Of all the ways the Internet has transformed our lives, there’s one change that surprises me most: our reading and communication habits. We are now a community of scanners, scrollers, and skimmers that spends more time interacting with screens than with each other. Letter writing has been reduced to tweets, emoticons, an alphabet soup of acronyms, and instant messaging. Even the Oxford Dictionary’s 2015 Word of the Year was the emoji “Face with Tears of Joy”!
Our digital environment has rewired how our brains consume and share information. People now read content to suit their purpose and find what they want without wasting time. In fact, most visitors only scroll halfway through a Web page – and only 16% of people still read them word for word.
Our attention span is down. Our impatience is up. And we’re easily distracted.
How can sales and marketing teams possibly hold peoples’ attention and keep them engaged? The key is understanding our rewired digital brains and knowing how to cut through the clutter.
10 ways to break through your consumers’ digital brains
Here are 10 steps that can help you get started – now.
1. Get your message out quickly and declutter to grab attention
Consumers will stay on your website long enough to see what’s offered if the content is relevant, engaging, and clear. By making your content stick in consumers’ brains, you can keep them engaged and encourage them to share this new-found knowledge. The key is knowing how much content is enough and whether it is eye catching and user friendly. And don’t be afraid to apply this to blogs, collateral, videos, and interactive demos.
2. Personalize and prove that you know your consumers
Use data-driven marketing to define your target audience and pinpoint what they worry about and want. Do not use a shotgun, one-size-fits-all approach. Draw on persona-based research to get a 360-degree understanding of your readers.
3. Stay tuned to all social media channels
Listen to what social media says about you, your competitors, and your industry by monitoring social channels. Not only will this information help fine-tune your persona research, but you can engage with consumers in discussions that are meaningful to them. For example, bounce off marketing or product ideas with your followers and open yourself up to their ideas as well. Drive people to your e-commerce site or other content that is interesting and relevant to them.
At all costs, do not self-promote. Rather, maintain a professional, thought-leadership approach that follows your brand’s communication and social media guidelines.
4. Keep your content concise and effective
People have become very adept at finding and consuming information quickly and efficiently. In turn, content consumers expect instant delivery of seamless, personalized, and hyper-relevant content at any moment.
There are 10 best practices that can help deliver this promise:
Make your strategic message – and, most important content – visible at a glance, especially in titles, imagery, and tweetable statements
Use short paragraphs and sentences
Favor the use of familiar phrases and words over industry and corporate jargon
Avoid passive tense whenever possible
Write copy optimized for search
Highlight keywords and use bulleted lists as appropriate
Get rid of needless repetition
Address your visitors directly
Use links to related topics instead of overcrowding information
Avoid content overkill
5. Select your tone of voice
The tone of your content helps define and differentiate your brand. How will your audience respond to the way you are talking to them? Do you want to create an emotional reaction or be conversational? What do you want them to know about your business and what it represents? Most of all, avoid marketing fluff and offer relevant information no matter what tone you use.
6. Create a brand bible and speak with one voice
Produce guidelines for all aspects of your company’s brand. This includes logo use, imagery, fonts, and colors as well as instructions on how to communicate across the entire business network. Consistency is vital to reinforcing your image.
7. Use images and video to complement your copy
Give your consumers an instant impression of your business and services. Through video, customers can see your brand story and value in a highly relatable and compelling way. Make sure videos and other graphical or rich media elements directly support your copy. Video is also trending for people who would rather see what you mean than read what you mean.
8. Keep it fresh and interactive
Your website and content are your company’s face to the world. Make sure it shows that your company is current on industry trends and actively engaged by regularly creating new content.
Make your website interactive to learn what content interests your readers. HTML-based assets create an interactive, participatory experience. Gamification can bring people into a new interactive experience. And quizzes, ROI, calculators, surveys, and contests can help you learn more about your audience while keeping things fun for your consumers. If appropriate, create a “try and buy” feature.
9. Assess and measure your content and delivery
With real-time analytics, you can track your visitors’ digital footprint, including time spent reading, bounce rates, and what content is of most interest. These stats can be fed back to sales and marketing for insight and follow-up on:
Content usefulness and relevance
Influences for better engagement
Findability and optimization of search results
Success metrics for the intended audience
Consistency with business priorities
Areas for improvement
Opportunities for monetization and new sales
10. Keep an eye on laptops, tablets, smartphones, and next-generation devices
People are using mobile devices more often than laptops, and for the marketplace that means a Web design that is clean, simple, and engaging. For example, adding hyperlinks to deeper content can guide people towards related topics. Choose fonts that are easy to read across devices and design every page as a landing page.
Smartphone use will continue to escalate, but you still need to be prepared for new devices as technology continues to advance. That’s why you need to create content that all audiences can view and interact with – no matter which device they use. Make sure your website can detect all devices and format content accordingly.
From distracted to engaged: A marketer’s dream come true
As attention spans shrink from minutes to mere seconds, giving consumers a reason to stay for more than a few seconds is getting harder. Slow Web page loads, cluttered content, confusing navigation, limited interaction – these are the attention killers.
If consumers are not engaged quickly, they jump off to something else. Worse yet, that can be to a competitor’s website. Can your content keep them engaged and ready to purchase? Maybe it’s time to take a look at your content and see if any of these tips can move your audience from distracted to engaged and loyal.
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About Jesse Kalfel
Jesse Kalfel is the Director of Creative Services, Global Marketing Communications at SAP. His specialties include marketing communications, strategic planning, demand generation, go-to-market strategy and product marketing.
The 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
Read the Digitalist Magazine and get the latest insights about the digital economy that you can capitalize on today.
About Sunny Popali
Sunny Popali is SEO Director at www.tempocreative.com. 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.
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
Researching products and services
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
More and more businesses are focusing marketing efforts on content. This means that, as customers have more content to choose from, competition is going to increase significantly.
In 2016, content will remain King, with an increasing focus on variety and and quality. When companies are creating their content marketing strategies for 2016, they may wish to consider the following when they make their final decisions:
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:
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.
The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.
Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”
Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).
The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”
Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.
Build Around a Big Idea
Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.
As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”
For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.
Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.
Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury
At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.
The company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.
Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.
Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.
QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience
The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.
Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.
For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.
Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.
Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience
Domino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.
Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.
Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions
Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.
Today, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.
By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.
Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin
Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.
Start at the Top
Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”
To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.
Begin with the End in Mind
Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.
Design for the Customer, Not the Company
To date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.
The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.
Put Someone in Charge
Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.
EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”
Centralize Customer Data
Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.
Invest in People
Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.
Rethink Metrics and Incentives
One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.
The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.
Create a Single View of the Company
For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!
Are you familiar with the concept of the twin paradox? In physics, the twin paradox is a thought experiment in which one twin stays on Earth while the other travels in a spaceship at a high speed for a period of time. According to the special theory of relativity, the second twin will return home measurably younger than the first.
In a similar way, the concept of the digital twin can accelerate your business and breathe new life into your products and services.
Already, smart companies are using digital twins to better understand operations, get closer to customers, and transform their business.
Connecting real and virtual
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world product or service. That could be anything from a toaster to industrial machinery to complex processes. The virtual representation combines three types of information: business data, contextual data, and sensor data.
Business data covers information such as customer name, location, and service-level agreements. Contextual data includes details such as ambient temperature, humidity, and weather events. Sensor data involves things like machine speed, operating temperature, and vibration.
How does a digital twin work? Let’s say you manufacture industrial drills. A digital twin can help you understand how customers use your drill. The goal is to continuously improve the product to increase customer satisfaction and identify opportunities for new products and services.
For example, you might discover that your drill malfunctions in certain situations. That can enable you to improve product design. Or it can let you help customers modify the way they use the drill to avoid problems.
Or, you might discover that customers use your drill not only to make holes but also to cut materials. That might lead you to develop a new product that’s purpose-built for cutting.
Or, maybe you discover that while customers want holes made, they don’t necessarily want to purchase and operate a drill. So rather than sell drills, you might offer a hole-drilling service. In other words, instead of charging customers for machinery they operate, you charge them for holes drilled by machinery you operate for them. Some SAP customers have been quite successful in making this kind of leap from products to services.
Digital twins across industries
Digital twins aren’t just for manufacturers. Insurers can apply digital twins in offerings like usage-based car insurance. Retailers can track how customers navigate the store and interact with products on the shelves. Cities can model areas for things like smart lighting. Ports can monitor weather, shipping traffic, containers, and trains and trucks entering and leaving.
Digital twins cover the entire lifecycle of an asset or process. In fact, they can form a foundation for an end-to-end, closed-loop value chain for smart, connected products and services, from design to production, from deployment to continuous improvement.
The promise of continuous improvement is why it’s increasingly important to integrate digital technologies into all products. As you leverage your digital twin to identify opportunities for new or better features, you can implement those improvements quickly and cost-effectively through firmware updates.
Implementing digital twins involves four steps:
Integrate smart components such as sensors, software, computing power, or data storage into new or existing products.
Connect the product to a central location where you can capture sensor data and enrich that sensor data with business and contextual data.
Analyze that data on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities for product improvements, new products, or even new business models.
Leverage these digital insights to transform your company — for example, by reducing costs through proactive avoidance of business interruptions, or by creating new business opportunities.
Of course, while those steps are easy to list, they can require significant effort to achieve. But digital twins are becoming a business imperative. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind. Those that embrace digital twins have the opportunity to better understand customer needs, continuously improve their products and services, and even identify new business models that give them competitive advantage.