Don’t Replicate, Innovate!

I was reading my usual batch of RSS feeds this morning and the normal smattering of topics were front and center: Mobile application development, social commerce, and f-commerce were everywhere. Again. And they should be! They are the hot topics of the day and everyone is busy trying to figure out exactly how these apply to their particular business and brands. But are all of the hot topics the right things for your company or brand to be considering?

There’s a lot of “me too” in the eCommerce world. Implementations are hurried and weak and there’s little brand tie-in. There are times when it has seemed like some brands place too much focus on doing something new and not on doing things that are truly innovative and make sense for the brand.

One recent example of this is Facebook Commerce. There was a bit of a mad rush for some companies to implement this technology and frankly, I just don’t see the value in the way some have approached it.

So, there’s a place on Facebook that you can purchase something without leaving the confines of your favorite social network. So what? How hard is it — really — to open another browser page? And what is the real value even if this is done well? Are there people (with buying power) that refuse to leave Facebook?I’m not saying that f-commerce is a complete waste of time for all brands. But, what I am saying is that f-commerce isn’t always the right approach for a brand. The deciding factor here should be brand strategy and how well a given channel supports brand messaging and reaches the target audience.

Take the Delta Airlines Facebook page and application, for example. The page shows lots of statistics, which are interesting, and seem to serve as a promotion for functionality offered by their online and mobile applications. The “Book a Trip” application, though, just doesn’t do it for me. When I went through the app recently, I was presented with ads from American Express, Abbadabba’s, a study abroad program and someone’s brand of ETFs. I get much better user experience on the site and it’s not littered with ads. Can I buy a ticket in Facebook? Yes. Is it a compelling experience? Not so much. Maybe for a first time online ticket buyer this would be an appropriate avenue, but for a frequent traveler, the experience is rather limiting.

At the recent eTail show in Boston, Bob Kupbens, VP of eCommerce for Delta showed a slide during his presentation that graphed the relative response to the different online offerings they had. What stood out was that the number of sales they’re actually making from the Facebook application is negligible. Was it worth the investment? Well, it adds a channel that might pick up a few ticket sales. But it does tarnish the brand image by placing ads alongside the ticket purchase functionality. Maybe the ticket buying public will eventually flock to Facebook for all their travel needs in the future, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Brian Walker,was recently a featured speaker for an Optaros webinar on agile commerce and he highlighted some interesting statistics that showed that the rate of adoption of specific channels and technologies are rather disassociated from how effective they are. Customer reviews, social recommendations, private event sites and gamification are high on the list of effectiveness. Online shops that work within the confines of a social network are a top priority for many companies and while 83% of companies in the survey have implemented or plan to implement a custom social network store, only 7% rank the effort as effective. This would seem to indicate that there is a “me too” flavor to new channels and technologies that companies are rushing to realize at the same time as their competitors.

A few months ago at a meeting at the Consumers Union in New York, Jeff Bezos said that his focus is on the customer and not the competition. Innovation that drives customer loyalty and increased sales is often found at the intersection of customer service and technological opportunity. For the record, I’m a technologist. I began writing code in the mid 70’s and still write code for fun (with that cat out of the bag I’m certain to lose what minimal cool points I may have accumulated, if any). Today’s technology is cool and is changing at an ever faster pace — which is why it is so important not to chase every shiny technical object one comes across before assessing applicability to a brand and its customers.

In the end, there are some questions to ponder. What is important to your customers? Is it product information, a seamless buying experience, input from friends on a social network or a combination?. And, how does a technology implementation represent or otherwise affect the brand image? Is “me too” what you want to say about your brand? How much will really be lost by focusing on what your customers want and need instead of half-heartedly grasping at new customer touch-points in an effort to quickly grow business? The statistics say the impact would be minimal.

What I believe is multiple touch-points that make use of technology in a way that enhances the brand and the customer experience should be the focal point in a landscape blurred with technological choices.

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