Designing and Evaluating Digital Strategies: Event Recap from CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit 2016

With an ever-increasing number of brands experimenting with m-commerce, location-based marketing, internet of things and other digital initiatives, how to evaluate the success of a new digital strategy was a central theme of CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit 2016, which took place in Chicago on 15-17 August 2016. At this event, speakers, panellists and attendees from across the retail, restaurant and tech landscape exchanged suggestions and cautions on potential pitfalls for choosing an effective digital strategy and how to know if it is working.

Defining success…

A running theme throughout the summit was the idea that all retailers and foodservice operators should be looking for opportunities to leverage technology. That said, a point that came up repeatedly throughout the session, particularly from speakers from more established companies, was the idea that the definition of a successful strategy would vary from company to company and, more specifically, from consumer to consumer, and would avoid innovating for the sake of innovating. Rather, innovation should happen as part of a strategy to improve the consumer’s overall experience. In a session titled “Real-Life Applications of Internet of Things” (IoT), expert Jessica Groopman recommended that brands ask themselves what they would do to become the obvious choice for consumers if technological limitations were not an issue, and then design a strategy and incorporate any necessary innovations around those answers.

Senior vice president of Walmart Services Daniel Eckert explained in a session titled “Lessons Learned from the Launch of Walmart Pay in 4,600 Stores” that the idea of Walmart Pay, a proximity-based mobile payment platform, has its origins in a similar exercise. Eckert explained that Walmart Pay, recently rolled out to Walmart locations in the US, originally came about as part of an initiative to improve the overall check-out experience. While it ended up involving the development of a proprietary proximity payment programme, Walmart Pay is meant to serve the overarching goal of making the check-out experience faster. This fits the needs of Walmart consumers, who Eckert explained increasingly view time as a new currency.

… and recognising it

Once a brand identifies its overarching goal, it can determine the best metrics for measuring progress towards that objective. Mobile technology provides a lot of information about consumers to brands, and there is a temptation to collect as much data as possible to use to evaluate the effectiveness of digital strategies. Several panellists, however, cautioned against the approach of gathering all possible data. Mark Tan, senior product manager at Amazon, for example, raised the point that it may be more effective to think carefully about what combination of numbers would yield sensible insights in a panel called “Best-In-Class Mobile Experience”. It is also important to keep in mind that different goals – such as building awareness of a service versus building engagement with repeat customers – should have different evaluation metrics.

What’s next?

A theme that emerged over the course of the conference was that mobile strategies are becoming increasingly viewed as part of an overall digital strategy, rather than as an objective of their own. With applications of new technologies emerging in the retail and restaurant space, brands increasingly need to think bigger than just the phone. Tan went so far as to make the claim that the smartphone has peaked. Referencing the fact that wearables have not caught on with consumers the same way smartphones did, Tan cited VR as a new technology to watch for applications in retail.

Panellists in the “Real-Life Applications of Internet of Things” panel also highlighted the importance of incorporating IoT into corporate strategies. Senior vice president of business development at ROC-Connect Kevin Meagher identified Amazon along with home improvement retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s as early winners with IoT, largely because these retailers were the first to see the risks of IoT companies cutting retailers out of the relationship between manufacturers and consumers. VR, IoT and other emerging technologies, including bots, all represent both new tools and new challenges.

Clearly, the breadth of technologies available to retailers and restaurants will only continue to increase in the years to come. Having a clear understanding of what consumers want from a brand and a vision of what has the potential to improve the customer experience will be key to implementing technology effectively, rather than introducing technology for the sake of technology. The most effective retailers will have a clear objective, choose their indicators accordingly, and be open-minded about how new technologies may be able to better serve their customers.