands should try to understand and appropriate.

Tactile vs virtual & artificial

At the beginning of December, for the first time in history, the amount of money spent on vinyl records in the UK overtook the amount spent on digital downloads.

“We have a new generation buying vinyl, lots of teenagers and lots of people under 25, who now want to buy their favourite artists on vinyl and have something a bit more tangible, a bit more collectible. People have become keen to support their favourite artists by buying into that ownership concept. It’s very difficult to demonstrate your love of an artist if you don’t have something to hold on to,” said Kim Bayley, chief executive of the Entertainment Retailers Association recently.

In a digital world, consumer preference can indeed be influenced by sensory marketing tactics: think about the combined potential of sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell.

Even while anxieties are expressed about the impact of robots on the way we work, and the kinds of jobs that exist, millions of people have already adopted home robots. Take the Echo: it has already captured imaginations and hooked its owners on how easy it makes ordering a takeaway, or never running low on washing powder.

Brands needs to ensure that their technology/services can be linked in some way to this new kind of central domestic technology.

Local vs. e-tailing on the doorstep

It’s becoming increasingly clear that living a healthy life and thriving means putting as much care and thought into our relationship with food, as we do into our personal relationships. The best place to start working on a closer relationship with the food we eat is at local farmers’ markets and by buying from local food producers – and of course this is also true in fashion, furniture etc. Brands can tap into the trend towards these lifestyle choices by playing a facilitating role starting to allocate areas for community gardens, urban farms and local entrepreneurship.

Every day, a new “kit on your doorstep” initiative is launched, whether it be a meal in a kit, an outfit in a kit, or the myriad other options available. Thousands of cardboard boxes land on urban and rural doorsteps every month, containing all the elements needed to create a home-cooked dinner. Like frozen food or the microwave oven, meal kits may be a kitchen innovation that fundamentally changes how people cook at home. The cookbook author Mark Bittman told the New York Times: “It’s cooking. It’s not shopping and it’s not planning and in a way it’s not thinking, but it is cooking.”

While many question the ecological footprint of these services, brands can play a vital role in logistics and packaging innovation, offering smart recycling. Brands can help kitchens and their appliances to become smarter, and make cooking more intuitive and complex meals more accessible.

Generation Z

The first members of Generation Z will turn 21 in 2017, marking their transition from society’s teenagers to fully fledged consumers, and as such their influence will mark a tipping point for retailers. The way most retailers do business nowadays will be turned on its head, as this generation is made up of free thinkers, and sceptical when it comes to brands. They interact primarily on social media channels, simultaneously across several of them, and spend little to no time on brand platforms.

As more and more social channels integrate social shopping, brands should design even more specific content to entice this emerging group of consumers, who will be drawn to social selling storytelling. Instagram’s shoppable photo strategy is only a faint indicator of what is to come, and what will be easily adopted by these mobile natives.

Whereas platformless retail may still be considered a trend, conversational commerce will fully blossom in 2017. Chatbots and apps are now a retail tool that can boost business and increase customer service in a way that is satisfying for Generation Z.

The daily use of technology comprising chat, messaging or other natural language interfaces, short circuits the brand-to-consumer loop, facilitating “conversations” between people, brands or services, and making it possible to use a device – notably a smartphone – to ask questions, place orders and get advice.

Brands that are early adopters of this kind of commerce will certainly appeal to Generation Z, and are likely to see these consumers spending their first salaries with them rather than with traditional e-tailers. Tangible benefits of WhatsApp social commerce:

  • Instant notification of messages being read.
  • No queuing – 30-minute response time.
  • No precious time wasted on explaining a fault or your specific need; a simple picture will do.

By linking to a CRM system, not only can brands facilitate direct sales, but track customer lifecycle too. We all remember SuitSupply in the Netherlands – the cool initiative and pilot case that resulted in an additional channel for commerce.

H&M’s bot suggests various outfits to users and provides the opportunity to purchase through the bot’s messaging platform. Sephora is using a bot to provide beauty tips and enable direct shopping.

Trends 2017: Italy 4.0

2016 has been a good year in terms of the Italian economic upturn, thanks to a government that has made important reforms to work, recruitment and retirement, so (hopefully) we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel: after years of decline and stagnation, in 2016 investment in advertising is expected to grow by 3%.

Media planning is getting ready to capitalise on the opportunities: investments in digital have been growing rapidly in recent years, and in 2017 they are expected to make up a quarter of all communications investments. It’s also worth noting that mobile web has grown to make up more than twice the extent of PC use, and next year will absorb a third of all digital resources. We are experiencing significant developments in live videos, fresh daily content with Snapchat, Instagram and Telegram, and new scenarios such as native advertising and chatbots.

Nonetheless, TV is expected to still play a major role in the landscape, representing half of total investments though with one key difference compared to past situations: forget about wide audiences. In the meantime, unlike TV, other traditional media are not showing any significant signs of evolution. Their trend seems irreversible: fifteen years ago print represented a third of total investment; now it’s only 13%.

In such a challenging scenario, it’s no surprise that Programmatic is increasingly gaining share of use vs. traditional media planning: in Italy, Programmatic spending has grown from €42 million in 2013 to €260 million in 2016. Reports predict that next year Programmatic advertising will be worth €360 million, and €515 million in 2018.

Live videos

Mobile video consumption is forecast to grow by 33% in 2017, and by 27% in 2018, reaching 33.4 minutes a day. In this context, live videos will continue to grow among brands over the next few years. Social media users love to feel “in the moment,” and live videos give them that sense: rather than seeing a recorded event, they want to experience something immediately.

Live events foster engagement. When large groups of people are concurrently watching a live stream, it is a far more social experience than when they watch an on demand video on their own. Social connections and interaction during a live event are very attainable and extremely valuable.

Fresh daily content

Snapchat, Instagram and Telegram offer the chance to tell stories in posts, videos or photos that self-destruct after 24 hours. This means that each company must create fresh daily content for its users.

In addition, this volatility makes any content more interesting and appealing to the eyes of your followers. The knowledge that tomorrow will be too late to take advantage of the experiences, stories or snaps clicked today is dependent on curiosity, and creates urgency around the need to stay up-to-date.

Programmatic buying

In Italy, Programmatic spending has grown from €42 million in 2013 to €260 million in 2016. Reports predict that next year Programmatic advertising will be worth €360 million, and €515 million in 2018. As has already happened in more mature markets, the Italian panorama of Programmatic is becoming increasingly crowded, so in 2017 the big operators will redouble their efforts to increase the efficiency and customisation of their solutions, while clients will continue becoming increasingly aware of the offer.

Native advertising

Ad blocking is a phenomenon that continues to grow in Italy: currently, ad blocker usage is at 13% among PC users, while on smartphones it is at 7.6%. The prevalence of ad blockers is provoking serious reflection on the nature of online advertising. With an average click rate at 0.06%, it is now clear to everyone that online display advertising has to change. And so, native advertising is forecast to grow by 156% in the next 5 years, overwhelming the 52% market share that display advertising in Europe currently has.

Chatbots

Brands are beginning to use artificial intelligence for their customer service. The main advantage from using chat-based assistance is a speedier response, which could reverse the trend of consumers pouring out negative feelings about the company on social media. The Italian startup Responsa has created a Messenger chatbot to offer self-service customer care with high conversational content. The technology combines contextual analysis and natural language algorithms (NLP), ensuring a spontaneous and immersive experience for customers.

YouTuber licensing

In Italy, licensed products represents business worth €3.18 billion, while the global licensed products business hit €214 billion in 2016. A new trend is for “co-branded” YouTuber-licensing. To take one recent example, the Favij nickname, featured on various products, has proved to be a winning formula: the licensed Panini collection has received more than 1 and a half million sales. If at first no one wanted to produce a book with a YouTuber, today they are queuing up for the chance.

Trends 2017

The old year is drawing to a close. It’s time, therefore, to take a look at the coming year.  The experts of the Serviceplan Group have summarised their personal communication trends for the year 2017.

Dr Peter Haller, Founder and Managing Director of the Serviceplan Group

Public discussion has adapted itself to a good dozen mega trends. They trigger business trends and these lead to consumer and communication trends. Those who want to develop faster than the economy as a whole have no choice but to follow the growth trends. But which ones?

There are hundreds of trends and counter-trends. All of this against the backdrop of an accelerating change in digitalisation. But which of these trends are relevant to which industries? Which can I embrace for my brand? And which of these in this confusing process is the reliable guidance for my brand management?

This is the theme of our 2017 Brand Roadshow together with GfK, which is once again sponsored by the German Trade Mark Association. “Dynamic brand management through the jungle of consumer and communication trends” will take place on 7 March in Munich, 9 March in Berlin, 22 March in Frankfurt, 28 March in Cologne, 30 March in Hamburg, 9 May in Vienna and 11 May in Zurich.

Jens Barczewski, Deputy Managing Director Mediaplus Strategic Insights

2017 will be the year inflationary KPIs become the measurement of success for campaign and media performance. In 2017 there will be an agreement between AGF (the television research working group in Germany) and Google/Youtube over the designation of a common video currency. The ‘Quality Initiative for Research into the Effect of Advertising’, driven by the Organisation of Brand Advertisers (OWM) in cooperation with Facebook and Google, will deepen its work and define the first indicators. The AGOF will firstly designate reach on a daily basis and therefore facilitate a continuous improvement of the booking units.

With the associations’ initiatives the individual publishers will open up their own measurement and success indicators to customers and agencies in order to obtain greater transparency in the market. The commotion over the erroneous increase in video viewing times on Facebook showed that not every KPI should be accepted without deep understanding from the customers and agencies.

Winfried Bergmann, Head of Human Resources, Serviceplan Group

Political correctness is on the retreat

Overly cautious political correctness has definitively disqualified itself as being the spiritual leader towards populism. The US presidential election was marked by dishonesty – from both sides. You did not know what was worse – the evident lies from the one side or the awkward, fearful avoidance and concealment of highly relevant issues from the other. Someone who conceals topics, about which large portions of the public worry, because of an alleged sense of decency and misunderstood consideration, must not be surprised when the sovereignty of interpretation is lost in societal discourse. This is even more so in Europe.

Therefore, dear reputable conservatives, break free from political correctness and in the coming year engage strongly in your issues. Let us argue about all of that – from the centre of society, which would then have found the courage for free debate once more. For when we do it like this, there will be nothing more for populists to do other than peep out from the right side of the screen. And it will be lonesome again and they will go back to their crossword.

Stephan Enders, Head of Mobile Marketing of the Plan.Net Group

Chatbots

With the first bot shops among messengers the subject flared up in 2016. And, as it often happens when a new trend emerges, a euphoric, partly activist test phase was swiftly launched, sometimes even when the worth and meaning of a certain discovery could not be estimated. However, chatbots are merely the cherry on top of an older idea, whose impact stretches far wider than it looks at first sight. It’s all about the perfect customer dialogue.

Chatbots, together with artificial intelligence, are (or, rather, will be) a valuable instrument, perhaps the most valuable of them all. Because the trend of 2016 will be the mega trend of 2017, meaning that it will pool together different mechanics, half trends and instruments:

01 CRM: Customer service with a chatbot, whose reaction is always quick and precise.

02 BIG DATA: Only learning chatbots, with all customer data at hand, will be able to unfold their power. The evolution of chatbots will enforce Big Data processes.

03 MOBILE FIRST: Chatbots are perfect for mobile use and, therefore, ideally fit for the future – wherever the user might decide to roll: Facebook, (mobile) web, you name it.

04 SERVICELAYER: In a world of information overload, it will be vital to deliver the right information, at the right time, in the right place. Nothing more, nothing less. A chatbot will be able to do just that.

Gerd Güldenast & Marcus Person, Managing Directors at hmmh

Voice control
Google Home and Amazon Echo open up new possibilities, however still clearly show us their limits . 2017 is the year the merits of the products and services will be demonstrated convincingly without a graphical user interface. Creative individuals and developers are asked to smarten these systems and to further develop companions for everyday life or for an intelligent touchpoint in connected commerce.

Big data aids human customer service
The topic of customer service in the online world stands to change in 2017. Today chatbots are being used more commonly. They show however shortcomings where subjective feelings and emotions play a crucial role. With new customer intelligence systems and smart chatbots based on big data analysis, customers will receive a completely new quality of service in 2017.

Oliver Grüttemeier, Managing Director of  Serviceplan Cologne

Digitalisation only succeeds with empathy.

For years, we have experienced dramatic changes in the workplace through technological developments. Although companies attempt to increasingly fuse their processes along the supply chain, the digitalisation often only comes along sluggishly. 2017 will change that, because the top management currently recognises that leadership through ‘command and control’ no longer works. In the future, executives managers of successful companies will therefore be measured less by their accomplished goals, but rather much more by their social competence—the foundation for every form of cross-departmental collaboration.

In this area, Google is already 10 years ahead. Since 2007, Google already offers its employees the opportunity for personal growth and the development of business empathy with the program ‘Search Inside Yourself’. The success of Google is not only based on the accumulation of more data, but on the knowledge that the best search engine is our spirit.

Stefanie Krebs, Managing Director of Plan.Net Technology

In 2017 a creative thinker requires analytically and technically broad shoulders. While the mega trend digitalisation advances rapidly, the majority of companies have reacted and digitalised their structures. Now, together with their associates, they are facing the challenge of building an integrated business model from the emerging digital island which can also exist in a future shaped by big data, machine learning, the internet of things and perpetual digital innovation.

Those who want to deliver creative responses and celebrate communicative success must be able to develop organisationally and technically complex systems in a short amount of time. 2017 will therefore be the year of the creative team player, where it pays to deliver elegant solutions to complex questions using the input from your multi-faceted team with specialists for tools, technology, processes and people. It is no longer about the colourful façade, but the whole package.

Andrea Malgara, Managing Director of the Mediaplus Group

TV works

According to the ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) TV is still the most important advertising medium when it comes to building a broad reach and increasing return on investment. E-commerce companies are investing more and more in TV advertising. In 2015 almost every third TV advertising spot was occupied by an e-commerce product. TV advertising is strongly increasing online shopping traffic. Digital business models require a wide reach, however, to generate significant turnover.

If the appropriate special interest channels are chosen and screen planning is optimal for an advertising campaign, the advertising recall, brand awareness and the conversion rate all significantly increase. Through brand-unique and innovative media strategy, we can achieve a 20 percent increase in turnover with a targeted media mix.

Kevin Proesel, Managing Director of Saint Elmo’s Berlin

In 2017, IOT (Internet of Things) and clever ideas are changing retail marketing.

We have observed that the classic sales funnel of companies is changing: through the technology shift and the increase in use of smartphones, customers themselves are becoming points of sales and points of information, because they are networked everywhere and can obtain information as well as provide information at any time. As a result of this, personalised and networked campaigns that are implemented close to consumers will be the most convincing in the future. In 2017, we will be seeing the first campaigns which will use networked Smart Buttons as marketing incentives in the Internet of Things.

‘Smart Button’? It sounds smart, and it is smart: in advanced retail campaigns, a branded button acts as a pivot point. It is not like the dash buttons on Amazon, which act purely as facilitators of a networked ordering process, but it is a starting point for a networked campaign storytelling, which unfolds once the customer connects their button to their smartphone—and once they press the Smart Button. Predefined processes now tell a story, which, through several chapters, leads the customer to more and more touch points of a company: always through the simple push of a button. In this way, a guided tour takes place from home to the retail department, which constantly further qualifies the customer and allows campaigns to be experienced fully networked. It is virtually engagement marketing par excellence, since it goes beyond only displaying content and includes the user directly: ‘2017? Press the button and see what happens.’

Dominik Schütte, Managing Director of Serviceplan Content Marketing

Content quality instead of quantity

In 2017, people will ultimately comprehend that the purpose of content marketing goes beyond simply selling. Therefore, companies will be more confident in finding narrative niches outside their brand. In the process, they will be astonished to find out that people actually have their own interests and that it is exactly through these interests that they can be reached and turned into customers. A win-win situation, for both companies and the people out there. Storytelling for the masses – yes, thank you. But make it qualitative, relevant and, please, don’t be annoying.

Klaus Schwab, Managing Director of the Plan.Net Group

I believe that 2017 will bring along two highlights:

First of all, it will be the year when voice command becomes widely adopted, meaning that digital services will be triggered through speech. And this will be the collapse of technical interfaces, such as displays and keyboards.

Secondly, we will witness companies developing platform strategies inside different branches. Namely, they will be more open to start-ups and work together, in order to facilitate their clients’ access to specific services within their own ecosystem.

Julian Simons, Managing Director of mediascale and PREX Programmatic Exchange

With the progressing digitalisation of the use of media, and even in most areas of life, the long known types of borders between offline and online advertising channels are beginning to blur. More and more advertising spaces are being digitalised, are therefore accessible via IP, and are going ‘online’. Subsequently, this also means that programmatic advertising will lead to an increased distribution and control of channels such as radio, out-of-home, and in the end, television. This will lead to big changes for the advertising market.

The tremendous opportunities of comprehensive control and of addressing someone individually are not without great challenges. Business models change and become more complex. Strategies and management logics that make it possible for the new complexity to be meaningful to use, have to be found to prevent campaigns from losing impact in an aimless atomisation. This change must always keep the interests of the user and their data protection concerns in mind, otherwise it will not be successful.

Klaus Weise, Managing Director of Serviceplan Public Relations

Digital enraged citizens are changing the world

Great Britain is to exit the EU, Donald Trump is moving into the White House. Who would have believed, last year, that any of it would happen? The two results are neither coincidences, nor singular political accidents. They are the beacon of a world quake that has just begun. The triggering force of that quake is the fear caused by a change in the world, brought along by digitalisation and globalisation. Similar fears have always existed, but today they are a million times amplified and multiplied through social media. Fuelled by shady hate speeches and sparkled by social bots and opinion robots, whose sole purpose is to rile up the crowds. In 2017, dealing with digital enraged citizens will be the main challenge of political parties, unions, companies and brands.

2016/2017: From the winds of change to the storm of transformation

2016 represented a new high in a profound change process that is pervading our sector. This process breaks up structures, consolidates markets and is set to change our ecosystem significantly in the coming years. Marketing automation is in full swing, with advertising needing to be more relevant and context-driven for the individual in future. The underlying processes are thus becoming more complex – a reason also why service providers with extensive problem-solving ability are attractive to advertisers and therefore why fully integrated agencies have a competitive advantage.

Programmatic advertising: Here to stay!

Programmatic advertising has already gained large-scale acceptance in the online display market and will embrace all media genre by 2020. The media (radio, TV, out of home and even print in part) is currently working on interfaces that will enable planning and booking as well as processing and pricing. In the case of Mediaplus and Plan.Net, programmatic purchasing and processing across all media is already taking place as an integrated part of our subsidiary PREX.

2016 already saw the beginnings of programmatic creativity and it is set to play a significantly greater role in future. Ensuring that data is used and structured correctly before a campaign launches will gain added weight in future when it comes to designing online advertising material or even moving image variants tailored to specific target groups. Automation will have reached all areas of marketing by 2020, and not just planning, booking and presentation, but also creation, dialogue, CRM and much more.

Market consolidation

Not all market players will be able to meet these requirements by a long way – and this applies both for publishers and for service providers. Google, Facebook and Amazon are likely to get even bigger slices of the advertising cake, while the remainder of the cake will only be enough for the large publishers and media houses. The service providers who will benefit primarily on the agency side will be those that can both master the technology and have access to properly trained personnel – and finding the right people for this job, training them and then holding on to them is in itself a monumental task.

We already have the technology we need. Now we have to change structures, procedures and also the nature of collaboration between advertisers and service providers so that we can manage the change process. After all, it is the people and not the technology who play the most important role in this process.

This article was also published at December 15th in the print edition of the Kontakter.