September 8, 2020

The Importance of DTC Connections in Today’s World

Amid today’s ever-changing consumer landscape is a lingering question that many brands are grappling with. Should I sell my brand/product direct to consumers (DTC)? If you ask Google, this is very clearly a common topic as there are dozens of articles on this very question that have appeared in just the last few months.  While the world around us continues to change, one thing is for sure: Consumer behavior has already changed and finding new and different ways to interact with your customers could mean the life or death of your brand. 

Even brands that have very strong businesses that are doing well during this COVID-19 time are asking themselves this same question. I recently saw the article Business Insider published a few weeks back titled “How Frito-Lay Built a New DTC E-commerce Site Virtually in 30 Days Amid the Pandemic.” Or the follow up article just a few weeks later on the same topic. If a brand as successful as Frito-Lay is thinking this way, this tells me that it could be equally as valuable to businesses of all shapes and sizes. No matter the industry, people are buying and consuming products differently than they ever have before. And due to rising demand, even Frito-Lay knew that they had to think differently in order to keep up and best serve their customers. The answer: DTC.

As the articles mention, standing up a brand-new DTC channel can be challenging, but is totally possible, even in the midst of a pandemic. How can your brand make this happen? Here are three things to consider that can help you better serve your customers through direct efforts.

  1. An innovative mindset that was comfortable in ambiguity, yet aligned behind a common north star metric
  2. A cross-functional team including product, marketing, design, engineering, operations and product that maintained a united focus on a core MVP that didn’t fall prey to scope creep
  3. The support of a skilled digital marketing team that helped put the core launch and engagement blocks in place quickly without any major hiccups

The power of the north star metric

In any business, most successful projects start off with the creation of a solid strategy and plan of action which will serve as the blueprint that your teams will use to guide the delivery of their specific portion of the project.

No matter what, the plan needs to be crystal clear, dead simple to follow and properly layout the actions each team should take to collectively reach the desired destination. As digital consultants to many of the world’s leading companies, we believe the first step is to write down your customer’s motivations and desires which will lead to the creation of your products north star metric. The rest of the work lies in creating a prioritized list of initiatives and tasks aligned to the four pillars of your north star metric: 1. Breath, 2. Depth, 3. Frequency, and 4. Efficiency.

For example, your north star metric could be around items sold. Or visits to a site. Or level of engagement. One thing  north star metrics are not normally about is revenue. Revenue is the thing that will come when the north star metric is reached.  You must then create metrics under each of the pillars mentioned above and devise clear roadmap items that will allow you to reach each of these summary metrics.

The north start metric is even more important if you need to accelerate your product development journey as it will ensure that every team member is focusing on the right tasks which will compound together into a successful outcome (this for sure rings true in the Business Insider articles mentioned above). Even a few mistakes on a project that is moving that fast can cause it to fly off the rails very quickly.

Make sure the puzzle (a.k.a. team) has all the right pieces

Not only when trying to operate in such a tight timeframe, but anytime cross-functional teams come together, representatives from marketing, product, design, operations and engineering with the appropriate budget and decision-making ability must come together. This is a non-negotiable. You must be able to quickly activate any one or all of these groups and key leaders from each organization will help you move swiftly and efficiently.  For example, if you need one of your existing warehouses converted from an operation setup for bulk-based truck deliveries into an operation setup for pick and pack shipped via UPS/FedEx/USPS, it will be imperative that someone on your cross-functional team can and knows how to make that happen really quickly.

This team of teams must align on the north star metric and product roadmap and begin to execute the list of tasks as defined in the planning phase. (Suggestion: set up these tasks in something similar to a Trello board if you don’t have an already used system in house.) It helps to have daily standups to discuss what tasks each team member completed, any blockers preventing them from completing a task and what task(s) they plan to complete between that meeting and the next. There is zero room for even a single resource to falter on delivery when doing something so important and likely in a compressed timeframe. Below is an example of how you could structure a team to take on an endeavor of this magnitude in such a short timeframe.

Figure 1: Example 30-Day DTC Rapid Response Team

So, you’ve got a plan and a team ready to go. What’s next? Execution. This is obviously where the bulk of the work lies. Everyone must have tunnel vision on the MVP and fiercely defend against scope creep. In fact, it is more likely that you end up with less functionality than you set out to build which could be the result of difficult decisions the team makes throughout the process as a result of an unintended blocker arising.

Don’t forget about marketing

Between day one and day twenty, your digital marketing team should be creating all of the necessary marketing assets to support the launch, the copy for the trigger-based emails that will go out to users who place orders at your new DTC experience and getting them approved by your wider marketing approval process so that is in line with your overall brands message. DTC is not a new company inside your brand. It’s a new spoke off an existing hub that allows your brand to do new things to enhance what you already deliver to the market. 

The digital marketing resource should also be meeting consistently with the marketing executive sponsor to plan the launch campaign and get the content together needed to deliver it. A solid press release, a well-coordinated series of social media posts and an interview with a well-known media outlet post launch is a solid strategy for an important DTC launch.

In closing, it is possible to take your brand DTC in a very short time period with the right plan and team in place. As to whether or not it makes sense for your brand to make the investment, that is something that is very situational but should be determined with the right information in front of you from a trusted source. Our advice is to take a second look at the benefits beyond “a net new revenue stream.” The ability to access first-party customer insights and engage directly with your consumers can be very valuable on multiple fronts.

One common objection most think of is the impact that DTC will have on relationships with existing retailers as it could be seen as a means to “cut them out of the equation.” Instead, think about it this way. A solid DTC platform can actually increase in-store traffic post launch. Imagine your marketing team having the ability to send mobile wallet pass coupons which are both linked to their DTC customer profile and are only redeemable in store. The customer is encouraged to go in-store to purchase and the DTC brand gets the real-time first-party customer data. There will always be a reason that DTC might not work for your brand. Instead, think about the opportunity cost associated with not going DTC. Will your brand survive long term? Whatever you determine your final course of action to be, we recommend you strike while the iron is hot, and the competition is still relatively low.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim is the lead of Bottle Rocket’s growth practice and an active thought leader on digital product growth in the marketplace.

Source #1 - https://www.businessinsider.com/how-frito-lay-built-new-dtc-e-commerce-30-days-2020-5

Source #2 - https://www.businessinsider.com/frito-lay-exec-how-snacking-giant-shifted-business-meet-demand-2020-5

May 27, 2020

16 Industries That Are Hungry For Development Talent

When most people think about a career in development, they likely think about working for tech giants or software startups. However, in our tech-forward world, the need for talented developers has extended far beyond companies in the technology sector. Today’s devs can look to fast-growing industries like healthcare, automotive and even agriculture for new and exciting opportunities to use their skills.

We asked a panel of Forbes Technology Council members which non-tech industries are eagerly searching for new development talent. If you’re looking for dev work, try one of these 16 fields.

1. Research, Data And Analytics

Learning Python and PHP has become more common in areas where large amounts of data need to be analyzed and presented in a meaningful way. Technologies that were once exclusively used in software development scenarios are now being leveraged by nontechnical people. In the interest of using the best tools and skills for the job, they have acquired skills that once belonged in software development. - Danny AcunaLogica Ratio

2. Healthcare

Medical applications today require more software than ever before. The need for telehealth has expanded instantly due to COVID-19’s global immobilization and people’s need for access to diagnostics. Developers are needed to advance medical diagnostics with artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable greater remote access to medical resources. - JiNan Glasgow GeorgeMagic Number, Inc.

3. Government Agencies

Government agencies need developers to rethink how governments operate and deliver services to constituents. From leveraging the critical systems running on mainframes to today’s mobile-enabled applications, developers can help bridge the divide across mainframe and distributed systems and create the next-generation government that can react to changes in legislation and support citizens’ needs. - Ram ChakravartiBMC Software

4. Food And Beverage

Many food and beverage companies are seeking new ways to connect, engage and sell to their customers directly outside of traditional retail. One of the main avenues to do this is to establish a direct-to-consumer strategy utilizing e-commerce. Typically, these organizations already have IT departments dedicated to existing infrastructure and will need to hire new dev resources for these initiatives. - Chris ShalchiBigCommerce

5. Agriculture

The agriculture industry will definitely need more developers in the near future, as it is lagging behind in terms of technology adoption. By using new technology solutions, the sector will achieve better financial results and efficiency. A great example of that is the usage of drones for crop seeding and crop monitoring. - Ivailo NikolovSiteGround

6. Automotive

The automotive industry needs new dev talent, primarily due to increasing software demands for performance, safety and entertainment. Application security challenges in Internet of Things environments and customer demands for ease of use and quality are also driving needs. Setting up campuses in software hot spots, like Silicon Valley, is one way some car companies have more successfully recruited developers. - Manish GuptaShiftLeft

7. Ride-Sharing

Uber and Lyft operate at a loss annually. Looking at the cost breakdown of a single ride, these companies lose more money than they are earning due to the immense cost of human labor. To be profitable, these companies must shift to a robo-taxi model. Thus, these firms are seeking new development talent to build the complex hardware and software necessary to make this lucrative evolution a reality. - Ashwini ChoudharyRecogni

8. Education

Talk to any IT staff person from a school struggling to keep students engaged during COVID-19 and it becomes clear how thin schools are stretched for tech talent. While schools may have sufficient budgets for tech equipment and software, most don’t prioritize budgets for tech staff. This needs to change so our teachers can use the latest ed-tech tools and resources in their classrooms and beyond. - Anna FrazzettoHarvey Nash/NashTech Global

9. Financial Services

The fintech revolution and new digital channels of services have introduced new challenges to the area of cybersecurity. With mobile banking, neo banks, peer-to-peer payment, insurance tech and other digital services, new attack surfaces and vectors have added a new dimension of risk. The financial services industry is driving the demand for developers as well as cybersecurity professionals. - Kumar RiteshCYFIRMA

10. Product Management

After decades of working at their craft, devs have seen the product lifecycle up close. The insight they could bring to any company looking to start a new software product would be invaluable. They would help spot issues well in advance of most people trained in the optimal software development life cycle. If they’re good at communication and documentation, they have all the makings of a great product manager. - Luke WallaceBottle Rocket

11. Hospitality Management

It’s been my experience that the backend systems in the hospitality management industry are outdated and provide limited integrations. There are great advances in technology on the consumer-facing side, but booking and support systems rely on outdated software and infrastructure. - Jesus BelloSabal Tech

12. Work-Life Technology

The boundary between business and technology blurred a long time ago. The split of work and life is also fading away, and COVID-19 only accelerates such a split. As technology aids a no-code/low-code evolution, developers are elevated to more design-centric app and content development roles to improve quality of life both at work and home. - Anbu MuppidathiCognizant

13. Nonprofits And Social Good Companies

I’m not an expert in either of these realms, but these are areas that are traditionally underfunded—and relatively low-paying. As people fall back to their common humanity, I would hope that these companies—and the social good that they drive—become a new form of capital. - Cecile LeeTrendalytics

14. Logistics And Supply Chain

Logistics is among the oldest professions in the world, but it represents a trillion-dollar opportunity that has yet to undergo a digital transformation. From incorporating AI to increase the accuracy of the estimated time of arrival (which has a waterfall effect on the entire supply chain) through building Iron Man-like suits to increase safety in warehouses, developers should look to the supply chain for tremendous opportunity. - Lidia YanNEXT Trucking

15. Construction

Developers can help the construction industry streamline and optimize processes, unify isolated stakeholders and keep the industry growing. They’re producing a lot of cloud software now but are rapidly expanding into autonomous construction, virtualization applications, analytics, real-time collaboration, wireless monitoring, green construction and more. - Thomas GriffinOptinMonster

16. Advertising And Marketing

With augmented reality and virtual reality being heavily consumed by the general public, marketing and advertising have been changing and will continue to evolve. Developers have been in the marketing and advertising industry for a long time, but now it is becoming commonplace for advertising agencies to have heavy tech teams and devs. - Alexandro PandoXyrupt Technologies

This article was published in Forbes.com

May 13, 2020

Research Study: The 5 most interesting things we’ve learned from our QSR Survey Series.

Our teams at Bottle Rocket are starting to think about consumer behavior as
“re-normalized” rather than “reactive.” Through the survey results, we have also been able to infer what the restaurant industry is doing well, and not so well, in response to changing consumer behavior.

By taking a longitudinal look at our research and providing a follow-up to our findings published in March and April, we’ve identified five key takeaways about how consumer behavior has changed due to COVID-19. Here they are.

View the March report.
View the April report.

DOWNLOAD THE UPDATED REPORT HERE:

Would you like to connect with a member of the Bottle Rocket strategy team to discuss this research in more detail? Just say the word. We'd love to connect. 

LET'S CONNECT

April 30, 2020

Three Priorities for Businesses Looking to Attract Connected Customers

Customer expectations are constantly changing in the business landscape due to digitization. Before, a website or a mere digital presence was enough to separate you from your nearest competitor. But today, businesses have to continuously innovate and ensure they are providing new, exciting digital experiences– or risk being left behind.

Case in point, an HBR report cites the number one reason more than half (52 percent) of the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000 is their failure to achieve digital change.

This new era of digitization and customer centricity appeals to a new breed of customer – the Connected Customer. Though a relatively new term, the Connected Customer describes those customers that interact with brands through digital channels such as websites, apps or Alexa skills.

Connected Customers are highly sensitive and hyper aware of the overall experience they encounter when interacting with brands and have grown accustomed to superior online services.

They span every generation, from baby boomers to millennials, and with Generation Z swiftly entering the marketplace, it has never been more vital for businesses to ensure they provide a convenient digital experience for all customers. If the Connected Customer can’t get the experience they want with you, they’ll take their business elsewhere.

This is particularly challenging for established businesses that fear change or struggle to get investment from stakeholders. But with 67 percent of consumers saying they’ll pay more for a better customer experience, there is a clear indication of a substantial return – the investment is worth it.

Below are three priority trends that you can leverage within your business to attract today’s Connected Customer – and to stay competitive.


SERVICE DESIGN

Design for the entire experience, not just what’s on the screen.

Most companies have recognized the importance of user experience design. They’ve taken steps to ensure that their apps, sites, and digital products meet the needs of their customers, while providing an engaging experience. What many companies have yet to fully achieve is making sure their brand promise and brand essence are mirrored across every experience they deliver – off- and online – and that both are delivered consistently across channels. 

Post COVID-19 will bring renewed expectations on the part of customers, as they will be used to create frictionless shopping experiences via an app or website, with instant checkouts and fast delivery services.

According to a recent First Insight study, over 30 percent of consumers are now taking advantage of online services to get products delivered without going in-store. 

Once the worst has passed, brands will need to embrace the convenience that online can’t match and ensure the experience customers have when they walk back into an establishment is the same familiar experience they have when they open the app or visit the website. C

hick-fil-A has already conquered this concept pre-COVID, with its use of beacons built into tables, helping mobile ordering customers to not only skip the line but also find a seat.

To serve the Connected Customer, companies need to develop a design system that transcends the digital, resulting in a consistently engaging experience.


VOICE SEARCH OPTIMIZATION

Taking a chance on voice search optimization is worth the risk.

In 2017, 13 percent of all households in the U.S owned a smart speaker.

However, this number is predicted to rise to 55 percent by 2022. As the numbers grow, we are seeing an overall increase in awareness and a general higher level of comfort towards voice user interfaces.

Mobile phone laws in many states and the advent of Apple CarPlay and Google Auto are also accelerating consumer adoption of voice experiences.

It’s estimated that there will be eight billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023, with most of those available on smartphones – this growth being driven by young consumers and households with children according to consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Going forward, it will be essential that companies investigate both the opportunities and challenges that voice search optimization brings. Brands are now experiencing a shift where touch points are transforming to listening points, and organic voice search will be a key way in which brands have visibility According to Gartner, about 30 percent of all searches will be done without a screen this year. 

Having become used to the immediacy of their mobiles and constant access to the internet, Connected Customers can become frustrated when their expectations of a speedy connection are not met. Voice search connectivity can satisfy this need for urgency. 

However, it also means businesses have to make sure their content is optimized for voice search. Web content, for example, has to be structured in a particular way that allows voice speakers to accurately determine user questions.

For instance, having a strong FAQ section on a brand’s website in a Q&A format helps voice assistants index a brand and train it to respond properly when a user asks those questions going forward.


COOPERATIVE TECHNOLOGY

Invest in a seamless experience across digital properties

Providing an omnichannel experience for your customers is no longer a competitive differentiator. The new expectation will be providing an experience supported by what we call “cooperative technology” – each touch point and platform your users interact with must be seen as a single holistic experience. And they all need to work together seamlessly.

Think about it this way: if your app was first accessed by a user on a mobile device, how can you provide an experience that continues their journey when they access your services via a different platform?

This includes, sharing user enabled saved data, including past transactions and product wish lists, between different platforms to create a seamless customer journey. However, this practice is now considered the new norm.

We’re now moving from an age where information was contextual to where entire features of a product will be personalized depending on user location, and a new way of thinking is required.

Users don’t notice technology that’s easy to use, but an absence of bad customer reviews isn’t an excuse to halt product improvement.

Instead of people shouting about how easy something is, brands will need to observe new metrics to help measure and improve customer engagement – most likely powered by product analytics tools and machine learning-enabled data science. 

This article was originally published in Innovation & Tech Today.

April 21, 2020

How Customers are Interacting with Fast Food in COVID-19 Era

Here's what people are telling us about the ordering experience during crisis times.

One of the reasons COVID-19 has been so devastating for restaurants is that it strikes at a core trait. While technology and convenience have gained in recent years, this remains a hospitality business. The best brands use technology to enhance experience, not necessarily as way to remove human interaction.

And yet, we’ve arrived at a juncture where people are trying to avoid other people at all costs. Front-counter shields to provide barriers between employees and guests. Gloves. Masks, where you can’t even tell if the cashier is smiling or grimacing.

How restaurants address this reality and still deliver hospitality is going to be a key part of who thrives during the recovery, and who doesn’t.

Another element— how do you stay connected with consumers you can’t actually see on a daily basis?

Digital experience consultancy firm Bottle Rocket, which helped build Chick-fil-A's app, recently conducted a consumer study on “Quick-service restaurants in the age of COVID-19,” from a base of 500 people.

The main question: how are people interacting with quick-serves in this unprecedented environment?


HOW TO REACH OUT

Bottle Rocket found that 80 percent of customers were more likely to order from a restaurant if they offer rewards for digital or text message ordering. Basically, many customers need an incentive to brave the leap. They want to be rewarded for making a bold move and going out on a limb. All the messaging is working against eating out (suggesting everyone stay in their homes). Widely, the directives center on sheltering in, saving money, and simply trying to avoid all forms of contact.

Despite the ease of use, and enhanced convenience and safety of digital ordering, Bottle Rocket said, many consumers still require a promotion to try something new by ordering their food digitally.

Brands with strong loyalty programs can leverage that base as a way to lure additional customers to engage with digital channels. Rewards, coupons, and other incentives remain critical factors to encourage digital adoption. They always have—there’s simply an extra layer of wariness to address now with deals. And it’s a massive one.

“How interested or not interested would you be in ordering from your favorite fast-food restaurant if they rewarded you for your safety practices”

  • 5 (highly interested): 37 percent
  • 4: 30 percent
  • 3: 20 percent
  • 2: 6 percent
  • 1: (not at all interested): 7 percent

Nearly 20 percent of respondents in Bottle Rocket’s study said they would not return to a quick-service restaurant in the next week, for a variety of reasons. Some said they were trying to become better home cooks. Others noted fears of being exposed to coronavirus. A third group said they were tired of eating from the same establishments.

According to survey data, quick-serve loyalists are narrowing where they go for food; they claim to be visiting their favorite spots even more frequently now than before the quarantine came into effect.

The reason for this is straightforward: Brand reputation is worth its weight in gold during a crisis. People are seeking familiarity to help them feel normal again. And they’re going to the brand’s they trust to deliver a safe, affordable, and rewarding experience when they do decide to give restaurants a shot. A pandemic isn’t a ripe environment for adventurous dining.

Bottle Rocket did discover pent-up demand, however, with 30 percent of respondents saying they did not expect to cook for themselves in the next week.


WHERE QUICK-SERVES COME IN

More than 33 percent of respondents said they would get at least half of their meals from quick-service restaurants in the next week. “We are starting to see customers sort themselves into one of two camps,” Bottle Rocket said. “One, I am making an effort to be less reliant on takeout and quick-service restaurants, or two, I tend to continue to order the majority of my food from quick-service restaurants.”

This is something backed by recent Black Box Intelligence data as well. In the week ending March 27, the company found that high-frequency spenders still existed among consumers that have not eliminated their restaurant spend. Of those consumers that spent any money on restaurants during the week, 39 percent made at least five or more restaurant transactions during the period.

“In the next seven days, how often do you expect to order from a fast-food restaurant, compared to other restaurants or cooking at home?”

  • All the time: 8 percent
  • More than half the time: 11 percent
  • Half the time: 17 percent
  • Less than half the time: 47 percent
  • Not at all: 17 percent


WHERE IS THE INFORMATION BEING SHARED?

This goes back to the opening point. How can you actually speak to guests in a socially distant world?

Bottle Rocket found that respondents were 17 percent more likely to prefer gathering information from their favorite restaurants via social media than email.

There’s something to be said about the personal nature of social, where engagement is open.

As you’ll see below, the margin is pretty narrow, however, across the spectrum. So there are options.

Bottle Rocket said the social preference could reflect general sentiment that users want information brought to where they are rather than having to search it out. Most people live on one social platform or another. So it simply makes sense they’d rather see the information in front of them than have to find it. (That’s not to say people don’t go to restaurants’ websites, especially if they’re trying to order direct or figure out how to use a new curbside feature).

If there’s a deal going on, or a brand wants to share updated safety practices, there’s no such thing as too many lines of communication during COVID-19. And they shouldn’t come at the expense of each other.

“How do you prefer to receive new information about your favorite fast-food restaurants?”

  • Social media: 47 percent
  • The restaurant’s website: 42 percent
  • The restaurant’s app: 41 percent
  • Email from the restaurant: 40 percent
  • Other: 6 percent

Naturally, this spiked among younger guests. Bottle Rocket found that 18- to 24-year-olds were twice as likely to check social media before a restaurant’s website. The company called this “a great lesson in the importance of coordinating the latest information through social media in order to reach all audiences.”

Meanwhile, respondents in the 40–44 age bracket were 30 percent more likely to prefer finding news on a restaurant’s app over checking the same brand’s website.

As Bottle Rocket pointed out, this is typically one of the most sought-after segments for restaurants because it represents parents with children still in the household. Meaning they’re making spending decisions for three-plus people.

“This creates an excellent opportunity for brands to tie news to new offers, knowing that this group of people will be visiting the app with the primary purpose of learning new information,” the company said.

It suggested using news as a way to convert customers, particularly if a restaurant’s core target is in this age range.

This article was originally published in QSR Magazine

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