February 20, 2019

Creating Preeminent Experiences for the Connected Lifestyle

If you live and work in the technology space in Dallas, I’m guessing you might have heard of Bottle Rocket. But I’ll also wager a guess that you might not really know us. Officially born in 2008, the day after Steve Jobs opened the iPhone to third-party developers, we quickly became a leader in the world of mobile application development. Eleven years later, just as the industry has continued to evolve at a mind-numbing pace, so has Bottle Rocket. And if you are still looking for the Bottle Rocket you might have once met, you may not even recognize us.

Today, more than ever, customers are in control. And digitally enabled experiences have created a new normal for all industries. Digital technology is a double-edged sword… the threat of potential disruption by competitors is only slightly as scary as the need to spark innovation to create a path for your company’s future. It’s no secret that digital native companies have generated 80% of the growth in market capitalization in the last 10 years (source: World Economic Forum, September 2018). Change is hard. But it’s only going to get harder. And that’s where our deep understanding of the Connected Lifestyle can help.

At Bottle Rocket, we are in the business of transformation. As experts at the intersection of people and technology, we create powerful, preeminent connected experiences that enable today’s Connected Lifestyle. What exactly do we mean by that? Let’s ask our own Founder and CEO, Calvin Carter.

So Calvin, how do you define the Connected Lifestyle?

If you look back at the last decade, it was about apps, new devices and form factors and new uses for mobile technology such as mobile OS’s being used for wearables or streaming players like Apple TV and Android TV. This impacted how we did everything. It was an important foundational time for us and our industry, but it’s over now.

The word “mobile” has failed us. Yes, it’s true, much of what we build is based on technology born from the mobile revolution, but the world has gotten much more complicated than that.  So, a couple of years ago I started trying to define a new word to replace mobile. One that better described the new complexity and multi-platform, multi-experience, multi-use, multi-skilled and multi-everything reality in front of us. I couldn’t find one word, but I found two “Connected Lifestyle.”

The Connected Lifestyle is an ecosystem. It’s the way you deposit your checks. The way you get reservations at a restaurant, get a ride to the airport, board your plane, communicate with your colleagues and family, get a hotel room, track your health, manage your finances, teach your children and buy stuff. It’s no longer a collection of a few devices that I use for specific things. This is now an ecosystem with a full spectrum of devices, technologies and interactions that include smartphones, tablets, computers,  in-home streaming players, voice assistants, bots, and even headier stuff like AR and VR experiences, AI and ML. All of it together, whether it’s your phone, watch, car or house. Everything you see in front of you every day is the Connected Lifestyle.

And, it’s where your customers and employees live right now!

And it’s complicated. Very complicated. I often say that it’s easy to make things hard and hard to make things easy. We’re in the business of ideating, designing, building and evolving preeminent experiences that are dead simple to use. Dead simple. Simple drives enjoyment. Enjoying drives engagement. Engagement drives revenue.

This is our new normal. We don’t come back from this.

Experience is now a leading factor in consumer motivation, and many share that experience - whether good or bad.

( Source: "State of the Connected Customer" Salesforce Research June 2018 )

Does this mean a company has to invest in all of these technologies to be relevant?

Absolutely not. In fact, that would be a mistake. For each brand, there is a set of highly valuable experiences that you must make frictionless and dead simple. You start there, then determine which technologies make sense. Do not start with technology or you’ll just get technology. Start with experience and back into the best technologies for the job.

What are the factors causing companies to start investing in Digital Transformation and the Connected Lifestyle?

It’s different for the early adopters, the wait-and-see and the wait-and-dies in each industry. For example, some quick-serve restaurants jumped in early to experiment, then later invested big time to get way out ahead and benefitted greatly from this move. Like Chick-fil-A, who reduced wait times and line abandonment while increasing average basket size with mobile orders. They also reduced transaction fees with mobile ordering and increased repeat visits, daypart usage, and overall engagement with mobile loyalty. All of this was made possible by their iOS and Android apps that we had the great honor to build alongside them.

In every disruption, there are winners and losers. The early adopters moved and proved there is an ROI. The “wait and see’s” are following in mass right now in almost every industry. Unfortunately, the wait and die’s will likely do just that. But the reason I think there has been such as big uptick in investments in Digital Transformation and the Connected Lifestyle is 1) it’s no longer an experiment, it’s the new normal, and 2) C-suite executives are users too and they now have personal experiences as they entered the Connected Lifestyle themselves.

People don’t compare their banking experience to another banking experience. They compare it to every other super amazing digital experience that they use on a daily basis. Like their Starbucks, Uber, Hotel Tonight, Open Table and Slack experiences. C-suite execs are waking up realizing how hard it is for connected consumers to do business with their own company. If you can’t engage a brand through YOUR Connected Lifestyle, that brand is immediately less relevant to you.

Your transformation must be customer-centric. And the customer has changed.

What do you mean the customer has changed?

It’s now the Connected Customer, which is a digital native who uses technology regularly to meet wants and needs. A Connected Customer wants to make a connection with a brand but prefers the convenience and utility of a digital interaction.

And I don’t mean just young customers. Take a look at this study from Salesforce Research. Sure, Millennials are off the charts on the Connected Lifestyle gauge. But look at the Baby Boomers. Nearly half also demand a cutting-edge digital experience to keep their business and prefer innovative companies over the rest of the competitive set.

Let’s not underestimate the sheer power of these numbers. Put simply, no matter what age range you target, the vast majority of your customers have a completely new expectation from you. You can meet them where they are or lose them.

Customers are seeking more cutting-edge experiences and actively looking for innovative companies.

(Source: "State of the Connected Customer" Salesforce Research June 2018)

When serving the Connected Customer, it’s important to put them at the center of all of your thinking. Here are three key questions that must be answered to create value for them:

1. Where is the friction to doing business with us?

2. What would need to happen to make that go away? What context do we know that we can leverage to make this experience more valuable for the customer?

3. What do we know about the customer, so we can make this experience more personalized?

But to answer this, you can’t answer the questions yourself. You have to talk to your customers. It’s a scary thing to do if you’ve never done it. But once you do, you’ll never design anything in your business again without it. I don’t mean a Net Promoter Score or customer feedback survey. I mean ethnographic studies and the development of insightful user journeys that pinpoint the friction and the opportunity to provide value your competitors can’t or won’t.

When thinking about and taking action with your customers, consider these three things:

1. Practice empathy and realize everything is an experience for your customer. Design every product, process and interaction in service of your customer. This is table stakes. Most companies think they know their customer, but when stress tested, the truth comes out.

2. Don’t assume you understand them or their loyalty to you. Loyalty is abandoned in one click or tap, and everyone is looking for the best deal. Earn it daily through lifestyle experiences and engagement.

3. Understand how technology has changed the way they behave. Get out and talk to your Connected Customers to understand what “easy and helpful” means to them.

You’ve said the word experience a lot in this interview. Can you please explain the importance of experience for brands?

Never before has the total brand experience mattered more to consumers. In fact, 80% of both business and consumer buyers say the experience a company provides is as important as the products and services they receive through their experience with you.

80% of customers say experience is as important as the services. 67% of customers say their standards for good experiences are higher than ever.

(Source: "State of the Connected Customer" Salesforce Research June 2018)

And to make it even more challenging for brands, 67% of both business and consumer buyers say their standard for good experiences are higher than ever. Like I mentioned before, people don’t compare their banking experience, for example, to another banking experience. They compare it to every other super amazing digital experience that they have on a daily basis. Like their Starbucks, Uber, Hotel Tonight, Open Table, AirBnB, Venmo and Amazon experiences.

In the experience economy, the companies your customers are comparing you to has changed.

But here is the amazing news for you. If you take action, you can leverage this shift to your advantage. 57% of business and consumer buyers have moved their business because another company provided them a better experience. That could be you…

The absolute best news for you is that 67% of business and consumer buyers will pay more for a great experience. That is why brand experience is one of the highest ROI initiatives a company can start today. The returns are strong.

Experience is now a leading factor in consumer motivation, and many share that experience - whether good or bad.

(Source: "State of the Connected Customer" Salesforce Research June 2018)

So, where does a CEO reading this start?

Well, like anything, it starts with insight, reflection, opportunity identification, a bold vision and relentless action.

But first, start with “why.” It’s so important to figure out the “why” behind the “what” you are going to do, or you’ll never figure out the “how.” But if you get the right "why," you’ll figure out the how even if it seems impossible from your current vantage point.

I could write a book on the importance of “why” but Simon Sinek already wrote some great ones you should check out.

But it’s also important to figure out the “who.” Obviously every stakeholder, including the customer, is a “who,” but I’m talking about the team that is going to take action and execute your vision. This team will be made up of vendor/partners and, of course, your employees.

Here’s the three things I suggest you keep in mind when thinking about your vendor/partners:

1. Make them part of your business strategy. Transparency and authenticity are key, and many voices can help in times of chaos. Open up the “why” behind the “what” you hired them to help you with. You need requisite variety and outside voices to stay robust and relevant. If they can’t step up, then ask them to step out. The more they know about why you’re doing this and what you hope to achieve, the more value they can drive for you. Open up, include them in the conversation, not afterwards.

2. Don’t knee-jerk invest. There is new, shiny technology out every day. Go slow, think hard, reflect a lot, listen to others, then take action and invest. You can do this quickly and inexpensively if you have the right group.

3. Understand that diversity breeds strength, both internally and externally. By listening to many outside voices, you can benefit from a variety of perspectives and experiences. You will make more informed decisions and go down fewer rabbit holes. This is why public companies with boards that include a diversity of background, ethnicity, gender and outlook drive more enterprise value than those with homogenous inputs.

And, here are the three things that I suggest you keep in mind about your employees:

1. Hire and promote T-shaped people, those that have both breadth and depth. High EQ people that are a generalist in a lot of things but also an expert in one thing will produce better and longer lasting results in this new experience economy.

2. Don’t assume your team has what it needs to change with the market. The answer is simple. They don’t… Give them support, training and access to outside voices and partners who can help them cross the chasm. They must understand that things are going to change a lot, and what made them successful in the past won’t make them successful in the future. Some won’t be able to cross the chasm, but everyone deserves and authentic chance to change.

3. Understand that transformation is uncomfortable and ambiguous to your staff. Trust is the glue when logic and planning are in flux. Fill the gap with trust. You have to be upfront, honest and authentic. When we did our transformation I stood in front of the entire company and told them this was going to be hard. Some people left over it, but the net gains were clear as we attracted people who were more excited and committed than those that left.

Bottle Rocket has an unprecedented four Apple App Store Hall of fame awards to demonstrate unbelievable success in mobile. I understand no other company has won more than one, and less than 100 have ever been awarded. But what will Bottle Rocket use as measures of success in Digital Transformation and The Connected Lifestyle?

Oh boy, I could go on for an hour on this one, but allow me to answer with real-world examples. I’ll change the client names to protect the innocent.

One of our largest clients is posting 30% year over year growth in their Connected Lifestyle experiences, including native smartphone apps and mobile web. That’s a huge number, but it’s a REALLY huge number when I tell you that 70% of their revenue (multi-billion/year) comes through its websites and apps. But this isn’t easy. The business is super complicated, and there are always setbacks. But our collective teams have been able to show demonstrable value in spite of any holdups. We are truly with our client and we tear down obstacles together.

For another client, the largest product distributor in their sector, we were able to leverage our understanding of consumer behavior to disrupt how retailers manage inventory, order product, handle returns and track sell-through. Consumerization is changing everything and business buyers now act more like consumers than ever. We used this insight to produce a business tool that felt like a consumer tool. Their retail customers now report significant time savings which in turn drives more of their business to our client rather than competing distributors. Disrupt or be disrupted.

Any last minute thoughts before we wrap up?

If you only remember a few things from this time together, please remember these things:

  1.  Simple drives enjoyment. Enjoying drives engagement. Engagement drives revenue.
  2. Experiences are likely the most important thing you can be investing right now.
  3. Consumers, both B2B buyers and B2C buyers, have forever changed how they behave. Use this as your advantage to disrupt, or be disrupted by the guy who gets there first.
  4. Time is of the essence. Do not wait until you have it all figured out to take action. You must be comfortable with failure and ambiguity.
  5. Diversity will get you the voices you need to hear to stay relevant in this age.

Finally, I’ll mention yet another Bottle Rocket client that is on the verge of really shaking up the concrete industry. This client, with a modest budget, came to us to find a completely new way to do a frequent, time-consuming, highly involved and risky task. A once manual task, with the help of connected technology, now saves money and lives by improving real-time, in-field decision making.

Thank you to Calvin for sharing his insights, wisdom, and thoughts about where Bottle Rocket and the Connected Lifestyle is headed. Stay tuned for more on this ever-changing topic.

November 20, 2018

From Design Sprints to Proof Sprints

“Will this reliably integrate with our app?”

“Would users even want to use this feature?”

“How will we notify users?”

Simple questions, at face value. But any seasoned product or project manager knows there are no such luxuries. These inquiries could have sweeping implications for the duration and cost of a project. Even a simple “yes” or “no” can be followed by a storm of follow-up questions that cast a fog over future estimations or derail a feature set entirely.

At Bottle Rocket, we utilize a proven methodology to help clients investigate the unknowns and get answers in as little as one week. Our Proof Sprint methodology — a process for solving and testing ideas in as little as five days — is inspired by Google’s Design Sprint. Although the two processes are similar, one key difference is that Bottle Rocket’s Proof Sprints are specifically designed to answer questions beyond experience design (XD) and always begin with a hypothesis and end with a proof where Google’s Design Sprints center around XD.  Whether the result is accepting or rejecting the hypothesis, the exercise can provide key insights into a major project without pulling valuable resources from other teams.

4 Types of Proof Sprints

We’ve identified four types of Proof Sprints, each covering distinct project challenges and providing answers where our clients need them the most:

Foresight: As the name implies, a foresight Proof Sprint is forward-looking. It takes into account OS updates, upcoming technologies or trends in mobile, as well as digital services, to rapidly prototype a new offering or to find out how the new tech meshes with existing technologies.

Feature: These sprints test assumptions around new features in a product or roadmap. The outcome of a feature sprint might even find that a feature needs to be reduced, rethought, or possibly even removed.

Focus: A focus sprint is similar to a feature sprint but is based around the product’s user or workflow. As such, focus sprints work to reduce friction and improve efficiencies within the application.

Feasibility: A feasibility sprint is the most tactical Proof Sprint. The ultimate goal is to find out, “Does this work?” Does this SDK work in that technology stack? Does this database technology hook into this front-end tech via that API? Rather than making assumptions, a feasibility sprint quickly offers a definite answer on whether a technology approach works or not.

The result of a Proof Sprint can range from proof-of-concept for an idea, a prototype for a challenging spot within a project, or even shutting off a path the project was heading down because the sprint uncovered the idea wasn’t going to work. Proof Sprints aren’t intended to just validate an idea – knowing when to stop pursuing an idea can save valuable work hours and investments exploring possible solutions.

While every Proof Sprint is different, each follows a five-step template that is typically executed over a five-day workweek and includes a combined team from Bottle Rocket and client stakeholders.

  • Mapping the scope of the sprint, determining what success looks like and how the topic of the sprint impacts the customer.
  • Sketching and hands-on micro solutioning using whiteboards, sticky notes and 3×5 cards followed by looking at, discussing, and voting on the results.
  • Determining which of the sketched solutions move forward and modifying them to meet project requirements.
  • Actually building a prototype from the sketches that moved forward in the sprint.
  • Testing with a series of actual users.

Built for Results

Many things can be simplified through collaboration and uninterrupted thinking – which often is hard for fast-moving teams to accomplish. Roadblocks can cause projects to stall, or maybe six months into a project an issue arises that seems impossible to overcome. By leveraging Bottle Rocket’s Proof Sprint methodology, we are able to help our clients gain understanding quickly and with certainty in a matter of five days rather than what could take up to six months to uncover. It’s always less expensive to fail fast rather than to fail slowly. One Bottle Rocket client has even cited that via our Proof Sprint methodology, they were able to uncover more insights in just two days of the process than they had been able to on their own over the course of three months.

Proof Sprints have proven to be very effective in a variety of engagements across a range of industries and clients. Through Proof Sprints, we have investigated the optimal way to present information to a listener that is driving or traveling in an automobile. We have worked with a retailer to better understand their in-store customer flow, ultimately proposing more than forty ideas to optimize customer experiences and created four prototypes to test. Some clients have leveraged Proof Spints to test backlogged innovation ideas and validate them with users while others have examined the feasibility of integrating new technologies with mobile devices.

“Proof sprints are just another technique that’s consistent with our values, our culture and the way that we work. We love that our clients look to us to help them overcome these obstacles, and ultimately help them be more successful on their daily journeys,” said Monte Masters, SVP Solutions and Delivery.

Continue reading on Dallas Innovates.

August 29, 2017

What’s Next for the Mobile Landscape

We hear “mobile first” a lot, but what does that actually mean? What are opportunities for brands going mobile? How can they quickly master eCommerce or become known for their customer experiences? Bottle Rocket’s Executive Creative Director and Senior Director of Experience Design, Renee McKeon provided those answers recently.

In her Ogilvy webinar, “What’s Next for the Mobile Landscape,” Renee examined consumer behavior shifts and the current app landscape to help brands feel less overwhelmed as they venture into mobile. Her Insights also covered analytics on global mobile usage and clarified the difference between apps and increasingly popular chatbots. Here are just a few of the most memorable moments from Renee’s webinar.

A Mobile-First World

To live in a mobile-first world, you’ve got to put the customer first—they’re the ones experiencing and driving mobile mindset shift. Companies are shifting their focus as, according to eMarketer, the average mobile user owns six devices, uses three per day, and opens their phone approximately 200 times per day. Forrester cites that per month, smartphone users spend more than 52 hours in mobile apps and nearly 40 hours surfing mobile web. If you didn’t think so before, these numbers should convince you that focusing on the customer (therefore mobile) makes business sense.

Customer Experience

Okay, so you’re ready to go all in on serving mobile-savvy customers. Now you’ve got to make a dynamite experience or risk losing more business than if you had no mobile experience at all. No really, it’s that important. Poor user experience causes a slow drift of satisfaction that eliminates trust and interaction. Brands are 60% more profitable when they are customer centric. If you’re not, you’ve got a long way to go to earn user trust. For one negative brand interaction, there must be 12 positive interactions for a brand to return to a customer’s good graces. That’s not just us saying that; 76% of users report a good mobile experience as positively influencing their loyalty to a brand.

Liquid Expectations

Customers’ expectations are always changing. So how do you meet these liquid expectations?

The simple answer is to know your brand and know your customer, then let that knowledge guide your decision making. Here’s where it gets complicated, though: excellent and innovative experiences in other industries will impact user perceptions of your brand’s level of service and mobile experience. Someone who was blown away by their recent first-time Lyft experience may hold a quick-service restaurant to similar standards. In response, businesses should continuously plan to support an agile ecosystem. Your yearly business planning cycles could stay the same, but you might want to consider incorporating mini-cycles. Managing liquid expectations means you’re always on and always seeking opportunities to improve experiences. When things get complicated, just ask yourself one question to simplify things—does (your idea) improve the customer experience? Yes? Keep going. No? Don’t do it.

Sounds like it was a good webinar, right? Learn more from Renee (including how to navigate those mini planning cycles) by downloading the presentation slides.

Then, let us know when you’re ready evolve your mobile efforts at [email protected]

May 9, 2017

5 Ways to Craft the Ideal App Experience

We’re fresh off our Dallas breakfast event with the Mobile Marketing Association where Bottle Rocket, 7-Eleven, and Urban Airship shared what effective mobile experiences look like and why they matter. We’re still feeling jazzed about the concepts discussed during the event, and had to share five of our favorites.

Click below to watch the entire breakfast conversation or continue reading for our top 5 takeaways from the event.

Every mobile moment is an opportunity

We believe every mobile moment is an opportunity for a brand to connect to users. Between the rapidly changing mobile market and its technology, it can be hard to keep up. But, consumers expect it. Think about your audience – is it customers, employees, partners? Or a combination of these and more? Effective mobile experiences can serve any variety of audiences when developed with their needs in mind.

People want just a few things from their apps

Users want three things: personal, frictionless, contextual mobile experiences. The needs are few, but the apps that win are successful on all fronts. At Bottle Rocket, we build mobile experiences that exceed customer expectations, bringing them relevant and easy-to-use experiences. Companies like Urban Airship help us take it one step further to ensure we appropriately reach customers in the moments that matter with notification-style messages at every step in the customer journey.

Begin with the user

Through ethnographic research and observing mobile metrics, examine the user journey and learn their experience. Where do they encounter friction and what can a mobile experience do to make things easier? Anticipating these needs makes the experience delightful. You know you’ve done something right when the user responds with, “How did they do that?”

Make it easy

Engage users by extending communications beyond the app with push notifications. Don’t just present thoughts, though—provide actionable prompts, then make taking action frictionless. Take users straight to the app or let them handle business right there in the moment.

Say the right thing at the right time

Since most people use an average of three connected devices per day for more than 200 daily mobile moments, forging connections to users can be difficult. Mobile experiences need to be meaningful. Relevant engagements with appropriate frequency (learned through understanding the user and their habits) can put a brand in users’ good graces. Then, once you’ve got their attention, guide them in taking some kind of action.

Bonus trivia!

  • The farthest 84% of millennials place their phone is on their nightstand.
  • On average, people own 6 connected devices, like smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.
  • Within the first 30 days of downloading an app, 70% of people delete it.

Want to learn more? We’ve got a lot of experience to share. Tell us what you want to know—we love this stuff!

February 14, 2017

QSR Mobile Experiences Customers Want

When our partnership with Chick-fil-A bolstered the most successful B2C restaurant loyalty program in the U.S., we traced what created the special something that compelled 4 million users to download their app. It was a combination of a native, custom-built app with a thoughtful mobile strategy. In this post, we’re looking at one aspect of loyalty success: the mobile experience.

The quick and easy answer a lot of brands employ to get their loyalty program in front of customers is a pre-made, out-of-the-box app. But, if you’re serious about accelerating the growth of your quick service restaurant (QSR), you’ll need to deliver a customer experience as rich and unique as your dining experience.

Build Customer Loyalty

If you’re still unsure about loyalty apps improving your QSR brand, think of your customers. You can simplify their orders and payment, ultimately impacting your restaurant experience. When you reduce customer friction in-store, they come back. According to Paytronix, that can mean a 4% increase in revenue from a 20% increase in return customer sales. As younger generations develop brand loyalty, your earning potential through a mobile experience also grows. Millennials are more than twice as likely to pay higher prices if they earn rewards.

Placing a logo in a pre-built template may get your loyalty app out there quickly, but now you face another dilemma. What is unique to your brand in the hands of customers? If you’re using a template, your customers will be opening an app with the same interface, providing the same experience as their competitors. Your brand is worth more when the mobile experience is unique.

Develop Native Apps

We know increased average ticket size is a primary reason for wanting a branded loyalty app. Just look at Taco Bell, whose app-based ticket size were approximately 30% higher than those in store. But there are more benefits to your business than more money (though more money is pretty sweet).

When a mobile app adds another sales channel, the customer experience and your backend operations align. Customers can place and pick up orders without cook time affecting wait time…with the right app, of course. Bottle Rocket develops natively for each device our partners’ customers prefer. Since we work closely with brands during development, we build custom apps to address present and future business and customer needs. This sounds like a given for a mobile experience, but not every major brand boasts a custom native app. A recent study revealed of the top 100 chain restaurant brands, 34 don’t provide a native app for customers. More than 10 other brands’ apps were used so sparingly that they didn’t qualify for the study.

Think Beyond the App

We’re successful in building native loyalty apps for QSR partners, but we’ve been around long enough to know customers will soon demand other mobile experiences to simplify their lives.

Ordering online from home or the office is great, but from the parking lot in a connected physical space could be better. We’re also developing voice integration, so ordering anywhere involves less labor for customers. As we’ve learned in 2016 from working with our international partners, 27% of customers wanted faster payment and delivery from their QSR brands. To us, mobile means more than phones and tablets, so we’re utilizing car interfaces in drive-through or delivery scenarios to address both customer needs.

Okay, Now What?

QSR brands need mobile experiences to galvanize loyalty programs. If they want to really make an impact, those experiences need to be custom and natively built. You don’t have to take our word for it, though. Just look at your own brand’s success. It certainly wasn’t built by imitating another store’s approach. Ask for a mobile experience as unique as you to give users what they want now and in the future. Download our three principles for QSR mobile experiences to learn how to make that happen.

While you’re at it, fill out the form below to read our approach to mobile loyalty too!

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