Apple Watch: Transforming Apple into a Luxury Fashion Retailer

apple-watch-stylesWhile most of the tech and business press focused on the functionality of the Apple Watch (digital crown, battery life, taptic engine, yadda yadda…) discreetly milling around the event were the fashion press, invited by Apple’s new fashion and design team. The fact that Apple Watch comes in three distinct collections — Apple Watch, Sport, and Apple Watch Edition — mirrors how fashion targets different demographics and tastes with separate lines.

To date, merely owning an Apple iPhone or iPad says something about who you are. With only a few choices on colors (black, white, neon, etc.), the only way you could customize Apple products to suit your style was to entomb their beauty with covers and cases. These items lived in the back of the store, hung up as general merchandise and an add-on to the core experience of the products.

But with Apple Watch, Apple now has to change the shopping experience as well — and not just sell a luxury product but also create a luxury fashion experience. When Apple Watch launches next year, look for former CEO Angela Ahrendts to make her mark as the new head of Apple Store. Here’s the challenge — Apple Watch will launch with 3 collections, 2 sizes, and 6 bands styles in 18 colors, 2 sizes = 108 permutations of Apple Watch. An entire section of the store will be dedicated to people not just looking at the watches, but also looking at it on themselves. New salespeople will have to be hired — people who understand both technology and fashion. If you get a chance, go visit a Burberry store and marvel at the level of attention and discretion that is paid to you as you shop. Part of the fashion buying experience is knowing when to step forward and help — and also when to step back and wait.

The breakthrough of Apple Watch isn’t in its form or function — but the fact that wearable technology for the first time is truly being treated as a fashion item. I’ve been buying alternative holders and bracelets for my FitBit on Etsy, in a desperate attempt to marry my fitness and fashion goals — and left wholly unsatisfied with the experience. I’m looking forward to buying the Apple Watch — the actual act of buying it as I would an expensive purse or pair of shoes. When would I wear it? What image do I want to be sending when I’m wearing the watch — or not wearing it?

The Apple Watch is still in its 1.0 origins and it has a long way to go before it becomes a beautiful, desired item. And that’s a good thing, because Apple will need time to transform itself into the truly luxury fashion retailer and brand that it wants to be. At stake is Apple’s business model — Android will always be the low-cost leader so Apple has to continually deliver a premium experience to deserve the premium price it demands. I look forward to parting with a serious chunk of cash next year — but only if Apple Watch matches my new spring wardrobe.

Content Marketing Software: How to Make Smart Choices

If you are involved in any shape or form with content marketing, you know what a big headache it can be for your organization. It extends beyond the Marketing department — Sales can’t get detailed, localized information to salespeople in the field. The social team needs more granular, atomized content produced multiple times a day. Customer service spends excessive time tracking down information to find that it’s outdated. And even HR seeks out relevant content in its battle for top talent. And rarely is there a centralized group that leads a coherent content strategy for the organization.

Against this backdrop is a dynamic, ever-changing landscape of vendors — hundreds of vendors with more emerging every day.

My Altimeter colleague Rebecca Lieb has been researching the evolution of content marketing and recently published a report on the Content Marketing Software Landscape. Today, she’s releasing a new report and customizable RFP template that organizations can use to select the right software.

The goal of the report was to provide a more detailed answer to the question, “What content marketing software should I choose?” The right response is “It depends” and with this report, we’re trying to systematically help companies figure out the dependencies.

One important finding from the report is the need for organization input into the software selection process. As I describe above, content marketing transcends the Marketing department and impacts the entire organization. That means integration into technology platforms (CRM, marketing automation, sales support, customer support) as well as processes is crucial.

You can learn more by reading the report — a synopsis and other resources are below. Also, please join Rebecca on an upcoming webinar on September 11, 2014. 

How to Tell If You’re Just Dabbling with Digital

Digital transformation is hot — in a new Altimeter Report, “The State of Digital Transformation”, we found that 88% of organizations we surveyed said that they were undergoing a formal digital transformation effort, which Altimeter defines as “the re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”

But the research found that only 25% had mapped their out the customer journey, while another 12% were in the process of a mapping effort and were awaiting results. What was striking was that 42% of respondents said that while they were not officially researching the digital customer journey they had made efforts to update those digital touch points with new social and mobile investments and initiatives.

This means that while many organizations believe they are making progress to be more focused on the digital customer, I fear they are merely dabbling in their efforts and not truly undergoing a transformation. One organization I worked with had very advanced social and mobile initiatives and applications — but these two teams operated in silos (marketing and digital, respectively), rarely interacted or coordinated, and competed frequently for limited resources — both investments and people. Without a common understanding of the customer journey and alignment on how the organization would develop digital touch points, such conflict and inconsistency is inevitable.

One other statistic serves as evidence that organizations aren’t truly underling transformation — 59% of respondents felt that one of the biggest challenges to digital transformation was “thinking beyond a ‘campaign mentality’ in digital strategy efforts”. If you are jumping from campaign to campaign, your customers will feel it — you aren’t trying to develop a relationship with them, you just want to sell more stuff them.

There are three ways you can use the data from the report to benchmark your digital transformation efforts — and demonstrate to your organization the need to reconsider whether you are truly transforming or just moving chairs on the deck of a ship that’s adrift in the digital seas.

  1. Have you mapped the digital journey of your customers? With data? Until you have this in place, you can’t really align your organization around the journey.
  2. Does your leadership have a plan to address cultural issues that arise with digital transformation? True transformation is hard, painful, and challenges the status quo of organizations. Our research found that people are at the core of the transformation, not technology. Do you have a digital Center of Excellence that coordinates all of your digital efforts (social, mobile, digital marketing, etc.) and also an executive committee in place that has governance in place to identify and resolve these inevitable conflicts? You’ll need these structures in place to guide the organization through these tumultuous waters.
  3. How widespread is digital engagement amongst employees? A surefire way to tell where you are in your transformation journey is how many employees are able to engage with customers. Is it just a few select people in marketing, communications, and customer service? Or are all employees trained and empowered to engage? That second requires a clear understand of how widespread employee engagement with customers is beneficial to both the customer and the organization. It also requires guidelines, training, and ongoing monitoring and education — as well as a change in mindset from authoritarian, hierarchical control to a more open leadership style and approach.

If you don’t have satisfactory answers to the three questions above, then you have to ask yourself if your organization is truly committed to digital transformation or if it’s merely waving the flag. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of advanced with a social presence or mobile application — dig deeper and honestly ask yourself if the organization is transforming or just dabbling. If the first step to change is awareness, then it’s time to make sure that you understand where you stand.

Want to learn more? Join Brian Solis, the author of the report, for a webinar on the report findings on September 17, 2014.

Below is a preview of the report. The full report is available for free download as well.

Help with My New Report: Employee Engagement & Advocacy

Businessman holding paperI’m passionate about Open Leadership, and the imperative to be open, authentic and transparent in the way we lead. This is all the more important when looking at how to engage employees, and tapping them for the bright shiny object de jour “employee advocacy”.

To that end, my colleague Jon Cifuentes and I are working on a new Altimeter report on how companies create holistic strategies that increase internal employee engagement and external employee advocacy. The report looks at the fundamental disconnect between organizations wanting active and engaged employees and the actual execution of employee collaboration, engagement, and advocacy efforts.

Three recent studies exemplify the problem.

  • Gallup found that only 13% of employees worldwide are actively engaged while 24% are actively disengaged.
  • A more optimistic report from Weber Shandwick, released just last week, found that while 47% of employees are ProActivists or PreActivists who are inclined to take positive action on behalf of their employers, 31% are HyperActivists, ReActivists, or outright Detractors who can hurt their employers with negative actions.
  • IBM just published their CHRO study and found that only 42% of CHROs interviewed felt that they were effective at fostering employee engagement and commitment, and only 20% thought they were effective at addressing collaboration and information sharing challenges.

Technology is also having an impact. The vast majority of employees all have personal access to social media — and frequently use it to talk about work. Collaboration platforms and enterprise social networks like Chatter, Jive, and SharePoint/Yammer often connect employees at work. A rising plethora of employee advocacy platforms all aim to make it easier to engage and amplify the voices of employees. The biggest challenge that all of this technology creates is the expectation of openness and transparency that many organizations are still struggling with — at a theoretical level, they would love to see more employees speaking positively about the brand, but also worry about slips up like the most recent US Airway’s accidental porn tweet or HMV’s live tweeted firing dustup last year.

Three Types of Engagement for One Employee

To address these issues, we’ll be looking at employee engagement in three distinct areas, which typically involve three different activities, three different owners in the organization, and three different technology platforms. The problem: There’s ONE employee.

Three types of employee engagement

This evolving view of employee engagement boils down to the evolving relationship between the employer and employee – all aspects of work are changing in the face of this new dynamic. Digital engagement becomes not the end goal but the forcing function, providing a new context for the entire employee engagement strategy.

Our research will seek to answer questions for business leaders at the core of this conundrum:

  • How do I develop a coherent and effective employee engagement and advocacy strategy, rather than a series of initiatives? What are the elements of a holistic strategy?
  • How do I select, deploy, and integrate technology to create a foundation that also leads to and facilitates employee engagement and advocacy?
  • What new leadership skills and organizational structures will be needed to create better coordination of employee engagement across the organization?
  • How do I know that what I’m doing is working and making a difference? (The age-old measurement conundrum.)

How You Can Help Altimeter’s Research

Altimeter is committed to what we call “Open Research”. Rather than keep our research behind locked doors, we’re sharing this early peek with the hopes of getting external input. We’d love to hear about the following:

  • Strategic approaches to overall employee engagement. Does your organization take a strategic approach to employee engagement? What other functions in the business are you integrating?
  • Leadership and organization. What role does leadership have in the strategy? How are you breaking down silos across organizations to connect internal engagement with external advocacy?
  • Use of technologies. How did you decide which tools to use to support your strategy? How are you planning to connect internal and external employee engagement platforms — if at all? How are you integrating with existing enterprise systems?
  • Measurement and results. How do you connect your employee engagement strategy to business results? How do you think about measuring the overall strength and evolution of the employee relationship?

If you think you have a contribution that could be made, please fill out this very short form (also embedded below) so that we can collect your input in an orderly fashion. Please also note if you would be willing to be interviewed for best practices and case studies. All information collected will be used only for background purposes. We will seek specific and explicit permission for any information we intent to publish or use publicly. And of course, you are very welcome to email me or my colleague Jon Cifuentes if you have any questions or suggestions.

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State of Research & Consulting: The Smartest Network, Not People, Will Win

Closeup portrait of business people with hands on hands

This post was originally  cross-posted on LinkedIn. You can read the original post here.

My background as an industry analyst at Forrester Research and management consultant at the now-defunct Monitor Group gives me a unique point of view into the intersection of two industries, Industry Research firms (dominated by companies like Forrester, Gartner, and IDC) and Management Consulting (with leaders like Bain, BCG, and McKinsey). Both are being hit by the classic Innovator’s Dilemma, where new entrants offer services that are cheaper (or free) to an under-served customer base. I believe that the established players have several facets of their business models that limit their ability to respond.

Let’s take a look first at the state of the research industry:

  • The double-edged sword of syndicated content. Research firms derive much of their revenues from great content that sits behind a syndication wall. But analysis from journalists, bloggers and independent analysts is rapidly improving in quality and available at a great price point – free. And technology vendors like IBM conduct cutting edge research that is arguably better than what any research firm can do. While syndicated revenues scales thought leadership wonderfully, research firms can’t cannibalize themselves without seriously jeopardizing profits. The result – free content from these new entrants – is gaining a significant foothold and making syndicated clients take a closer look at their investment in annual seat-based subscriptions.
  • Individual versus firm brands. Research firms promote the expertise of top analyst talent – but not too much for fear that these “stars” gain too much visibility and spin off to create their own firms, stealing away clients in the process. Non-compete contracts and restrictions on personal blogs are attempts to try to contain the brand of individuals. But this means that all talent needs to be homegrown as no established thought leader would ever consider subsuming their own brands. This opens the door for companies that know how to attract, grow, and develop individual brands in harmony with an overall umbrella brand.
  • Clients demand more custom solutions. Research firms don’t like consulting – it’s messy, time-consuming, and not as scalable as syndicated research. But their clients are dealing with tough, disruptive problems of their own – and parachuting analysts into a client for a day leaves many clients wanting more detailed, customized advice and strategy. While research firms have made decent inroads into creating consulting services, these efforts typically involve dedicated consultants rather than industry experts – because every minute an analyst spends with a client means less time spent on generating syndicated content that pays the bills.

Now let’s turn to management consulting firms that have their own set of challenges:

  • Secrecy constrains engagement. Consulting firms operate in the Cone of Silence to respect client confidentiality, which limits their ability to network and share best practices sometimes even within a firm. Contrast that to their clients’ own increasing willingness to share with and support each other through formal networks like Corporate Executive Board and The result: It’s getting harder and harder for consulting firms to provide new insights and value to smarter, networked clients.
  • Clients demand more research to justify decisions. Consulting firms rarely invest in industry research that isn’t specific to a client because it’s a cost that can’t be easily recovered across multiple engagements. This business model constraint means that a key client need – research-based evidence needed to justify risky strategic bets – aren’t at the fingertips of these consultants.
  • Deep relationships versus deep expertise. In the Internet and social networking age, small boutique firms and even individuals with deep expertise can create visibility, generate press, and get on the radar of potential clients. This challenges the broad expertise and brands of traditional firms who rely on a brand and deep relationships to carry it forward, even in areas when expertise may be lacking. One of the key notes of disruption in consulting is the pairing of these boutique experts with the mainline consulting firms, supplementing knowledge of the firm’s inner workings and relationships with deep expertise. Guess what happens when senior management sees that much of the value is being created by these boutique experts rather than trusted counselors?

If your firm is in either of these two industries, I encourage you to take the following three actions to refine your business model and guard against disruption:

  1. Develop and grow networks. Research and consulting firms often indulge in hubris, believing that they have THE smartest people in the industry within their walls. But how can that be the case in fast developing, disruptive spaces? Buy yourself an insurance policy against the pace of change by developing a network of the brightest people OUTSIDE of your firm including people at rival firms. At Altimeter, we cultivate and feed that network with our Open Research, where we give it away for free. The result is thousands of people reading the research, commenting on it, and helping us develop the next research. The result is in research that is better, faster, and cheaper to produce. In the future, it’s not the firm with the smartest people that will win, it’s the one with the smartest network.
  2. Invest in the brands and careers of individuals. The success of research and consulting firms depends on attracting A+ talent – and that talent won’t stick around if they think they can do better elsewhere or even on their own. At Altimeter, we believe that a strong individual brand results in a strong company brand – the two live in harmony so that we can leverage individual thought leadership AND the company brand. But we also create the greenest pasture possible for individuals to stay with us – there are no non-competes, no constraints on personal blogging or book writing, that artificially keep someone around when they don’t want to be here. When one day the fit is no longer there, we agree to bid each other “all the best,” knowing that it was a fair exchange of value for the time that we worked together.
  3. Create synergies between research and consulting. Rather than look at either research or consulting as a cost center, think about how they can each lower costs and actually result in better outcomes in the other area. Research improves when you can apply it to real client problems. Consulting deepens your understanding of client pain points that results in better, more meaningful research. The key is to find people who can stretch between these two areas. At Altimeter, we have analysts who do primarily research, but stretch frequently into consulting to keep that research grounded. And we have consultants who spend most of their days working with clients – but who then stretch into research, which gives them research-based grit to bring into their engagements.

So because the incumbents in the research and consulting industries have very real business model constraints, I see plenty of opportunity for new entrants to disrupt and gain a foothold.

Additional reading and resources: