Making Commerce Better – Recapping a talk by Shopify’s Satish Kanwar at AndroidTO

I meant to start writing this post earlier today when I found myself browsing Facebook instead. It happens… But my Facebook feed pointed  me right back to the topic by presenting me with a funny image that made me think of Satish Kanwar’s talk at AndroidTO.

The caption read, “Best Buy: Try it out before buying it on Amazon.” Funny but true, though “Amazon: Read about it before buying it at Best Buy” would be just as true. 

There’s a reason Kanwar didn’t use the terms “e-commerce” or “online shopping” in his title. One of his core points was that it’s all just commerce and shopping. If you research the product in store then purchase online, is that online shopping?

If you research it online then buy in store, is that bricks and mortar or just self-service 1-hour delivery?

Kanwar made the case for moving past the ideas of online and offline commerce to just “commerce”. He showed how online transactions are just a fraction of the pie, and how online shopping  influences offline purchasing.  Buyers don’t align their behaviour to the constructs of “online” vs. “offline”, they mix and match their shopping related activities according to their preferences. And millennials, he pointed out, expect a seamless experience across mediums. Gone are the days when it was accepted that the online and bricks & mortar versions of a store would be very different.

An interesting study he referenced said that if a retailer’s store is closed when customers want to shop there,  36% will buy it online from that retailer’s website and 22% will shop online for the best price. That 22% represents a great opportunity for small businesses.

The opportunity for small retail businesses was another theme of Kanwar’s talk. Opening large or numerous retail stores is a very costly proposition, and in the past, online buying was generally considered risky. So small businesses had a limited market to work with. Now that online shopping is more prevalent, small businesses – especially those with a solid mobile experience – can expand their market without a huge investment.

Kanwar listed 5 ways online businesses are democratizing the value chain, one of which not surprisingly his own company enables:

1. Get an idea (e.g. Google)
2. Build a prototype (e.g. Makerbot)
3. Raise funds (e.g. Kickstarter)
4. Sell orders (e.g. Shopify)
5. Ship products (e.g. Shipwire)

To demonstrate, he talked about an experiment he conducted, quickly creating and promoting (Twitter, Facebook) an online sock business. With the store up and running (via Shopify, of course) they sold $500 of socks in 24 hours. That experiment provides another lesson, too. There are lots of online and offline stores selling socks already but there was still clearly room for another. If your value proposition is unique or the market is big enough, there is opportunity.

His final premise was a bit less convincing, for me. He talked about the death of the department store. His premise was that department stores optimize for distribution and not necessarily for value or experience. With distribution becoming a commodity (home delivery options), he hypothesizes that department stores will die out in favour of online and experiential stores. (Experiences like the Apple store where customers get hands on with experts, or Lulu Lemon where customers might come in for a yoga class.)

He might be right, but I’m not quite convinced department stores will die. There’s a lot to be said for knowing the item you want is likely in stock and you can see and touch it before ordering. Innovative online retailers like Frank & Oak with home try-on and return options for clothing are definitely taking a bite out of traditional retailers but I have a feeling there will always be a place for shopping in store. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile what is clear is that the blending of mobile, online and in store shopping presents an opportunity for small businesses who can deliver value to customers. Kanwar referenced Andy Dunn’s “E-Commerce is a Bear” essay, summarizing four ways a retail business can differentiate:

1) Proprietary pricing (e.g. scarcity, time limited)

2) Proprietary selection (e.g. curated, narrow & deep for an audience)

3) Proprietary experience (e.g. subscription)

4) Proprietary merchandise (unique product)

Enabled by technology, small businesses can differentiate on any of these.

Lots of food for thought for anyone considering a retail business.

So where does Android fit into all of this? Android, Kanwar pointed out, is the fastest growing mobile platform so businesses wanting to take advantage of this new world of commerce need to make sure they have a solid Android experience.  And yes, he assured us, Shopify is on top of that.

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Is Your App Really Solving a Problem? Recap of a talk by Anthony Ilukwe at FITC Screens 2013

ilukwe-2-smI recently guest blogged again for FITC, this time at their Screens 2013 mobile and tablet development conference. Anthony Ilukwe gave an interesting talk to the developer attendees on how to decide which apps to devote time to and which ones to set aside.

Check it out on FITC’s blog.

“Content Marketing is BS!”

At a recent series of workshops aimed at startups, 5 of the 8 companies represented were directly in the content marketing space. So imagine our surprise with the PR expert began his talk by informing us loudly that, “Content Marketing is bullsh*t!”

We waited for the punchline that would indicate he was being ironic but no, that really was the premise of his talk. This was an old-school media relations guy who came to pitch a bunch of content marketers on why he thinks what we do has no value and we should focus solely on getting positive reviews of our products in “reputable” publications instead. But I’m glad I stayed, because the end of his talk was priceless.

He explained that “content marketing is just companies posting things saying how great our products are”, tipping us off that he wasn’t really opposed to content marketing, he just didn’t understand what CM is. A few in the audience tried to explain that CM is more about delivering relevant content that your customers will value than directly promoting your product, but PR Guy would have none of it. He kept going despite the obvious chill in the room, until he stated flatly that CM has no impact on customer behaviour, only “reputable publications” with “unbiased journalists” do because that’s all customers trust. I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. My time at SqueezeCMM had showed me how wrong he is.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I work with a company whose product measures the impact of content marketing on lead generation and conversions. The data clearly show that content marketing done well increases leads and conversions.”

The group held their collective breath waiting to see how this played out. PR Guy sputtered a few more comments, each one countered by someone in the room then finally read the room and saw that he was alone. “I was really just trying to be controversial,” he offered. “Mission Accomplished!” I replied with a smile and a thumbs up, which got a relieved laugh from the room. With the tension diffused, PR Guy launched back into his talk with a less hostile audience – but not an engaged one.

From that point on there were more people answering email on their phones than even pretending to pay attention. PR Guy shifted his focus to why traditional media relations are still necessary but it was too late. He’d lost the audience. The useful content in the rest of his talk was ignored by most because he’d forgotten PR 101 – know your audience.

So little attention was being paid that most missed his unintentionally ironic finish.

As he wrapped up his talk, PR Guy – Mr. Content Marketing is BS – said this:

“I hope you’ll all sign up for my company’s newsletter. It’s full of good tips on PR and dealing with the media. I think you’ll find it useful.”

It was all I could do not to giggle out loud. When he left, my peers said it was obvious from the twinkle in my eye that I found something funny but they didn’t know what, so I told them.

“Did you catch his suggestion that we sign up for his newsletter?”, I asked?

Now they got it. Mr. Content Marketing is BS really had closed his talk by promoting his company’s content!

PR 201 – If you’re going to take a stance against something, it’s probably good to know what it is.

And to think I was just shortening links…

One of my clients is moving out of beta today and boy, have I learned a lot working with them.

Like most people, since Twitter became so important for business communications, I was shortening links to get the most from my 140 characters. But until I started working with the team at @SqueezeCMM, I was missing a big opportunity – I was just shortening my links with whatever tool I happened to think of in the moment – bit.ly, tinyurl, etc. They did the job, I figured, and what more could I ask for? As it turns out, I could have asked for a LOT more.

My client, SqueezeCMM shortens links but they do a lot more. The founder, Jen Evans, is a content marketing pioneer, which means she was using blogs, whitepapers, infographics, slide decks and more to drive her customers’ businesses since before the term “content marketing” was coined. And to measure how well the content was doing the job, she used many different tools, like web analytics, social media analytics, email analytics… But she noticed a gap. The tools all measured how well a certain platform was performing (like a website or Twitter) but the customer’s content was hosted on many platforms and they were using many tools to promote it, so putting together meaningful data was a nightmare. Showing the value of the content and figuring out how to optimize it was impossible. There was no data for that. And many tools focus on when people SEE your content, not when they ACT on it by clicking links and signing up.

So Jen’s team invented SqueezeCMM. It’s a really powerful tool for marketers, especially those who promote a lot of links to a lot of platforms, but it’s pretty useful for bloggers and casual tweeters, too. For example, my SqueezeCMM reports show me which content resonates most with my audience on Twitter vs. my blog or Facebook and what’s most popular across all those. (Definitely #womenintech!) And it tells me which channels give me the best engagement (still Twitter, but with the detailed data I can figure out what to post to the others to get more action).

sandi-channels-assets

SqueezeCMM even tells me what day of the week is best for me to promote to each platform if I want people to click my links – and it’s not the same for my audience as the generic advice you can get online. I can even tell what day is best to promote different blogs based on when people are more likely to click thorough. Here’s a comparison of two blogs I’ve posted to frequently – one gets the most clicks on Mondays, the other on Tuesdays, regardless of when I post.

sandi-dayofweek-compare

Here’s where it got really cool, though. When I guest blogged for a conference, I squeezed the links within my blog that they uploaded to their own site. I included links to their information page, some YouTube videos, and the conference presenter’s bio. As soon as they posted my blog to their site, SqueezeCMM started reporting to me when people were clicking on those links. I have no access to that website, so even if they have Google Analytics or Omniture, I wouldn’t get those reports, but I could still see that my post was generating user engagement and demonstrate that to the people who asked me to write for them. I also built “paths” on Squeeze so I could see how many people who clicked from their site to my site continued on to click through my calls to action. It’s easy to see how valuable this would be to someone spending a lot of money on generating and promoting content.

The marketers we’re supporting use a lot of channels – dozens, even hundreds of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn… Then there are paid ads, sponsored posts, 3rd party directories, even printed brochures. And they can all link to the same content assets on several different sites with links in the asset to other sites and assets. Their needs are much more complex than mine, so what SqueezeCMM does for them is even cooler.

Over the past few months, I’ve talked to a lot of users and incorporated their feedback into the new features we’re launching when we move out of beta today. So now it’s time to sit back, applaud the SqueezeCMM team on a job well done, and wait to see if the users love the new features as much as they love the core product. It’s been a wild ride, and there’s nothing quite like a launch. Happy Launch Day, Squeezers!

(You can try SqueezeCMM for free by signing up for Casual Squeezer plan at http://www.squeezecmm.com. Let me know what you think.)

Social Media Feeds Don’t Tell the Whole Story

entering-DSC_0176

This month, I went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for the first time and it was a real eye opener in many ways. Not the least of these was as a chance to compare my impressions of CES through my social media feeds with what I was seeing first-hand.

I’ve always recognized that our feeds are naturally skewed by our choices. I try to include a broad range of sources but my interests and connections can’t help but colour my selections so like any media source, my feeds are limited by what those publishing to it choose to share and what I choose to seek out.

Based on my feeds, I was expecting to see much more emphasis on non-Apple phones than what I saw on site. My feeds were rife with news about Samsung, LG, Qualcomm and others, driven by big splashy booths, parties, multimedia campaigns and splashy speakers like President Clinton. But on the show floor,  I could not miss the ubiquity of Apple devices. The story on the floor was Apple Everywhere.

EVERY building was packed with iPad and iPhone accessories.

collage

Sure, there were accessories for other mobile devices, but you couldn’t swing a dead battery without hitting an Apple accessory. If you’ve ever thought, “Someone should make X for the iPhone,” someone probably has and was showing off their X at CES. You couldn’t miss the implication that while the other guys have cool new stuff, consumers LOVE iPhones and iPads so the apps, cases, batteries, keyboards, projectors, speakers, you name it.

My social media feeds kept talking about how Apple was not at CES, but really they didn’t need to be. Their partners were everywhere. In fact, the Salesforce.com Marketing Cloud analysis told the story that I wasn’t hearing from just reading my feeds.
socialcommandcropThat’s right. Even though they weren’t there, Apple was the 5th most talked about brand in Social Media related to CES.

I readily admit to be a number crunching geek, so the opportunity to see some of the stories behind the chatter based on Market Cloud’s numbers drew me in.  I’d seen my own feeds and I’d observed the floor, but  by scanning for #2013CES and many popular brands, the the tool cut through my perceptions and let the numbers speak for themselves. People were talking about Apple more than they talked about dozens of big name brands that were spending many tens of thousands of dollars on their CES presence.

It was a great reminder that while my social feeds are a great way to keep my finger on the pulse, it’s important to seek out other sources, checking perceptions against hard data, sometimes you can’t beat “being there”.

Illegal file sharing increases content revenue?

Illegal file sharing increases content revenue?

Conventional wisdom tells us that illegal file sharing reduces revenue to the content producers (films, music, etc.). This study suggests that might not be the case. It suggests that illegal file sharers promote the content they like, causing more people to actually pay for it.

What tech are you underestimating?

Around ’93, ’94, the conventional wisdom about the Internet was that it was a toy for academics and researchers. So it was very, very underestimated for about two years. – Marc Andreessen