For marketers, a new year is about opportunities. It's another chance to roll out better campaigns and gain further insight into what customers want, as well as find new ways to engage those customers. More than ever, it's also about staying on top of technology developments and trends. CRM magazine asked marketers, analysts, and thought leaders about the top five technology trends that excite them for 2012. Here's what they said.
Mobile Marketing | It's Going to Be Huge
More people are turning to smartphones for entertainment and to manage their daily lives as these mobile devices become increasingly sophisticated and affordable. In 2010, Morgan Stanley Research predicted that smartphone sales would exceed PC sales in 2012. And according to a report from Gartner research group, by 2015, tablet computers will outsell PCs by 60 percent.
"Smartphones and tablets are taking over," says GMR Marketing's senior vice president, Bryan Rasch. "As we get past more than fifty percent of people having smartphones, we're getting into the meat of consumerism, in which people will have a device that allows them to have a richer engagement with content. This presents lots of opportunities for retailers to introduce a full-blown mobile program."
In addition, the best mobile campaigns are those that are integrated with other channels, Rasch notes. "The perfect trifecta is mobile combined with local and social engagement," he says. "That's how to get consumers to start feeling connected with your brand."
Companies have already started to test the waters with creative mobile campaigns that are embedded in an app, a Facebook link, a quick response (QR) code, or even a combination of all three.
In taking mobile campaigns to the next level, Robert Brosnan, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, points to geolocation tools as an increasingly popular way to give consumers more tailored information about a company's products.
"Anyone carrying a modern smartphone brings with them a far more accurate geolocation service than anything Foursquare, Gowalla, or Google could provide via the Web," Brosnan says. "Most smartphone apps from retailers, say BestBuy or Amazon, already access location information [even though] they must ask for permission first. Expect this feature to move from relatively simple check-ins—i.e., where is the user when the app is activated?—to actively triggering marketing programs and offers in real time. You can easily imagine BestBuy deploying different offers and content when the user is casually investigating products at home, versus scanning products at a rival consumer electronics retailer, say at Target down the street."
Analysts also expect location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, which both offer users online badges and other rewards for checking in on their site, to gain further traction as more people switch to smartphones.
"Foursquare shows a lot of business potential," says Brent Leary, managing partner of CRM Essentials. "Location is a key feature of marketing. It's harder to convince people to get into their car and drive to your store. Using Foursquare or something like it to show nearby customers that your store is just across the street makes a compelling argument to get them to come to you."
According to a study by Google and OTX research firm, the most popular mobile shopping activity is locating the nearest retailer. When consumers find local information, 88 percent take action within a day; of this number, 61 percent call a retailer and 59 percent visit a store.
Combining localized information with enticing offers makes businesses even more compelling, says Jeff Ernst, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, who experienced the value of a location-based service firsthand. "I was visiting San Francisco and I used Foursquare to find out what was around me. I found a tavern, and when I checked in, a deal popped up for two-for-one beers. That deal enticed me to go back the following night with two friends, and I told more people about it," Ernst says. "Restaurants and retailers are starting to use Foursquare actively, but it's still underutilized. From a marketing perspective, rewarding frequent customers with special offers is a great way to build customer loyalty, but it's still at the experimentation stage."
Some businesses are more excited about using Foursquare as a branding tool than as a lead generator. Kaysha Kalkofen, a co-owner of tSunela, a digital marketing agency with locations in St. Louis, Mo., and Portland, Ore., notes that her clients use Foursquare mainly to interact with their customers.
"A lot of our clients have tried Foursquare but haven't had much success with the deals," she says. "They've had more success in using it for social interactions. They like the check-ins and having customers post comments. It's free, and all they have to do is make sure it's linked to their Web site and that their [Foursquare] page is accurate."
QR Codes | Expect More Creativity
QR codes have been touted by early adopters as a fast way to get information to customers. These square bar codes can be scanned with a smartphone to display text or contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a Web page in the phone's browser.
Over the past year, businesses have slapped QR codes on magazines, business cards, bus stop ads—anywhere consumers can easily utilize mobile devices to get product information.
The uptake has been slow, however. Educating consumers on how to access the codes and understand their benefits have been the biggest challenges to using this technology.
Some companies, such as Macy's and The Home Depot, made an effort to ensure they were not leaving their customers in the dark when they launched their QR code programs last year.
Recognizing that not everyone is tech-savvy, Macy's released a YouTube video explaining how the program works (http://bit.ly/gdXcN9). Macy's also made sure that customers who didn't have a smartphone could still participate in the program by texting.
On a similar note, when The Home Depot launched its QR code program, it also ensured that customers could access the program by texting, as well as by scanning the code with a smartphone.
In June 2011, 14 million people in the United States used a QR code, representing 6.2 percent of the total U.S. mobile audience, according to comScore. Kalkofen is confident that the use of the codes will continue to increase.
"I think we'll see a big influx of QR codes as businesses get more creative about using them," Kalkofen says. "More businesses are starting to use codes as coupons or ways to get more info. I was at a car dealer and they had a QR code on the cars, so if I went back, I could show them the car I had looked at. It's all about providing information that a consumer would want."
"What's even more interesting than standard QR codes is a branded dial code," says Ernst.
Branded dial codes—QR codes that consumers can access with a keypad—are gaining in popularity. "The NFL ran a TV ad where you could dial **NFL and get a free app," Ernst says. "More companies are using this as a way to connect offline with customers. Dial codes are a good alternative to snapping a photo [of the code], since not everyone has a camera on their phone, but everyone has a keypad."
Social Media Monitoring Tools | Look for VOC Integration
As the use of social media networks has grown, so have systems for tracking what customers are saying about companies through sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Social media monitoring systems will continue to become more sophisticated, say analysts, and more systems will include integration with VOC data.
"Listening to what your customers are saying is already huge, but it will get even bigger," Ernst says. "When Salesforce bought the market leader, Radian6, that indicated social listening is going from a niche to a core platform."
Integrating social media monitoring sites with VOC data is a natural evolution, Ernst adds. "Companies are moving from just listening to their customers' moods to figuring out how to respond. It's one thing to know what people are saying about you, but it's another thing to know how to react and engage your customers."
Users can also expect more customization options when analyzing their VOC data, says Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm.
"Companies need information in a form they can act on and, historically, voice of the customer data has been centralized," Temkin says. "Now more and more platforms are coming out that will let you tailor it to specific roles, such as the store manager, the regional manager, etc."
Temkin also expects to see more mergers and acquisitions occurring between traditional VOC companies and social media monitoring companies. "We're just starting to see a wave of M&As, like Attensity [buying] Biz360 and Verint [buying] Vovici. The customer base has grown so rapidly that providers are behind and need to catch up," he says.
Social Media Marketing | Target Loyal Fans
Companies are continuing to learn that customers respond best to social media networks that are used as a communications channel, rather than an overt marketing tool. "
Using new tools to push the same traditional marketing message is "just a fast way to get people not to listen to you," CRM Essentials' Leary says. "If you want to be successful, you have to understand what's important to your customers and interact with them."
Marketers are wising up to the fact that customers are more likely to trust their friends than an impersonal ad when making buying decisions. As a result, savvy companies are looking for ways to help their customers share their favorite brands with their friends.
Asking customers to write positive reviews or "like" a company's Facebook page are what Ernst calls "social amplification."
"Companies are spending a lot of money on paid media campaigns—which is still important—but they're also looking at social media as a way to amplify what they're spending on those campaigns," Ernst says. "A big question that companies are working on is 'How do you amplify the messages of your happy customers?'"
After a few missteps (think Beacon, Facebook's ad platform that was terminated for violating consumers' privacy), Facebook has fine-tuned its sharing capabilities. When you "like" a company's Facebook page, you can also see who among your friends likes it too.
In addition, more brands are including a "shop" page on Facebook that looks like an online catalog with share options. If you like a dress on Express's page, for example, you can recommend it to friends and post comments about it before adding it to your shopping bag and purchasing it.
Businesses that need help identifying their most loyal customers can also turn to a social media marketing company like Zuberance.
"Every company wants brand 'lunatics,' and sites like Zuberance will help you find them and enlist them as brand advocates," Ernst says.
Intuit, the financial and tax preparation software maker, is one of Zuberance's clients. With Zuberance's help, Intuit asked satisfied customers to write reviews of what they like about Intuit's service, which the company now displays on its Web site.
"Now we realize it's not just about us sending out marketing materials, but it's also about getting people who love us to share that, and there's a lot of value in that," says Laura Messerschmitt, senior marketing manager at Intuit, in a testimonial video on Zuberance's site.
Video | Fewer Obstacles but Not Quite Perfect
Once costly, online video is becoming an increasingly easy and affordable way for companies to communicate with their audience. More videos are also being watched. According to comScore, nearly 40 million online videos were viewed in September 2011—a 28 percent increase over the previous year.
"With bandwidth getting cheaper and the proliferation of smartphones and other recording devices, video is becoming a viable way of engaging with consumers, building awareness, and driving new customer acquisitions," notes Jeff Zabin, CEO and research director of Gleanster, a market research firm. "The winners will be brands that engage their prospects in a contact-sensitive way."
Businesses concerned about producing polished content to engage their customers need only look at the viral videos on YouTube to know this is no longer necessary.
"It's not so much about the polish as it is about the meat of the content," GMR's Rasch says. "If you can answer a consumer's question or show them something new, the production quality becomes less valuable."
In addition to the growing popularity of online videos, two developing trends are the demand for videos that are compatible with mobile devices and advanced technology for tracking video analytics.
"There's going to be an exponential increase in video that is heavily weighted towards mobile in both B2B and B2C," says Nick Balletta, CEO of TalkPoint, a company that provides technology and services for interactive Webcasting and virtual meetings. "We've seen a thirty percent increase in mobile viewership over the last quarter, and it's only going to increase."
Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of ThinkJar, remains unconvinced of video's usefulness as a marketing tool, unless it includes an effective video analytics system. "Video is still a toy for marketers," he says. "We don't have an easy way of tracking video to know how much time people are spending on it and how it translates into business. Until we can do that, video is just hype."
By themselves, these technology trends are unlikely to be groundbreaking—what is exciting is what you do with them.
Why Group Buying Is Falling Fast
Group buying and daily deals sites are losing their luster faster than the amount of time it takes to snap up a deal, according to marketers and industry experts.
Groupon, the former golden child of daily deals sites, has seen its IPO tarnished by questions about its unorthodox accounting measures, scaled-back expectations of how much money Groupon can raise, and revisions of its sales figures.
Even large companies like Facebook and Yelp have run into problems. Facebook announced it would test its own daily deals service in April 2011. Brands like the Gap, Chipotle, J.C. Penney, and Harrah's had partnered with Facebook Deals and were ready to start offering discounts through the social network.
After running Deals for just four months, Facebook shuttered it last August.
"After testing Deals for four months, we've decided to end our Deals product in the coming weeks," Facebook told Mashable in a statement. "We remain committed to building products to help local businesses connect with people, like Ads, Pages, Sponsored Stories, and Check-in Deals."
>In addition, Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of the local business-review site Yelp, said in a blog post that his company was scaling back its own daily deals site and slashed its daily deals sales staff by half.
"As time goes by, group buying becomes more fragmented," Bryan Rasch, of GMR, says. "Group buying started under the idea 'I'll put in a good deal and get a lot of people interested.' But as people get hundreds [of deals], no one pays attention anymore. I think it'll just get to a point…where it's no different than getting a flyer."
CRM Essentials' Brent Leary agrees that the excitement over daily deals sites has cooled but believes there is still a place for them. "Group buying has definitely come down to earth, but it can be a good way to experiment with generating leads," he says. "You just don't want to continually go back to it, otherwise it could eat into your revenue."
Associate Editor Judith Aquino can be reached at email@example.com.