12 Marketing Trends Every Top Brand Needs To Know In 2016

Michael Brenner

If there’s one thing we learned in 2015, it’s that in 2016 marketers are increasingly moving away from a “Mad Men” advertising era to a digital marketing age focused on the customer experience and journey. So what strategies, technologies, and tactics do marketers need to understand and learn to better engage, entertain, and delight their consumers? According to Andreas von der Heydt, a senior executive at Amazon, these are the top 12 trends marketers need to know to build a stronger brand in 2016:

1. Personalization and simplicity

Today’s consumers have more choices and information than ever before when it comes to making a purchase. But they also want to spend as little time as they need to when choosing what fits their needs and wants.

That’s why many top brands today are implementing lead nurturing programs that are personalized to the needs, interests and actions of different prospects, so they are sent off to the appropriate nurture paths.

An example of personalized marketing approach is dynamic pricing. Subscription models like Amazon Prime Video or Spotify, and “Pay What You Want” strategies like Humble Bundle, are effective marketing tactics to deliver a customized, simplified and improved customer experience.

2. Big Data and analytics

Using big data and analytics, brands can uncover new insights on their existing and new target groups, and better understand and predict consumer needs and wants to improve their sales and marketing strategies.

Data-driven tools and CRM solutions like Hubspot, Salesforce Pardot, Oracle CRM, and Nimble are helping marketers collect, organize, and analyze their data; generate new insights to incorporate into their marketing strategies; and make better recommendations and predictions for future actions. Whether you’re a small, mid-sized, or large company, you’ll want to consider taking advantage of these tools to gain a competitive edge.

3. Social selling

Today nearly two-thirds of American adults use social networking sites, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center. Another Pew research found that 62% of all American adults are Facebook users, with 31% on Pinterest and 28% on Instagram. User engagement for these social media sites has also increased significantly, with 59% of Instagram users, 27% of Pinterest users, and 22% of LinkedIn users visiting these sites on a daily basis.

It’s clear that social media is an effective tool for driving site traffic, and top brands are taking social media to the next level by using it to drive sales. For those who are looking to develop or improve their social media strategy this year, having the right metrics and social listening are key.

Regardless of the channels your brand is on, you need the right metrics to define and measure ROI and success. Going beyond vanity metrics like “views,” top brands are tracking engagement and other metrics like comments, shares, and even quality of comments (i.e. Klout score of users, leads and sales generated from comments, etc.).

Social listening is also critical to your marketing and sales success. Andreas suggests brands to keep social “social.” Use it to listen to your audience, understand their needs, answer their questions, and gather feedback and ideas from them. You also want to set realistic expectations for your social activities, and not over-stretch too much too fast.

4. Generation Z consumers

Generation Z is here. Defined as those born between mid to late-1990s and 2010, Gen Z grew up with digital technology and a world with easy, constant access to the web. Their comfort with technologies will represent both an opportunity and challenge for brands who want to reach them.

Generally speaking, Gen Z is more financially conservative than their Gen Y peers. They are also very entrepreneurial, independent-minded, and socially responsible. They embrace diversity and differences. Compared to Gen Y, Gen Z is much harder to interact with and they have much shorter attention spans.

But one important thing marketers need to understand is that they are no different than any other generations of consumers, in that they are looking for brands who they can trust and relate with, and can add value and help with their needs and wants.

5. Mobile and location-based marketing

According to Google, more searches are now performed on mobile devices than computers. This means leading marketers will be investing even more on mobile. Marketers can use location-based marketing technologies such as iBeacons and Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) to connect and interact with consumers in real time and to promote more sales.

313 Somerset, for example, is the first mall in Singapore to implement location-based marketing technology. Shoppers can use the mall’s app to get sales alerts and coupons on their mobile devices when they are near the shopping center. Retailers have reported 46% sales conversion as a result of the app.

6. Messaging apps

36% of smartphone owners use messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger on their devices in the U.S. Globally, this number reaches billions of users. For brands and marketers, messaging apps represent huge opportunities to drive more sales and revenue.

WeChat, a popular messaging app in China, is already leading the way in mobile commerce and marketing. It’s had great success as a mobile payment platform, allowing users to purchase movie tickets and taxi services, for example.

Slowly but steadily, messaging apps have also begun experimenting with advertising. WeChat has successfully integrated ads into users’ timelines already, and we are starting to see this with popular apps in the West as well like SnapChat Discover, which allows brands to directly reach consumers in creative ways.

7. Wearable technology, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence

Virtual reality and wearable technology will hit the mainstream. Wearables and VR headsets like Oculus Rift will present marketers new ways to tell their brand stories and communicate with consumers through immersive 360 experiences.

In 2016, we’ll also see improved artificial intelligence capabilities (see the RoboWatch project) and more sophisticated “Chatbots.” In a few years, we may see AI-powered robots and personal assistants searching the web to help consumers find what they want, and making personalized recommendations based on their needs.

8. Video and moving images

2015 has already been an incredible year for video, and its popularity will further increase in 2016. With shorter attention spans, video is here to stay and won’t be going away anytime soon. In fact, according to Cisco, consumer Internet video traffic will make up 80% of all Internet traffic by 2019, up from 64% in 2014.

We are already seeing brands re-prioritizing their traditional advertising budgets for digital video. For many marketers, branded video content has already become an essential component of their marketing activities, and soon it will become the center.

Leading marketers will also focus more on live-stream video platforms like Periscope and Vine videos. Red Bull, for example, is known for live streaming behind-the-scene views of its snowboarding contests on Meerkat.

A newer video streaming app called Blab is also growing in popularity. Blab allows up to four people video chatting simultaneously with the audience watching and commenting live. Blab video chats can easily be shared on Twitter, which helps with social sharing and viral growth.

9. Data security

Hacking, in Michael Dell’s words, has become a “multi-billion-dollar industry.” For top marketers, cybersecurity is an essential focus to ensure customer data is protected. Leading brands are hiring specialized companies like Social-Engineer to test and identify weak points in their security both online and offline.

10. Meaningful, real-time communication

As consumers increasingly expect more personable and real-time interactions with brands, top marketers will need to focus on strategies that deliver such experiences, such as video streaming, blogging, and webinars to get people’s attention and engagement.

As well, finding “moments” that matter to consumers where brands can build authentic emotional connections will be key for top marketers. These moments, for example, may be the Olympics, Super Bowl, or blockbuster movies like Star Wars. But it’s not enough to just show up with real-time messages. You need meaningful, bold, and inspirational content to stand out from all other competing brand messages.

Smart marketers will also develop an influencer plan to identify top bloggers, relevant experts and influential leaders they can collaborate with to help amplify their messages to the relevant audiences.

11. Employee advocacy

To build a strong brand, you need a fan base of highly engaged and committed brand ambassadors who can help share and promote your brand messages through their networks.

Content shared by employees gets 8 times more engagement than when shared by official brand channels. 90% of consumers also said that they trust social media and word-of-mouth recommendations by family or friends more than other advertising, and that’s where your employees can come in.

According to the 2015 Edelmann Trust Barometer, 63% of consumers surveyed refuse to buy products or services from a company they do no trust. On the other hand, 80% of respondents will buy from companies they trust, and 68% will recommend them to a friend or colleague.

That goes to show how important it is for top brands to build trust and honest, authentic relationships with their audiences. By empowering your employees to take an active role in telling and sharing your brand stories, they help improve your company’s personal branding efforts, as well as increase their own engagement and commitment to your brand.

12. Customer and content-centric organizations

Leading brands are thinking and taking their digital strategy beyond marketing, to everything from sales, HR, finance, R&D, legal, and business planning. Many companies have introduced the new role of chief digital officer (CDO) to lead the digital transformation for the entire organization. Others are building their digital capabilities by improving their business models and processes, then building leadership capabilities across the organization to drive change.

Forward-thinking brands are also rethinking their key departments and functions and reorganizing based on customer experience and innovation. As well, they will work hard to recruit hybrid marketers who have both strong analytical and tech-savvy skills as well as an aptitude and passion for marketing. These next-gen marketers will help top brands evolve, compete, and win in the modern marketing era.

What do you think? Which of these trends have you adopted already or will be executing this year? Please share your thoughts below!

For more marketing strategies to boost your company’s growth this year and beyond, see Digital Tactics That Help Acquire, Convert, And Retain Customers.

The post 12 Marketing Trends Every Top Brand Needs To Know In 2016 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.

Data Analysts And Scientists More Important Than Ever For The Enterprise

Daniel Newman

The business world is now firmly in the age of data. Not that data wasn’t relevant before; it was just nowhere close to the speed and volume that’s available to us today. Businesses are buckling under the deluge of petabytes, exabytes, and zettabytes. Within these bytes lie valuable information on customer behavior, key business insights, and revenue generation. However, all that data is practically useless for businesses without the ability to identify the right data. Plus, if they don’t have the talent and resources to capture the right data, organize it, dissect it, draw actionable insights from it and, finally, deliver those insights in a meaningful way, their data initiatives will fail.

Rise of the CDO

Companies of all sizes can easily find themselves drowning in data generated from websites, landing pages, social streams, emails, text messages, and many other sources. Additionally, there is data in their own repositories. With so much data at their disposal, companies are under mounting pressure to utilize it to generate insights. These insights are critical because they can (and should) drive the overall business strategy and help companies make better business decisions. To leverage the power of data analytics, businesses need more “top-management muscle” specialized in the field of data science. This specialized field has lead to the creation of roles like Chief Data Officer (CDO).

In addition, with more companies undertaking digital transformations, there’s greater impetus for the C-suite to make data-driven decisions. The CDO helps make data-driven decisions and also develops a digital business strategy around those decisions. As data grows at an unstoppable rate, becoming an inseparable part of key business functions, we will see the CDO act as a bridge between other C-suite execs.

Data skills an emerging business necessity

So far, only large enterprises with bigger data mining and management needs maintain in-house solutions. These in-house teams and technologies handle the growing sets of diverse and dispersed data. Others work with third-party service providers to develop and execute their big data strategies.

As the amount of data grows, the need to mine it for insights becomes a key business requirement. For both large and small businesses, data-centric roles will experience endless upward mobility. These roles include data anlysts and scientists. There is going to be a huge opportunity for critical thinkers to turn their analytical skills into rapidly growing roles in the field of data science. In fact, data skills are now a prized qualification for titles like IT project managers and computer systems analysts.

Forbes cited the McKinsey Global Institute’s prediction that by 2018 there could be a massive shortage of data-skilled professionals. This indicates a disruption at the demand-supply level with the needs for data skills at an all-time high. With an increasing number of companies adopting big data strategies, salaries for data jobs are going through the roof. This is turning the position into a highly coveted one.

According to Harvard Professor Gary King, “There is a big data revolution. The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.” The big problem is that most enterprises don’t know what to do with data. Data professionals are helping businesses figure that out. So if you’re casting about for where to apply your skills and want to take advantage of one of the best career paths in the job market today, focus on data science.

I’m compensated by University of Phoenix for this blog. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

For more insight on our increasingly connected future, see The $19 Trillion Question: Are You Undervaluing The Internet Of Things?

The post Data Analysts and Scientists More Important Than Ever For the Enterprise appeared first on Millennial CEO.


About Daniel Newman

Daniel Newman serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of EC3, a quickly growing hosted IT and Communication service provider. Prior to this role Daniel has held several prominent leadership roles including serving as CEO of United Visual. Parent company to United Visual Systems, United Visual Productions, and United GlobalComm; a family of companies focused on Visual Communications and Audio Visual Technologies. Daniel is also widely published and active in the Social Media Community. He is the Author of Amazon Best Selling Business Book "The Millennial CEO." Daniel also Co-Founded the Global online Community 12 Most and was recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the 100 Business and Leadership Accounts to Follow on Twitter. Newman is an Adjunct Professor of Management at North Central College. He attained his undergraduate degree in Marketing at Northern Illinois University and an Executive MBA from North Central College in Naperville, IL. Newman currently resides in Aurora, Illinois with his wife (Lisa) and his two daughters (Hailey 9, Avery 5). A Chicago native all of his life, Newman is an avid golfer, a fitness fan, and a classically trained pianist

When Good Is Good Enough: Guiding Business Users On BI Practices

Ina Felsheim

Image_part2-300x200In Part One of this blog series, I talked about changing your IT culture to better support self-service BI and data discovery. Absolutely essential. However, your work is not done!

Self-service BI and data discovery will drive the number of users using the BI solutions to rapidly expand. Yet all of these more casual users will not be well versed in BI and visualization best practices.

When your user base rapidly expands to more casual users, you need to help educate them on what is important. For example, one IT manager told me that his casual BI users were making visualizations with very difficult-to-read charts and customizing color palettes to incredible degrees.

I had a similar experience when I was a technical writer. One of our lead writers was so concerned with readability of every sentence that he was going through the 300+ page manuals (yes, they were printed then) and manually adjusting all of the line breaks and page breaks. (!) Yes, readability was incrementally improved. But now any number of changes–technical capabilities, edits, inserting larger graphics—required re-adjusting all of those manual “optimizations.” The time it took just to do the additional optimization was incredible, much less the maintenance of these optimizations! Meanwhile, the technical writing team was falling behind on new deliverables.

The same scenario applies to your new casual BI users. This new group needs guidance to help them focus on the highest value practices:

  • Customization of color and appearance of visualizations: When is this customization necessary for a management deliverable, versus indulging an OCD tendency? I too have to stop myself from obsessing about the font, line spacing, and that a certain blue is just a bit different than another shade of blue. Yes, these options do matter. But help these casual users determine when that time is well spent.
  • Proper visualizations: When is a spinning 3D pie chart necessary to grab someone’s attention? BI professionals would firmly say “NEVER!” But these casual users do not have a lot of depth on BI best practices. Give them a few simple guidelines as to when “flash” needs to subsume understanding. Consider offering a monthly one-hour Lunch and Learn that shows them how to create impactful, polished visuals. Understanding if their visualizations are going to be viewed casually on the way to a meeting, or dissected at a laptop, also helps determine how much time to spend optimizing a visualization. No, you can’t just mandate that they all read Tufte.
  • Predictive: Provide advanced analytics capabilities like forecasting and regression directly in their casual BI tools. Using these capabilities will really help them wow their audience with substance instead of flash.
  • Feature requests: Make sure you understand the motivation and business value behind some of the casual users’ requests. These casual users are less likely to understand the implications of supporting specific requests across an enterprise, so make sure you are collaborating on use cases and priorities for substantive requests.

By working with your casual BI users on the above points, you will be able to collectively understand when the absolute exact request is critical (and supports good visualization practices), and when it is an “optimization” that may impact productivity. In many cases, “good” is good enough for the fast turnaround of data discovery.

Next week, I’ll wrap this series up with hints on getting your casual users to embrace the “we” not “me” mentality.

Read Part One of this series: Changing The IT Culture For Self-Service BI Success.

Follow me on Twitter: @InaSAP


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.