Thinking of Developing That App??

If you run an interactive team, marketing agency, or VC firm you’ve considered developing or backing development of a mobile app. It would be silly if you hadn’t. Since 2008, the year the App Store opened, over 100 billion apps have been downloaded and more than 4 million apps are currently available in the App and Google Play stores. So you could be forgiven for assuming that developing a mobile app is a cost of entry for running a business these days.

But if this is a decision you’re facing right now you have very good reason to doubt the value of incurring the expense. Not because you don’t need a useful mobile presence, you do no matter what your business offering, but because requiring customers to install an app introduces potentially unnecessary customer experience hurdles. I know unless I think I will use a service every day I won’t go through the trouble of downloading an app, no matter how many times I get asked (looking at you, Yelp). If anything, my focus on my smartphone has been to get rid of apps I downloaded rather than adding new ones to reduce clutter.

The Data

According to comScore’s latest mobile app report, most US smartphone owners download zero apps in a typical month, and year over year downloads have declined 20%. Add to that the very real impact of Google’s recent decision to penalize websites that push mobile web traffic to download an app, and the Android release last year that provided enhanced mobile web experiences and taking a big pause before investing in development of a new iOS or Android app is more than warranted.

All that being said, there’s no denying that online mobile experiences are dominated by apps. Last year TechCrunch reported that 85% of time consumers spent on smartphones was spent in apps. But of that time, only 5 apps saw heavy use. Which apps took up that time varied from user to user, but for most that dominance in mobile device usage is driven by the most popular social network, email and news apps.

As the comScore graph below shows, although most of us have a wealth of apps accessible on our phones by and large we use fewer than five on any given day. After that no apps, on average, take more than 3% of our online smartphone or tablet time. So unless you’re lucky enough to be one of those top five performing app providers, odds are your app isn’t getting much airplay.

comScore 2015 Mobile Apps Report
source: comScore 2015 Mobile Apps Report

If your app is not or is not expected to become one of the top apps for your audience then the choice to invest or not in developing an iOS and/or Android app should give you pause. Of course that doesn’t at all mean that you don’t engage with your audiences in the mobile space, just that you can consider foregoing something that conventional wisdom still assumes is required.

Return of the Mobile Web

The mobile web has come a long way since the first days of smartphones, when, before the Apple App Store was introduced, Steve Jobs was eager for owners of his new iPhone to get online. Back then mobile browsing platforms didn’t provide the experiential opportunities that last year’s the latest releases of Android and iOS offer. Now developers have the ability to deliver experiences as immersive and flexible as your favorite apps through the mobile web, and have just one platform to maintain rather than two for iOS and Android.

Last year Benedict Evans summarized the business driver for choosing native over web to just one question: “do people want to put your icon on their home screen? If the answer is Yes, go native. If No, go web.” Recently one major brand, Patagonia, decided to shut down the iPhone app they launched in 2010, stating that “now our website is beautiful and easy to use on all mobile web browsers” and inviting users to delete the app from their devices.

Patagonia

There’s no question that new business solutions will continue to be introduced that warrant a dedicated app to facilitate transactions, provide offline use, and to take advantage of native experience opportunities. But those experiential advantages alone, such as they still are, no longer justify the expense.

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The Third, Fourth, Fifth Screen Experience?

Screen Heading 2

Anyone who has visited the Ambility blog or scanned our post topics knows that our team is fairly obsessed with mobile screens and how we interact with them. But recently we’ve become obsessed with another kind of screen.

Digital out of home (DOOH) installations are undergoing a period of tremendous growth – from under 1.5MM screens in the US in 2009 to an estimated 7MM+ in 2015 according to Wirespring, a hardware connection platform provider. Hardware advances have increased both the quality of display and the durability of the devices, while increasing scale of development continues to decrease the
cost. Add to those factors the increase in media value that such placements enable above static media assets for owners of the physical spaces and we should expect to see dramatic increases in the number of screens we experience outside the home.

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Beyond public spaces, expect to see more DOOH screens in office parks, schools, hospital complexes, and retail stores as well. Those spaces, too, are seeing dramatic increases in the number of digital screen installations driven by intense competition to enhance consumer/brand experiences.

Most out of home digital screens currently in use are broadcast experiences only that have immense media value but are limited in their ability to message individuals. Even the few direct response, large format screens in Times Square that allow you to post your selfie for all of midtown Manhattan to see are leveraging a pretty limited set of consumer needs; namely the need to broadcast your selfie to midtown Manhattan. Instead it’s a different kind of out of home digital screen that is getting the attention of the Ambility team: those screens that provide the potential for one-to-one or one-to-a-few interactions and can lead to highly personalized, high-value consumer experiences.

Location Based Connectivity

New York has undertaken a huge effort to replace its largely defunct collection of phone booths with a network of installations that offer WIFI connectivity, two large-scale display screens, and a third interactive screen. The interactive screen (an iPad) is housed just above waist level and includes a dedicated user interface providing access to city services (think 311 and 911) and free nationwide video calls. It’s this type of digital out of home screen that got us thinking.

Internet connectivity links us to billions of nodes of content and services at all times. But for now, at least, we are creatures capable of occupying only one physical space and one physical time. Data and design experts spend countless hours working to anticipate what we will want at any given time based on our demographic profile, browsing and purchase history, and our cohorts. But there is growing recognition that where we are when we’re outside the home or office is as much a determinant of what we are looking for as all of that profile information combined.

The things I’m looking for when I’m browsing the internet from my couch have almost no resemblance to what my wife and daughter are seeking, but when each of us is wandering around town at 1pm on a Sunday we’re probably looking for largely similar things: something to see, a place to eat, or a shop. If we each walk into a train station, hospital, or retail store the options are more limited still. In other words, the potential for digital out of home experiences to provide relevant, valuable messaging and services for even anonymous users is pretty high.

Interactive Digital OOH?

Large format digital displays that media planners covet have some inherent limitations in providing interactivity, but that could change. No one will look to book a restaurant reservation through a Times Square billboard but installations like the LinkNYC assets, transport information displays, or executions that leverage a small portion of a large display screen for interactivity could deliver broad access to more personalized location-based content. These in themselves would increase the media value of such installations (“Local Specials for You!!”), be great sources of insight for urban planners and marketers, and provide real value for consumers.

But I Already Have a Screen

To be sure, personal mobile devices are getting better and better at offering location-based custom content, but there are a multitude of reasons that location specific interactions offer advantages. Even ubiquitous platforms like Facebook and Google struggle to offer a consistent level of quality and detail, and well-designed displays that provide way-finding or other valuable content and services enhance a customer’s experience of a neighborhood, campus, or store.

Publicly accessible digital assets offer immediacy, all categories of local offerings at once (no switching between Open Table, Groupon, and local tourism board offerings), and local attractions that tend to be featured on purely local online offerings. Municipal installations immediately become tourist information centers, educational campus installations become more comprehensive than any volunteer undergraduate guide, and hospital installations can tell you where radiology is and get you directions to the nearest pharmacy without taxing busy health professionals.

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Retail digital installations have the potential to broaden (or replace) shelf space and answer common consumer questions. No need to explain the difference between boot-cut, straight-leg, and skinny jeans when a digital screen can display it clearly. Paired with sensor technology, interactive screens can limit time in the changing room by showing how different items would look on the buyer.
If these same out of home interactive assets could somehow know our interests, our likes, our shoe size, without asking for someone to enter that detail then it could get really interesting.

Your Phone, Your Passport

It’s no secret that less than ten years after the release of the first iPhone the digital age has become fully mobile. Mobile now captures two out of every three digital minutes according to Comscore, and DMR reports that the Facebook mobile app has over 1.4 billion active monthly users. Through our likes, check-ins, and searches our smartphone has become one of the most intimate expressions of what we are interested in. And whatever our real passion points are, as the saying goes “there’s an app for that.”

The data that our phones collect have the potential to turn anonymous DOOH interactions into very targeted ones, and that need not be creepy. Explicit share requests that precede a near field communication interaction have the potential to be enormously valuable to visitors to a new city or a loyal shopper. My check-ins exhibit a pretty clear appreciation for water-front restaurants and cozy, old dive-bars. A customized itinerary for a new city based on those check-ins would be very welcome. And I know more than a few people who revel in discovering hidden specialty shops that match their interests. If they’re pushing a sale then all the better.

As the economics of DOOH continues to decrease the cost of installation, and targeting technologies provide additional media value to the dynamic screens expect to see more of these experiences. And don’t be surprised on your next trip to Paris if those famous old billboard kiosks can also direct you to that out of the way restaurant your friends told you about.

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Your next screen?

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Voice Controlled Computing – New Opportunities and a Big Challenge

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Several times in the past this blog has discussed the work being done by large and small companies with deep pockets to usher in the age of voice-controlled computing. For the most part we have focused on the advantages consumers would realize from being able to leverage computing power with simple voice commands and the additional use cases connected devices would help satisfy as a result. As we continue to experience voice controlled devices weaving into our lives, two areas we haven’t discussed have started to come into focus – one an opportunity for insights and the other a challenge for product developers and barrier to widespread adoption.

Lessons from the Echo

We have written several times about the advantages tablet devices offer over voice controlled computers like the Amazon Echo, that offer no display, as the richness of the response is multiplied by a screen where information, imagery, and videos can be offered in addition to audio responses. The Ambility team still believes this to be a significant advantage, but we have learned a great lesson from the Echo that we didn’t fully anticipate – that a wealth of use cases can be addressed very well through audio-only responses, and that these audio-based interactions offer brand new areas of insight for service and marketing providers to learn about their audiences.

Another lesson we learned from interacting with Echo is that Siri and ‘OK Google’ are not really voice controlled computing platforms. They offer great doorways into web content end experiences, but once you get there you have to rely on tapping and swiping to get what you want.

New Use Cases, New Opportunities for Data

Over the course of a long weekend the Ambility leadership team found themselves turning to the Echo, by summoning ‘Alexa,’ more and more to satisfy simple queries and to help with tasks around the house. Our computers and mobile devices have long helped us settle debates by getting that easy answer, but how many of us turn to those devices to set a timer for the bread we’re baking or to dim the lights before dinner. With the Echo these were tasks easily completed, so by the end of the weekend we had forgotten where the light switches were and never cared to check for a timer in the kitchen.

Beyond those tasks we also turned to the Echo to play music, create a shopping list, and check traffic, but it was the mundane uses of the device to help with dinner and manage the room’s heat and lighting that stood out (Tom’s Guide also identified tuning your guitar and having Alexa act as your exercise coach as good uses of the product). These are tasks that for most people are not completed using connected devices, and therefore have been unobserved by marketers and analysts. As voice controlled devices increase in their application and penetration into modern households, the opportunity (and burden) of harnessing this new data for insights will be vast.

So overall the Ambility team liked the Echo and adopted its use for certain needs around the house quickly – to a degree that we don’t do with Siri or OK Google. Why is that?

The obvious answer is that Alexa was always available. We didn’t need to grab a phone or tablet, hold a button and then ask for what we wanted, we only had to hail ‘Alexa’ and then make a request. The not-so-obvious answer is that the Echo “interface” is built for an audio only interaction and does not default to older, tactile mechanisms of interactive experience.

Voice-Screen Interactions Require New UX Standards

Building “always on” capabilities is straight-forward enough (Siri allows it when your iPad is plugged in), but enabling audio only commands that interact with screen display is a far trickier change. Touch screen technology, historians tend to agree, was first developed in 1965 by E.A. Johnson at the Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern, UK, but it would be over forty years before mass audiences would have the chance to adopt them for anything other than highly specific interactions. Apple’s release of the iPhone in 2007 introduced intuitive standards of interaction that developers could then apply to web and application design.

Siri, OK Google, and Soundhound’s new Hound product continue to enhance the ability for our devices to recognize voice commands and provide base level responses. And now there’s even a program for making your laptop respond with J.A.R.V.I.S.-type displays like those Iron Man relies on, but for now all of these offerings assume some level of touch or mouse based interaction. For example, Siri and OK Google respond to most queries with a standard search results page (SRP) with no way to select a result by voice command. Siri’s voice controlled messaging functionality works well but correcting or editing a message can be frustrating unless you resort to tapping and typing.

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Big Challenge, Big Opportunity

The Amazon Echo so far has at least demonstrated that voice controlled interactions have some real usefulness and appeal. Even without a display screen the provision of always on audio computing is valuable. But the Echo hasn’t provided a way of navigating the rich and varied offerings the internet is so good at delivering. And a display screen would be a good start.

Tackling that interactive challenge is far more complicated than programming a voice-controlled timer, but the Echo showed us that intuitive, voice-controlled computing solutions will be a welcome addition to consumers’ connected worlds. And the payoff for the company that establishes those standards, the solutions designers who leverage them, and the analysts looking for more insights into their target audiences will be massive.

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Tablet Sales Declining?

panic buttonTalk about the future of tablet computers these days and you can get a lot of skeptical looks – and no wonder. Recent articles with headlines like “Tablet sales plummet” (Seeking Alpha), “Tablet market slumps as buyers find alternatives” (The Star Online), “Tablets are toast” (The Register) all anticipate a slowdown in the adoption of tablets for business or home use. These arguments are indeed grounded in reports by Apple and Samsung that sales of their tablet devices are down year over year by 12.8% and 17.1% respectively. Those are big numbers that understandably have a lot of analysts and retailers reassessing their plans for investing money and shelf space in tablets. So what’s behind this year on year decrease in sales? It turns out a lot of factors are driving those numbers and digging into them reveals that tablets are far from “toast.”

Some of the slowdown in sales growth can be attributed to the fact that tablet users aren’t replacing these mobile devices as actively as they do their smartphones, so after massive rates of adoption since the introduction of the iPad five years ago a slowdown should have been anticipated. Considering that the features added with successive releases of the iPad have been limited in terms of hardware advances and you have an environment where users are not compelled to trade up to the latest model. “We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years,” wrote analyst Ryan Reith of International Data Corporation (http://gadgets.ndtv.com/tablets/news/tablet-market-slumps-as-buyers-find-alternatives-idc-758976).

More instructive for companies actively developing apps and accessories for tablets are comments from Cathy Boyle, a senior analyst at eMarketer, who points out that “(t)he most limiting factor is the use case for a tablet: It is not as clear-cut or compelling as a communication tool—the core capability and use case for a smartphone.” (eMarketerWorldwide Internet and Mobile Users Q1 2015 Forecast) And Faisal Kawoosa, Lead Analyst at CMR, a leading Indian IT and Telecomms research and consulting firm, notes that “(u)nless the industry make substantial differentiation in the value proposition for potential customers, tablet shipments are not going to grow… With not much value addition coming in the shape of specific solutions to enhance device usability at the moment, tablets are only becoming devices of convenience, essentially larger screen versions of smartphones.” (http://www.cxotoday.com/story/will-tablet-pcs-become-redundant-soon/ October 5, 2015)

We will take up the topic of the place that tablets can occupy distinctly from smartphones and laptops or desktops in a subsequent post, but rather than concluding that the tablet use base globally will decline, as some of the headlines referenced above may lead you to conclude, the Ambility team remains confident in the continued growth of the tablet user base, and we’re not alone. Indeed, eMarketer forecasts that there is still “significant room for increased penetration. The number of tablet users will jump from 13.9% to 19.9% of the global population and from 32.2% to 38.7% of internet users between 2015 and 2019.” (eMarketer Worldwide Internet and Mobile Users Q1 2015 Forecast)

In the world’s most populous countries the forecast is even more buoyant: “Approximately 41.0% of people in China will use (tablets) this year. By 2017, half of the country’s population will do so. China’s burgeoning middle class will be the main force behind growth… Indonesia and India will post the fastest tablet user gains worldwide over the next few years. The number of tablet users in both countries will nearly double in size by 2019.”

Lack of Positive Externalities for the Tablet

The concept of externalities and their impact on products or networks is old and frequently brought up when a technology standards war is underway – such as the ’80s/’90s war between Apple Macs and Microsoft PCs, and now iOS and Android. An externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. At Ambility, we are working hard to launch what we think is a positive external facilitator of tablet computing – an adjustable docking solution that fits beautifully into the home or office – and were struck by Cathy Boyle’s statement quoted above: “The most limiting factor is the use case for a tablet: It is not as clear-cut or compelling as a communication tool…”

We have long viewed tablets as extremely valuable devices for the home and office but recognize that hands-on or desktop usage only accommodates a subset of the overall use cases they are capable of effectively addressing. Yet the level of development for both apps and accessories for tablet-specific usage is limited compared to that for smartphones. According to Econsultancy 61% of companies report building apps specifically for iPads and 46% for Android tablets versus 86% of companies that are building for iPhones and 84% for Android phones. An Amazon search for “iphone accessories” yields 60,673,582 results while a search for “ipad accessories” returns 8,566,193 listings. Development for tablets is clearly of secondary importance, potentially leaving new solutions opportunities unaddressed.

The introduction of the iPad Pro and market adoption of the Microsoft Surface, however, show that the market is starting to appreciate the business related use cases for tablet computers. According to CXO Today Windows tablets are wooing the enterprise. In the Mobility Index Report published by Good Technology, Windows tablet adoption is reported to have increased 400%, from the last quarter of 2014 to the first quarter of this year. (http://www.cxotoday.com/story/are-tablet-pcs-failing-to-impress-business-users/)  This is largely driven by the business apps on offer through the Surface and its Microsoft Suite, and iPad apps are slowly catching up. Add enhanced positioning solutions and hands-free interaction capabilities like voice control and look for tablet sales to regain their momentum in the consumer space as well.

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In-Sourcing and the Value of Disruption – Part 2

Disruption

Part 1 of this post described some of the systemic attributes of a business landscape where technological change and the dynamics of the marketing agency world combine to create an environment of disruption. Part 1 also described some of the advantages brands should expect when they take their interactive activities in-house rather than working with agencies – particularly in the forms of internal ownership of the customer journey and responsibility for buyer behavioral insights.

Part 2 suggests the elements of the disruptive environment that are essential for internal digital teams to recognize and build into their own processes to ensure that the benefits of in-sourcing (or stable agency relationships) don’t come at the loss of the benefits of disruption.

Good Disruption, Necessary Disruption

Borrowing Georgia Congressman John Lewis’s “Good Trouble” directive, for digital professionals it is useful to recognize that certain types of disruption are good and necessary. While challenging, customer environmental disruption is a given. New hardware, software, and apps are put to use differently by empowered consumers and businesses everyday – well beyond the planned intent of the tools – with significant implications for marketing and service delivery groups (at least).

History has some big examples of products and services that were built with one use in mind only to be transformed by users who saw them satisfy other needs. Play-Doh was originally marketed as a wallpaper cleaner and Listerine a treatment for “sweaty feet, and soft corns, developing between the toes.”

More recently we’ve seen Google+ fail as a replacement social network and hub for all things Google but it seems likely that components will continue as customers demonstrate appreciation for their photo storing platform and its Hangouts for communications (http://www.wired.com/2015/03/google-knew-dead-google-still-social-network/). I have two clients who seem to meet only through the Hangouts, even with people in the same office, keeping them at their desks and minimizing ineffective time moving between rooms.

The Customer Is (Still) King

The disruptive environment often inherent in an agency client relationship is partly based on regular review cycles that bring new agencies into the mix, performing research and submitting new ideas for how to better connect with and serve customers.  Even incumbent agencies in the review process take a step back, reassess the marketplace, and eagerly search for new ways to delight and surprise.

The disruption your internal digital department needs most is not in changing personnel but in getting a renewed understanding of the target customers and their use of new and evolving tools. The environment is dynamic enough that every digital department should develop processes for regularly renewing their views and then openly brainstorming messaging and solutions to better serve their customers.

Operationalizing Creative Disruption

For every digital professional building platforms and campaigns nowadays it is essential to continually evaluate planning activities to understand how well they inform greater understanding of the customer and how the interactive environment that serves them has evolved. The inputs to answer these questions differ by sector as the digital environmental disruption is incredibly varied.

Salesforce is transforming how partnerships are marketed, created, and managed in the B2B space but has little impact in helping Starbucks sell coffee. The internet of things has already provided huge benefits to heavy industry but, so far, has had limited impact on retail customer interactions (expect that to change soon).

Developing your own map of the players and technologies impacting the online experience of your specific customers is essential and not likely something you can buy off the shelf. It has to be built into a regular planning process. Although the speed of change also varies from sector to sector, it’s hard to conceive of a marketplace whose interactive landscape isn’t disrupted at least once a year. Planning cycles should be scheduled accordingly.

Planning Disruption not Relationship Disruption

All in all, whether you work with outside agencies or not the interactive planning process must be disruptive – to your marketing, your interactive platforms, and yes, when necessary the skills and capabilities of your organization. Attention to the practices and behaviors of your customers will guide the way. Agencies can be a great way to augment capabilities and produce fresh insights and ideas, and their clients are better able to assess their agency and internal needs when they disrupt their own thinking about their customers.

Subsequent Ambility posts will further discuss disruption in its many forms – the operational implications of technological disruption to platform and campaign managers, how agencies are and need to continue evolving to sustain the value they offer to their clients and their stakeholders, and the essential skillsets necessary in leaders and teams to keep digital planning activities relevant, just to name a few.

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In-Sourcing and the Value of Disruption – Part 1

Disruption

The recent move by Krispy Kreme to take their digital marketing in house (http://www.adweek.com/agencyspy/krispy-kreme-takes-all-its-marketing-in-house/88633) continues a long-standing debate about the relative value of in-house versus agency resources for these essential services. In considering this question, a statement by Krispy Kreme about their decision stood out to me as worthy of examination: “Krispy Kreme engaged VML last year to do strategic and foundational work in the areas of digital and social media.  We think that those efforts have set us up for success going forward. As such, we plan to manage digital and social media using in-house resources at this time.”

I expect that statement is half right. VML does great work and Krispy Kreme clearly has a strong strategic platform to work from to deliver digital and social media programs in the short term that will help them drive business. But how much a foundation of success they have “going forward” is an open question, and one that is important for every modern marketer to answer.

Krispy Kreme’s particular situation is simply one of many companies choosing to take critical marketing and communications functions in-house. It’s useful to consider the advantages and risks of such a decision and to, hopefully, identify ways to maximize the advantages and mitigate the anticipated risks.

The Pros

The advantages of taking ownership of digital tasks in-house should be clear. Beyond the (often exaggerated) economies, the key advantage of bringing digital responsibilities in-house is that the ownership and accountability of these critical mechanisms for delivering customer service and marketing messaging are clear, and metrics of success explicitly spelled out. This focuses internal digital marketing and operations teams and provides the avenue for developing real knowledge and empathy with their target customers – a fundamental ingredient of great work.

The Cons

On the flip side, retaining an outside team for key digital responsibilities also has some obvious advantages in the highly dynamic online environment. As the most critical interactive skills have evolved from experience design to media planning to search to content marketing to programmatic, corporate marketing departments have easily switched among agencies whose capabilities better matched the challenges of the day (to the dismay and occasional demise of less nimble agencies). The minimal agency switching costs and hyper-competitive nature of the interactive agency world allows corporate digital departments to adjust to fluid demands in interactive capabilities more easily than they might be able to with embedded resources.

In short, for various reasons the interactive world has been one of constant disruption since its inception. While the environment has been demanding for modern interactive teams, the one clear beneficiary has been the customer. Websites are more intuitive and visual than they were, search gets better and better at connecting customers with relevant offerings, and content (of all forms) has become richer and more effective at telling brand, product, and service stories in ways that are meaningful.

The strategic work we do at Ambility aims to help insourced and outsourced teams focus on high-impact solutions and manage operational risk. We’ve worked with our corporate clients to evolve platform offerings and campaigns to better connect with customer expectations, and we’ve helped agencies adjust their capabilities to better match client needs.

In each case the driving inputs are insights which help us understand how technology and social factors are impacting customer behavior. Understanding how customer behavior is evolving then allows us to better understand what is working, and to uncover new opportunities for brands to stand out from the competition. But each time we recognize that the delivery provides a solution for the current environment – an environment that continues to evolve and be disrupted.

Increasingly we work to organize teams around customers in order to be better at identifying changes when they happen, and to better understand capabilities gaps that need to be filled. Where this post sought to outline advantages and disadvantages of doing this in an insourced world, the next post will provide thinking for how to operationalize disruption within an organization.

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The Return of the Product Manager?

Product Management

Fifteen years ago when I first got into interactive marketing the product manager ruled. Brands thought hard and paid a lot of money for user experience designers to think about the types of interactions to deliver online, and how to create new ways of servicing customers in the virtual space. Content management systems were expensive, enterprise installations that serious online brands invested in out of an appreciation for the value of creating destinations that were fresh, current, and relevant for its audiences. Forrester’s Digital Agency Wave Report was the industry bible that could raise or dash the fortunes of interactive agencies large and small based on their appearance or absence in the ‘magic quadrant.’

 

But then things changed. Agencies realized that focusing on web builds created on-going challenges for their revenue streams, and advertisers continued to struggle with adapting to an online world that was taking a growing share of consumer attention. The consumer behavioral shifts created new challenges that the broadcast world never encountered but also provided opportunities for targeting messages to specific target segments more effectively, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the media spend.

 

And somewhere along the way the voices of the media side of the interactive world became dominant, almost obscuring the site/platform experience conversations. The biggest events in the interactive agency calendar are no longer Forrester conferences but (the seemingly constant) Digiday conferences. The most coveted title isn’t Experience Design all-star but Media all-star (congrats, by the way, Jordan Bitterman).

 

But I wonder if that’s about to change again, and the reason for wondering is the growing appreciation of content as an effective and increasingly essential mechanism for promoting a brand and its products and services. Content marketing agencies like to argue that marketers should stop talking about what customers want and ‘be’ what customers want. Brands across B2B and B2C are increasingly appreciating that delivering high-quality, helpful, entertaining content is one of the best ways of driving customer affinity. What sometimes seems to be less appreciated, however, is that great content is increasingly not a single asset – article, video, or infographic – but an intelligent weaving together of assets around a central theme. In other words, a customer experience.

 

Too often the impact of great content is diminished by a failure to consider the full experience customers have while interacting with it. It’s shocking to me when I choose to watch a featured video on a publisher’s site only to have a video ad, somewhere deep down on the page, start playing automatically. That, to say the least, is a bad experience.

 

Immersive content experiences, so far best exhibited by publishers like the New York Times (Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a great example http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek) offer multiple avenues of exploration within a “single” story. Video, infographics, and sub-stories are integrated in seamlessly (and beautifully) to add detail and context.

 

As leveraging these immersive technologies inevitably becomes easier and cheaper, marketers will not be able to rely on a single writer or video team to develop content that stands out, and the skills normally associated with Product Managers and User Experience leads. Naturally I do not mean to imply that experience design experts and the creative process by which marketers and agencies conceive of and develop high-impact content experiences should outshine the innovative ways in which media planners drive attention to those experiences. Rather, I encourage those marketers and agencies to recognize content development for what it is: a full customer experience that requires planning and thoughtful consideration for how to make those experiences great.

 

Chris Marquardt, 6.1.15

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