Digital Retail…Really?

Why is e-commerce always reported as taking away from bricks and mortar sales? Is this really the competition? Shouldn’t all brands be embracing both aspects to deliver a cohesive journey? Shopping malls are as popular as ever, however, our purchasing habits have evolved. The problem is mall and retail experiences are stubbornly antiquated.

Our shopping experience typically begins in the carpark and yet these are a barren wasteland when it comes to delivering a positive sense of arrival. Then what about way-finding inside the malls? There has been some improvement in recent years, and the Dubai Mall App is a leader in this area, however the ongoing prevalence of traditional static grid-style location maps and the lack of smart apps that can identify your location while feeding you relevant brand information means the experience in most malls continues to be underwhelming and disconnected. Then once you enter the retail store, and if you are time challenged and shop for clothes like me by pointing at a mannequin and telling the sales assistant that’s what you want, then you are typically limited to the 5 or 6 static mannequins that are on display, despite the myriad of combinations created by that brand’s designers and displayed on their online site.

However, change is coming. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7B suggests an overhaul of the retail experience is coming and could see an integration of their payless Amazon Fresh Pickup concept. Imagine the world without the horrible experience of queuing at the supermarket check-out…it’s almost too good to be true!

When I meet with a retail brand, the first thing I ask them is how they believe they are offering a genuinely different experience in their space. Often their positioning is very good online, but it is somewhat lacking in the physical space making it difficult to see what attributes will connect customers emotionally to the brand. Furthermore, if digital connectivity does not continue into the physical space then crucial data on the purchasing habits is lost.

Without the appearance of an ‘always on’ experience in the retail space, then the message is that the retail environment is always one step behind the online offering. To retain a top-of-mind position then brands need an integrated programme of in-store digital interaction, online activities, in-store events and co-branded experiences that reiterate how the brand is an integral part of our life.

This article was first published by People Retail magazine.

Content Marketing + Marketing Automation = ROI

Back to the future

When we hear the term content marketing, we tend to think of Red Bull and its stratospheric leap, the Michelin Gourmet Guide, or the John Deere DIY Magazine. Yet do these excellent and all-eclipsing examples of good communication not have a rather abstract effect on our current marketing reality, which is characterised by tight budgets, performance goals and technology? Can we replicate such success under our everyday conditions? Hardly, which is why we have to redefine content marketing, if it ever was defined in the first place.

Content marketing today

Content marketing is an umbrella discipline for a variety of specialist marketing disciplines that are not always so easy to differentiate from one another. Content marketing concerns creative experts, editors and copywriters, performance and e-mail marketing specialists, sales experts, developers and a host of other disciplines too. Each of these disciplines interprets content marketing in its own way, yet all stakeholders agree on the following principles:

  • Content marketing should achieve a return on investment.
  • Users take centre stage in content marketing since their ultimate transaction is what allows a return on investment to be achieved.
  • Content marketing therefore serves to activate users and motivate them to interact with the content producer so they are converted in terms of perspective to customers and disseminators for the producer.
  • Valuable, user-centred contents are therefore produced in content marketing so they can be conveyed to the distribution channel with the highest conversion rates at the most appropriate time.

Content marketing is therefore first and foremost a strategic approach to achieving corporate objectives. Entrepreneurs plan, forecast, validate, optimise and seek to scale. This is precisely where marketing automation comes into play, since it can do all of this and much more.

Marketing automation: The Swiss army knife

A marketing automation platform is a modular system that integrates a variety of different individual solutions, where Asset Management (the collection of all content assets needed in the marketing process), Distribution Management (control of distribution channels such as SEO, content, e-mail, social, paid and mobile), Data Management (the aggregation of continually generated user data) as well as Analytics (the cross-channel evaluation of all aggregated data at user level) come together in a uniform working environment. Depending on the stage of development, content management systems or testing suites then also come into play. The critical factor here is that the aggregated data describes the individual user behaviour and provides us with information on how we can satisfy the current information needs of the individual user in the best possible way in each case.

Personalisation “to scale”

In keeping with the principles we formulated at the outset, content marketing is therefore a sales-driven communications process in which the individual content is the currency. Because the individual user is the centrepiece of this process, the personalised content is the life force of content marketing. Regardless of whether the user is addressed by name in an e-mail or the website adapts to the individual needs of the visitor through dynamic content: personalising the content is critical if the measure is to succeed. The effort this requires can only be mastered by using automatable environments.

ROI-driven content marketing

The sales process can start in the earliest phase of the customer journey in future thanks to the opportunities afforded by scalable content architectures as well as the holistic analysis of the individual user’s digital footprint – namely when users communicate their individual challenge for the first time and we provide the right solution. The seller becomes a partner. Any company set on achieving a return on investment with its content marketing endeavours will in future have to unify three areas that frequently act as silos: communication, sales and IT. If a company can do this, then sustainable business success is guaranteed.

This article was first published by onetoone.de.

Seven social and economic trends in China

On June 27th 2017 I have given a speech at the „International Roadshow 2017: China Insights“ to German enterprises in Munich with the title „The Future is Now“. I have shared some current social and economic happenings in China that are influencing the future, including consumption upgrade, sharing economy, live stream, and cash-free lifestyle, at the same time I have unveiled some business and marketing potentials embarked behind.

Hooray, there’s life in us yet – three things we can learn from Air Berlin’s crisis PR

Air Berlin is descending into chaos and heading for a reputation as a kind of skid row of the air. For example, on 1 June this year, Europe’s seventh-largest airline cancelled 44 flights – just on that day – because there was either no crew available or no suitable aircraft at the departure airport. Some passengers were informed, some were not. Others were given completely contradictory information. Some were given refreshment vouchers but often they were unusable because the shops in the airport were already shut. On-board drinks could only be paid for in cash. The crew recommended that the passengers register their complaints on the Internet. Contributors to passenger forums are discussing whether it is still possible to book flights with Air Berlin at all.

The PR strategy used by the ailing airline to address this crisis is extremely interesting. Air Berlin has gone on the offensive and is stating in full page advertisements in the daily newspapers what it is doing to become more reliable. For example, it has recruited 700 new flight attendants. “As of now, don’t hesitate to expect more from us (and no, we don’t mean longer queues)” says the current campaign. I think it’s good that the airline is addressing the quality problems and has not resorted to glib phrases such as “we apologise and regret any inconvenience caused” and is instead taking a self-mocking tone. It shows courage, composure and respect for their passengers. Air Berlin is not automatically assuming that their apologies will be accepted. We are not used to this level of empathy from mobility providers.

I find the subtext of the advertising campaign strategically clever: it suggests that the airline has prospects for the future, skilfully guiding perceptions towards the subject of punctuality and conveying that it is once again flying high. For a company with an uncertain future, sitting on huge debts amounting to over a billion euros and repeatedly unable to deliver the flights it has scheduled, this is an important interim target. Recruiting 700 employees in one fell swoop indicates a future-oriented attitude. It’s not so important that the new staff members were recruited via Youtube in mass interviews. The requirements were that they were at least 1.6 meters in height, had no visible tattoos, were in possession of a passport and were able to swim. According to a report from a newspaper journalist, interviews at a hotel in Berlin resulted in the employment of every candidate. She quoted one participant who said “you’d have to be very dim not to be taken on.”

Air Berlin is relying on more than hastily recruited personnel and the power of words. The airline is marketing cheap tickets to the USA and the Caribbean at a bargain price of €399 – return flights, no less. Bookings are going very well, and indicate that the company’s PR in response to the crisis is working. At any rate, there have been attempts to manage serious crises which have had less effect. However, Air Berlin’s crisis PR also shows what PR of this nature can and cannot do because the real problem has still not been solved. Nobody knows if the company, which is making a daily loss of €3 million (!), is a holiday airline, a cut-price airline or a long-haul specialist. It remains to be seen whether it is a good idea to rely on the bitterly contested long-haul market to the USA. The crisis PR from Air Berlin is not able to throw any light on the fundamental strategic issues. However, it is a successful distraction and an effective placebo.

This article was also published in German at W&V.

The meaning of ‘creative’

What does creative mean?
What a question.
Ideally, creative is something one just is, without any lengthy discussion.
However, if I must.
Here goes:

Creative is new, unpredictable, capricious.
A smartass take on this is that being creative is a paradox. It is the meaningful combination of things which do not belong together.
And then you suddenly just get it.

The word “meaningful” is important. Randomly combining thoughts, feelings and forms usually ends in confusion. Creative combinations on the other hand must make sense – but ideally not until they are in the mind of the consumer. If he or she completes the chain of thought, decodes the ultimate meaning of a film or a picture then, test institutes please take note, the effect is much stronger than when everything is pre-digested.

Actually, “consumer” is a word that I don’t really like to use. Yes, ultimately, advertising is concerned with selling, but the more messages rain down upon us “consumers” the more we only take heed of the relevant ones. That can be the much-quoted “right product at the right time in the right medium”. Programmatic is the key word here. However, the crucial factor is that the better a message is packaged, the stronger – again – the effect. I prefer to side with “Saint” Sir John Hegarty, and refer to “the public” rather than to “consumers”. We want to sell to consumers. We want to entertain the public. What is good is that a well-entertained public buys more than a well-informed public. After all, we speak of a “buying mood”.

What is good entertainment in a creative form? It’s more than just fun. It’s a new, stimulating thought, for example. A new perspective on life, giving rise to the observation, “Wow, I’ve never really looked at that in that way before”. That is what we remember, that’s what we like to tell other people about.

Good creation thrives on strong feelings. Being enthused, touched, unsettled, buoyed up, amused, everything that moves you. Tedious lists of information do not move me. I am moved by good stories which end with a surprise. Human stories which turn my prejudices and my neatly ordered thoughts inside out and upside down, which develop a dynamic of their own, never to serve their own purpose but that of the brand. This is easy to say, but damn difficult to realise every day.

Of course, creative also means unyielding, untiring and tough. Here’s a good thought: it is not ideas which set good creatives apart from bad ones but their refusal to give up.

P.S. I’m quite proud that I didn’t use the current buzzwords “disruptive”, “diversity” and “digital transformation” a single time in this text. But if you need to, my dear public, just add them mentally where appropriate and then you too will get it. 😉

This article was published in German at W&V.

The future is now

I met Jørg our CFO in the lift. He raised his eye-brow, looked at me who was holding a handful of packages from Taobao, asking sarcastically “what did you buy again?”  I shamefully couldn’t answer, because I had already forgotten.

Every night before I go to sleep, I will browse on Taobao or JingDong as relaxation… and always find something inspiring or something interesting that I want to give a try. The lady’s privilege of “window-shopping” now has becoming “pad-shopping”.  One day without buying some little things makes me feel guilty. “It is almost equal to the guilt of not contributing to society” I told Jørg. As a matter of fact, shopping online has become a ritual for Chinese. It’s about buy buy buy, but not what to buy!

Compared to my German colleagues, who lived a quite reduced and settled way, our Chinese colleagues are more unsettled and adventurous. The cost of trying-out is just so low that we can easily convince ourselves “why not?”, and then adjust the risks and uncertainties into possibilities.

Since the country doesn’t have a glorious industrial background, nor any successful history regarding modern economic development before opening-up, Chinese can “travel light”, jump and leap forward just from scratch, and explore wildly. This is why you see Taobao is more popular than Amazon, WeChat is more than Whatsup, and Didi is more than Uber. A country without even a proper credit system, now is able to develop the world’s best online payment system, and makes cash-free penetrate to the most rural ends of China. It makes it accessible to peddlers and grandmas.

We Chinese learn fast, and change fast. For a country named as “the People’s Republic of Change”, change is the only thing unchanged, and change has stealthily taken us to the next “future”.

This “future” is already happening now in China! Please come to join me at the China Roadshow 2017. I would like to show you how Chinese are upgrading their life with more disposable income, and how the future way of living and doing business are embarking new marketing potentials.

Wow, incredible, what a great opportunity being a Cannes Jury President!

In an interview Mike Rogers, Creative Partner, Serviceplan Health & Life, talks about Cannes and his role as Cannes jury president.

Is there such a thing as digital retail?

Hear me out before you turn that page, because chances are, Digital Retail may not be what what you think it is. It certainly goes beyond simply replacing a point of sale poster with a digital screen, and most definitely, it transcends the host of technologies that actually enable it. Why? Because digital retail is still “retail” at the end of the day, and the retail floor is still a retail floor – a tangible physical space for actual customer interaction.

Digital Retail is all about enhanced customer experiences on the shop floor. It can take the form of an ever so popular virtual reality experience, it can be served along the lines of gamification, it can be an online shopping experience inside an actual retail shop, or literally, a walk-in online store. Let’s look each of these possibilities in detail.

Virtual, Augmented, or Mixed Reality is the hottest tool around that can be used to showcase future collections. In store, it can be used for augmented fittings – to show color palettes, varying textures, and even to simulate different lighting situations to judge your retail picks outdoors in broad daylight or indoors with party lights.

A “Harmony of Experiences” can now be offered to discerning customers via a concept called the WeShop*, an intelligent sales space linking the virtual and the real world of Point of Sale. Customers in store can experience tailored POS services, set up as integrated digital eco-systems, including the use of beacon technology to enable personalised services and RFID tag product recognition in conjunction with interactive mirror displays, all connected to devices set up with access to digital platforms to enable a seamless path to purchase.

Let’s break that down for our customer, Ahmed. Ahmed walks past one of his favorite shops, and immediately, the digital shop window speaks directly to him, showing him the latest collection in and out of store. A navigation system takes him directly to the desired product display, and a tablet beside it shows him other colors and styles. The mirror in the fitting room remembers what he has previously bought, suggests similar styles, and on request, displays various combinations while a personal fashion consultant recommends suitable accessories. If his desired style is no longer in stock, the customer service counter knows where to find it, and suggests delivering the goods directly to Ahmed’s home. Via a Mobile Payment system, such as Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, or Apple Pay, Ahmed’s transaction becomes seamless, cashless, and conveniently connected to his loyalty benefits.

Gamification can be a direct path to loyalty. Using elements of play and popular game mechanics such as points, badges, rewards, ranks, competitions, and other incentives in nontraditional contexts, it is a subtle but fun way to get consumers engaged the same way they devoured the likes of Candy Crush and Pokemon Go. If done right, it can lead to countless upsell and cross sell opportunities. Gamification in retail comes from a simplistic insight that believes even the smallest of incentives can enable people to take an extra effort to do something they would have otherwise refused. Think Nike+Fuel and how your sweat can be used to achieve levels and gain trophies and badges you can flaunt on social.

On a shop floor, the idea of gamification can be extended to a seemingly unlikely industry: banking and finance. WeFinance* uses Simplication and Gamification to transform traditional branch offices into modern point of sale areas. Simplifcation comes in using digital screens to make an intangible financial product “touchable,” allowing customers to explore financial options and packages at the touch of a finger in privacy and at their own convenience, with or without a financial consultant. Once needed, a customer can opt for either a virtual or a personal consultation in the privacy of say, their personal retail floor pods. The pods can then double as a lounge offering a discreet retreat for a confidential consultation with one of the consultants on-site.

Gamification can be rendered in the form of digital island consoles, for example, that give you city by city views of all available real estate properties you can invest on. Walking into the private customer lounge of his bank, Ahmed can view an expanse of Dubai’s hottest properties on the console, helping him assess whether a Dubai Canal property would give more favorable returns over a property on the Palm. Sounds familiar? No, it’s not your favorite boardgame, Monopoly.

In stock investment scenarios, Ahmed can virtually compete with other virtual investors as he is given real time and real world stock options and scenarios. Using levels and badges, he can virtually see his ranking and gauge his abilities without literally breaking the bank.

All these, including customer service via chat bots, queue management at supermarkets, motion-capturing cameras, and an ever growing exhaustive list of technological ideas, all prove that digital retail is your new hybrid – demonstrating how the real and the virtual worlds can be combined –albeit intelligently – in brick-and-mortar retailing to the end benefit of the consumer himself.

 

*WeShop and WeFinance are digital retail concepts developed for brands and financial institutions by the Serviceplan Group, in partnership with Cisco and Vitrashop, among others.

“Receiving a Cannes Lion is priceless.”

In an interview Till Hohmann, Managing Creative Director, Serviceplan Campaign, talks about the magic of Cannes and his role as member of the Cannes Lions Direct jury.