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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Creative Campaign Shines in the IT Industry

Make Tech Her Story Cover Image (1)At Walker Sands, we pride ourselves in our ability to infuse unexpected creativity into B2B brand driven campaigns. Last year we worked with a long-term client of ours, CompTIA, to launch one of the agency’s most interactive and social centric campaigns to date.

CompTIA, the nonprofit trade association for the tech industry, came to Walker Sands to help them address one of the largest issues in the IT space, the gender gap. CompTIA wanted to tackle this problem by bringing mainstream awareness to the tech industry’s chronic lack of diversity and position itself at the center of the change process.

CompTIA asked Walker Sands’ to come up with a campaign that would shine a light on why so few girls are pursuing careers in IT, looking beyond the popular myth that girls simply aren’t interested in technology. The end goal: capture the imagination of tech employers, tier-one media outlets and most importantly the up-and-coming generation of female tech professionals.

The team, lead by account director Annie Gudorf, kicked off the project with a review of existing research and quickly discovered the current data available lacked the scope and focus necessary to identify the real issues preventing girls from pursuing technology careers. Gudorf’s team worked laterally with other departments of the agency to create an integrated campaign that would catch the attention of both the media and their target audience, young girls.

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The path was clear for understanding the people the campaign needed to reach. The team developed a comprehensive focus group approach of girls ages 10 to 17 to capture data that would be hard hitting with IT execs.

To focus the campaign, and drive home its message, the team centered the campaign on the cultural icon Rosie the Riveter. Birthed from the migration of women to the workplace in World War II, Rosie provided the perfect vehicle for connecting with the campaigns’ diverse audiences. This time around Rosie would be called on to take over the IT space, from developing cybersecurity solutions to creating mobile apps in the IT workplace.

In essence, the campaign used the Rosie icon as an entry point for telling the stories of women who’ve made their marks in tech and inviting a new generation of women to incorporate tech careers in their own stories, hence the campaign name and slogan “Make Tech Her Story.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 2.26.37 PMThe campaign centered around an interactive landing page that allowed visitors to build their own Rosie avatar from a diverse selection of attributes. The hub also housed a 30-page e-book based on the research and compelling documentary-style video with scenes from the focus groups and one-on-one interviews with girls.

Through gaining the support of industry influencers and an integrated communications strategy, the campaign garnered more than 600,000 social media impressions, 35,000 video views, 180+ media placements, including features in national media outlets like The Economist, Fast Company, Forbes, CIO, plus a host of other impressive metrics that can be found in the case study here.

Most importantly, the campaign connected with the individuals capable of making change happen by steering more women into IT careers.

Looking to infuse a little more creativity into your B2B strategy? We thrive on partnering with clients to creatively engage their B2B audiences to tell their story. Reach out to our creative services team to learn how we’d help to influence your brand’s influence.

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One Way Small Companies Beat Big Companies: By Telling It Like It Is

On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, while waiting in the lobby of Digital Garage to meet an old friend, Greg Kidd, I had the good fortune of meeting entrepreneur Patrick Levy Rosenthal, the CEO of Emoshape.

Based in New York, Emoshape makes a microchip that allows AI engines and robots to experience more than 64 trillion possible emotional states in real-time.

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Techweek 2017 Takeaways

Last week Chicago’s thriving technology scene was ignited with the annual Techweek conference that took place over the course of several days all over the city and culminated in the Techweek Gives fundraising competition ending ceremony.

Before getting into the new learnings and themes we took away from this year, we want to take a moment to reflect on the expansion the Chicago tech community has seen. There is something to be said about the strong community network that has developed out of the tech scene in Chicago and successful events like Techweek make that base thrive even more. Year over year, we’ve been able to ingrain ourselves in the lively tech culture and network and for that, we are thankful.

From this year’s summit, here are a few of the sessions Walker Sands employees attended and the points they gleamed from discussions in Data, AI and Enterprise Technology:

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Data Intelligence Presented by Atidiv This session was lead by a panel of CEOs from YCharts, Narrative Science, LQD Business Finance and Civis Analytics. Here are a few major takeaways from the discussion:

  • For data intelligence apps to thrive, full integration is the future.
  • Companies should be mindful of AI and the hype behind it.
  • Companies will need to adapt infrastructure before fully integrating AI.

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Customer Acquisitions for Enterprise – Jeff Ellman of UrbanBound & Hireology, Kevin Kent of ReviewTrackers, Erik Severinghaus of SpringCM and Kristi Zuhlke of KnowledgeHound joined this Techweek panel to discuss their perspectives on acquiring B2B customers. Here’s what we learned:

  • Don’t underestimate the process of qualifying leads.
  • Customer acquisitions have a long pipeline and it can be expensive.
  • Don’t waste time with leads that don’t care and aren’t qualified.
  • In the sales pitch, don’t be afraid to make clients vouch for you via logos and use cases

Picture3Taking time to participate in these events always leads to a regeneration of excitement for our team. This was most obvious by the group who participated in the discussion with Mayor Rahm Emanuel who shared plans for integrating technology into the infrastructural future plans of our city. So many years later and we still find ourselves getting giddy over these kinds of advancements.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to pull off a dynamic event that continues to bring together the tech minded community. As a team, we took away great new learnings and are looking forward to what the rest of this year has in store for the Chicago Tech community

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Measuring For Influencer Marketing Success

Influencer marketing is making waves among B2B tech companies because it provides valuable third-party credibility and brand awareness to engaged, well-connected audiences. Influencers can amplify a brand’s social reach, often beyond traditional media outreach, and boost its SEO ranking.

Under-the-Influence_P4The results speak for themselves – 70 percent of B2B companies report that referrals convert better and close faster than any other type of lead.

Although many brands would like to launch an influencer marketing campaign, the challenge is deciding on the who – then effectively managing that relationship to success. There are lot of nitty-gritty details to understand before jumping into an influencer marketing campaign. Here are some important factors to keep in mind.

One-Size-Fits All Won’t Do

  • Picking influencers must be done strategically because having the wrong influencer promoting your brand may do more harm than good. Some important factors to consider include:
  • Brand relevance – A big-name influencer may be alluring, but if they don’t connect to your target audience, it’s not worth much.
    Audience reach – The size of an influencer’s audience matters and should be taken into account to avoid wasting time and energy on a market that’s too small.
  • Audience engagement – It’s about more than numbers alone, if an influencer has 300,000 followers but averages just 20 likes per post, it may mean they have a more passive following.
  • Tone – Though every influencer has a unique voice, it’s crucial that their tone is aligned with your brand to ensure consistency across the campaign content.

Looking for ways to locate and engage with key influencers in your industry? Don’t be afraid to utilize influencer marketing tools like Buzzsumo, SproutSocial and Meltwater.

Tracking To Success

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If you can’t measure the effectiveness of your influencer marketing campaign, it’s impossible to determine if it’s helping to improve your business and if the investment is truly paying off. There are a number of criteria that can help measure success.

For campaign-specific influencer engagement programs, monitor the following:

  • How many pieces of content were created,
  • Sales attributable to influencer relative to influencer channel spend, and
  • The influencer’s engagement or shares of campaign-related assets such as content, URLs and codes.

For an ongoing influencer engagement program, think bigger:

  • Tracking web traffic,
  • Conversions, and
  • The number of brand mentions over time.

Keeping an eye on this information can provide a clearer picture of year-over-year value. It’s also important to note the sentiment of influencer mentions. What are people saying about the influencer’s content? Is it positive, negative, or neutral? Having more than 400 comments on a post may seem promising, but if the conversation is negative, your influencer may actually be damaging your business.

Small Product, Enormous Influencer Success

In 2015, we worked with electronics distributor Newark element14 to announce the launch of Raspberry Pi 2, a pocket-sized computer that offers six times the speed and twice the memory of its original version. We utilized a three-phased influencer marketing campaign to drive sales and grow product awareness among purchases and enthusiasts. In addition to traditional media outreach, we engaged with influential vloggers on YouTube and coordinated giveaways on social channels, generating buzz in places that buyers frequented.

The results were palpable – approximately 40,000 combined shares on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as 84 media placements in a month. Outreach to key influencers resulted in the influx of these social shares and influencers’ videos received more than 60,000 total views. All in all, the company saw a 67 percent growth in sales following the product launch campaign.

Whether you’re looking to harness the power of influencers for a product launch or a long-term campaign, the most important part of the process is cultivating a trusted relationship and measuring the campaign to success. To learn more about the B2B approach to influencer marketing, download our white paper “Under the Influence: A B2B Brand Guide to Influencer Marketing.”

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