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.

Smart brands are searched for: react now or lose out

According to a Bitkom study, there will be more than one million smart homes in Germany by 2020. Worldwide, the Internet of things will interconnect 50 billion devices at that time. FMCG brands are not only awaiting this development euphorically, since networked and/or intelligent household devices will significantly change the buying behaviours of many consumers away from the shopping list towards on-demand purchases. The rapidly advancing voice control sector will further invigorate this development: ‘Hey Alexa, I need a new detergent.’ – and Amazon’s voice assistant orders a product right away. Those not adjusting their market positioning and product communication according to the rules of the smart home will suffer a rude awakening at the hands of consumers in the near future.

Transformation of the buyer decision process

Large brands enter the age of the smart home with a decisive advantage. Because one thing consumers will not want to do when shopping via voice control is comparing products and prices for hours. Therefore, the chosen brand will be ‘his’ brand or simply the one that comes to mind first when thinking about the product. According to a study, most shoppers already choose between merely two brands per product. In a smart home, the relevant set of consumers will shrink further and thereby increase pressure on smaller manufacturers. For companies like Zewa and Labello, the smart home offers an opportunity for long-term customer retention. Others might, for the time being, not receive any attention from consumers at all.

They are therefore required to quickly consider how to become a ‘smart brand’ to exploit the opportunities of web-enabled devices for innovatively appealing to customers. For regardless of how small the relevant set of a smart home becomes, there is always space for an innovation leader.

The ‘touchpoint home’ as a new point of sale

Household devices with an internet connection establish new communication channels between their owners and manufacturers. FMCG brands can use these channels to approach their target consumers. Possibilities include, for example, collaborations with device manufacturers: for instance, new fridges alert their owners when the expiration date of foodstuff is closing in. ‘Your cream cheese will expire in two days. Would you like to order some?’ – a product suggestion appears on the integrated touch screen immediately.

It is likewise realistic to include an advertisement via an app connected to the device. Technically skilled owners of electric toothbrushes use such an app to receive tips for optimal cleaning while brushing and are probably also receptive to one or the other toothpaste recommendation.

The possibility to contact customers exactly at the time of need turns the smart home into a promising point of sale. Smart brands attain the opportunity for an exclusive sales pitch while competitors vie for the attention of stressed shoppers on a supermarket shelf. The requirement: they have to consider how to provide an added value.

FMCG goes digital

To become the uncontested go-to brand in a smart home, FMCG brands need to go one step further: with the development of a digital product, for example, in form of an in-house app for a networked device, a real unique selling point can be created. Let’s return to the example of the detergent: how do I remove this tomato stain from my jacket? Which washing cycle is best for the new silk blouse? The new app by the detergent manufacturer knows the answer. Additionally, it can interact with the smart washing machine to assist with the correct dosage. Collaborations with manufacturers are possible here as well for the app might already be pre-installed when purchasing the machine.

An application of this kind does not characteristically target sales only. However, it is a central tool to positively stand out from the competition. If the digital content provides a genuine added value and is continually resumed, the best-case scenario sees the formation of a committed community that indefinitely chooses the brand they trust.

Digital is not a foregone success

The development of digital products is uncharted territory for most FMCG brands and can, without a well thought-through concept, turn into an expensive and bad investment. This does, however, not mean that new communication channels should not be tapped just to be on the safe side. Still, they need to ensure that product, smart home integration and digital storytelling are in perfect harmony. When the brand and service provider only meet to devise an ad campaign, it is usually way too late. Instead, all parties should be on board from the product development stage onwards.

Thinking in the long-term, this opens up possibilities for entirely new business models for manufacturing consumer products: we may soon see the first washing machine with integrated Ariel programme software or Persil tips for red wine stains. For FMCG manufacturers, the chances of becoming the trusted brand when positioning themselves in the touchpoint home rises in line with the amount of creativity and added value. In any case, trust is what’s needed in the smart home, because consumers will seriously deliberate who to let into their domiciles.

This article was also published at horizont.net.

Why mobile programmatic does not yet use its full potential

The mobile Internet booms in Germany, both in terms of users and traffic. Even shopping on a smart phone is becoming more popular. At the same time, programmatic advertising has established itself as a fixed value, at least in online media business. As a consequence of both developments, mobile programmatic would therefore have to be a big hit. But the advertising volumes in this segment – beyond the silos of Facebook and Google – do not grow to the extent which one would expect. Why is it that mobile programmatic advertising does not yet use its full potential in Germany?

When we talk about mobile advertising today, we mean primarily in-app advertising with formats such as banners and video ads, all the way to full-screen interstitials. Three out of four advertising dollars are presently spent with apps. Apart from the fact that there are significantly different and fewer web formats in apps than on the desktop and the use of data on Apple devices is made difficult by the lack of cookie acceptance, in terms of programmatic possibilities, the mobile web works in a very similar wayto the web that we access on the desktop computer.

German marketers have overslept the topic

And indeed, mobile apps have already experienced a boost through programmatic advertising: before the era of DSP and SSP, coverage could only be booked via aggregators. A third-party control via the agency’s or client’s ad server was not possible. Due to the advertising ID from apps today, a very stable identifier is available which permits a longer-lasting profiling than a browser cookie. Via programmatic advertising, an advertising client can control his campaign, targeting these profiles for the first time in an app-encompassing way.

And there is another important advantage: data providers make data available that permit new and effective campaign approaches, especially in the area of hyper-local targeting – to address potential customers in close proximity, directly and accurately.

So why the hesitation? German marketers of quality apps have slept through the topic of programmatic advertising. They are only slowly making their coverages for in-app advertising reasonably programmatically usable – because this includes more than simply adjusting the app to the supply-side platform. This carelessness means that large parts of the programmatically available offer of mobile advertising in Germany still consists of opaque ranges of international marketplaces.

Not the technology, but the advertising formats are the obstacle

And in the “Global Exchanges” there are considerable deficits concerning transparency and technical control. The consequence: AdFraud – traffic which is generated, not by human users, but by so-called bots – is a significant problem for mobile in-app advertising, both in terms of reach and data, and thus represents an obstacle to growth for the industry as a whole.

With the extensive possibilities of programmatic advertising, mobile advertising also becomes easier to book and to control in a targeted fashion. But programmatic, too, cannot solve a central problem which advertising on smart phones generally still has: there is still the lack of large-scale, attractive advertising formats which are indeed eye-catching, but still do not annoy the users. If we can cope better with this challenge, the boom will be yet to come for mobile advertising.

Facebook Messenger chatbots: a communication channel for brands?

For six months, chatbots have existed in Facebook Messenger and there are now more than 30,000 available for users. The initial hype has calmed down and now companies are wondering if bots actually have the potential to become relevant communication and distribution channels for their content.

All chatbots essentially work in the same way. Users ask the bot a question and the bot searches through its stored database in accordance with certain rules, in order to respond with a suitable answer. The greater the database, the greater the knowledge which the chatbot can revert back to.

Mobile driven user behaviour and technical developments smooth the way

The requirements needed for the success of chatbots certainly exist: On one hand, internet usage is extending increasingly to mobile devices and here communication occurs primarily through instant messengers. The approach to text messaging has finally become seen as an everyday matter and the users have got accustomed to this reduced communication form.

On the other hand, all major tech companies are investing massively in the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning and in the understanding and processing of natural language through algorithms. Bot providers can relatively easily incorporate offers and services of interested companies into chatbots via standardised interfaces.

Unpredictable human communication

It will remain some time before a conversation with a chatbot is indistinguishable from a talk with a real person, as many chatbots currently reach the limits of their communication rather quickly. Either they fail in the correct processing of human communication, including all unpredictable factors such as slang, dialect or typos, or their repertoire of responses is rapidly used up. Initial reactions of early adopters were sobering. Among other factors, this was due to the fact that Facebook opened the chatbot platform for developers only a few weeks before the official launch.

Facebooks vice president of messaging products, Davis Marcus, admitted that this time frame was possibly too short to develop a good chatbot. Since the launch, Facebook has made many APIs and much guidance available to developers. We can therefore look forward to seeing how the second generation of bots will turn out.

For long term success, however, two central requirements must be fulfilled, above all:

Discovery: There is currently no easy way to find chatbots for Facebook Messenger, as we are still waiting for the launch of the announced bot store. The user must therefore know the name of the bot and integrate it via the search function of Messenger. Other messengers like Kik, Telegram or Skype already offer overview catalogues.

Added value: So that users don’t delete a chatbot after trying it out just once, from the first use on, the bot must offer real added value. This can include various aspects:

  • Reducing complexity and information: shopping bots, such as Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, help users when looking for suitable products, by giving them a pre-selection of products through targeted questions. The added value of news bots like the one of CNN also depends upon a reduction in information. Users indicate which content they are interested in and then receive suitable contributions in return through push messages.
  • Time efficiency and problem solving: The airline KLM emphasises special service for their customers: if you want to change your seating place, for example, you don’t need to open the app. You can simply send a quick message to the KLM bot.
  • Additional offers: In several US cities, through the Absolut Vodka chatbot, users can find bars in which the product is available. The added value here is that the user receives a voucher for a free drink as well.

If these points are further optimised in the new generation of chatbots and the problem of discovering bots is resolved, there is much to suggest that these services will establish themselves as communication channels for brands. With a sufficient amount of offers, in Europe and in North America Facebook Messeger could become a mobile central service point for users, just as weChat, LINE and Kik have done in many Asian markets.

For what reason a prototype is better than the “perfect” solution

Seamless commerce, connected retail, customer centricity: these are only some of the catch phrases, which these days bombard participants uninhibited, at conferences, trade shows and in workshops. They all should explain, how a relevant, added value can actually be created. And yet, I wonder occasionally, if the concept “connected commerce” is not sometimes misunderstood.

The goal of “connected commerce” is namely not, to find solutions for imaginary problems, in order to be able to create a case of application for the latest “hot shit”. In fact, technology, services, and applications should be intertwined in a way, that smart approaches are created, to solve the actual and real (!) customer problems. With everything that you do, the following question must remain central: What do my customers really need in their specific situation, in order to be perfectly happy? If the latest trends can help with that, all the better. If not, we simply have to develop other ideas.

Know your customers like you know yourself

Therefore, the challenge is to gain a comprehensive knowledge about the own target audience, which goes beyond simple sociodemographic characteristics. Tracking and sophisticated data analysis tools are a good start for this. Often, you learn about the attitudes and needs of the customers best through a direct confrontation with them – for example through interviews, observations, or user tests.

The provided results can also be potentially surprising and present a new, completely unthought-of challenge. But that is exactly how it works with transformations and disruptive processes. They wake us up and open our eyes to the needs and requirements, which the customers actually have.

WORK, WORK, WORK

When the wishes, expectations, and concrete problems of customers become known, you can begin to work out concrete solutions for them. The best way to do so, is to test the first prototypes in a few stores.

The advantage of prototypes is obvious: short development and release periods. Furthermore, they are cheaper than extensive solutions and are still sufficient for testing approaches. They can consist of graphic click dummies or first application versions, in which the idea is implemented with basic functions. The form, as a start, does not completely matter yet. It is essential that contact with customers takes place and the first experiences with exposure to the solution are collected. For this, it is naturally important, to establish processes for the continual improvement of the solution, in which user feedback loops and corrections to the prototype are planned for.

Setbacks and a perceived failure are, incidentally, effective for work on prototypes. Even if it sounds trite: you learn more from mistakes than from successes. And with every critique, the solution is improved! Whether the prototype is expanded in the end, elaborated as a real project, or discontinued and replaced by a new solution approach – and whether the newest hot shit is actually called into action, doesn’t have to be definite at this point of time. What is important: little by little you get closer to the needs of your customers.

With the technology that is already available to us today, many actual customer problems are solvable. For that, concentrating on the hurdles in the Customer Journey is necessary, as well as the rigorous involvement of the customer.

This article was also published at lead-digital.de.

Looking behind, looking ahead.

The rules of VR are still unwritten. A rare opportunity for brand communication.

Innovations in the communication sector are routinely advertised and seldom redeemed. With virtual reality, it is different. This ‘Next Big Thing’ justifies every hype. VR used to be under rather than overestimated because it really is a completely new medium.

When a new, successful medium develops, it must be compared for a time with what is already known, in order to learn about the concepts. This influences the creative form for a while. Film began as, ‘living photography, perfect in every detail and life-sized’, television as visual radio, the World Wide Web as hypertext. With VR it is exactly as the name implies, which in this case refers to: VR is ‘something like reality’. Naturally, VR explains as little about reality as any other medium. But we leave out research and convention, in order to classify VR as a medium. That is why every article about VR is a personal account, and that is why experience really makes a difference here: you cannot grasp what you have not experienced.

VR will be regarded as an immersive medium, with the promise of ‘as if’ — as if you were there, as if you are the person, being represented. The idea of visual immersion is, however, actually older. In 1787 Robert Barker built his walk-in, 360-Degree-Views and called it ‘Panorama‘. Even older are the ‘peep-boxes’, which were popular in 19th-century salons and funfairs; small, wooden apparatuses for viewing exhibitions on paper, wood or glass. Early VR-Gears as well.

These panoramas and peep-boxes were primarily optical illusions. With digitalisation in the 1980’s, came tactility in production, the viewer becoming an actor. Jaron Lanier developed the ‘Data Glove‘ and characterised the notion of Virtual Reality. The visual representation, which the Data Glove can operate, is still abstract and prone to blocks, but trendsetting. One’s own body awareness influences what we see. We can act within the picture.

In modern VR both come together — physicality and panorama. To that end, VR has a few tricks up its sleeves, which effectively outwit our brain. And currently, it seems to be, as if we still fall for this repeatedly. The transfer to the virtual abyss in the laboratory for the umpteenth repetition got the heart pounding and generated measurable, bodily fear. False experiences in the VR-Dummy, the simulated person, who ‘I’ am, can trigger quasi-traumatic effects. So noticeable , that the consciousness researcher Thomas Metzinger, formulated an Ethics of VR Production with his colleagues.

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In British Thorpe Park, the mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown, been sending visitors to his ‘Ghost Train‘ since July. Equipped with a VR gear kit, you are literally a participant in a gruesome scenario, attacked by demons and other such passengers. Brown strengthens the already convincing VR illusion with motion, change of location, and being touched by actors. Pure immersion.

And there is a lot to say about it, that this miracle of ‘presence’ passes, that it is a phenomenon of the pioneer phase. It does not lack the experience of recipients or the rules of form. Both producers and recipients are still experimenting. It is an exploration of the grammar of the medium, the conventions made possible.

This shows in a wide variety of forms, leading to an explosion of ideas. Currently, it seems VR can be anything: theatre, film, documentary, e-learning, horror-trip, and yes, even video conference. One of the founders of the US production firm Wevr, Anthony Batt, describes it perfectly [‘Studio 360’, New Yorker, 25. April 2016]:

‘Does that mean our stuff is always perfect? Fuck no! It means we start with no idea of how we´re gonna make a project work, and we make it work. Or we don´t, and the whole thing turns to jello, and we learn.’

It is a great opportunity for brand communication, to take part in the development of this grammar. Two features help in the process: first, today short formats are best suited for VR and second, are comparatively cost-effective, feasible productions.

Let’s face it: 90% of brand communication is more or less friendly circumvention. Re-targeting is no fun for the audience. With VR, an ad may finally be a spectacle. Well done, it allows your audience to have a (spectacular, enlightening, shocking) experience. To take part in this entirely new medium is an opportunity, that will not so quickly come again.

 

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Join the VR experience live with our Roadshow “Reality by Virtuality” in Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Berlin.

Fear not! Connected Retail in Four Steps

In a few years, commerce might look like this: since I can see online that the jeans I really want are available at the shop around the corner, I can just head out to try them on in person. Just before I go into the shop, I receive a push notification on my smartphone telling me that I can buy the shirt from my wish list immediately, with a five-euro discount. The trousers are already ready for me in the shop. The trousers and shirt both fit, but because I don’t want to take them with me right now, the shopkeeper sends them to me at no extra cost. As the shopkeeper has also looked at my purchase history and knows what I like, he also recommends a jacket to me. The jacket might not be available in-store in blue (the colour I want), but I can take a look at it on a digital signage screen. I then add the jacket to my wish list, which I can access online and in-store. I pay for the shirt and trousers with my smartphone – there’s no need for cash – and leave the shop. Everything is conveniently delivered to me at home the next day.

This is one of many scenarios currently being tested to offer clients the best possible digital and personalised customer service, even at point of sale (POS). For salespeople who haven’t yet considered the idea of connected retail, it might seem almost menacing at first glance: How are you supposed to do all of that? What aspects are relevant to me? And where should I start?

From my experience, I’d like to recommend the following steps:

1. It all starts with the CEO

The first requirement is a business leader who is completely behind the idea. Without that, it just won’t work. Developing and implementing successful connected retail solutions is a matter for the boss as this can influence the entire structure of an organization.

It’s important for all internal stakeholders to be involved in the project. A cross-channel shopping experience that combines analogue and digital elements requires a variety of skills: marketing, IT, sales, and the shopkeeper must all be brought to the table. Even the employees in the shop play a key role because only they can successfully apply the concept in practice. You therefore need to create a holistic vision from the very beginning for all participants to work toward.

2. The client is the focus of all activities

The target audience is, of course, the client. “User centricity” shouldn’t just be a buzzword, it should be self-evident. You shouldn’t begin without identifying the client’s needs and understanding their behaviours. Only by doing so can you really offer them relevant services on the appropriate POS touch points to offer interactions that create added value.

Even a simple tablet can enable added value interaction: a shopkeeper can call up additional product information for the customer and offer them additional products that aren’t currently to hand. Furthermore they can access the customer’s purchase history, which is saved on a digital customer card and offers information about the customer’s preferences.

3. Think big, but start smart

Complete your vision with an integrated view on your comprehensive touch point system, but develop new touch points step by step. Gain experience and develop it further. And, above all: avoid an off-the-rack solution that isn’t tailored to your clients.

Come up with potential solutions for small problems, develop the approaches to implementing them, and test them directly in short cycles. This iterative approach allows you to start with minor investments and safeguards against losing investments. Only when the scenario is successful as a prototype should you start with elaborate linkages of ERP-, CRM-, or till systems.

4. Don’t wait, start now

Start collecting ideas from smaller projects with your partners (retail, agency, etc.). These experiences will improve your collaboration before larger projects arise and create a uniform image for clients.

But most importantly: start now! Anyone who hesitates now will be left with nothing in the long run because, ultimately, the client will shop at the business that makes the correct information or products available at the correct time, in the correct place, and in the correct context – online and offline.

This article was also published at wuv.de.

Four Steps to a Secure E-Commerce Solution

It was possibly only a simple development error that led to a security gap at eBay in December 2015, which had the potential to intercept client passwords during the login process. The consequences of hacker attacks that take advantage of such breakdowns can be substantial – and extremely unpleasant for the user: SPAM-mail, Phishing or stolen credit cards are only a few of them.

And the eBay example shows: large players are also not spared. Up to 87 percent of all websites have medium security flaws, while 50 percent have serious security gaps. The resulting annual loss worldwide is over 400 billion US Dollars. Stores not only risk serious damage to their image with data loss. Online stores are responsible for the security of client data, and are accordingly liable for data leaks. Processes and methods that target the security of e-commerce solutions are therefore indispensable for stores. However, this is not limited to a particular phase in a project, but runs through the entire period up to the day of implementation and activation. Security is an indispensable part of the design process, part of the implementation, part of the system infrastructure and part of the operation.

Sichere E-Commerce Lösung

The following points in particular should be addressed:

Define clear requirements

It seems so mundane, but it is so important: Security begins before the project starts. And each web-store has its own requirements. In a B2B shop which charges a fee for the download of technical documents, it is of course extremely important to design very safe identification or customer registration and access protection. For a telecommunications provider that offers all of its products through a self-service portal, it is equally crucial that only the authorised user has access on the contract and invoice data. Although both examples require the implementation of access security tools, the underlying requirements are different. These must be recognised in the “Requirements-Engineering” phase, and form the basis for later implementation.

Set your standards

“Secure Coding Standards” help developers write secure codes for the web. Ideally, they fall back on safety tested frameworks. Although these preventive investments are immensely important for the security of the web application, there are still no recognised industrial standards, or a norm which defines the security of web applications. Therefore each agency or online shop must take on the responsibility itself and create its own portfolio of standards in the areas of quality assurance, security and testing.

Therefore, a few years ago we started to collect best practices or recommendations from experts, for example the Open Web Security Application Project (OWASP), so that every client does not need to search for a standard themselves, and to be able to offer truly measurable security.

Search for your security flaws

In addition, at the end of any development, we put it through a “Web Application Security Test”, which checks whether our security standards are actually adhered to. In order to do so, we work with a certified “Ethical Hacker”, a specially trained IT expert that possesses a hacker’s knowledge, but who is working for us. Additionally, this is done using various software tools (we use, for example, IBM AppScan) that simulate attacks on the application. Any suspicious reaction by the application is documented and must later be manually verified or falsified. At the end, there is a report that documents the security flaws that have been found, and provides technical assistance to help rectify the problems.

Consider each security flaw found in this phase not as an error by the programmer, but rather as a success! You’ve discovered this in the development phase. The later an error comes to light, the more expensive it is to rectify.

Conduct continuous monitoring

Factors that cannot be influenced, such as the execution environment (browser), different devices (desktop and mobile) and heterogeneous systems introduce challenges to e-commerce solutions that are not always predictable in advance. Selective security and penetration tests, in which experts (e.g., certified ethical hackers) perform targeted attack attempts, help to keep these factors in mind. Because the number of newly discovered security flaws and the ways in which software gaps can be exploited grows daily.

Moreover, there is the option to install an additional “Web Application Firewall” (WAF). This one checks every incoming request before it is passed on to the actual web application. Therefore, a WAF needs to have a complex set of rules that is customised to the particular web application. Suspicious requests are rejected immediately, and, under predefined conditions, could raise an alarm (e.g., through an email to an administrator, when 100 requests per second are sent from an IP address that contain the code for a SQL injection). As a WAF is an independent system, attack attempts do not even come close to the protected application, or the data to be protected.

Be Secure from the Beginning

The cornerstone for a secure e-commerce solution must therefore already be selected during the design – even before the software is actually used. In addition, regular testing of the software, as well as any resulting updates is unavoidable and absolutely necessary. Only then it is possible to keep the software up to date, and to ensure its safety.

This article was also published at e-commerce-magazin.de.