Automation and the Hype Cycle

Automation, which is at once the most advanced sector of modern industry and the epitome of its practice, confronts the world of the commodity with a contradiction that it must somehow resolve: the same technical infrastructure that is capable of abolishing labor must at the same time preserve labor as a commodity ­­ and indeed as the sole generator of commodities. If automation, or for that matter any mechanisms, even less radical ones, that can increase productivity, are to be prevented from reducing socially necessary labor-­time to an unacceptably low level, new forms of employment have to be created. A happy solution presents itself in the growth of the tertiary or service sector in response to the immense strain on the supply lines of the army responsible for distributing and hyping the commodities of the moment. The coincidence is neat: on the one hand, the system is faced with the necessity of reintegrating newly redundant labor; on the other, the very factitiousness of the needs associated with the commodities on offer calls out a whole battery of reserve forces.

– Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

Sublime Simplicity

O sancta simplicitiatas! In what strange simplification and falsification man lives! One can never cease wondering when once one has got eyes for beholding this marvel! How we have made everything around us clear and free and easy and simple! how we have been able to give our senses a passport to everything superficial, our thoughts a godlike desire for wanton pranks and wrong inferences!–how from the beginning, we have contrived to retain our ignorance in order to enjoy an almost inconceivable freedom, thoughtlessness, imprudence, heartiness, and gaiety–in order to enjoy life! And only on this solidified, granitelike foundation of ignorance could knowledge rear itself hitherto, the will to knowledge on the foundation of a far more powerful will, the will to ignorance, to the uncertain, to the untrue! Not as its opposite, but–as its refinement! – Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Don’t forget Social Media in your Digital Transformation

If you’ve seen my YouTube playlist on the market-based view of lean-agile in digital transformation or read my posts on the necessity of operationalization metrics then you already aware that I don’t measure the responsiveness of a brand based on the lead time from golf course to cash, I measure the feedback cycle time from Twitter to production release. This isn’t just a lean-agile approach to connecting marketing with consumer technology, of course, this is about the ability of an enterprise to graduate from DevOps to Hypothesis-Driven Continuous Delivery.

The human body, in all its wonder, is the perfect metaphor that shows how this works. Let’s pretend for a moment that the human body is a post- Digital Transformation learning organization:

  • The hardware of the body = bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, etc
  • The firmware of the body = the endocrine system (hormones), neurological system, and sensory organs (including proprioception)
  • The software of the body = the human mind, in its infinite creativity and imagination

So let’s say you decide to lift a boulder. The software directs the hardware using the firmware, passing along motivating signals and messages – but the boulder is too heavy. You know it immediately, and decide not to hurt yourself. Incredibly complex processes in the golgi-tendon organ, proprioceptive system, and visual cortex aligned spontaneously to tell the mind “don’t try it, buddy!” Despite all that complexity and fuzzy-weighted algorithms, the feedback cycle time is instant.

We can imagine other great examples, like our ability to feel when a basketball is stolen mid-dribble (without even seeing it happen!) causing an instant pivot to find it. When we catch a baseball, the glove prevents us from seeing if we have a firm grip on the ball, and we’re watching the runner on second attempt to steal – but the familiar snap sound of the leather of the ball against the softer leather of the glove, the sting in the hand, and the well-practiced recoil of the arm are fully sufficient.

So why are we so bad at hand-eye coordination in the enterprise?

In dozens of organizations I’ve helped through their digital and lean-agile transformation, the numbers are never “added up”. Deep learning occurs through hypothesis-error-backpropogation; but no one is will to look like their hypothesis failed. There is no experimentation, so there is no innovation.

If the leadership of the company is the mind, it seems like most enterprises have a serious proprioceptive delay.  A strong sensory system combines and related all “the numbers” – the technical metrics (webservice availability, response times, page loads errors), user behavior / product metrics (completion rates, dropoffs, conversion funnels), social listening (not only on social media, but also the chat widget, feedback form, call center, and even UX interviews), and finally strategic KPI and accounting measures.

If these don’t come together, or take a very long time to make sense, the only way to manage coordination is visually – with the mind specifically thinking through each action of the body. That’s alright if you’re competing with players who are similarly bad at proprioception, but you’re guaranteed to lose against the “professional athlete” of your industry.

So don’t treat complaints and requests on social media as a closed dialogue, treat it is a signal from the market; check for information asymmetry. Don’t keep Twitter analytics in a private folder or let your social media analysts sit in a silo. Connect those brand marketers directly to enterprise operations, sales, digital media, and consumer product technology.  The cohesive view of how well the enterprise operationalizes leadership strategy should be a matter of proprioception, not visual observation.

PS – The social-to-production feedback cycle time for Keener Strategy is less than 24hrs.

 

 

 

Bureaucracy

Portrayed as a clash between two opposing valuation-ideologies, innovation appears a simple (albeit violent) enterprise. In practice, innovating – truly shifting market valuation for a socioeconomic ideology – becomes extremely difficult because of the countless factors that impinge on it. These factors collectively can be called bureaucracy: the systemic, emergent will-to-delay that resists all action and saps energy. It makes the simple difficult and the difficult seemingly impossible. In a world more comfortable living in denial, pretending market equilibrium is peacefully aligned to hegemonic truth bureaucracy is the resistance to all re-valuation, so the very essence of innovation (as a clash between opposed valuation-ideologies) creates bureaucracy around it.

In the dynamic environment of competitively interacting factors of production, bureaucracy abounds. Bureaucracy may be a problem of execution, as a collective indecision over a course of action. It may be oppositional, when a competitor Information System possess first-mover advantages, economies of scale, or some barrier-to-entry must be overcome and we hesitate to commit to the risk of open competition. Bureaucracy may be externally instigated, imposed by the disruptive actions of a competitor Information System, the strategic landscape, shifting market trends, or mere chance. Bureaucracy may be self-induced, caused by a lack of strategic vision, lack of coordination, unclear or complicated plans, complex task organizations or command relationships, or complicated technologies.

Whatever form it takes, because socioeconomic innovation is a human enterprise, bureaucracy will always have a psychological as well as a market impact. While we should attempt to minimize self-induced bureaucracy, the greater requirement is to fight for value-signification effectively despite the existence of bureaucracy. Thus, at the very outset, one essential means to overcome bureaucracy is the will to fight it; we prevail over bureaucracy through persistent strength of “mind and spirit”. While personally striving to overcome the effects of bureaucracy, we must attempt at the same time to raise our competitor’s bureaucracy to a level that weakens their ability to compete. We can readily identify countless examples of bureaucracy, but until we have experienced it ourselves, we cannot hope to appreciate it fully. Only through experience can we come to appreciate the force of will necessary to overcome bureaucracy and to develop a realistic appreciation for what is possible in innovation and what is not. While training our ideological actors should attempt to simulate the experience of innovation, its excitement, frustrations, and creative synergy, we must realize the insufficiency of training and workshops in their inherently controlled environments: training can never fully duplicate the level of bureaucracy in real socioeconomic systems.

B2B eCommerce Segmentation and Why You Need It

 

In B2B Commerce, customer segmentation and personalization is a complex topic. At one end of the spectrum I’ve seen companies who need to be convinced there is any way to segment their market. They’ve used the same 4″ binder for selling to their customers so long you get the occasional “We’ve always done it this way” instead of an explanation. At the other end of the spectrum, a company’s pre-digital-transformation business processes seem to rely exclusively on personal relationships, email, and witchcraft – prices, behavior, and even products are unique for every customer (or so they tell me).

When a small shop commits to a completely out-of-the-box, fully-configured SAAS product, you find one that seems close enough and work with it (or work around it) to get the job done. More frequently, I consult with major players moving to major-league platforms. These platforms have virtually unlimited freedom to configure catalogs, localization, customer segments, and unique pricing per User Group. The net result of this total freedom, of course, is going digital without transforming anything about the business process, or the company’s sustainable competitive advantage.

So if you’re at the ultra-complicated end of the spectrum, here are some ways get thinking about segmentation and personalization:

Unique Catalogs –

Catalogs are structured around two things typically: the category structure that groups products together and the classifying attributes that are shared by all products at a given category level. A great commerce site creates a selling hierarchy that makes it intuitive and fast for a customer to drill down to the products they want to purchase. Don’t underestimate the flexibility you have to customize this selling hierarchy based on geography, seasonal changes, or user group. Essentially, segmentation (and custom catalogs) needs to follow the distinct ways each kind of shopper completes their drill-down and purchase. If the main difference in behavior is average annual spend, segment that way. If the primary distinction is limited to a handful of major customers, you can give each of them a unique catalog. If there is a clear distinction in procurement methods, segment by purchase processes. Like anything else, draw a line in the sand, watch your metrics, and talk to your customers!

Unique Pricing –

When I shop on Amazon, it is pretty simple to compare two identical products based on price and reviews. In the B2B space, life isn’t so simple. That said, there are B2C equivalent best practices for most B2B problems. If pricing differences perfectly follow the distinct catalogs you’ve created, you can manage prices that way. If you have multiple price lists (even one for each customer) you can integrate with your ERP or use hot folders to keep these update. Beyond known pricing differences, however, there may be customers who don’t have a price yet and need to negotiate a quote, customers who have a price but want to re-negotiate a quote, and customers who are purchasing against multiple contracts for the same commodity. Any industry that has embraced negotiated price differences will need to pay special attention to personalization of prices. That requires you to segment user experience related to pricing as well. After all, combining all the options in one experience when it isn’t applicable invites misery and customer missteps. Get this really wrong and you can expect angry phone calls.

Unique Service Levels –

Generally, B2B buyers are less whimsical and (hopefully) drunken-impulse driven in their buying decisions. They are less likely to find you through social media rather than search engine results, and questions of omnichannel experience and conversion funnels are often inapplicable. So while pricing is more complex, buyer behavior is likely simpler in B2B – this leaves you the opportunity segment based service level either explicitly (with a service agreement) or behind the scenes. Segmenting based on opportunity size, customer lifetime value, or average spend can be a powerful was to tailor the digital user experience to the unique level of service you’ll provide. For a corollary in the B2C world, think Amazon Prime or AppleCare. If you have a top 20% of B2B customers that high revenue and high margin, give them the concierge treatment in their eCommerce experience too. If your lowest 20% needs to buy additional support or service, you know what that costs – make a product for it, cross-sell it, and let them choose based on their needs.

No Segmentation, Less Scalability

The most important takeaway is that if you haven’t thought about market segmentation for your B2B eCommerce experience, do it right away! If you are either assuming a one-size-fits all approach or chaotically customizing every transaction, neither are scalable.

 

Also check out these easy tactics for Blog SEO.

How to Have Your Marketing Automation and Eat It Too

So you are starting a blog.  Or a company.  Or launching a new product.  Or you’re an intern or analyst somehow tasked with marketing and social media.  Me too.  I’m a couple of those – so we have things in common.  Here’s where I’ve landed so far with Marketing Automation.  Leave a comment or Tweet me @keenerstrategy if you have additional awesome ideas I can try or if you have any questions about what I’ve done.

This entitled “How to Have Your Marketing Automation and Eat It Too” because I have a fundamental impatience with my craft.  I don’t want to wait until the perfect time to publish a post.  I had the thought, I put it “to pen” and I feel closure knowing its OUT THERE.

Here’s what I do:

I use WordPress to write the post and I publish it as soon as its done.  This doesn’t optimize for the WordPress Reader audience, but that isn’t the source of views for me.  It also shares to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

LinkedIn and Twitter are the source of my views.

I have IFTTT (IF This Then That) set up to automatically Tweet my post like this:

IFTTTThis way, using the insights from Hashtagify about my target market (people who would want to read about how I “do” product innovation and management) I can automatically add the high-impact hashtags and have Buffer send out the tweet at the time optimized for impressions.

So it looks pretty simple the first time:

After

Then the second time (when it matters on Twitter via Buffer) it has great tags added automagically:

Before

After trying both, I do like Buffer better than HootSuite.  I like the iOS app better, but the real differentiator is that it works with IFTTT – something I use for other fun things and intend to expand because it is awesome.

The other great thing to do with Buffer – because I write about innovation and Tweet posts from TechCrunch – is to use Chrome and the Buffer Chrome extension.

Have fun automating!

You Look Dumb – 5 Mobile Marketing Mistakes

Your smart presence looks pretty dumb.

Welcome to the “smart” era – smart phones, smart cars, and smart homes are finally here! You can officially go to display rooms in your local appliance store instead of booking a trip to Orlando to see the home of “the future”.  In our smart era, a fair percentage of the population now carries supercomputers in our pockets with computing power that would have filled a warehouse even in science fiction during the baby boom.

Unfortunately, as “smart” as all this technology should be in your business, I’ve noticed your company looks pretty “dumb” because things are getting done exactly the way they were before, but now on a smaller screen!   As much as technophiles may blame late-adopters for not buying in to new devices and new apps, wake up – if you’re asking people to do the same old story, same old song and dance, but you’ve given them a more difficult form factor to do it on, they have no reason to adopt!

In that light, here are the 6 mobility mistakes you might be making RIGHT NOW that keep your mobile presence looking dumb where it ought to be smart:

 

#1 – You Encourage Channel Hopping

If your mobile marketing strategy has shifted consumers from one conversion funnel (web or brick) to another (apps) but hasn’t resulted in increased revenue, you’ve encouraged channel hopping.  This is a nightmare scenario that often pits employees of each channel against each other internally, fighting for additional budget, unable to fully justify forecasted ROI.  What happened? When you built your native app, the value created by your investment was captured 100% by your consumers!

This looks dumb to the smart consumer, because it is painfully obvious when the only difference between the native app and the responsive site is Touch ID. The choice between a link on the home screen versus a downloaded app comes down to space on the phone and speed of content loading.

The math for the mobile marketing individual is so simple that this mistake looks extra “dumb” to your boss. When traffic stays constant, but an additional channel is added, aggregate conversion across the channels must increase or else your funnels are just cannibalizing each other. That’s the ROI problem every mobile marketing initiative must overcome: when you invest $200k in mobile eCommerce and revenue stays constant, your consumers have captured all the value created. Sure, they may be happier. They might say “how convenient to have a desktop site AND an app for researching and executing my purchases!” Unfortunately, the return on your investment they capture doesn’t inherently result in more traffic, conversion, sales, or loyalty.

Admittedly, companies don’t make this mistake in a vacuum. They see traffic and sales moving from their desktop site to a new competitor’s mobile app – panic ensues – and they build an app of their own to stop the bleeding.

Remember, a bad bandage can be more dangerous than no treatment at all. The smart mobile marketing plan requires one of two approaches to respond to the threat of new entrants:

  1. Double-down on web. Yes, I make mobile apps and I’m saying its okay not to have a (native-coded) mobile app. If your plan for mobile is to reproduce a brochure, a paper form, or a website, don’t do it. Seriously, just throw your money in a pile and set it on fire like the Joker in Dark Knight.  If your site is working great but it isn’t a responsive site – start there. If it is outdated and anything is unintuitive, fix it. If you can’t create a unique relationship with consumers through your native mobile presence or capture the channel-specific value created, double-down on making your web presence best-in-class. This is Game Theory 101 – If you can’t win at both web and mobile, win big at one and forget the other.
  2. Create a unique market via app(s). If your audience is shrinking or your relationship with your consumers is suffering due to the mobile presence of a competitor and a truly unique relationship can be built through a mobile app – do it. This means your mobile presence needs to accomplish at least one of two things: augment the physical experience in ways a website can’t (to increase conversion) or create a completely new experience for a totally new audience (to increase aggregate traffic). Which path is right for you will depend on your market, products, and competitive landscape – so do your homework (and get a “tutor” as needed).

 

#2 – No Context Awareness

This is at the heart of what is so dumb about the way many companies establish a market presence on smart devices. If you have the opportunity to look “behind the curtain” you will notice this problem is not isolated, but occur on two fronts for that firm – externally in their consumer native apps and internally in their custom enterprise solutions. I’ve touched on specifics of Context Awareness several times. The differentiating power of a native app is in its intimate knowledge of where a user is, where they are going, and how they think. Segmented push messaging, one-tap deep-linking, and social API integration make the native app capable of a completely new relationship with your consumer. They are using a supercomputer that aggregates an unprecedented amount of personal information – all you have to do is offer a reward that justifies opting in.

Don’t fall prey to the opposite though – opting out should be easy, transparency on the use of private data is key, and you typically have one “strike” per consumer when it comes to keeping an app on their device. Whether it is download size, loading time, or privacy betrayal, as W.B. Yeats wrote, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

Talk to technology professionals so you don’t plan your mobile presence in a vacuum. Geofences, iBeacons, IoT hardware, Photos integration, BLE, IoT, QR, wearables, and triggered messaging are all tools of the trade for ensuring you are able to create a unique proposition in a native app. Find the biggest impediment to solving your consumer’s pain in a way they will pay money for you to solve. Do NOT invest in native mobile unless the pocket supercomputer is going to augment physical realities with digital awesomeness.

 

#3 – No Business Intelligence

Ignorance is bliss. Unless you are driving a drastic paradigmatic shift in how you engage fresh generations of consumers through a new and constantly-evolving medium. In that scenario, ignorance is death – the death of any success you could have achieved.

“No Business Intelligence” is the bad-joke-telling best friend of “No Context Awareness” who crashes the wedding reception of your otherwise-integrated-marketing strategy. Where context awareness can drive new forms of engagement by proactively anticipating needs and supplying easy answers, business intelligence is a trailing ROI that takes effort to reap.   Business Intelligence is like planting a vegetable garden, as much as the visual presence of a lovely variety of plants may have delighted you on its own, you are leaving ROI out in the field until you harvest it. The same is true in mobile marketing. Until the big data you have created is collected, curated, and learned from in order to provide better plans, more focused campaigns, and the tightest possible updates to forecasts, you are creating white noise that should have been a joyful symphony.

At a minimum, it is essential you collect enough meaningful data to justify that you have accomplished your goals. The less you can prove directly that you have created new traffic, new converted sales, or new revenue sufficient to justify your investment in mobility, the more you need business intelligence to prove the indirect benefit provided to other channels. Better yet, even when new revenue is both directly and indirectly attributable to your mobile presence, you should drive BI insights like you are starting a company that will sell its knowledge. You may start by “selling” it internally to help justify you P&L, but don’t rule out the possibility external buyers may exist.

 

#4 – No Game Plan for IoT

If you don’t have concrete plans for drone technology or self-driven cars, I forgive you.  Not every industry will need direct adoption for these new technologies.  However, if you haven’t given serious thought to what your products and services can be in a connected world – called the “Internet of Things” – you are going to find yourself left behind over the next five years.

IoT is already within reach and less cost prohibitive than you may think. Connected power indicators, pipe flow sensors, BLE chipsets for detecting and communicating almost anything – they are all out there. Today what is being “tacked on” to products by R&D will tomorrow be a seamless experience seen as the baseline for market entry. You can afford not to be the first mover to the extent Silicon Valley startups are learning the hard lessons for us all today. That said, don’t get out of touch and don’t get left behind.

The Internet of most connected Things means at least one of two potential realities your business:

  1. Some products you currently market “dumb” will be expected to connect soon – a significant event in your product strategy because the value proposition of your physical Thing will not matter as much as how it connects to the app you provide with it. Think today what that app must be in order to compete. In fact, you should probably be building that app instead of reproducing your already-responsive web site. Then, more dauntingly, think about that product and app and their ability to connect with other Things that are connected in a way that creates a meaningful brand relationship.
  2. Widespread IoT products will further segment your target market and the position of players across your competitive landscape. If your product’s three year plan does not clearly indicate whether you will focus on selling non-connected versus connected variations or both, including the business case for how each will be priced and marketed, schedule meetings right now to drive those discussions.   The threat of new entrants on both sides will be higher as major players struggle to straddle the fence strategically.

 

 

#5 – You’re Stuck in Analysis Paralysis

Speaking of sitting permanently on the strategic fence, one of the dumbest responses to the introduction of smart technology is analysis paralysis. As my strategy professor emphasized while introducing Michael Porter, refusing to make a decision is your decision. That favorite Porter quote – “Strategy is the art of making choices”. In a Zero Sum game with multiple players and finite economic resources, strategy is the art of committing not only specific resources, but also commitments as a competitive position to the long-term continued investment of resources. By holding resources – even in the most uncertain times – you’ve made a decision to wait. The key to the good life, as Aristotle would say, is that the decision to wait, if virtuous, must intrinsically be deliberately decided.

If your organization is stuck in analysis paralysis, overwhelmed by the amount of aging IT investments behind you and the mountain of new (and sometimes unproven) technology ahead of you, a lack of action may preserve some capital in the short-term, but you are racking up immense opportunity cost and learning curve disadvantage. If your company has too many ideas and no commitment to a roadmap, here is how to get smart:

  1. LESS IS MORE – Don’t try to reinvent your entire IT and Marketing infrastructure in one big push. Define Lean Startup-style MVPs that give you a “quick win” (or a few) while getting you past the rookie mistakes, first-time jitters, and growing pains that are inevitable out of the gate.
  2. SOLVE REAL PAINS – Mobile for the sake of mobile fails the stakeholder, the end user, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of executives and investors. Look for the biggest complaint of your customers or the biggest inefficiency in your operations workflow. If the solution is mobile, do the smallest possible iteration of that solution. If it isn’t mobile, fix the pain without mobile. Rinse and repeat as needed.
  3. OFF-THE-SHELF is an OKAY START– On that note, with the thousands of tech companies out there, don’t go custom on everything. Open or paid APIs, packaged solutions, and white-label solutions, and SDKs are all alternatives to re-inventing the wheel in a vacuum. Review your options carefully (but keep the scope of your goals tight enough your review doesn’t paralyze you).