Now is the Time for Digital Transformation

Woman uses multi-touch screen to explore a Kaon interactive application.

Kaon Interactive has helped visionary companies (such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, Amazon Web Services, and IBM) put in place their digital transformation platforms (global, redundant, cloud-based, and device- and venue-agnostic), making their transition to all virtual events and engagements seamless for their sales and marketing teams.

When trade shows were canceled due to the global pandemic, these companies simply took their current interactive experiences online to deliver engaging and interactive customer conferences. These same companies trained their sales teams to use these interactive applications in one-on-one virtual meetings and were able to more effectively demonstrate their differentiated competitive value.

Sirius Decisions has reported that the number one reason companies lose deals they should win is the inability to communicate their differentiated competitive value. That survey was taken in good economic times. In the uncertain times of today, this becomes an even more critical and exaggerated weakness.

After Q1 of this year, companies must pivot to true digital transformation — not just digitization of their in-person and analog processes, which is what many are doing. Robert Reiss, of the CEO Forum Group, and Gavin Finn, Kaon’s president and CEO, addressed this business-vital issue in a recent Forbes article.

Digital transformation is a collaborative effort that takes marketing and sales alignment and time, as DXC Technology demonstrated during the development of their award-winning, interactive, storytelling application (shown above) last year. Now is not the time to wait to this out. Now is the time to be proactive, creative and innovative.

We can help. Contact us to learn how.

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Weathering Market(ing) Uncertainty

Kaon_Weathering_Marketing_Uncertainty_GraphicSustaining Predictable Revenue and Customer Engagement

Several economists and analysts are forecasting significant global macroeconomic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic. The UN is estimating economic costs of $1 trillion in 2020. The BBC reports that an intensified, sustained outbreak of the Coronavirus could halve global market growth this year. Unexpected economic shocks have certainly happened before, caused by a variety of factors, including natural disasters, wars, terrorism, and pandemics. In all of these cases, the majority of companies typically reduced spending, particularly affecting marketing budgets.

For marketers with any length of experience who have faced uncertain times before, this current situation may present familiar anxiety. Unusually, the particular nature of this pandemic has caused marketing event cancellations and travel bans.

For sales leaders, this disruption has led to the inability to confidently forecast opportunities in their pipelines. This uncertainty is due to a rapid and dramatic shift in their ability to meet with their prospects and customers, as well as the market pressure surrounding their customers’ spending expectations.

We need to prepare for months of an uncertain business environment ahead. What can we control when everything surrounding us is so uncertain? What can we do at an organizational level to sustain revenue growth and continue to effectively engage with customers during these unstable times?

We must maintain a focus on helping our customers solve their challenges – always delivering an understanding of how we create value, rather than what we sell. For B2B companies, we know that customer engagement is the key to conveying value, and, in particular, differentiated competitive value.

 

The time to repair the roof is before it rains. -JFKInnovative Digital Marketing and Sales Platforms Help to Weather the Storm 

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is before it rains.” This metaphor applies to how marketers and sales leaders think about digital transformation. When times are good and customers are buying, there appears to be little impetus to innovate. When unexpected disruptions occur, it often is too late to respond by changing how we do things. So, we need to be constantly finding ways to innovate how we transform our marketing and sales approach, beginning with creating a digital transformation platform for delivering experiences to prospects and customers wherever they are. Those visionary marketers and sales leaders who have pioneered digital transformation strategies in their organizations are better equipped than their competitors to manage through business uncertainties. Rather than creating disparate, one-off applications based on digitizing the process, they have sought to leverage the capabilities of digital technologies to transform the process.

Here are a few examples of tools and approaches we are seeing that help guarantee business continuity, regardless of external, uncontrollable events.

Engaging Video ConferencingVideo Conferencing

With travel restrictions, office closures, and quarantines, it is vital to keep lines of communication open and maintain communication that is as engaging as in-person meetings. Video conferencing tools, such as Zoom meeting, have seen a sharp increase in usage since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, and it’s safe to say that the trend will continue for the foreseeable future. As a result, most virtual collaboration providers are offering increased levels of support to current and potential customers, as well as best practices for holding virtual meetings and conferences that are as productive and engaging as in-person. The best tips we can offer from our experience are: (1) get comfortable with and always use the video feature and (2) make any content you are presenting visual-based, concise, and interactive.

Virtual Events

There is also the opportunity to hold previously in-person events online. If you are planning your organization’s annual sales kickoff or tradeshow event, Coronavirus probably is throwing a giant wrench into your plans and causing your team some panic. IBM recently announced that its annual Think! client and developer conference will take place as a global, “digital-first” event in 2020. 

Local Events

Regionalized outbreaks that limit travel open the door for a more targeted approach to face-to-face events. Meet the Boss coordinates a small, localized event of your key buyers for one-on-one and small group conversations. Holding these types of events where your buyers are centrally located is one way to mitigate the impact of travel restrictions while maintaining a sense of normalcy and community.

Customer Engagement Platforms

Marketing leaders who have pioneered digital transformation strategies have invested their company’s money wisely. Visionary organizations, including AWSCisco, Dell Technologies, and many others, bowed out of their major trade shows and conferences this year, but their investments in interactive customer engagement solutions (many of which were targeted for initial use at these now-canceled events) were immediately available to be deployed online for virtual events. This is possible because these solutions were not one-off applications; they were built on digital transformation platforms and were designed to transcend any single event or customer venue.

The result was that these companies are crisis-ready, and they are able to seamlessly transition to virtual customer engagements without delay or additional expense. (The companies mentioned above leveraged the innovative High Velocity Marketing Platform by Kaon Interactive, which offers a powerful, multi-venue technology to enable these interactive solutions and product storytelling applications to convey crisp value differentiation messages to each constituent in the buying ecosystem.) Key digital transformation platform characteristics should include:

  • Availability offline and online (on the web or native applications running offline on PCs or mobile devices)
  • Device-agnosticism (mobile, tablet, PC, touch screen)
  • Venue- agnosticism (website, trade show, analyst briefing, training, onboarding, sales meeting)
  • Interactive 3D, augmented reality and virtual reality experiences
  • Scalability and extensibility (with real-time cloud updates)
  • Unlimited global users (customers, sales, marketing, channel, training)

 

B2B Buyers Act Like Consumers

Even before this recent crisis, B2B buyers were acting like consumers, self-servicing themselves through much of the buying journey through digital resources. The current lack of face-to-face engagement will only intensify this behavior and the need to create interactive engagement for B2B buyers. This revolution in communications is much more significant than the medium in which information is stored and transmitted, but rather it is critical to transform the process of how prospects and customers receive, internalize, and understand information. Instead of simply making digital versions of marketing and sales collateral (digitization), we need to create opportunities for customers to engage and interact (digital transformation). This is how people operate in the B2C world, and it is no longer an option for B2B companies who must build a customer-centric ethos across the entire enterprise.

While companies have been focused on the digital transformation of their back-end processes, the way enterprises engage with customers has largely remained stagnant. Salespeople talk from slide presentations, send videos and brochures via email, and expect customers to understand and retain increasingly complex information.

Companies like IBM and NetApp are finding they now have a leg-up during market uncertainty, due to their early investment in digital transformation solutions. With the use of interactive digital experiences, they have positioned their sales and marketing teams to communicate their differentiated competitive value everywhere their buyers are – whether they are online or offline and independent of whether their sales or marketing team is physically present.

 

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

As marketers, we can’t control the market, but we control what we do in it. Market uncertainty will continue to change our businesses and society in important ways. These challenges expose organizational weaknesses, presenting opportunities for improvement and ongoing growth. Marketing leaders MUST take this opportunity to pioneer change and amplify their digital transformation efforts. Creating transformative customer engagement strategies will allow companies to clearly communicate their differentiated value, develop sustainable and predictable revenue streams, and provide a true competitive advantage in uncertain times – coming out stronger when the storm clears. We can’t go back to the old way of doing things… or continue to operate as we have. We need to change, starting TODAY.

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How Marketers Should Measure Digital Engagement

Joshua Smith headshot  By Joshua Smith, CTO & Co-Founder, Kaon Interactive

Marketers have been collecting data on their digital marketing initiatives ever since the web became a mainstream marketing platform. The vast majority of this kind of “analytics” relates to user actions and behavior (i.e. “What path did a specific user take on my website,” or “What are the most commonly clicked links on this page?”, etc.).  When marketing applications became more ubiquitous, these same kinds of data collection principles were similarly used in an attempt to measure the effectiveness of these applications.

Particularly for marketing apps (be they web apps or native apps on desktop or mobile devices) the key question marketers should be asking about their apps is: “Are my users engaged?” What insightful marketers recently have learned is that just looking at clicks and time-on-page is not sufficient to develop an understanding of the user’s intent, and neither are these kinds of declarative metrics reliable indications or predictors of future behavior.

“Engagement” is a metric that some marketers have started to use in the context of web analytics. If we look at the definition of engagement in Google Analytics documentation, they define it as:

Any user interaction with your site or app.

This is a peculiar choice, which doesn’t jibe with what people generally mean by the word engagement. The dictionary definition of the word engage is a useful reference:

Occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention).

Why the disconnect between the analytics definition and the dictionary definition? Because analytics software is limited to the range of data that was collected, and web analytics typically only counts “hits” on pages or clicks. This limitation has repercussions that turn a lot of web analytics metrics into a wasteland of misleading, useless data.

For example, suppose your prospect searches for information about your product. They click through the search link and end up on a product page. Your product page is well-designed, and the user spends several minutes reading about your product. They then close that browser window. This was an “engagement” lasting several minutes. However, web analytics saw only one hit and then nothing else. As far as web analytics are concerned, it could easily be counted as a zero-interaction “bounce.”

The opposite also happens. Suppose your prospect starts on your website. They browse to a page about a product and get distracted by a Facebook notification on their phone. A few minutes later, they return to your product page in their browser, decide they clicked on the wrong product, and navigate to your home page. Web analytics software will report a several-minute engagement, while there was no engagement at all on the part of the user.

Instead of accepting this status quo, what if we designed a strategy that let us measure actual engagement by making the app itself an active participant in the analysis? How different would the results be?

Let’s start with these basic definitions:

  1. A session is a series of interactions between the user and the application.
  2. A single session can span multiple short bursts of activity.
  3. Multi-tasking is a reality, and apps going in and out of the foreground only marks a session boundary if that the idle time is large (say, for example, a half-hour).
  4. Idle time should be disregarded. The app can monitor input like mouse-cursor motion, scrolling and clicks/taps to determine whether the app is idle.
  5. Sessions could happen online or offline. In the offline case, data should be collected and accurately reported at a later time when the app is used online.

If we use these definitions/rules, both the examples above would much better answer the question: “Is my user engaged?” In the first case (reading everything on a single page), the session would last several minutes. In the second case (the Facebook distraction), after subtracting out idle time, the session only would last a few seconds.

When you compare traditional web analytics to analytics collected using these specifications, the difference is striking. Looking at two weeks of data from one of Kaon Interactive’s marketing and sales applications that gathers analytics both in Google Analytics and using this new method, Google Analytics reports 3,163 sessions:

Google Analytics Kaon App Session Duration - App 1

When, in fact there were 4,926 sessions (55% more than Google Analytics reported!) with a completely different distribution:

Kaon Analytics App Session Duration - App 1

Why do they look so different, if they were analyzing the same user sessions? The difference in the distribution of engagement durations is easily explained. This app is highly engaging (it consists mostly of 3D, interactive, product tours). Users can spend many minutes exploring products and features without changing pages, and, so, they get bucketed as one-hit “bounces,” despite being minutes-long engagements.

The difference in the count of sessions is harder to explain, since Google Analytics uses the same “half-hour idle” rule we used here. The most likely explanation is that Google Analytics doesn’t include some of the sessions that only visited a single page. Another possibility is that the web analytics stores a statistical model of sessions, not the individual sessions at all – and then attempts to reconstruct/estimate raw numbers from those models. That’s not a problem when you are looking at trends, since, over time, the models will tend to have similar error. But, it can be confusing and significantly misleading if you are trying to use this “web analytics” data to make marketing decisions (such as understanding conversions to sales or campaign clicks to attribute sales/revenue to particular marketing initiatives/tools).

This particular app is deployed a variety of ways, which leads to different engagement distributions (colors indicate different device types):

Kaon Analytics App Session Duration by Device

About half the usage of this app is on the company’s website, with individual 3D, interactive, product tours available either on the main product page or on a dedicated 3D product sub-page. A quarter of the views are from people going to a direct link (possibly from the corporate site or shared directly). The last quarter are from the sales team that have this app installed on their phones, tablets and computers.  Understanding the engagement profile of the sales team separately from understanding customer or prospect engagement is critical for developing accurate and meaningful marketing insights.

In the case of web embedding, the user is not as likely to be there just to see the specific app content, which explains the bias in the distribution toward slightly lower levels of engagement. It is noteworthy that, even in this case, there are significant proportions of sessions lasting more than three minutes. (For comparison purposes, industry averages for time-on-page range from 40 seconds to two minutes.) Keep in mind that idle time is subtracted out, so this is only counting time interacting with the app content.

It is possible to record events other than page views to web analytics software. This might make web analytics software better able to capture true engagement, since a user of a modern website could be interacting quite a bit without changing pages. For example, another Kaon-developed app fits that profile. Although the user never changes “pages,” we record events each time they click to learn more about a particular part of the solution story being told.

For a single period in this app, Google Analytics reported 31 sessions:

Google Analytics Kaon App Session Duration - App 2

This closely matches the 29 sessions counted by our analytics (the difference could be explained by slightly different definition of when a “day” starts). However, the distribution reported by Google Analytics still shows considerable error. Here is the actual distribution of session engagement:

Kaon Analytics App Session Duration - App 2

The difference between these distributions demonstrates flaws in traditional web analytics engagement measures, even though the pages are highly instrumented. Web analytics overstates the number of short sessions, because a user might be engaged (scrolling or moving the mouse) without clicking on anything. It also overstates the number of long sessions because it fails to subtract out idle time. App and website users multitask constantly, and marketers are kidding themselves if they believe “time-on-page” is anything like a measure of actual engagement.

Of course, we don’t measure engagement for its own sake. We want to know engagement because we believe that it predicts other things. In an app, engagement should predict specific marketing value propositions, such as understanding competitive differentiation, customer satisfaction, or long-term value of the app in helping to solve problems or illustrate solutions. On an e-commerce website, engagement should predict conversion outcomes. Since web analytics software is unable to accurately report customer engagement, marketers would be wise to stop looking at the reported engagement metrics and find other ways to measure the effectiveness of the app or website in meeting its goals.

The other alternative is to do what Kaon has done and add active engagement measurement to the app or website and develop a scalable back-end system to store and report this data. If the past is any indication, it is unlikely that web analytics providers will add true engagement measurement to their platforms any time soon.

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