Outside In: Forrester Customer Experience Forum 2012

Last week a steamy New York City hosted the Forrester Research Customer Experience Forum, Outside In: The Power Of Putting Customers At The Center Of Your Business. The forum content was carefully designed to support and provide real world examples connected to the upcoming book Outside In by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning. I was stunned at the number of people in attendance. Certainly holding the event in New York contributed, but I think firms are beginning to understand the gravity of the situation. Speed, paradigm shift (sorry), mobile, social and big data are the beacons of change today. As with all Forrester Forums there was a a ton of information, case studies and technology solutions. No one could possibly attend every session, so I boiled down some nuggets that caught my attention.

Customer Experience Needs to be Unified

Consumers are  literally all over the map these days. Brands orchestrate platforms on devices and interfaces, but consumers ignore all that hyperbole. They just want to get things done.  In his talk, The Unified Customer Experience Imperative, Ron Rogowski (@ronrogowski) spoke about complex customer journeys and the even greater complex challenge it presents for brands to understand and deliver across this new landscape. Things used to be much simpler. He showed this chart that illustrates what brands need to consider.

Consistency has always been a critical path for success. Forrester has tweaked that term and now calls it unified. Unified but not uniform. This is a very important nuance to understand. We wrestle with this notion all the time, having spent a decade plus working the ever-expanding big canvas of a full site, we now must make tough decisions on what to do on handsets and tablets.

This means make it similar, not the same. In order to get better at this, the entire brand will need to begin to understand and inflect their work to meet this new challenge. It will be important to get everyone on board, or we will face a series of never-ending discussions across the organization each and every time we want to add content, features and functionality to interfaces that are not full site.

We will need to continue to listen, collect and categorize the voice of the customer in each channel, but find ways to do an experience mash-up VOC to help inform and guide how we design and deliver experiences in the future. Relevance and real time data should be our mantra.

There has been a lot of discussion about responsive design recently and this forum was no different. It is promising, but there are lots of challenges and some big decisions that must be made. I can’t imagine converting a massive web site to be all responsive, but it does make sense to begin to experiment and learn. Bottom line. Get moving and bring everyone along.

The World is Mobile

We hear it all the time, mobile first. Julie Ask (@JulieAsk) said it right at the outset of her talk on The Future of Mobile. It’s tricky, because if you are an established brand with millions of customers, your full site traffic and usage likely dwarfs your customers coming to you via mobile. Julie explains that designing mobile first doesn’t mean abandon full site or prioritize mobile above all else. It means your designers and CX people for mobile will need to be fully aligned with your full site team. I suggest you make them the same team, otherwise you risk an unhealthy diversion of experiences. Julie has a sharp eye and she trains it on the future. Phones will continue to get more powerful and bandwidth will improve. This will lead to a host of new technologies that will be mobile. She is careful to not restrict these new technology advances to handsets or tablets. They might extend to contact lenses or cardio stents.

No one can say with certainty exactly the order of advancement, but it’s clear that mobile will diverge even further from the PC experience and become the dominant device for service brand and shopping. The landscape will be a convergence of context, intelligence, contextual dimensions and completely new ways to navigate.

Design Still Matters

Understanding how consumers use interfaces is even more critical than ever. This used to be much easier than it is now and so expertise must be developed in house or contracted. It’s time to re-double our usability tools use to uncover struggles within interfaces as well as ensure that users can connect with your brand across devices no matter where they are. Bill Albert of Bentley University, provided one of the most concise summaries of UX tools and when to use them. Loved this chart.

Four years ago I wrote a post on neuromarketing. This is a set of emerging techniques allowing us to get at the physiology of consumers. By measuring heart rate, galvanic skin response, even body movement, we will get better data from consumers to help guide us through design. The equipment is getting better and the costs to field these studies is coming down. Add this to your big data chart.

Big Data is Really Big

Tim Suther of Acxiom laid out a nice summary of how they think about big data. Big data does not mean lots more data. There is already more data than we can mine. We all know what we need is more insights, but that is getting much harder to come by. Big data means new data sources at the most granular level that can be accessed through existing CRM systems and will be largely digital and behavioral in nature going forward. Segments are a thing of the past. People is where we need to go. How people use and interact with today’s social networking experiences must also be included.

No one signal consistently describes or predicts consumer behavior. Activate and evaluate these signals at scale with speed. – Tim Suther

Along with Tim, Richard Char of Citibank talked about their efforts to harness big data and deliver relevant offers. He spoke about Lifestyle Enabled Marketing (LEM) which he uses to push his company to gain a more compete view of the customer. He had a lot of interesting slides, but I think this sums up the shift we are trying to manage through. Somewhere where the arrows meet is where big data will be the most help.

It’s the Customer, Stupid

Amazing as it sounds, we are still learning how to deliver great customer experiences. It’s not that no one is trying, it’s that the customer won’t hold still, keeps getting smarter, more fickle and less loyal. Hard to blame them as they are constantly being tempted by the next shiny object and brands continue to stumble.

Forrester’s forthcoming book Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of your Business offers lots of great information and practical approaches to better understand the evolving consumer. But perhaps more important, how to work inside your own company to shift the culture to be more customer focused, and therefore more successful.

They lay out six disciplines of customer experience; Strategy, Customer Understanding, Design, Measurement, Governance and Culture. They posit that getting customer experience right can add billions to the bottom line of businesses. This is challenging to measure and we all know how difficult attribution can be. But having finished this book in galleys this weekend, I’d have to say they have broken some new ground and provided us with a way to think differently, plan and act.

They speak of the rise of the Chief Customer Officer, and indeed this position is beginning to pop-up. I personally believe it will be some time before it’s a common job description and routine hire across corporate America. I do believe it will evolve, forced actually, as consumers become more independent, technology advances and competition changes battlefields from marketing to experiences.

Photo: Steve A Furman 

Assessing the Value of Research and Thought Leadership

On Friday, January 21, 2011, I had a distinct honor. I sat on a panel before the entire global sales team of Forrester Research in Boston to discuss how firms measure the value of research, as well as what I like most and least about Forrester. It’s one of those things that you wish all your partners would do more of. Listen hard to what their customers are saying. The panel included myself, Jeff Reid, AVP at The Hartford Insurance Company, Neil Clemmons, President of Critical Mass, and Susan DiManno, Research Director at The Boston Globe.

Full Disclosure: I’ve been a client of Forrester since 1997, and sit on one of their Leadership Councils. This blog post represents my personal thoughts, and does not include comments from any other panelist.

The question came up about how I think about and measure the ROI of research firms like Forrester. It’s of course a great question. Certainly in business one must manage spend and revenue, and everything a company undertakes should be reviewed for it’s value back to the firm. But I would posit that not everything has to be about ROI, at least not in the strictest sense. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should. You can’t measure everything unless you have endless analytical resources, and if you try, you’ll probably miss out on key insights because you are too busy measuring. The entire doctrine of driving insight adoption is built on knowing when you have enough information to move forward. Carpenters have a saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” It’s not measure over and over and over. Not if you want to actually finish that house.

I value research and thought leadership the way I value education, knowledge and experience; highly. Do you ask yourself, “Should I hire smart, talented people? Do I need to train and coach them?” There is no way a digital professional can be consistently successful without these tools in their toolkit. Once you have acquired them you need to take full advantage. That’s where research and thought leadership comes into play. They act as finishing stones to hone these tools. To keep them razor sharp. This edge can be the difference between making a good decision or a bad one. It can help you build your business case and be more effective socializing your ideas across the broad cross-functional landscape of your firm. They make you better informed. Here is how I bucket this resource.


I’ll frequently turn to Forrester to to validate my current thinking or approach. No matter how smart you are, it’s always helpful to ensure you’re not blindly drinking your own kool-aid. The greatest writers had even smarter editors.

Cross-Vertical Learning

Many of the best lessons are learned by observing someone that’s accomplished in another realm. Forrester gets to peek under the covers of hundreds of companies and publish a combined, fully informed research paper. It’s a place I can’t go (probably better off most times, bed bugs, etc.).


I am constantly assessing new technologies and tools to help automate processes and in general help me do my job smarter. Frequently Forrester will usually have a Wave report that can help me narrow the field of who would be good candidates to invite into that so well loved RFP process.

Company Education

Not everyone in your firm thinks about things they way you do. We invite Forrester analysts to add their voice to our own inside the company, helping to educate and spark ideas and activity.


There is no such thing as a fully reliable crystal ball. But if you want to lead, not necessarily bleed, you will need to make some calculated bets on what might happen. Firms like Forrester sometimes make bold, provocative predictions that bridge data with their brains. True, one is left to divine their own future from this, but the value is in breaking the tunnel thinking we can so easily fall into.

Certainly Forrester is not without their opportunities to improve. A potential white space is to partner with the execution agency resources that are employed by their clients. This could serve as connective tissue between desired outcomes and deliverables that achieve them. Over the past 15 years I have gained a lot personally from my interaction with Forrester, and that has clearly translated into value back to my company. The research is great, but in the end it comes down to people. I thank my account manager at Forrester, Michelle Beaudreau, for working tirelessly at making me more successful everyday.

If you are still a stickler for that ROI, then have at it. I’ll spend my time getting smarter thank  you.

Adaptive Marketing: Coping with Real Time Customers

The theme of the recent Forrester Marketing Forum held in Los Angeles this past April was Adaptive Marketing: How to Design a Flexible Organization to Thrive on Change. As usual there were Forrester speakers and presentations by big brands who have been working to either adapt their own marketing efforts to the fast-changing consumer, or providing solutions for marketers to better adapt. This post summarizes the ideas, notes and quotes that struck a meaningful chord with me and epitomized in my mind the concept of adaptive marketing.

What is adaptive marketing? Forrester defines it this way.

A flexible approach in which marketers respond quickly to their environment to align customer and brand goals and maximize return on brand equity.

Ok, fine. But what does that mean and where do we begin? Well, it begins with data, and lots of it. More data than we as marketers have dealt with in the past. And we need it faster than we have received it before and must be willing to improve our agility and act on the data much closer to real time than ever before. It’s tricky because we have all been handcuffed in the past by analysis paralysis. By not knowing when we have enough data to make the decision. Being an adaptive marketer means giving up a little on the temptation to ask for one more cut of the data to make a perfect decision, and act now on making a good decision, then, well, adapt.

Why is adaptive marketing something we should be talking about today? I believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that consumers are enjoying their new found power of being at the helm, and becoming more comfortable with bypassing traditional channels to research and learn from others who have had real experiences with brands, products and services. It’s a new world for consumers and brands, and the consumers are moving ahead. But then again it’s much easier to be agile as a single person than it is an inertia-laden bureaucratic corporate dinosaur (oh, that felt good). The traditional marketing funnel is breaking down as consumers bounce out and check blogs, forums, networks and friends before making a buying decision. This activity is accelerating an an alarming pace. Power is shifting. Thus, marketers need to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.

Let me be clear. I am not sounding an alarm or posting my version of the Mayan calendar. Today’s marketing machine is pretty darn good. But change happens faster with each passing year, and the consumer is like Benjamin Button, he’s getting younger all the time. Good firms tend to devote a lot of thought to the future. And a funny thing happens when you raise your head up and peer over the walled garden. You see what’s out there. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll see.

Adaptive Marketing: Rethinking Marketing Methods in the Digital Age

Among a number of interesting things presented by David Cooperstein, VP of Forrester, was a brief history of media. He took us through radio, TV, and early as well as modern digital media. It was a clever parallel of media and marketing, and in fact he states Media = Marketing

  • Viewers – customers
  • Distribution = media fragmentation
  • Journalists = marketers

The history lesson was backed up by data that shows new media has mass appeal and is being adopted very quickly. People consume different kinds of media simultaneously, but the content they consume is oftentimes different.

This has significant implications on marketing messages, especially advertising. The user’s attention is fragmented. Wireless networks combined with the powerful capabilities of smartphones means consumers multitask to the hilt. Not good news if you want to breakthrough with your new product release. This is an important point. If a marketer can stack their message cross various media and reach the consumer during this multi-tasking moment, it will improve consideration and conversion. An article in today’s New York Times states:

For the first time the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls.

Mr. Cooperstein lists three tenets of adaptability one should consider to deal with this new reality.

  • Think and move differently
  • Listen more, react intelligently
  • Target people, not statistics

Probably to no one’s surprise, social plays a large part in adaptive marketing. And of course no Forrester forum would be complete without some new illustrative framework. The Social Intelligence Life Cycle was posited several times during the day and a half. It warns marketers that they must begin to manage the analysis of customer data from social sources, and use this data to activate and recalibrate marketing programs.

Forrester Research

Now you may not be sold on the value and importance of social just yet. That’s fine. I would be the first to admit that it’s not mature and can’t compete head-to-head with traditional marketing practices. But there’s one fact no one can deny. It’s a treasure trove of data that marketers don’t usually work with. That’s a critical aspect of adaptive marketing. And yes, it’s 1,000 miles wide and one inch deep. Here are some guiding principles from Forrester.

  • Adapt your process
  • Plan iteratively and frequently
  • Partner for creativity, not durability
  • Use predictive metrics in addition to descriptive ones

Integrated Customer Marketing™: Technology And Services That Enable Adaptive Marketing

The Merkle Chairman and CEO, David Williams spouted some great ideas from the big stage. Merkle helps companies collect, manage and interpret all types of customer data. Here are some of his wise quotes.

  • Adaption is how marketers can create competitive advantage.
  • The digital revolution is enabling and accelerating the customer revolution.
  • Competitive advantage in the future will live in how effectively an organization can understand, track, engage, measure and influence consumer behavior at the individual level

He showed a graphic depicting how one might leverage data to attain a competitive advantage. As marketers move from mass to conversation the data gets more granular. The more one can collect, understand and act on granular data, the greater the advantage they will have in the marketplace. Makes sense.

He offered the following advice to marketers:

  • Push more money/spend into trigger marketing
  • The next decade is about media, not channels.
  • Real time data needs real time interactions
  • Create strategies that optimize the value of consumers over time
  • Move from a campaign mentality to a customer mentality

Mr. Williams had his twist on adaptive marketing termed Integrated Customer Marketing™. Defined as an optimization framework that maximizes customer portfolio value through targeted management of customer interactions across marketing sales and service throughout the customer lifecycle (there’s that word again). He spoke about managing a campaign inside a conversation (social). Interesting. If we could do that we would unlock tremendous value.

Know Me And Be Relevant: How Disney Creates Guest Relationships

I think we would all agree that Disney is a great marketing company. If you have ever been to their parks it gets hammered even further home. Tom Boyles, Senior Vice President Global Customer Managed Relationships for the Disney parks and resorts spoke about how they leverage customer data in a real time world. Here are some of his thoughts.

What is relevance and marketing? Knowing your customer well enough at any point in time or place that you would know exactly what to do next.

He shared real examples of how they are constantly adapting their data collection and marketing practices to improve the customer experience and impact business results.

  • It’s not so much about did we get someone to the park. It’s more about did we get them back to the park.
  • A customer never met a channel they didn’t like, so closely manage them all.
  • Connect with your customers across all the channels and media on their terms.
  • No one owns the customer, but everyone owns the moment.
  • Our view is that it’s not just customer relationship management, but CCRM, continuous customer relationship management.

Transforming to a Real-Time Marketing Organization

Steve Sickel, Senior Vice President, Distribution and Relationship Marketing for Intercontinental Hotel Groups (IHG) took the stage. He was an outstanding speaker and had lots of information to share. As the largest hotel group in the world they have lots of experience with customers and data. For Mr. Sickel, it was all about moving his marketing team quickly into the digital world. He echoed what we constantly hear. That customers are more informed, they control the purchase process and demand greater relevance. Traditional media is the wrong tool for the job today because it’s too slow and generic. Customers behave in real time and IHG was behaving in batch. His formula for success: investment, technology and organization.

  • Investment – Move traditional media to digital media. IHG has now shifted 85% of their media spend to non-traditional channels. This includes search marketing, online advertising, web retargeting, mobile and social.
  • Technology – Automate marketing systems and transform them from slow, reactive and limited to “Right-Time” marketing where they can do thousands of personalized campaigns at a time.
  • Organization – Break the silos of customer data and experience trapped in each individual channel and  make accessible across the enterprise, as depicted below.

Old IHG Organization

New IHG Organization

Very clear, focused strategy to ensure IHG is poised to market to their future guests. Of all the presentations, this one laid out the best framework for how a company might go about adapting their marketing practices, systems and personnel.

Know Thy Customer: How Customer Intelligence Becomes a Strategic Weapon

The last keynote I’m going to mention came from Dave Frankland, Principal Analyst at Forrester. It was a perfect place for his talk. Much of what was said up until this moment was about data; specifically collecting, managing and acting on it. Mr. Frankland took it up a notch by challenging us to translate that data into customer intelligence for better decision making. He defines customer intelligence this way

The management and analysis of customer data from all sources, used to drive marketing performance and business strategy.

He parses the concept into three buckets.

  • Functional intelligence
  • Marketing intelligence
  • Strategic intelligence

The way to do this, according to Dave, is to begin to look at your customers as assets and liabilities. Not all customers are alike. Overlay your business balance sheet on your existing customer segments and you will see who makes you money and who causes you to lose money. Here’s a great focusing fact from Larry Selden, Professor emeritus at Columbia University.

The bottom 20% of customers can drain profits by at least 80%… while the top 20% can generate 150% of a company’s profit.

He cited some case studies from Fresh Direct, Farmers Insurance, Best Buy and ESPN. All great examples of how going through this exercise transforms data into intelligence.

What I Didn’t Hear Enough About

Which brings me to something I didn’t hear enough about at the forum, but alluded to earlier in this post. Mr. Frankland’s presentation got at it extremely well. That is marketers must refine the art of knowing when enough data is enough. We don’t need reams of it. We need the right data fast and then we must be able to recognize that we’ve got enough, then act. It also goes beyond enough, into, is it the right data? Marketers need to also look for new sources of data, vs. looking at the same old reports. It’s implied in many of the keynotes and track sessions, but knowing when to stop asking for data and having an eye for knowing what data to collect (it’s not all data) is something we probably could all learn more about. Forrester people, I know you’re out there. Perhaps you can assist here.

In Summary

I’m a veteran of Forrester Forums, and no matter how many I attend, I’m always rewarded with some great nuggets and outstanding networking opportunities. They excel at monitoring the vital signs of the marketplace and at delivering content right when it’s most useful. Keynotes here were very strong and consistent. Track sessions as always are more uneven.

Here’s my vote for best quote from the forum. I apologize that I am unable to attribute it.

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.


All slides are property of the firms that presented them. Content in this post originates from my notes taken during the forum combined with my personal perspective. All photos are mine.

Multichannel Mania at the 2009 Forrester Consumer Forum

BeanJust back from the Forrester Consumer Forum. I say just back, but actually it took place in my hometown, Chicago. There was a great turn out and some very engaging keynotes. One of the major benefits of attending a Forrester event is the quality of presenters and attendees. I had lunch with Brad Brooks, VP of Consumer Windows Marketing at Microsoft and got to question him on their new retail store strategy. He was very engaging and open, and if this is a harbinger of things to come from Microsoft, it will be interesting to watch them. The forum theme was The Three Dimensional Consumer: Creating Breakthrough Multichannel relationships. Forrester defines the three dimensions through the lens of the consumer; their needs, interests and questions. Not a groundbreaking thought by itself, but the way in which Forrester shaped the content with context and examples was very effective and useful.

Consumers are becoming more digital, more mobile and more social. These stats were presented in an opening day Keynote by Henry Harteveldt, a VP and Principal Analyst with Forrester.

  • 79% of US consumers are online and 75% of that number have high speed Internet access
  • 18 – 43 year olds spent 20% more time online in 2009 than they did in 2007
  • 62% of US online consumers who purchased a financial product in 2009 researched it on the web first
  • 46% more people belong to social networking sites compared to a year ago
  • Twitter grew 1,382% year over year, registering 7 million new users in February of 2009 alone
  • 97% of phones are data devices
  • 36% of smart phone users and 63% of iPhone users access the web every day from their device

At Forrester everything comes in threes, so Mr. Harteveldt laid out a framework depicting the three things digital consumers expect from brands; information, transactions and help. Information = engagement, transaction = interaction and help = deliver great service.

Multi Model
Information, Transactions, Help

He offered some great advice on how to excel in satisfying the needs of the digital consumer across all channels.

  • Offer channel appropriate communications
  • Match the task with the channel/device
  • Use social media (if relevant to your customers)
  • Replicate off line processes online
  • Extend digital channels into the off line world
  • Provide relevant tools, forms, payment options, etc.
  • Excel at service (make it easy, channel-agnostic and utilize social media for immediacy)

Harvey was humorous, bright and on target. Right out of the textbook for Forrester; a balanced mix of facts and vision.

One of the most entertaining and genuine presenters of the forum was Virginia Suliman, VP of Digital Design and Development for Hilton Worldwide with Hospitality is All Around You: How Hilton Delivers Consistently Good Multichannel Guest Experiences. I’m a Hilton Honors member and have been for a while. It’s a brand on my personal watch list. She began with a nod to a world gone by, a nostalgic look at Conrad Hilton’s original vision for the hotel chain. Mr. Hilton wanted there to be a Hilton on the moon. Connie, have you taken leave of your senses? it’s location, location, location. The moon is not on the way to any place.

Hilton Nostalga
A look back

Ms. Suliman observed that the hotel experience and the home experience have begun to converge. Hotel furniture, bedding, beds and flat screens are easily attainable and affordable for millions of consumers. The cocooning of the early 2000’s and the current economic downturn have caused personal and business travel to slow. She spoke of how her biggest challenge is getting staff to be genuine to customers across all their brands, even the limited service properties. She said, “Hilton is not a technology company, it’s a hotel company.” I really respected her approach to solving the multichannel, multidimensional problem. She attacked the customer experience with a framework that is essentially a usability model.

Hilton Usability Framework
Hilton's framework for delivering a great customer experience

But the real solution was in fact technology, despite her downplaying this aspect of the firm. Hilton built an integrated infrastructure platform connecting consumers to all properties so employees at any of the hotels would have access to the same master database. It’s called OnQ and provides a 360 degree view of the customer, including preferences, but is optimized for profitability. This is a reminder that if you are a big brand (like mine) with lots of customers, outlets and channels, you can be as genuine as pie, but you won’t fully excel without strong technology skills.

Hilton has realized positive business impact as a result of the OnQ effort. They track revenue per available room as a key metric and grew it by 6.2% after OnQ was installed. They have also extended this platform into Hilton University for training.

Virginia Suliman, VP Web Design, Hilton Hotels

CMO of Best Buy, Barry Judge gave a talk a talk called Blurring the Lines Between Customer Service and Marketing. Barry and Best Buy really get the social media concept. I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with another Best Buy executive, Tracy Benson, Senior Director of Digital, also of Best Buy. She told me they set up a monitor in Barry’s office years ago that was tuned to the social media channel. A rolling screen of direct customer conversations; irresistible. Soon he was asking for it to be available on his mobile device and then began responding to customers directly. He also started a blog barryjudge.com.

Key messages in Mr. Judge’s presentation were:

  • Talk with customers, not at them
  • It’s about customer 2.0 – not just keeping the doors and phone lines open, but proactively going out to look for customers to serve
  • The best marketing is when the consumer doesn’t even know it’s marketing (candidate for best forum quote)
  • Their mission – Buyer be Happy

Their Twelpforce (Twitterers) are licensed to help customers. Best Buy employees who want to Tweet for customer support have to take a test and receive a badge, official deputies of Twelpforce. Best Buy’s experience and learnings in this arena have led them to create a Social Shopping Facebook page with over 1 million fans. It will be followed up with a new web site premiering on Christmas day that has the objective of helping consumers get the most out of their electronics purchase. Tips, tricks, user-generated content and experiences.

Their mobile iPhone application allows consumers to see products, reviews and prices; full transparency. This shows that Best Buy has moved beyond the fears of Social Media that paralyze most firms, and into a brave new frontier. This kind of courage will pay handsome dividends. One more note on their mobile efforts. You can text a short code related to products and immediately be sent all the reviews.

No consumer forum would be complete without Harley Manning making a plea, a begging plea in fact on one knee for marketers to embrace the multichannel customer with his presentation Designing a Multichannel Customer Experience in the Real World. His presentation was a mash-up of personal experiences, stories, Forrester frameworks and very sharp new ideas. Hard to keep up with him sometimes, but therein lies the fun. Here are some of his insights.

  • Design with channel pairs in mind. Most projects are single design projects, but channel transition is likely in almost any interaction, so plan for it
  • Pay attention to the most connected channel. Where will the consumer learn about the message first?
  • Solve the small problems first and build allies in the organization. This will enable you to bridge the the channels in bigger projects later on
  • Use research, especially ethnographic research
  • Create multichannel customer experience maps and multichannel management platforms

Getting executive buy-in is compulsory, so Mr. Manning provided a test sheet you can self-administer that will help you determine which category your executives fall in related to digital and multichannel design. You will find out if they are passive, willing or engaged. Once you type the executive you can tailor your discussions and presentations to that style with the objective of moving them along the path to engaged.

If you attended the forum, I’d love to hear your reaction to this post and get your own observations.

Managing Multi-Channel Relationships

radio_face_cus_001Next week I will be on a panel with three distinguished industry professionals from Best Buy, Draftcb and imc2. The event is the Forrester Consumer Forum held by Forrester Research at the Fairmont hotel in Chicago. I get quite a few invitations to either speak or be on panels (not bragging, just a fact) but I’m very selective on where I spend my time. Forrester has an amazing track record on delivering great content and they have gotten their chops back on being provocative (full disclosure, I am on their Interactive Marketing Leadership Board). This year’s Consumer Forum theme is The Three-Dimensional Consumer: Creating Breakthrough Multichannel Relationships.

I will be on a panel discussing how to  manage multichannel agency relationships. Today firms are tasked with managing a variety of online channels; web, e-mail, chat, social and mobile. No one person company or agency can be an expert in all of them, but our customers expect us to deliver a great experience and value at every touch point. I view this as an exciting challenge. The agency landscape has expanded to fill this gap. But adding more agency partners complicates things. Here are some of the questions that will likely be thrown at the panel.

  • What is a digital agency’s role in today’s multi-dimensional landscape? Is it more important or roughly the same as it’s been?
  • What makes a successful interactive agency-marketer relationship?
  • What are the pros and cons of working with one consolidated agency vs. several specialist agencies?
  • How has social media changed the landscape and what is the role of agencies in this space?
  • What can marketers and/or agencies do better to improve relationships?

Looking forward to a lively discussion and voicing my opinion. Check back for a wrap-up after the event.

Forrester Customer Experience Forum Delivers the Goods

On June 22nd and 23rd, Forrester Research held their first ever Customer Experience Forum at the Grand Hyatt in NYC with this timely theme; The Customer Experience Journey: Keeping Momentum in a Downturn. They work hard at keeping it real and relevant. First let’s get the Wordle thing out of the way. I took eight pages of notes during the event; single spaced and 9 point font. I deposited all eight pages into Wordle and got this map.

Forrester CXP 2009 Wordle

I always think long and hard about why I should attend a conference. In this climate you’ve got to make everything count, so I create a list of what I want to learn and questions I would like answered. I make it a point to meet at least three new people that I will follow up with after the event. I attended this forum in search of how to make customer experience more of a business driver for my company. I believe a good customer experience leads to additional product sales and loyalty, but in this downturn I need more and more empirical evidence for my senior managers. My approach when attending a conference is to do so as if I am required to give a summary to my CEO when I return.

I’ve been thinking about the forum for a week now. There was so much information presented that it takes a while for it all to settle into my brain. What I have arrived at is the following; customer experience is no longer a deck chairs moment. It’s real. Brands that get it will emerge from this downturn stronger than ever. Those that don’t; well let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be working for them. But their problems will be less about their employees and all about their customers.

The High Hard Ones

  • Consumers are in control. Technology advancements in social media have enabled and empowered consumers to crowd source ideas, opinions and advice. The bad news is frustrated consumers want to tell the world. The Good news is that happy consumers want to tell the world.
  • Government action focusing on regulation as a result of the recent economic issues is really about improving the customer experience. Specifically it’s about increasing confidence, trust and advocacy in brands and industries. Brands should seize this rare opportunity to align with this inevitable change.
  • People want to do business with people, not faceless, nameless organizations. People watch out for people. Companies watch out for shareholders. There needs to be more work done on how to connect these two areas and make it work for all. The corporate tension of today that’s been created by silos simply pushes the pendulum in the other direction. The result is consumers are constantly being whiplashed.
  • Businesses still need to turn a profit. Sales, revenues, efficiencies, etc. are alive and well in the C-Suite. Firms demonstrating leadership that can connect customer experience with a social overlay and deliver business results will rule.
  • More and more technology is playing an ever growing part on the stages once dominated by classic marketing, advertising and customer service. Integrated, multi-channel approaches are no longer nice to have, they are required.
  • Some companies are already doing this. They are winning. Are you one of them?

Day One

Keynote was given by Bruce Temkin; Charting Your Customer Experience Journey. In this very engaging presentation, Bruce brought us back to The Wizard of Oz with references to needing a heart, brains and courage to tackle this challenge.

  • Heart – Ensures you are practicing empathy for your customers
  • Brains – Makes you think about how to cut costs. Not a haircut exercise, but a thoughtful one that shifts funds appropriately
  • Courage – Look for the opportunities but trust in your initiatives

He presented some powerful slides that directly linked customer experience to the bottom line to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for firms doing in excess of $10Bn. He reinforced his Experience-Based Differentiation model coined a couple of years ago. These require companies to follow these rules.

  • Obsess about your customer needs, not product features
  • Reinforce brand with every interaction, not just communications
  • Treat customer experiences as a competence, not a function

Bruce’s mother was in the audience and he recounted something she taught him as a young boy. If you make promises, keep them. This nicely sketched out his second rule of customer experience.

Making Keeping Promises
Reinforce brands with every interaction, not just with communications

He set out a five stages of customer experience maturity that companies will need to follow to arrive at their destination. Each stage has a corresponding focus and culture descriptio

  • InterestedFocus is explore opportunity. Culture is raise awareness
  • InvestedFocus is fix problems. Culture is get buy-in
  • CommittedFocus is redesign processes. Culture is solidify beliefs
  • EngagedFocus is on empowering employees. Culture is align HR systems (soft systems: hire, train, promote)
  • EmbeddedFocus and Culture are to Sustain customer-centric DNA

He closed with the following advice. Align all your customer experience efforts to business results. Use the voice of the customer to help. Provide clear leadership and governance.

Acxiom and Hearst Publications presented some fascinating concepts called Winning Elections in the Marketing Democracy. They say it’s all power to the people. Everyone can contribute and everyone has a voice.


Acxiom threw TV and other traditional advertising under the bus. I realize that’s popular, but not practical. At least not yet. The take home message was that consumers more and more are saying,

If your marketing is important enough, it will find me.

That’s a focusing fact to remind us we need to ensure there is a social overlay to our advertising and marketing campaigns.

Hearst moved away from the restrictive construct of iVillage and created their own online properties. Traffic has flourished and they discovered they have two audiences for the same product. Fewer than 30% of a specific magazine’s site visitors also read he newsstand version, while fewer than 2% of the magazine readers visited the same site online. Creates more overhead to maintain both, but also opens up lots of opportunities to monetize.

C. David Cush, CEO of Virgin America Airlines really delivered on how to execute brand differentiation with his speech, A Good Airline Experience is not an Oxymoron. Having spent many years at American, he gave a simple explanation on why airlines aren’t customer focused. Most airline CEOs come up through either finance or sales and they think about the customer as revenue. He talked about all the things Virgin America is doing on the planes for the customer, such as free wifi on all flights, and customers order food and drinks from their 9″ seat back touch screen, swipes their credit card and a team member brings them their order on a tray. No carts moving up and down aisles.

Customers sometimes Tweet to @virginamerica while in flight and make comments. If something goes wrong, Virgin sends a team member to meet the flight at the gate to address any issues when the customer deplanes. Wow. I wish they flew to Chicago.

When you look at the number of followers to airline Twitter streams here’s how it stacks up.

  • JetBlue – 712,234
  • Southwext – 109.261
  • Virgin – 20,748
  • United – 14,339
  • Delta – 5,344
  • American – 3,535
  • U.S.Airways – 1,390

Consumers like brands with personality who are challenging the standard ways and putting the customer first.

The tech showcase had a round-up of the usual suspects, but I did get to interact with a new interactive, touch screen Coke machine. Sapient had it at their booth and apparently it was battle tested during the Beijing Olympics last year. The screen real estate can be sectioned off to show video, or display ads. It can even go social, allowing consumers to write on the screen and share it in a community. It dispenses the new aluminum Coke bottle shaped cans.

An Interactive Coke Dispensing Machine

The day went from analyst speak to big brand case studies to a world class designer. Sohrab Vossoughi, President and Founder of Ziba Design said, Forget Customer Experience – Create Meaning.

He delivered an energetic and compelling case for creating authentic relationships with consumers. He talked about finding your brand’s DNA. That is it’s essence and character, the company culture, it’s authenticity, and finally, base it all on trust. He placed design at the center of creating a great customer experience and defined design as follows:

  • All about connection
  • The act of connection is the real power of design
  • Great designs connect people and connect with people
  • It’s centered around meaning and moments
  • Great design has meaning
  • Great design anticipates and creates great customer experience moments

Design should be used to understand, synthesize, connect, simplify the complex, make meaning and create. He then presented his Umpqua Bank case study, which is a poster child of design for customers.

Day Two

The final day keynote was given by Moria Dorsey of Forrester entitled, The Future of Online Experiences: Prepare Now for Recovery. She took us from ballet to automobiles to the future of the web in about 45 minutes. The Forrester analyst I follow the most is Bruce Temkin, but Moria Dorsey is now a close second if not in a virtual dead heat.

She led off with a history of the automobile and how it has taken 50 years for cars to find their true form and another 100 years to evolve to what we recognize them to be today. The web is essentially in the Model T stage, which means there is a mind numbing amount of change coming our way.

Moria Dorsey divining the future
Moria Dorsey divining the future

Ms. Dorsey was pushing us to think about the future and possibilities with her predictions. She boiled down the future online experience as follows.

  • Customized by the user
  • Aggregated for a broader view
  • Relevant at a given moment
  • Social will be fully embedded

She spoke about how the capability / mobility gap is closing while at the same time the number of interfaces and devices are multiplying. Consumers are being bombarded by new technology choices from all angles. They want to always be online, they visit social networking sites and more and more prefer richer interactions. These consumer preferences should guide our digital roadmaps. But it’s not all about devices. Cloud computing has ushered in a whole host of new players and interactions. The number of web sites continues to grow, all of this combines to make formidable competition to even the most well established brands.

All fine, but how does one get ready for this evolving world? Her advice is that brands need advanced techniques to deliver what the customer wants and be able to achieve business results. This can be accomplished by:

  • Creating and using multi-channel personas that reflect and include information to help design the experiences you are trying to create
  • Conduct virtual ethnographic research to inform scenarios and build a new kind of customer experience map
  • Atomize your content and functionality so it can meet the consumer where they are
  • Establish an incubation environment to rapid-cycle testing of new ideas with low risk
  • Build mad design skills. Think software development, not web page coding.

As we move into the Model-T era of the online space, design and create experiences not simply inside the window, but off the desktop and out to devices.

The main stage closed with Martin A. Nisenholtz, SVP of Digital Operations at The New York Times. He presented a cast study on Building an Online News Experience. His talk was professional and well crafted. Obviously an experienced newspaper man, but clearly one that has made a successful transition to digital media. It wasn’t a classic case study, but it did provide some interesting glimpses of how a brand as strong and old as The New York Times is in the analog world has tried to remake itself for the a new era.

It was a fascinating experience listening to Mr. Nisenholtz, because of his intellectual approach to the problem. They have tried to align customer experience with business model innovation. Advertising is their main source of revenue and although you don’t often see ad takeovers, they do rich media units on their home page. I’m a Mac, I’m a PC from Apple ads were showcased.

Building a new online news experience has been accomplished in their interactive graphic reporting and how they try to balance social web and narrative web. They are viewed as two sides of the same storytelling coin. Mr. Nisenholtz said that beaking news is not their value proposition, but the title bar when you load nytimes.com says Breaking News, World News & Mulitmedia. The content delivers deep analysis and serendipity, and has high appeal to long time readers who have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to get life long learning. They focus more on psychographics than demographics.

Martin Nisenholtz
Martin Nisenholtz of The New York Times

He did a very nice job of evoking old school journalism and translating it into digital terms. “Report the news without fear or favor” still holds today. It’s integrity, skill and craft that builds a real newspaper. He also hinted as to how their business model might change. He used the term fremmium (might have even coined it) that’s a combination of free and paid content. They don’t treat the models as binary, but try to do both. Mobility might be a good revenue avenue for paid subscriptions because it lacks a proven advertising structure right now.

During the Q&A he was asked about the growing social media tools like Twitter and did he see that as a threat. He very emphatically and I believe rightly so, said that Twitter is a very large feeder to nytimes.com, but it will never replace what’s published in The Times. The audience broke out in applause. Indeed many of us stopped Twittering to join in.

I have strong opinions on what’s happening with newspapers and express them here.

On both flight segments there were some amazing cloud formations. Was able to capture three different ones.


If you’ve never attended a Forrester Forum, I would highly recommend it. But go in looking for answers. Ask the analysts the hard questions and network as much as possible.

Read my post from the Forrester Marketing Forum held in April 2009 here.

Photos: Steve A Furman

Risk, Innovation & Social – Three days with Forrester

This was my 17th Forrester event. That seems like a lot doesn’t it, and many of you might be wondering why I keep going back. The reasons are; great venues, smart analysts, keynotes by real-world practitioners working to solve today’s problems and stellar networking opportunities. The icing on the cake is the data and insight Forrester collects.

Typically I would provide coverage of my forum experience across several blog posts. But this time I’m taking a different approach. Instead of breaking up the writing, I’m providing a summary of what I deem to be the most critical and essential aspects of the event in this single entry, with one exception. There was a panel discussion at the end of day one that deserved exclusive coverage. Partly because it was relevant to shaping the media of tomorrow and partly because I felt it was out of place; but not in a bad way. Click to read The Future of Media: A Panel Discussion.

The theme was Using the Down Economy to Catalyze Marketing Change. What’s not to like? We are definitely in a down economy, marketers are facing reduced budgets, and there is change all about us, whether we like it or not. The location was Walt Disney World Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. After a typical winter in Chicago this was particularly attractive, even though I knew I’d be inside most of the time.

Swans on top of a hotel? Oh you Disney...

There was representation across more than a dozen verticals, each hoping to find an edge in these tough times. The Disney Company was of course referenced several times during the conference for having vision, taking risk, showing empathy, employing technology and executing on great marketing campaigns. A fitting homage. Here are my personal highlights from the event, culled from all the sessions I attended.

  • Take a risk — Do what’s right for your customers as well as your business. Once you find it’s a good bet, manage the risk out of the process to gain confidence
  • Turn dials, don’t throw levers — Small incremental changes are more easily executed in this climate and are less risky
  • Keep innovation in your vocabulary — This is how step change begins
    • Enhance – Build on existing ideas
    • Include – Bring in disparate sources and perspectives, gain buy-in
    • Empathize – Identify your community, bring it value, take it’s ideas
    • Iterate – Continual improvement, incremental gains
  • Bring your strategy to life with low cost activities — Start-up mode, fast, simple
  • Simplify your segmentation — More segments means more complexity and expense
    • PetSmart uses the metaphor of a 3 story house. They try to move customers up one floor at a time. BTW, fewer bathrooms to clean
Shar VanBoskirk, Christine Overby, Professor David Reibstein
  • Your customers don’t owe you loyalty you owe it to them — Repeat when necessary
  • If you want to innovate, you must make it a social act — It’s a process of inspiring people to change that leads to change
    • Get social or get served – Inside as well as outside your firewall
    • Inspired customers are innovative and can help solve your marketing problems
  • Embrace the new marketing funnel
    • Old Model – Seller makes an offer, buyer considers, maybe buys
    • New Model – Buyer starts the cycle. “I need this.” Seller responds. The faster the response, the greater value to the seller
  • Blend Social Media with traditional marketing tactics for highest chance of success

As seen in the chart below, the marketer’s advertising tool kit has fragmented over time. This growth in channels has increased the temptation to execute cross-channel marketing campaigns. But which ones do you choose?


  • Don’t set out to do a cross-channel campaign unless you can find your customers in each of the channels
  • Everything is converging (Ah, yeah. See description of this blog)
    • Customization
    • Personalization
    • Choice
    • Community
    • Competition
    • Channels
  • Think “Center of Convergence” not Center of Excellence
  • Move at the Speed of Social
  • Consumers are not doing “nothing.” They are just changing what they’re doing
  • Marketing needs to be a function as well as a business philosophy 
  • Engage your target stakeholders as co-creators, co-producers, and co-marketers of your products and services
  • Over the years most online activities have been stable with the exception of Social Media, which has undergone significant change over the past year
  • Social is not a reach play right now, it plays best at the small end of the funnel
  • Social should highlight your marketing efforts, not be your marketing effort

Lisa Bradner, a Forrester Principal Analyst, presented during a workshop as part of the Forrester Leadership Boards called Social Loyalty: Listening and Learning from your CustomersShe defines it as follows:

Social Loyalty: Brand affinity built on the connection of customers to the brand itself as well as to each other.

She illustrates the idea in the tried and true Forrester pyramid. At the top would be an established brand community and could eventually be another common component of marketing.


Hopefully this gives you a little texture and insight as to what this forum was all about. I’ve got so much more detail to take back to the office and share with the team and hopefully give these ideas a try. I’ll leave you with a couple of bookend photos from my flight home.

Departing Orlando International


Thunderstorm over Lake Michigan
Thunderstorm over Lake Michigan
On approach to O'Hare
On approach to O'Hare

Special thanks to my Forrester Leadership Board team who worked hard to ensure I got as much value as possible out of the experience: Erica Seidel, Jennifer Wolfrom and Kate Babineau.

Photos by Steve A Furman See all photos from the Forrester Forum on flickr here.

Forrester Marketing Forum 2009 – The Future of TV Advertising

I give full credit for my interest in technology and media to my father. He was a self-taught electronics engineer. That’s right self-taught. He had an amazing capacity as well as the courage to take anything apart to understand how it works. He could also put it back together. This was particularly true about televisions. It was the age of vacuum tubes, resisters and rectifiers powering gigantic cathode-ray tubes.

His reputation for this talent quickly got around and when someone’s TV went on the fritz they would call my dad. I would frequently tag along with him as he went to someone’s home and loaded the set onto the station wagon. From there it would go into his workshop, a magical room with oscilloscopes, meters, soldering guns, old TVs, spare parts and a file cabinet of schematics. The schematic was the map of the electronics inside. What we would today call code. It used a special language of symbols to communicate functionality, flow and the interface of these crude devices.

Electronic Schematic for Television
Electronic Schematic for Television

In those days there were only 3 television networks; ABC, NBC and CBS, and maybe 10 stations. My current Comcast channel lineup has 215 choices! There’s a station for every thing you could imagine and it’s on 24 hours a day. I watch only about 5 of those 215 stations during any given week, but because of the current business model, I pay for all of them.

The main reason for having that box, sorry, flat screen, in your home is to sell you something. It’s called commercial television for good reason. Yes I know, there’s the DVR that allows you to fast forward through all those commercials, but no matter how hard you try, you cannot fully escape the dreaded “spot.” Damn those agencies and their clients.

Card, Clayman, Verklin, Lyles (l to r)
Forrester Panel Discussion (left to right) - Card, Clayman, Verklin, Lyles

At the end of the first day of the recent Forrester Marketing Forum in Orlando, a panel discussion was held entitled The Future of Media. It was moderated by Forrester’s David Card (VP, Principal Analyst) and included a TV exec, Greg Clayman (EVP-MTV Networks), a media advertising businessman, David Verklin (CEO, Canoe Ventures), and a consumer product goods VP, Annis Lyles (Coca-Cola, North America). I had the good fortune to have lunch with Mr. Clayman earlier that day and we engaged in an interesting discussion on television, entertainment and distribution. I found him to be gracious and smart, while very much open to my thoughts and opinions. He is remarkably grounded in the basics of his business while at the same time looking out over the horizon in search of the next model. He has a massive job that spans all kinds of content and opportunity. I was impressed with his clarity and how he is carefully charting a course for the proper confluence of TV, online and mobile as a successful way forward.

The panel began and Mr. Card was determined to find out how effective TV advertising is becoming. The discussion was dominated by Mr. Verklin who was forceful and excited, proclaiming that “TV is getting back in the game!” He sounded like a cross between Steven Ballmer of Microsoft and George Castanza. “I’m back baby, I’m back.” I appreciated his energy, but he’s focus is on transforming the advertising experience on TV, not the content. Mr. Verklin wants to turn TV into a technology platform with a decision engine where marketers can target, measure and execute inside that platform to reach the right audience. The example he used over and over was if you have a dog in the house you should see an ad for dog food, not cat food. He calls it Community Addressable Messaging and outlines three components.

  • Interactive advertising
  • Addressable advertising
  • Data overlay

So the promise once again is that TV will be a trackable, measurable platform. I’m skeptical. I work in financial services. We know a little something about  the complexity of third party data overlays on top of dozens of consumer segments across databases with billions and billions of rows. It’s not unheard of for FI’s to score their entire database of customers several times per day and when one of them logs into the website or calls the service center customers are identified in sub-milliseconds and a decision is made on what to show them at run time.

Mr. Verklin talks about targeting the 51st state. The 18% of households that make over $100,000. As a marketer I would love to reach that demographic, but how much TV are they even watching? Isn’t the bigger opportunity with the perpetual intermediate of the TV audience, middle America? What about tracking across channels and stacking your message the way online ad networks can do?

Mr. Clayman was much more on point with his comments. MTV is balancing broadcast, online, retail and mobile distribution for the greatest profit. As a content owner/publisher, his view must be different. For him content is king and careful stewardship is critical. He is fully aware of how he makes money, so of course he will be interested in these new platform ideas as a way to increase ad revenues.

Ms.Lyles, on the product side, has become a content producer from time to time in order to distinguish her brand and bring it appropriately to a particular medium. Pushing Coke is paramount and she seemed determined to leverage all media to achieve success. Her firm has brought traditional and digital media buying together.

Mr. Verklin says that online is making TV raise it’s game. Really? Well I’m glad something is helping at least lift the bar off the ground. Network TV programming, and with it advertising, has been in a downward spiral for years, driven by decades of inertia. A personal note here. I don’t despise television programming. On the contrary, I think there’s lots of good stuff out there, and I realize I am no longer the target.

It was a healthy discussion and I was quickly transported back to 1976 and the film Network where Howard Beale, a lunatic news anchor had this to say about television.

We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true. But you people sit there—all of you—day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions. So turn off this goddam set! Turn it off right now. Turn it off and leave it off. Turn it off right now, right in the middle of this sentence I’m speaking now…

I plan on following Howard Beale’s advice, but will watch the progress of Canoe Ventures closely.

Photo: Steve A Furman. Quote from Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay Network

Advancing the Useful, Usable, Desireable Framework

Forrester Research frequently advocates for their usability framework of useful, usable and ultimately desirable. The first two are table stakes and where designers spend most of their effort. When there is the luxury of time, which almost never happens, then one can strive for that elusive territory of desirability. If users find your design desirable you stand a greater chance of increasing conversion, garnering repeat visits and earning customer loyalty.

Forrester Framework (left) My Modifications (right)

Surfing on slideshare.net led me to a presentation that took this concept even further. Essentially the author moved from a classic pyramid to a honeycomb design and added some critical elements to the model. These include, valuable, findabe, credible and accessible. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t favorite the slide show and so I can’t reference the author or link to the actual presentation. My apologies to the person who created this really helpful PowerPoint. Here’s how it was illustrated in the presentation.

A Honeycomb Approach to Usability

This concept advances the Forrester model by giving designers and customer experience professionals more dimensions to consider. When I provide direction to my staff and agency, I encourage them to include desirable as a goal from the very beginning, vs. settling for useful and usable and then tackling desirable as a “fast follower.” Oftentimes there’s no time for a fast follower, so getting in as much as possible is very important. Some of these additional attributes found in the honeycomb model above are clearly more structural or work to support reputation, not necessarily spawned from pure usability needs. But they are real aspects users will weigh as they navigate a web site or attempt to use functionality, so accounting and designing for these will be a plus.

This one slide has caused me expand my thinking and build out my checklist. If anyone knows who authored this, please chime in so I can give proper credit.

Last and Final from the Forrester Consumer Forum 2008

Wagons west

As mentioned in the last episode, this post will skip the Forrester speakers and customer presentations and cover one of the “outsiders.” Forrester always places a strong speaker at the end of the second day in an attempt to help keep their attendees on site. It usually thins out anyway, but for those who stay they are richly rewarded. The forum theme was Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customer. You can catch up on my first two installments here and here.

The forum keynotes closed with the animated Paco Underhill, an environmental psychologist and founder of Envirosell, a firm that specializes in studying how people interact with retail and service environments. He is also the author of Why we Buy and Call of the Mall. He had very few slides, instead he told his story using actual footage captured while in the field. His talk, Shopping as the Dipstick of Social Change, was more like being in a meeting with him vs. listening to a presentation. Of all the sessions I attended, I took more notes in this one than any other by a factor of at least 3. Here are some of my favorite sound bites.

  • The world is designed by men but experienced by women. The men should ask the question, what makes my product or service female friendly?
  • Do you feel more time poor or money poor? Most answer time poor.
  • Online is about saving time.
  • As you design something think about how someone will use it the 12th time just as much as you think about how they will use it the first time.
  • Run your company like a global firm, but relate on a local level.
  • Convergence is the collision of online, mobile and bricks & mortar.
  • Shopping will transform more in the next 10 years than it has in the previous 50.
  • The best technology is the least technology.
  • Tech needs must be better engaged with culture needs
  • Stop thinking sitting down (meetings, excel, word, PPT)
  • The word for the 20th century was strategy, in the 21st century it will be tactics. Get a tactical grasp on your strategy.
  • Amenability is linked to profitability.
  • Health care is the only growth industry we have today.
Paco Underhill on stage

He showed clip after clip of how humans shop and voice tracked how that behavior was a barometer for a social change taking place across the globe. He didn’t neatly tie up the loose ends in a nice tidy Forrester-style theme, but he accomplished something just as important. He got me to think and think deeply about many of the things I have been working on.

A few weeks ago one of my agency partners came to town for a typical meeting. She was not on the iPhone train yet, and watched me use mine. I let her make a call and as she put it to her ear the first thing she said was, “How do I look?” What an insight I had. Cell phone stores should put up mirrors right by the phone displays. Their sales would go up. It underscored what Mr. Underhill had been saying. A man asks himself a very different question when he tries out a technology device. And sure enough Paco mentioned that phone retailers should have mirrors by their displays. Once again, great minds think alike ;).

He also put forth his hypothesis of why Social Media has grown so quickly. It is in large part do to the number of consumers who reside in the suburbs and live a much more lonely existence vs. their urban counterparts.

In summary the big ideas I took away from the forum were:

  • Tune into your online customer
  • Create value by making change
  • Nail down a multi-customer point of view
  • Empower your customers by embracing Social Media
  • Challenge your current organizational structure to prepare for the customer of tomorrow

There were some very helpful take aways for for all of us as we work to weather the current economic climate, Thanks Forrester for another helpful forum.

Forrester Consumer Forum 2008: Consumer Driven Eco-systems – Second of Three

You can read my first post on the Forrester Consumer Forum, which provides set-up here.

Alamo Relief in the Gaylord Texan
Alamo Relief in the Gaylord Texan

These forums are usually a great mix of analyst insights, customers talking about how they face and solve real business problems and “outsiders” as I affectionately call them. That is academics, consultants or futurists. The customer speakers were a bit of a mixed bag, but both outsiders were well worth the trip. And since Forrester already gets so much ink, I have decided to devote the last two posts on this Forum roundup (we’re in Texas remember) to these externals.

First Patricia Seybold, Founder and CEO of the Patricia Seybold Group. Her topic was Outside Innovation: Profiting from Consumer-Driven Ecosystems. I had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to her at dinner the evening after her talk, which provided me with greater texture into her thought process. I will try and insert some of that bonus material into my post. Ms. Seybold defines a Customer-Centric Ecosystem as:

A business network that’s aligned to help customers get things done.

It can be formal, informal, organic, dynamic or loosely coupled. This is a pretty blank canvas for sure, but then she expands it further by saying it should be aligned around customers’ outcomes and ideal experiences, and provide real time, real world, objective feedback. Where to begin?

Fortunately she had some examples (not case studies, sorry Forrester, these are externals) of companies that have done this successfully. She cited a Staples example where they cut time consumers have to wait to get their rebate check. Staples had to convince the manufacturers that this would be good for them as well as the customer. The result, happier customers and more sales.

Another example was Lego’s Mindstorms program. They give kids a chance to compete in a series of problem solving exercises under pressure. They work on the problem, build it and test it. They are purposefully not given enough resources, but are encouraged to work in the real world trial and error (sound familiar?) environment. Involving kids is always a stroke of genius. Have you ever given a child a digital camera? You get the most interesting shots or footage. It’s a winner all around. The kids get to rise to the challenge, the adults get to help them and the sponsors build brand loyalty and get to foster new talent for the future. The only nervous group were the actual Lego engineers.

But the real clincher was Ms. Seybold’s involvement with a small village in Kagadi Uganda. She has visited there several times and helped them create the village they wanted. Her framework for advancement is:

  • Vision
  • Current Reality
  • Gap
  • Structural Tension
  • Belief
  • Decide
  • Commit/Act

She employed this process in this village. The residents had to decide what they wanted and then work to get it. They worked on agriculture, outreach programs across the area, set-up a community radio station and educated their girls to be change agents. They also employed a two-generation education program where parents would come in and learn alongside their children.

Ms. Seybold’s approach is to address goals and identify the key moments of truth, which means when partner success aligns with customer success. All of this with the objective of getting things done.

Key sound bites for me were “embed your echo-system experience into your products.” This is a very different way of thinking. Then evolve it via customer pull vs. marketing push. That’s the tough one for most firms to understand.

Patricia Seybold Group
© 2008 Patricia Seybold Group

At dinner I learned of her interest and training in comparative literature, which made perfect sense to me, as she is a storyteller and weaves the great human themes into her keen sense of business. If you think this approach can be applied in your company, look her up.

Forrester Consumer Forum 2008: Maslow is Dead – First in a Series

I attended the Forrester Consumer Forum in Dallas earlier this week. It was my 16th Forrester event which speaks volumes about how I respect the company, value their people and study their work. It’s a day and a half of data, insights and big thinking with a sprinkling of small track sessions scaled down to snack size bites. They are also the consummate hosts. This year’s anthem was Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customers. An interesting theme, since most of the attendees (including me) were dialing back growth to match a briskly receding consumer. But Forrester did a great job at keeping things upbeat while recognizing the current economic climate and giving us some weapons we could take back and use.

One of the things that has been missing for me during the big top presentations as of late has been bold predictions. The research is still top notch, the analysts are smart, “wicked smart” as Carrie Johnson would say in her Boston accent, and they are frequently ahead of almost everyone. But some of the edge has dulled. I entered the main ballroom wondering if I would get something provocative, forward looking and passionate. My take? I got more stick your neck out than usual, and I was really excited about it.

James McQuivey, Ph.D. began with a talk called Satisfy Consumers for the Next Decade (and Beyond). He brought long lost relatives to life on the stage in an effective manner illustrating his story about why some consumers adopt early, and others late. His theme was: People share a set of universal needs. Satisfy those needs and you will win. He was really getting me to lean in until… Until he trashed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He said.

Maslow’s needs are not ordered, not orderly, and in fact they’re messy.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Graphic: Wikipedia

As I said, I was looking for provocative statements and guts, and I got both. As a formally trained psychologist I take umbrage to disparaging Maslow. He had sound methods and studied some of the most actualized people he could find to help him create this classic pyramid. I don’t claim it’s perfect, that would not be remotely possible in psychology. But it is a storied framework that has stood the test of time and is to be respected. I don’t believe Maslow intended his concepts to be the basis for business sales, but Mr. McQuivey made a strong case for how the current social media trend should cause us to rethink many things. He then laid out his own take at people’s universal needs.

  • Connection
  • Uniqueness
  • Comfort
  • Variety

According to Mr. McQuivey, everyone has all four, but they vary in importance by individual, can shift over time due to changing circumstances and people will ultimately trade off one need against another. These are interesting to ponder and even more so as he lays them out in a Needs Profile designed to help marketers target consumers better.

Forrester Research
Copyright © 2008 Forrester Research

He built his next section on the idea of a Convenience Quotient that can be found in research released earlier in the year. A Convenience Quotient (CQ) tells you how you compare with competitors as well as with other ways to meet the same needs. It applies to products as well as services.

I went from upset to inquisitive to interested by the time he wrapped up. At a high level it made sense, but I didn’t really know how to reliably arrive at a CQ for any of my products or services. Seemed very manufacturing focused. Will need to go back and ponder some more. Perhaps I’ll give him a call.

The event was held at the Gaylord Texan. Essentially it was like being in The Truman Show. A space the size of a city block enclosed in glass and steel. It looked more like a movie set than a resort. Perfectly manicured and very comfortable. We affectionately began calling it “The Bubble.”

Fellow Tweets Amy & Jayne
Tweeters Amy & Jayne

P.S. I attended my first TweetUp in Dallas. It was really a fantastic experience. Twitters send out Tweets and before you know it over 50 people descended on a BBQ restaurant in Grapevine, TX. All kinds of genuine, creative and fun people. Everyone is relaxed and talking about social media, politics, their start up efforts, etc. I felt so comfortable. You can get a better feel for what a TweetUp is by watching this video shot by Top Tweet and an amazing Forresterite Jeremiah Owyang. Check out his insightful and content packed blog here.

More to come on the Forrester Consumer Forum.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies – Book Notes

It seems all the marketing world is abuzz over social media. Everyone wants to do it, but there is no best practices approach to follow. That is until now. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, two high powererd analysts at Forrester Research published a book this spring containing their recipe for starting and nurturing social community.

It’s part blueprint, part self-help book and part research report. I found it to be comprehensive and exhaustive, at least as much as any study can be at this early stage of a new wave. The book can help brands of all sizes and from all verticals, but is tilted towards the bigger firms.

In typical Forrester style they have done their homework. Consumers, brands, software firms, you name it and they looked at it. The style is straightforward and easy to read, oftentimes playing back actual conversations they’ve had with clients. Case studies of course, and even some that didn’t work out.

My company is just beginning to explore this new way to market our brand and content and I found this book incredibly helpful. I’ve given 5 copies out to senior executives at work, and making it highly recommended reading for my staff. It starts with listening to your customers and ends with embracing them to help you make better products. But there is a whole lot of things to do, and not do, in between. It’s all mapped out.

The authors are realistic and clearly outline potential pitfalls, constantly reminding us to be patient, go slowly and get buy in at the highest levels.

Near the end they challenge the more sophisticated thinkers to imagine how working in the groundswell will actually transform their companies over time. How they market, conduct service, carry out PR and launch new products. I’ve been on a hunt for more sources of value for my company, and I believe this could be a viable one.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to come up the curve quickly on social media and community. A must read for all marketers, even if you’re not looking to launch into community at this time.

To get a taste of the book and the Forrester style of analyses, visit the Groundswell blog here. Or you could just buy the book here.

P.S. Charlene Li has recently left Forrester. I have relied on her advice and work for several years and I will miss that. On her “Why I’m leaving Forrester” blog I wrote a three word description of Charlene Li; a rare person. Hopefully our paths will cross again some day as we navigate through our professional lives. Best of luck to her!

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – Last of Three Posts

Customer Expectations During the Online Application Process

This post closes out my series on the Forrester Finance Forum held in New York City on June 23rd and 24th, 2008. You can read part one here and part two here. I always walk away from a Forrester Forum with a rich list of insights. If I were to stop and try to characterize one benefit that attending a Forrester Forums gives me, its energize me to challenge the status quo.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

Brad Strothkamp, principal analyst at Forrester, presented Mastering Web Sales by Focusing on Shoppers’ Expectations on the second day. The stats are interesting and compelling. 40MM consumers applied for a financial service product online in 2007, and 50% of them were applying online for the first time. That’s significant, because most of us who design online applications do so with deep knowledge of financial products and how the systems work. We are also keenly aware of what we want as a business, which influences how applications are designed and coded. We are too close and too knowledgable. Consumers are seeing our application designs for the first time. Brad’s presentation caused me to step back.

He talked about how there are many missed opportunities, and if we got even a little bit better, we would be richly rewarded. His stats say that consumers appear to be happier applying by phone or in person vs. the web, despite all the work and time that has been put into creating online applications. We in financial services want everyone to apply online, but of course the reality is not everyone will. Consistent and systematic improvement is the goal.

I have seen a statistic from Jupiter Research that states, 50% of consumers who start an online financial services application have no intention of completing it. They are there to shop or learn more about products. I didn’t see this referenced in Brad’s presentation. I wonder if Forrester has come across this, if it was taken into account, and what they would say about it. Forrester takes questions on 3 x 5 cards that are passed to analysts during the talks. Questions are then asked in the room at the end of each session. I submitted this question, but it wasn’t asked.

Consumers have a set of expectations they carry across all channels. Clarity, anonymity (only give as much personal information as is absolutely necessary) and speed. But they hold the web to a higher standard. Convenience (can I do it all online?) and the desire to not be pressured score high with prospects. The online process must of course be simple, secure and transparent throughout. And consumers want a safety valve if things go wrong, meaning human assistance immediately. Firms need to balance having a lower cost for taking the online application with offering human help in case it’s needed. This is a maximize sales at the lowest cost problem that needs to be explored through testing.

Brad spent his time on human reported behavior as well as presenting some good and not so good real life examples that drove the point home. He did not touch on application form design, but design is critical to getting someone to the finish line. There are oh so many ways to design a form, but there are clear best practices. Here is a short slide show that offers some. Coupling Brad’s insights with web form best practices would be a winner.

I was a little surprised Brad didn’t address a growing trend on the part of consumers to consult the social sphere of information before completing a transaction. Clearly his focus was on the application process, but there is a very complex set of interactions now at play immediately prior to and perhaps even during this moment of truth. That would be the social community. Consumers trust companies less and their peers more. The traditional marketing funnel is losing power. I’ve heard Forrester talk about this, but was it wasn’t brought out here, probably due to keeping the talk focused.

I am seeing a lot of evidence that consumers research on company sites, then pause their shopping to consult the social sphere of information. Who else has this product? What are they saying about it? If it passes the test, a consumer will possibly return to the company site and proceed through the sales funnel.

Once they come back to the site, the basic requirement seems to be speed, as 46% of consumers expect to complete the application in 10 minutes or less. People want to do everything fast, even when it comes to complicated or critical financial transactions. And of course FI’s want it to happen fast as well. Convenience is not a feature of the channel, it’s an assumption, and more importantly, 57% of consumers expect to be using the product in 24 hours or less. Instant gratification for an instant society.

Financial services products have become very much a commodity over the last few years, which makes it more difficult for firms to find meaningful differentiators. Each company copies the other as competition for the credit worthy or wealthy has become fierce. We all chase the same customers for the most part, which elevates the application process to an extremely significant moment of truth.

One thing that is critical to remember to get dead on right is the product page. Although consumers say they want speed, they want the right product even more. This is where your product page comes in. It’s got to work hard and deliver on the key features of your product and why it’s better. No one is applying for anything without looking at the product page. Get it right.

Looking forward to the Forrester Consumer Forum in the fall.

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – Second of Three

Is Net Promoter Score the Holy Grail?

Second in a three part series of observations from the annual Forrester Finance Forum, How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences, held in New York June 23rd and 24th. Go here to read part one.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

Bill Doyle, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, was very clear and consistent in his refrain about creating great customer experiences, “Easy to say, hard to do.” This simple phrase is at once a mantra and a warning. In financial services mahogany suites around the world the following response to creating great customer experiences can frequently be heard, “We already do that.” This is where the warning makes its entrance. Unless your firm has a customer experience executive that is fully engaged and integrated across the firm and understands that customer experience is everyone’s job, then you probably have a ways to go.

Ask those quick responders how they know. What are their metrics? Do they have them for each channel? Do they have them when customers are using multiple channels for the same transaction? Are the channels weighted? What is the weighting? Do they understand which channels are used by which customer segments? Ask them to show you their benchmarks. Are the benchmarks moving in lock-step with business results? And my personal favorite, where’s the customer experience roadmap that shows customer value, channel usage, level of interactivity, all correlated to likelihood to recommend?

One of the biggest challenges is getting people to understand and share a common vocabulary about customer experience. The next is to recognize it when they see it. Obstacles to delivering great experiences are not new.

  • Silos (yes, still siloed)
  • Department goals not aligned (often not even shared)
  • Consumers use multiple channels (well, you made them available, what did you think was going to happen?)
  • Technology infrastructure is not designed to allow data to flow freely across channels (no comment)
  • Business strategy changes (need to close the quarter)
  • External forces create surprise (economy, consumer confidence)

These are massive problems that cannot be easily solved. Forrester poured the forum foundation by demonstrating that a great customer experience does indeed drive positive business results. Fred Reichheld, founder of Bain & Company and author of The Loyalty Effect and Loyalty Rules spoke about his groundbreaking Net Promoter Score framework, in a talk entitled Winning the Loyalty of Financial Services Consumers.

Photo Credit: Fred Reichheld by Steve A Furman

For 30 years, Mr. Reichheld has studied customer loyalty and has arrived at a simple, highly supported hypothesis that loyalty transforms economics. He has a loyalty chain slide to help companies understand the components of loyalty.

Slide: Fred Reichheld

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures customer satisfaction. They are questions asked via phone or online after an engagement with the company. Customers that turn in scores 9-10 are bucketed as promoters. Scores 7-8 are categorized as passives. Detractors weighed in between 0 and 6. Throw out the number of passives, subtract your detractors from your promoters and you’ve got your NPS.

Slide: Fred Reichheld

Mr. Reichheld was informative, engaging and humorous. He told a personal experience he had with a rental car company. On a recent trip he returned the car 45 minutes late. The check-in attendant regrettably informed him that he would have to add half of a daily rate to the bill. Then there was the gasoline fee at three times retail price (that’s something like $12 per gallon). Mr. Reichheld protested, but to no avail. The attendant responded that he should have purchased the protection plan. “Protection plan,” said Fred. “Is this a rental car business or organized crime?” The attendant had the nerve to ask for a top 2 box satisfaction score. We’ve all been there.

Apple was referenced as a regular user of NPS. I made a purchase at my local Apple store yesterday. They hate cash registers and so my purchase was done in the middle of the store by a clerk tapping on a wireless device. My receipt was emailed to me. Here’s the email that has a link to the online satisfaction survey (also a great way to collect email addresses).

Here’s the entry page to the survey web site.

When a 10 comes in the employee of the Apple store is celebrated. When a detractor score comes in the store manager makes an outbound call to find out why. I was a promoter in this instance, but made a very detailed suggestion about store layout. In my opinion, the side shelving units are too close to the walls and there is not enough room to inspect the products and have someone walk behind you. The current floor plan hides a significant amount of SKUs. I provided them a detailed description of how they should reconfigure the layout into a series of V shapes. It would be visually more interesting and direct customers to walk in an interlacing fashion through the store. They could also improve their signage. I know I’m a pain, but I spent 9 years as the general manager of a retail bookstore chain. Retail is customer experience design.

Forrester analysts are sharp, and always make it look easy. Maybe too easy. But inside corporate America it needs nurturing and a fact-based approach. Of course getting NPS deployed needs support from the very top; everything does. Just prior to Fred, Walt Bettinger II, President and COO of Charles Schwab & Co. presented. He employed NPS and made some tough decisions to try and get their business back on track. Walt was pitch perfect in his delivery and obviously was the guy Schwab needed to pull this off. It seems to have worked, but they were in crisis. What if your business is not in crisis? What if you hear everyone around you say, “We already deliver a great customer experience?” It’s much tougher. Forrester should tackle that topic next.

In closing remarks, Fred offered some thoughts on how to get champions for adoption.

  • Explain that it’s your reputation on the line. It’s your name. Ask, “What do you want to be known for?”
  • NPS is still somewhat soft, but is gaining traction. Lots of case studies and blog entries can be found at netpromoter.com.
  • It is more psychological and sociological in nature, but these are converging with business facts thanks to the rise of social media.
  • You can’t improve your entire book of business with NPS. Look at profitability (vertical) and NPS (horizontal) together. Like everything, prioritize what you work on.
  • B2B firms have adopted NPS at a faster rate than B2C.
  • It requires a rethinking of the entire channel relationship with your customers.

My take is that Fred’s really on to something. After all here’s a brilliant man who has put 30 years of his life into one thing. Improving customer experience requires more than one strategy, and this one appears to be close to the tipping point. The meteoric growth of the online social community just might push it over.

P.S. The photo of the New York Times building (first photo above) was taken from a taxi. I immediately had a spontaneous urge to scale the building. Fortunately my agency partners were with me and kept me in the cab. Thanks Heather and Frank.

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – First of Three

Great Customer Experience: Easy to Say, Hard to Do.

Just returned from the Forrester Research Finance Forum held in New York June 23rd and 24th. Forrester is a research company that does an excellent job at spotting trends, doing deep dive research, and providing companies with helpful insights. I have been a client of Forrester since 1999 and this is my 15th Forrester event. Time does indeed fly.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

The theme was How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences. A pretty broad topic, but the Forresterites did a yeoman’s job of spinning an anthem into a coherent, actionable program. Their format combines Forrester speakers, keynote talks given by high level execs from big companies, and smaller breakout tracks geared to a specific skill or practice.

I’m totally sold on the notion of providing a great customer experience as a building block of growth, and quite frankly am astounded that there are senior execs at major brands who still don’t get it. But such is corporate life. There are many factors at play for why people end up with the big jobs, but that’s fodder for a completely different blog.

Day one began with Research Director Benjamin Ensor giving a talk called Building Differentiated Customer Experiences. He invoked the Forrester Experience Based Differentiation tenant by saying that differentiation is more important than ever because:

  • The Internet fuels transparency (one click comparison shopping)
  • Consumers can’t see how financial firms are different (jargon, products are now commodities)
  • Trying to be the price leader is dead (introductory rates turn into unaffordable rates)
  • Product differentiation is difficult to sustain (easily copied)
One of the few things left to do is differentiate through superior customer experience. Agreed. But what happens when/if everyone, or your biggest competitors, all deliver great customer experiences? Perhaps that could be a topic for a future forum. I guess we have a ways to go before we need that therapy session. In the meantime Forrester urges companies to:
  • Systematically build loyalty through design and delivery of differentiated customer experiences
  • Obsess about customer needs (not just product features)
  • Reinforce brands with every interaction (not just marketing communications)
  • Treat customer experience as a competence (not a function)
At the core was a strong call to develop a culture, process, skills and structure to deliver on these ideal experiences. Benjamin held up Jyske Bank in Denmark as an financial institution that’s getting it right. The execs at Jyske Bank created lifestyle branches. They installed foosball tables and coffee bars that got their customers to stop worrying and start thinking about their financial lives. A simple, but powerful concept. They packaged their normally stale products as dynamic lifestyle products. Consumers were drawn to them, opened them, could see what appealed and then interact through scanners and videos. The results are impressive, doubling their acquisition rates since putting these new experiences into play.

Photo Credit: Forrester Research (Jyske Bank)

Other examples were also used. Fidelity’s human, innovative, empowering approach (mash-ups and podcasts) and Credit Suisse’s immersion program (requiring financial advisors to fill out their own product applications). But the Jyske Bank case study was the most creative and apparently the most effective in delivering business results.

As I was listening to Benjamin speak I had an aha moment. A brief glimpse into a way to actually orchestrate a great customer experience. Involvement of course. But there is a requirement to have shared involvement. It does no good to involve customers in your products unless you are committed to getting involved in the consumer experience. If you can do both, then you’re on to how to create a great customer experience.

Mr. Ensor said something I believe provides insight into a question that’s been nagging me for years. “Why do all the cool technologies show up in places other than financial services?” The answer is because Silicon Valley is attracted to more exciting areas vs. the low interest categories. Probably only partly true, but as someone who works in the FI space, I can tell you that the technology is rock solid and scalable, but not sexy.

Time for a quote from Confucius.

If you tell me, I will forget; If you show me, I will remember; if you involve me, I will understand.

He closed with this set of recommendations.

  • Don’t leave your customer experiences to chance
  • Nurture a customer-centric culture that focuses employees on needs of the customer
  • Reorganize to break down product and channel silos
  • Build processes and technologies that help deliver consistency
  • Align metrics and incentives with your overall strategy

More to come on the Forrester Finance Forum.

NeuroMarketing – New Tools For Engaging Customers

Fast forward to some time in the future. The marketing game has completely changed, having evolved beyond test and control, research, etc. Imagine you can understand how your customers react to your products. By react I mean physical responses such as eye movements, heart rate, breathing pace, galvanic skin response and body language. You can map these responses to human emotions and cognitive thinking styles. Next you capture how your customers form relationships with your products (abstract, concrete) and how their social preferences interplay with and drive consideration. But wait there’s more. Throw ideolgical values (taste, morals) into the calculus and you will be able to mold a product that satisfies all basic human pleasures and by definition is the most desireable item on the market. You are are flying, and instantly promoted.

Science fiction? Is it even possible? It is possible, and the technology is available now. Welcome to Part III in my weblog series from the Forrester Marketing Forum 2008 (Los Angeles, April 7-9). The Forum’s theme was customer engagement. In this installment I make an attempt to summarize and connect four separate presentations (two breakouts and two keynotes), that starts to show marketers how to create more engaging online experiences by making them more pleasurable and deisrable.

At the heart of this task is a new type of practice called NeuroMarketing. It’s in very early days, having been largely confined to labs using expensive equipment that was uncomfortable for the subjects. As with any technology, it’s getting smaller and cheaper. There is only so far marketers can go with our current practices. In my view it’s critical to employ new tools that can measure human response and desire. Let’s get started.

First – The Four Pleasures Framework by Patrick Jordan. Mr. Jordan is a design, marketing and brand strategist and holds a PhD in psychology. He has worked with major brands to create campaigns and products using his pleasures framework.

The objective is to help people feel good about your product, your brand/company and about themselves. The four pleasures are:

  1. Physio – Physiological, the body and its senses
  2. Psycho – Psychological, the mind, emotions, cognition and interests
  3. Socio – Relationships, social connections in the abstract and concrete
  4. Ideo – Ideological, the values, taste and morals

During his talk Mr. Jordan cited real-life examples for each of the pleasures. To illustrate physio, he spoke about how the car maker Fiat has an entire lab and team devoted to only three parts of a car. The steering wheel, gear shift and inside door handles. Through research and observation, Fiat discovered that these were the first three things a customer actually touched when in a car showroom. The salesman would usually open the door, the customer would step in, put her hands on the wheel, then on the gear shift. When she wanted to exit she would have to touch the door handle. If the designers could elevate the sensory experience of these physical parts to one of pleasure, product consideratin is off to a flying start.

He provided examples for each pleasure, but I won’t go into them here. For those explorers that want to give it a try, he offered this brief summary.

  • Create robust personas
  • Conduct indepth ethnographic research
  • Immerse yourself in your customers
  • Look at what’s going on in the media

Second – Amplifying Engagement: Measuring Customer’s Emotional Reaction to an Experience, was given by Jeremi Karnell, President, One-to-One Interactive. His company(s) are working in the NeuroMarketing space, and he defines it this way.

NeuroMarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli.

He discussed what he calls the mind-body nexus of engagement, consisting of perception, attention, brain function and behavior. His firm developed the Quantemo Engagement Index, a scientific approach to measuring a target audience’s emotional reactions to digital media. In short, they put sensors on subjects (simple things like bands, nothing sticks to the skin) show them web sites, ads, emails, then report on heart rate, galvanic skin response and breathing. The sensors can also detect eye tracking and body movement. Are the subjects leaning in (interested), or sitting back (bored). These measurements are graphed and presented alongside the usability testing video and reports to give designers more data points to validate or refine designs or marketing messages. Can be employed against your competitors sites as well.

Third – Creating Personas that Support Engagement was given jointly by Neil Clemmons of Critical Mass and Mike Madaio from QVC. I won’t go into defining personas or how to use them in this post. You can easily find that through a simple search. The value in this talk was how Critical Mass extended the Forrester useful, usable, desireable usability model by adding sustainable and social to the persona matrix.

I have been doing a lot of thinking along these lines lately, and this really made it clear. The more offline experiences migrate to the online world, the more tools designers and marketers will need to be effective. The rapid growth of social computing is being accelerated by technology advances. This will require new ways to think about how to create online experiences that will keep up. Expanding the persona/user-centered design paradigm is a natural next step. Mastering these techniques will be critical to engaging users in your online properties.

Fourth – Designing for Engagement by Forrester Principal Analyst, Kerry Bodine. Her talk orbited around desirability. She didn’t offer a textbook definition, but instead quoted Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) as he attempted to define obscenity.

I shall not attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…

I know it when I see it. Clearly desirability is a subjective call and as unique as humans. But like so many other things the mind processes, it’s real. That’s why NeuroMarketing is going to be important. It pulls the subjective, which is very difficult for marketers to deal with, into focus using something more concrete than a gut feeling.

Kerry Bodine – Photo: Steve A. Furman

Ms. Bodine showed the standard usability strata Forrester has been promoting for years, and suggested it should look more like a point to point map, increasing the role desirability should play when designing. This is a subtle change, but one that challenges designers and web architects to think about desirability along side the other dimensions at the outset, vs. something to aspire to after launch. Makes more sense.

I would love to see Forrester refine, actually update, their persona framework to address the rise in social computing and match what they have done with this change. Since 2002, I have worked with Cooper to create the personas we use today. Their persona philosophy and methodology was a natural fit with how we think about segmentation.

Ms. Bodine used a number of personal and observed examples of desirable experiences. One as mundane as ordering room service in a hotel. Her summary and advice to marketers was as follows.

  • Learn to recognize desirability when you see it
  • Give desirability the recognition it deserves
  • Find a way to create desirable experiences

My take on what it means

Online marketers (DM guys and product managers) need to get much closer to interactive design than they are today. The pure plays are way ahead of the analog legacy firms (less baggage). Traditional direct marketers have the luxury of creating dozens (sometimes hundreds) of test cells and corresponding creatives. But they do this, for the most part, not so much through observing human responses, but by mechanical test and control (trial and error). I’m not suggesting that this is not a valid science, but it leaves out the human emotional reactions that are hallmark to the web’s interactivity.

Online testing tools available to raise interactive marketing practice to DM levels are getting better, but most firms don’t have the understanding, budget, expertise or technology infrastructure to acquire, implement and use them. They cannot support a network of sites or instances of sites or even regions on pages necessary to conduct robust DM-like testing. Don’t get me wrong, some firms are doing this well, but they are the exception. In my company we had at one time over 14,000 direct marketing test cells for one product! Nothing even close to that online.

I know it’s counterintuitive, but the online channel in most companies is fairly static because of tracking challenges, staff support, lack of a content management system and the reality of having to integrate with back end databases and systems real time. Content management suites like Interwoven, are helping, but they are big enterprise solutions. Could there be an Interwoven Lite market out there?

NeuroMarketing, is real today and could be baked into the normal project plan without extending the time line or breaking the budget. It can give the online marketer a new and powerful tool that doesn’t result in an extra large IT project.

What do you tell your CMO when asked to explain desirability? “I know it when I see it” is probably not going to do it. Use the mind. Neurons tell the truth.

In Summary

  • Create personas now. If you already have them be sure they are up to date.
  • Get buy in on personas from your DM marketers and Product Managers.
  • Bring them into the design and development process early and keep them there through the validation cycles.
  • Integrate NeuroMarketing techniques in your usability testing plan.

Read my other Forrester Marketing Forum 2008 posts here for Part I and here for Part II.


CEO Follows Advice of Deity, Decides to Blog

Part II from the Forrester Marketing Forum held in Los Angeles, April 7-9, 2008. Part I, Understanding Customer Engagement is here.

Forrester’s CEO, George Colony led off the second day with a talk entitled Confessions of a CEO Blogger. As he tells the story, he had a dream some years ago in which a deity-like voice spoke to him and said, “start blogging.” He ignored it (not a surprise for a CEO). But with all the fuss and hype blogging is getting these days he started to feel like it might be the right time. After all, two of his top analysts, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff just published a book called Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Personally I think he was a little worried about disregarding divine direction.

 George’s confessions are.

  1. No one is reading my blog.
  2. What do you mean once a week? I’ve got a company to run.
  3. Why does blog technology suck?
  4. It’s like speaking into a dark room and not getting any response.
  5. Where’s the money in this thing?

During his presentation he asked one of his analysts and respected blogger, Jeremiah Owyang, to take the mic and explain why he should give away his intellectual property for free on a blog. Jeremiah responded by saying that he thought of his blog as if it was a restaurant. He gives away the appetizers, but hopes people will come in and order the main meal. Obviously George wonders that his business, which is all about research and analysis, might lose monetary value through social networking. Certainly he gets paid to think about these things, and this concern is probably at the heart of why more CEO’s don’t blog.

George gets it, has a great sense of humor, and a sharp mind as you can read for yourself on his blog here. Please read so he doesn’t stop writing. Despite running a big, intellectual organization he is well grounded. A project manager partner of mine attended some Forrester sessions on Monday and then sat next to George at dinner. The report was he went out of his way asking people what they wanted to get out of the forum, and made everyone feel comfortable. When my colleague spoke up, he took a to do note. Impressive.

More Thoughts on Social Computing

I have had some time to think a little more deeply about the Forrester Consumer Forum experience. Everyone was looking for ways to leverage social computing, seemingly already convinced that it would deliver high value to their businesses. So valuable in fact that I heard people say it was “the next wave” or “there’s no stopping it.” I heard it said many times that it is the consumer taking control of brands and messges and products. But consumes don’t have to answer to a P&L or present in front of a board of directors quarterly. That gives them much more freedom to say and do what moves them. Perhaps that’s where the power lies; in the freedom. Corporate America has the really big master to answer to in profit. Consumers (let’s stop the clinical speak, it’s people) want to be moved emotionally, want be treated with respect, and want stuff to work with ease.

Halfway through the forum I began to make a fundamental shift in my mind away from thinking that people have taken control and towards the concept that they are merely becoming active participants. People want to particiapte. No big insight there.

Henry Jenkins, Co-director, MIT Comparative Media Studies Program spoke on the last day and helped clarify this. Unshackled from corporate ties, he said that the conversation should be, “going from technical discussions to humanistic discussions.” That “convergence is about culture, not technology.” And he encouraged companies to hire and use humanities experts to help them figure out what to do. Imagine positing that in your next senior management committee meeting. But that kind of provocative thinking gave the audience a genuine, original thought on how to tackle this problem that didn’t come from classic business methodology. I believe it will be very helpful to follow his thinking on this topic as it evolves. We can all do that at his site here.

Josh Bernoff, a VP at Forrester, presented a practical strategy for how companies can leverage the coming groundswell for success. He reinforced the foundation set by Christine Li (also a Forrester VP) in the opening salvo, Your Customers are Revolting ;-). Josh took a straightforward and disciplined approach with; know your objectives, set metrics and measure results. He also said that, “connecting with the groundswell will change the way your company runs.” The subtext was that if you can lead your company in this new area of social computing, your personal stock will rise within the organization.