Allen Weiner

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Allen Weiner
Research VP
7 years at Gartner
23 years IT industry

Allen Weiner shares insights on how to monetize digital marketing through commerce. His focus on “Commerce Everywhere” provides perspective on how social, mobile, search and emerging channels can be tapped to improve customer experiences and drive business results … Read Full Bio

Curated Commerce and the Wisdom of Supply-Side Personalization

by Allen Weiner  |  May 1, 2014  |  2 Comments

Who among us does not enjoy the delight of unboxing? Your friendly parcel delivery person (or drone, as the case may be), leaves your package by the door and you delight in gently taking it apart or (as the case may be) ripping the cardboard to shreds with a serrated hunting knife. Inside is the thing-a-ma-jig you’ve ordered (free shipping, of course) but wait…there’s something unexpected. Once you realize the extra item is a free gift, your curiosity takes over and you unearth a cool surprise that leads you to say, “How did they know?”

In a data-driven age where digital commerce experiences are guided by gobs of granular behavioral information, I put forth the notion the most captivating part of a personalized digital commerce experience is serendipity. An unexpected treasure guided by a robust blend of consumer information and clever curation is a winning formula that applies to online merchants from the megastores to mom and pop operations. “I know what you want but am going to take you somewhere unexpected,” should be more than a line from a hit country song; it should be the mantra for digital marketers looking for an edge in commerce.

If you have not been following the latest in culinary commerce, subscription boxes in which your gourmet cravings are satisfied each month with cookies, pickles, whiskey or an array of healthy snacks, are a hot commodity. A new take on the venerable “Fruit of the Month Club,” (Harry & David’s 1936 innovation), with a contemporary, digital twist can be seen in Mouth (pickles, sweets, etc..), Pastoral Cheese Club, Craft Coffee and others who boast a wide assortment of difficult-to-find, expertly tested wares as well as the stowaway surprise that comes in the monthly box. The scenario goes like this: You like pickles? It’s a good bet (based on our data about your buying habits), you also like craft beer. Just for being a loyal club member, here’s a trial size of the latest seasonal ale. You like the brew? — We have plenty more where that came from. Here’s a coupon for $10 off your membership to our new craft beer club.

Supply-side, content-rich, curated commerce is a key driver to this new wave of subscription-based merchants but the lessons from this segment have practical application to all areas of digital commerce. Consider these points:

• Serendipity: You want to surprise and delight your customer, but stay within the boundaries of your product category. It would be unwise to add a sample of the latest elk jerky to a box intended for members of your “Hair Brush of the Month Club.”
• Be Smart with Data: You can elevate your monthly extras to an art form using your customer data to create offers for products that appeal to your target demographics. If you are a purveyor of men’s neckties, start off with a sample size of high-end cologne in your delivery. Include a coupon for an initial purchase and carefully track the response.
• Content: The vast majority of subscription commerce sites boast powerful visual elements as well as well-written product descriptions that include a consistent personal narrative—we tried this product and liked it, so we’re passing it along to you. A number of these specialty digital retailers, such as the aforementioned Mouth, extend their customer relationship with content in the form of digital or print publications.

Personalization has become a term, whose meaning has become obscured with an overdose of finger-in-the-wind theories, and greater reliance on endless surveys more than common sense. Any salesman who lives on commission knows that personalizing a shopping experience by having detailed knowledge of a product line and suggesting the right shoes that go with a pinstripe suit is just smart (and potentially lucrative). Those same principles apply to digital commerce—the carefully crafted personal touch creates loyalty. And profits.

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Digital Marketers: Who Is Decorating Your Store Window?

by Allen Weiner  |  March 28, 2014  |  4 Comments

The first real pop culture reference to store window design (that I can recall) was in the late ‘70s TV show, “Rhoda,” in which Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend/neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern worked as a window decorator at a local Minneapolis department store. She was known for her bold designs which eventually led her to a job decorating department store windows in Manhattan. Even today, with all the froth around visual online excellence and its role in digital commerce, nothing has taken the place of the drawing power and impact of a beautifully draped store window.

I draw you attention to what is, in my opinion, one of the consistently best window displays around: the ever-changing, attention-getting one at Selfridges & Co. on Oxford Street in London. Selfridges’ windows do more than draw attention with their exquisite, offbeat visual simplicity, they encourage you to enter the store and continue your experience across their many specialty departments. The window display works because even with its detail and sophistication, passersby immediately get the message: its spring, come buy yourself a new dress and your mum Easter lilies. Contrast this with a visual experience that offers art yet confuses the buying message, resulting in little more than sour eye candy.

Going one step further, Selfridges carries its theme of a snappy yet directed design to its website. Right up front—the 50 top spring dresses, curated by the store’s buyers with the ability for a shopper to customize her choices by designer, color, size and price. Without knowing the particulars of Selfridges’ digital commerce strategy, my hunch is returning shoppers are greeted with personalized recommendations based on previous purchases and personal shopping data. In addition, the British retailer wisely knows the value of personalized delivery options and promotes its “click and collect” program (more common in the UK than in the U.S.) on its landing page. Such a tactic will encourage customers to head to Oxford Street (or other location) and be tempted to find more things to add to their carts.

Digital marketing pundits are quick to point out how bricks and mortar retailers need to adapt to a connected, social, always-on, always-social world of mobile consumers. Looking at the best practice of a world-renown retailer, such as Selfridges, and taking those lessons as an approach to improve the design and impact of a digital commerce campaign proves that older dogs can still teach digital pups a thing or two.

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Digital Commerce and The Internet of Things

by Allen Weiner  |  March 6, 2014  |  3 Comments

Let me start off my stating how little I like the term “Internet of Things.” My take is that this phrase—which represents the grand concept of using IP technology to link together associated products to facilitate a behavior or action—overhypes yet undersells the promise in a connected world. It’s a brilliant idea whose time is now, but turning it into a market wide technology panacea sets it up to fall short of wild expectations. As I jokingly discussed with a colleague at last year’s Gartner Symposium, this IoT deal has been around since the ‘90s when telemetry was used to let the local Coke bottler know when a dorm’s soda machine was out of caffeine-laden goodness. IoT circa 2014, however, has greater buy-in from more constituencies—indeed, entire ecosystems—than that these first iterations and those with any sort of future vision can see its manifest destiny.

Sure, there are all sorts of Thingy applications that can better the greater good—from controlling traffic flow using in-car signals and roadside sensors to monitoring your home’s energy remotely to save money and lessen the burden on the local grid—but it’s the commerce Things that catch my eye. Case in point, the GE Social Fridge, which will be on display at the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) which is held this week and next in my adopted home town of Austin, TX. The fridge opens to offer beer and soda to passersby only after 10 people have checked in via Foursquare. A simple yet thought-provoking way for retailers to create in-store excitement and engagement as they marry Social Things with Crowds/Mobs to build cool, commerce promotions. Taking the fridge example to its next level: after 10 people check in, uncap your beer or soft drink to enter a contest for your own IP/sensor-driven fridge. Also, that cap could include a coupon off our next purchase of Shiner Beer or Jones Soda. Now, we’re talking cross-promotion.

Let’s look at the bigger picture that rests at the intersection of Things and Commerce. Let’s stay with the fridge and overlay the world of predicative analytics and commerce. Amazon, among others, hope to use predictive analytics to pinpoint and plan for customer demand for products and services. If my fridge sensor realized I was running short of eggs, a message could be sent to my local grocery store to deliver a dozen to my home. Perhaps a subtle notification to that same grocery store which could allow that merchant to understand my egg consumption pattern so it could maintain a more precise inventory of goods based on the collective needs of its customers.

Digital marketers are faced with the need to have a vision that looks at the past, the today and the tomorrow. The past and present represent fuel to drive today’s campaigns but the future offers excitement that not only inspire cool ideas but ensure ongoing relevance to your peers and your customers.

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Raising Digital Marketers Content Management IQ

by Allen Weiner  |  February 28, 2014  |  2 Comments

For those who missed it, I encourage you to listen to the replay of my Gartner Webinar (subscription required) on the role content management plays in developing a winning digital marketing content strategy. The session stresses the importance of understanding how content marketing, content management and curation fit together for brands and digital marketers. As I said in the webinar, it’s important to know how the sausage is made even if you never plan on making your own sausage by hand. Understanding the fundamentals is a key to working with providers and other third parties as well as raising your content marketing IQ.

We had a number of terrific questions. If you have one, share in the comment box below.

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In Content Marketing, It’s Where You Stand That Matters

by Allen Weiner  |  February 18, 2014  |  2 Comments

A year ago, putting our professional heads together, my colleague Jake Sorofman and I began exploring (what was then) the nascent world of content marketing. Without a roadmap to predict where it was heading, we focused on such elemental advice as encouraging marketers to “think like publishers” (subscription required) and other similar blockings and tackling pointers. Jake’s background as a CMO and mine as a media sort allowed us to converge our thinking to provide some baseline thinking about content marketing as well as some vision to possible industry trajectories.

As I sift through the countless reflections and predictions that emerge from commercial advisors as well as the everyman blogosphere, the consensus is that content marketing remains a work in progress and that one of the biggest priorities should be the integrate content marketing into an overall business strategy. A few pundits echo/recycle our thought that marketers need to think like publishers. But, one year later, I am not so sure that’s sound advice. More on that a few paragraphs down the road.

For 2014, Jake and I are emphasizing ROI, measurement, ties to digital commerce (yes, that’s part of ROI) and I’d like to re-emphasize the value of opinion or point of view. A sustainable stream of dissociated pictures, posts, Tweets, videos and quips may be vital to a content marketing strategy, but as a homogenized flow of meaningless chum its impact on consumers is trivial at best. Aligning your assets around a point of view, stance on an issue of the day (hopefully related to your industry) or opinion goes much further to create stickiness and virality. This is not to suggest digital marketers should create controversy for the sake of getting attention, the point here is that themes and memes that actually stand for something will help a brand or marketers get its point across far better than bland, vanilla-tasting content.

And who should be taking the lead in creating these topical torrents? My sense is that hiring a journalist could have value as your develop your initial editorial workflow and discipline, but in order to develop powerful points of views that echo genuine brand resonance, that voice will need to come from someone on the front line. Someone who has a lot of skin in the game and someone who has touched customers in various settings and someone whose words are more than empty slogans and promises.

I can guarantee your brand has at least one such person. Finding him or her and encouraging them to add their voice to your content marketing efforts might take some convincing, but the end result will be worth it.

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What’s The Big Deal About Commerce Experiences?

by Allen Weiner  |  February 14, 2014  |  1 Comment

With the trumped-up hullabaloo around the golden anniversary of the Beatles performance on the iconic “Ed Sullivan Show,” I have to show my age in a word association game that reflects my topic du jour. When I think of the word “experience,” which is thrown around in digital marketing circles without any regard to meaning or context, I see the image of Jimi Hendrix (with band mates) on the bright yellow album cover for “Are Your Experienced?” While I have always thought I understood Hendrix’s application of term, I am intrigued by what digital marketers mean when they refer to “experiences,” especially as they relate to commerce.

Perhaps millennial and others in desirable target demos delight over layer upon layer of meandering distraction as they click about their favorite online shopping site. At issue would be creating a path that focuses more on edutainment and neglects the injection of transaction opportunities within the experience. Is this a case of consumers wanting to navigate from review to video to rating to product description to purchase contemplation or digital marketers thinking that’s what consumers want? Or, is it a case of digital marketers feeling to need to implement every techno-social trend that passes through their RSS inbox? My days of face-to-face selling gives me pause the recall that you never want to give a customer the time to change his mind which is what led to the time-honored saying: capture the hot lead. While pouring information into the buying journey empowers a customer to make informed decision, I offer the argument that it might be more efficient for digital marketers to avoid overly complex and often trying/annoying…experience. Context and driving a buying journey across channels should be paramount.

My favorite part of shopping on Amazon is the one-click purchase. That feature plays to my limited attention span and the fact that, like many others, I have done my research about a product or service in a totally separate and unrelated part of this transaction. As such, digital marketers must truly broaden their thinking about buying journeys and commerce experiences. These activities are rarely linear; don’t follow any sort of funnel metaphor and result in individual, personalized purchase maps that defy broad categorization. The bottom line states that in their breathless pursuit of creating “commerce experiences,” digital marketers should never lose sight of their endgame: Always Be Selling.

To create powerful, compelling commerce experiences I urge digital marketers to adopt the full range of big data possibilities to ensure you deliver the right experience to the right consumer. I also encourage marketers to follow the lead of The New York Times who just hired a data scientist to turbo-charge its use of big data. Such moves will take you away from thinking less about one-size-fits-all experience peddlers and more of creating a value-added event like a personal tour guide: I want to get from Philadelphia to New York quickly—send me on the turnpike. My friend likes the scenic route; send him along Route 1 where he can enjoy leaf peeping and all the stop lights. I’ll wait for him when I arrive at my destination.

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Selecting the Right Digital Commerce Manager

by Allen Weiner  |  February 12, 2014  |  1 Comment

Not to sound boastful, but while the Polar Vortex cripples much of the U.S., here in Arizona we’re looking at unseasonably warm temperatures reaching 90 degrees. This only matters as the annual rite of late February approaches—a time when young men who have labored their entire lives to perfect the skills of pitching, hitting, fielding and running head for the desert in hopes of playing in the Major Leagues.

Spring Training 2014: around these parts, we call it the Cactus League.

In addition to new talent and veteran stars, it also is a time when managers—including a crop of new, first-time skippers—come to the desert to evaluate talent, devise plans, assess weakness and strengths and put into place a strategy that may end the year with more wins than losses. Come to think of it, such a scenario might have value for your organization as strengthens its digital commerce business. Do sports imitate success in businesses or is it the other way around?

Certainly a question worth pondering over an evening beverage.

As a baseball fan for more than 50 years, the qualities of successful managers seem perfectly aligned to building and managing a digital commerce team. I’ve seen the best and worst of team leaders and offer a few observations to consider when selecting that right person to take your digital commerce efforts to a profitable, championship level. For those who have seen the film “Moneyball,” (or read the book, for that matter) examine the relationship between team manager, Art Howe, his boss Billy Beane and Beane’s boss, Steve Schott. That’s a great example of how not to build a long-lasting team. On the other hand, consider these attributes for your digital commerce leader:

• Someone who is both a great evaluator of talent and one who brings out the best in his or her team members. This person can look beyond the resume, downplay weaknesses and find hidden strengths that come together with others to build a cohesive unit.
• A leader who is decisive and not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Some think of this as Silicon Valley DNA. A potential digital commerce manager who has no past business failures may have his or her first screw-up on your watch.
• Someone who is skilled at surrounding himself or herself with smart advisors. A leader who recognizes his or her weakness and surrounds himself or herself with smart people is likely to be grounded and respected by the team. For example, a digital commerce manager who is strong on IT but not marketing and looks to others for marketing wisdom sets the right tone for his group.

So, there’s a short list to keep on hand as your build your digital commerce team. As the baseball season unfolds, and as the 2014 digital commerce season evolves, there will be many lessons each business can learn from the other. As a marketing executive, don’t shoot for second place; find the manager who is right for your organization and shoot for nothing less than the pennant.

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Digital Marketers Take Note: Print Magazines May Not Be Dead After All

by Allen Weiner  |  February 6, 2014  |  2 Comments

It’s been said by some that I have ink in my blood having started my career as a newspaper reporter well before the digital dawn. With that in mind, it makes me sentimental and sad to see print publishers fall behind the digital curve and fumble attempts to be digitally relevant, especially with the explosive interest and opportunity in digital commerce. While some publishers believe native advertising might be a way to renew sagging revenue, adding advertorials (which is what this trend has been called for decades) will never offer the upside of digital commerce in its various forms.

I call to the stand Net-A-Porter, a media company who has shattered the somewhat imaginary line between content and commerce. Founded in 2000, and now part of a Swiss-based mega fashion holding company, Net-A-Porter has become the digital bible for fashionstas who want the latest trends to jump off the screen and delivered to their door. The formula is simple: easy navigation, one-click secure purchases and visually compelling images/descriptions that allow simple, personalized comparison shopping. And, not being one to be in the market for women’s clothing, the customer service features appear to be in the rarefied air breathed by Amazon and the few others in that particular orbit.

Defying the trend that hints at the slow death of print publications, Net-A-Porter is launching a print magazine, “Porter,” featuring Gisele Bundchen on the cover. The magazine will attempt to rival such fashion mag stalwarts as Vogue, Marie Claire and Glamour but with the competitive edge of using the publication as a driver for digital commerce. While, the specific details on how Net-A Porter founder Natalie Massenet and her team hope to pull this off are better served in a future research report, it’s worth pointing out a few key take-aways. These are points that are worthy of consideration by digital marketers and social media platforms such as Pinterest and Twitter in search of ways to add digital commerce to their playbooks.

• Most importantly, Net-A-Porter will offer print customers tools such as the ability scan print ads to offer the same ability to efficiently go from content to commerce
• The Net-A-Porter team knows its customers. Research showed that its average website customer purchased four to five print fashion magazines each month.
• For those who still prefer digital over print, the publishers will offer a digital download of its new publication with all the click-to-buy features built in.
• Prior to launching in print, the publisher did a test run of 10,000 copies to determine the feasibility of a full scale launch.

• Given Net-A-Porter wants to cultivate a new advertising revenue stream rather that cannibalize its digital inventory, the publisher has created a print/digital combo ad buy that offers a bundled discount.

Oh, there’s plenty more to share, so that’s just a teaser. My hope is print publishers are listening and take action before the ink in my blood turns toxic.

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A Wrinkle in Zero Moment of Truth Thinking for Digital Marketers

by Allen Weiner  |  February 5, 2014  |  1 Comment

As analysts, it’s our job to continually challenge our own thinking so that predictions and assertions becoming living ideas that are subject to evolution based on marketplace changes and consumer behaviors. I tend to think of my work less as a fortune teller and more of a tour guide explaining changes in the landscape so those traveling with me can avoid pitfalls. As such, I am updating my thinking related to my research on The Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), especially in areas that relate to the power of content to drive transactions.

A key element of the ZMOT practice is delivery the right content at the right time via the right experience to a consumer when he or she is in a crucial part of the buying journey. If you follow the time-honored belief that shoppers (especially Millennials) lean on their social graph for a thumbs up or down before completing a transaction, then some interesting news making its way into our inboxes should seriously challenge how marketers should deploy consumer-generated social content as part of the campaigns. Data suggests that only about 28% of the coveted Millennials are either fairly or very likely to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media post and as the demographic gets grey-er, influence from one’s social graph declines even further. Such findings could force Digital marketers to factor in risk-reward as they contemplate their content marketing investments.

That leads me to three key questions to explore as part of our digital commerce coverage:
If social media posts from friends are not significant purchase drivers, what content does drive online shoppers through the non-linear funnel?

If these findings are true, how should digital marketers adjust their thinking about content marketing strategies?

Is less content as part of a marketing strategy better than a flood of Tweets, pictures, videos, blog posts and Facebook chatter? Upworthy, a news curation site which limits the new of stories it publishes, does far better generating Facebook traffic than any of its peers. Is less the new more?

It’s time to take further examine the impact various signals and components, such as content, have within the ZMOT framework. I am excited to share those findings.

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Super Bowl 48: Digital Commerce Fumbles

by Allen Weiner  |  February 3, 2014  |  1 Comment

I have this nagging feeling that when marketing strategies are assembled for the Super Bowl, a placard is put on the conference room door that says: “Digital Commerce Mavens, Stay Away. At least that’s the impression I have after the snoozefest that was #SB48. The game was never in doubt, which gave me time to ponder the art and science behind many of the much ballyhooed ads. Overall, I had the impression that such themes as ‘80s revivals, amorous bovines, cars with magical powers and soda pop that makes you feel patriotic, were conceived with little more than a passing thought as to the immediate, direct impact on consumer purchases. You can wax on about the wonders of branding, and I have colleagues who would object to my assertion, but to the best of my knowledge, you can’t eat a Clio Award. Digital commerce speaks to the notion of capturing the hot lead, not hoping that a savvied car buyer recalls a clever ad seen months ago when he or she enters the Thunderdome that is a new car showroom.

I have watched 47 of 48 Super Bowls missing the 1985 49ers victory while my wife and I were sunning ourselves on a beach in Uruguay. Like most sports-oriented couch potatoes, I have my Super Bowl favorites (which generally involve the Budweiser Clydesdales) but can’t think of an ad that led me to click, call or race to the store to buy what I just saw on screen. In an age where ACR technology in conjunction with second screen apps makes pretty much any sort of fast-twitch buying experience possible, I believe the 2014 Big Game was light on the “cool beans” meter.

A few examples:

• I am a fan of Shazam, but unless you have your finger on the app prior to the 30-second spot, much like a game show contestant, your ability to claim you on-screen reward requires the prowess of a Madden Football geek. I did find out, via a delayed Tweet, that Shazam offers a post-ad method to score the download, coupon or content entry. That said, digital commerce interaction should be simple to be effective.
• I am also a believer in commerce enabler Delivery Agent’s power to facilitate second-screen digital commerce with many successful projects with various shows such as “Sons of Anarchy.” I do question the wisdom of the H&M, Samsung interactive ad featuring David Beckham in his skivvies. The interactive features were only available to those who have a Samsung Smart TV, leaving the millions of us with relatively dumber TVs out of the fun. If digital commerce goes down the multiple ecosystem path, the net result will be a Tower of Babel effect and total chaos.
• Lastly, I had high hopes when Fox announced you could watch the game on your mobile device by downloading Fox Sports Go. Imaging a slick, perhaps interactive, digital-commerce rich experience, I hit the download button in the iTunes Store only to find my TV service provider was not among those who supported Fox Sports Go. The wisdom of offering such a second-screen utility to only a portion of the addressable market is a shining example of the ready, fire, aim approach to digital marketing.

In keeping with the brief yet memorable #sb48 spot which featured U2, I put forth the words from the band’s hit, “One,” which capture my frustration with the digital commerce efforts during the Big Game:

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You got someone to blame

And who is to blame? If you are a digital marketer pointing to someone else, think twice—it may be you.

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