As we close out the year, we reflect back over the major developments of 2014, read tea leaves, put the ear to the proverbial track and chat here about where we think things are moving. We'll dispense with yet another year-end predictions column (I'm sort of burnt our myself on them), but we do want to leave our readers — clients and others — with some thoughts on one aspect of customer relationships in our now "always-on" society.
Back in 2011 folks we have collegial relationships with dating back to earlier employments noted that "software is eating the world." Theirs is a point of view from the world of venture capital and looking just over the horizon at where investment opportunity resides. And the point is (was) that all things want to be digital. Well, a few years ago, we here at C[IQ] and one of the industry's biggest thought leaders in digital design both we're evangelizing, "In a digital economy all products want to be web sites."
Witness how Apple blazed that trail with the iPod initially, where the experience was part device in your hand or on your body with buds in your ears, and part web site (iTunes) to keep the device full of your audio entertainment.
Soon thereafter, Nike came along with the chip-in-the-shoe Nike+ experience and again, the shoe and web site converged to create a "sticky" durable customer experience. We have had years of experience working with and for Nike on the long view of the Plus strategy and can say, Apple set the pace and standards, and Nike is carrying that forward in exciting ways. I note here that in recognition of the "software eating the world" reality, Nike this past year elected to focus more on the software and less on the hardware, opting to partner with those who "get" the innovation and product life cycle of hardware devices based on semiconductor technology.
Then along came the iPhone which would forever redefine the mobile phone experience to become a mobile computing experience and drove the industry from LG to Samsung into a new world of smartphones with new pressure on Apple to keep up its innovation momentum.
Today, it is difficult to imagine a device — particularly consumer electronics, but increasingly all durable goods and automobiles — without a connection to the Internet, for the very least activity of ensuring hardware is up to date (e.g., your television updates its firmware nightly), and increasingly to enhance its operation and user experience.
Then mobile finally hit its stride as a combination of:
- improved telecommunications infrastructure (i.e., widespread deployment of 4G and LTE and increased speeds of broadband to endpoints of WiFi distribution totally bathing entire residence spaces in wireless broadband, and similarly for business centers like airports, shopping malls, sports stadiums, parkways, healthcare clinics, etc.); and
- increased capabilities of smartphones and other mobile devices (e.g., tablets like Galaxy and iPad).
And here is where my segue comes about today's year-end reflection topic. The increased capability of the mobile devices means a shift away from a browser-based experience and towards a "native" app-based experience. And this led to our proclamation of 2014:
Today, all web sites want to be Apps.
To refine our colleague's assertion that "software is eating the world," we put a fine point on it by clarifying that its actually Apps (which are, of course, software, but to be sure a specific type of software) having the Web for lunch. And some have also prophesied the end of the World Wide Web as we know it. "Not so fast," to borrow from a famous ESPN football analyst. Despite the reasonable argument that a shift of focus from web sites to native apps is resulting in less attention paid to advancing the capabilities of the Web (e.g., fostering new standards in data and presentation) and more attention paid to advancing programming languages, development tools, and software building blocks of Apps, we think the Web will continue to be an important:
- digital store front;
- repository of content and knowledge, and
- facility for performing complicated tasks once relegated to desktop computing apps.
For instance, interacting with large data spaces for analytic purposes still benefits from larger displays, full featured keyboards and pointing devices (including emerging large-scale touch screens).
But there is little doubt the new action is in Apps. And so what does this mean for you, a multichannel retail operation for instance?
The App Mandate
If all products wanted to be web sites, then web sites began to be supplanted by Apps (we think primarily because there is only so much one can achieve in a mobile web browser experience), now we're anticipating that all brand relationships will want to be App-enabled. (if we're right that may become the new proclamation of 2015.)
Starbucks was one of the first to get the importance of a mobile app as a means of ease and convenience in interacting with their stores, first by method of payment and now by ordering online. And we think they're getting it right. The Starbucks App has become a standard setting example of how to sustain a customer engagement in the age of ease and convenience.
While we are not suggesting everyone rush out to build a retail-enabled App for their business (it may not make sense for everyone) we will strongly encourage our clients in 2015 to seriously consider what role the native mobile App plays in your customer engagement strategies. For some, it will simply mean building a retail App that can bring ease and convenience to how your customers order and pay for your goods and services. For others, it will be an App strategy around customer service or product support. A couple of examples may help your own brainstorming.
- Suppose your business provides a commodity good for which there is regular, predictable product replenishment. Make that process easy and convenient through a mobile App that allows your customer to set up re-orders, make changes to those orders, and manage their product or service consumption.
- Suppose you're an apparel retailer. Help your customer educate themselves on product b providing an App that scans a tag and instantly provides information on the garment, its best application and use, construction details, fit notes, color options, and even availability in store where they are or even across all stores and online.
As imagine how you can engage your customer in a durable, mutually beneficial easy and convenient manner, consider the nature of your goods and services and ask whether different capabilities of a mobile smart device world can provide unique advantage to that relationship. For instance, is location-based services something you can or want to leverage?
At C[IQ] we're encouraging our clients to think beyond social media and marketing. Sharing customer experiences, product reviews, and all that is helpful to you, the Brand, but we need to shift our focus to elements of ease and convenience in the digital age that will galvanize your customer relationships to improve the long tail of their value to your business.