Monday, July 27, 2009

Shared Consumer Data, Reciprocal Marketing and Conversions for Retail

Reciprocal Marketing is not a new concept in Retail marketing in India. Mostly in the B2B segment where promotions, cross-subsidy and cross-sale combinations exists. Insurance is offered for people who open bank accounts. Credit cards are offered in conjunction with book buying (landmark). Money back when you fill gas in a IBP station on debit cards etc... All this hints towards sharing the consumer (data).

To carry this to the next level, it is important for Retailers to come out of their shell and stop worrying about 'who owns the consumer data'. I keep getting into all sorts of debates and uncertainties of why Organized Retailers should or should not expose their Consumer data. The claim for not exposing is that, clean data is expensive and the IP differentiator for better conversions and loyalty for a given retailer, so the data should be owned and not shared.

But what is clean data ? How do you validate it ? How do you maintain it ? What is the cost of logistics ? What is the strategy for conversion ?

Clearly, the sum of cost of solving above hurdles for "clean consumer data" is significantly higher for the Retailer before gaining any benefits from such a data if each and every individual Retailer repeatedly manage their own datasets. This is why there is a half hearted effort by every Retailer. Nobody seems to have walked the whole mile (maybe except the Gas Agencies as its a regulatory body and they must validate). Consumer Loyalty forms, credit card records and Home delivery challans are the only validators existing today. Among this, credit card companies will not authenticate the consumer info fully. Payment gateways are a black box. Obtaining consumer psychographic details is a costly research and catchment exercise.

Instead, why not free the data ? Put it up on a "Consumer Data Cloud". Open the collaboration of consumer data by offering direct incentive to the consumers for maintaining and upkeep of their own info (with a shroud of privacy). Technology exists for this today.

Sharing the consumer data across segments shall be the next disruptive wave to change the Retail horizon.

The time has come to reap the benefits of open collaboration (Given that consumers are readily pouring their life's worth on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the rest of the Ning bases). Yes, privacy is a concern. Privacy must be the focus while collaborating such data independent of whether it is on a Retailer's platform or otherwise. I would go a step further and argue that privacy can be better managed, audited and assured if consumer data is managed as a single source of truth (single cloud). The cost of assuring privacy for such data for every Retailer on their own infrastructure is high and incredulous !

The benefits of freeing consumer data ?
- Pruning of costs across CRM which releases fairly significant chunk of capital. A portion of that capital can be re-purposed for interacting with the 'consumer data cloud' (smaller than the cost of managing your own dataset)

- Single source of truth both for the Consumer and the Retailer. Consumers especially can have a single pane of glass across all their Retail outlay (visits, purchase, spend, loyalty points). Retailers of course benefits from higher analytics and trending across consumption lifecycle of the consumers.

- Enablement of a Co-Opetition framework where Retailers can co-operate as well as compete for the Consumer's attention. This is where true reciprocal marketing evolves. Cross loyalty, cross segment combo kits (dinner and a movie package), targeted promos, cross segment redemption schemes will be more meaningful and rich in ideas and innovation.

End result? better engagement, targeted touches, hand holding across consumption lifecycle, point discounts, higher redemption and yes, absolute conversions. Sounds like utopia, maybe not. But truly a step closer.

All this and more is possible only if Retailers break their shell and hatch. Its about time the data is free (as in freedom)...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Worth of Value

How does one sell in a down economy ? Given that consumers are becoming value conscious, many of the Retailers I am speaking to are seemingly trying to answer the question "How do I assess, reach out and offer what is 'valuable' to consumers contextually ?

Why is Value contextual ? Because, it is based on the end user, end-usage and the environment. This is a coarse grained dimension of Value.

Marketing gurus exemplify that other fine grained dimensions of value exists.
- Value is Relative; relative to alternatives available within the given context.
- Value is Perceptual; driven by the current senses.
- Value is Provisional; New information can change percepts.

Given these, the dimensionality of value from a economic perspective brings in the concept of the "worth" of value. The risk in acquiring a value target determines the worth of the target.

So are consumers really value-conscious or worth-conscious. I guess they are both. Once they (some how) determine that something is valuable, then they start seeking to find if its worthy. How can Retailers determine the worth of a value for the consumers? For one, the worth is driven by what the consumer perceives as intrinsic risk in acquisition of value. Mostly, the risk of "being wrong" in whatever sense it may be is the biggest risk I foresee in determining the worth.

What if I paid too much ? What if I could have got a better product at the same price ? Does this look good on me ? What does my spouse think of it ? Does this product convey a better meaning of me (Cool, Smart, Sharp) ? Is it hygienic ? Do I have place to keep it ? etc... etc... are the risk driven questions in the consumers mind.

The exploding choice of products providing same/similar value is going to add to the "risk quotient" in determining the worth of value. The lesser the choice, the higher the worth. The higher the worth, the higher the price.

In essence, it does boil down to offering value to consumers across all dimensions while making it worthy (Branding). Especially from the dimension of 'Value being provisional' where the Retailers provide differentiated clarity for the value being offered. Providing that differentiated clarity should start way early in the consumption life-cycle. Typically the consumption life-cycle from a consumer perspective (Not the retailers perspective) is across the phases of Awareness, Research, Transaction, Delivery and Consumption. It is primarily important that the clarity is provisioned through out this lifecycle.

Providing clarity requires personalized touches and individual reciprocation with each of your consumer. Knowing the consumer including likes, dislikes, opinions, past purchases, current context, psychography etc. along with the intrinsic knowledge of the product assortments offered is a requirement. Building a value/worth grid based on this knowledge is essential. Engaging the consumer interactively through differentiated (not different) marketing channels is important. I guess this is the place where technology should gear-up to enable the "Experiential Economy" to make the while worth.

Convergence of Proximity based Technologies, Social Media, Collaborative Filtering, CRM and other such Simulacrum may offer probable solution. It shall be some while before true convergence can happen. Disruptions in marketing channels, technology, loyalty programs, product management and category management may be inevitable before it gets worthy more than valuable.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Experience Economy of Mobility and Convergence

The Experience Economy specifically in the convergence and mobility (as in mobile based) sector shall gain new heights both from a continuous and dis-continuous innovation.

Why ? Purely because of the disruptive nature of just having more bandwidth on majority of the handsets across social strata.

Experience economy as defined is the orchestrated events made memorable to the consumers which collectively by in itself becomes a "product". Flashback to the Movie "Minority Report" in which Tom Cruise walks through a shopping mall and based on his iris scan, he gets beamed with relevant promotions within the vicinity that is specific to his profile and custom tuned to his liking.

Though I will not get into the super cool ingredients that may go into making this sci-fi happen today (as I am ignorant), I am fairly confident that a similar (diluted) experience can be achieved using the Mobile devices. Ability to ID the consumer through the device, Cloud Compute servers to crunch and store relevant Consumer Info (considering privacy), Relevance algorithms (similar to what is being used in NetFlix and Amazon) exists in one form or other. The missing ingredient was ubiquity of bandwidth on mobile devices.

Bandwidth hurdle being removed (3G, Bluetooth 2.0), the play will boil down to "What is the best impact provided during the time of maximum exposure ?". The time of maximum exposure is when the consumers is in your store or the shopping mall, browsing.

As arcane and cryptic as it sounds, there in lies the key for many new entrants and start-ups opening up new market categories. Each player can significantly differentiate themselves by choosing the right attributes to own.

Quantama is one of such start-ups creating a new category in the mobile proximity space for Organized Retail. Stay Tuned...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Emerging Business Drivers and Orthogonal Validations

Rapid Adoption of IT systems across sectors and Domain: Globally as more and more systems are being digitized, the need for testers have increased drastically. The availability of the resource pool who has the necessary domain knowledge is also shrinking which has lead to a resource pool crunch. That said, it would be paramount to ramp-up Business Analysts and Product Primes to acquire the pre-existing knowledge within the domain and innovate upon that knowledge. Bringing testers up to speed then becomes the responsibilities of the Analysts and Product primes. The secondary problem of non-availability of Skilled (automation scripts) testers to perform the necessary functions gives raise to a requirement of machine based frameworks to fill in the gaps of non-availability of the resource pool. This gives rise to the lateral industry of automated code generation for developers speeding solution development as well as automated test case generation aiding the Quality Assurance folks. Business Analysts are demanding tools which enables them to create test scenarios without having to write code.

Impedance mis-match during knowledge transfer: When the knowledge transfer of the Domain has to flow from the Analyst to the developers and testers, the impedance mis-match in translating the knowledge in terms of articulating the nuances of the innovation and the capability of a tester (as per say) to understand and assimilate that knowledge into the respective Testcases is mind numbingly high. This high mismatch in what was expected to be built and tested and what landed up getting built and tested will lead to heartburns during acceptance scenarios. Demand for extreme traceability of Testcases and test steps to the requirements has increased rapidly.

Complexity of the Product: The choice of the technologies and frameworks and platforms used in manufacturing and building the solution also adds up to the complexity of the test cycles. ERP implementation, PDLC of a Enterprise Product, SaaS based Solution Delivery, Cloud Compute enabled solutions, Data Center Management, Legacy Integration etc, are not only rich in semantics from a Domain perspective but are also complex to assimilate to understand the breadth and depth of testing strategies required to validate and provide assurance of quality. Demand for pre-built adapters and catalogs which can readily integrate and work as expected during last mile integration is on the rise.

Heterogeneity of the Systems: Added to the complexity of the product, the IT eco-system in which these product operates today are made up of different systems from vendors such as IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, Sun, HP etc... (including home grown solution) that contains various platforms patched up together through ESB and SOA integration. Even the choice of Operating systems and hardware platforms have become varied that performing a configuration and version compatibility test for any given platform has started to look daunting. Virtualization and Automation is becoming the norm of the day.

Shrinking GTM and Focus on short gain cycles: Typically the Product development lifecycles and Go to market cycles are shrinking in the light of ever changing business dynamics. Every one wants to put the product out in the market as soon as possible capturing the customer share as soon to gain control on the changing business dynamics. Agility, it seems is paying dividends for such short GTMs and providing a quick ROI. SaaS based and On-line solutions are moving towards perpetual beta platforms which can rapidly adopt to the customers needs. This also holds true for ERP implementation cycles which are shrinking by the day. What used to take 5 years are now being reduced to 1 year implementation cycles with rapid customizations. Demand for baseline Testcases covering top few probable customizations of a large product base is increasing. Pre-built Test Content 'cartridges' are the need of the day.

Shrinking IT Budgets: Discretionary spend has been monitored more closely and also the overall IT budget is shrinking by the day. CFOs are breathing down the CTOs neck for efficiency and productivity for every dollar spent. This has lead to cost cutting in terms of support staff (people) and reduction in spend of applications and products (license). CFOs are moving away from making any large capital commitments at the outset impacting high CAPEX vendors. Converting the fixed costs to variable cost is the Financial Officers edict across LOBs. Demand for subscription based usage is on the rise.

Global Recession Driving Margin Pressures: Global recession being the new reality, the pressure on margins (not to mention survival) is high. Corporates are looking for operational efficiencies to increase the margins to retain the operating profits while the top line sinks. Increasingly corporates are betting on digitizing and automating all processes that can be automated which shall convert to cost savings by downsizing the cost centers. Demand for outsourcing the validation and assurance and SLA management is on the rise.

Demand for Highly Reliable Products and Service: The general tolerance for a good quality product has come down. Consumers are demanding 'excellent' quality products. In effect, what was excellent yesterday is just good enough today. Reliability and Relevance are the two parameters that are driving the world markets. If a product or a solution is not meeting the standards of 'excellence' then there is no place in the market for the solution. Corporates are trying to leverage machines (computers, robots, software) as much as possible to automate the core solutions. Automation unlike manual processes provides a high degree of reliability when employed through out the production cycle. Demand for metrics based reports with high degree of SLA while enabling automation is on the rise.

Regulatory Compliance: With the increase in the number of regulations in any given sector (HIPAA, SOX, GLBA etc...) the burden of certifying the product, platform, application or service has increased dramatically. This has led to the amortization of working capital from core production cycles (bread and butter cycles) to compliance activities. Given the same capital budget (which seemingly is shrinking as we speak), the number of activities in production has increased to cater to the compliance demands. Corporates again are seeking automated compliance testing tools to ensure certification which increases the operational efficiencies. The compliance requirements has made the corporates to refactor the dynamics of a verification and validation LOB from a cost center to a value center. Demand for compliance catalogs for verification is on the rise.

Increased Threats and Security Compliance: The threat levels have been ever increasing and the types and nature of threats have become innovative. Security Compliance has become a core activity of any validation cycles for products and solutions. Penetration testing, Functional Security, Security Standards Compliance etc... adds to the release and build test cycles as a natural PDLC flow increasing the number of core activities to be performed by QA. Corporates and QA departments are seeking automation platforms in these and other areas to release enough bandwidth of the existing people so that what has to be (and can be) performed as manual verification has enough people available to perform. Growing need for security verifications as part of the automation solutions is been on the rise.

What does these emerging drivers means for Verification and Validation process ?
Simply put, testing is not a gating function anymore. Testing has become an inherent QoS (Quality of Service) through out the life cycle of production or service delivery. Testing has become a change agent addressing risk early on in the lifecycle and continually assuring reliability, relevance, Security and compliance apart from providing functional acceptance and assurance for the product or service. Testing as per say has become a value creator and quality differentiator for the end product to provide the required edge to compete in the market place of excellence. Testing has become an "Orthogonal" platform, process and activity to cater to the demands of the new markets.

AutoCzar a test automation platform seems to be reinventing itself to cater to these emerging trends.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mobile Call without getting Billed

Convergence along with Innovation is a deadly concoction. It has been said that no power in the world can stop an idea whose time has come. So it seems for Cherry a Belgian Tech Startup in the Mobile MVNO space. The coolest thing about this innovation is the ability to make calls to the people in your contact list without using a SIM card. No I am not smoking, YES, ITS WITHOUT A SIM CARD.

The technology uses a "handover" protocol as reported whenever in the vicinity of a Wifi range. There is a application required to be installed on the phone that shall seamlessly switch between Wifi and GSM. Interesting and Exciting. Read more on this here...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

New Venture (Quantama)

My last blog was quite a while back. I was caught up (lousy excuse) in establishing a tech-start up. I am currently working on a mobile proximity start-up focusing on Consumer Lifecycle Management for organized Retail (

Finding seed capital during recession, working on positioning for new market, getting a core team in place and getting the first customer on board have its own share of anomalies. Added to that, learning of things that you may have seen or done before all over again for the new market realities is an exciting challenge an entrepreneur may grow up to appreciate. In fact there is a sense of vuja-de experience (things look new even though you may have done them before) this time around.

Deep down inside, I know that all the positioning I perceive for the product before hitting the market is a preparation in principle to be able to cope with the game changing realities once the product rolls to production. Eventually the market shall position the product. The trick is to plan enough to minimize the delta efforts to reposition. This time around, I 'seem' to have understood the philosophy of "Flow with the Go" as Guy Kawasaki puts it in 'The Art of Start'... But the best is yet to come...

As Frank Sinatra's Song goes:
"Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a plum
You came along and everything started to hum
Still its a real good bet, the best is yet to come

The best is yet to come, and wont that be fine
You think you've seen the sun, but you aint' seen it shine"

I am hoping that this time around that I see the sun shine...