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Human Capital and Corporate Strategy

Ray Rivera

“So why should this organization invest in human capital?”

human capitalOver the past two decades, HR executives and corporate strategists have been engaging more deeply. Yet when the conversation reaches the point where corporate strategy asks HR this question so bluntly, it usually indicates the beginning of the end.

Nevertheless, HR leaders respond earnestly by asserting that human capital investment is fundamental to a high-performing workplace, or is a best practice, or all industry leaders are doing it, or simply that it is the right thing to do.

Each of these assertions is usually illustrated by a unique set of measures and anecdotes. But to a corporate strategist, neither inventive HR metrics nor colorful storytelling provides sufficient justification for investing in human capital.

Both HR and corporate strategy have the same goal in mind: achieving competitive advantage. But despite their agreement on what the end is, the two regularly talk past one another regarding means. While HR is preoccupied with the right peopleright placeright timeright role, and right training, corporate strategy is much more concerned with what industrywhat product mixwhat segment, and above all, what value the company is delivering to customers.

All the “right” things HR strives to achieve, and all the “whats” corporate strategy tries to answer are not necessarily incompatible. It is hard to imagine many profitable companies denying that the knowledge, skills, and talent of its employees represent one of the few remaining sources of competitive advantage. However, even the most thorough of organizations can easily trip up on the details of how HR contributes to competitive advantage, and have trouble determining how to measure HR’s contribution.

Interestingly, much of the difficulty arises because there are actually several different ways human capital can drive competitive advantage. Is it a result of the people you have, what they do, or how their workplace is organized? To make matters even trickier, corporate strategy usually can address only one of those questions at a time. And that choice is often influenced by the company’s ability to measure and control inputs and outputs, and at the appropriate levels within the organization.

HR tries to chip in by devising its own metrics that resemble corporate financial strategy metrics as much as possible. But that is going about things backwards. A better task for HR is to evaluate the different views of how human capital achieves competitive advantage, and enable the company’s data to do the talking rather than HR talking up the data.

You’ve got to have the goods: The resource-based view

The most widely accepted view of competitive advantage treats an organization’s resources as the primary source of differentiation. Resources can be tangible (e.g., gas fields, precision machinery), intangible (patents, information), or human (talent, unique skill sets).

In this view, human capital is treated as an accumulative resource that benefits the organization like any other business asset, providing competitive advantage through a transformation of the unique capabilities of individual employees to superior organizational performance.

It is understandably common to hear objections to the term resource, such as, “we are human beings, not resources!” Those raising apprehensions can be reassured that HR and corporate strategy tend to use the term resource in a neutral way, with no implication that people ought to be mechanized. Resource simply denotes something that is measurable. Of course not all human performance activity is measurable, and HR is often limited by shabby data. But conscientious analytics and good manager judgment together go a long way in capturing value-driving behaviors in HR metrics, which in turn puts the humanity in human capital.

An advantage of the resource-based view is its clear analytical framework, where human capital is understood as having four important characteristics: it is valuablescarcenot easily imitated, and lacks substitutability. Valuable indicates that companies must be willing to pay, sometimes a premium, for continued access to the resource. Scarce does not necessarily denote a dearth of a resource, as if often conceived when considering talent, but rather that there is not enough of the resource to satisfy every organization’s demand. Not easily imitated creates high barriers to entry for competitors. Lacks substitutability means that if a resource increases in price or suddenly becomes unavailable, a substitute of nearly equal price will not be available.

For example, many valuable employees are impossible to replace, and lost knowledge and capabilities cannot be acquired from the labor market. Strategic human capital management seeks to enhance all four characteristics, in addition to clarifying precisely what talent inventory is needed to execute short-term strategy.

In the resource-based view, the two most important features of organizations are specificity of goals, and formalized structures to conduct the flow of performance activity. Therefore, resources tend to be managed at the executive level, often through a sophisticated hierarchy and a well-developed information system. The role of HR is to partner with other business functions to acquire, develop, and source human capital optimally.

Individual performance data and job competency modeling provide much of the data used for analytics using this view, along with HR efficiency metrics. However, it is not necessary or sometimes even feasible to know how HR inputs are transformed into business outputs. Yet it is necessary to know either the HR inputs that are likely most effective, or how to measure or control business outputs.

Success is as success does: The behavioral view

Rugby-300x201 (1)According to the behavioral view, accumulating a lot of high quality human capital is necessary, but not sufficient. To achieve competitive advantage, human capital must perform in a desired manner. Therefore, human behavior is the mediator between business strategy and outcomes. Moreover, successful execution according to the behavioral view depends on repeated observance of desired behaviors and attitudes in the workplace, which relate closely to sustained levels of performance. The role of HR is to direct and assure desired behaviors, so as to maximize the alignment between strategy and business performance, and to assure consistency across work practices.

As with the term resource, HR and corporate strategy also treat behavior in a neutral sense, denoting a measureable set of actions that can enable business outcomes, not something that is to be manipulated through fear or chicanery. The behavioral view assumes that employees usually know what they need to do to perform well, and HR should remove any barriers to people doing so.

Behaviors are typically managed at the unit or subunit level, by division or department managers. A strategic HR function both supplies new information to employees and creates a rubric for managers to reinforce desired behaviors, while simultaneously evaluating the effectiveness of training in achieving such behaviors. In this view it is necessary to know, or to have a solid theory of how HR inputs are transformed into business outcomes, and to be able to provide control, training, and monitoring.

Data that is often used includes evaluations of employee personal characteristics such as level of risk taking, leadership aptitude, conscientiousness, orientation toward quality, engagement, and attitudes toward coworkers.

Good things come in bundles: The configurational view

The last of these three views states that even the right talent doing the right things is not enough to produce competitive advantage. Behaviors require coordination with other organizational resources in order to be effective, by means of configurations of performance improvement initiatives. Yet regardless of strategic objectives, there are optimal configurations whose components are interdependent, including HR practices. In plain terms, the configurational view acknowledges that if you put good people against a bad system, the system always wins. Behaviors are not optimized so much as functions and processes, which if not managed correctly can negate even the best performance behavior from the best human capital.

Bridges-300x205Consequently, the configurational view seeks to assemble a set of strategic HR practices, or a profile, that drives a single performance outcome, rather than attempting to influence behaviors thought to exert maximum impact on business results, as prescribed by the behavioral view. Such a profile is sometimes referred to as an HR bundle.

The HR function thus drives business results as part of an overall program of superior organization design and development, where HR is complementary to other business functions. In this view it is necessary to know, or to have a reasonably solid theory about how HR inputs are transformed into business outcomes. But it is not necessary to be able to provide control, training, or monitoring. The metrics used vary more than in the other two views, but throughput and feedback metrics tend to be used along with organizational performance. Individual-level metrics are not common.

Put your strategy where your people are

Competitive advantage is not what it used to be. As data becomes an equalizer, global supply chains become more accessible, and consumer goods quickly become commodities, the only way most companies can outperform their competition is to be smarter about creating new markets. Doing so requires a better message along with better products, faster market responses and earlier customer engagement, greater talent and more room for it to perform. The challenge of forming human capital strategy is there are several ways to proceed, some better than others. Yet, if people are truly your most valuable investments, then they belong at the core of your strategy, and deserve the best analytics you’ve got.

This story originally appeared in SAP Business Trends.

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What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters

Meghan M. Biro

Generation Z’s arrival in the workforce means some changes are on the horizon for recruiters. This cohort, born roughly from the mid-90s to approximately 2010, will be entering the workforce in four Hiring Generation Z words in 3d letters on an organization chart to illustrate finding young employees for your company or businessshort years, and you can bet recruiters and employers are already paying close attention to them.

This past fall, the first group of Gen Z youth began entering university. As Boomers continue to work well past traditional retirement age, four or five years from now, we’ll have an American workplace comprised of five generations.

Marketers and researchers have been obsessed with Millennials for over a decade; they are the most studied generation in history, and at 80 million strong they are an economic force to be reckoned with. HR pros have also been focused on all things related to attracting, motivating, mentoring, and retaining Millennials and now, once Gen Z is part of the workforce, recruiters will have to shift gears and also learn to work with this new, lesser-known generation. What are the important points they’ll need to know?

Northeastern University led the way with an extensive survey on Gen Z in late 2014 that included 16- through 19-year-olds and shed some light on key traits. Here are a few points from that study that recruiters should pay special attention to:

  • In general, the Generation Z cohort tends to be comprised of self-starters who have a strong desire to be autonomous. 63% of them report that they want colleges to teach them about being an entrepreneur.
  • 42% expect to be self-employed later in life, and this percentage was higher among minorities.
  • Despite the high cost of higher education, 81% of Generation Z members surveyed believe going to college is extremely important.
  • Generation Z has a lot of anxiety around debt, not only student loan debt, and they report they are very interested in being well-educated about finances.
  • Interpersonal interaction is highly important to Gen Z; just as Millennials before them, communicating via technology, including social media, is far less valuable to them than face-to-face communication.

Of course Gen Z is still very young, and their opinions as they relate to future employment may well change. For example, reality is that only 6.6% of the American workforce is self-employed, making it likely that only a small percentage of those expecting to be self-employed will be as well. The future in that respect is uncertain, and this group has a lot of learning to do and experiences yet ahead of them. However, when it comes to recruiting them, here are some things that might be helpful.

Generation Z is constantly connected

Like Millennials, Gen Z is a cohort of digital natives; they have had technology and the many forms of communication that affords since birth. They are used to instant access to information and, like their older Gen Y counterparts, they are continually processing information. Like Millennials, they prefer to solve their own problems, and will turn to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials and to troubleshoot before asking for help. They also place great value on the reviews of their peers.

For recruiters, that means being ready to communicate on a wide variety of platforms on a continual basis. In order to recruit the top talent, you will have to be as connected as they are. You’ll need to keep up with their preferred networks, which will likely always be changing, and you’ll need to be transparent about what you want, as this generation is just as skeptical of marketing as the previous one.

Flexible schedules will continue to grow in importance

With the growth of part-time and contract workers, Gen Z will more than likely assume the same attitude their Millennial predecessors did when it comes to career expectations; they will not expect to remain with the same company for more than a few years. Flexible schedules will be a big part of their world as they move farther away from the traditional 9-to-5 job structure as work becomes more about life and less about work, and they’ll likely take on a variety of part time roles.

This preference for flexible work schedules means that business will happen outside of traditional work hours, and recruiters’ own work hours will, therefore, have to be just as flexible as their Gen Z targets’ schedule are. Companies will also have to examine what are in many cases decades old policies on acceptable work hours and business norms as they seek to not only attract, but to hire and retain this workforce with wholly different preferences than the ones that came before them. In many instances this is already happening, but I believe we will see this continue to evolve in the coming years.

Echoing the silent generation

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z came of age during difficult economic times; older Millennials were raised in the boom years. As Alex Williams points out in his recent New York Times piece, there’s an argument to be made that Generation Z is similar in attitude to the Silent Generation, growing up in a time of recession means they are more pragmatic and skeptical than their slightly older peers.

So how will this impact their behavior and desires as job candidates? Most of them are the product of Gen X parents, and stability will likely be very important to them. They may be both hard-working and fiscally savvy.

Sparks & Honey, in their much quoted slideshare on Gen Z, puts the number of high-schooler students who felt pressured by their parents to get jobs at 55 percent. Income and earning your keep are likely to be a big motivation for GenZ. Due to the recession, they also share the experience of living in multi-generational households, which may help considerably as they navigate a workplace comprised of several generations.

We don’t have all the answers

With its youngest members not yet in double digits, Gen Z is still maturing. There is obviously still a lot that we don’t know. This generation may have the opposite experience from the Millennials before them, where the older members experienced the booming economy, with some even getting a career foothold, before the collapse in 2008. Gen Z’s younger members may get to see a resurgent economy as they make their way out of college. Those younger members are still forming their personalities and views of the world; we would be presumptuous to think we have all of the answers already.

Generational analysis is part research, but also part theory testing. What we do know is that this second generation of digital natives, with its adaption of technology and comfort with the fast-paced changing world, will leave its mark on the American workforce as it makes its way in. As a result, everything about HR will change, in a big way. I wrote a post for my Forbes column recently where I said, “To recruit in this environment is like being part wizard, part astronaut, part diplomat, part guidance counselor,” and that’s very true.

As someone who loves change, I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be immersed in both the HR and the technology space. How do you feel about what’s on the horizon as it relates to the future of work and the impending arrival of Generation Z? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Social tools are playing an increasingly important role in the workplace, especially for younger workers. Learn more: Adopting Social Software For Workforce Collaboration [Video].

The post What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters appeared first on TalentCulture.

Image: Bigstock

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How The Digital Economy Is Defining An Entire Generation

Julia Caruso

millennial businesswomen using digital technology at work“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

As a part of the last wave of Millennials joining the workforce, I have been inspired by Jobs’ definition of innovation. For years, Millennials like me have been told that we need to be faster, better, and smarter than our peers. With this thought in mind and the endless possibilities of the Internet, it’s easy to see that the digital economy is here, and it is defining my generation.

Lately we’ve all read articles proclaiming that “the digital economy and the economy are becoming one in the same. The lines are being blurred.” While this may be true, Millennials do not see this distinction. To us, it’s just the economy. Everything we do happens in the abstract digital economy – we shop digitally, get our news digitally, communicate digitally, and we take pictures digitally. In fact, the things that we don’t do digitally are few and far between.

Millennial disruption: How to get our attention in the digital economy

In this fast-moving, highly technical era, innovation and technology are ubiquitous, forcing companies to deliver immediate value to consumers. This principle is ingrained in us – it’s stark reality. One day, a brand is a world leader, promising incredible change. Then just a few weeks later, it disappears. Millennials view leaders of the emerging (digital) economy as scrappy, agile, and comfortable making decisions that disrupt the norm, and that may or may not pan out.

What does it take to earn the attention of Millennials? Here are three things you should consider:

1. Millennials appreciate innovations that reinvent product delivery and service to make life better and simpler.

Uber, Vimeo, ASOS, and Apple are some of the most successful disruptors in the current digital economy. Why? They took an already mature market and used technology to make valuable connections with their Millennial customers. These companies did not invent a new product – they reinvented the way business is done within the economy. They knew what their consumers wanted before they realized it.

Millennials thrive on these companies. In fact, we seek them out and expect them to create rapid, digital changes to our daily lives. We want to use the products they developed. We adapt quickly to the changes powered by their new ideas or technologies. With that being said, it’s not astonishing that Millennials feel the need to connect regularly and digitally.

2. It’s not technology that captures us – it’s the simplicity that technology enables.

Recently, McKinsey & Company revealed that “CEOs expect 15%–50% of their companies’ future earnings to come from disruptive technology.” Considering this statistic, it may come as a surprise to these executives that buzzwords – including cloud, diversity, innovation, the Internet of Things, and future of work – does not resonate with us. Sure, we were raised on these terms, but it’s such a part of our culture that we do not think about it. We expect companies to deeply embed this technology now.

What we really crave is technology-enabled simplicity in every aspect of our lives. If something is too complicated to navigate, most of us stop using the product. And why not? It does not add value if we cannot use it immediately.

Many experts claim that this is unique to Millennials, but it truly isn’t. It might just be more obvious and prevalent with us. Some might translate our never-ending desire for simplicity into laziness. Yet striving to make daily activities simpler with the use of technology has been seen throughout history. Millennials just happen to be the first generation to be completely reliant on technology, simplicity, and digitally powered “personal” connections.

3. Millennials keep an eye on where and how the next technology revolution will begin.

Within the next few years Millennials will be the largest generation in the workforce. As a result, the onslaught of coverage on the evolution of technology will most likely be phased out. While the history of technology is significant for our predecessors, this not an overly important story for Millennials because we have not seen the technology evolution ourselves. For us, the digital revolution is a fact of life.

Companies like SAP, Amazon, and Apple did not invent the wheel. Rather, they were able to create a new digital future. For a company to be successful, senior leaders must demonstrate a talent for R&D genius as well as fortune-telling. They need to develop easy-to-use, brilliantly designed products, market them effectively to the masses, and maintain their product elite. It’s not easy, but the companies that upend an entire industry are successfully balancing these tasks.

Disruption can happen anywhere and at any time. Get ready!

Across every industry, big players are threatened — not only by well-known competitors, but by small teams sitting in a garage drafting new ideas that could turn the market upside down. In reality, anyone, anywhere, at any time can cause disruption and bring an idea to life.

Take my employer SAP, for example. With the creation of SAP S/4HANA, we are disrupting the tech market as we help our customers engage in digital transformation. By removing data warehousing and enabling real-time operations, companies are reimagining their future. Organizations such as La Trobe University, the NFL, and Adidas have made it easy to understand and conceptualize the effects using data in real time. But only time will tell whether Millennials will ever realize how much disruption was needed to get where we are today.

Find out how SAP Services & Support you can minimize the impact of disruption and maximize the success of your business. Read SAP S/4HANA customer success stories, visit the SAP Services HUB, or visit the customer testimonial page on SAP.com.

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About Julia Caruso

Julia Caruso is a Global Audience Marketing Specialist at SAP. She is responsible for developing strategic digital media plans and working with senior executives to create high level content for SAP S/4HANA and SAP Activate.

Live Businesses Deliver a Personal Customer Experience Without Losing Trust

Lori Mitchell-Keller, Brian Walker, Johann Wrede, Polly Traylor, and Stephanie Overby

Trust is the foundation of customer relationships. People who don’t trust your business are not likely to become or remain customers.

The trust relationship has taken some big hits lately. Beloved brands like Chipotle and Toyota have seen customer trust ebb due to public perception of their roles in safety issues. Consumers continue to experience occasional data breaches from large brands.

Yet these traditional threats have short half-lives. The latest threat could last forever.

Most customers claim they want personalization across all the channels in which they interact with companies. Such personalization should create long-term loyalty by creating a new level of intimacy in the relationship.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images2But that intimacy comes at a high price. For personalization to work, brands need to gather unprecedented amounts of personal information about customers and continue to do so over the course of the relationship. Customers are already wary: 80% of consumers have updated their privacy settings recently, according to an article in VentureBeat.

Companies must get personalization right. If they do, customers are more likely to purchase again and less likely to switch to a competitor. Personalization is also an important step toward the holy grail of digital transformation: becoming a Live Business, capable of meeting customers with relevant and customized offers, products, and services in real time or in the moments of customers’ choosing.

When done wrong, personalization can cause customers to feel that they’ve been deceived and that their privacy has been violated. It can also turn into an uncomfortable headline. When Target used its database of customer purchases to send coupons for diapers to the home of an expectant teen before her father knew about the pregnancy, its action backfired. The incident became the centerpiece of a New York Times story on Target’s consumer intelligence gathering practices and privacy.

Straddling the Line of Trust

Customers can’t define the line between helpful and creepy, but they know it when they see it.

Research conducted by RichRelevance in 2015 made something abundantly clear: what marketers think is cool may be seen as creepy by consumers. For example, facial-recognition technology that identifies age and gender to target advertisements on digital screens is considered creepy by 73% of people surveyed. Yet consumers were happy about scanning a product on their mobile device to see product reviews and recommendations for other items they might like, the survey revealed. Here’s what else resonates as creepy or cool when it comes to digital engagement with consumers, courtesy of RichRelevance and Edelman Berland (now called Edelman).

Creepy

  • Shoppers are put off when salespeople greet them by name because of mobile phone signals or know their spending habits because of facial-recognition software.
  • Dynamic pricing, such as a digital display showing a lower price “just for you,” also puts shoppers off.
  • When brands collect data on consumers without their knowledge, 83% of people consider it an invasion of privacy, according to RichRelevance’s research, and 65% feel the same way about ads that follow them from Web site to Web site (retargeting).

Cool

  • Shoppers like mobile apps with interactive maps that efficiently guide them to products in the store.
  • They also like when their in-store location triggers a coupon or other promotion for a product nearby.
  • When a Web site reminds the consumer of past purchases, a majority of shoppers like it.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about which personalization tactics are creepy and which are cool, but trust is particularly threatened in face-to-face interactions. Nobody minds much if Amazon sends product recommendations through a computer, but when salespeople approach customers like a long-lost friend based on information collected without the customer’s knowledge or permission, the violation of trust feels much more personal and emotional. The stage is set for an angry, embarrassed customer to walk out  the door, forever.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images3It doesn’t help that the limits of trust shift constantly as social media tempts us to reveal more and more about ourselves and as companies’ data collection techniques continue to improve. It’s easy to cross the line from helpful to creepy or annoying (see Straddling the Line of Trust).

Online, customers are similarly choosy about personalization. For example, when online shoppers are simply looking at a product category, ads that matched their prior Web-browsing interests are ineffective, an MIT study reports. Yet after consumers have visited a review site to seek out information and are closer to a purchase, personalized content is more effective than generic ads.

Personalization Requires a Live Business

Yet the limits of trust are definitely shifting toward more personalization, not less. Customers already enjoy frictionless personalized experiences with digital-native companies like Uber, and they are applying those heightened expectations to all companies. For example, 91% of customers want to pick up where they left off when they switch between channels, according to Aspect research. And personalization is helpful when you receive recommendations for products that you would like based on previous in-store or online purchases.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images-0004Customers also want their interactions to be live—or in the moment they choose. Fulfilling that need means that companies must become Live Businesses, capable of creating a technological infrastructure that allows real-time interactions and that allows the entire organization—its structure, people, and processes—to respond to customers in all the moments that matter.

Coordinating across channels and meeting customers in the right moments with personalized interactions will become critical as the digital economy matures and customer expectations rise. For instance, when customers air complaints about a brand on social media, 72% expect a response within an hour, according to consulting firm Bain & Company. Meanwhile, an Accenture survey found that nearly 60% of consumers want real-time promotions; 48% like online reminders to order items that they might have run out of; and 51% like the idea of a one-click checkout, where they can skip payment method or shipping forms because the retailer has saved their preferences. Those types of services build trust, showing that companies care enough to understand their customers and send offers or information that save them time, money, or both.

So while trust is difficult to earn, once you’ve earned it and figured out how to maintain it, you can have customers for life—as long as you respect the shifting boundaries.

“Do customers think the company is truly acting with their best interests at heart, or is it just trying to feed the quarterly earnings beast?” asks Donna Peeples, a customer experience expert and the former chief customer experience officer at AIG. “Customer data should be accurate and timely, the company should be transparent about how the data is being used, and it should give customers control over data collection.”

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images-0005How to Earn Trust for a Live Business

Despite spending US$600 billion on online purchases, U.S. consumers are concerned with transaction privacy, the 2015 Consumer Trust Survey from CA Security Council reveals. These concerns will become acute as Live Businesses make personalization across channels a reality.

Here are some ways to improve trust while moving forward with omnichannel personalization.

  • Determine the value of trust. Customers want to know what value they are getting in exchange for their data. An Accenture study found that the majority of consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom are willing to have trusted retailers use some of their personal data in order to present personalized and targeted products, services, recommendations, and offers.
    “If customers get substantial discounts or offers that are appealing to them, they are often more than willing to make that trade-off,” says Tom Davenport, author of Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities. “But a lot of companies are cheap. They use the information but don’t give anything back. They make offers that aren’t particularly relevant or useful. They don’t give discounts for loyalty. They’re just trying to sell more.”
  • Let customers make the first move. Customers who voluntarily give up data are more likely to trust personalization across the channels where they do business. Mobile apps are a great way to invite customers to share more data in a more intimate relationship that they control. By entering the data they choose into the app, customers won’t be annoyed by personalization that’s built around it.
    For example, a leading luxury retailer’s sales associates may offer customers their favorite beverages based on information they entered into the app about their interests and preferences.
  • Simplify data collection and usage policies. Slapping a dense data- use policy written in legalese on the corporate website does little to earn customers’ trust. Instead, companies should think about the customer data transaction, such as what information the customer is giving them, how they’re using it, and what the result will be, and describe it as simply as possible.
    “Try to describe it in words so simple that your grandmother can understand it. And then ask your grandmother if it’s reasonable,” suggests Elea McDonnell Feit, assistant professor of marketing at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. “If your grandmother can’t understand what’s happening, you’ve got a problem.”
    The use of data should be totally transparent in the interaction itself, adds Feit. “When a company uses data to customize a service or offering to a customer, the customer should be able to figure out where the company got the data and immediately see how the company is providing added value to the customers by using the data,” Feit says.
  • Create trust through education. Yes, bombarding customers with generic offers and pushing those offers across the different Web sites they visit may boost profits over the short term, but customers will eventually become weary and mistrustful. To create trust that lasts and that supports personalization, educate the customers.

Procter & Gamble’s (P&G’s) Mean Stinks campaign for Secret deodorant encourages girl-to-girl anti-bullying posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The pages let participants send apologies to those they have bullied; view videos; and share tips, tools, and challenges with their peers.

P&G has said that participation in Mean Stinks has helped drive market share increases for the core Secret brand as well as the specific line of deodorant promoted by the effort. Offering education without pushing products or services creates a sense that companies are putting customers’ interests before their own, which is one of the bedrock elements of trust. Opting in to personalization seems less risky to customers if they perceive that companies have built up a reserve of value and trust.

“Companies that do personalization well demonstrate that they care, respect customers’ time, know and understand their customers and their needs and interests,” says Peeples. “It also reinforces that interactions are not merely transactions but opportunities to build a long-term relationship with that customer.”

Laying the Foundation for Live, Personalized Omnichannel Processes

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images-0006Creating a personalized omnichannel strategy that balances trust and business goals starts with knowing the customer. This can happen only when multiple aspects of your business are coordinated in a live fashion. But marketers today struggle to collect the kind of data that could drive more meaningful connections with customers. In an Infogroup survey of more than 500 marketers, only 21% said they are “very confident in the accuracy and completeness of their customer profiles.” A little over half of respondents said they aren’t collecting enough data overall.

Collecting enough of the right types of data requires more holistic data-collection techniques:

  • Take advantage of the lower costs for processing and storing terabytes of data, and develop a data strategy that combines and crunches all the customer data points needed to drive relevant interactions. This includes transactional, mobile, sensor, and  Web data.
  • Social media analytics is also a central tactic. Social profiles and activity are rich sources of data about behavior and character, merging what people buy or look for with their interests, for instance. Such data can feed predictive analytics and personalization campaigns.
  • Experiment with commercial tools that can filter and mine the data of customers and prospects in real time. This is a significant step beyond basic demographic data collections of the past.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images-0007Once the necessary data is available, companies need the technology, processes, and people to make sensible use of it in an omnichannel personalization strategy. Only when a company is organized as a Live Business can that happen. Here’s how your company can move toward being a Live Business:
Be live across channels. Having a consistent customer journey map across channels is core to omnichannel personalization. It requires integration across multiple systems and organizational silos to enable core capabilities, such as inventory visibility and purchase/pickup/return across channels. This integration also constitutes a major chunk of the transition to becoming a company that can act in the moments that matter most to customers. If all channels can sync in real time, customers can get what they want in the moment they want it.

Free the data scientists. Marketing rarely has full control over the omnichannel experience, but it is the undisputed leader in understanding customer behavior. While data science is part of that understanding, it has traditionally played a background role. Marketers need to bring the data scientists into efforts to sort through the different options for digitizing the omnichannel experience. The right data scientists understand not only how to use the tools but also how to apply the data to make accurate decisions and follow customers from channel to channel with personalized offers.

Walgreens’ Technology Approach to Personalization

Walgreens is a leader in building the kind of technology base that can enable real-time, omnichannel personalization. Its digital transformation is 16 years in the making, according to Jason Fei, senior director of architecture for digital engineering at Walgreens. At the heart of its infrastructure is a Big Data engine that feeds many customer interaction and omnichannel processes, including customer segmentation. The company adds third-party systems in areas such as predictive analytics and marketing software. Walgreens has a cloud-first strategy for all new applications, such as its image-processing and print-ordering applications. Other elements of the drugstore chain’s technology platform include:

  • Application programming interface (API)-driven architecture. Walgreens’ APIs enable more than 50 partners to connect with its apps and systems to drive customer-facing processes, including integrations with consumer wearables to drive reward points for healthy habits, as well as content partnerships with companies such as WebMD. “With APIs we can be an extensible business, allowing other companies to connect to us easily and help in the digital enablement of our physical stores,” Fei says.
  • Responsive Web sites. The company’s Web site is built using responsive and adaptive design practices so that the site automatically adapts to the consumer’s device, whether that is a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop computer. “We have a single code base that runs anywhere and delivers a consistent, optimized experience to all of our customers,” Fei says.

Making the Most of the Technology Base

This technology foundation has allowed Walgreens to push forward in personalization. For example, according to Fei the company uses sophisticated segmentation and personalization engines to drive outbound e-mail and text campaigns to customers based on their purchase history and profile. “We don’t blast out messages to customers; we use our personalization recommendations to be relevant,” says Fei.

The next phase of this strategy is to develop live inbound personalization tactics, such as recognizing customers when they come back to the Web site and tailoring their experience accordingly. These highly automated, self-learning systems improve over time, becoming more relevant at the moment a customer logs back in.

“When you search for a product, the Web site will take a good guess of what you might actually want. If you always print greeting cards at the same time of year, for example, the system would automatically deliver content around that,” Fei explains. “Everyone comes to Walgreens with a mission, so we can be very targeted with our communications.”

Walgreens’ mobile app combines real-time personalization with convenience. You can scan a pill bottle to refill a prescription, access coupons, send photos from your phone to print in the store, track rewards, and find the exact location of a product on the shelf.

Walgreens also recently deployed a new integrated interactive voice-response system that includes a personalization engine that recognizes the individual, says Troy Mills, vice president of customer care at Walgreens. The system can then predict the most probable reason for the customer’s call and quickly get them to the right individual for further help.

How to Get Started with Live Customer Experiences

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature3_images-0008As Fei can attest, getting Walgreens’ omnichannel and personalization infrastructure to this point has involved a lot of work, with much more to come. For companies just now embarking on this journey, especially midsize and large companies, getting started will mean overhauling an outdated and ineffective technology infrastructure where duplicate systems and processes for managing customer data, marketing programs, and transactions are common.

A bad internal user experience often transcends into a bad customer-facing experience, says Peeples. “We can’t afford the distractions of the latest app or social ‘shiny penny’ without addressing the root causes of our systems’ issues.”

Live Business Requires Striking the Right Balance

The boundaries of trust are a moving target. Sales tactics that used to be acceptable decades ago, such as the door-to-door salesperson, are unwelcome today to most homeowners. And consumers’ expectations are unpredictable. At the dawn of social media, many people were anxious about their photos unexpectedly showing up online. Now our identities are tagged and our posts and photos distributed and commented on regularly.

But while consumers are getting more comfortable with online technology and its trade-offs, they won’t put up with personalization efforts that make use of their data without their knowledge or permission. That data has value, and customers want to decide for themselves when it’s worth giving it away. Marketers need to strike the right balance between personalization and a healthy respect for the unique needs and concerns of individuals. D!

 

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Lori Mitchell-Keller

About Lori Mitchell-Keller

Lori Mitchell-Keller is the Executive Vice President and Global General Manager Consumer Industries at SAP. She leads the Retail, Wholesale Distribution, Consumer Products, and Life Sciences Industries with a strong focus on helping our customers transform their business and derive value while getting closer to their customers.

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100 Top Digital Marketing Influencers And Brands

Michael Brenner

New technologies and social media in the last two decades have fundamentally changed the way consumers think, behave, and engage with brands. While traditional marketing models are still applicable, marketers today are learning a whole new set of digital marketing skills and strategies to better connect with consumers.

It’s no surprise then that digital marketing spending is forecasted to account for at least 35% of total marketing budget this year, and is predicted to grow another 12% next year. This increase in digital marketing investment has created a surge in demand for digital marketers. These digital marketers are marketing nerds who are obsessed with analytics and Big Data, but are also highly creative and skilled in everything from copywriting to graphic design, photography, and videography.

If you are a digital marketer or aspire to become one, what are some of the top digital marketing trends or ideas you’ll need to know this year? Onalytica asked seven of the influencers identified in its Top 100 Influencers And Brands research to share their views; check out what they have to say! In full disclosure, I was identified as one of the influencers and was asked to share my opinion on the topic. You can find last year’s list here and 2014’s list here.

What the experts are saying about digital marketing

Jeff-BullasJeff Bullas – CEO at Jeffbullas.com Pty Ltd

“There is an elephant in the room for many digital marketers. They love the vanity metrics of traffic, social media sharing, and follower growth. They are hooked on the engagement and feedback that cool content provides to the brand. But they often don’t work on the last few hard yards. It isn’t seen as sexy and it can be boring. It’s converting that traffic and engagement into leads and sales. It’s is time for many social media and content marketers to grow up”

sam-hurleySam Hurley, Founder of OPTIM-EYEZ

“This saturated, fast-paced digital world in which we live can seem overwhelming for business owners and marketers alike. Aside from the sheer amount of information and data we force ourselves to consume each and every day, there’s one precious unit of measurement which we most commonly neglect: Time. To become a successful business owner, brand, solopreneur, marketer… you have to become a master of time. Digital marketing is evolving at incredible rates, which only feeds our fixation with shiny new objects such as virtual reality and the newest social media platforms. My advice for this year onward? Focus your time and energy into three key revenue generators which suit your business model (and you!). Become exceptional at nurturing these generators and don’t veer off course. Take heed of the new digital trends and adapt, but don’t divert. For these three revenue generators, funnel effort into three primary traffic channels (paid, owned, and earned) that will gain qualified exposure for your business — exposure that converts into sales. That’s all! Test what works and stick with it. Don’t waste your time being a jack of all trades. Finally; build relationships, be yourself, and push your name through social media. I cannot express enough how important this is. Personal branding is absolutely critical for trust, credibility, and inbound leads. Spend time on yourself and everything else will follow. Seriously, I’m living proof of this methodology. I’ve never had to advertise to attract my own clients. My website isn’t even live yet! If this seems crazy to you, it’s time to alter your approach to business. Concepts of marketing will always remain unchanged. It’s only the tools, buzzwords, and technologies that form and shift around us…don’t be dazzled by them. Digital marketing is fun. Profit as a result (and your continued sanity) is better.”

Larry-KimLarry Kim – Founder of WordStream

“We’ve reached peak social – a point at which the signal to noise ratio of social updates is unsustainable – companies, individuals, and automated tools are cranking out so many social updates that post engagement rate is getting crushed. At the same time, the social platforms are obviously looking to monetize their platforms with an increasing number of ads, which further diminishes organic visibility. As more content and ads floods social networks, the slice of engagement for the average brand must shrink because there’s only a finite amount of content consumption and engagement to be had. Social platforms are responding by creating and refining curated user timelines, and only the top brands with the most engaging content will survive.”

Rand-FishkinRand Fishkin – Founder of Moz

“Adblocking was part of a huge conversation in 2015, and my guess is that the reaction to this growing technology is going to mimic how entrenched players have reacted to technology leaps in the past — by trying to legislate it away. I anticipate that in either the U.S. or the EU, some form of government action will arise (in the U.S., most likely due to lobbying, a.k.a. our legalized system of bribery) to “protect the interests of publishers and journalists who serve the public good.”

Evan-DunnEvan Dunn – Digital Marketing Practice Lead at Transform

“The digital media landscape is complex. With new channels, media and technology popping up every month, it’s only getting more complex. The most critical component of success in today’s marketing universe is a cohesive strategy – a theoretical framework that makes sense of every marketing activity executed by your brand, and provides an architecture for measurement and optimization of every activity. After all, if you’re not sure whether an activity is driving ROI, is it really worth doing? Today’s marketing, whether online or off, must be a scientific art (or an artistic science, either one). It can no longer be gut-driven, dominated by creative, and powered by trendy jargon. Measurement, analytics, statistics, quantification, optimization – these are the stuff of proven strategies. Don’t be distracted by flashy ad-tech, although it is sometimes useful. If your digital marketing objective is growing numbers (customers, sales), then your means of accomplishing it must be by analyzing the numbers. Quantitative Marketing is the future of all forms of marketing, including digital.”

Michael-BrennerMichael Brenner CEO of Marketing Insider Group

“Ten years ago, you would have found it difficult to find anything labeled “digital marketing” on the job boards or even listed in the descriptions for openings companies were trying to fill. Now, digital marketing is the hottest job title in all of marketing. Digital marketing skills are in such high demand because we understand how to market to today’s always-connected, multi-device consumer. The top digital marketers today combine right and left-brain talents. We are one part content marketers, editors, and writers, who understand how to create the kind of content that people actually want to read and share. On the other hand, we are also one part data nerds, who understand how to analyze all the information available to us as we continuously create and promote content across email, search, social, and even offline platforms. Today’s digital marketer knows how to reach, engage, and convert new customers for our businesses. We defy the old notion that marketing can’t be measured. Because we’re doing it every day.”

Michael-J.-SchiemerMichael J. Schiemer – Founder at Schiemer Consulting

“In today’s ultra-competitive digital marketing landscape, differentiating your company from the competition is paramount. There are too many generic or mediocre digital marketers and digital marketing agencies out there that won’t stand the test of time. Other more established marketers will rest on their laurels, fail to adapt, and become obsolete in a short period of time. I think all digital marketers and agencies should ask themselves three questions: How are you going above and beyond for your clients? What value do you bring to the table that they can’t get anywhere else? What prevents your services from being outsourced or replaced by a few inexpensive software programs? If you can’t answer those questions quickly and confidently, then you need to step up your efforts or find a new industry.”

Top 100 individuals

RANK TWITTER HANDLE NAME COMPANY INFLUENCER SCORE
1 @jeffbullas Jeff Bullas Jeffbullas.com 44.13
2 @Sam___Hurley Sam Hurley OPTIM-EYEZ 38.2
3 @MarketingProfs Ann Handley MarketingProfs 31.99
4 @AshleyFriedlein Ashley Friedlein Econsultancy 28.46
5 @Rocco_Zebra_Adv Rocco Baldassarre Zebra Advertisement 27.97
6 @iMariaJohnsen Maria Johnsen Golden Way Media 26.57
7 @larrykim Larry Kim Wordstream 21.45
8 @randfish Rand Fishkin Moz 21.07
9 @PamMktgNut Pam Moore Marketing Nutz 18.67
10 @leeodden Lee Odden Top Rank Marketing 16.82
11 @acfrank Andrew Frank Gartner for Marketing 15.73
12 @dknowlton1 Daniel Knowlton KPS DigitalMarketing 13.62
13 @DioFavatas Dio Favatas Truth Initiative 13.08
14 @evanpdunn Evan Dunn Transform 12.53
15 @BrennerMichael Michael Brenner Marketing Insider Group 12.43
16 @adamwoodsaus Adam Woods Reed Exhibitions 12.37
17 @WBB_13 Brent Bouldin Bank of America 11.47
18 @jaybaer Jay Baer Convince & Convert 10.41
19 @davidbnz David Bell University of Pennsylvania 10.32
20 @DaveChaffey Dr Dave Chaffey Smart Insights 10.24
21 @chuckaikens Chuck Aikens Volume Nine 10.18
22 @JenPolk1 Jennifer Polk Gartner 9.92
23 @AlexTachalova Alexandra Tachalova alextachalova.com 9.76
24 @ajalumnify AJ Agrawal Alumnify 9.6
25 @MikeSchiemer Michael J. Schiemer Colbea 9.23
26 @jeremywaite Jeremy ☁️ Colbea Enterprises 9.18
27 @azeckman Ashley Zeckman Top Rank Marketing 8.4
28 @MariSmith Mari Smith marismith.com 8.18
29 @MelonieDodaro Melonie Dodaro Top Dog Social Media 8.11
30 @augieray Augie Ray Gartner for Marketers 8
31 @krbenedict Kevin R Benedict Cognizant 7.93
32 @SimonYates Simon Yates Gartner for Marketers 7.82
33 @NealSchaffer Neal Schaffer Maximize Your Social 7.58
34 @Matt_Umbro Matthew Umbro PPCChat 7.35
35 @markwschaefer Mark Schaefer Schaefer Marketing Solutions 7.21
36 @FeldmanCreative Barry Feldman Feldman Creative 7.1
37 @BrianHughes116 Brian Hughes Integrity Marketing 6.76
38 @ItsDUHnise Jenise Henrikson Search Engine Journal 6.64
39 @DanScalco Dan Scalco digitalux 6.62
40 @neilpatel Neil Patel Crazy Egg 6.59
41 @martykihn Martin Kihn Gartner 6.47
42 @MarketingLetter Dr. Angela Hausman Hausman and Associates 6.41
43 @lacostejonathan Jonathan Lacoste Jebbit 6.37
44 @crestodina Andy Crestodina Orbit Media 6.29
45 @markfidelman Mark Fidelman Evolve! 6.2
46 @marktraphagen Mark Traphagen Stone Temple Consulting 6.06
47 @jacobvar Jacob Varghese jacobv.com 6.01
48 @marcusbowlerhat Marcus Miller Bowler Hat 5.89
49 @CynthiaLIVE Cynthia Johnson American Addiction Centers 5.87
50 @BrettRelander Brett Relander Launch & Hustle 5.65

Top marketing topics

Onalytica was interested in seeing which topics were most popular among their identified top influencers, so they analyzed their tweets and blogs from January 1st to April 19th this year, counting the number of mentions each marketing topic received.

Social Media dominated the list with 27% share of voice, with Content Marketing coming in at second with 12%, and Branding at 9%. Facebook, Twitter, and SEO were tied for fourth place at 8%, followed by Strategy and Advertising both at 5% and Analytics at 4%. Email Marketing, PPC, LinkedIn, and Planning all received 3%, with Growth Hacking rounding out the list at 2%.

Topic-Share-of-Voice-Among-the-Top-100-Digital-Marketing-Influencers-and-Brands

Mapping the digital marketing community

Onalytica also looked at which marketers and brands were leading the conversation on Twitter, so they analyzed over 1.5 million tweets from December 4th, 2015, to April 29th, 2016, mentioning the keyword “digital marketing,” and identified the top 100 most influential individuals and brands who were leading the online discussion.

Onalytica discovered that there was a very engaged community of high-profile marketers, business professionals, and brands. Below you can see the network map of the online conversation Onalytica created with its Influencer Relationship Management software (IRM), showing the No. 1 Influencer, Jeff Bullas, at the center and the conversations to and from the influencers in his field.

Network-Map-5-Jeff-Bullas

Here’s another network map with the No. 1 brand, Econsultancy, at the center, and the conversations to and from the influencers in its field.

Network-Map-6-Econsultancy

Disclaimer: As ever with these lists, it must be stressed that the ranking is by no means a definitive measurement of influence, as there is no such thing. The brands and individuals listed are undoubtedly influential when it comes to driving discussion in Digital Marketing.

The PageRank based methodology we use to extract influencers on a particular topic takes into account the number and quality of contextual references that a user receives. These calculations are independent of a user’s number of followers, but we do filter our lists based on how much a user is engaged in the conversation and the influence they drive through their networks.

Stop confining social media to marketing. To boost returns, it must be embedded into how companies do business. Learn more about this topic in our research inquiry In a Live Business, Social Gets Its MBA.

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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.