Category technology

The Rise of Podcast Consumption and Why It’s Important for Your Business

PodcastsSteve Jobs was extremely adept at predicting what consumers would want even before they knew they wanted it.

It’s therefore not surprising that Jobs was bullish on the future of podcasting early on.

According to a Forbes article, “Back in the summer of 2005, Steve Jobs and Apple announced they would support podcasts on iTunes. At the time, podcasts were considered somewhat niche, but Jobs was adamant they were important.”

“Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes,” said Jobs in a 2005 press release. “Podcasting is the next generation of radio, and users can now subscribe to over 3,000 free Podcasts and have each new episode automatically delivered over the Internet to their computer and iPod.”

Research published by Edison Research in 2018 indicates that, once again, Jobs was correct.

The Podcast Consumer 2018 – Research from Edison Research

Each year, Edison Research publishes a study on the current trends in podcasting in the United States.

In 2018, the study included findings from the Infinite Dial 2018 study (conducted in partnership with Triton Digital), The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, and the latest findings from Edison’s Share of Ear Research.

Because the 2019 version of the report should be released soon, I don’t want to spend too much time on the specific findings from 2018.

That said, because it is the latest data currently available, there are some interesting trends that they uncovered that are worth pointing out.

The video embedded at the end of this post is also definitely worth watching if you are interested in this medium.

More People Are Listening to Podcasts and They’re Spending More Time Doing So

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, Steve Jobs and Apple recognized the potential of podcasting in 2005.

With this in mind, it is interesting to note that according to Edison Research, in 2006 only 11% of Americans ages 12 and older had ever listened to a podcast. This percentage has slowly increased to 44% in 2018.

The more interesting number, however, might be the percentage of Americans age 12 and older who had listened to a podcast in the last month. This percentage increased from only 9% in 2008 to 26% in 2018.

Furthermore, when the research was conducted in 2018, 17% of the population of Americans age 12 and older had listened to a podcast in the last week. This is an estimated 48 million Americans.

Among those weekly podcast listeners, when compared to earlier years, the average time listening to podcasts increased in 2018.

Overall, weekly podcast listeners listened to an average of seven podcasts per week in 2018.

Infographic: The Steady Rise of Podcasts | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista.

Why Podcasts Are Important for Business

As with any medium, podcasting might not be a good fit for your brand.

However, because more people are listening podcasts, the likelihood that your customers and potential customers are among those consuming podcast content has increased.

It is interesting to note that current podcast listeners make more money than the general population, tend to be more educated, and are more likely to have a full-time job. This makes podcast listeners very attractive to marketers.

It is also noteworthy that Americans currently listen to podcasts most often on their smartphones, tablets, or other portable devices.

As smart speakers become more common, it only makes sense that more people will start listening to podcasts on these devices.

And, as Edison Research pointed out, “In-car listening is growing, and represents a major potential source of new listening.”

All this data indicates that podcasts might be a great way for some brands to connect to consumers.

At the very least, it is something that your brand should consider.

 

Photo credit: Casey Fiesler on Flickr.

Infographic credit: Statista.com.

Video credit: edisonsurvey on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why It’s Important to Know What Your Brand Sounds Like

Sound boardThe idea of having a distinct sound that people associate with a brand is not a new concept.

For many years, businesses large and small that used radio and television ads to reach their target audience created specific sounds or jingles that customers came to recognize and associate with the brand.

However, sonic branding is becoming even more important today as more consumers start to use smart speaker technology and other household items get connected to and become part of the Internet of Things (IoT.)

And, when you factor in the already almost ubiquitous use of smartphones, there are even more opportunities for brands to use sound in their marketing efforts.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many businesses are starting to realize that they need to think about what their brand sounds like.

Sound as Shorthand for the Brand

As mentioned, businesses have used sound to create a connection between the brand and consumers for years in their radio and television advertising.

However, many businesses that haven’t made the investment in radio or television have often overlooked the powerful impact that sound has on consumers.

This is changing quickly as technology evolves.

As more transactions become automated in the future, tones can be used to communicate with consumers to let them know that they had an interaction with the brand without blatantly announcing it. This keeps the brand top of mind with the consumer.

Sonic branding can even provide some peace of mind to the customer by reminding them that they are dealing with a trusted business.

Mastercard Debuts Its Sonic Brand Identity

When it debuted its new signature sound in early February 2019 Mastercard joined many other brands, including one of its direct competitors, Visa, in creating a sonic identity developed specifically for the new connected world of the 21st century.

According to their press release, “Mastercard tapped musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe, including musical innovator Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.”

“What I love most about the Mastercard melody, is just how flexible and adaptable it is across genres and cultures,” said Mike Shinoda. “It’s great to see a big brand expressing themselves through music to strengthen their connection to people.”

“Audio makes people feel things, and that’s what makes it such a powerful medium for brands,” said Matt Lieber, Cofounder and President, Gimlet. “With the explosion of podcasts, music streaming, and smart speakers, an audio strategy is no longer a “nice-to-have” for brands – it’s a necessity. A sonic identity – the audio calling card for a brand – is now just as important as a brand’s visual identity.”

Additional Strategic Considerations

As mentioned earlier, many businesses have overlooked sound as a way to connect to their potential customers.

Does this mean that all brands that aren’t using sound in their marketing efforts need to spend millions of dollars to develop a new sonic identity?

As with all business decisions, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

For some businesses, sonic branding might not makes sense at all.

Jumping into sonic branding also doesn’t mean that brands should forget about visual branding. For maximum effect, both should work in concert with the other.

It is also important to note that brands might not get it right the first time. This is something that Mercedes-Benz learned the hard way.

And, as time goes on, there is also a possibility that we get a sort of sonic branding overload or sonic branding fatigue if too many businesses start using sound in this way.

That said, being among the first to create a sonic identity could help establish a deeper connection with consumers.

 

 

Photo credit: Tony Steward on Flickr.

Video credit: Mastercard News on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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32 Things to Watch in 2019 and Beyond

Google Maps NavigationAs I write about each year, success in business often requires predicting what potential challenges and opportunities the business will face on the road ahead.

Currently, we don’t have an app that will tell us everything that we need to know.

Therefore, business leaders need to navigate the old fashioned way even if their business is driving full-speed ahead into the future.

This thought process is what inspires one of my first blog posts each year.

It all started in 2012 when I highlighted some of the recommendations that JWT Intelligence thought would be important. Then in 2013, I started to track a list of my own.

Most of the things that I thought were important in the past remain important today. The list just gets a little bigger each year.

This list also helps keep me focused and serves as a public record to show whether or not I am watching the right things.

The Things to Watch List 2019

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid advancements in technology [2013]

2) Mobile (user experience and marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile payments [2013]

4) Mobile-influenced merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy issues [2013]

6) Emerging markets [2013]

7) The Internet of Things [2014]

8) The evolution of retail (including omni-channel retail) [2014]

9) A global marketplace [2014]

10) 3D printing [2014]

11) Cyberattacks [2014]

12) Ethics [2014]

13) Online video [2016]

14) RFID, NFC, and beacons [2016]

15) Augmented reality (AR) [2016]

16) Virtual reality (VR) [2016]

17) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

18) Experiential marketing [2016]

19) Wearables [2016]

20) Dynamic pricing in brick-and-mortar stores [2017]

21) Machine learning & artificial intelligence (AI) [2017]

22) Voice-activated technology [2017]

23) Business collaboration with the competition [2017]

24) The evolution of work (changing skillsets required and the influence on the economy) [2017]

25) Robotics [2018]

26) Subscription business model [2018]

27) How online communications influence public opinion [2018]

28) Market research techniques for the 21st Century [2018]

29) Influencer marketing [2019]

30) Accessible marketing for people with disabilities [2019]

31) Sustainability brands [2019]

32) Health-conscious brands [2019]

Why These Things Were Added

As I mentioned, my list was actually inspired by a list that is published each year by JWT Intelligence.

A lot of the items on the JWT Intelligence list this year focus on ways to help people create a healthier lifestyle. This not only means creating a healthier life for the people who might buy the products, but also helping create a healthier planet, as well.

Creating marketing that is accessible for people with disabilities just makes sense and should be a best practice. Furthermore, not making your website or mobile app accessible to people with disabilities can actually result in a lawsuit.

And, as for influencer marketing… it really should have been added to the list years ago. However, there are also some new areas of influencer marketing that make it worthy of adding now.

There are also things like self-driving cars and changes in product packaging that could have been added to the list. While these things are subsets of items currently on the list, they might get added to the list in the future.

Additionally, there are some things that digital marketing experts were talking about 10 years ago that should be revisited. These basics don’t get talked about enough now even though there are new business leaders entering the market each year. (It’s not always safe to assume that they learned about these things in college.)

So there you have it. If I missed anything that you think I should have included, please let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit: freeimage4life on Flickr. (Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication — CCO 1.0)

 

 

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Cashless Stores: Ahead of Their Time or Just Bad for Business?

The end of cash?For years now, many experts have predicted the demise of cash.

Those who make these predictions are encouraged when companies like Apple report increased usage of proximity mobile payments. In fact, Apple’s Q4 2018 earnings report and conference call reported:  “Triple transaction volume year-over-year for Apply Pay.”

But even with more consumers adopting alternative ways to purchase items, it appears that cash isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, this is something that Jeff Hasen, one the pioneers in mobile marketing, often points out on Twitter.

Cashless Comment Jeff Hasen

A recent article on CNBC supports Hasen’s argument.

“Cash remains the most frequent method of payment in the U.S., representing roughly 31 percent of consumer transactions, more than electronic, credit, debit or checks,” the author of the article writes.

According to the same article, “Use of cash by U.S. households is consistent across most income levels, around 25 percent, and goes way up at the lowest incomes.”

That said, this is not stopping some stores from trying to follow Amazon’s lead and eliminate cash as a payment option.

I think that it’s good that stores are trying different things to see what works.

However, as you might have expected, stores that try to go cashless are often met with some resistance.

Amazon Is Leading the Way

The headline of a recent Bloomberg article says it all, “Amazon Will Consider Opening Up to 3,000 Cashierless Stores by 2021.”

If you are not familiar with the AmazonGo cashierless store concept, the basic idea is that shoppers enter the store with a smartphone app downloaded to their phone, they scan their phones as they enter the store, they shop and leave with the items that they want to purchase without having to stop at a cash register.

As the Bloomberg article points out, “Sensors and computer-vision technology detect what shoppers take and bills them automatically, eliminating checkout lines.”

In this scenario, cash is not an option.

While not going all the way to cashierless stores, other merchants are experimenting with the idea of eliminating cash in order to cut costs.

The Cost of Accepting Cash

While accepting cash as a payment option has been the norm for many years, accepting cash actually costs more than some of the other common payment options.

A USA Today article highlights some of the expenses involved in processing cash transactions, as reported in an IHL report.

According to the article, “Besides the time spent counting bills and making change, they include ensuring registers have enough change, running cash to the bank, bank fees, armored cars, employee theft and robberies, the report says.”

“All told, such hassles cost retailers an average of 9.1 percent of sales, ranging from 4.7 percent at grocery stores to 15.5 percent at restaurants and bars, IHL says. That compares to the 2 to 3 percent transaction fees credit-card companies charge merchants,” the USA Today article reports.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that some stores are looking to eliminate cash.

But this has its downside.

Going Cashless Shuts Poor People Out

This is the main point of a recent article published on The New York Times website.

According to the author, Ginia Bellafante, there are several arguments against going cashless.

“The strongest objection relates to the ways in which rejecting physical currency plays out as a bias toward the poor; advancing segregation in retail environments,” writes Bellafante.

“According to government data, close to 7 percent of American households have no one in them with a checking or savings account, while an additional 19 percent are considered “underbanked,” meaning that they rely on products or services outside the conventional financial system,” the author continues. “These include money orders and payday and pawnshop loans. The majority of people who fall into these categories are nonwhite.”

Laws Are Being Written to Prevent Cashless Brick-and-Mortar Stores

When the article on The New York Times website was published, many people wondered if it was even legal to go cashless.

As Jarrod Frates points out on Twitter, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.”

Cashless Comment Frates

Given this fact, it is not so surprising that lawmakers in New Jersey and New York City are trying pass bills to prevent stores from going cashless.

As an article on The Motley Fool website points out, New Jersey politicians are trying to prevent cashless stores because not accepting cash can prevent certain groups of people from making a purchase. This is the same argument that was made in The New York Times article mentioned earlier.

According to The Motley Fool article, Massachusetts is currently the only state that requires brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash.

Is Cashless Bad for the Brand?

While it’s estimated that only 31 percent of consumer transactions are cash, not offering cash as an option can create hassles beyond the bad PR it is getting for creating barriers for the unbanked.

Finding out that they can’t use cash until it is time to pay can be a source of frustration for some customers.

Even customers who rarely use cash can find it frustrating when they are asked to use a credit card to pay for a last-minute addition such as mayonnaise or another condiment at restaurants or even small items at a retail store.

Cashless Complaint 1

Cashless Complaint 2

Final Thoughts

Given that customers can and often do vent their frustration publicly on social media, going cashless might be more trouble than it’s worth.

With this in mind, it is fairly easy to see why Jeff Hasen often reinforces the fact that cash isn’t going anywhere, at least in the near future.

It is also not surprising that some merchants that tried to go cashless have decided to change their minds.

Cash is Back Spero

However, as the author of the post on The Motley Fool website points out, while going cashless might not the best way to go now, stores will never know whether it is a good idea to go cashless in the future if they aren’t even allowed to try.

It does seem like there might be some easy workarounds that stores or restaurants could offer if they do want to go cashless at the checkout line. The most obvious would be making an ATM or vending machine available to customers that would give them the option of buying prepaid debit cards.

This would give customers access to the store, while still encouraging them to pay via other payment options.

I’m not sure if this would satisfy lawmakers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, or any other place that makes going cashless illegal.

If you know the answer to that legal question or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Future of the Retail Sales Associate—Another Reason Why Retailers Need to Provide More Mobile-Optimized Content Online

The Future of Retail Sales AssociatesThe way customers shop, in general, is changing with more and more customers going online to research and buy products. Furthermore, smartphones have also modified the way customers shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

This means that retailers are going to need to rethink everything. And, that means everything.

For store employees, this means that their world is going to be altered dramatically.

In 2014, Doug Stephens, one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists, wrote a very informative blog post that predicts what a “typical” retail sales associate’s job will look like in the near future.

In the post, he predicts that in the near future there will be fewer humans working in brick-and-mortar retail stores, with technology there to fill in the gap.

In the post, he cites a study from Oxford University that estimates that there is a 92 percent chance that retail sales associates will be replaced by technology in the next decade. (Keep in mind, this was over four years ago. Therefore, if the predictions are accurate, retail sales associates should be retraining for other positions now! Even if it takes a little longer than experts think it will, the world that they are predicting will arrive someday… soon.)

While this is an alarming figure, people who want to work in retail stores should be heartened by the other prediction that Doug Stephens makes—that those employees who do survive will be paid much higher than they currently are. But this is going to mean that they also are going to need to get a lot more training.

Other sources again support his position.

Some of the recent articles that discuss retail trends point to the fact that there will always be a need for some human salespeople at most brick-and mortar stores. However, they will have a slightly different background.

As far as I can tell, four types of non-management employees will emerge to replace the generally unskilled workforce that currently fills many of these low-paying retail sales associate jobs.

Professional Salespeople—The Customer Service and Product Experts

In the blog post mentioned earlier, Doug Stephens writes, “Although retailers will point the finger at price as the smoking gun behind showrooming, research shows that in fact, it’s more often the pursuit of adequate and accurate information that drives customers online.”

Therefore, in order to compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are going to have to hire a core group of employees who really know their stuff.

These employees won’t be the ones who check people out at the cash register.

They will be like the salespeople of old who thought of their position at the store as a career, not just a place to work until they find other jobs. These employees will be experts in customer service and they will know everything about what they are selling.

The stores that realize that there is a need for this type of employee and hire and train people who really want to excel at their job will be the stores that will succeed.

As Doug Stephens also points out, the people who fill these positions will be paid more than the average salary of a retail sales associate today.

This probably means that stores won’t hire many of these employees, if they still want to keep their costs down. But, the employees who are hired to fill this type of role will be an invaluable resource to customers and the store.

To be qualified for this role, the employee will also have to invest in additional training.

Organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF) are already recognizing that this type of training is needed and have begun offering it at a reasonable price.

Part-Time Associates—Knowledgeable Salespeople Augmented With Technology

This group of employees will most resemble the current retail sales associate.

They will be the young adults who are working their way through high school or college. They will have some basic product knowledge and business acumen. And, they will have grown up using technology, therefore they will be very comfortable assisting less tech-savvy customers with the technology that the store will use to assist in the sales process.

They will also use technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, etc.) to access mobile-optimized content that will answer the product-related questions that customers have.

Because these employees will be in the process of completing their training, these positions will probably still be on the lower-end of the pay scale. However, to attract the best employees, retailers will still have to pay more than minimum wage.

With technology to augment the sales process, fewer of these associates will be needed on the sales floor of tomorrow.

Temporary Workers—The On-Demand Workforce

The gig economy is here, with some employees being hired to work for only a short duration of time to fill a specific business need.

As a Washington Post article points out, it is already changing the workforce in many mainstream restaurants (e.g., Five Guys, McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza, etc.)

Will brick-and-mortar retail stores be next?

Retailers have always hired temporary workers around the holidays. This would just take this concept to the extreme.

It is entirely possible that stores could hire employees for one or two days to staff a large sale similar to those on Black Friday.

And, again, if stores bring in the right technological solutions to assist with the sales process, these temporary workers could be quickly trained to work the cash register or again help the less tech-savvy customer in the shopping process.

Some retail experts say using temporary workers is a bad idea. But, the reality is that only time will tell.

Non-Human Employees—Mobile-Optimized Online Content and Other Technological Solutions

The fourth type of employee that will replace the current retail sales associate is not a human at all. However, in many cases technological solutions will be able to do the same job… maybe even better than the current retail sales associate can.

As mentioned above, customers are already reaching for their smartphones to get product information while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, some customers would rather use their smartphones to find product information than talk to the retail sales associate on the sales floor.

This might be because they often get incorrect or incomplete information from improperly trained retail sales associates. Therefore, we might have a chicken and the egg situation at play.

Either way, the one thing we do know for certain is that customers want to be able to quickly and efficiently find product information either online via their smartphone or by talking to a retail sales associate.

Having the right information available online is going to be a must for the retailer of tomorrow. And, as mentioned above, it will also help human salespeople do their jobs better.

As Doug Stephens points out in his post, there are companies like Hointer that are working to bring additional technological solutions to market to help automate the retail sales process even further.

However, I will leave that topic for future blog posts.

Final Thoughts

In order to compete, brick-and-mortar stores will need to be able to provide customers with the same accurate and complete product information that they can find on Amazon or other online retailers.

If the brick-and-mortar store provides the information first, customers will have one less reason to visit another store’s website or mobile app, and therefore will be less likely to use the store as a showroom only to buy the product elsewhere.

This can be accomplished by having better trained retail sales associates and by creating the right mobile-optimized content that customers can search for on their smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, other technological solutions like “smart mirrors” in fitting rooms will also be used to deliver product information to customers.

Given the changes in the marketplace, it’s not a question of whether to invest in employees or in technology.

Successful stores will do both.

In fact, technology will help less knowledgeable retail sales associates meet the needs of the store’s customers more efficiently and effectively. In other words, in many cases technology and humans will work together to provide a better shopping experience.

Note: This is a very general prediction of what the “average” retail store of the future will need to do in order to meet the needs of its customers. There will be variation based on the products and services sold, who shops at the store, the store’s location, etc.

Photo credit: Zepfanman.com on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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How Smartphones Will Influence the Future of Visual Merchandising and Store Design

It has been over a decade since the iPhone was first introduced to the world.

In that time, smartphone use has skyrocketed.

In fact, Deloitte expects smartphone penetration to approach 90 percent in the United States, with much of the growth being fueled by increased smartphone usage among older Americans.

Customers Use Mobile Devices When They Shop and Buy

As we know, having a smartphone has changed the way many consumers shop and buy products and services in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, mobile is changing the way that we do almost everything in life.

Over the years, retailers have experimented with different ways that they can use mobile devices to improve their customers’ shopping experience.

In the near future, successful retailers will find ways to leverage mobile technology and incorporate it into all parts of their business. This will have a huge impact on the way retailers merchandise and design their brick-and-mortar stores in the future.

It is important to point out that retailers should not look for ways to use mobile devices just for the sake of using mobile devices.

Instead, retailers that will succeed in the future will find additional ways to provide value to customers. Often this means providing them with memorable shopping experiences.

In other cases, it might be finding ways to make their shopping experience easier or providing the customer with ways to save money.

Often these things can be achieved by leveraging the same mobile devices that their customers are already using.

After all, if mobile phones are changing the ways that people shop, wouldn’t it be smart for retailers to make adjustments and make it easier for their customers to find what they want when they want it using the same technology.

Using Mobile Devices to Improve Visual Merchandising and Store Design

Here are some of the ways that smartphones and tablets will change visual merchandising and store design at successful retail stores in the near future.

As already pointed out, retailers need to take into account the way customers use smartphones when they shop and buy in their brick-and-mortar stores. This includes customers using smartphones to comparison shop, find product reviews, look for coupons, and use shopping apps to do all the above. Smartphones are also changing the way customers actually pay for the products once they have made a selection.

With this in mind, retailers need to make sure that their digital marketing teams and their visual merchandising teams are talking to each other and are on the same page.

In the future, retailers that find ways to have their digital teams and their visual merchandising teams work together or even better, actually interact and play off each other will see positive results from their efforts. The goal should be to provide a seamless shopping experience, no matter what channel the customer is using.

Retailers should strive to delight customers and provide a remarkable shopping experience. In other words, retailers should be trying to create a shopping experience worth talking about.

Ideally, retailers will be able to inspire customers to take a photo of their shopping trip and post it on social media for their friends and family to see. This is some of the best advertising the store can get.

Another way that retailers can use mobile devices is to create efficiencies and improve productivity by having staff armed with smartphones and tablets and then create the right software, content, and processes that leverage mobile to the fullest.

It is not enough to just provide mobile devices to employees. Management needs to explain to retail staff how and why to use them at different points in the shopping experience.

And, don’t forget that mobile can help improve processes throughout the store, not just while staff are interacting directly with customers.

While having staff use mobile devices to enhance the way they do their job is not going to directly influence merchandising and store design, it will help the store better understand the customer and make improvements wherever possible. It will also help management gather feedback and collect valuable data.

As just mentioned, retailers can use mobile phones to help better understand the needs and shopping behaviors of their customers by using these mobile devices to collect valuable data about their customers’ shopping behaviors while in the store.

This data will influence the way stores are merchandised and designed in the future.

However, as we have seen from many of the recent stories in the news, customers can be wary of the way data is collected and used. It is therefore important to proceed with caution and follow all of the rules and regulations. While retailers will use data to improve every part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, it is important that customers are aware of what is being done.

Final Thoughts

Smartphones and tablets have changed the way that customers shop and buy.

This post has focused on how mobile devices have changed how customers shop once they are in the brick-and-mortar store. However, as we know, mobile devices play a role in the whole shopping experience, even before customers enter the store and long after they purchase the product or service.

Knowing this, successful retailers with learn to adapt and leverage this knowledge to improve their customers’ shopping experience no matter how and when they choose to shop.

It only makes sense that retailers would find ways enhance their customers’ shopping experiences using that same mobile devices customers are already using.

This post has provided a few suggestions for retailers to consider.

This includes maybe one of the most important ways mobile devices can influence visual merchandising and store design… as a way to collect data. By providing valuable data that allows retailers to better understand their customers shopping behaviors, mobile devices will improve the way the store meets their customers’ needs now and in the future.

Photo credit: Antoine K on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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28 Things to Watch in 2018 and Beyond

Scan the Horizon 2018The world that we live in is changing at a rapid pace.

To prepare themselves for the future, leaders need to keep an eye on the things that will influence their businesses.

With this in mind, one of my first posts each year lists the things that I think will have the biggest impact on the world we live and work in in the next few years.

This list not only helps me stay focused on the important topics, but also serves to track whether or not I am watching the right things.

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid advancements in technology [2013]

2) Mobile (user experience and marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile payments [2013]

4) Mobile-influenced merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy issues [2013]

6) Emerging markets [2013]

7) The Internet of Things [2014]

8) The evolution of retail (including omni-channel retail) [2014]

9) A global marketplace [2014]

10) 3D printing [2014]

11) Cyberattacks [2014]

12) Ethics [2014]

13) Online video [2016]

14) RFID, NFC, and beacons [2016]

15) Augmented reality (AR) [2016]

16) Virtual reality (VR) [2016]

17) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

18) Experiential marketing [2016]

19) Wearables [2016]

20) Dynamic pricing in brick-and-mortar stores [2017]

21) Machine learning & artificial intelligence (AI) [2017]

22) Voice-activated technology [2017]

23) Business collaboration with the competition [2017]

24) The evolution of work (changing skillsets required and the influence on the economy) [2017]

25) Robotics [2018]

26) Subscription business model [2018]

27) How online communications influence public opinion [2018]

28) Market research techniques for the 21st Century [2018]

Final Thoughts

Each year, I add a few new items to the list.

However, this year, I combined omni-channel retail with the evolution of retail. Although omni-channel retail is important enough to stand alone, nearly all retail will need to be omni-channel in the near future. Therefore, I think it makes sense to combine these two items.

I also deleted the evolution of marketing and public relations because it is implied when you consider all the other items on the list, in aggregate.

Finally, I broke augmented reality and virtual reality into two separate categories, because we are starting to see some interesting things happen with these two technologies.

So again, you have my updated list. If there is anything that you think that I should add, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Binoculars on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Continuous Education Will Be Required to Keep up with Technological Change

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The rapid advancements in technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, are changing the work that we do and the way it’s done.

In fact, an article published on the CNBC website in October of 2017 cites a 2013 study conducted by Oxford University that “estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be replaced by robots and automated technology within the next two decades.”

This means that the human workforce is going to need to adapt to keep up with these changes.

In the same article, Jeff Hesse, PwC principal and U.S. people and organization co-leader, is quoted as saying, “It varies a bit by industry, but over the next five years we’re going to see the need for workers to change their skills at an accelerating pace.”

As the article goes on to point out, this doesn’t mean that employees are going to have to go back to school to get a degree. There are alternatives offered by community colleges, reputable trade schools, and even internal training and recruiting programs offered by companies looking to keep their human workforce employed.

Major universities and colleges have also noticed the need to train people for the jobs of the future and have started to offer online training programs directly to students.

Some universities and colleges have also partnered with tech startups to make massive open online courses (MOOCs) available to people who want to continue their education without paying a lot in tuition fees. Some of the most popular MOOCs include Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Udemy, just to name a few.

Will These New Educational and Training Programs Be Enough?

A report published by the Pew Research Center in May of 2017 tackled this question. The report included findings from a largescale canvassing of 8,000 experts and members of the interested public by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. The study was conducted from July 1 to August 12, 2016.

According to the report, 1,408 respondents answered the following question:

“In the next 10 years, do you think we will see the emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?”

The authors of the report state, “The nonscientific canvassing found that 70% of these particular respondents said “yes” – such programs would emerge and be successful. A majority among the 30% who said “no” generally do not believe adaptation in teaching environments will be sufficient to teach new skills at the scale that is necessary to help workers keep abreast of the tech changes that will upend millions of jobs.”

Respondents were then asked to further explain their answers and to consider a few additional questions. The responses to these questions highlight some of their predictions, both optimistic and pessimistic. Some of their responses influenced my thoughts below. I encourage you to check out the report for additional information.

The Future of Education Is a Continuous Process

Education will need to evolve.

That doesn’t mean that we will need to scrap the current education system entirely, at least in the near future.

However, I believe it will need to be supplemented.

If recent trends continue, having a bachelor’s degree will continue to be important and having a master’s degree will definitely be a plus.

Number of good jobs by level of educationA study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce highlights this trend. According to their research, there has been an increase in job opportunities in recent years for workers with at least some level of postsecondary education and training. However, the distribution of good jobs has increased the most among those workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Keep in mind, the past doesn’t always predict the future, but it’s a good indicator of what will happen in the short-term.

That said, I don’t think that having a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree will be enough.

If the experts are correct and the skills required to fill good jobs continue to change at an accelerating pace, then workers will need to constantly retrain for the jobs of future.

As mentioned earlier, some of this training will occur through self-directed online training programs or through training provided by companies trying to keep their human workforce employed. Mentoring programs or apprenticeships that provide hands-on training will also be important.

As we are already seeing, formal certifications that require passing rigorous testing will often be required to validate the quality of training employees receive. However, as the report mentioned above points out, determining which organizations to trust with this testing will be an issue.

This might be an area where universities again step in, as some already offer certificate programs or give students college credit for passing exams without requiring formal classroom attendance.

But, then again, who knows?

Right now, we are all trying to figure out the best ways to handle the challenges that we face.

In the more distant future, the education system that we know might need to be completely reimagined.

In my opinion, the best we can do is try to keep up with the changes by taking advantage of the educational resources currently available. Even experts in their field can benefit by updating their training on an ongoing basis. In the process, they might learn something new. And, at a minimum, they will be able to help validate what is and isn’t quality training.

Photo credit: Wolfgang Greller on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

 

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Macy’s Is Moving Toward the Future of Retail With RFID and Artificial Intelligence

Photo credit: Warren B. on Flickr.Macy’s is once again leading the charge into the future of retail.

Earlier this year, Macy’s announced that it was expanding its use of item-level RFID technology to increase the accuracy of its inventory management system, thus making it easier for the retailer to sell more items both in its brick-and-mortar stores and online.

Recently, Macy’s announced that it is also experimenting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in an online mobile web tool.

At first glance, these two initiatives seem unrelated.

However, if you look at them more closely, Macy’s is laying the groundwork for something much bigger.

Using AI to Help Choose the Right Outfit

Several news articles explain how Macy’s has started experimenting with AI.

While the retailer most likely has a long-term vision, it looks like the it is starting out with few expectations and is willing to let customers guide their future decisions.

As an article in the Washington Post points out, “Macy’s announced Wednesday that it has teamed up with IBM Watson to use artificial intelligence as a customer service tool in 10 of its stores.  The retailer dubbed the pilot program “Macy’s On Call,” and it will allow customers to type in questions on their phones and receive answers. Unlike some chatbots that can only regurgitate preprogrammed responses based on keywords, IBM Watson will learn over time to give better answers that are customized to individual stores.”

The article states that the retailer is expecting customers to ask where specific merchandise is located, where to find the restrooms, and other similar questions.

However, customers inevitably will ask tougher questions than that.

And, if the AI works as some people hope, the app will give the retailer a way to offer customers a recommendation engine that will help them make purchase decisions and offer additional product suggestions in the same way that Amazon already does.

In fact, other retailers have already started to use AI in this way.

“Macy’s is not the only retailer that is experimenting with some use of artificial intelligence,” Sarah Halzack points out in the Washington Post article. “IBM Watson has already dabbled in using its tools to power other shopping experiences such as a collaboration with outdoor apparel brand North Face on a website that helps shoppers find the right jacket. Users can type in natural-language answers to a host of questions, including “Where and when will you be using this jacket?” and “What activity will you be doing?” Based on the customer’s answers, IBM Watson will serve up some suggested outerwear.”

The Importance of an Accurate Inventory Management System

As I mentioned earlier, in January Macy’s announced its “Pick to the Last Unit” program for fulfillment of customer purchases.

This initiative uses item-level RFID technology to ensure that the retailer’s inventory is extremely accurate.

While the store hasn’t suggested that the new AI fueled “Macy’s on Call” mobile web tool will be tied to the inventory management system, this would be the logical next step.

If combined, sometime in the not so distant future when a customer asks to receive style advice using the new mobile web tool, he or she would not only receive recommendations based on the items that the retailer has for sale, but would also get information about whether or not the products are available at a particular location, at a nearby Macy’s, or if they are only available online.

These are things that sales associates can usually provide. However, when this information is provided to customers on their smartphone, it could save them a lot of time and lead to increased customer satisfaction and more sales.

And, given the fact that the mobile web tool could be used anywhere, this could be another way for Macy’s to capture sales that might end up going to a competitor.

Again, as far as I know, Macy’s hasn’t announced that the mobile web tool will be able to provide this sort of information. However, they already do offer customers the option to buy some items online or in app, and pick up them up in store.

While integrating the inventory management system with the AI mobile web tool might not seem like a big deal, I think a seemless integration of the possible AI recommendations and the ability to tell customers exactly where to find the items it recommends is extremely important.

Hopefully, this is something that Macy’s is planning. I also hope other retailers try similar things.

AI Won’t Replace the Store Associate

Some people wonder why Macy’s is investing in AI when they could have their store associates answer these questions.

And, the reality is that they already do.

However, as studies have shown, many people would prefer to look the information up on their smartphone rather than interact with a sales associate.

This doesn’t mean that the smartphone will replace all store associates, as some people still prefer to have a one-on-one interaction with a real human being. (Note: There is a grocery store in Sweden that has eliminated the need for customer service staff. However, this probably won’t be a common practice for the foreseeable future.)

Furthermore, having sales staff on the sales floor not only helps the store provide better customer service, but they also help decrease theft at the store.

That said, the real reason that Macy’s is experimenting with AI probably has to do with choice.

As Jeff Hasen, founder of Gotta Mobilize, often points out, giving customers the ability to shop and find information in the way that they want to is extremely important.

Final Thoughts

AI won’t replace the store associate.

What it will do is provide customers who want to find information on their smartphones the ability to do so.

And, choice is good.

Therefore, Macy’s is smart to experiment with AI.

In the beginning, there is a good chance that it will be a little bit clunky. However, if the AI learns as experts say it will, the app will get better and more useful as time goes on.

As I also pointed out, the fact that Macy’s has already improved the accuracy of its inventory management system is important.

After all, what good are product recommendations if customer are disappointed each time they go to the specific department to find the item that was suggested only to find that it is out of stock.

Keep in mind, although several articles have suggested it, it is not clear if Macy’s plans to use AI in the specific way that I am suggesting. However, other retailers have started to experiment with AI in this way, and it would be the logical next step in an effort to compete with competitors both large and small, including Amazon.

If you look at it closely, Macy’s is slowly adding new uses of technology in an effort to help improve the shopping experience it offers its customers.

Each new improvement that the retailer makes brings us closer to a retail shopping experience that would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago.

Photo credit: Warren B. on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Businesses Are Realizing That Snapchat Isn’t Going to Disappear Anytime Soon

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.For a while now, marketers have debated about whether or not it is a good idea to use Snapchat to market a brand’s products or services.

However, in recent months, the app that is known for its disappearing content seems to have more vocal fans than detractors.

At the very least, more brands are experimenting with it.

The obvious reason for this is the fact that more and more people have started using the app.

In fact, according to a post on the comScore blog written by Adam Lella, “Snapchat isn’t just for teens and college-age adults anymore. While still wildly popular among these younger demographic segments, the ephemeral photo and video sharing app is also rapidly growing its user base among older Millennials (Age 25-34) and those 35 years-and-older. Three years ago, Snapchat’s app was only being used by 5% of smartphone users age 25-34 and 2% of users age 35+, according to comScore Mobile Metrix. Today its penetration among these two age demos is an impressive 38% and 14%, respectively.”

What is maybe more impressive is the fact that 69% of smartphone users age 18-24 use Snapchat.

“Snapchat’s growth has likely been fueled by the introduction of several popular product features over the past few years, which amplified its already powerful network effects,” the author of the comScore post explains. “Most notable among those new product features was the launch of “Stories”, which allows a user’s “snaps” (i.e. photos or videos) to be viewed in a chronological order by their friends an unlimited number of times in a 24-hour period. The Stories feed also includes coverage of various live events or places, in which some of the best snaps from users engaging with that showcased event are curated into one story available to all users. And more recently, Snapchat began regularly adding innovative ways to express oneself, such as “Lenses,” the camera’s creative filter options which make simple photos and videos more fun and entertaining.”

Knowing this, many marketers have started looking for ways to leverage the new Snapchat features to reach all of the customers and potential customers who use the app.

For businesses that are thinking about using Snapchat, here are a few things to consider.

Snapchat Lenses and Geofilters

As Adam Lella pointed out in the comScore post, the fact that Snapchat gives users the option to make their content more fun by providing lenses and geofilters has helped fuel the growth of the app.

While similar, there is a slight difference between a Snapchat lens and a geofilter.

Lenses give users the ability to add real-time special effects and sounds to the user’s Snaps.

By now, you have probably seen the rainbows coming out of a person’s mouth or a person’s face morphed into a zombie. (President Obama used the zombie Snapchat lens in his 2016 White House correspondent’s dinner video.)

Several large brands have also used sponsored lenses to increase awareness of their products or services.

In fact, earlier this year, Taco Bell launched a sponsored lens to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that resulted in 224 million views in one day. According to Adweek, this “shattered a Snapchat record.”

According to the New York Times, a Snapchat lens like this could cost between $450,000 to $750,000. This puts sponsoring a lens out of reach for many businesses.

However, that doesn’t mean that smaller brands can’t get in on the fun.

Snapchat also has geofilters that businesses can purchase for considerably less.

Geofilters are basically digital graphics that can be put over the user’s Snaps to make the current photos or videos more interesting.

In addition to the free community geofilters and the filters that can add various stats like time, temperature, or the speed that a person is going, Snapchat also offers on-demand geofilters that can be purchased by businesses or even users themselves.

The Personal Geofilter can be used to promote weddings, parties, birthdays, graduations, or just about any other event that is tied to a physical location.

A Business Geofilter can be used to help promote sales or any other event that is taking place at the business.

According to a LA Times article, these geofilters can be purchased for as little as $5 depending on when and how large of an area you want to include.

This inexpensive price makes it possible for local bars and restaurants to experiment a little.

Snapchat Stories

As mentioned in the comScore article, the other feature that has helped fuel Snapchat’s growth is the introduction of Snapchat Stories.

Again, the Snapchat Stories feature lets friends view a user’s Snaps an unlimited number of times within a 24-hour period.

A lot of brands are using Snapchat Stories to give users a behind the scenes look at the business, offer an all-access view of an event, offer surprise coupons and discounts, or create an interesting story that connects with customers.

For example, Red Bull often lets influencers take over their account in order to let users see what it is like to live and compete in some of the extreme sports that fit the brand’s image.

Other brands like Express are using Snapchat to highlight some of the items that they have for sale and then ask for engagement with the brand. They then acknowledging those who do respond, which is a great way to make customers feel valued.

These are just a few suggestions. There are many different case studies to be found on the Internet.

Also, you need to understand that any brand can create Snapchat Stories, and these shouldn’t be confused with the content provided on Snapchat Discover.

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Snapchat

I started this post off by mentioning that there has been a debate going on about whether or not brands should invest in Snapchat.

And, while a lot of brands have started to at least experiment with Snapchat, others think that it is a waste of time. These people often list measurement issues among their largest concerns.

In a Forbes article, Mark Fidelman explains the concerns that he has with Snapchat.

Many of his complaints are similar to others I’ve heard before.

However, the one point that he makes that really hits home with me is the fact that when a person sees your content on Snapchat, there is no way to send them to your website or blog using a clickable link. This not only makes it difficult to drive sales, it also makes it difficult to attribute a conversion to Snapchat. And, the fact that there aren’t any links from the app means that your efforts won’t help with SEO at all.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely issues that make it difficult for some businesses to justify investing in Snapchat to market their products or services.

However, given the fact that a lot of people have started using the app, it might make sense to invest at least a part of your marketing spend on the app.

If done right, using Snapchat can be a fun way to connect with your current and potential customers.

In my opinion, this is an app that I would keep an eye on and try a few things, but it is not a place that I would invest a lot of time in. At least not now.

That said, I also don’t think that Snapchat is going disappear anytime soon.

It is just somewhat difficult for businesses to use Snapchat to market their products and services. And, it’s even more difficult to measure the results of these efforts.

This, however, might be part of the reason why so many people have started using Snapchat.

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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