E-Commerce Times

New Google Service Makes Machine Learning More Accessible

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Google on Wednesday released its Cloud AutoML Vision service in Alpha. It is the first in a planned series of Cloud AutoML services designed to help people with limited machine learning expertise build their own custom models using advanced techniques such as learning2learn and transfer learning.

Learning2learn is a process for automating machine learning, while transfer learning "takes a fully trained model for a set of categories and retrains it from the existing weights for new classes," a Google Cloud spokesperson told the E-Commerce Times in a statement provided by company rep Danny McCrone.

Image Recognition

Cloud AutoML Vision makes it faster and easier to create custom ML models for image recognition.

Its drag-and-drop interface lets users upload images, train and manage models, then deploy those trained models directly on Google Cloud.

Cloud AutoML Vision is based on image recognition processes — including transfer learning and neural architecture search technologies — that result in more accurate models, even for users with limited ML expertise.

Cloud AutoML lets users create a simple model to pilot artificial intelligence-enabled applications in minutes — or build out a full, production-ready model in as little as a day.

The Cloud AutoML device has a simple graphical user interface that lets users specify data and then turns it into a custom model.

AutoML Vision is the result of close collaboration with Google Brain and other Google AI teams. Other Cloud AutoML products are in development.

Making ML Available to the Masses

Cloud AutoML goes beyond offering pretrained machine learning models via APIs that perform specific tasks, which Google already offers on Cloud AI.

It "takes ML beyond the data scientist — the eggheads, if you will," remarked Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"This is the first step towards the nontechnical end user," he told the E-Commerce Times.

There's "a massive shortage of resources needed to turn machine learning into a market," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"Easy-to-use entry tools like this can help create resources to fill those holes, speeding advancement significantly," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Pictures are not the prize," Constellation's Mueller said. "It's about getting the know-how out of the heads of people into software, and seeing if software can make better decisions."

Google "wants to get the compute load from [AutoML] services for the Google Cloud Platform, and then to solidify TensorFlow," he added. TensorFlow "has pretty much won the race for neural networks in the data scientist community; now it's all about keeping anybody else from getting to the end user."

Other Business Software

Vendors of CRM, marketing automation and sales force automation software that incorporates AI and ML technology need not fear Google Cloud AutoML, said Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"Google just announced a renewed partnership with Salesforce for CRM and marketing with Google Analytics 360 integration," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"I see Google focusing on continuing to develop their ML models and not going into mature markets such as CRM or marketing automation," Zhou said.

Cloud AutoML Vision could be used by real estate companies, healthcare companies and retailers, according to Google.

Any company needing resources to build ML solutions would find Cloud AutoML services useful, as machine learning "isn't industry-specific," Enderle pointed out.

However, people "have to both know about and want to use the tools," he said. "The path to revenue remains uncertain despite the skill shortages."


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

Google to Ding Sluggish Sites in Mobile Search Rankings

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Google on Wednesday announced that page speed will be a ranking
factor for mobile searches, starting in July. Speed already has been a factor in
desktop search rankings. Soon, as part of Google's new "Speed
Update," page loading time will be factored in when ranking
mobile search results as well.

The change will affect only pages that deliver the slowest experience to users, according to Google, and thus should affect only a small percentage of searches. Sites that are
very slow will be down-ranked accordingly, but it is not clear whether
extremely fast sites will earn a rankings boost.

The same standards will be applied to all pages, regardless
of the technology that underlies them. Further,
a slow page still could rank higher than faster pages if
the slower page provides content considered more relevant to the specific
search.

Google called upon the development community to consider how a
site's performance can impact the user's experience, and it
highlighted a number of user experience metrics for making assessments.

Evaluation Resources

There is no one tool that can predict whether a page will be affected by the change, but there are
some resources that developers can use to test speed, Google noted, including the following:

  • The Chrome User Experience Report, a public dataset of key user
    experience metrics;
  • Lighthouse, an automated tool and part of the
    Chrome Developer tools; and
  • PageSpeed Insights, a tool that indicates
    how well a page performs on the Chrome UX Report and offers
    performance optimizations.

"This a logical conclusion for the Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP)
Project that Google launched in 2016," said Charles King, principal
analyst at Pund-IT.

"The point of that effort was to speed Web browsing processes, and
download results for mobile device users with a mechanism Google
created for predicting what sites a user would visit, and then
preloading site data into cache," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"The thing is that it only works on sites that have adopted AMP, so it
isn't what you'd call a universal panacea for mobile browsing or poor
browsing performance," King added.

Need for Speed

Ranking mobile sites by speed may be a bit overdue, considering that mobile
searches already have surpassed desktop searches.

"Google has used page speed as a desktop search ranking factor, and it
was long anticipated that it would be a mobile factor," said Greg
Sterling, vice president of the Local Search Association.

"Google is trying to maintain and grow engagement with mobile search,
where its revenue growth is happening," he told the E-Commerce
Times.

Mobile Search Acceleration

Google likely views this adjustment as a way to ensure that it remains the
leader in mobile search, an area it already dominates.

Google accounted for more than 94.4 percent of the mobile search market in the
United States as of last October, according to a recent Statista study.

For businesses, especially those that rely on mobile search, it may
mean that it is time to review the Chrome User Experience Report, and
ensure that everything is being done to lighten the load on sites.

Still, page loading speed shouldn't come at the expense of content, cautioned Pund-IT's King.

"Google says that browsing speed will be just one factor in its search
rankings, and that sites with great information will still rank highly
in mobile searches regardless of their use of AMP technologies," he pointed out.

"The company also noted that desktop browsing will not be affected by
the new ranking strategy," King added.

"That said, if companies want to maximize their exposure
to opportunities among mobile device users, they would do well to
investigate and consider adopting AMP, if they haven't already done
so," he suggested.

The takeaway is that a well-designed, content rich site that loads quickly is going to rank higher.

"Presenting websites that load quickly and create a better overall
user experience will help reinforce mobile search usage," said LSA's Sterling. "It will benefit the consumer and Google both."

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.
Email Peter.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

The Top 20 CRM Blogs of 2017: Countdown, Part 1

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Something very interesting is happening in the world of CRM blogs: CRM is becoming less and less of a subject. Oh, it's in there — it's just being elbowed to the back of the stage by a whole host of other related disciplines and technologies.

Customer experience, customer engagement and content marketing are vying with artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and bots to elbow CRM to the back of the stage. CRM is still back there, though — and it's CRM that glues these disparate trends and market forces together.

So, instead of creating lists of the five top customer experience blogs or the seven top customer technology blogs, we're going to stick with the top 20 list — for now, at least.

Some of those at the top have been there for a very long time. Some toward the bottom and middle are on the list for the very first time. They all share a similar commitment to consistency, quality and attitude that keeps readers coming back, and that makes them important voices for anyone working in the CRM field.

The criteria are simple: You may not be a vendor (though there are good vendor blogs out there), and if you work for one your blog must be vendor-agnostic. You must post at least seven times in the last calendar year, and your primary focus must be on CRM, or at least be what CRM analyst Brent Leary describes as "CRM-ish."

With that established, let's take a look at the list, starting at number 20.

20. Lynn Hunsaker

Sometimes, you just need the facts. Lynn Hunsaker, writing for
CustomerThink, lays out the facts of customer experience in every post. There's usually an introduction, which may touch on a metaphor for the lesson in the blog — and you'd better catch your breath now, because when you get into the meat of her posts there's a lot to digest.

Laid out in an organized, almost scholarly manner, Hunsaker's blogs deliver checklists of best practices that go deep and are very complete, perfect for organizations that want to overhaul their customers' experience efforts or build can't-miss systems for measuring their success.

She also brings the numbers: In one post about customer service and customer loyalty, she argues that you must immerse all employees at all levels in the customers' realities, which is easy to assert. Then, she drops the bomb: A company that has done this — and in the process reduced its time to resolve issues by 89 percent, saw a 288 percent increase in customer lifetime value.

Most of her posts use this tactic: Make an assertion, offer advice based on it, and then use some statistics to show how solid the initial assertion is. Customer experience, marketing operations and understanding how to evaluate success and failure effectively and economically are among the most frequently touched-upon topics.

Posts in 2017: 20

Favorite post:
Preventing Customer Experience Process Silos: 4 Prerequisites

19. Kerry Bodine & Co.

Former Forrester analyst Kerry Bodine brings her expertise on managing the business aspects of delivering customer experiences to her
Kerry Bodine & Co. blog. While it's clear she enjoys talking about the process of journey mapping, and the science of measuring customer sentiment about their experiences, there are some very human things she and occasional contributor Amelia Sizemore have to keep returning to.

Technology will never keep a promise made to a customer — only a human can do that. Technology can never think through the odd things that may go awry for a customer, and prepare for those events in advance to ensure the customer's problem turns into a positive experience — but people can do that.

Bodine describes herself as a designer, but the systems she talks about designing are neither digital nor analog — they're a synthesis of technology and human activities, reflective of the real world.

Too many people talking about customer experience are so touchy-feely businesses can never put their ideas to work; others become so fixated on the technology that their advice loses its humanity and thus has little impact on the customers it is supposed to influence.

Bodine does a great job of bridging the gap, presenting achievable ways to create better experiences for buyers, outlining smart strategies for evaluating how you're doing, and prioritizing the two.

Blog posts in 2017: 42

Favorite post:
Why You Need to Measure Journeys — Not Just Touchpoints

18. Natalie Petouhoff

Natalie Petouhoff, Ph.D., may be a Salesforce VP (and program executive in the Innovation and Transformation Center, to be exact), but
her blog is completely vendor-agnostic, and she assiduously sticks to a purely educational tone.

Roughly half of the posts are from guest bloggers, but this blog is at its best when Petouhoff puts virtual pen to electronic paper. For instance, her story about a program to boost employee development highlights three things: the value of talking to customers (in this case, the company's employees); the need to cater to the emotional needs of the people you're trying to influence; and the value of establishing an ROI number, especially when trying something new that may seem "warm and fuzzy" to an executive who controls the purse strings.

The blog is sprinkled with these sorts of articles — which, in a small number of words, touch upon a collection of interconnected larger points.

You'll need to read with your brain turned to 11 to pick up on all the little lessons mixed into the larger customer experience, business and CRM discussions — what was that? a paragraph on the hazards of group-think in a piece about digital transformation? — but it's worth it. Petouhoff's blogs are fun to read, packed with ideas, and backed up with data.

Posts in 2017: 25

Favorite post:
What's the Number One Thing Today's CEOs Must Do? Do the OODA Loop Faster and More Innovatively

17. Toolbox Tech CRM Blog

Toolbox Tech, the former InsideCRM blog, has been streamlined and cleaned up, resulting in a nifty product that delivered a post for every business day in 2017.

The quality of the posts is still fairly varied, but it's a lot steadier, thanks to writers like Rick Cook, Henry Kaiser and Lewis Robinson — people who have been around the block enough to watch technology history repeat itself.

Until recently, the byline was almost always a cryptic "CRM Desk," as if a piece of furniture were churning out this prolific blog, but the writers are getting the credit now — as they deserve to.

There's none of the rewritten press release posts of last year, either — this is all fresh stuff, and it's written at a level that will be beneficial to all but the most battle-worn CRM practitioners. Your humble reporter started this blog, but he's not being sentimental — the crew at work on it today elevated it to a new level in 2017.

Total posts in 2017: about 270

Favorite post:
Winning the Clean Data Battle

16. Customer Experience Matrix

David Raab's somewhat cryptically named
Customer Experience Matrix (its moniker is taken from a tool he developed to visualize marketing and operational interactions) is the smart person's guide to marketing automation, the changing approaches to marketing, and the various other technology tools that are being pulled into marketing's orbit.

That's a pretty broad swath of stuff, and Raab negotiates it with a seemingly bemused attitude — he may be a serious authority on this stuff, but he does not take himself seriously.

Evidence of that came in a post called "2017 Retrospective: Things I did Not Predict," sort of the opposite of a predictions article, in which he describes eight trends that surprised him.

At times deep in the technical details and at other times up at the level where strategy is discussed, this blog is becoming more readable over time, while also growing more indispensable as a guide to the confusing world of MarTech.

Total posts in 2017: 45

Favorite post:
Amazon Buys Whole Foods. It's Not About Groceries

15. B2B Lead Blog

In the age of customer experience, the pendulum has swung hard toward the customer. The advice is always about being "customer centric," or putting "the customer in the center of everything you do." But your business is still a business, and it needs to do things in order to survive and thrive. How do you achieve a balance?

The
B2B Lead Blog, written by Brian Carroll and others, does a great job of explaining how to address conflicting business and customer needs without seeing them as a zero-sum game.

Yes, you should be hugely empathetic, deliver great value, and build your processes around customers — but only after you've been rigorous about marketing activities, like deciding which customers are going to pay off best for you and focusing on them. This realistic advice is complemented by long-form interviews with marketing leaders with similar outlooks.

Total posts in 2017: 16

Favorite Post:
How to Attract B2B Customers with Amazing Content

14. The Epokonic Blog

Stumped about the possible ramifications of an acquisition in the CRM space? Hit the
Epikonic blog, written by Thomas Wieberneit. He's probably already thought about it, applied his experience as a consultant to the subject, and turned around a 1,000-word post on this blog that provides multiple takes on the subject.

That's not the real strength of this blog, however. Perhaps the most eager-to-learn thought leader I've ever met, Wieberneit also delivers treatises on topics like ambient computing, artificial intelligence and customer service (his comparison of a modern call center to a soccer team — with position players, assignments from a "coach," and scoring the goal of customer satisfaction, for example) demonstrates storytelling ability with an objective in mind.

What frustrates him? Disconnected and fragmented systems that make it impossible to deliver a consistently high-quality experience to customers. The answer: stepping back and understanding that trust, human connection and empowered people are required on both sides of the buying and selling interaction.

Those things, Wieberneit notes, don't require any technology to deliver, and that is part of the point of the blog. Great customer experience is the goal; all the technology that delivers it is merely a tool set for achieving the real goal.

Posts in 2017: (54)

Favorite Post:
Customer Service — How to Turn a Poor Experience into a Positive One

13. CX Journey

In 2017, Annette Franz went from being a thought leader working for someone else to the CEO of her own CX consulting firm. You might think the extra time required to run the show would have sapped her energy for the
CX Journey blog — and if so, you'd be wrong.

Yes, she included some guest posts here and there, but they weren't there to buy her time. Instead, they added to the conversations she already had started. Since CRM (the discipline, not the software) starts with engaged employees, her frequent advice on how to engage, educate and enthuse workers is especially helpful.

Franz's efforts to shed new light on subjects like company culture, change management, and leadership reinforce her view that engaged customers are a result of the efforts of engaged employees.

Lest you think all the advice here is focused inward, there's plenty of push for activities aimed at making the organization more customer-centric: better customer journey mapping, more effective voice-of-the-customer programs and customer communities, for example.

Instead of offering a lot of little point solutions ("collect data about THAT!") as some blogs do, this one takes aim on creating a healthier organization that leads to healthier customer relationships.

Total Posts in 2017: 68

Favorite Post:
How to Engage Employees in Your Customer Experience Strategy

12. Duct Tape Marketing Blog

Not everyone's an ideal target for John Jantsch's long-running and prolific
Duct Tape Marketing blog: It's aimed squarely at the small business. That means you don't get a lot of CRM technology content, or discussions of departmental relationships and organization. Instead, you get plenty of posts about actually doing things — something that small business people need to do to survive, but also something the rest of us can relate to.

There are a lot of podcasts mixed in here (and even some articles about how small businesses can create their own podcasts!) and John has a lot of help from guest writers and interview subjects with some great perspectives.

I particularly like Jay Baer's advice to seek out negative reviews online, because they're an ideal way to discover ways to make your business better.

There's a lot of focus on the customer experience, but also on other things that impact customer relationships — content, public relations, website experience and so on. There's also a healthy dose of advice about back-to-basics sales processes like lead generation, funnel management, and techniques for driving return sales.

There's a lot to digest here — so the blog has a 15-category menu at the bottom, which can help you binge on posts germane to the business issues weighing most heavily on you today. The basics are important — and this blog continues to cover them very well.

Blog posts in 2017: many (format makes an exact count impossible)

Favorite post:
Why Customer Experience is the Key to an Amazing Business

11. Nick Baggott's CRM and Digital Marketing Blog

Writing short is hard. Writing short about complex topics like SEO, content marketing and customer loyalty is really hard. Thus, a tip of the hat to Baggott for managing to get so much valuable advice into his posts, which are to the point and leave you plenty of time to think about how to apply his ideas.

Some are fairly common sense — content marketing and SEO go hand in hand! — but need reinforcement. Others, like his post about dealing with negative social media comments, are much more in depth and tackle topics that worry many small businesses, but for which there's little practical and actionable advice available.

He also mixes in essays about things like marketing in developing countries, which gives him a chance to go back to the basics — even without a ton of technology, the ideas are the same. Baggott is a helpful voice who provides a useful foundation for professionals toiling away on the marketing side of the CRM equation.

Posts in 2017: 17

Favorite post:
How to Improve Your Influencer Marketing

Top 20 CRM Blogs of 2017: Countdown, Part 2


Chris Bucholtz has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2009. His focus is on CRM, sales and marketing software, and the interface between people and technology. A noted speaker and author, Chris has covered the CRM space for 10 years.
Email Chris.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

Feds to Ramp Up Online Purchasing Presence

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Online retail has been booming, with consumers flocking to the Internet to shop for almost anything. Online retail revenues in the U.S. would reach a projected US$445 billion in 2017 and jump to $600 billion by 2020, according to a report FTI Consulting released last fall.

The U.S. government has begun developing a program that would allow agencies to utilize e-commerce portals for purchases of commercial off the shelf (COTS) products.

The program could impact e-commerce in two significant ways.

First, it could provide a major boost to Internet marketing in general by putting a huge amount of federal government purchases in play for online procurement versus standard paper and contract-based purchasing. For example, office supplies could be acquired via Amazon, suggested Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, a key supporter of the program. However, other early reactions to the idea reflect concerns about concentrating federal e-commerce with a dominant provider.

Second, it could affect the way information technology providers market their offerings to federal agencies. It appears that government e-commerce purchasing eventually could include IT offerings, but a number of federal requirements would have to be addressed before any substantial volume of IT business would move through a digital procurement channel.

How the Program Would Work

The federal General Services Administration has begun developing the e-commerce purchasing program in conjunction with the White House Office of Management and Budget. GSA was directed to implement the system through a provision of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which became law last month.

As originally proposed by Thornberry, the program was limited to the Defense Department, but the NDAA expanded it to cover all federal agencies — both military and civilian. Government-wide spending for commercially available products and services amounts to more than $50 billion per year, according to GSA estimates.

The law stipulates that federal e-commerce purchasing be phased in through several steps. While program development could extend into 2020, the first phase already is under way and must be completed this March.

In the first phase, GSA is required to create an implementation plan and a schedule for launching the online marketplace program. Within a year of implementing the first phase, GSA must prepare recommendations for any changes or exemptions to existing laws that would be necessary for making the online program operational. Lastly, OMB and GSA must create guidance for the program within a year of implementing phase two.

GSA has been making a major effort to obtain input from the private sector during the program development process. The agency conducted a town meeting forum earlier this month. During the NDAA enactment process, drafts of the e-commerce proposal changed significantly, partly as a result of comments from private sector parties who were asked for feedback by congressional staff.

For example, the Coalition on Public Procurement provided a background paper contending that the draft under consideration last fall embodied "the most consequential procurement policy change in a generation." The draft language would result "in only one or two providers" having "the capability and potential regulatory compliance" to be selected as an e-commerce portal, the coalition cautioned. "Thus, the proposal could result in monopoly or duopoly control over access to the federal market for commercial items."

Law Requires Competitive Platforms

The final version enacted into law addresses that issue. The law "makes clear that GSA must enter multiple contracts with multiple commercial e-commerce portal providers, thereby allaying fears that the bill could lead to a monopolistic online marketplace provider capturing a substantial portion of the government's needs," according to a commentary by Holland and Knight attorneys Robert Tompkins and Ronald Perry.

In addition, the law specifies that all existing laws, including federal procurement restrictions, apply to the online marketplace program.

"GSA therefore will have to enter contracts with commercial e-commerce portals through full and open competition," Tompkins and Perry observed.

At the GSA forum, attendees presented various ideas for constructing a federal e-commerce acquisition program.

"One model that was discussed would require a portal provider to contract with GSA to provide an online interface. Under this approach, suppliers would then sign up to use the portal, potentially via a contract with the portal provider. Next, government purchasers would select suppliers from the portal, entering prime contracts with suppliers directly," wrote Susan Cassidy, a partner at law firm Covington and Burling, in an online post.

Another approach would require online portal providers to sell directly to the government, providing a user interface for online purchases and the end items of supply, she noted.

"Consistent with the text of the statute," numerous attendees said that multiple online portals would "encourage competition among a larger pool of potential contractors and deliver better value to the government," Cassidy said.

"It is still very early in the process, and it was clear at the industry day that GSA has many questions to answer and decisions to make," said Eminence Griffin, director of federal procurement at the
Information Technology Industry Council.

"That being said, we continue to advocate for adequate competition for the marketplace contracts and a level playing field for government e-commerce sites as well as guidance on how this will impact supply chain and cybersecurity requirements," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Tricky E-Commerce Landscape

Despite the scope of commercial off the shelf products involved in the GSA program, it is not related to a different federal effort to utilize commercial off the shelf software, Griffin noted.

"For COTS software, that generally means shrink-wrapped software, which is not often a candidate for government software needs," she said.

"At the federal level, the focus is usually commercial software solutions for large institutions. We don't see substantial changes to the market for COTS software, and this statute has no impact on the acquisition of commercial software," Griffin explained.

"While part of the first two phases of implementation will involve determining what products — or types of products — are appropriate for the government to purchase through digital marketplaces, we believe the government will start with simple items that don't require configuration," said Steve Charles, founder of
immixGroup.

"This could exclude laptops, for example, because the government requires its own software install," he told the E-Commerce Times.

It appears that use of the e-commerce program for procurement faces numerous hurdles, when it comes to commercial off the shelf software.

"We view COTS as any software that is commonly sold in substantial quantities to the general public, such as individual consumers and commercial enterprises and companies," Charles said.

However, "the acquisition of software is quite unlike buying paper towels or paper clips. For instance, there are additional terms such as software license agreements, that must be reviewed and agreed upon," he pointed out.

"In the government's case, only a warranted contracting officer can bind the government. Whereas, when a consumer could simply click 'agree,' the government cannot," Charles said.

Other factors, such as integration services or the use of cloud associated software, also would have to be addressed when considering the use of online platforms for software procurement.

The situation can get even more complicated in the case of software resellers. The potential impact there "is getting cut out of the government's supply chain if just any third-party reseller is allowed to place products on e-commerce portals without authorization from the OEMs," Charles noted.

"A critical factor is that only resellers that have been authorized by and have a relationship with the OEM can stand behind a warranty and guarantee to deliver only genuine products," noted Jeff Ellinport, division counsel at immixGroup.

Furthermore, reseller arrangements can often involve multiple intermediaries.

"Only OEM authorized entities should be able to place an OEM's products for sale on a portal," Ellinport told the E-Commerce Times, "and the portal should then be required to validate that such entity is authorized to resell the OEM's products."


John K. Higgins has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2009. His main areas of focus are U.S. government technology issues such as IT contracting, cybersecurity, privacy, cloud technology, big data and e-commerce regulation. As a freelance journalist and career business writer, he has written for numerous publications, including
The Corps Report and Business Week.
Email John.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

Don’t Discount the Business Power of Emotions

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What accounts for the amazing success of Apple and Starbucks? They both connect with users on an emotional level. This "secret" is evident to anyone who looks closely, and you can apply it to succeed with your own company and improve your own life.

Apple was a struggling computer maker until the 1990s, when Steve Jobs returned. Jobs connected with the user base in a new way. Customers loved him — he created an emotional connection with the company.

That emotional connection helped Apple grow rapidly, even with several missteps along the way. The iPod, iPhone, iPad and more have lulled users into a comfortable cocoon that has been pretty much bulletproof, so far.

Ties vs. Turtlenecks

Think of how Apple compares to Microsoft. Microsoft is more like IBM. Perhaps its employees don't wear suits, white shirts and ties, but that's no longer true at IBM either. Still, the analogy holds: Microsoft is a large and powerful company, but without emotion.

On the other hand, Apple has more of a hippie persona — you know, Apple employees are warm-hearted folks sporting jeans and flip flops, and wanting to save the world. Yes, Apple is run by smart business people, but the company's brand oozes emotion. Terms like "love" seem to apply to Apple, not Microsoft.

Starbucks is another example. Its customers get a warm and fuzzy feeling going to their favorite coffee shop. There are many other companies that fit the Apple and Starbucks model. Appealing to emotions is a winning model.

When companies succeed in getting their customers to fall in love with them, they win loyalty. Even when the company makes a mistake, its customers don't run to competitors. Instead, they give them the time and room they need to fix their problems. Loving a company lets customers forgive the occasional screw-up, and every company screws up from time to time.

Staying Power

Apple has survived problems in the last decade what would have sunk other companies. Remember antenna-gate several years ago? Now it is dealing with battery-gate. I predict Apple will get past this new problem as well, simply because its users love the company — and love is the key.

Apple and Starbucks each filled an emotional need that previously had not been addressed. I am not suggesting these companies don't make mistakes — they make plenty. However, their customers don't leave, due to the emotional connection.

If you can focus on making strong emotional connections in your company, as well as in your professional life and your personal life, you may find yourself on the same winning wave as Apple and Starbucks. It's worth some consideration.


Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent
analyst, consultant and speaker.
Email Jeff.

Original Article