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Considerations of Influence

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I just read a post by Noah Brier in which he quoted the below from the SocialFlow blog regarding how we consider social influence which I thought was quite good and got me thinking about how we measure and define influence.

“As we build out digital social spaces, we must not get derailed by metrics of status affordances that have taken center stage. Just because we have easily accessible data at our fingertips doesn’t mean that we have the capacity to model and place a value tag on human behavior. Followers, friends or likes represent an aspect of our digital status, but are only a partial representation of our general propensity to be influential. Keith Urbahn wasn’t the first to speculate Bin Laden’s death, but he was the one who gained the most trust from the network. And with that, the perfect situation unfolded, where timing, the right social-professional networked audience, along with a critically relevant piece of information led to an explosion of public affirmation of his trustworthiness.”

With all the data that digital media affords, there is a danger that we can get caught up in the numbers, measuring people and their behaviour is never going to be an exact science. Whilst we can take the data available as part of the picture we must remember that there are many external factors that can affect influence. People are complex things and we must be careful to place a numerical figure on behaviour implying causation.

With that in mind, below is a simplified model which can help as a framework along with the data available for examining a situation of influence. It is hard to project forward many of the factors at play but can help along with the data to put together a picture.


Any situation of influence involves 2 parties, influencer & target.

1. Influencer’s ability to influence relies on:

Credibility (what they know): The influencer’s expertise or perceived expertise by the target on the subject matter.

Social Capital (who they know): What standing does the influencer have in the community, do they know and associate with people that support the area of influence in consideration.

Bandwidth: The extent of the influencer’s ability to transmit their knowledge through their network of channels.

2. The target’s likelihood to be influenced by a specific influencer:

Relevance (the right information): To what extent do the target’s information needs coincide with the influencer’s expertise and subject matter.

Timing (the right time): The ability of the influencer to deliver the information to the target at the time when the target needed it.

Alignment (the right place): The extent of the channel overlap between the target and the influencer across their networks. If the two parties overlap on many channels, the expectation would be an increased situation of influence.

Confidence (the right person): How much the target trusts the influencer with respect to their information needs. This comes back to the influencers credibility and social capital in the eyes of the target.



The Future of Books

For a 1 year old, is a magazine simply an iPad that doesn’t work? Are we seeing a new generation for whom printed content is essentially broken? I just recently saw the above video on Youtube and it got me thinking about what the future will be for how we will read and consume content. Like I touched on in my Technology vs Advertising post, what we consider technology is predicated by the age in which we experience it. What is considered technology by us now will just be stuff to children who grow up exposed to it. With the release of the iPad, Apple essentially brought to the mainstream a new way to experience content and we are already seeing a change in behaviour as many newspapers struggle with a downturn in readership as people go online for their content on a daily basis. Also printed content is obviously alot more expensive and time consuming to create and produce so we are seeing not just a change in how we consume content but a change for how the industry creates and distributes it as well.

Tablet devices are already impacting upon how people consume content, with more and more people reading books and getting their information from them. I for one enjoy reading the Financial Times on their web app. Reading books and consuming content in this way opens up new opportunities for how we engage with it. About a year ago now, IDEO put together the below concept video illustrating three different concepts for how technology may change the experience of reading for people.

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

Nelson: Contextualizes books within popular opinion and debate to provide reference and easy cross-checking of information

Coupland: Contextualizes books within your professional social network to make it easier to identify what’s worth reading

Alice: Adds a game layer to the experience of reading, in a sort of choose your own adventure meets geo-targeting scernario.

The key technology linking all the concepts together is that through the internet feeding tablets and mobile we are able to be constantly connected wherever we are which enhances how we find and consume content. New layers of utility can be added to the reading experience that couldn’t be before. As tablets become cheaper and a device for the masses, I believe this will be an area of significant growth. I do however feel there will be a place for printed books for a long time to come. I can see them becoming almost a luxury item such as many of the thriving printed magazines are these days. Since it will be alot more expensive to print a book, it will be left in the domain of the quality publications.

On the other side of the coin though there are wider reaching implications for the industry itself of digitalisation. Firstly, if you remove the printed nature of books, the definition of what one is becomes blurred somewhere between a tweet, an article and a 500 page novel. In the digital environment there aren’t the same parameters as there are in the printed world. Not only that but since the cost is lower and the whole process of producing content is faster, it puts pressure on the current distribution model. The traditional delay of up to a year between a books completion and publication was due to the work required to print, distribute and market but also allowed a means of stock control for retailers with the constraints of shelf space in their store. They needed to sell through one lot of books before they could take on more. Now books can be sold and distributed via the internet, it means book stores need to look at their business models and rearrange them.

What does this mean for the future of book stores? Much like I discussed in the Continuous Channel – Future of Retail post, people will always have a reason to go to stores but retailers will need to design them and consider the service offering as a whole with the online one. Not only does the online offering support the stores but allows the long tail of the back catalogue of books that aren’t held instore to be taken advantage of. I think we will end up with a situation where book stores will still have a place, but just a more specialised and service driven one. We are still seeing stores like WH Smith looking to triple their stores in air ports for example, capitalising on the sales of books in the moment when people need them. Whilst they will be supplying their e-book reader Kobo from this location, they will have a selection of paper backs too. They still currently see the e-reader as incremental to their paper back sales, as two thirds of their sales come from children’s books and non-fiction whereas 90% of all downloaded e-books are fiction (WH Smith plans to triple airport stores – FT.com).

Digitalisation of the book industry impacts not only how we as consumers experience the content but how the industry delivers it. Through the internet and new devices we are constantly connected with easy access to books and content, with new layers of utility added to them. For the industry it means a radical change in the distribution models and looking at their service offering, including an online product as part of it. All that said, there is still something about holding a good quality printed product on high quality stock in your hands.


The Continuous Channel – The New Retail Frontier?

I recently watched a presentation by Steve Nave, former SVP & General Manager of Walmart.com and in it he raised the concept of the continuous channel as a new frontier for retailers. He talked about rather than seeing retail as a multi channel process, we should be taking a step back to look at the entire brand, letting customers shop the way they want to shop and bringing it all together into one continuous channel. Essentially instead of serving customers through individual channels, we serve them at touch points across channels by optimising the organisations processes and technologies. The picture on the left is a trial advertising program by Tesco in South Korea. In a “virtual store” concept, people could shop with their mobile phones whilst waiting for a train directly from an ambient installation set up to look like a store and have their groceries delivered to their home hours later. This is a great example of allowing shoppers to purchase in new ways, on their terms and across channels.

Traditionally there were only three channels which organisations could utilise to actively generate sales, the stores themselves, direct sales (phone/direct marketing) and printed catalogues. These channels essentially each only had a single touch point within them. This has now all changed with the advent of the internet and the establishment of ecommerce as a legitimate channel. The internet differs from the three traditional channels in that it doesn’t simply create one touch point but a vast array of new ones. It feeds emerging technologies as it expands into mobile, tablet, TVs, instore, cars and not to mention social media. The key thing to note here is that when you think about it, none of these new touch points are actually a new channel in themselves, they are all being fed by the existing internet channel. The opportunity here for retailers is that increasingly everything is becoming a touchpoint with which consumers can transact with your organisation. Whilst this may sound similar to the concept of multi-channel retailing, the difference is in the thinking of how the channels and touch points intersect together and how the organization responds to the customer across them to drive sales.

For this to work, information, and data must flow freely between channels on the customer end and within the business units of the organisation, no silos. Customers more and more expect to be able to shop across channels, for example purchasing an item via mobile and collecting it instore. They need to be able to shop when and how they want to, customers shop with your company as a whole, not with an individual channel. With this in mind we can look at new ways to intersect them. I think whilst it may be very hard to truly get to a point where this is fully achieved but it is a good journey to be on and will help drive retailing into the future.

The Walmart example that Steve discussed is a good one to look at in terms of a big retailer testing out initiatives which cross the channel boundaries. Walmart has implemented the below strategies with their ecommerce platform that go some way to letting the customer shop their way and intersects both instore and internet enabled channels:

Site to Store – customers could purchase products online and have them sent to their local store for collection.

Pick Up Today – customers can view a stores stock online, purchase and put it on hold knowing it’s ready for them when they arrive in store to collect it.

Scheduled Delivery From Store – customers can order something online from a store and schedule the delivery for when they want it to arrive at their home.

These strategies are interesting in not only do they cross the typical “channel” boundaries, but really add utility for the customer.

Looking forward, Steve identified the below future milestones he thought to be criticial to driving the continuous channel strategy going for Walmart:

Social – not just in a setting up a Facebook page way but really looking at what the intersection is between business and social. They started an initiative called “Walmart Labs” to explore new technology around understanding what people are talking about in social media. With that insight, then as brands we can come to people and be relevant to them and the local community TODAY in new ways. For example we could use the information to influence what store staff talk to customers about when they enter the store, the POS instore, or what new initiatives stores can do for people. It’s about more then just sending emails of a relevant sale to people who have indicated they like blenders on Facebook.

-Mobile – This will help drive the continuous channel as a future for ecommerce. Customers are turning to mobile devices more and more for information when they want it quickly. To help keep pace in this area, Walmart are going so far as acquiring tech company start ups to remain agile and take advantage of the latest advances in technology.

-New Store Models – Can ecommerce begin to help influence store layout? Walmart are now siting the online division at the table when discussing how stores are designed to help bring online into the bricks and mortar channel. For example we don’t necessarily need the store floor space to show all products if we can back it up with online channels. For example you could show just 3 digital cameras in each price point, knowing 300 more are online which we can get to store for someone today, or to their home.

Whilst we won’t see the end of bricks and mortar stores, customers will always have something to do instore, (a point I touched on in my post Why Bricks and Mortar Stores Will Always Have a Role to Play) retailers will need to rethink their operational strategy to keep up with how consumers expect to be able to shop, on their terms, across channels.


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