China’s urban centers are rapidly becoming cash-free zones as digital payment methods take over. This cashless revolution is part of the “green finance” program in some areas, and it is saving the country money and resources.
China is quickly transitioning away from paper currency, with nearly everyone in major urban centers using smartphones to pay for almost everything. Alipay and WeChat are the two dominant technologies in use in the country, and they are eclipsing cash almost completely as a payment option.
Street vendors and huge shopping centers now rely on these apps, and even beggars and street musicians use QR codes in big cities in China. “It has become the default way of life now,” IDC research analyst Shiv Putcha told The New York Times. “Literally every business and brand in China is plugged into this ecosystem.”
Three years ago, everyone was still using cash, but the transition to digital payments has happened rapidly. According to consulting firm iResearch, in 2016, mobile payments in China were worth about $5.5 trillion, approximately 50 times the United States’ $112 billion market.
Tencent and Ant Financial (the parent companies of WeChat and Alipay, respectively) collect payment data from users, and they also charge both users and the companies being paid for their services — services that require very little in the way of overhead as they involve neither card readers nor interactions with banks.
As a result, Tencent’s 2016 Q4 revenues from “other services,” which includes mobile payments, tripled from 2015 to reach $940 million, and both they and Ant Financial are poised to surpass Mastercard and Visa in total daily transactions by 2018.
Cash-free campuses in cities like Tianjin allow students to pay all of their expenses, from tuition to meals, with their smartphones, making even physical student IDs obsolete.If implemented countrywide, these kinds of plans could save colleges an estimated 300,000 yuan ($44,034) per year in production costs for cards and 10 million yuan ($1,467,825) in annual card loss costs.
Digital payment technology linked to smartphones is also being used to improve health access in China and reduce notoriously long wait times in clinics.
Digital payments are part of the “green finance” project being piloted in China. Cashless technology is a green finance principle because it is more efficient. According to the World Bank, businesses and governments can cut costs by up to 75 percent using digital payment programs.
China is especially receptive to this kind of cashless transformation for several reasons. It has a huge unbanked population (about 12 percent of the unbanked adults worldwide are in China), a low rate of credit card usage (only about 16 percent penetration in 2014), and a lack of credit rating systems. Personal checks are largely obsolete in the nation, while digital options are widely available.
China isn’t alone in going cashless. Coins and bills comprise just 2 percent of Sweden’s economy, and both Norway and Denmark have eliminated cash in most settings. The New York Times reports that cash was used in about 20 percent of all consumer payments in Sweden in 2015, in contrast to the 75 percent of all transactions throughout the rest of the world. India, too, is digitizing everythingfrom payments to identification.
A primary difference between the Scandinavian countries and China, however, is the use of debit and credit cards. Cards remain common in Sweden, with almost 2.4 billion such transactions taking place in 2013. In China, cards are rarely used, and the transition from cash skipped straight to digital apps. These are gaining ground in Scandinavian countries, though, with everyone from street vendors to churches making use of digital payment apps on smartphones.
The move toward digital payments and a cash-free world has its critics. With local users locked into two platforms in China, for example, it is hard for tourists and other visitors to pay for anything. This could deter foreign businesses from coming to China or anywhere with more specialized digital payment platforms.
Furthermore, digital payment options bring with them privacy issues and cybersecurity concerns. The ability to track payment data and restrict access to money, for example, is a real concern for many users, especially when the government is the one in control.
However, for a host of reasons, the cash-free transition appears to be imminent. Ideally, we can make the transition a positive one by focusing on technologies, such as blockchain, that will ensure these transactions are private and secure.
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It suddenly feels like blockchain is everywhere — and that includes media and advertising. Here’s what to know.
What it is
Blockchain is the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin; it’s essentially a massive Excel sheet that operates in a decentralized network format. That means that the data can have large amounts of information that can be transmitted and added onto, without compromising on security. You can’t change the blockchain — and for data purposes, not one person or entity can destroy it.
What it isn’t
Blockchain is not bitcoin. While that’s what it is best known for, bitcoin is basically a digital currency that operates on blockchain. The blockchain developed for bitcoin was developed specifically for it — which is why other uses for it were only developed much later. And while bitcoin works because it is anonymous, blockchain for other types of businesses don’t have to be anonymous. In fact, they shouldn’t be: Participants are able to tell where data came from so they can trust that it’s real.
Use in media
Blockchain isn’t widely adopted: Fred Askham, associate director of analytics at IMM, which is looking into using adChain, said while fraud is a big concern, the big problem in the industry is adoption. Blockchain relies on multiple “nodes” and players, and if people don’t participate, it doesn’t work. “In the advertising industry, we’ve seen this happen a few times where the tech to measure something comes out and then there is some lag time,” he said.
It’s too theoretical: Comcast’s platform won’t launch until 2018, while NYIAX is still in the proof-of-concept phase. Most moves in blockchain are in the theoretical phase, with their realization expected to be years away, if they even happen.
It won’t scale: Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, whose investor Union Square Ventures recently announced a major blockchain investment, said blockchain’s biggest promise is in ad delivery, but scale remains an issue. “It’s good for problems that are easy to solve on an individual level but hard to compute overall,” he said. “It’s really about five years away, if not more.” For example, an Ethereum-based blockchain processes 20 transactions per second — light-years away from how quickly real-time bidding works. Research firm Gartner places blockchain right before the “Trough of Disillusionment.”
It won’t work for many types of transactions: Jon Heller, co-founder of FreeWheel, which worked on the insights platform and is owned by Comcast, said that where there is no secondary market, like in the premium video space, blockchain for smart contracts doesn’t make sense. “Premium inventory doesn’t have this commodity-like feeling,” he said. “The parts where it makes a ton of sense is that it lets you trust a transaction without having to trust the counterparty. So that’s not everywhere in marketing, but it’s in a decent number of things in marketing.”
“There are few technical barriers. Blockchain has proved itself robust and adaptable to dozens of high-impact use cases. Companies need to develop compelling-enough applications that it can make a real impact. This is already happening,” said Alex Tapscott, author of “Blockchain Revolution.” “As I say, the future’s not something to be predicted; it’s something to be achieved. We’re seeing people achieving amazing things already.”
Entrepreneurs are constantly battling for industry authority and customer engagement, and many marketers believe they can achieve these goals through content marketing across several channels. They understand that email newsletters, social media, blogs and whitepapers are vital parts of the process; however, Point Visible found that only about 22 percent of B2B marketers think their current content marketing strategies are successful.
Their customers agree. Havas Group’s Meaningful Brands report shows that people wouldn’t care if 74 percent of the brands they use regularly just disappeared. People believe 60 percent of the content that companies publish isn’t relevant to them and, frankly, isn’t very good, either.
Luckily for entrepreneurs, one of their best content marketing assets is their own story. Sharing a company’s story with customers attracts an audience simply due to authenticity. At a time when many businesses aren’t known for their transparency and credibility, an entrepreneur displaying authenticity is refreshing and can yield significant affinity for his or her brand.
Even before the business has launched, entrepreneurs can begin the storytelling process through publishing authentic stories and thought leadership pieces. Getting a head start in content writing allows entrepreneurs to become the de facto experts in their industries and strengthens their authority. And as other industry leaders, publications and trade organizations share entrepreneurs’ content, those entrepreneurs gain exponentially more influence in their fields. Think of this ever-growing collection of owned content as a “content war chest” that an entrepreneur can draw from to control the conversation and reinforce brand identity.
All brands and entrepreneurs must view themselves as publishers. Good media companies abide by copy standards, calendars and performance metrics to ensure effectiveness — so should entrepreneurs. Develop quarterly road maps that lay out content themes and sourcing and distribution channels for the upcoming months, and start building the habit of consistent content production.
Many firms now require all employees to create some kind of content, and this benefits both the employer and the employee. Employees can build their own digital footprint and industry credibility, and employers can trust the source of that content and use it to strengthen SEO dominance, brand awareness and new business acquisition.
Unfortunately, entrepreneurs can be their own worst enemies when it comes to gaining industry authority through content publishing. Entrepreneurs often strive to move at a frenetic pace. They can be impatient about gaining this authority, even though accountability and patience are nonnegotiable for the entire content supply chain. Content publishing isn’t something an entrepreneur does on the side when he or she has the time. It must be given the same weight as making payroll and driving business profits because it’s just as essential for company survival.
When entrepreneurs successfully implement a content publishing strategy, they can gain a larger audience and more brand loyalty. For example, Ardent is shaking things up in the sport fishing industry by publishing content, allowing its customers to lead the conversation and consistently engaging with both novice and expert fishermen. More than 3,000 brand fanatics read and contribute to Ardent’s self-publishing efforts.
Entrepreneurs can’t ignore the need to define their brands in-house and fill their war chests with valuable content. Here are four steps to take when producing content:
Point Visible’s earlier infographic posits that 70 percent of customers prefer reading an article about a brand to hearing about it through advertising, so entrepreneurs should draw in customers with their stories. Make audience growth your No. 1 metric for measuring engaged customers. Focus on aggregating and growing social followers, blog readers, newsletter subscribers and customers on other media channels by providing those audiences with relevant and engaging content.
Having a content marketing platform makes it much easier to automate the curation of a brand’s content and its distribution. It’ll be easier to know what content has been generated and where it has been used and can be used. According to Walker Sands Communications, about two-thirds of marketers anticipate growth in their marketing technology budgets in 2017, so keep up with the competition and find a suitable platform.
Create content for the sake of publishing, not for the sake of marketing. The majority of both B2B (73 percent) and B2C (76 percent) marketers, according to Point Visible, view content marketing as more than just a campaign. It’s a continuous business process, so have the content creation team get in the habit of developing story ideas, finding distribution channels and tracking key metrics on a weekly basis.
Also, make it a requirement that employees regularly contribute to this content creation, and reward those whose work gets published in national press or industry trade publications. Then, add teasers on social media using portions of this content; Point Visible found 85 percent of B2C marketers believe social media content is the most vital to the success of a content marketing strategy.
Successful entrepreneurs use a two-tier content distribution approach. The first tier is a steady stream of relevant content shared on the company’s blog and social channels. These daily pieces need to be useful and provide quick information to customers. The second tier is geared toward monthly or quarterly substantive content, such as whitepapers, infographics and ebooks. These are higher in quality and well-researched, and they should establish the entrepreneur as the industry expert.
An entrepreneur’s story is a valuable commodity, just as valuable as his or her tenacity, innovation and persistence. This unique narrative can make a brand seem more authentic, and if entrepreneurs consistently pump out substantive content that’s vital, they can become industry experts. Even before the launch of a business, entrepreneurs can fill their war chests with valuable content that supports their brands’ identity and builds their influence exponentially.
The social marketing landscape shifts so quickly that a half-year review isn’t so much ridiculous as almost requisite, if only to keep track of what has changed already in 2017.
When 2016 ended, Snapchat was a social darling, Facebook videos could be watched uninterrupted, and Instagram’s Stories product was smaller than Snapchat’s original. Then 2017 happened. More specifically, these things happened:
Secrecy had always been part of Snapchat’s allure, but when the app’s parent company Snap filed to go public in February, it lost some of that mystique, in part because it appeared to be losing its war with Instagram. Soon after Instagram cloned Snapchat’s Stories feature, Snapchat’s audience growth slowed. By April 2017, more people were checking out Instagram Stories daily than opening Snapchat. Those stats alone would have made for a rough start to 2017. But in May, Snap said that its Q1 2017 revenue slid from the Q4 2016 mark because of seasonality, a trend that’s normal for a seasoned ad business but unusual for an upstart.
After closing 2016 by making run at Snapchat’s user base, Instagram opened 2017 by making a run at its rival’s advertiser base when it rolled out Snapchat-style vertical video ads between people’s Stories. Then in April — two months after Snapchat disclosed its daily user count for the first time — Instagram revealed that more people were using Instagram Stories daily than Snapchat. Then in June, a month after Snapchat said that its daily audience growth had rebounded by 5 percent from Q4 2016 to Q1 2017, Instagram announced that Stories’ daily audience had grown by 25 percent from April to June.
Views are nice, but revenue is nicer. After building itself up as a legitimate alternative to YouTube for creators and publishers to attract audiences for their videos, Facebook finally started testing a way for companies to make money from the videos they post on the social network. Now it’s a question of whether advertisers shaken by YouTube’s “adpocalypse” are comfortable with Facebook’s limited controls over which videos feature their mid-roll ads.
In the movie “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation,” Chevy Chase tries to plug a leak in the Hoover Dam, only to have another one open. Twitter is Chevy Chase. The company has finally re-accelerated its audience growth, but now its total revenue and advertising revenue are in decline. And while Twitter has added more money-making ad products, like ads in Periscope, it has also lost one of its most marquee sales opportunities after the NFL opted not to renew its regular season live-streaming deal with the company.
Business-wise, LinkedIn had stayed pretty quiet since being bought by Microsoft in 2016. Then the the business-centric social network finally opened itself up to retargeted advertising through a new program called Matched Audiences. While LinkedIn isn’t doing anything that hasn’t already been done by Facebook, Google, Twitter — really, by everyone — it can better cater to B2B marketers.
Pinterest wants to do for visual search what Google has done for text-based search. But for a search engine to be truly visual, not only should the results be visual, but so should the queries. And so in February, Pinterest rolled out Lens, a feature in its app that convert a phone’s camera into a search bar. A few months later, Pinterest said that it would use the same computer vision technology powering Lens to target ads on its platform.
2016 was supposed to be a big year for chatbots. Luckily for them, it was not. But 2017 may be after Facebook’s Messenger added a Discover tab to make people more aware of the chatbots and businesses on its platform.
Inching toward digital maturity isn’t an easy path for most marketers. According to data from MIT Sloan Management Review, in collaboration with Deloitte, many executives and managers worldwide know there are steps their organizations need to take to increase their company’s digital maturity.
What makes organizations digitally mature? For one, the Sloan/Deloitte report argued, they implement systemic changes in how they organize and develop workforces and aim to nurture digital minded cultures and experiences within their organization.
And unlike less digitally mature companies, those that take a more digitally mature approach focus on the long-term, meaning they look to see where they’ll stand five years from now, for example.
Making sure you have the right talent and securing people within the company who have the vision necessary to lead a digital strategy is also key.
Many marketers, however, feel they lack fall short in these areas.
Nearly 40% of respondents said their company needs to improve digital strategy and innovation. Another 23% said their organization needs to develop a stronger talent model, like recruiting better people, as well as managing and developing their progress.
Meanwhile, 13% said their company needs to better develop and deploy digital capabilities, such as cloud and analytics.
When asked about the biggest mistakes managers and leaders within their organization make with respect to digital, many felt their company lacked a solid understanding of digital trends and how they affected their organization.
Lack of strategic direction and resistance to change where two other criticisms mentioned.
Despite these hurdles, most marketers agree that a digital transformation is necessary to not only remain competitive, but also to keep pace with disruptive technologies and evolve with shifting consumer expectations.