Walker Sands’ 2017 Future of Retail Report – The Rise of the Connected Consumer

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Over the past several years, Walker Sands’ VP Dave Parro and I have taken a closer look at how commerce is changing through our annual Future of Retail report.

While last year’s version was focused on the backend changes happening to support innovations on the retail front, this year’s report takes a closer look at the dramatic shifts happening in consumers themselves, leading to a future of connected consumers, connected commerce and changing connected experiences.

In this three-part blog series, I’ll take you through some of the key findings from the study, starting with the connected consumer.

A lot has happened since the Future of Retail report first launched in January 2014.

Online ordering has become the norm, fast and free shipping is expected and storefronts have started to disappear. Still, what’s driving this evolution in commerce seems to have hit warp speed with the introduction of AI, machine learning and voice-ordering technologies over the past year or so.

Today’s consumer is vastly different from the consumer of just a couple of years ago. What used to be a distant idea of a ‘smart home’ is now seemingly here to stay, and integrations of data to the supply chain have made sure no consumer is without the goods they need in a fast-paced world.

Three big takeaways from this year’s report on the connected consumer include:

  1. More than a quarter of consumers (27 percent) now own some kind of in-home smart device, including smart appliances (16 percent), thermostats (14 percent) and lights (13 percent). And as retailers are paying closer attention to consumer data for personalized experiences, consumers are more focused on their own data, too – 18 percent now own wearable fitness devices and 13 percent own smartwatches.
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  2. Today’s connected consumer is used to getting their information on demand. Consumers today are cord cutters, with more consumers now reporting they own a digital tv subscription (64 percent) than a traditional cable subscription (52 percent). Nearly a third (32 percent) own a streaming device like Apple TV or Roku.
  3. The connected consumer is getting used to voice-based technology. Perhaps the biggest innovation in the connected consumer lifestyle has happened in just the past year with mainstream adoption of voice-controlled devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Nearly a fourth of consumers (24 percent) now own in-home voice-controlled device and another 20 percent plan to purchase one in the next year.

The same innovations that are changing retail are also changing the way consumers think and interact in their everyday — completely disrupting the landscape retailers have gotten comfortable with. 30492017770_58450b5f69_b

As new innovations in IoT, machine learning and voice technology arrive on the scene, the way consumers expect to be engaged will also continue to change. Younger consumers are already more open to these kinds of devices, opening new opportunities for retailers and brands in the future of commerce.

To learn more about the connected consumer and how they’re impacting the future of commerce, download the full Walker Sands 2017 Future of Retail Study here. Also stay tuned for additional blog posts and analysis as a part of our three-part series.

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Walker Sands’ New Whitepaper Outlines The B2B Approach to Influencer Marketing

Just about every business decision – no matter the magnitude or industry – hinges on a single key ingredient: trust.

The recommendations of individuals with significant industry and social followings carry heavy weight with customers, sparking a growing desire to capitalize on the credibility of an influencer’s backing. To help cultivate trust among potential customers, a growing number of B2B brands are wisely turning toward influencer marketing.

WS_whitepaper_Under-the-Influence_cover_300pxWhile sales professionals and marketing collateral can certainly help raise awareness of specific products or services, buyers inherently trust people over press releases. In fact, 84 percent of B2B buyers start the purchasing process with a referral.

In our new whitepaper, “Under the Influence: A B2B Brand Guide to Influencer Marketing,” we’ve outlined the steps you can take to bring influencer marketing to your business. From executing influencer marketing initiatives to measuring success, discover how our approach to B2B influencer marketing can jumpstart buyer interest in new products and initiatives.

Finding a fit

When done right, influencer marketing can be a win-win for both brands and the influencers they work with. Businesses have their messages amplified while influencers get their hands on data-based insights that can help grow their social following.

But as in any other relationship, fit is crucial.

Before reaching out to a potential influencer, take a few minutes to ask yourself, “Is this influencer’s content and audience relevant to my business?” Although it’s always tempting to pursue a well-known thought leader, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to make a big difference in your brand’s bottom line. Keep an eye out for influencers who regularly engage a large portion of your target audience using a tone that aligns with your brand.

Pulling the trigger

Once you’ve identified which influencers you’d like to work with, the next step is to set aside the time and budget needed to bring a campaign to life. Thinking about getting an influencer to promote your next product launch? We recommend spending at least two months researching and reaching out to relevant analysts. The more ambitious the influencer marketing initiative, the more time you’ll need.

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When it comes to budget, many of the same rules apply. If, for example, you want an influencer’s help producing a video, be prepared to pay more than you would for a simple mention in their blog post. While nurturing an organic influencer relationship may help you save on costs, it will also take more time. By developing a sound strategy for your campaign and clearly identifying the desired outcomes of the relationship, you can determine how much time and budget are needed to execute a successful campaign.

Measuring success

Measuring the success of your influencer marketing campaign will not only provide insight into an initiative’s ROI, but also highlight areas for improvement moving forward.

Since measurements can vary based on the type of influencer marketing investment, we’ve created a different set of criteria for both ongoing and campaign-based programs. From the frequency of influencer interactions to share of voice among target influencers, each data point can help determine whether the campaign helped move you one step closer toward your goals.

Eager to learn more about influencer marketing? Download our whitepaper, “Under the Influence: A B2B Brand Guide to Influencer Marketing,” and stay tuned for more content surrounding the B2B approach to influencer marketing.

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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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AI and Chatbots: How Marketers Can Keep Up

The marketing world is abuzz with AI chatter. While people love to talk up AI’s potential for automating marketing, the reality doesn’t yet live up to the hype. A study from Oxford University, Deloitte and the BBC revealed that the risk of associate-level marketers losing their jobs to automation is fairly low, at only 33 percent. At the same time, new AI marketing innovations and applications appear daily, and keeping up with this evolution is essential.

What’s a busy marketer to do? According to the Walker Sands State of Martech 2017 study, marketers are feeling the heat already. When asked about tech strategies in general (AI and beyond), almost three-quarters (72 percent) of marketers say the martech landscape is evolving at light speed or rapidly. Times may be hectic, but AI is a tactic deserving special attention. Let’s go beyond the buzz:

AI’s current role in marketing

It’s easy to get carried away in the science fiction-like element of AI. Many companies gaining attention are carrying out genuinely interesting tasks, but below the surface aren’t so advanced in terms of application of the technology.

For example, IBM Watson collaborated with Marchesa to create a “cognitive dress” worn by model Karolina Kurkova at the 2016 Met Gala. IBM Watson analyzed Marchesa’s social media sentiment and changed the dress to correspond to different emotions. The dress was gorgeous, but all-in-all, natural language processing (NLP) is a fairly straightforward technology.

The changes currently brought to martech are far less glamorous, but useful nonetheless. Open-ended technologies like IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein allow for the development of new AI applications for marketing all the time. Here are a couple marketers have embraced so far.

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Visit the Walker Sands website. We specialize in PR and marketing services for technology solution providers and B2B companies. Walker Sands Digital offers a wide array of digital marketing solutions and helps firms to get the most from their online presence.
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