E-Commerce Times

There May Be Gold in Them Thar Podcasts

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User engagement with podcasts has been steadily increasing, and many listeners actually prefer longer-format content, based on results of Apple's Podcast Analytics reported this week. The service, which Apple launched late last year, gives podcasters a way to track performance metrics including number of listeners, total time listened and time per device.

The audience for podcasts has increased as content has become more specialized in nature, the analytics show. Listeners engage with podcasts for much longer periods than with other types of online content, which tends to be shorter.

Audience Increase

Podcasts have been around for nearly 15 years. Originally they were radio-like programming that could be downloaded for later playback on Apple's iPod. Today listeners can access podcasts on a plethora of devices.

The popularity of podcasts in a way mirrors the adoption of radio in the 1920s, as it took time for enough devices to be on the market for there to be a sizeable audience.

"The answer to the popularity today of podcasts lies in the fact that they have been around for a long time, and that it took time to catch on," said Greg Sterling, vice president of the Local Search Association.

"Part of this is timing, as people have embraced streaming media in audio and video," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"This plays into the ability to choose when and where and even how to listen to the content," added Sterling.

"The explosion of smart speakers is also playing into this as well," he pointed out.

"The podcast industry has been silently riding the wave of smartphone adoption over the last decade, and it's been a good thing for the artists and businesses in the industry," noted Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.

"After riding the rollercoaster of VC hype in the early 2000s, the industry settled into the long haul of building awareness, trial, and finally audiences," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Flexibility and Specialized Content

As a radio alternative, podcasts have other benefits. One key factor is that they can be downloaded for playback at a user's convenience, unlike traditional radio programming.

"People suffering longer commutes started to explore the different types of content available on the pocket-sized multitool media devices they carried around 24×7," recalled Crandall. "Bluetooth and USB connectivity to audio systems in cars enabled more people to listen to podcasts more easily."

Podcasts are akin to "narrow casting" — reaching smaller audiences than typical radio broadcasts.

"Podcasts are suddenly hot because now more mainstream media celebrities are podcasting," said sales and marketing technology coach
Phil Gerbyshak.

Examples include the multitude of podcasts NPR puts out, he told the E-Commerce Times. "They're very well done, and they have helped bring podcasting into the mainstream."

In addition, radio shows such as Radiolab and This American Life have utilized podcasts to expand their reach through podcasts without too much effort, noted Netpop Research's Crandall.

"Add to this evolution the celebrity podcast performances of
Barack Obama on WTF, and people finally took notice," said Crandall.

"Curious people found niche programming available on podcasts that enabled them to learn, laugh, or simply lean back during their boring commutes," he added. "It was just a matter of time that the trickle of listeners would become sufficient for businesses, producers and artists to begin to reap what they have sown."

Longer-Form Content

Where podcasts also differ from radio and much of traditional online content is in length. Text-based stories online tend to be concise, and even videos on streaming services such as YouTube favor the less-is-more model. Podcasts have broken from that formula, however.

"There is the ability to deliver niche content that drives longer-form programming," said Jake Shapiro, CEO of podcast aggregator

"Podcasts are something that is good for driving, exercising, walking the dog or washing the dishes," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"This content works well in the connected car where it can be streamed from a USB device or smartphone, or in the home via a connected device," he noted.

"Most people probably don't even consider the length, and while this is long-form content, it is much like listening to the radio," LSA's Sterling observed.

"What makes this content different is that the host and personalities can be very engaging, and podcasts can be habit forming, where audiences listen all the way through — something that doesn't always happen with publishing on the Web," said Shapiro. "

Directed Advertising

The analytics findings should come as good news to advertisers, who have faced increased fragmentation from traditional delivery challenges in recent years.

Podcasts could have the potential to reach target audiences in a way that radio and other broadcast mediums have been unable to accomplish.

"Many podcasts are sponsored already so there is that opportunity. That is straight-up advertising. But companies can also create podcasts that are relevant to them," suggested Sterling.

"We could see a company like Expedia, for example, create podcasts on places to go, things to see, and ways to get there, and make the podcasts all around travel," he suggested.

"They (Expedia) could generate it and get placement where the content is tied into their websites," Sterling noted.

The challenge is that it would have to be meaningful content that would engage users.

"There are many times that marketers have a great idea but don't have the commitment to build it so that it connects with the audience," said Sterling.

"Content that is created by brands is already an evolution of this," noted Shapiro.

"It is primitive right now — but done right, this can allow advertisers to reach the niche audiences that have been largely unreachable by other means," Shapiro maintained.

The idea could be taken even further.

"Companies can use podcasts as advertisements — not only by advertising on a podcast, but by creating a podcast that highlights people using and enjoying their products or services, and by telling their story on other podcasts as guests," suggested Gerbyshak.

"When done well, advertising is content — content that people want to listen to that drives awareness and revenue," he said.

The issue could be one of value. The Super Bowl is the rare event during which the commercials sometimes outshine the programming.

"You have to make something interesting," Sterling said. "In the end, building a podcast audience is a commitment. It is not something that is "just going to happen tomorrow."

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.

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E-Commerce Times

Business Process Solutions Revisited

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The IT industry has been playing whack-a-mole since its inception. We've been applying sophisticated technology to our biggest business problems not once but repeatedly, as each new generation of technology offers and delivers order-of-magnitude improvements to our business processes. In some cases, we're on our fourth or fifth iteration of solutions.

For instance, about 25 years ago most business processes were manual. Customer interactions often involved paper documents. Document management systems came along at the end of the last century to automate documents by storing them for quick retrieval. The improvements saved businesses millions of dollars in overhead, and the problem was deemed solved.

However, automating a document (a very good idea) is not the same as automating the process that the document participates in. For many businesses, modern document storage and retrieval supports manual business processes. Those businesses still spend a lot on printing documents and manually or semi-manually routing them around the building or throughout the customer base.

A Different Problem

Today, businesses looking to tackle business process automation are investigating ways to keep documents from being printed even as they circulate.

That's a different problem from the earlier one defined by storage. It wasn't even visible when document automation was thought to be the key need. If you manage business processes that still use lots of paper and printing, welcome to your personal edition of whack-a-mole.

Today's edition of the problem comes with an especially menacing complication. Many CIOs would love the chance to streamline their document dependent processes and the ROI for most of them is readily apparent in avoiding the costs of paper, printing and better customer engagement. However, with upwards of 80 percent of their budgets, on average, dedicated to keeping the lights on, it's hard to grab even the low-hanging fruit if it means a purchase.

You can find the lowest of the low-hanging fruit not in some exotic business processes but in the every day customer administration that organizations spend so much time in. From professional services to healthcare to finance, opportunity is easy to spot in any business that produces a custom or semi-custom product or service directly to customers.

Advancing regulation also plays a role increasing the amount of paper documents involved even in routine processes. So the problem is not getting better, and whack-a-mole is really just a feeble attempt to keep it from getting worse.

The solution to this dilemma may be as simple as changing software vendors. The original document automation vendors may not have an incentive to change their business models or their products to address the new reality. They've defined solutions to "document management problems," but in an era that needs business process solutions, their models and technologies may be a bad fit.

What to Do

If any of this feels familiar, there's a lot you can do. First, look for process solutions that avoid putting documents back on paper, for example, to capture a signature. Signature capture is one of the easiest processes to automate with modern software.

Also, consider what's in your documents. Are people still reading them on multiple occasions to understand what promises and commitments your company made that need to be implemented? Or are there customer commitments buried in physical documents that indicate future purchases? Paying people to read documents is expensive and unnecessary.

Business process solutions, unlike document management solutions, can capture data from documents and feed it to analytics engines. The resulting information might drive an ROI many times greater than the cost savings from simply automating the storage and retrieval of documents.

My Two Cents

As good as document automation solutions were 20 years ago, the business need has changed, and many vintage systems show their age today. Automating document-based business processes can in many cases offer attractive ROIs that even budget-constrained organizations will benefit from.

The key to all of this might be in how we frame the business problem. Is it the same document problem your business fixed decades ago, or did time and circumstances change the need to something greater? A new generation of solutions based on more modern demands can provide order-of-magnitude improvements. The first step may be to evaluate the problem with fresh eyes.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there.
Email Denis.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

3 Reasons Your E-Commerce Biz Should Have a Blog

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Blogging might seem a difficult task to many e-commerce retailers, but the effort you put into it likely will pay off. With some forethought and commitment, blogging can become part of your overall strategy for e-commerce success.

If you're still on the fence, here are three reasons to consider getting started with a blog.

1. Improve Your SEO

It's a fact that having high-quality, frequently-refreshed content improves search engine rankings, and there's no better way to achieve that goal than through blogging. Blogging is all about regularly generating and posting new content, and it's far more effective at getting your business to show up in searches than a static sales site.

"Blogs are an essential piece of a thriving SEO strategy," said Allison Lobelson, president of
Fearless Ideas.

"Search engines prioritize valuable content, and the more authentic and relevant the content is, the better," she to the E-Commerce Times. "Search engines also prioritize websites with fresh content, so the more you post, the bigger the trigger to search engines like Google that your site is active, and your organic search ranking will improve."

Because of its direct effects on search engine rankings, blogging can be seen both as part of your content strategy and part of your marketing plan.

"Google has long said that publishing original, high-quality content on a consistent basis is one of the most powerful factors when determining search engine rankings," said digital marketing mentor
Shaun Nestor.

"In the cutthroat e-commerce environment, any retailer needs to look at their marketing strategy to ensure content creation — blogging — is a priority," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Effective blogging is not a matter of throwing up just any content, however. To truly improve SEO, experts emphasize that it needs to be content that is both valuable and unique.

"Publishing quality content is a good way to improve your presence in online searches," observed
Elaine Pofeldt, a content marketing consultant and author of
The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business.

"The key word here is quality, she told the E-Commerce Times. "Simply touting your merchandise doesn't cut it. Focus on publishing entertaining, timely and useful information."

In addition to boosting initial search engine rankings, blogs can have the secondary effect — as people share your content — of pushing your site into the broader digital ecosystem.

"Blogs, if they are actually interesting, can drive links and social media mentions back to your site, which also helps with your search rankings," said Krista Neher, CEO of
Boot Camp Digital.

2. Connect With Your Customers

People might be visiting your site to shop, but before they spend anything, they're likely to look around and engage with some of the content first — and that includes reading your blog. It's at that point that you have the opportunity to earn their trust and respect, and perhaps transform them from one-time shoppers into long-term customers.

"When it comes to shopping, many people like to buy from a real person, as opposed to a giant company," said Pofeldt. "A blog is a great place to share who you are with your customers and start a dialogue with them. And it can give you something to share on social media beyond your latest discounts."

Blogs help to make a human connection that will appeal to existing and potential customers alike. Blog content also is readily shareable on social media, thus furthering your reach even more.

"You can only talk about your products so often — or, you can talk about them a lot, but people might get bored," Neher told the E-Commerce Times. "A blog allows you to use social media to drive traffic to your site beyond your product pages."

3. Highlight Your Expertise

You're in the business you're in because you know a lot about it, so you might as well feature some of that knowledge in the form of a blog. Having a well-researched, well-written blog can establish your company as a source of expert information, and in the process you'll attract people who might not yet realize they need your products or services.

"Blogs are the platform for thought leadership," said Lobelson. "Your blog is the ultimate place where you can share expert tips and best practices, and provide your company's thoughts and perspectives on growing or dying trends in your industry."

Sharing knowledge and information ultimately can be something that sets your site apart from larger, better-known brands, since you're providing valuable content that people might not be able to find elsewhere.

"It is next to impossible for small and midsize e-commerce businesses to compete with big players such as Amazon on price, so to keep customers coming back, they need to differentiate themselves," said Pofeldt. "One way to do that is to highlight your expertise in a blog. If you are carefully curating your products based on specialized knowledge about them and share your knowledge in an interesting way in your blog, many customers will appreciate that."

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety
of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.
Email Vivian.

Original Article