Retail and Logistics Experts Discuss the Future of Commerce at Walker Sands Panel

On Wednesday we hosted a panel of experts to discuss key findings from our 2018 Future of Retail report at Walker Sands’ HQ in Chicago. The panel, titled The Future of Retail Is Beyond Retail, featured a group of retail and logistics experts, including Scott Webb, President of Avionos, a Chicago-based digital experience company; Lauren Freedman, Founder of the e-tailing group, focused on research in the retail and logistics space; Jim Okamura, Partner at McMillan Doolittle, a retail consultancy; and Erin Jordan, Senior Account Director, Partner at Walker Sands and author of the annual Future of Retail report.

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The panelists kicked off the night with a discussion on where they have seen the biggest changes in the industry over the past five years. Some of the most notable changes mentioned were the mobile takeover, consumers’ comfort level in giving out personal information and the increasing desire for convenience in shopping. In addition to the changes we have already seen, here are some highlights from the night about the direction retail is moving in the near future:

  • Online vs. In-Store Experience – The perception of saving time and money is one of the major draws of Amazon. However, Scott Webb stated “It wasn’t Amazon that killed retail – it was the existing in-store experience that killed retail,” highlighting the inconvenience and effort it often takes to go to a physical Audiencestore. An audience participant argued that the experience people look for when buying online and shopping in-store are very different and, in the future, the most successful stores will be able to marry the two.
  • Amazon Go Stores – The new cashierless Amazon Go stores are fascinating to consumers as they promise more convenience and speed with little to no human interaction. However, retailers were warned of trying to copy this model because Amazon is a tech company and doesn’t follow the same retail economy rules. At the very least, it was predicted that the existence of Amazon Go stores will push retailers to figure out ways to make their in-store experiences faster and more convenient.
  • Voice-Controlled Devices – 39 percent of people who own a voice-controlled device now own at least two, showing that people are becoming more comfortable relying on these devices in many different areas of their lives. Erin Jordan and Scott Webb Erin:Panelbelieve that voice-controlled devices are acting as a transitional stepping stone that will lead us to higher efficiency, without the physical device, in other ways of life. They predict a future where voice technology is integrated into every aspect of our homes, making purchasing commodities and other everyday tasks much more efficient.
  • Recommendations – The general consensus was that the retailers who will continue to find success are the ones with high quality in-store experiences with employees who are fully educated on the brand and knowledgeable about the value of their product. Service is important because it helps to build trust which then leads to an increase in brand loyalty. Specifically cited as examples of companies currently doing this exceptionally well were REI, The North Face and Glossier. Lauren Freedman’s advice to consumers who don’t want to see the retail world go completely digital is to “support the people [and companies] that know the product.”Lauren Freedman2

The discussion predicted a future where brands will try to take control of the purchase channel and go directly to the consumer. However, Jim Okamura pointed out the difficulty brands will face in this feat as they haven’t had experience navigating the complex world of retail on their own. And while Erin Jordan anticipates advancements in voice commerce providing a more fluid way of life when buying commodities, she and Lauren Freedman believe a split will happen between consumers who will still be looking for the classic, but elevated, in-store experience.

Mirroring the discussion from the panel, our 2018 Future of Retail report revolves around connected lifestyles, the expansion of Amazon, the dramatic rise of voice and the need for supply chain optimization, essentially showing that the future of retail goes beyond retail. You can download the report here for a more in-depth look.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this event! We enjoyed discussing how factors beyond retail are shaping the future of commerce with the brightest industry leaders in Chicago, and we look forward to seeing you at another Walker Sands event soon!

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Code Conference – Some Thoughts on Big Tech Companies and the Government

Walker Sands had the opportunity this year to join a relatively small group of tech leaders at Recode’s flagship event, Code Conference. Over the course of two days, Recode’s Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka grilled CEOs and founders over a handful of tricky topics. IMG_0969

This year’s show started by looking back. In 2001, Microsoft lost its huge antitrust lawsuit to the U.S. government – marking the symbolic end of the first “tech boom.”

For the tech leaders onstage at Code Conference 2018, it appears we’re at at a similar inflection point. The negative impacts of the 2010s technologies continue to emerge, and leaders who have enriched themselves on their unbridled growth are being held accountable both by the public at large and our government.

Fake news, smartphone addiction, lack of privacy and data free-for-all, cyber security, sexual harassment and #MeToo dominated the lines of questioning and the conversations at Recode’s annual tech leader conference.IMG_0975

From Snap CEO and founder Evan Spiegel to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, every speaker hit a note of contrition. While Snap apologized for its ugly app redesign, Facebook said sorry for losing billions of data points to such shady data brokers as Cambridge Analytica.

Federal action seemed to be a consistent thread in Microsoft’s early 2000s court date and today’s reckoning. Brad Smith who lived the Microsoft slapdown in 2001 said this:

“If you create tech that changes the world, the world is going to want to regulate and govern you. You’re going to have to get used to it.”

But, when federal lawsuits challenge a tech company’s dominance, there come potential opportunities for smaller players to enter the fray and take larger competitors by surprise.

Because Microsoft was preoccupied with divesting its many businesses, Smith continued, Google could rise and dominate the Search category. That opening has allowed Google to innovate without the press of a direct competitor and grow to define an entire category.

For Walker Sands’ part, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for a new class of tech company that brings to market social conscious technologies that adhere to a more strict regulatory environment.

Maybe there’s a company that can create a social network that can’t be used for voter manipulation and fake news, or a transportation company that pays its employees competitively. As Brad Smith said, our government can “oxidize the market.” Companies that support, work with, or invest in a new class of socially conscious company will participate in the third technology boom.

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Martech 2018: We Have Nearly 7,000 Solutions and More Challenges Than Ever

In April, Sarah Hale, my fellow martech account director, and I attended the annual Martech Conference in San Jose. While the warm weather was a welcome break from Chicago’s long winter, the conference itself was the real highlight. Not to mention seeing Walker Sands’ name in lights during the keynote. Check out the 2018 State of Martech for additional relevant findings on how marketers view martech these days.
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Here’s a recap of our biggest takeaways from the conference:

There are more martech solutions than ever before
Host Scott Brinker unveiled his latest martech landscape on Day 1, and we discovered that there are now nearly 7,000 martech solutions – 6,829 to be precise. This is 28 percent more than last year, and only 4.5 percent of the companies from the 2017 landscape were removed.
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Blockchain is going to be like the Internet but bigger
Speaker Jeremy Epstein predicts that the impact blockchain will have on business will be as big as the Internet was in the 90s. To really dumb it down, blockchain allows you to know who owns what at a specific moment in time, which enables commerce to happen a lot faster. Check out this podcast to hear him explain how this works to his nine-year-old.
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CDP is the next frontier
If we were playing martech bingo, blockchain, AI and CDPs would definitely have been on our cards. Presentation after presentation mentioned CDPs as the next major technology that savvy organizations should integrate if they haven’t already. Unlike a cookie-based DMP, CDPs are geared toward first-party data and reliant on persistent profiles. The result? A normalized database at a time when data is at a crossroads.

The best product doesn’t always prevail
The businesses that succeed are the ones that find the overlap between great technology and a great go-to-market strategy. There are countless start-ups out there, but the ones that find a way to resonate with customers are the ones that grow – even if they don’t necessarily have the best products, according to venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz.

These were just a few of the takeaways we gathered at Martech this year. If you’d like to hear more, either of us would love to chat. Send us a note!

Post contributor: Sarah Hale, Account Director at Walker Sands

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Why B2B Businesses Need a Brand Personality to Drive Meaningful Customer Relationships

In the final post of our three-part “Marketing Madness” series, we’ll examine the importance of B2B marketers developing a personality for their brands to better appeal to customers.
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As the content marketing ecosystem grows increasingly saturated, B2B marketers are forced to find creative ways to stand out from the crowd.

To complement their existing account-based marketing campaigns and post-sales engagement strategies, B2B marketers are turning to a tactic usually reserved for B2C companies: developing brand personalities.

Inspiring long-term customer relationships starts with authentic brand personalities

Let’s be honest — B2B marketing can be boring. Sales data and product specifications can be dull, and usually don’t excite or woo prospective customers. Prospects aren’t exactly leaping out of their seats to learn about the technical steps required for a software implementation.

“You need to consider the emotional intelligence of your organization,” says Adam Beeson, communications director at G2 Crowd. “Ask yourself: How does your business connect to your audience?” At the end of the day, even though businesses are marketing themselves to other businesses, the final decision maker is a person with emotional biases that sway his or her choice.

MM_Will WieglerWith a brand personality, marketers inject a little humanity into their organizations and inspire deeper relationships with their buyers. Advertising a company’s philanthropic efforts, for example, is one way to relate to prospects but can also be a double-edged sword for marketers. On the one hand, customers might view charitable efforts as businesses being socially responsible. On the other hand, some prospects could interpret a company’s volunteer work as disingenuous. Consumers can sniff out a fake from a mile away and are likely able to tell when a company’s actions are genuine and when they aren’t practicing what they preach. With the right association, B2B marketers can round out their company’s brand personality and appear more relatable to future buyers.

Unfortunately, businesses may lose prospects who don’t see eye-to-eye with a specific brand personality. Bringing emotions into the fold is inherently risky, especially if customers aren’t expecting a software company to comment on things like current events or social issues. A company taking a divisive stance, like supporting gun control, will likely turn away customers who strongly believe in the right to bear arms.

Crafting the narrative: finding stories that resonate with customers

Once you have uncovered your business’ brand personality, it’s time to mold it into a compelling narrative that resonates with the target audience. Lisa Agona, the CMO of Ensono, recommends primary research to learn how clients describe your business in emotional terms. “Calling out the emotion behind your brand is important when building a relationship with a B2B audience,” says Agona. Through surveys and a little online digging, Ensono discovered feelings of nostalgia were a great way to connect with a millennial audience.

With a better understanding of how customers perceive them, businesses are taking to social media platforms to reach their buyers with engaging content. Platforms like LinkedIn are typically reserved for sharing corporate-related news, but other venues like Facebook and Instagram can spotlight employees and company culture. SpringCM uses social media to share photos and video clips of a live band they house in their office, adding an element of fun to an organization that sells business software.
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However B2B marketers choose to show off their brand personality, remember: At the end of the day, you’re still trying to convert prospective buyers into long-term customers. A brand narrative still should tell the story of how companies can solve their customer’s problems and illustrate the value they gain by purchasing a product or service. Social media content is a great way to initially engage with prospects, but businesses also need to back it up with content that drives final sales.

As with any marketing journey, don’t be afraid to rework the tone of the brand voice based on results and change. Are your customers no longer reading newsletters after a shift in messaging? Are businesses contacting your sales teams because they don’t understand what a business does based on the brand personality advertised? It’s not enough for marketers to magnify their brand voice once they’ve found it — they also need to measure their efforts to maximize revenue. With the right combination of a strong brand personality and engaging content, B2B marketers can capture their prospects’ interest and see them through to a final sale.

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Post-Sales Content Marketing: How to Keep Your Customers Coming Back for More

MM_brandingIn part two of our three-part series, we’re exploring the post-sales marketing strategies the expert panelists at “Marketing Madness” covered during our roundtable discussion on eliminating customer churn.

You’ve successfully closed a deal with a high-value prospect obtained through an ABM campaign. But don’t celebrate just yet — getting customers through the door is only half the battle. The challenge continues after the ink on the contract is dry, when marketers are tasked with turning first-time customers into loyal brand advocates with lifetime value

A successful post-sales relationship starts with a great customer experience (CX). When CX is embedded in the marketing phase, organizations are more likely to achieve success in client interactions. “The customer experience starts with the buyer experience,” says Showpad’s Global Demand Generation Director, Nicolette Cieslak.

So, if your customer doesn’t quickly engage with the materials you give them, you risk losing buyers to a competitor that has invested more thought and effort in the post-sales lifecycle.
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Maintaining engagement is the difference between a one-time sale and a customer for life

There is nothing more frustrating than securing a high-quality lead and then losing the sale. But as marketers, how do we continue to wow and delight customers once they walk through the door? It’s no longer enough for just sales and marketing messaging to be aligned, the customer service team needs to deliver on what was promised throughout the buyer’s journey. Without a post-sales marketing plan, customers could lose trust in your brand and take their business elsewhere.

The trick to capturing repeat customers, according to Cieslak, is to provide value at every touchpoint and avoid pushing low-quality content through the pipeline. A simple “thank you” note or customer success story delivered at the right moment, for example, can go a long way toward cultivating brand loyalty.

Keep in mind, you’ll be speaking to multiple audiences during the post-sale marketing phase. Will Wiegler, SVP & CMO of SpringCM, says you’re likely going to talk to people who don’t know you in addition to existing clients who are looking for a reason to hang around after their initial purchase. Regardless of who you interact with, it’s important to not overwhelm your customers with too much content. You want to be a welcome guest in your client’s inbox, providing valuable touchpoints to continue the conversation — not a nuisance that gets sent directly to the trash pile.

It’s all about balance: how to engage customers without overwhelming them

The right content strategy gives customers something to talk about after they complete the sales process. Customers want to know how and why your product or service will continue to benefit them in the future.

It all goes back to providing post-sales content that answers your customers’ needs and illuminates how you are solving their problems. Ensono, for example, uses surveys to determine the types of content customers want to receive and how businesses can continue to provide additional value.
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From developing customer case studies to posting how-to guides, here are several ways marketers can leverage content to keep customers coming back for more:

  • Develop a customer mantra to rally your employees. Organizations achieve customer success when everyone is on the same page. To keep marketing, sales and customer service teams aligned, G2 Crowd developed a customer mantra to focus employees on a shared end goal. Any marketing materials sent to customers should be standardized across every promotional platform, and a customer mantra can help remind employees to create content that addresses customer needs.
  • Leverage newsletters for engagement. To hold buyers’ interest, SpringCM sends their customers newsletters containing information about new product releases, educational materials, success stories and more. Customers love hearing how other users take advantage of your product, and this type of content is more likely to be read in earnest than spammy advertisements.
  • Establish a dedicated community manager. In the post-sales cycle, third-party validation matters. With a community manager onboard, marketers can continue to engage customers and nurture long-term brand loyalty. A community manager also gets to know the buyer demographic better, digging into customers’ specific preferences and what they like or dislike about a product.

In the absence of post-sales marketing, organizations risk losing market share. But excessive content and intrusive interactions can also turn off your existing customer base. Remember, you want to deliver value at every touchpoint — don’t produce content just for the sake of producing it. Only when businesses demonstrate they have their customers’ best interests in mind through post-sales content marketing will companies enjoy the fruits of their lead-generating labor.

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