What’s Next for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

It’s been a rough couple of years for traditional retail. Companies like Amazon have upended the retail structure, and as consumers continue to turn to e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers must adapt to survive.

To do so, many companies are turning to hot-button tactics like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), simple or even nonexistent payment tactics (hello ApplePay and Amazon Go), and more. However, these strategies are more aspirational than practical, as they require heavy infusions of capital, huge upgrades to existing infrastructure and widespread consumer adoption to be successful.

While retailers work to make these long-term dreams a reality, there are several trends brick-and-mortar retailers can pursue to stay relevant and competitive in the more immediate future:

1. A Focus on Stores as Showrooms

As the purchase process continues to migrate online, we’re seeing brick-and-mortar stores used as a way for consumers to feel and see products before they pull out their phones and make a purchase. This approach works best for categories like furniture, where people are traditionally hesitant to purchase without physically interacting with products.

Examples of this strategy include Apple stores, which focus more on showcasing products and what they can do, or Bonobos’ guideshops, which exist purely as a way for consumers to interact with the web retailers’ goods (you can’t even walk away with any merchandise, but you can order clothing).

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Chain Reaction: How Blockchain Is Infiltrating MarTech

Venture capital firms have invested more than $1.4 billion in blockchain since 2013, and more than 2,500 patents involving the technology have been filed in the same time frame. The implications for the financial world here are more obvious, but what does this trend mean for marketing? More than the average marketer may think, as it turns out.

Blockchain is the distributed ledger technology (DLT) behind bitcoin, the digital currency that’s used with encryption methods so that transactions are made without a middleman (banks). These days, businesses offering everyday consumer goods and services are increasingly accepting bitcoins. While Bitcoin was the first currency to be applied to this DLT strategy, it’s not the only currency that can be.

With Blockchain as the backbone of bitcoin, transactions are extremely fast and secure, all while being transparent. One shutterstock_548916601blockchain analyst has compared it to a Google Doc, with our mainstream system of transactions being a Microsoft Word document. The ledger is shared for all to see and updates automatically every ten minutes, all while being incorruptible.

Considering these strengths, it’s only a matter of time before blockchain technology changes the marketing landscape as we know it. Here are three realms that may see changes due to blockchain technology in the not-so-distant future.

Media buying

The idea of blockchain is already being applied to the world of ad buying, and isn’t so far away from being implemented on a larger scale. Nasdaq announced that in late 2017 it will launch an electronic marketplace using blockchain technology for the New York Interactive Ad Exchange.

The ledger will allow publishers, advertisers and media buyers to buy and sell ad space via an electronic marketplace. According to the NYIAE CEO Lou Severine, if this takes hold the way it’s intended, companies could implement the model across different forms of media including TV, radio and out-of-home markets.

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What EdTech Stakeholders Are Talking About: Lessons from SXSWedu 20

As a former teacher, education PR professional and current learning and development manager at Walker Sands, I was ready to nerd out at SXSWedu 2017. Thousands of experts gathered for 4 days in Austin, Texas to address trends in edtech and have honest conversations about the challenges facing the education industry as a whole.

Between education celebrities such as Dr. Brene Brown and John Maeda wandering the halls, and one interesting session description after another, my FOMO was at an all-time high. I attended as many sessions as I could and walked away with solid insights into the current state of edtech.

What EdTech Stakeholders are Talking About Now

1. What can VR do for you?

VR, AI and MR (mixed reality, combining the first two) technologies are eliciting intrigue across all industries, education included. While some educators are embracing the possibilities for deeper engagement (major buzzword alert), others worry about the risk of losing touch with reality.

If we can transport students to anywhere in the world with one swipe of a finger and a cardboard box, what’s to become of physical field trips? Will students further lose themselves in a solitary, virtual vortex? Will VR have a significant enough impact in the classroom to warrant any of this?

Teachers who have begun implementing these technologies in the classroom have noticed students prefer to explore them in groups. The social component of education remains significant. Regarding impact, all signs point to VR/AI/MR transforming, specifically and certainly, the med school experience and many healthcare practices.

In the traditional classroom setting, the technologies will allow for deeper exploration by bringing more concepts to life in new, interactive ways. One thing most can agree on is that these technologies are often intuitive enough to make implementation and integration more accessible for educators.A

2. What does the future hold for higher education?

The notion of the 21st-century job, in which you choose a specific career path and then go to school for it, is fading. Companies are instead seeking employees with relevant skills, such as creative problem-solving and good communication.

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4 Tech Trends that Will Dominate the News in 2017

2016 brought exciting technology developments that dominated headlines. Apple made a splash by ditching the headphone jack on it’s latest iPhone model, Snapchat reignited excitement over wearables with their new smart sunglasses, Spectacles, and Oculus Rift finally launched its VR headset.

So what will 2017 bring? Many tech analysts and enthusiasts- Walker Sands included- are already speculating over what innovations will emerge. As we make our way into the New Year, it’s worth taking a look at how the always evolving tech industry will shape our culture and dominate headlines in 2017.

  1. Augmented Reality (AR) Explores the Enterprise. The Pokemon Go craze catapulted AR to the mainstream in 2016, and we’ll likely only see more AR applications in 2017. With “augmented reality” virtual images and information are displayed on top of the physical world. While the success of Pokemon Go created a huge appetite for AR games, expect more enterprises to look for targeted applications of AR with devices like Microsoft’s Hololens. Microsoft is already exploring how the device could improve the construction industry.
  2. Virtual Reality (VR) Gets Real(er). VR is predicted to grow into a $30 billion market as early as 2020. Last year, we saw major strides in the VR space with the launch of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive’s, Samsung’s Gear VR and PlayStation VR. 2017 will likely see a major push in the development of better VR content including video games and film. As VR picks up steam amongst consumers and media companies, we’ll likely see more brands try to incorporate the technology into their marketing efforts.
  3. Mainstream AI and Machine Learning. The success of Amazon’s Echo brought renewed attention to the potential value of virtual assistants. To compete, Google launched Google Home, it’s own smart speaker, and Mark Zuckerberg even built his own AI personal assistant, Jarvis (voiced by Morgan Freeman, no less!). Not to beat, Apple announced it would open up Siri to third-party apps, signalling it will likely integrate the virtual assistant into other devices. Expect chatbots and AI virtual assistants to be integrated into even more devices and applications in 2017.
    As businesses look to drive digital innovation and create business value, we’ll also see more mainstream instances of AI in 2017. Industries ranging from to banking to retail will start using machine learning to create more personalized and efficient customer experiences.  
  4. Autonomous Cars Makes Strides. With nearly every car manufacturer, including new players like startup Faraday Future, as well as transportation service providers like Uber and Lyft aggressively pursuing autonomous driving, we can expect to hear even more about this trend in 2017. At this year’s CES, nearly every car maker showcased their self-driving car technology in an attempt to build consumer excitement. While we may still be a few years away from a fully autonomous vehicle, this year we’ll start to see more of the building blocks that could turn this long-time fantasy into reality. Discussions related to the ethics around self-driving vehicles, the impact on the sharing-economy and what the future of in-car entertainment will look like will also grow.  

Time will tell just how much these four trends actually advance in 2017, but one thing is for sure. Tech innovation, whether from established players like Apple or a new unknown start-up, will continue to upend our lives in exciting new ways. And oftentimes, the most influential technologies are the ones we never expected.

What tech trends do you foresee dominating headlines in 2017? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @WalkerSands!

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Top 3 Marketing Tips from Digital Summit Dallas

Digital-Summit-HeaderIn a rather unsuccessful attempt at escaping the bitter Chicago cold, I traveled to Texas for Digital Summit Dallas, a marketing conference focused on content, SEO, UX, strategy, and design.  There were tons of great speakers from a wide variety of companies like Google, Cisco and Starcom. I was amazed at how much information they packed into two short days. Here are three quick insights, pulled straight from my 25 pages of type-written notes!

  1. Marketing is a massive fight for attention and we are rarely given permission. Keynote speaker and bestselling author Seth Gogin [google “Seth” to find his blog] explained how we are constantly vying for the attention of people online. The internet is the first form of mass media not intended for marketers but indefinitely abused by them. We demand a lot of our audience, with very little pay-off for them.  Wouldn’t we be more effective if we talked to people who want to be talked to? Permission is letting your audience decide what is valuable to them and what is not. If you have the permission of people who a truly interested in what you’re selling, you can build a real and lasting relationship.
  2. Leverage your existing content to increase organic search traffic. 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search. Marketers can improve their organic search results by keyword-optimizing content already on their site. Vertical Measures Director of Marketing, Quinn Whissen, advises that you look at pages that are performing poorly and revitalize the content with 1-2 target keywords and a couple of synonyms (semantic keywords). Republishing pages is a great way to get a lot out of your marketing efforts, and timely content does better in search engines. Quinn astutely quoted John F. Kennedy’s “a rising tide lifts all boats” to illustrate the SEO benefit to your website from refreshing its content. Increasing the search value of your pages will go a long way towards generating more traffic and leads site-wide.
  3. The website should be the focal point of the marketing mix. A common goal of PR, email, social and SEO/PPC campaigns is to drive traffic to the website. If the onsite user experience is horrible, all your marketing efforts are essentially nullified. No amount of traffic is going to capture qualified leads when your users can’t figure out what your services are. Why spend time and money on a PPC campaign that directs users to an overwhelming landing page with outdated messaging? Make your website worth your users’ time. If conversions are low and exit rates are very high site-wide, it might be time to revisit your website strategy and UX.

Overall, the conference focused on improving the experience of users across all marketing channels and provided a good combination of tactical and aspirational insights. Anyone who is involved in marketing would benefit from this conference series; there are multiple U.S. events throughout the year.  I am thankful for the opportunity to experience a new city and receive some great takeaways for the new year in digital marketing.

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