SXSW Gets Intelligent, Raises as Many Questions as Answers

SXSW 2017 was a terrific week spent in the presence of some of technology’s brightest minds, music’s best acts and film’s most creative souls. For Ketner Group, the event was a chance to lose sight of reality and dive into the fascinating beyond, the next era of the intersection between technology and humanity. It’s exhausting work, but hey, someone’s gotta do it.

It seems that with each passing year, SXSW does a better job of asking questions than providing answers. Maybe that’s because each one-hour session doesn’t do the experts on stage enough justice. How can someone who has dedicated their life to mapping the human brain using machine learning break that work down in one hour, while sharing a stage with the founder of Siri and a biologist learning how to grow everything we need by having intelligent systems program atoms and microbes? It takes the hour just to fully realize how much smarter these folks are than you!

But understanding the question that needs solving is the key first step to success. And we saw a few critical questions arise that anyone involved in commerce and technology will need to consider within the short and long term to ensure their prosperity. Some will be answered before SXSW 2018, and some not for many years, but the work starts now. Let’s dive in.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, these are some of the most hyped technological concepts out there. And they were everywhere at SXSW 2017. And really, they should be. AI and machine learning will be incorporated into nearly every aspect of retail, from logistics and distribution to marketing to in-store and online customer experience.

AI has the power to greatly reduce the stress of manpower on a retail business, opening up human capital for more valuable roles that drive better experiences. Intelligent systems will understand human language and new age personal assistants will make Amazon’s Alexa look like a pet rock.

And as the founder of Kasita revealed, even your living room will be AI-heavy to the point that it may actually be artificial intelligence in physical form. TVs, window blinds, thermostats and many other items will become smart gadgets, learning how to adapt to your lifestyle and reduce your time spent doing menial tasks, which include buying things like groceries or razors. Watch out, because this one is going to be fun.

Conversational Commerce
Siri started the voice command personal assistant craze that has since grown into a full force commerce craze. But based on nearly any metric – capability, adoption, competition – it hasn’t yet hit the mainstream and is nowhere near its full potential. Alexa and Google Home can’t understand complex speech patterns, can’t infer deeper meaning from simple requests and are prone to making real mistakes, like ordering something because it overheard someone on TV or a demanding child say it. Chatbots will combine the best of speech recognition and cognition to make customer service a breeze. No, really.

Our voices will eventually replace our hands as our primary machine operating tools, and how retailers integrate this technology into their omni-channel platforms will be fascinating to watch.

Social Commerce
The golden rule in payments innovation is not to compete against other forms of digital payments, compete against cash. Social commerce has long been an area that retailers have felt could be the next frontier in omni-channel commerce. And as they started to understand its potential, conversation apps outpaced them. So what’s the future of social commerce? Think small.

Commerce on social media or conversation apps is not a significant growth area for enterprise level business, at least not yet. And part of this is the limitation of highly complex payment, banking and regulatory systems.

Instead, this is an area in which independent businesses, individual sellers and developing nations are the true pioneers. In fact, according to Facebook’s Director of Commerce & Payment Partnerships, Facebook alone has over 5 million businesses registered, many using it as a critical platform to do business.

Sellers can create mini-storefronts on their Facebook or Instagram pages, listing the products they have for sale, deleting the posts once they’re no longer in inventory. They can use peer-to-peer payments apps like Venmo to manage cashless and remote transactions, and communicate instantly via apps like WhatsApp and create a marketplace for their goods much broader than available within the constructs of their physical environment and local infrastructure. 

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The question for major retailers will be whether they can integrate massive SKU count assortments into this sort of framework, if the social and conversation apps will evolve with their platforms to enable a simple integration, or if social apps will avoid the invasion of commercial interests on an otherwise personal interaction space.

What Now?
For now, we wait, we watch and we marvel at the technologies that are revolutionizing our world. Within retail itself, we’ll continue to see the automation of process, the personalization of marketing and experience, and the simplification of consumption. Where we’re going, we don’t need answers (right away), we just need the right questions.

The Inescapability of the Word ‘Millennial’

millennialsThis blog was written by our intern, Kamilla Rahman.

If you’ve ever surfed the web for more than 10 minutes, you’ve definitely come across the word millennial at least five times. People are constantly talking about millennials, what they’re doing, what they want, what they will be doing, how they react and how to resonate with them. Even the KG team has been known to write about millennials on behalf of our clients from time to time – here is a recent example.

According to Investopedia, “a millennial is the given name to the generation born between 1982 and 2004…this generation is often associated with technology and social media.” In the last couple of years, there has been a more specific consensus. A millennial is basically someone in their 20’s or 30’s.

The world is infatuated with millennials, and as a millennial, I honestly don’t get it. I was flipping through a few articles the other day and almost every article referenced the millennial generation. I do understand millennials are important, especially when regarding technology and retail. We’re a different generation, we’re nontraditional, we’re viewed as more independent, we have different expectations and we are more technologically advanced than our parents and grandparents with a tremendous amount of buying power.

But why the obsession?

Some of the headlines read:

Though all of these articles are extremely insightful, as a millennial, I don’t understand why all of these brands and companies are constantly trying to appeal to us. The word is everywhere. It’s basically inescapable and everyone seems to think that appealing to a millennial is the magic key to all things holy and great.

My brother and I are both millennials. He was born in 1985 and I was born in 1995. Throughout most of our lives, our purchasing habits, interests and even technological awareness have been different. Though they are closer today than they have ever been, they’re still completely different.

He’s 31, he goes to work, has meetings all day, buys suits and dress pants, goes to CrossFit, has nice dinners with his beloved girlfriend, just bought a house, gets a beer with his buds, checks his iPad for emails, pretty much knows what he’s doing with his life and occasionally has a late night out. I, on the other hand, am 21. I’m about to start my senior year of college, I intern, I’m an avid online shopper, I go out with my friends almost every weekend, I study, am always on the move and suffer withdrawal symptoms when I don’t have my phone for more than 45 minutes.

The only things we really have in common are that we stay busy and know technology. I may be wrong here, but that just doesn’t seem like the proper way to target consumers, especially in retail. The word millennial is too broad. It encompasses people that are in completely different stages of their lives. To me, focusing efforts around millennials is just an over-followed trend.

Don’t get me wrong; appealing to millennials has definitely shifted the way marketers appeal to consumers. It has become intuitive, personal and brands have figured out how to market in a way that is additive to peoples’ lives. But if you think about it, don’t generations older and younger want that as well?

In retail and technology, a new goal is personalization; so my question is why do these industries continue to obsess over a market that appears to be so diverse and vague?

SXSW 2016: The Customer May Always Be Right, But What The Heck Do They Want?

SXSW Interactive 2016 blazed through Austin this past week in typical disruptive fashion, bringing the tech industry’s brightest minds into town for a five-day festival that was all business during the day and all party during the night.

No matter the application, the topic of how to engage customers was at the forefront of the most prominent conversations. From machine learning to data analytics to mobile, all technology pointed to one focal point – the customer and their engagement.

However, during all of the discussions one thing became apparent: while we now have technology that can help us track and study customers’ actions throughout the engagement cycle, we cannot yet decipher what prompted the customer to begin the engagement process with a particular brand.

Zappos Product Manager Kandis Yaokum best described it during the panel session titled “Future of Cool: Predicting What’s Next in Fashion”. Sitting alongside ThoughtWorks Senior Retail Consultant Rachel Brooks, Google Fashion Data Scientist Olivier Zimmer and Shoptelligence Founder Laura Khoury, Yaokum discussed how data analytics is helping fashion retailers predict what will be the industry’s next big trend. When Yaokum was asked “what kept her up at night?,” she answered that it was not knowing why a particular customer decided that a certain product was the “cool one” to buy and what stirred the initial curiosity to engage with a brand.

All the panel members described how data analytics is historical by nature, and can help deliver better insights into overall trends that can help predict the future. However, understanding what sparked a customer’s initial attention is still something that technology cannot yet decipher.

It seems we are at an inflection point, however; additional sessions all pointed to a better understanding of the customer and different ways we can look at the convergence of brand and technology to spark and measure customer’s attention. Key themes that emerged included:

It’s all about psychology: a brand’s engagement with a consumer should have personal and organic connection.

  • Marcela Sapone, founder of the New York based startup, Hello Alfred, discussed that how brands make you feel is all about perception, and brands can use this perception alongside technology as a metric to continue innovating and building a better product.

Going beyond the product – A physical store setting should be more about the overall experience and providing content customers can immerse themselves in.

  • STORY founder Rachel Shecthman discussed how the retail store should be utilized as a media channel to create an experience that immerses customers in the overall story and gives them something to do. We should think about physical stores as living labs and places of entertainment that are enabled by technology.

Democratizing access to luxury: luxury is now defined as a combination of access, experiences and usability.

  • Discussing wearables, Uri Minkoff and Decoded’s Liz Bacelar emphasized how luxury items should be both about usability and functionality and how the wearables of the future will be more about portraying emotion than tracking health data.

ALL customers are individuals.

  • Refinery29’s Phillipe von Borries discussed how all brands should look to people as individuals instead of grouping them into a block such as a generational age group. The power, he says, lies in niches – people who are defined by their overall passions and hobbies.

At the end of the day, the customer is the key driver, and brands that look to incorporate innovative technologies and tactics into their overall customer experience philosophy will continue to spark their attention.

PR Spring Cleaning: Four Key Steps to Raising Your Company’s Media Profile

Spring is the season of new beginnings—and one of the busiest times of year for Ketner Group and our clients. We recently wrapped up our annual voyage to New York for the National Retail Federation conference, and are now getting ready to go full swing into SXSW 2015! KG clients are making exciting new product and customer announcements in the coming months, and we’re busily working with them on fresh ideas and opportunities for PR and marketing campaigns.

With Daylight Savings Time upon us in a little over a week, now is the time to do a bit of “spring cleaning” for your PR program. Believe it or not, retailers will soon be thinking about their new technology investments in preparation for the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons, so it’s essential for technology vendors to keep up a high profile with PR and marketing campaigns.

What can companies do to kick start spring fever? Here are four simple suggestions:

Pick up the pace with press releases. Press releases are an essential way of gaining earned media coverage and creating buzz for your company. We love to see our clients generate one to two newsworthy announcements each month, as it’s a way to let key editors, analysts, influencers and prospects know your company is on the move.

Pitch, pitch, pitch. In today’s always-on news cycle, the media are hungry for content, and fall is ripe with opportunities. Holiday shopping will be one of the top business stories this fall and winter, for example, and many of our clients have story angles that feed directly into potential coverage in the coming months.

The key is to be relevant and creative. Do you or your customers have particular expertise that might be valuable to media? Then pitch your ideas; after all, the media is continually looking for interesting stories.

Focus on analysts. Industry analysts play a critical role in the technology ecosystem. How long has it been since you’ve briefed the key analysts covering your space? If it’s been 6-12 months or longer, it’s time for an update, regardless of whether or not your company is a client. After all, analysts need to understand your products, strategy and customer base in order to do their job; and since they often advise end-user companies on vendor selections, it’s essential that the analysts are up to date on your company.

Refresh your content. It’s no secret that content is king. Now is the time to refresh your website with fresh content, short videos, case studies, infographics, e-books, case studies and vehicles for telling your company’s story. Most of our clients’ software solutions have hefty price tags and solve critical business problems, so prospects will be on your site often to look for relevant, up to date content.

Friendly reminder from the Ketner Group – Don’t forget to set your clocks forward on March 8! Happy Daylight Savings Time day!

Connecting Technology and Trust

Technology is a cool thing. I’m realizing this more and more as I become immersed in the retail tech world. Our retail technology clients are able to help retailers become more price-competitive via price intelligence software, others can connect all the enterprise dots of an international, omni-channel retail organization to keep all the moving parts of the company on the same page. On a more personal level, technology has completely changed the way I communicate – because of social media sites like Facebook or mobile apps like Snapchat, I can instantly connect with with friends in Canada or Europe without leaving my chair or having an exorbitant phone bill, which is no fun.

But as the old saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Technology allows you to make all these social and business connections, but what about the flip side of it? The security side of it? You’re sharing your information over this invisible dimension and trusting that no one is going to use this information against you.

Technology connects people across the globe. Facebook is a great example of this, but have they taken it too far? Their messenger app recently received a lot of bad press for reportedly using personal contact information and using spyware-type coding, not to mention it’s a completely separate app from the actual Facebook app. This new application brought up a lot of discussion of terms and service agreements and personal knowledge of your privacy, which is something we should all be aware of when checking that little box. Here is a great read about the app and its permissions.

Trust is a major factor in any relationship made, whether between friends or as a loyal customer. Yet there are so many instances where trust is not enough. Take the celebrity photo leak scandal, or the five million Gmail passwords that were leaked. Home Depot is the most recent retailer to have a data breach with more than 2,000 stores affected and customer data exposed. Retail Systems Research analyst, Paula Rosenblum, recently published a great article in Forbes about the data breach and consumer protection.

Apple just came out with a payment platform, Apple Pay. Will our payment and banking information go the way of nude celebrity photos? Yes, Apple has security measures in place, most prominently not utilizing the traditional magnetic strip, but everything is safe until its not.

Retailers undertake a great responsibility using customers information, be it banking or personal, and if (actually these days its more like when) their systems get breached they have to be willing to go above and beyond to regain consumers’ trust.

Most all retailers have taken huge financial and operational strides to ensure their systems are PCI-compliant as to avoid costly customer data breaches. These are huge undertakings to protect us and maintain our trust, but as consumers, we must also monitor and protect our personal information and be mindful of technology’s capabilities, good and bad.

Retail’s Big Show Will Showcase Hot Technologies For 2014

President and CEO of National Retail Federation, Matt Shay, speaks at the 2013 Big Show
Matt Shay, President and CEO of National Retail Federation, speaks at the 2013 Big Show

It’s NRF time again and the Ketner Group Team is getting ready to head out to New York next week to attend the Big Show! Leading up to what should be a convention full of new and trending retail technologies, renowned retail industry analyst, Forbes contributor and Ketner Group friend, Paula Rosenblum, shares in her most recent article, “Retail’s Big Show Will Showcase Hot Technologies For 2014,” what she predicts to be the best selling retail technology solutions of the year on display at retail’s “Big Show” next week. This year, Rosenblum expects the biggest tech trends to focus on keeping consumer satisfaction and attention with competitive prices and seamless online and in-store experiences. Retail is a crazy roller coaster ride of an industry, and the Ketner Group team looks forward to an exciting 2014!

Here’s a short summary of what Rosenblum lists as her “Top Five” of 2014.

1. Technology to improve the customer experience in stores. It’s not a secret that more shoppers are moving online to make their purchases. Retailers are finding ways in-store technology can differentiate and improve in-store experiences so customers  keep coming back.

2. Cross-channel Order Fulfillment. Because consumers want instant gratification these days, retailers are making sure that merchandise is always in stock, whether physically or virtually. Customers don’t want separation of in-store and online—they want brick-and-mortar stores to have e-commerce-style inventories.

3. Promotion and Price Optimization. According to Rosenblum, Black Friday has become the Superbowl of shopping and promotions. In order to attract the most customers, retailers are investing in technologies that help uncover the most effective promotional and end-of-season prices.

4. Big Data and Predictive Analytics. Big Data is everywhere. Adoption of analytics is becoming widely popular for retailers and they are looking to these technologies to determine what consumers really want so they can sell smarter.

5. Data Security. Thanks to the data breach Target suffered in December, Rosenblum says this shot up to her list. Retailers will be looking for ways to protect not only their customers, but themselves, as well.

For more information, check out her full article here on Forbes.

Google+ and B2B: Drink the Kool-Aid

photo by familymwr on Flickr

Let’s say you’re training to be the next Sanya Richards-Ross and you’ve got a track meet next spring that you’re planning to dominate. You bought the high-tech water bottle, the chicest of running outfits and have really committed to your weekly training schedule. You’re doing everything right! Except for one thing… you’re training in some worn-out Converse shoes you’ve had since high school. Your track meet rolls around, and you’re the fittest of them all, but before the first lap is over you’ve fallen behind your competitors.

In a similar way, Facebook and Twitter are still widely used and well-loved, just like that nifty pair of Converse shoes you’ve been hanging on to, but if you haven’t upgraded to some Nike trainers and aren’t including Google+ in your marketing efforts, you’ll be last place in the race for SEO success and B2B glory.

Google+ has taken off in the last several years as the search engine giant’s attempt at a new social platform. It initially landed on the social scene with a flop, but the good people at Google stood by their new product and have boosted Google+ into popularity contention with Facebook while surpassing Twitter and LinkedIn in active users. Over the course of its lifetime, it’s now become a widely used tool for businesses in virtually all verticals. So what can Google+ bring to the B2B marketing table?

Brands like Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard and VMWare are taking advantage of the platform’s most beneficial B2B marketing uses. Here are a few things we can learn from these Google+ gurus:

  • When visiting their company pages, you first notice that they’ve put some actual thought into the look and feel of their profile. A visually appealing and interesting cover photo immediately catches the eye and can actually keep people on your page for a longer amount of time.
  • Outside of optical impressions, you can see that each company posts regularly on not only company updates, but industry news and current events. A consistent and relevant presence on any platform is a good rule of thumb, especially if thought leadership and industry expertise are important factors in your B2B campaigns for growing your customer base.
  • Hashtags, photos, infographics and videos are all great ways to beef up company posts that give profile visitors a more engaging experience overall. The more you can connect what you have to say to significant trends and hot topics in society, the more visibility you’ll harness for your brand. Making those connections noteworthy for your prospects can lead to a phenomenal B2B marketing program that could result in new customers.

Facebook and Twitter are obvious tycoons in the social sphere, but in terms of the best platform for business to business efforts, Google+ overpowers the other two outlets used mainly to talk to consumers directly. Its integrated features for SEO and video boost online visibility and its customizable categories in the form of circles is one of the best segmentation tools on the social web. Here are three main points to keep in mind when considering how your company can build its Google+ presence and why.

Highly Targeted Segmentation

Utilizing the circles feature in Google+ can make a world of difference in your efforts to reach specific groups, customers or prospects. By segmenting the companies and users followed by a company page, businesses can push out extremely specific information that can directly relate to any particular vertical your business has grouped into a circle. This kind of targeting is invaluable for B2B companies that need subdividing tools to effectively reach potential customers in various lines of business.

Sensational SEO

The entity that controls almost all search criteria and results for the entire internet of everything has created a social platform – you should be on it. Google+ places a great emphasis on search engine optimization throughout its whole platform, a huge differentiator from Facebook and Twitter.  Because Facebook and Twitter restrict certain data from Google’s search indexes, time spent marketing on Google+ leads to more tangible SEO results as it is directly correlated to PageRank. This article on Social Media Today does a great job of outlining the real SEO benefits of using Google+ in your marketing and PR mix.

Hangouts: More than Just Video Chatting

photo by brianDhawkins on flickr

Businesses these days are looking for ways to integrate and optimize more and more, so while we have all come to love Skype, it may be time to streamline communication and use Google+’s Hangouts for all your video needs. It acts as a video chat application, eliminating extraneous platforms like Skype, but Hangouts leverage the power of Google and its partners to boost your online visibility. Hangouts can be recorded as videos and shared directly to YouTube, letting you share product demos with prospects, stream live presentations for interested parties that can’t attend the trade show your company is keynoting, or simply post general company updates from the executive team to your audience using a highly engaging channel. Internal uses include client meetings, staff meetings, training sessions and more that will help you and your company maintain a strong and effective hold on brand image.

Every dollar counts in PR and marketing budgets, so breathe easy when making the call to jumpstart your company’s Google+ presence – when done properly, you’ll get some major bang for your B2B marketing buck! Is your company on Google+? Post your comments and experiences here – we’d love to see how you’re using it!

SXSW 2013 by the Numbers [INFOGRAPHIC]

It’s finally upon us… SXSW Interactive starts this Friday! In the spirit of all things SX, we’ve created a little infographic to boost anticipation for the start of this year’s tech, music and film extravaganza!

We’re pumped for the festival – keep a look out for KG’s Brittany and Caitlin at your interactive sessions this weekend!

KG Clients Make Big News at NRF: Retail’s Biggest Week in Review

The biggest week in retail has come and gone, but let’s not leave NRF behind so quickly! KG had a great time at the trade show and we were thrilled to see our clients making some big news. Take a look at a few of the top clips from NRF this year!

 

CrossView
Forbes – No Jamba Juice Line For You: iPhone That Order In With PayPal

Digby
CNBC.com – How Mobile Technology Is Revolutionizing In-Store Shopping

Predictix
Supply Chain Shaman – The BIG Show: Clouds of Sensors and Sensing
RIS News – Best of NRF 2013: Top 10 Takeaways
Chain Store Age – Retailer Tech Deployments in the Spotlight at NRF

Profitect
Apparel – Going to NRF’s Big Show
RIS News – Best of NRF 2013: Top 10 Takeaways

Ketner Group had quite a year at NRF 2013 and now we can only hope to make the next round even more successful. Until NRF 2014!

How Retail Tech Vendors Can Make the Most Out of Analyst Relations

We wear numerous hats when working with our retail technology clients on their PR and marketing programs. (However, as discussed in our recent post, we have to be mindful that we’re not trying to do everything all at once.) One of the most important hats we wear is that of the Analyst Relations manager.

Just like any smart business strategy, there is no single best recipe for success when it comes to Analyst Relations, because every company is different, and every analyst is different and has unique preferences. However, there are a number of best practices that we stress to our clients when working with retail and technology analysts. In this edition of Shopology, we wanted to bring you some pointers straight from the experts themselves.

1. What is the number one thing you wish retail tech vendors understood better about working with analysts?

KEVIN STERNECKERT (Gartner): We don’t need a history of where the industry’s been. Too many software vendors feel like they need to educate us on the state of the industry and spend up to 25% of the time talking about stuff that’s known and we hear everyday from vendors.

Also, many of the strategic analysts are not as concerned with the individual features/functions of a technology, but what’s truly different about the company. Most companies, when asked what’s truly different about them, surprisingly do not have a solid answer.

PAULA ROSENBLUM (Retail Systems Research): What we care most about is “What problem are you trying to solve?” and then “How do you solve it?”  70-page Powerpoints are hard to deal with.  Don’t forget, we often have 4-5 briefings in a single day.

It’s also sort of offensive to have someone justify their position/existence to one analyst firm by quoting another analyst firm. I’ll bet I’m not the only one who’s bothered by this, and it is totally irrelevant to me where another analyst firm ranked your company in their report. Continue reading