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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, futurist and author of X, What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business As Usual.

So many companies entrust customer engagement to marketing. At the same time, many customers blame marketing’s inability to engage them in relevant and meaningful ways as one of the top roadblocks for referring brands or becoming loyal. If companies don’t change how they engage customers, including people, tools and practices, customers will

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simply go elsewhere.

This is what blows my mind about customer engagement today. Customers are the lifeblood of any organization, yet engagement is relegated to departments that run disengaged and disparate strategies, such as email marketing, social media broadcasting, product registration programs, and net-promoter-score surveys, among others. Companies really don’t invest the time or resources in technology or initiatives that engage people in ways that are contextually relevant, useful and meaningful. 

This has to change.

The Product Is The Message

In part 1 of this series, I shared the promise of “in-product communication” as a new channel for customer engagement. I noted that as products are increasingly connected to the Internet (wearables, smart devices, intelligent appliances, etc.) as part of the Internet of Things movement, companies now have the ability to communicate with users directly through products. 

Companies can also understand the context of product usage to anticipate customer needs, better support customers, and more effectively personalize engagement. 

If customer experience is defined as the sum of all interactions a customer has with your brand throughout the customer lifecycle, improving engagement becomes a significant competitive advantage. 

In everything from marketing and messaging, to service and support, to loyalty and rewards, and customer advocacy, companies that activate the Internet of Things as a channel for relationship building and enhancing the customer experience introduce a new standard of business. 

Yet, according to a 2013 Econsultancy report, 89% of companies said they planned to compete on the basis of customer experience while only 8% of companies said they currently provide a "very integrated" customer experience.

Throwing An Engagement Party

This is why I see in-product engagement as the next big thing for customer experience. Traditional programs are limited. They are inhibiting the ability for any company to foster dialogue and relationships with the very people using their products. 

For example, any company that sells through retail does not receive a complete roster of those using the products unless customers register them and create an account or contact support. With email marketing, companies can only reach out to customers who have provided their email addresses. 

 With in-product engagement—something now possible with modern, connected devices—companies can communicate based on device ID or serial number, essentially reaching 100% of customers' devices that go online.

Right now, only 15% of customers typically register a device, thus providing means for future contact. Even still, email marketing sucks. Only 20% of those registered customers might open an email and only 5% might click through with a lackluster 1% likely to convert.  

This emergent platform of in-product engagement is also important through later stages of the product lifecycle, like repair or replacement. Often product managers struggle to understand which customer-support issues need to be resolved in a product update and also how to be more competitive in providing differentiated, value-added features. 

Talk To The Customer—Not To The Channel

 In-product communication opens new doors. Short, context-based surveys, broken down by the specific serial number, lot, location, and so on can be very revealing. And delivering a survey through the device, as opposed to a channel like phone calls, direct mail, or email, yields substantially higher completion rates.

As I wrote this post, Apple was just issuing a hardware repair notice for owners of the iPhone 6 Plus. Turns out that an early version of the smartphone included potentially faulty camera lenses, mine included, which caused blurry images. 

As a user, if you didn’t hear about it in the news, you most likely wouldn’t have known there was a solution. iPhones have push notifications—Apple wrote the software and runs the service that delivers them! Why didn't I hear about the problem this way?

Apple could have alerted known users of the affected devices one by one, in a direct, personal, highly engaging manner to: 

  1. Repair the problem directly and efficiently
  2. Control the inevitable press about the issue in a way that positively becomes part of the inevitable story

Right now, Apple still doesn't fully control its relationship with all of its customers, since phone-company retail stores sell many of its smartphones for it. But as it adds more cloud-based services and new services like the iPhone Upgrade Program, it will have more direct access to those customers—and fewer excuses for not communicating directly about problems. 

While new, in-product communication also introduces a new opportunity for customer engagement and ultimately sets the stage for a new genre of customer experience. Because it’s new, we must also rethink what it takes to manage it effectively. Using an entirely new channel for customer relationship management the way we use old channels only equates to mediumism at best.

See, no matter how ambitious we get with new technology, it doesn’t matter. Without aligning with a bigger mission or vision with what we are trying to do—something that is going to matter to your customers—we are just communicating the way we always have. We are not moving in any new direction. 

We may talk about the "Internet of Things," but really what matters to you is the network of humans who pay money to use your products. It’s time to move in a new direction. It’s past time to invest in customer experiences in ways that improve relationships, cultivate loyalty and advocacy, and take advantage of this new, connected world.


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This post appears courtesy of the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service. Publishing partners may edit posts. For inquiries, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a controversial drone privacy bill Wednesday, declaring that it would expose hobbyists to excessive litigation. Senate Bill 142

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would have put anyone flying a drone less than 350 above someone's property on the hook for trespassing.

"This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation," he wrote in a veto statement [PDF]. With legislation like Bill 142, it would be easy for a hobbyist flying a drone around his neighborhood or local park to accidentally run afoul of trespassing laws. 

See also: Weaponized Drones Are Now Legal In The U.S.

Drone proponents have been carefully watching as lawmakers attempt to figure out the nuances of these airborne devices. Unchecked, an overly zealous approach to protecting public safety and privacy, could have deep implications for the drone tech industry. Threat of legal action or even criminal penalty may dampen interest in the gadgets. Here, tech makers may have just dodged a bullet.

The Trouble With Laying Down The Drone Lines

PC Magazine found that the popular DJI Phantom 3 drone lost communication when it hit 400 feet in altitude and 1,200 feet in distance. In other words, hobbyist and toy drones really aren't meant to go much beyond 350 feet.

So if residents see drones hovering over their yards, they may have just as easily come from hapless users who lost control of their devices as from tech-savvy "peeping toms." Drones are the equivalent of baseballs that occasionally end up on the neighbor's property—except, this baseball is equipped with a 12-megapixel camera.

Brown’s veto had the support of the Consumer Electronics Association, a powerful tech electronics lobby that tends to side against measures that it sees as hampering emerging technologies. The group obviously was pleased with the decision.

California isn't alone. In total, the National Conference of State Legislators counts 19 states with drone laws on the books, many of which prohibit voyeurism.

Mississippi's law literally calls it "peeping Tom" activities [PDF]. Certainly, unless a litigious neighbor catches the drone operator, it's difficult to discern whether the flying object was taking photos. And, if images were taken, the case would have to prove that the pilot intended to catch the subject undressed.

As such, drone-related privacy is a difficult thing to legislate. For now, California, the home of Silicon Valley, has erred on the side of protecting drone enthusiasts and, by extension, the drone makers that cater to them.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the Ferenstein Wire newsletter here

Lead photo by Don Mills


WordPress can give you a nearly unlimited online market for selling just about any product or service. Many bloggers use a combination of revenue models to make money, including advertisements, affiliate marketing and promoting their own products for...


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Guest author Christopher Lochhead is a cofounding partner of Play Bigger Advisors. He wrote this post with his partners Al Ramadan and Dave Peterson.

“Gravity is working against me. And gravity wants to bring me down.” —John Mayer 

Asking why Google created Alphabet is the wrong question.

The right questions to ask are: Why did Google miss social networking? How is it that limo company Carey didn’t see the opportunity in smartphone-pow

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ered transportation and Uber's founders did? Why did it take SAP until 2011 to get into cloud apps, twelve years after the founding of And how come most of the innovation in technology security is coming from startups and not Symantec, McAfee, or Bluecoat?

Existing Markets Have Gravitational Pull

We believe the answer to these questions lie in what might be the most powerful force in business—the gravitational pull of existing markets. Gravity drags executives of existing businesses toward perfectly rationale decisions like listening to customers, meeting salespeople's requests, responding to competitors’ moves, and thinking about new features for current products.

Managers tasked with competing for market share in known categories don't question these priorities. But it turns out they are death when it comes to inventing new products, business models and market categories.

Eddie Yoon, a principal with The Cambridge Group, a consulting firm, in a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review, writes:

… category creation is the exception for large companies, not the rule. According to data in Nielsen’s Breakthrough Innovation Report, only 13% of the world’s leading consumer product companies introduced a breakthrough innovation from 2008 to 2010. Although large companies have the resources, capabilities, and growth aspirations to drive category creation, many market leaders merely sit on the sidelines watching new entrants create breakthrough products and business models.

Managing Versus Creating

The Google search business is one of the greatest technology Category Kings of all time. The search business unit is responsible for almost all of Google’s $66 billion in revenue. ComScore says Google has 67 percent market share and the space is growing at an annual rate of 26 percent At most large companies like Google, executives focus on managing and growing existing businesses. In a lot of ways they get paid to not screw up. Clearly, for Google, the smart thing to do is milk this cash cow forever.

The only problem—a legendarily awesome, high-class problem—is what about all of the new innovation Google wants to do? The gravitational pull of the search business inside Google is surely massive. 

In the blog post announcing the change to Alphabet, CEO Larry Page wrote that his cofounder “Sergey [Brin] and I are seriously in the business of starting new things.” 

If you take Larry at his word, he and Brin are decoupling managing the “as-is” business from creating “to-be” businesses. It is likely that entrepreneurially minded executives inside Google had become trapped by the inertial force of the search business. Gravity-bound executives work 80 hours a week doing business reviews, responding to customer demands, flying around hell's half-acre on sales calls, meeting with investors, and so on. That's required to run a successful operation.

The downside is that people “tinkering” on new stuff can seem irritating to executives focused on the core business. A good example of this is the troubled state of Google Now, which is falling behind competing offerings from Apple and Microsoft. Those charged with building the next great business simply don’t get much time, attention, or funding. This gravity dynamic can make it meaningfully harder for the people designing new products, business models, and categories to succeed, especially if they are competing with startups who are solely focused on new category potential. 

If any of this was the case inside Google, devising a strategy to cultivate innovation, while preserving the core business would be smart.

Rocking Out To The Next Wave Of Change

Like the '80s rock bands who used to play stadiums and now headline county fairs—any Loverboy fans still around?—the technology industry is littered with elderly Category Kings who cease to create breakthrough products and categories and lose relevancy over time. Page and Brin are clearly trying to avoid this fate.

In this context, Alphabet can be seen as a way to break the newer parts free from the gravity of the colossal search business, increasing their odds of independent success. Nest, led by the entrepreneurial CEO Tony Fadell, is a clear example.

If it works, Google could become a Category Kingmaker, while growing the core Google business at the same time. If that happens, we'll be talking about Google for decades to come. If it doesn't—well, there are always those county fairs.

Photo by Philip Cohen


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