Brick-And-Mortar Closings: Mobile Marketing’s Opportunity To Fuel Retail’s Future

Julie Bernard

Both brick-and-mortar and brick-and-click retail are experiencing a profound transformation. The ways consumers shop are shifting. Stores are closing.

The driving force behind this change is mobile technology, along with the continued rise of online sales and the re-casting of expectations around what it means to shop in a physical store.

The time to reinvent is now. Mobile marketing must position itself alongside in-store retail throughout this transition, tightening the industry’s partnerships with brands and manufacturers, and helping traditional retail leadership adapt and keep pace with technology and related advances. To begin, both industries can start with a close look at the following factors:

  • The ubiquity factor: When it comes to brick-and-mortar retail, there is simply too much product on the shelf and too many items hanging from the fixtures. In an on-demand world, retail has defaulted to offering just about every option that a manufacturer presents them in the showroom — and that’s not to the industry’s benefit. As The Amazon Effect illustrates, when consumers want an everything-under-the-sun selection, they simply shop online. Rather than offering mazes of massed-out merchandise piled high on tables, retail needs to revitalize the craft of curating truly distinctive and appealing assortments of goods. The goal is clean, clear, aspirational, elegant presentations that welcome consumers rather than overwhelm and repel them. Legacy retailers need to return to the lessons of Retail 101, getting back to the basics and applying the limited-assortment and inventory principles that applied 50 years ago. At the same time, mobile marketing can advance retail’s effectiveness in this effort, providing app-based in-store resources and empowering the industry to inspire and inform shoppers around focused and exclusive collections.

  • The relationship opportunity: Blame for weakening consumer interest in in-store experiences can’t be wholly assigned to Amazon and the Internet. Retail 101 applies here as well: the winning focus for in-store retail will be friendly and helpful personalized relationships between shoppers and deeply knowledgeable — even expert-level — sales associates. Mobile marketing can augment retail’s connection to physical-retail customers by empowering associates with the data and tools needed to learn and communicate, and they can base this approach on consumer-granted location-based mobile information. Nothing will replace the power and satisfaction of an authentic personal connection, but retail should also embrace mobile’s unique intelligence opportunity to offer meaningful insights into consumer needs.

  • In-store scarcity, not a net negative: When retail leaves behind the inventory wars, it creates a shopping environment in which it’s OK if a given product sells out. If physical stores are continually offering inspiring choices in place of shopworn merchandise left for months on shelves, then changing inventory adds to the opportunities around fostering proactive, personalized relationships. Again, this is where mobile marketing’s consumer behavior data and quantified experiences come into play, helping traditional-retail executives return to the proven principles of yesteryear and encouraging shoppers to revisit the value of in-store recommendations. And it is important to note, when consumers find excitement in browsing the newness of a changing space, they generate greater visit-frequency to boot.

  • Pricing factors and the mobile consumer: Consumers are curious, smart, and data-informed. Omnipresent mobile devices empower them to readily access competitive pricing, meaning that the days of convoluted sticker games are over. It’s time for retail to cut a clear path to value for the in-store shopper, justifying price-points and defining the difference between ubiquitous online inventory versus the immersive, identity-shaping relationships that become possible when a consumer steps into a store.

Yes, retail is responding to the changing dynamics of shoppers’ behavior, and there are prices to be paid in the process, but the trend of store closings in the last three to five years is ultimately a healthy one. Physical stores will not simply fade away, but they’ll have to do more with less. The days of over-storing are finished.

Surviving physical-retail locations must up their game, get their houses in order, and again, not blame digital when the root of the industry-wide problem lies in stores chasing away consumers. Nobody wants mounds of inventory or insultingly complex pricing gimmicks. Nobody wants unkempt fitting rooms, soiled carpets, poor lighting, and often-unsanitary rest rooms.

Physical retail must reinvent itself with the help of technology. Mobile marketing is poised to help, providing brick-and-mortar with conduits to content, to forward-leaning customer interactions, and to moments of anticipatory inspiration. The time for smaller format, easier to maintain, easier to refresh, and less-capital-intense environments has come. Remaking in-store retail along these lines will bring consumers back. They will browse to touch and experience the product. They will discover new reasons to feel welcome and inspired. Together, mobile and retail can reinvent in-store shopping as a meaningful and memorable alternative to online purchases alone.

For more insight on the power of mobile, see For Cross-Channel Success, Start Thinking ‘Mobile First’.


Digitalist Flash Briefing: Five Digital And Mobile Trends You Should Know

Bonnie D. Graham

Need more information before you dip your toe in the water or wade deeper in your digital transformation? Here’s a round-up of the latest digital and mobile trends.

  • Amazon Echo or Dot: Enable the “Digitalist” flash briefing skill, and ask Alexa to “play my flash briefings” on every business day.
  • Alexa on a mobile device:
    • Download the Amazon Alexa app: Select Skills, and search “Digitalist”. Then, select Digitalist, and click on the Enable button.
    • Download the Amazon app: Click on the microphone icon and say “Play my flash briefing.”

Find and listen to previous Flash Briefings on Digitalistmag.com.

Read more on today’s topic


About Bonnie D. Graham

Bonnie D. Graham is the creator, producer and host/moderator of Game-Changers Radio series presented by SAP, bringing technology and business strategy discussions to a global audience. A broadcast journalist with over 20 years in media production and hosting, Bonnie has held marketing communications management roles in a variety of industries. Listen to the flagship series, Coffee Break with Game-Changers.

Cognitive Technologies Help Media Companies Build Consumer Loyalty

Catherine Lynch

Media companies need to provide unique, personalized content, driven by deep insights into individual consumer preferences, due to the growing popularity of over-the-top (OTT) streaming services. In the past, media companies were not in direct contact with consumers and interacted in a mass marketing fashion. Now the business model is changing to direct to consumer, and media companies need to adapt to survive and thrive.

Consumers are willing to pay for the right content

In the music world, interactive personalized streaming of music (Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer…) is overtaking physical downloads of music from a revenue perspective, and it is even rumored that Apple will stop downloads from iTunes next year. In 2017 streaming accounted for almost two-thirds of music industry revenue. By the end of this year, over half (57%) of Spotify’s 157 million worldwide active users will be paying for subscriptions.

Over 30% of U.S. households now subscribe to more than one OTT service, according to Parks Associates. The OTT video service industry is expected to reach $30 billion by 2020.

Using analytics and identity management to suggest relevant content to consumers

To understand what a viewer will like in six months, media companies must manage the complexity of multiple touchpoints, both physical and digital. It is also essential to build consumer trust and loyalty if you are seeking personal information from a viewer to drive that personalized experience. Algorithms underpinned by cognitive technologies help determine which content might interest a subscriber. Identity management software enables the buildup of a profile of preferences and leads to greater personalization and consumer loyalty.

Media companies can also analyze social activity information about a viewer to further increase levels of personalization, and it makes sense to provide that viewer with a personalized subscription offer and “up-sell” based on that person’s video consumption and social media activity.

Machine learning and blockchain help with personalized ads and content monetization

Software such as Pippa developed a technology that allows podcasters to insert personalized ads to a podcast. It is planning to use AI to perform deep audio search and personalize ads based on a podcast’s content. With a new avenue for monetization of podcasts, this technology could boost podcasting and make it much more profitable. Jaak uses blockchain technology to identify the usage and rights to song streams. It enables apps and platforms to identify who is streaming a song and when identifying the multiple rights holders and assigning corresponding payments.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) bots, rather than humans, will manage 85 percent of customer interactions. There will be more than 82 million U.S. millennial digital video customers. As media companies grapple with the challenge of getting personalized content to the consumer at the right time, companies that proactively invest in advanced analytics, machine learning, and blockchain will gain a critical first-mover advantage.

To learn more, read our Reimagining Media in the Digital Age blog series.

Are you attending SAPPHIRE? If so, join us at the SAP Industries Experience Area during the event and check out the Media sessions on the agenda builder.


Catherine Lynch

About Catherine Lynch

Catherine Lynch is a Senior Director of Industry Cloud Marketing at SAP. She is a content marketing specialist with a particular focus on the professional services and media industries globally. Catherine has a wide international experience of working with enterprise application vendors in global roles, creating thought leadership and is a social media practitioner.

The Human Angle

By Jenny Dearborn, David Judge, Tom Raftery, and Neal Ungerleider

In a future teeming with robots and artificial intelligence, humans seem to be on the verge of being crowded out. But in reality the opposite is true.

To be successful, organizations need to become more human than ever.

Organizations that focus only on automation will automate away their competitive edge. The most successful will focus instead on skills that set them apart and that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning. Those skills can be summed up in one word: humanness.

You can see it in the numbers. According to David J. Deming of the Harvard Kennedy School, demand for jobs that require social skills has risen nearly 12 percentage points since 1980, while less-social jobs, such as computer coding, have declined by a little over 3 percentage points.

AI is in its infancy, which means that it cannot yet come close to duplicating our most human skills. Stefan van Duin and Naser Bakhshi, consultants at professional services company Deloitte, break down artificial intelligence into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI is good at specific tasks, such as playing chess or identifying facial expressions. General AI, which can learn and solve complex, multifaceted problems the way a human being does, exists today only in the minds of futurists.

The only thing narrow artificial intelligence can do is automate. It can’t empathize. It can’t collaborate. It can’t innovate. Those abilities, if they ever come, are still a long way off. In the meantime, AI’s biggest value is in augmentation. When human beings work with AI tools, the process results in a sort of augmented intelligence. This augmented intelligence outperforms the work of either human beings or AI software tools on their own.

AI-powered tools will be the partners that free employees and management to tackle higher-level challenges.

Those challenges will, by default, be more human and social in nature because many rote, repetitive tasks will be automated away. Companies will find that developing fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, within the organization will take on a new importance. These skills can’t be automated and they won’t become process steps for algorithms anytime soon.

In a world where technology change is constant and unpredictable, those organizations that make the fullest use of uniquely human skills will win. These skills will be used in collaboration with both other humans and AI-fueled software and hardware tools. The degree of humanness an organization possesses will become a competitive advantage.

This means that today’s companies must think about hiring, training, and leading differently. Most of today’s corporate training programs focus on imparting specific knowledge that will likely become obsolete over time.

Instead of hiring for portfolios of specific subject knowledge, organizations should instead hire—and train—for more foundational skills, whose value can’t erode away as easily.

Recently, educational consulting firm Hanover Research looked at high-growth occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the core skills required in each of them based on a database that it had developed. The most valuable skills were active listening, speaking, and critical thinking—giving lie to the dismissive term soft skills. They’re not soft; they’re human.


This doesn’t mean that STEM skills won’t be important in the future. But organizations will find that their most valuable employees are those with both math and social skills.

That’s because technical skills will become more perishable as AI shifts the pace of technology change from linear to exponential. Employees will require constant retraining over time. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is already outdated by the time students graduate, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s report further notes that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.” By contrast, human skills such as interpersonal communication and project management will remain consistent over the years.

For example, organizations already report that they are having difficulty finding people equipped for the Big Data era’s hot job: data scientist. That’s because data scientists need a combination of hard and soft skills. Data scientists can’t just be good programmers and statisticians; they also need to be intuitive and inquisitive and have good communication skills. We don’t expect all these qualities from our engineering graduates, nor from most of our employees.

But we need to start.

From Self-Help to Self-Skills

Even if most schools and employers have yet to see it, employees are starting to understand that their future viability depends on improving their innately human qualities. One of the most popular courses on Coursera, an online learning platform, is called Learning How to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego, the course is essentially a master class in human skills: students learn everything from memory techniques to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas, according to an article in The New York Times.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing.

Although there is a longstanding assumption that social skills are innate, nothing is further from the truth. As the popularity of Learning How to Learn attests, human skills—everything from learning skills to communication skills to empathy—can, and indeed must, be taught.

These human skills are integral for training workers for a workplace where artificial intelligence and automation are part of the daily routine. According to the WEF’s New Vision for Education report, the skills that employees will need in the future fall into three primary categories:

  • Foundational literacies: These core skills needed for the coming age of robotics and AI include understanding the basics of math, science, computing, finance, civics, and culture. While mastery of every topic isn’t required, workers who have a basic comprehension of many different areas will be richly rewarded in the coming economy.
  • Competencies: Developing competencies requires mastering very human skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
  • Character qualities: Over the next decade, employees will need to master the skills that will help them grasp changing job duties and responsibilities. This means learning the skills that help employees acquire curiosity, initiative, persistence, grit, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness.


The good news is that learning human skills is not completely divorced from how work is structured today. Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer with a background working with AI, argues that there is a considerable need for human skills in the workplace already—especially in the tech world. Many employees are simply unaware that when they are working on complicated software or hardware projects, they are using empathy, strategic problem solving, intuition, and interpersonal communication.

The unconscious deployment of human skills takes place even more frequently when employees climb the corporate ladder into management. “This is closely tied to the deeper difference between junior and senior roles: a junior person’s job is to find answers to questions; a senior person’s job is to find the right questions to ask,” says Zunger.

Human skills will be crucial to navigating the AI-infused workplace. There will be no shortage of need for the right questions to ask.

One of the biggest changes narrow AI tools will bring to the workplace is an evolution in how work is performed. AI-based tools will automate repetitive tasks across a wide swath of industries, which means that the day-to-day work for many white-collar workers will become far more focused on tasks requiring problem solving and critical thinking. These tasks will present challenges centered on interpersonal collaboration, clear communication, and autonomous decision-making—all human skills.

Being More Human Is Hard

However, the human skills that are essential for tomorrow’s AI-ified workplace, such as interpersonal communication, project planning, and conflict management, require a different approach from traditional learning. Often, these skills don’t just require people to learn new facts and techniques; they also call for basic changes in the ways individuals behave on—and off—the job.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing. As science gains a better understanding of how the human brain works, many behaviors that affect employees on the job are understood to be universal and natural rather than individual (see “Human Skills 101”).

Human Skills 101

As neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, human skills have become increasingly quantifiable—and teachable.

Though the term soft skills has managed to hang on in the popular lexicon, our understanding of these human skills has increased to the point where they aren’t soft at all: they are a clearly definable set of skills that are crucial for organizations in the AI era.

Active listening: Paying close attention when receiving information and drawing out more information than received in normal discourse

Critical thinking: Gathering, analyzing, and evaluating issues and information to come to an unbiased conclusion

Problem solving: Finding solutions to problems and understanding the steps used to solve the problem

Decision-making: Weighing the evidence and options at hand to determine a specific course of action

Monitoring: Paying close attention to an issue, topic, or interaction in order to retain information for the future

Coordination: Working with individuals and other groups to achieve common goals

Social perceptiveness: Inferring what others are thinking by observing them

Time management: Budgeting and allocating time for projects and goals and structuring schedules to minimize conflicts and maximize productivity

Creativity: Generating ideas, concepts, or inferences that can be used to create new things

Curiosity: Desiring to learn and understand new or unfamiliar concepts

Imagination: Conceiving and thinking about new ideas, concepts, or images

Storytelling: Building narratives and concepts out of both new and existing ideas

Experimentation: Trying out new ideas, theories, and activities

Ethics: Practicing rules and standards that guide conduct and guarantee rights and fairness

Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotional states of others

Collaboration: Working with others, coordinating efforts, and sharing resources to accomplish a common project

Resiliency: Withstanding setbacks, avoiding discouragement, and persisting toward a larger goal

Resistance to change, for example, is now known to result from an involuntary chemical reaction in the brain known as the fight-or-flight response, not from a weakness of character. Scientists and psychologists have developed objective ways of identifying these kinds of behaviors and have come up with universally applicable ways for employees to learn how to deal with them.

Organizations that emphasize such individual behavioral traits as active listening, social perceptiveness, and experimentation will have both an easier transition to a workplace that uses AI tools and more success operating in it.

Framing behavioral training in ways that emphasize its practical application at work and in advancing career goals helps employees feel more comfortable confronting behavioral roadblocks without feeling bad about themselves or stigmatized by others. It also helps organizations see the potential ROI of investing in what has traditionally been dismissed as touchy-feely stuff.

In fact, offering objective means for examining inner behaviors and tools for modifying them is more beneficial than just leaving the job to employees. For example, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, introspection, which is how most of us try to understand our behaviors, can actually be counterproductive.

Human beings are complex creatures. There is generally way too much going on inside our minds to be able to pinpoint the conscious and unconscious behaviors that drive us to act the way we do. We wind up inventing explanations—usually negative—for our behaviors, which can lead to anxiety and depression, according to Eurich’s research.

Structured, objective training can help employees improve their human skills without the negative side effects. At SAP, for example, we offer employees a course on conflict resolution that uses objective research techniques for determining what happens when people get into conflicts. Employees learn about the different conflict styles that researchers have identified and take an assessment to determine their own style of dealing with conflict. Then employees work in teams to discuss their different styles and work together to resolve a specific conflict that one of the group members is currently experiencing.

How Knowing One’s Self Helps the Organization

Courses like this are helpful not just for reducing conflicts between individuals and among teams (and improving organizational productivity); they also contribute to greater self-awareness, which is the basis for enabling people to take fullest advantage of their human skills.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool for improving performance at both the individual and organizational levels. Self-aware people are more confident and creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. They are also less likely to lie, cheat, and steal, according to Eurich.

It naturally follows that such people make better employees and are more likely to be promoted. They also make more effective leaders with happier employees, which makes the organization more profitable, according to research by Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin.

There are two types of self-awareness, writes Eurich. One is having a clear view inside of one’s self: one’s own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. The second type is understanding how others view us in terms of these same categories.

Interestingly, while we often assume that those who possess one type of awareness also possess the other, there is no direct correlation between the two. In fact, just 10% to 15% of people have both, according to a survey by Eurich. That means that the vast majority of us must learn one or the other—or both.

Gaining self-awareness is a process that can take many years. But training that gives employees the opportunity to examine their own behaviors against objective standards and gain feedback from expert instructors and peers can help speed up the journey. Just like the conflict management course, there are many ways to do this in a practical context that benefits employees and the organization alike.

For example, SAP also offers courses on building self-confidence, increasing trust with peers, creating connections with others, solving complex problems, and increasing resiliency in the face of difficult situations—all of which increase self-awareness in constructive ways. These human-skills courses are as popular with our employees as the hard-skill courses in new technologies or new programming techniques.

Depending on an organization’s size, budget, and goals, learning programs like these can include small group training, large lectures, online courses, licensing of third-party online content, reimbursement for students to attain certification, and many other models.

Human Skills Are the Constant

Automation and artificial intelligence will change the workplace in unpredictable ways. One thing we can predict, however, is that human skills will be needed more than ever.

The connection between conflict resolution skills, critical thinking courses, and the rise of AI-aided technology might not be immediately obvious. But these new AI tools are leading us down the path to a much more human workplace.

Employees will interact with their computers through voice conversations and image recognition. Machine learning will find unexpected correlations in massive amounts of data but empathy and creativity will be required for data scientists to figure out the right questions to ask. Interpersonal communication will become even more important as teams coordinate between offices, remote workplaces, and AI aides.

While the future might be filled with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and untold amounts of data, uniquely human capabilities will be the ones that matter. Machines can’t write a symphony, design a building, teach a college course, or manage a department. The future belongs to humans working with machines, and for that, you need human skills. D!


About the Authors

Jenny Dearborn is Chief Learning Officer at SAP.

David Judge is Vice President, SAP Leonardo, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President and Internet of Things Evangelist at SAP.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.

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

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HR In The Age Of Digital Transformation

Neha Makkar Patnaik

HR has come a long way from the days of being called Personnel Management. It’s now known as People & Culture, Employee Experience, or simply People, and the changes in the last few years have been especially far-reaching, to say the least; seismic even.

While focused until recently on topics like efficiency and direct access to HR data and services for individual employees, a new and expanded HR transformation is underway, led by employee experience, cloud capabilities including mobile and continuous upgrades, a renewed focus on talent, as well as the availability of new digital technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. These capabilities are enabling HR re-imagine new ways of delivering HR services and strategies throughout the organization. For example:

  • Use advanced prediction and optimization technologies to shift focus from time-consuming candidate-screening processes to innovative HR strategies and business models that support growth
  • Help employees with tailored career paths, push personalized learning recommendations, suggest mentors and mentees based on skills and competencies
  • Predict flight risk of employees and prescribe mitigation strategies for at-risk talent
  • Leverage intelligent management of high-volume, rules-based events with predictions and recommendations

Whereas the traditional view of HR transformation was all about doing existing things better, the next generation of HR transformation is focused on doing completely new things.

These new digital aspects of HR transformation do not replace the existing focus on automation and efficiency. They work hand in hand and, in many cases, digital technologies can further augment automation. Digital approaches are becoming increasingly important, and a digital HR strategy must be a key component of HR’s overall strategy and, therefore, the business strategy.

For years, HR had been working behind a wall, finally got a seat at the table, and now it’s imperative for CHROs to be a strategic partner in the organization’s digital journey. This is what McKinsey calls “Leading with the G-3” in An Agenda for the Talent-First CEO, in which the CEO, CFO, and CHRO (i.e., the “G-3”) ensure HR and finance work in tandem, with the CEO being the linchpin and the person who ensures the talent agenda is threaded into business decisions and not a passive response or afterthought.

However, technology and executive alignment aren’t enough to drive a company’s digital transformation. At the heart of every organization are its people – its most expensive and valuable asset. Keeping them engaged and motivated fosters an innovation culture that is essential for success. This Gallup study reveals that a whopping 85% of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

HR experiences that are based on consumer-grade digital experiences along with a focus on the employee’s personal and professional well-being will help engage every worker, inspiring them to do their best and helping them turn every organization’s purpose into performance. Because, we believe, purpose drives people and people drive business results.

Embark on your HR transformation journey

Has your HR organization created a roadmap to support the transformation agenda? Start a discussion with your team about the current and desired state of HR processes using the framework with this white paper.

Also, read SAP’s HR transformation story within the broader context of SAP’s own transformation.


About Neha Makkar Patnaik

Neha Makkar Patnaik is a principal consultant at SAP Labs India. As part of the Digital Transformation Office, Neha is responsible for articulating the value proposition for digitizing the office of the CHRO in alignment with the overall strategic priorities of the organization. She also focuses on thought leadership and value-based selling programs for retail and consumer products industries.