The Matrix and Minority Report may have been of Hollywood lore, but their premise may be closer than you think. Interactive shopping is here. It may not be on your Main Street, but it will be. The task at hand however, as in most leading technologies … how can it be used to benefit us and not intrude or only worsen the the bombardment we already feel from many marketers. All we need now is a filter, a way for US to control the interaction.
If only these walls could talk, the saying goes. In the case of the N building near Tachikawa station in Japan they do. In fact the whole building facade has been transformed into a real time dialogue between smart phones and what’s going on inside the store. All you do is hold your phone up to the walls and the constantly changing QR codes tell you what’s going on inside. You can also browse shop information, make reservations and download coupons.
Such QR code wallscapes are the next iteration of an increasingly sophisticated ongoing dialogue emerging between customers, stores and products. Marry this with the fact that more stores are accepting virtual currencies in exchange for real products (South Korea – yes, China – no) and mobile payments (see Starbucks) and the future of retail looks very different from today.
So just for fun, let’s imagine what this future might look like:
Imagine cities in which almost every retail wall surface is engaged in tailor-made, real time discussion with the customers walking nearby.
Imagine customers instinctively checking in throughout their day to earn points that can be traded for real world products or to receive coupons/offers specific to where they are. (For more on digital coupons see Stowe Boyd here.)
Imagine cities populated by geo-tagged digital information that reveals floating, real-time augmented reality advertisements viewed through smart phones? (There’s an overview of recent AR applications here.)
Imagine billboards that watch you shop and make targeted suggestions based on your age, location and past buying habits.
Scary stuff perhaps but this could change retail marketing in several ways:
The world is looking at constellation of circumstances that will cause an explosion of activity in organizational structuring that blurs the current models. And it’s not coming any time too soon.
First: Traditional government has become ineffective and is seen as virtually useless to many. This view will become even more prevalent as government becomes even more polarized – on every level in most countries.
Second: Technology has made the easy of entry into virtually every endeavour so that just about anyone can undertake anything. With the new service, Square, being offered by former Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey … anybody can take credit card transactions – anywhere. Imagine the possibilities for timely micro-causes.
And third, and probably most significant: Our workforce is increasingly filling up with Generation Y members, the Millennials. The teenagers and “20 somethings” are not like their parents the Baby Boomers. Their professional motivations extend well past money. They are actually concerned about the state of the world. They need to clean up the messes their parents made.
We just all need to open our minds to the possibilities of what an organization can look like and what it’s there for in the first place.
Before the dotcom boom, one never heard the question “what’s your business model?” Asking it would have marked you as dim. A few standard models had been around for a hundred years or so: extractive businesses and agriculture, manufacturing operations, service businesses, media companies, and financial intermediaries, each accommodating a few variations like franchising, piecework, door-to-door sales, temporary labor.
But an even more fundamental kind of business model innovation is also underway, as entrepreneurs of both the traditional and the social varieties experiment with the notion that an enterprise should produce a mix of value, not only financial.
So with some companies earning profits made up of tax revenues, and other organizations providing services that could be public using private funds, it turns out that the sectors of the economy are not so clear-cut and binary. Rather, we see a spectrum of arrangements between the two extremes, in which there are enterprises producing both financial and social value.
I can’t count the number of stories, reports and blog postings I’ve read describing Generation Y, the Millennials as spoiled, selfish consumers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because all you Baby Boomers are trying to transfer guilt for your own behavior … doesn’t make it so. And these kids are about more than texting, Facebook and Twitter. It’s about the world and cleaning the messes made by their parents.
Millennials are often seen to as the Holy Grail of marketing partly because of their disposal income and partly because their tech-savvy means they can be reached in so many ways. The biggest mistake brands make, however, is to think they reach Millennials through technology.
The fastest way to reach Millennials is not through twitter, Facebook or any one of the location-based services, but through their hearts and minds by adding meaning to their lives.
Rather than focus on what brands can sell using social media, companies must focus on how they can serve their community by investing in what Millennials care about. Do that and brands will not only be relevant to their lives but their community will work with them to achieve common goals.
It says something about past marketing strategies that we must now make a case for the simple proposition that brands must do something good for their communities for customers to like them. Report after report tells us that consumers, including Millennials, want brands to build a better world, not just better widgets. Those that do will profit (in every sense of the word) exponentially, and those that don’t will continue to stare at their number of twitter followers, Facebook fans, ROI formulas or P&L breakdowns looking for answers that just aren’t there.
In 1949, Arthur Miller released his iconic play, “Death of a Salesman.” The sales landscape of sixty years ago is eerily similar to that of today. America, and world for that fact, isn’t creating sales jobs like before. Of course you’ll see ads for them in newspapers and on job boards – but the position is not nearly as prevalent as it once was.
Why is this and what are the ramifications?
Up to about ten years ago every product and service to be sold by somebody. You had to have either a “face to face” or at least “phone to phone” conversation to make a transaction, a sale. This isn’t the case anymore. With the internet you can buy virtually anything online. You can even buy a house in another country by just going online and making an offer, let alone ordering a book or getting a picture developed and delivered to your house. And all this happens with no salesman … just bits and bytes.
By cutting out the salesman, companies can hawk their wares cheaper. In many industries, if you don’t compete online … you don’t compete. Having a rock bottom price seems to be the basis to doing business these days. But when your business competes on price, there’s little room for anything else – and that anything else is sales and service.
Anyone can tell you that customer service in 2010 is nothing like it used to be. It’s not that companies are intentionally instructing their staff to treat their customers like trash. They just don’t have resources to hire the more and better people needed to perform better sales and customer service. Try going to a big box store like Home Depot or Wal-Mart. You have a better chance finding Bigfoot on the floor than a salesman.
This preoccupation on price has created a void of sales and customer service expertise. The middle class used to be filled with salesmen and saleswomen of all types, all striving for the American dream. Not so much anymore, these jobs just aren’t out there … or at least in the numbers they were.
What does all this mean? Are we as consumers relegated to an existence of interaction with our computer screen for our fix of consumption? Maybe not.
As a business person, you can take one of two paths. You can follow the lemmings to the cliff, as most do. All it takes is structuring your business around keeping costs low and selling low. Hopefully enough people will see value in this strategy and you’ll make a “go of it.”
Or in the words of Robert Frost, you can take the road less traveled. This road might very well revert back the business values of our parents – before the internet. Now I’m not condoning getting in a time machine and going back to England in 1810 and joining the Luddites. Technology is wonderful and it has it’s purpose. But maybe the pendulum can swing back a bit. Maybe there is a place for the salesman in today’s economy. In fact, maybe this is actually what can set your firm apart … and make it remarkable in the eyes of your customers.
Ironically, the company most known for its customer service in today’s world is also at the forefront of technology, Apple. If you go to an Apple Store, you’ll find no shortage of sales reps to help you (the blue shirts). And no they’re not just customer service reps – they sell. My daughter spent two years on the floor at an Apple store. Their sales training is excellent and thorough. And their service goes beyond just their retail stores. You can actually talk to a person for tech support on the phone also. How’s all this working for Apple. At the penning of this post their stock price was $288, an all time high.
Again, what does all this mean. In the case of Apple and its products, you pay a premium. You pay for the service. You pay for getting sold by a top-notch sales person. You pay for better design. You pay for being a member of the Apple tribe. And all this costs Apple money. But why can’t your firm do it this way. Is there anything saying you must have rock bottom prices – and with that the lack of the amenities … amenities like sales and service. Don’t tell me you can do both – because with any consistency you can’t.
But undertaking a strategy of “taking the road less traveled” and providing a premium offering first means starting with a product or service that is worth paying a premium for. Apple has, so they can build on it. But building on it means creating an environment of excellence throughout your firm where nothing else is accepted. It also means hiring the best, paying them accordingly and making sure they stay.
I can’t tell you how to attack your market using the Apple methodology. Only you know your market. And it probably means only part of the market will actually be your market. But considering the size of the “lemming pack,” your market should be big enough for you to not only survive, but thrive.
Just remember – you probably can’t do it without Willy Loman. And if you look, he’s still out there looking to sell … and just maybe your customers want to see him.
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The Lakota Sioux in the Dakotas back in the 1800’s used something called a Talking Stick. The Talking Stick was used during tribal councils. The leaders of the tribe and neighboring tribes would meet and discuss important issues affecting them.
To keep order in these meetings they used the Talking Stick. Unless you held the Talking Stick you couldn’t talk. You just had to sit and listen.
Imagine if every sales person had a Talking Stick … and first thing they did was hand it to their prospect. The rep couldn’t say anything. They couldn’t pitch. They couldn’t go on about their company being better than the competition. And they couldn’t talk about they could solve every problem the prospect had – real or imagined. They just had to listen.
They might actually hear what their prospect actually wanted – not what they wanted.
Shhh … listen.
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A couple of days ago I had a saw a rerun of Oprah. And no this isn’t an everyday occurrence. She had a young singer named Charice performing. I’d never heard of her but I had heard the song she was singing … many times. I liked it.
On thing I noticed is that a good half of the audience was swaying back and forth making a triangle with two index fingers and two thumbs.
At first I didn’t pay much attention to this. I went into my office and Googled her to find the name of the song. The name of the song was “Pyramid.” Thus the triangles.
The audience was making pyramids. They were not just singing … they were participating physically. This participation – this “pyramid,” had become a viral interactive logo for Charice. And this pyramid has helped her break through the music clutter.
What’s your pyramid?
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I find this whole personal branding thing that’s hot right now very interesting. With all the social media and visibility outlets available, i.e. Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter, etc., one came spend so time branding, that there’s no time for anything else. It’s not uncommon for twenty-five year old kids to have 500 Facebook friends and 5000 Twitter followers. And aside from time, this exposure costs them nothing. Now whether they do anything with it … another story.
Back when I was twenty-five, twenty-five years ago (interesting how that calculated), there wasn’t any social media. What are you going to get your name out there … put a poster of your mug on a telephone pole on the way to the local party destination? The best you could hope for is your friends wrote your number down on a piece of paper and hung next to the their home phone on the wall. Now a wall is a Facebook homepage.
This brings me to the point of this post. The last year, I’ve been delving into the current music scene. Through Alex, my daughter (age twenty), I’ve received a crash course.
One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of the current top performers say their name in their songs; Lady Gaga, Jason Deroa, Soulja Boy, Ludacris and so on. Now what’s prompting this recent trend. This never happened back in my day. In fact I don’t even remember it happening even five years ago. You had Eminem and his alter-ego Slim Shady. But that was a character – not so much an exercise in self-promotion.
Alex’s friend, Jason, attributes it to egotism. Jason, do I sense a bit of jealousy … maybe just a bit.? Maybe he’s right. There’s been a ton of articles written recently on this age group, Generation Y. They’re lazy, they feel they’re entitled, etc. Funny how the authors of these articles are all Baby Boomers, go figure!
Now it brings us to the question … “Brilliant self-promotion or egotism?”
In this day and age, we are bombarded with stimuli. There’s more information than we know what to do with. To try to get yourself into line to be heard is … well, enough said.
But there’s another thing I noticed different in the music industry these days – specifically on radio. Now with the iPod, you know what song is playing, who’s playing it, what album it’s on and in lot of case what the album cover looks like. Recognition isn’t an issue … or is it?
Take my situation. I have an iPod, but it’s a Shuffle. It has no screen, only buttons. I don’t know who’s playing what. I downloaded songs from my daughter and my memory isn’t quite what was :-(. But I’m in the vast minority here. Virtually nobody has the iPod Shuffle, just me.
But here’s the kicker, back to the radio. I listen to the radio … and whole lot of other people do too. This is where we are exposed to music that we will ultimately buy and put on our computers and iPods. These days they don’t tell you who playing the song anymore! I can’t count the number of time I’ve called a radio station to find out who played a song I liked that I heard.
Maybe Lady Gaga, Ludacris and a lot of the other mega-stars realized this too? If they don’t promote their brand in their product … who’s going to know it’s them (especially in the early stages of their careers)?
Brilliant self-promotion … or egotism? I’d say the former.
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