The Future Of Marketing In An Increasingly Ad-Free World

Michael Brenner

The future of marketing is being debated by leaders in our industry. Some see a shift to more customer-focused content marketing. Others want to continue pushing product promotion content interruptions. Which side are you on?

Ad blocking gets serious

There are approximately 200 million monthly active users of ad blockers globally, according to a recent study by Adobe and PageFair. And a more recent study by Comscore found that 10% of U.S. consumers are already using ad blocking.

Apple’s mobile operating system now allows users to enable ad blocking, so expect to see much higher ad blocker usage this year.

Brands are going out of their way to get and keep consumer eyeballs. Packaged goods giant Unilever, for example, has so far spent $15 million on its “future hunting” Foundry program, in hopes of connecting with marketing-tech startups to earn more consumer attention, loyalty, and ultimately, sales.

Ad blocking is not the only challenge marketers are facing. According to Deloitte, 55% of TV programming is now viewed via DVRs, video-streaming subscriptions, and other sources. And for millennials ages 14 to 25, this number jumps up to 72%.

People are no longer consuming media the same way a mass audience would in the past. They are now customizing content according to their own preferences. Rather than fighting this fragmentation, many companies, like Clorox Co., are embracing it.

Clorox has shifted more than 40% of its media spending to digital. Using programmatic media, the company is able to not only save money but reach people with more relevant ads to convert them into sales. According to Clorox chief marketing officer Eric Reynolds, this is the secret to their steady growth.

Improved targeting is only one part of the agenda. The industry also needs to find more creative, effective ways to reach today’s consumers, either by making it harder for viewers to avoid ads or to get them to opt in.

Increasing popularity of unavoidable ads

Some companies are spending their marketing dollars on media where ads are harder to avoid. For example, GE has shifted money to sports programming like NFL football and NCAA games. Others are pouring their dollars into the least avoidable forms of digital advertising. Pre-roll, search, and mobile newsfeed ads on Facebook and Google are increasingly annoying and impossibly difficult to avoid, even with ad blockers on.

What makes Google and Facebook so attractive for marketers though isn’t just their relative immunity to ad blockers alone; their huge audiences also allow brands to minimize costs while maximizing reach.

Content marketing on the rise?

More marketers are doing content marketing now if they haven’t already. But not everyone is a fan. Procter & Gamble global brand officer Marc Pritchard is one of them. He feels the term content marketing itself is “overused and underdefined.

Pritchard prefers calling marketers’ work “advertising,” since at the end day it’s about influencing consumer purchasing decisions to achieve a brand’s goals. And while I don’t agree with Pritchard that the term “content marketing” is still misunderstood by many in our industry, I don’t think calling it the exact opposite of what it is will help either.

PepsiCo Global Beverage Group president Brad Jakeman, on the other hand, wants the industry to stop using the term “advertising” in favor of “content.” Amen, brother! No one ever asked for an ad to interrupt their content experience. But everyone consumes content.

Love it or hate it, content marketing isn’t going away anytime soon. According to PQ Media, content marketing currently accounts for $67 billion in U.S. spending, and is expected to continue to grow.

It’s easy to imagine why Pritchard feels this way. P&G’s CEO doesn’t hand him a bucket of money to do marketing, especially not content marketing. The CEO of P&G and many other consumer brands wants their marketing team to make ads and coupons. And lots of them. Reach and frequency, baby!

And while they litter the streets and the airwaves with enough pieces of torn up paper to host a ticker tape parade, they “count what they catch.”

To many in the marketing world, reach and frequency is awesome. It is the source of their budget and power. It is easy to buy reach and frequency and shout into the wind. Who cares if no one hears it?

Just don’t ask Pritchard, and countless other CMOs who love their big advertising budgets, to try and figure out engagement.

I once said this to a big brand CMO (right to his face) after he told me they only care about reach: “Well, I guess you can shout into the wind, or you can engage directly with your target audience.” I was suggesting they try and measure engagement.

He didn’t care. He wasn’t moved. He certainly didn’t change. He just went and bought more ads.

Making avoidable ads unavoidable

With the growth of content marketing, it’s often assumed that the creative and production costs associated with content marketing would be higher compared to media spending.

However, a recent survey by Percolate found that 20% of overall marketing budgets are allocated to creative costs, and the biggest driver is not content marketing.

Marketers are now spending more on creative costs for traditional ads to make them more appealing to their target audience so viewers will not avoid them.

New face for brick-and-mortar stores

People can avoid ads, but they still have to buy things. To reach people in store, brands have to find new ways to encourage people to make purchases in stores rather than online.

Revlon, a brand that has relied heavily on traditional advertising and promotion displays in the past, began experimenting with adding beauty consultants to cosmetics counters in shopping malls. The brand hopes to use trial samples to drive purchases at stores. Hey, this feels more like content marketing than advertising. Help your customers and they will be more likely to buy from you.

Even fast-food chains are revamping their physical stores as a marketing tactic to attract more customers. Domino’s Pizza, for instance, has renovated 2,000 stores as part of its “pizza theater re-image,” with openly visible kitchens that allow customers to order and watch their pizzas being made.

Similarly, Wendy’s has opted for a more contemporary look, with fireplaces, flat-screen TVs and low-slung, cushioned chairs. Many grocery stores, such as Kroger, are also getting a face-lift to look more upscale, adding higher-end amenities such as coffee shops and sushi and oyster bars.

The new brick and mortar: Amazon

While e-commerce represents a very small percentage of total grocery sales – estimated at 2%, according to Morgan Stanley – it inevitably still has an impact on margins, particularly in-store promotions. With customers taking fewer trips to the shopping malls, in-store displays are reaching fewer and fewer people.

And 2016 may actually be the year for grocery e-commerce. Morgan Stanley’s consumer survey found that 26% of online shoppers are expected to purchase groceries online this year, up from only 8% a year ago.

This trend explains why many companies, such as Clorox, are dedicating more promotion resources to e-commerce sites and businesses like Amazon and While one would think that big retail players like Target and Walmart would be consolidating, the reality is that retail is fragmenting too, like marketing and media. Small-format stores are growing in number as a result of urbanization, requiring big companies to reallocate and diversify their resources.

“Native advertising for e-commerce”

P&G is the world’s biggest ad spender for “point-of-market entry,” or sampling. It offers customers samples of its products at times when customers are most likely going to make brand decisions. For example, in the past P&G has provided samples of Pampers diapers to maternity wards and at Lamaze classes.

This growing interest in targeting and reaching consumers with product samples at the right moment, even when they are not shopping at stores physically, has fueled the growth of companies like Exact Media, which specializes in distributing highly targeted sample packages to consumers. In the last year alone, Exact Media’s sales has tripled, with big clients like P&G, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever under its belt.

Exact Media’s CEO Ray Cao says the idea is like “native advertising for e-commerce.” He explains, “If I’m getting a shirt, and I also get a sample of laundry detergent, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting a random banner ad.”

Maybe P&G isn’t lost forever.

Rethinking product packaging

Coke’s “Share a Coke” labels, which feature people’s names printed on the bottles, is perhaps one of the best examples of customizing packaging to better connect and reach consumers.

Many other brands are also tapping into customized packaging to get closer to their customers. Clorox’s Brita, for example, has partnered with Amazon to sell chip-enabled water filters, which will automatically generate online orders of replacements when a customer’s old filter is almost used up.

Technological advances such as digital printing, conductive inks, Bluetooth-enabled packaging, and near-field communications for mobile phones, are opening up endless possibilities for brands to re-imagine their packaging to better engage consumers and win their loyalty.

The future of marketing focuses on customer value

OK, so traditional marketing tactics are not dead. Many are finding new ways to reach, engage, and convert their target consumers by focusing on providing value. But let’s please not call all this cool stuff “advertising.” It’s just what marketing is supposed to be: helpful!

What do you think? Have you seen any other disruptive trends or ideas that you think marketers should know or try out? Please share your thoughts below!

Photo Source: flickr

To learn how you can start to create content people actually want, contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help, or subscribe here to receive my latest updates.

The post The Future Of Marketing In An Increasingly Ad-Free World appeared first on Marketing Insider Group.


About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, former Head of Strategy at NewsCred, and the former VP of Global Content Marketing here at SAP. Michael is also the co-author of the book The Content Formula, a contributor to leading publications like The Economist, Inc Magazine, The Guardian, and Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to the Marketing Insider.

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends And Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015

Sunny Popali

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends & Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.

Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:

  1. Email marketing will need to become smarter

Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.

  1. Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable

Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.

Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.

  1. Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever

It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.

  1. Big Data for personalization plays a key role

Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.

  1. Visual media matters

A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?

A few more tips:

  • Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
  • Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
  • Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
  • Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
  • Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.

Want more insight on how digital marketing is evolving? See Shutterstock Report: The Face Of Marketing Is Changing — And It Doesn’t Include Vince Vaughn.


About Sunny Popali

Sunny Popali is SEO Director at Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.

Social Media Matters: 6 Content And Social Media Trend Predictions For 2016 [INFOGRAPHIC]

Julie Ellis

As 2015 winds down, it’s time to look forward to 2016 and explore the social media and content marketing trends that will impact marketing strategies over the next 15 months or so.

Some of the upcoming trends simply indicate an intensification of current trends, however others indicate that there are new things that will have a big impact in 2016.

Take a look at a few trends that should definitely factor in your planning for 2016.

1. SEO will focus more on social media platforms and less on search engines

Clearly Google is going nowhere. In fact, in 2016 Google’s word will still essentially be law when it comes to search engine optimization.

However, in 2016 there will be some changes in SEO. Many of these changes will be due to the fact that users are increasingly searching for products and services directly from websites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

There are two reasons for this shift in customer habits:

  • Customers are relying more and more on customer comments, feedback, and reviews before making purchasing decisions. This means that they are most likely to search directly on platforms where they can find that information.
  • Customers who are seeking information about products and services feel that video- and image-based content is more trustworthy.

2. The need to optimize for mobile and touchscreens will intensify

Consumers are using their mobile devices and tablets for the following tasks at a sharply increasing rate:

  • Sending and receiving emails and messages
  • Making purchases
  • Researching products and services
  • Watching videos
  • Reading or writing reviews and comments
  • Obtaining driving directions and using navigation apps
  • Visiting news and entertainment websites
  • Using social media

Most marketers would be hard-pressed to look at this list and see any case for continuing to avoid mobile and touchscreen optimization. Yet, for some reason many companies still see mobile optimization as something that is nice to do, but not urgent.

This lack of a sense of urgency seemingly ignores the fact that more than 80% of the highest growing group of consumers indicate that it is highly important that retailers provide mobile apps that work well. According to the same study, nearly 90% of Millennials believe that there are a large number of websites that have not done a very good job of optimizing for mobile.

3. Content marketing will move to edgier social media platforms

Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat weren’t considered to be valid targets for mainstream content marketing efforts until now.

This is because they were considered to be too unproven and too “on the fringe” to warrant the time and marketing budget investments, when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were so popular and had proven track records when it came to content marketing opportunity and success.

However, now that Instagram is enjoying such tremendous growth, and is opening up advertising opportunities to businesses beyond its brand partners, it (along with other platforms) will be seen as more and more viable in 2016.

4. Facebook will remain a strong player, but the demographic of the average user will age

In 2016, Facebook will likely remain the flagship social media website when it comes to sharing and promoting content, engaging with customers, and increasing Internet recognition.

However, it will become less and less possible to ignore the fact that younger consumers are moving away from the platform as their primary source of online social interaction and content consumption. Some companies may be able to maintain status quo for 2016 without feeling any negative impacts.

However, others may need to rethink their content marketing strategies for 2016 to take these shifts into account. Depending on their branding and the products or services that they offer, some companies may be able to profit from these changes by customizing the content that they promote on Facebook for an older demographic.

5. Content production must reflect quality and variety

  • Both B2B and B2C buyers value video based content over text based content.
  • While some curated content is a good thing, consumers believe that custom content is an indication that a company wishes to create a relationship with them.
  • The great majority of these same consumers report that customized content is useful for them.
  • B2B customers prefer learning about products and services through content as opposed to paid advertising.
  • Consumers believe that videos are more trustworthy forms of content than text.

Here is a great infographic depicting the importance of video in content marketing efforts:
Small Business Video infographic

A final, very important thing to note when considering content trends for 2016 is the decreasing value of the keyword as a way of optimizing content. In fact, in an effort to crack down on keyword stuffing, Google’s optimization rules have been updated to to kick offending sites out of prime SERP positions.

6. Oculus Rift will create significant changes in customer engagement

Oculus Rift is not likely to offer much to marketers in 2016. After all, it isn’t expected to ship to consumers until the first quarter. However, what Oculus Rift will do is influence the decisions that marketers make when it comes to creating customer interaction.

For example, companies that have not yet embraced storytelling may want to make 2016 the year that they do just that, because later in 2016 Oculus Rift may be the platform that their competitors will be using to tell stories while giving consumers a 360-degree vantage point.

For a deeper dive on engaging with customers through storytelling, see Brand Storytelling: Where Humanity Takes Center Stage.


About Julie Ellis

Julie Ellis – marketer and professional blogger, writes about social media, education, self-improvement, marketing and psychology. To contact Julie follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

From E-Business to V-Business

Josh Waddell, Pascal Lessard, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Fawn Fitter

Some moments are so instantly, indelibly etched into pop culture that they shape the way we think for years to come. For virtual reality (VR), that moment may have been the scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix when the Keanu Reeves character Neo learns that his entire life has been a computer-generated simulation so fully realized that he could have lived it out never knowing that he was actually an inert body in an isolation tank. Ever since, that has set the benchmark for VR: as a digital experience that seems completely, convincingly real.

Today, no one is going to be unaware, Matrix-like, that they’re wearing an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard headset, but the virtual worlds already available to us are catching up to what we’ve imagined they could be at a startling rate. It’s been hard to miss all the Pokémon Go players bumping into one another on the street as they chased animated characters rendered in augmented reality (AR), which overlays and even blends digital artifacts seamlessly with the actual environment around us.

Believe the Hype

For all the justifiable hype about the exploding consumer market for VR and, to a lesser extent, AR, there’s surprisingly little discussion of their latent business value—and that’s a blind spot that companies and CIOs can’t afford to have. It hasn’t been that long since consumer demand for the iPhone and iPad forced companies, grumbling all the way, into finding business cases for them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images1If digitally enhanced reality generates even half as much consumer enthusiasm as smartphones and tablets, you can expect to see a new wave of consumerization of IT as employees who have embraced VR and AR at home insist on bringing it to the workplace. This wave of consumerization could have an even greater impact than the last one. Rather than risk being blindsided for a second time, organizations would be well advised to take a proactive approach and be ready with potential business uses for VR and AR technologies by the time they invade the enterprise.

They don’t have much time to get started.

The two technologies are already making inroads in fields as diverse as medicine, warehouse operations, and retail. And make no mistake: the possibilities are breathtaking. VR can bring human eyes to locations that are difficult, dangerous, or physically impossible for the human body, while AR can deliver vast amounts of contextual information and guidance at the precise time and place they’re needed.

As consumer adoption and acceptance drives down costs, enterprise use cases for VR and AR will blossom. In fact, these technologies could potentially revolutionize the way companies communicate, manage employees, and digitize and automate operations. Yet revolution is rarely bloodless. The impact will probably alter many aspects of the workplace that we currently take for granted, and we need to think through the implications of those changes.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images2Digital Realities, Defined

VR and AR are related, but they’re not so much siblings as cousins. VR is immersive. It creates a fully realized digital environment that users experience through goggles or screens (and sometimes additional equipment that provides physical feedback) that make them feel like they’re surrounded by and interacting entirely within this created world.

AR, by contrast, is additive. It displays text or images in glasses, on a window or windshield, or inside a mirror, but the user is still aware of and interacting with reality. There is also an emerging hybrid called “mixed reality,” which is essentially AR with VR-quality digital elements, that superimposes holographic images on reality so convincingly that trying to touch them is the only way to be sure they aren’t actually there.

Although VR is a hot topic, especially in the consumer gaming world, AR has far more enterprise use cases, and several enterprise apps are already in production. In fact, industry analyst Digi-Capital forecasts that while VR companies will generate US$30 billion in revenue by 2020, AR companies will generate $120 billion, or four times as much.

Both numbers are enormous, especially given how new the VR/AR market is. As recently as 2014, it barely existed, and almost nothing available was appropriate for enterprise users. What’s more, the market is evolving so quickly that standards and industry leaders have yet to emerge. There’s no guarantee that early market entrants like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and HTC’s Vive will continue to exist, never mind set enduring benchmarks.

Nonetheless, it’s already clear that these technologies will have a major impact on both internal and customer-facing business. They will make customer service more accurate, personalized, and relevant. They will reduce human risk and enhance public safety. They will streamline operations and smash physical boundaries. And that’s just the beginning.

Cleveland Clinic: Healing from the Next Room

Medicine is already testing the limits of learning with VR and AR.

sap_q316_digital_double_feature1_imageseightThe most potentially disruptive operational use of VR and AR could be in education and training. With VR, students can be immersed in any environment, from medieval architecture to molecular biology, in classroom groups or on demand, to better understand what they’re studying. And no industry is pursuing this with more enthusiasm than medicine. Even though Google Glass hasn’t been widely adopted elsewhere, for example, it’s been a big success story in the medical world.

Pamela Davis, MD, senior vice president for medical affairs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the leading proponents of medical education using VR and AR. She’s the dean of the university’s medical school, which is working with Cleveland Clinic to develop the Microsoft HoloLens “mixed reality” device for medical education and training, turning MRIs and other conventional 2D medical images into 3D images that can be projected at the site of a procedure for training and guidance during surgery. “As you push a catheter into the heart or place a deep brain stimulation electrode, you can see where you want to be and guide your actions by watching the hologram,” Davis explains.

The HoloLens can also be programmed as a “lead” device that transmits those images and live video to other “learner” devices, allowing the person wearing the lead device to provide oversight and input. This will enable a single doctor to demonstrate a delicate procedure up-close to multiple students at once, or do patient examinations remotely in an emergency or epidemic.

Davis herself was convinced of the technology’s broader potential during a demonstration in which she put on a learner HoloLens and rewired a light switch, something decidedly outside her expertise, under the guidance of an engineer wearing a lead HoloLens in the next room. In the near future, she predicts, it will help people perform surgery and other sensitive, detailed tasks not just from the next room, but from the next state or country.

Customer Experience: From E-Commerce to V-Commerce

Consumers are already getting used to sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images3thinking of VR and AR in the context of entertainment. Companies interested in the technologies should be thinking about how they might engage consumers as part of the buying experience.

Because the technologies deliver more information and a better shopping experience with less effort, e-commerce is going to give rise to v-commerce, where people research, interact with, and share products in VR and AR before they order them online or go to a store to make a purchase.

Online eyewear retailers already allow people to “try on” glasses virtually and share the images with friends to get their feedback, but that’s rudimentary compared to what’s emerging.

Mirrors as Personal Shoppers

Clothing stores from high-end boutiques to low-end fashion chains are experimenting with AR mirrors that take the shopper’s measurements and recommend outfits, showing what items look like without requiring the customer to undress.

Instant Designer Shows

Luxury design house Dior uses Oculus Rift VR goggles to let its well-heeled customers experience a runway show without flying to Paris.

Custom Shopping Malls

British designer Allison Crank has created an experimental VR shopping mall. As people walk through it, they encounter virtual people (and the occasional zoo animal) and shop in stores stocked only with items that users are most likely to buy, based on past purchase information and demographic data.

A New Perspective

IKEA’s AR application lets shoppers envisage a piece of furniture in the room they plan to use it in. They can look at products from the point of view of a specific height—useful for especially tall or short customers looking for comfortable furniture or for parents trying to design rooms that are safe for a toddler or a young child.

Painless Do-it-Yourself Instructions

Instead of forcing customers to puzzle over a diagram or watch an online video, companies will be able to offer customers detailed VR or AR demonstrations that show how to assemble and disassemble products for use, cleaning, and storage.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images4Operations and Management: Revealing the Details

The customer-facing benefits of VR and AR are inarguably flashy, but it’s in internal business use that these technologies promise to shine brightest: boosting efficiency and productivity, eliminating previously unavoidable risks, and literally giving employers and managers new ways to look at information and operations. The following examples aren’t blue-sky cases; experts say they’re promising, realistic, and just around the corner.

Real-Time Guidance

A combination of AR glasses and audio essentially creates a user-specific, contextually relevant guidance system that confirms that wearers are in the right place, looking at the right thing, and taking the right action. This technology could benefit almost any employee who is not working at a desk: walking field service reps through repair procedures, guiding miners to the best escape route in an emergency, or optimizing home health aides’ driving routes and giving them up-to-date instructions and health data when they arrive at each patient’s home.

Linking to the Hidden

AR technology will be able to display any type of information the wearer needs to know. Linked to facial identification software, it could help police officers identify suspects or missing persons in real time. Used to visualize thermal gradients, chemical signatures, radioactivity, and other things that are invisible to the naked eye, it could help researchers refine their experiments or let insurance claims assessors spot arson. Similarly, VR will allow users to create and manipulate detailed three-dimensional models of everything from molecules to large machinery so that they can examine, explore, and change them.

Reducing the Human Risk

VR will allow users to perform high-risk jobs while reducing their need to be in harm’s way. The users will be able to operate equipment remotely while seeing exactly what they would if they were there, a use case that is ideal for industries like mining, firefighting, search and rescue, and toxic site cleanup. While VR won’t necessarily eliminate the need for humans to perform these high-risk jobs, it will improve their safety, and it will allow companies to pursue new opportunities in situations that remain too dangerous for humans.

Reducing the Commercial Risk

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images5VR can also reduce an entirely different type of operational risk: that of introducing new products and services. Manufacturers can let designers or even customers “test” a product, gather their feedback, and tweak the design accordingly before the product ever goes into production. Indeed, auto manufacturer Ford has already created a VR Immersion Lab for its engineers, which, among other things, helped them redesign the interior of the 2015 Ford Mustang to make the dashboard and windshield wipers more user-friendly, according to Fortune. In addition to improving customer experience, this application of VR is likely to accelerate product development and shorten time to market.

Similarly, retailers can use VR to create and test branch or franchise location designs on the fly to optimize traffic flow, product display, the accessibility of products, and even decor. Instead of building models or concept stores, a designer will be able to create the store design with VR, do a virtual walkthrough with executives, and adjust it in real time until it achieves the desired effect.

Seeing in Tongues

At some point, we will see an AR app that can translate written language in near-real time, which will dramatically streamline global business communications. Mobile apps already exist to do this in certain languages, so it’s just a matter of time before we can slip on glasses that let us read menus, signs, agendas, and documents in our native tongue.

Decide with the Eye

More dramatically, AR project management software will be able to deliver real-time data at a literal glance. On a construction site, for example, simply scanning the area could trigger data about real-time costs, supply inventories, planned versus actual spending, employee and equipment scheduling, and more. By linking to construction workers’ own AR glasses that provide information about what to know and do at any given location and time, managers could also evaluate and adjust workloads.

Squeeze Distance

Farther in the future, VR and AR will create true telepresence, enhancing collaboration and potentially replacing in-person meetings. Users could transmit AR holograms of themselves to someone else’s office, allowing them to be seen as if they were in the room. We could have VR workspaces with high-fidelity avatars that transmit characteristic facial expressions and gestures. Companies could show off a virtual product in a virtual room with virtual coworkers, on demand.

Reduce Carbon Footprint

If nothing else, true telepresence could practically eliminate business travel costs. More critically, though, in an era of rising temperatures and shrinking resources, the ability to create and view virtual people and objects rather than manufacturing and transporting physical artifacts also conserves materials and reduces the use of fossil fuel.

Employees: Under Observation

The strength of digitally enhanced reality—and AR in particular—is its ability to determine a user’s context and deliver relevant information accordingly. This makes it valuable for monitoring and managing employee behavior and performance. Employees could, for example, use the location and time data recorded by AR glasses to prove that they were (or weren’t) in a particular place at a particular time. The same glasses could provide them with heads-up guided navigation, alert employers that they’re due for a legally mandated break, verify that they completed an assigned task, and confirm hours worked without requiring them to fill out a timesheet.

However, even as these capabilities improve data governance and help manage productivity, they also raise critical issues of privacy and autonomy (see The Norms of Virtual Behavior). If you’re an employee using VR or AR technology, and if your company is leveraging it to monitor your performance, who owns that information? Who’s allowed to use it, and for what purposes? These are still open legal questions for these technologies.

Another unsettled—and unsettling—question is how far employers can use these technologies to direct employees’ work. While employers have the right to tell employees how to do their jobs, autonomy is a key component of workplace satisfaction. The extent to which employees are required to let a pair of AR glasses govern their actions could have a direct impact on hiring and retention.

Finally, these technologies could be one more step toward greater automation. A warehouse-picking AR application that guides pickers to the appropriate product faster makes them more productive and saves them from having to memorize hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. But the same technology that can guide a person will also be able to guide a semiautonomous robot.

The Norms of Virtual Behavior

VR and AR could disrupt our social norms and take identity hacking to a new level.

The future of AR and VR isn’t without its hazards. We’ve all witnessed how distracting and even dangerous smartphones can be, but at least people have to pull a phone out of a pocket before getting lost in the screen. What happens when the distraction is sitting on their faces?

This technology is going to affect how we interact, both in the workplace and out of it. The annoyance verging on rage that met the first people wearing Google Glass devices in public proves that we’re going to need to evolve new social norms. We’ll need to signal how engaged we are with what’s right in front of us when we’re wearing AR glasses, what we’re doing with the glasses while we interact, or whether we’re paying attention at all.

More sinister possibilities will present themselves down the line. How do you protect sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorized or “shadow” VR/AR devices? How do you prove you’re the one operating your avatar in a virtual meeting? How do you know that the person across from you is who they say they are and not a competitor or industrial spy who’s stolen a trusted avatar? How do you keep someone from hacking your VR or AR equipment to send you faulty data, flood your field of vision with disturbing images, or even direct you into physical danger?

As the technology gets more sophisticated, VR and AR vendors will have to start addressing these issues.

Technical Challenges

To realize the full business value of VR and AR, companies will need to tackle certain technical challenges. To be precise, they’ll have to wait for the vendors to take them on, because the market is still so new that standards and practices are far from mature.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images6For one thing, successful implementation requires devices (smartphones, tablets, and glasses, for now) that are capable of delivering, augmenting, and overlaying information in a meaningful way. Only in the last year or so has the available hardware progressed beyond problems like overheating with demand, too-small screens, low-resolution cameras, insufficient memory, and underpowered batteries. While hardware is improving, so many vendors have emerged that companies have a hard time choosing among their many options.
The proliferation of devices has also increased software complexity. For enterprise VR and AR to take off, vendors need to create software that can run on the maximum number of devices with minimal modifications. Otherwise, companies are limited to software based on what it’s capable of doing on their hardware of choice, rather than software that meets their company’s needs.

The lack of standards only adds to the confusion. Porting data to VR or AR systems is different from mobilizing front-end or even back-end systems, because it requires users to enter, display, and interact with data in new ways. For devices like AR glasses that don’t use a keyboard or touch screen, vendors must determine how to enter data (voice recognition? eye tracking? image recognition?), how to display it legibly in any given environment, and whether to develop their own user interface tools or work with a third party.

Finally, delivering convincing digital enhancements to reality demands such vast amounts of data that many networks simply can’t accommodate it. Much as videoconferencing didn’t truly take off until high-speed broadband became widely available, VR and AR adoption will lag until a zero-latency infrastructure exists to
support them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images7Coming Soon to a Face Near You

For all that VR and AR solutions have improved dramatically in a short time, they’re still primarily supplemental to existing systems, and not just because the software is still evolving. Wearables still have such limited processing power, memory, and battery life that they can handle only a small amount of information. That said, hardware is catching up quickly (see The Supporting Cast).

The Supporting Cast

VR and AR would still be science fiction if it weren’t for these supporting technologies.

The latest developments in VR and AR technologies wouldn’t be possible without other breakthroughs that bring things once considered science fiction squarely into the realm of science fact:

  • Advanced semiconductor designs pack more processing power into less space.
  • Microdisplays fit more information onto smaller screens.
  • New power storage technologies extend battery life while shrinking battery size.
  • Development tools for low-latency, high-resolution image rendering and improved 3D-graphics displays make digital artifacts more realistic and detailed.
  • Omnidirectional cameras that can record in 360 degrees simultaneously create fully immersive environments.
  • Plummeting prices for accelerometers lower the cost of VR devices.

Companies in the emerging VR/AR industry are encouraging the makers of smartglasses and safety glasses to work together to create ergonomic smartglasses that deliver information in a nondistracting way and that are also comfortable to wear for an eight-hour shift.

The argument in favor of VR and AR for business is so powerful that once vendors solve the obvious hardware problems, experts predict that existing enterprise mobile apps will quickly start to include VR or AR components, while new apps will emerge to satisfy as yet unmet needs.

In other words, it’s time to start thinking about how your company might put these technologies to use—and how to do so in a way that minimizes concerns about data privacy, corporate security, and employee comfort. Because digitally enhanced reality is coming tomorrow, so business needs to start planning for it today. D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.



Make No Mistake – Social Media is Massively Affecting The Sales Process (And Here's Why)

Malcolm Hamilton

These days, if your business strategy isn’t aligned with your social media plan, you are needlessly making both your sales and marketing teams work overtime. This can end up costing your company HUGE amounts of money. One extensive study shows that 60% to 80% of today’s B2B technology and vendor selection processes are conducted in the digital world, which often are invisible to your company and your sales teams. This is why it is critical that your company brand and value proposition are highly visible to these invisible buyers across as many social media platforms as possible.

Studies show that B2B companies that have effective sales and marketing alignment are:

  • Outgrowing their peer group competitors by 5.4%
  • 38% better at closing proposals
  • Lowering their churn rates by 36%

The trouble is that it can be hard to get sales and marketing on the same page because the nature of their work is so different. It’s no one’s fault, but sales needs to rely on marketing to do more outbound lead generation, advertising, and outreach, and marketing needs sales to quickly follow up on marketing-generated leads, hand back stalled leads for nurture tailored to each buyer’s journey, and close deals. There has rarely been much love between sales and marketing departments, because each one often thinks the other one is either slacking off or simply not adding value.

The fact is digital & social marketing is at the heart of sales, the lines between sales and marketing have been steadily blurring, and social media and digital marketing are at the heart of this intersection. Social sales means that marketing has to drive awareness in order to help develop a company’s brand and the brand’s value proposition, a process that relies extra heavily on the marketing department. Let’s take a closer look at how marketing can offer sales a lot of help in today’s world of social media.

How marketing can help sales win more deals

Salespeople need to lean on the marketing team for a variety of things in order to make sure that they are using social media in the best ways. For example, marketing can:

  • Help sales teams come up with social updates that foster engagement with new clients and actually work
  • Generate tailored and compelling content that will move customer prospects that are frozen in the sales pipeline
  • Lend a hand with creating content that their prospects will value and respond to
  • Figure out a way to make the company really stand out from the crowd on social media
  • Listen to the ideas that sales team members have and put them to work
  • Help sales team members position themselves as thought leaders in their target industry sectors
  • Help keep all social media messaging on-brand across platforms
  • Use analytics to track performance across platforms – salespeople love to see results

So how does marketing help accomplish these goals? Here are two tools that can help sales and marketing teams stay on top of their social media game.

  • GaggleAmp enables companies to aggregate social media updates and quickly and easily send notifications out to team members that they can share on various social media platforms with just a couple of clicks. The app can even keep track of how many shares a post is getting and then let you compare certain posts with others to see which is performing better. It’s a pretty cool way to keep sales and social media interested in the same game.
  • helps sales and social media intermingle by leveraging the power of your teams to send out consistent, effective posts. It breaks down the interactions that are happening on different networks and with different posts and helps you understand which ones your audience is engaging with most so you can refine your marketing strategy.

How sales can help marketing do an even better job

Sales can also help marketing move its goals along when it comes to success on social media. Salespeople can:

  • Communicate in a clear manner so marketing understands what they need
  • Openly share numbers and forecasts so marketing has a better grasp of how you are succeeding and where you’re falling short
  • Offer tips for keeping messaging more on-point
  • Provide regular feedback into how lead generation and follow-up are going
  • Hand stalled leads back to marketing for further nurture
  • Hang back and let them work their magic
  • Provide direction to marketing on the current buying drivers for prospects and target businesses

How social media marketing and sales can work together

There are some definite steps that these two teams can take to make sure they are working together in the most effective way. Here are a few tips for helping the teams stay on the same page:

  • Regular meetings: It sounds simple enough, but actually getting sales and marketing teams together to talk regularly can work wonders for both. It’s incredibly important for keeping your social media game on point and helps to resolve any miscommunication or issues that might be happening on either side. Research shows that businesses that are sales and marketing aligned grow five percent to 10% faster than their peer group.
  • Content process: Sales reps engage with prospects all of the time, but to be effective they need to know what will get prospects excited. Teams can stay in the loop by making sure there is a process in place to create content for social media by gathering info at weekly brainstorming sessions, using shared docs to collect ideas, and coordinating an editorial calendar so everyone knows what content you are putting out there and when.
  • Get schedules in sync: Social media is a great way to put new offers and content out there, but the sales team needs to stay up-to-date with promotions so they can respond to leads in the right way. Keep promotions on a shared calendar, and keep sales teams looped in on whatever offers your company is putting out there. It’s also helpful for sales staff to have talking points on the offer and its value to the customer.
  • Listen: At the end of the day, teams just need to listen to each other to get better at their jobs. It’s a great way to learn about what customers really want and need and to get ideas for future social media content creation.

The bottom line is that social media is a huge part of how sales teams are drumming up high-quality leads today, so it’s more important than ever for marketing and sales teams to stay aligned.

The caveat

I believe I have one of the best marketing jobs in the world as a global channel marketing manager for the world’s leading business software company, SAP. I get to travel around the globe delivering leading-edge knowledge transfer workshops to our business partners, where we share these trends and guidance on how to initiate the necessary change management to capitalize on the incredible power of digital and social media marketing

And I am witnessing a very definite trend. Those partners that are aligning and applying these digital and social marketing best practices after attending the workshops are experiencing significant uplift in net new business. There is a BUT. Measurable impact and ROI are not always felt overnight, so leadership has to exercise patience. Build a 12-month strategic plan that captures objectives for your digital and social media go to market and measure, measure, measure.

Stop confining social media to marketing. To boost returns, it must be embedded into how companies do business. In a Live Business, Social Gets Its MBA.


Malcolm Hamilton

About Malcolm Hamilton

Malcolm Hamilton is Director of Global Strategic Initiatives for Global Indirect Channel Marketing (GIC) team at SAP. He has a proven track record of building and executing leading edge Channel Marketing & Sales & enablement programs. During a career that spans close to two decades, Malcolm is widely regarded as an IT industry thought leader and innovator with international experience in working with channel partners.