Is Artificial Intelligence In Marketing Overhyped? (Source: Rupa Ganatra / Forbes)


A recent survey of more than 300 marketers by Resulticks found that almost half thought artificial intelligence was an overhyped industry buzzword and 40% felt skeptical when they saw or heard the term. The survey also found that 47% of marketers believed AI was more fantasy than reality.


Artificial intelligence has certainly become the buzzword of 2018 as brands and retailers increasingly explore how it will impact their business this year and beyond. Speaking at an event recently hosted by StoryStream on the hype behind AI in marketing, it became apparent that whilst AI is in its infancy today, many brands and retailers are already actively using AI for the likes of content creation, content management, customer insights, personalization and customer acquisition.

Brands including Aston MartinShiseido and Mars are already actively embracing AI experimentation in marketing and some have been at it for some time. Food producer Stonewall Kitchen re-platformed it’s entire ecommerce site with Salesforce Commerce Cloud in 2016, creating an entirely AI-driven on-site experience for their shoppers and have already been reaping the results in areas like cart abandonment and average order values. Stonewall’s Director of Marketing and Direct-to-Consumer Sales, Janine Somers estimates that AI technology has been responsible for about 10% of their year-to-date product revenue.

Berlin-based footwear retailer Shoepassion has seen results from utilizing the personalization technology stack Dynamic Yield in the areas of customer segmentation, optimization, messaging, recommendations and connecting the online and offline data to provide a seamless, personalized and connected customer experience at scale. Whilst beauty Start-up Wunder2 has also been experimenting at speed and recently became the first major cosmetics brand to launch an Amazon Alexa Skill. “As a business, we are fascinated with the rapid integration of AI into peoples’ lives. We think the level of adoption will exceed many peoples’ expectation, and create fluid recommendation experiences using AI technology found in Google Home, Alexa, and the recently launched Apple HomePod – it is something we are absolutely developing already,” says Co-Founder and CEO Michael Malinksy.

The expectation and demands of today’s customer are increasing exponentially, whilst the overflow of content and the rising number of content sources makes it more challenging for marketers to manage their content and publish relevant content across multiple channels. CEO and Co-founder of StoryStream Alex Vaidya says, “today’s customers are ultra-connected, looking for instant gratification and searching for high-quality personalized purchasing experiences from brands.” The UK’s fifth largest retailer Co-op recently used StoryStream’s new AI platform Aura for their #nowcookit campaign across content analytics, digital asset management and multichannel publishing which saw dwell times on their website increase by up to 5x, an 11% conversion rate and an 8x improvement in content curation time for the retailer’s marketing team.

Cosmetics company Shiseido use Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud and Equals 3’s cognitive companion Lucy. Their Chief Digital Officer Alessio Rossi says, “with these platforms, we are building a more complete view of who our customers are by aggregating and analyzing all the data fragments to build customer profiles that are more meaningful and actionable for us.” Whilst the digitally native cosmetics brand Wunder2, famous for having produced the Internet’s most viral brow product, has been utilizing technology from IBM Watson to do analysis on 500,000 Customer FB posts and comments to identify sentiment, allowing them to categorize posts and comments. This has given them large scale data to help understand typical concerns, questions, sources and instances of negativity and build strategies to address and pre-empt them where possible.

With so many choices out there, choosing the best AI platforms for obtaining customer insights and delivering personalization at true scale is key for retailers. As Anoop Vasisht, GM Europe at AI technology platform Dynamic Yield points out, “building online experiences had traditionally been accomplished through a disjointed series of solutions. Retailers would turn to one vendor to serve pop-up messages, another for email personalization and another to provide product recommendations. This not only resulted in data silos but became increasingly difficult to manage so many technologies in the marketing stack and ultimately customer experience took a hit.”

Working with retailers including Sephora Digital SEAOcado and Shoepassion, the Dynamic Yield AI technology stack permits marketers to consistently scale personalization across multiple channels within a single solution. Berlin-based retailer Shoepassion is now able to identify the context of their consumers at scale online via an automated segmentation platform. “If you know that a customer likes to buy a certain type of leather shoe every Winter, you want to be in a position to deliver that content to that customer in their shoe size every time they interact with your brand, across all channels,” says Vasisht. Personalized messaging and product recommendations across web and email are other areas where Shoepassionhas used the Dynamic Yield stack. “If for example it’s a repeat buyer, you may want to show similar products to previous purchases whilst for others, you may want to show the most popular products. Dynamic Yield allows you to personalize for different audiences and optimize the different strategies at scale.”

Stonewall Kitchen has also found success in personalizing their customer relationships through the areas of customer segmentation, email personalization, predictive recommendations and optimizing cart abandonment. Emails shared with their customers and prospects who hadn’t opened one in more than six months had a 9.7% click rate and a 4% conversion rate. Additionally, predictive recommendations resulted in $182,000 in attributable revenue. Somers says, “Salesforce’s AI capabilities have helped solve for many challenges including ’empty cart syndrome,’ providing our shoppers with personalized product recommendations if their cart remains empty for a certain amount of time. Overall, we’ve seen 83% of these suggested products added to a shopper’s cart.”

For many, an AI approach to customer segmentation has also increased the number of segments that they look at. For example, AI has helped Magic Day’s owner Maksym Podsolonko connect the dots between requests, their proposals and customer feedback. It has also led to increasing the customer segments from 7 to 61, whilst only focusing on targeting 4 of them. This level of segmentation and precise targeting has helped them increase revenue with minimal resources making his business ultimately more efficient.

In addition to segmenting existing customers, AI technology is also being used to identify new potential customers in new markets by both Aston Martin and Mars. Aston Martin recently used AI technology KanKan to identify potential customers in China. They wanted to understand the difference between a Tesla buyer and other luxury car brands and were able to do this by aggregating data from both social and retail behavior.

Mars Wrigley Confectionary has been using a reply-based social advertising tool on Twitter called Respondology for their goodnessKNOWS brand to offer product incentives to new audiences outside their existing fan base. Through the platform, they’ve been able to find and vet target-right consumers and offer them a discount off their online purchases. Whilst they are still in the infancy of leveraging the platform to its fullest capability, they have already seen an increase in online ecommerce sales and consumer engagement from it. “One of the biggest benefits so far for goodnessKNOWS has been that we can accelerate a process that we’ve typically done manually, to ultimately reach more brand-right consumers who are looking for a product like ours. Our Respondology campaign has enabled us to reach target-right consumers with relevant product messaging based on conversations they are already having online. We’ve seen a more engaged social community and a ripple effect of consumers sharing their love for our brand and product,” says Eric Epstein, Marketing Director of Snacks for Mars Wrigley Confectionary.

The potential for turning endless amounts of consumer data into actionable marketing campaigns, provide personalization at scale across multiple channels and drive increasing efficiency within marketing teams are key for brands and retailers competing in today’s hyper-commoditized landscape. As AI experimentation continues in these areas, it will be important for brands and retailers to select the right technology partners, be willing to try out new strategies and ultimately, figure out what does and does not have an impact on their bottom-line, at speed.


CEOs, CMOs, And Executive Recruiters Make Predictions For Marketing Leaders in 2016 – Forbes

What are the top predictions for marketing leaders heading into 2016? To find out, I turned to some of the leading experts, including CEOs, Presidents/GMs, CMOs, authors and executive recruiters.

Source: CEOs, CMOs, And Executive Recruiters Make Predictions For Marketing Leaders in 2016 – Forbes

Prediction #1: The CMO will Have the Seat Right Next to the CEO

From Kirk Borne, Principal Data Scientist, Booz Allen Hamilton

As digital marketing becomes the central hub for business offerings, technology applications, customer experience management, social media engagement, and financial risk management, the CMO role will grow into one of the most sought-after and trusted advisors in the C-suite and the executive boardroom. The core CMO responsibility is still marketing, but the universe of people, products, and processes that marketing now entails is expanding both physically and virtually in every direction that digital business is moving. Buckle up, it’s going to be a fast and forceful ride!

Prediction #2: CMOs will be Picked for More Non-Profit Executive Leadership (CEO) Roles in 2016

From Matthew Boyle, CMO, AAFCPA
There are many executive directors in nonprofit organizations throughout the country that are past or approaching retirement age. CMOs are ideally suited to fill these positions because of their ability to articulate the mission and generate excitement around the brand, which is critical for long-term success. These CMOs will make ideal candidates to lead nonprofit brands hungry for leaders who are naturally relationship savvy.

Prediction #3: CMOs will Build C-Suite Capability to Leverage Social Media and Drive Total Business Results

From Penny Wilson, CMO, Hootsuite

2016 will be the year CMOs at organizations big and small embrace social media as a way to improve the bottom line through their marketing campaigns. This year, we will see the CMO influence the rest of the C-Suite to implement social media strategies both internally and externally to further business initiatives beyond marketing, to sales, customer service and employee advocacy. Next year we will see the acceleration of social media and the solutions to participate in relevant customer conversations will be the next powerhouse in marketing.

Prediction #4: Marketing Leaders who Excel at Meeting Customers on the Go Will Win

From Juliet Daum, Executive Director, Communication & Marketing, University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Our digitally connected, always-on world is increasingly dominated by mobile technology. We use smartphones, tablets and wearable gadgets to get things done, to seek and share information, and to explore new ideas and places — often while on the go. Google coined our shorts bursts of online activity ‘micro-moments.’ The brands that thrive in 2016 will be those that excel at capturing customers’ attention and trust by delivering the right content, in the right dose, at the right moment, informed by the right data. Customers today seek engagement on their terms, which means marketers must ‘pull’ them in (by offering valuable, searchable content; dynamic social media engagement; and top-notch visuals, including video and infographics), ‘push’ out their messages (through tasteful, personalized communications), and create opportunities to shake hands (though we’re on the go, we are human).

Prediction #5: CMOs Driving Customer-Centric Change Agendas Will Be Better Positioned for CEO Roles

From Caren Fleit, Senior Client Partner and Leader of the Global Marketing Center of Expertise at Korn Ferry

Since customer-centric companies have customers who are more loyal and better brand promoters, as well as earn a greater share of wallet, they typically have higher revenue growth, stock price and market share.  So it would seem obvious that customer centricity would be every company’s focus, but not really―only 7% of companies earned an excellent customer experience rating according to their customers. As companies wake up to this huge disconnect and make improved customer centricity a priority, it often falls to the marketing leader to drive this transformation agenda across the customer journey and the enterprise. In order to help guide their organization on the journey to becoming more customer-centric, marketing leaders must drive organizational alignment and break down functional silos like never before. This implies very different leadership skills and an ability to think about the business much more holistically, beyond the classic marketing roles. CMOs who are successful at driving this change are well positioned to take on additional responsibilities and, ultimately, even a CEO role.

IDC Predicts Turmoil For CMOs In 2015: 25% of CMOs will be replaced every year through 2018.

IDC Predicts Turmoil For CMOs In 2015.


Late last year IDC’s CMO Advisory Service released its 10 predictions for the next three years. Kathleen Schaub, vice president of the practice, summarized the findings this way, “Our theme for the coming year is turmoil versus transformation. There’s a lot of activity going on and some people are actually moving forward, but there’s also a lot of spinning and a lot of trial and error.

“We see that marking transformation is at a point where marketing people get that they’ve got to take [new] roads and these roads need new and different kinds of content. They need to start engaging with buyers earlier. They need to use data to personalize. They need technology in order to be able to accomplish that. These fundamental facts about modern marketing everyone get now. [Marketers] pretty much all tried to do this and now realize how difficult it is, how interrelated it is and how much has to change in such a fundamental way in order to be able to make this happen. There are a few places here and there that are starting to put things together, but the scary stories are coming back as often as the winning stories.”

IDC CMO FutureScape 2015 (2)

Here are IDC’s 10 predictions with my editorial comments:

  1. 25% of CMOs will be replaced every year through 2018. The big issue to me that contributes to this turnover is the redefinition of the CMO role. No longer can a CMO simply be the “brand champion” who primarily uses advertising to accomplish her goals. In the era of modern marketing, customer experiences will trump advertising campaigns. CMOs must become champions of great experiences at every step of their customers’ decision journeys. Those who rise to this new standard with thrive. Those who don’t will be in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
  2. By 2017, 25% of marketing organizations will solve critical skill gaps by deploying centers of excellence. Very similar to how CMOs dealt with the explosion of digital and social media over the past decade, scarce talent will be a centralized resource used to shore up business units’ gaps. The emergence of the chief marketing technology officer (CMTO) is one response to centralizing the competencies needed to build the data and technology infrastructure required for modern marketing.
  3. By 2017 15% of B2B companies will use more than 20 data sources to personalize a high-value customer journey. Having personalized experiences at each touch point is the holy grail of modern marketing. Creating a unified view of an individual customer requires connecting that customer’s data from every interaction system, most of which are siloed today. Having a data integration plan should be at the top of every CMO’s 2015 agenda.
  4. By 2015 one in three marketing organizations will deliver compelling content at all stages of the buyer journey. Congratulations to the third who will get there this year. But for the rest of you, what’s holding you back?
  5. In 2015 only one in five companies will retool to reach line of business buyers and outperform those selling exclusively to IT. Ouch! With more and more applications being delivered via a SaaS model, business users can procure the tools they need directly for suppliers more easily. Look at what has happened in marketing with marketing cloud applications, and in sales with products like The 80% of companies slow to adjust to this new reality will be in trouble soon.
  6. By 2017 50% of larger high-tech marketing organizations will create in-house creative services. Retailers did this long ago to produce Sunday circulars more cost-effectively. Manufacturers are trying to create efficient content production teams now. This model can work for production content, but most firms will realize hiring and keeping top creative talent will be a challenge. I expect to see a hybrid model that uses both internal production teams and outside agencies to develop the most effective portfolio of content.
  7. By 2018 20% of B2B sales teams will go “virtual,” resulting in improved pipeline conversion rates. Let’s face it, highly paid sales people don’t want to mess with prospects who aren’t ready to buy. But as customers discover and explore solutions online, they may have questions that they can’t answer independently. I’m seeing more marketing organizations create lead nurturing call centers to fill this gap. When done well, customers have better experiences and sales get a higher percentage of highly qualified buyers.
  8. By 2017 70% of B2B mobile customer apps will fail to achieve ROI because they lack customer value-add. I believe this failure happens for two reasons. First, companies believe they must have a mobile app so they rush something to market that helps them push their agendas instead of taking time to understand what the customer actually needs. Second, most companies don’t need an app. What customers really want is a mobile-optimized website (which is already connected to your back-end systems) to get the information they need whenever and wherever they want it. In 2015 I’d suggest you resist being “app happy” and instead become truly “mobile friendly.”
  9. By 2017 25% of CMOs and CIOs will have a shared roadmap for marketing technology. Why isn’t this 100% in 2015? It should be! No excuses for waiting until 2017.
  10. By 2018 20% of B2B CMOs will drive budget increases by attributing campaign results to revenue performance. Yikes! Only 20%. Sure building measurement systems isn’t easy, but the tools do exist to help you learn what works and doesn’t. For the CMOs who don’t make progress on multi-channel program attribution in 2015, re-read prediction #1. Your job will be in jeopardy.

Print magazines like Forbes don’t have a readership problem, they have an advertising problem, FM chief revenue officer Mark Howard

Forbes, HuffPost on Digital Journalism, PR and Native Ads – Wed., Apr. 16, 2014.

Wed., Apr. 16, 2014
Print magazines like Forbes don’t have a readership problem, they have an advertising problem, Forbes Media chief revenue officer Mark Howard told Gibbs & Soell’s annual “Welcome to the Global Street Fight” event in New York on April 11.

“Readers are excited as ever to read and consume,” he said, “to see what our editors have curated and see what they want readers to know. …People appreciate the finite experience of a magazine with a beginning, middle and end.” But technology has introduced hypertargeting and microtargeting to the ad realm, metrics that don’t translate well to print media that have to bridge that divide. “There is value in the messages in advertising that goes with the content. The challenge is providing metrics that you get from the web.”

“I still think print has a place in the ecosystem,” said Jimmy Soni, managing editor of The Huffington Post who said he reads The New YorkerGQ and The Economist, among print publications. “It’s a different reading experience.”

Soni said the “journalism is dead” argument amid the rise of digital is answered by outlets like Politico, Pro Publica, HuffPost, BuzzFeed and UpWorthy, all founded in the last 10 years. “Many are generating content that wouldn’t have otherwise been produced,” he said. Asked by G&S president/CEO Luke Lambert about the gripe that most new media get content from “old media,” Soni said operations like Politico and HuffPost spend “enormous amounts of money and time creating stuff out of whole cloth.”

‘Net Not a Zero-Sum Game for Readers

“GibbsLuke Lambert, president/CEO of Gibbs & Soell, Jimmy Soni, managing editor, The Huffington Post, and Mark Howard, chief revenue officer, Forbes Media.

Soni, who confessed that it’s not his job to find a way to monetize the content his publication produces, said social media has provided infinite potential for eyeballs, expanding readership and changing the PR game.

He said the Internet has also made the media ecosystem “less hostile” and more open to collaboration. “Partnerships are now the coin of the realm,” he said. “We work with BuzzFeed or UpWorthy as their eyeballs might become ours. It’s not a zero sum game on the Internet. …Most people in this room probably consume around 50 news sources a day.”

“The era of the blind pitch is over,” he said, noting that he does not read unsolicited email or pitches “unless you split the atom.” Soni said there are two key factors to the PR realm right now. First: “Be so good we can’t ignore you.” He pointed to JPMorgan Chase as an example of a company that has attracted its share of negative headlines, also garnering coverage for its work with veterans. And second: “Recognize that you’re more in charge of your story than you’ve ever been.” He cited Volkswagen’s viral ad featuring actor Jean Claude Van Dame as an example of company-produced content that garnered wide coverage. Another example was clothing retailer Gap’s empathetic response to racist graffiti on one of its ads that sparked a “Thank you, Gap” campaign.

He said a company like Goldman Sachs, “a company we often go after,” works with HuffPost on their small business initiatives, through paid content and advertising.

Forbes’ Native Ads, Digital Growth

Howard said the magazine is the “front door to our brand,” which also encompasses digital and conference and events. “Who we profile on the cover is very important to the business world,” he said. But the foundation for Forbes’ road to digital credibility and growth came from separating the magazine from its Internet push.

Howard said in 2000-01 Tim Forbes spun out as a separate entity from the then-84-year-old magazine to allow breathing room “to figure it out for ourselve.” He said Forbes’ decision to buy the content platform True/Slant 2010, which compensated writers by both monetary payment and via advertising and sponsorship revenues of their pages. The move coincided with media job cuts that left a lot of writers out of work without a platform on which to produce content. Many embraced the True/Slant platform and provided a wide range of professional content to grow the site, which, Howard noted, is not a news site but a forum for opinion and analysis of news and issues.

Forbes also in 2010 rolled out its native ad platform BrandVoice, which affords significant control to advertisers producing editorial for the Forbes site. The posts are clearly marked as BrandVoice content. Howard said advertisers are taught to use Forbes’ content management system and publish “just like editorial staffers.” Advertisers get a monthly site license that allows them an unlimited number of posts. The platform is expected to make up to 30% of Forbes’ ad revenue by 2014.

HuffPost Writers Know Audience Data

Soni said the HuffPost’s success has come in part because its staffers are as focused on publishing as much as content. “Editors know data patterns, audience development,” he said. “You can’t bury your head in the sand about where your audience is coming from.”

He called the Post “unapologetic” in its approach to journalism, which encompasses news, humor and opinion, among other tenets.

The HuffPost in 2012 became the firm digital media outlet to win a Pulitzer Prize as senior military correspondent David Wood’s “Beyond the Battlefield” series on wounded veterans and their families. “It sent a wakeup call to the industry that the Internet is not a dirty word,” said Soni,” that you can reach a large audience with quality content.”

The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014 – Forbes

The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014 – Forbes.

With new social networking platforms appearing from behind every corner, it can be hard to know exactly where to commit your time and resources. And as we move into the latter-half of 2013, it’s important to look ahead to where social networking is going, and how we can get on board.

As I think about the trends in social media so far this year, I’ve compiled a list of my predictions as to where we’re headed as we inch towards 2014.

1. Investment in Social Media Will Become a Necessity, Not a Luxury

While I’d argue that investing time and resources into a social media strategy is most definitely a necessity in 2013, I believe the tipping point in public sentiment from ‘should have’ to ‘must have’ will occur in 2014.

Businesses are already coming to terms with the need to integrate their social media efforts with their content strategy, and are seeing the impact of social media in terms of lead generation, referral traffic, and revenue.

As businesses see these very real and measurable benefits, I believe we’ll see a move away from assigning social media tasks to existing employees, and see even more companies hiring social media strategists or full-time social media managers.

The benefits of social media are many, but they include:

  • Improved social signals (which are a factor in the search ranking algorithm).
  • Company branding
  • Improved brand awareness
  • Word-of-mouth advertising
  • Increased customer loyalty and trust
  • Improved audience reach and influence

Social media is also one of the three pillars of SEO.

2. Google+ Will Become a Major Factor

While Facebook continues to lead the pack in terms of number of active monthly users (1.15 billion at last count), Google+ is quickly gaining steam, and in fact, now has the second highest number of monthly users (343 million).

With Google using the platform to collect personal information (think demographics, location, etc.), Google+ should no longer be thought of as ‘just’ another social network. It’s increasingly proving itself to be an integral part of Google’s grand scheme in terms of SEO, social signals and providing a more personalized search experience. This is especially apparent with the importance of Google Authorship, which I project will be one of the key components to Google’s search ranking algorithm by the end of 2014.

I believe that businesses who are finding themselves spread thin with their social media efforts will increasingly turn to Google+ as the closest thing we have to a ‘one size fits all’ social network.

As Google+ moves towards even greater integration with other aspects of the web – as they’ve already done with their foray into local search – I think we’ll see its growth skyrocket, both in terms of business and personal use. For information on how to start using Google+, read “How to Breathe Life into Your Google+ Profile.”

3. Image-Centric Networks Will See Huge Success

We’ve seen a consistent trend in 2013 toward sharing through image and video, rather than text-based content. Visual content will increasingly become a critical piece of any solid content strategy, and social networking site Pinterest will continue to shed its reputation as a ‘women’s only’ network and become an integral part of retailers’ marketing strategies.

Other image-based social media sites like Slideshare, Tumblr, Path, and Mobli will continue to grow, and businesses will need to become more mindful about the ‘sharability’ factor of photos on their websites and blogs in order to derive significant benefit from their social media content marketing efforts.

4. We’ll Witness the Rise of Micro-Video

It seems that writing 140 characters and taking 3 minute long videos is becoming too tedious for many of us. Micro video to the rescue!

With the emergence of micro video apps like Twitter’s Vine and now Instagram’s video sharing feature, we’re seeing even more movement toward real-time video sharing. And not just any videos; with Instagram allowing 3-15 seconds per video, and Vine allowing precisely 6 seconds, users are even more likely to create and share videos from their smartphones.

It will be interesting to see if and how these bite-sized pieces of content will change the playing field when it comes to video-based social media.

5. Foursquare Will Decline Sharply

With stale traffic numbers, and significant difficulties raising capital in 2013, Foursquare continues to struggle its way towards 2014.

With other social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter offering location-based features, it seems like only a matter of time before Foursquare folds and their users are absorbed into these other networks.

6. MySpace, Love it or Hate it, Will Grow

With their radical makeover and re-branding efforts earlier this year, MySpace appears to be getting its second wind. Offering an iPhone app that allows users to network, receive private messages, and listen to their own personalized radio station, MySpace seems to be on track for growth in 2014.

I don’t see MySpace ever again competing in the same space as Facebook or Twitter, but it will be interesting to see how the network grows among bands and music-lovers.

7. LinkedIn Will Become a Major Player for B2B Business Growth

Still holding steady as the #1 social networking site for professionals with 238 million users, LinkedIn isn’t just sitting on its heels. With the launch of itsInfluencers program, LinkedIn is positioning itself as not only another networking site, but as one of the largest sources of content creation and curation for professionals.

As it grows and attracts even more users, the advantages of being “linked in” will become enormous for B2B marketers. For a guide on how to use LinkedIn for Marketing, see my article “The Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Marketing.”

Final Thoughts

Facebook and Twitter show no signs of imminent decline, but it will be interesting to see how they innovate to keep up with the growth of Google+ as well as image and video-based networks.

With social media behemoth Facebook turning 10 in 2014 (has it really been that long?), they’ll continue to focus efforts on mobile, and on offering advertisers opportunities to better target their ads. And while Twitter continues to be the golden child amongst B2B marketers, I’m curious to see if and how the rise of Google+ will impact its market share.

While most business owners are aware of the necessity of having a social media strategy, I believe 2014 will be the year where a majority will finally understand the necessity to commit the necessary time and resources to their social media efforts. I’m excited to see which up-and-coming networks grab a share of the market, and which have already run their course. If you’re a business owner looking to build your social media presence, I recommend this article: “How to Determine Which Social Media Network Fits Your Business.”

Which social networking sites do you think we should be watching? Which do you think are on their last legs? Let me know in the comments below!

Roundup of Big Data Forecasts and Market Estimates, 2012 – Forbes

Roundup of Big Data Forecasts and Market Estimates, 2012 – Forbes.

From the best-known companies in enterprise software to start-ups, everyone is jumping on the big data bandwagon.

The potential of big data to bring insights and intelligence into enterprises is a strong motivator, where managers are constantly looking for the competitive edge to win in their chosen  markets.  With so much potential to provide enterprises with enhanced analytics, insights and intelligence, it is understandable why this area has such high expectations – and hype – associated with it.

Given the potential big data has to reorder an enterprise and make it more competitive and profitable, it’s understandable why there are so many forecasts and market analyses being done today.  The following is a roundup of the latest big data forecasts and market estimates recently published:

  • As of last month, Gartner had received 12,000 searches over the last twelve months for the term “big data” with the pace increasing.
  • In Hype Cycle for Big Data, 2012, Gartner states that Column-Store DBMSCloud Computing, In-Memory Database Management Systems will be the three most transformational technologies in the next five years.  Gartner goes on to predict that Complex Event Processing, Content Analytics, Context-Enriched Services, Hybrid Cloud Computing, Information Capabilities Framework and Telematics round out the technologies the research firm considers transformational.  The Hype Cycle for Big Data is shown below:

  • Predictive modeling is gaining momentum with property and casualty (P&C) companies who are using them to support claims analysis, CRM, risk management, pricing and actuarial workflows, quoting, and underwriting. Web-based quoting systems and pricing optimization strategies are benefiting from investments in predictive modeling as well.   The Priority Matrix for Big Data, 2012 is shown below:

  •  Social content is the fastest growing category of new content in the enterprise and will eventually attain 20% market penetration.   Gartner defines social content as unstructured data created, edited and published on corporate blogs, communication and collaboration platforms, in addition to external platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and a myriad of others.
  • Gartner reports that 45% as sales management teams identify sales analytics as a priority to help them understand sales performance, market conditions and opportunities.
  • Over 80% of Web Analytics solutions are delivered via Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).  Gartner goes on to estimate that over 90% of the total available market for Web Analytics are already using some form of tools and thatGoogle reported 10 million registrations for Google Analytics alone.  Google also reports 200,000 active users of their free Analytics application.  Gartner also states that the majority of the customers for these systems use two or more Web analytics applications, and less than 50% use the advanced functions including data warehousing, advanced reporting and higher-end customer segmentation features.
  • In the report Market Trends: Big Data Opportunities in Vertical Industries, the following heat map by industry shows that from a volume of data perspective, Banking and Securities, Communications, Media and Services, Government, and Manufacturing and Natural Resources have the greatest potential opportunity for Big Data.

  • Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity is available for download from the McKinsey Global Institute for free.  This is 156 page document authored by McKinsey researchers is excellent.  While it was published last year (June, 2011), if you’re following big data, download a copy as much of the research is still relevant.  McKinsey includes extensive analysis of how big data can deliver value in a manufacturing value chains for example, which is shown below:

WalmartLabs Can Figure Out Gifts Your Facebook Friends Want – Forbes

WalmartLabs Can Figure Out Gifts Your Facebook Friends Want – Forbes.

Tom Groenfeldt, Contributor

Stuck trying to find a gift for your mother-in-law, or that 16-year old niece? Put @WalmartLabs’ Social Genome to work.

Go to and download a small application to your computer. It will review your Facebook friends and look at their hobbies, interests and activities and create a list of gift suggestion. You can search for recommendations by name or by interest, review the suggestion and click to buy a gift. (Two drawbacks for the Facebook skeptics — it also puts your name, hobbies and gift wishes out there for friends to see, and you get enrolled in Facebook’s Timeline.)

On his blog, Anand Rajaraman, senior vice president at Walmart Global eCommerce, explains:

“For example, Shopycat notices that my friend Joe keeps posting about the Red Sox, and infers that he is a Red Sox– and therefore, a baseball — fan. Shopycat analyzes likes and shares to infer tastes as varied as Harry Potter, running, Angry Birds, sushi, yoga, and parenting to recommend gifts.

“The second step is to search across a large universe of products to find the one “wow” gift that doesn’t break the bank. Shopycat matches users’ interests to a giant catalog that includes products from, Walmart and sites including Barnes and Noble, RedEnvelope, ThinkGeek, and Hot Topic.” Rajaraman said Walmart understood it didn’t necessarily have the best selection of potential gifts, so it partnered with other retailers.

Before tools like Hadoop were available to work with big data, using information from social media would have been difficult, if not impossible. Now Facebook, Twitter and other sites including Flickr, have changed the sources of information available to retailers. No longer is a retailer limited to monitoring the actions of shoppers on its site or in its stores. Walmart can watch social media for trends, such as the rise in popularity of the English singer Susan Boyle as it was happening, so buyers can make sure they have the right music in stock for those who still buy CDs.

Rajaraman, a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist investor in Silicon Valley, has developed technology to understand the sentiment in social media postings at Kosmix, a company he co-founded with Venky Harinarayan. It developed a platform called the Social Genome to organize and understand the deluge of data in status updates, tweets, blogs and videos. Walmart bought the company nine months ago and its 60 employees made the move to WalmartLabs where it is part of Walmart’s e-commerce operations. Rajaraman, who sold his comparison shopping company Junglee to Amazon in 1996 for $250 million, now talks of using the social media technology developed at Kosmix to help Walmart leapfrog Amazon.

In another example from Rajaraman’s blog: “…when I tweet “Loved Angelina Jolie in Salt,” the tweet connects me (a user) to Angelia Jolie (an actress) and SALT (a movie). By analyzing the huge volume of data produced every day on social media, the Social Genome builds rich profiles of users, topics, products, places, and events.”

So if his friend remarks on Facebook that she loves Salt, Shopycat will understand this is a prompt to suggest a DVD, rather than a a salt grinder, for a birthday present. All this data stored at Walmart sounds ominous, but the company is not building massive profiles on individual users from Shopycat or planning to target them with annoying offers.

“We don’t use it for any other marketing purposes,” Rajaraman said.

Emmett Cox, a former retail analysts for Walmart who is now at BBVA Compass Bank, said that Walmart does not store personal information like some other stores do. Target, for example, was the subject of a fascinating New York Times piece on its ability to tell when women were pregnant and begin targeting them with infant-related marketing materials.

Walmart is using only information that is publicly available on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

Indeed, retail trade magazines have criticized Walmart for not using loyalty cards to develop more personalize customer information; the only card it offers is a credit card which provides modest a 1 percent rebate on its Discover card and 5 cents a gallon discount on gas with both its Discover and its plain Walmart card.

Because it has built its business around Every Day Low Pricing, a term which employees rattle off as EDLP, it doesn’t want to offer some customers lower prices through loyalty cards and gift programs. Although it may sound like a discounting cliché,  EDLP is key to Walmart’s success and pretty much impossible for other stores to copy, said Cox, because other discounters have trained their customers to look for weekly sales flyers and other promotions. Cox said Kmart tried hard to persuade shoppers that it was offering everyday discounts but gave up and returned to regular sales promotions.

Rajaraman sees the use of social media as a natural extension of retailing. At a very high level, retailing is simply connecting products and consumers, and Walmart seeks to do it better. WalmartLabs is working both sides of the consumer-product relationship, he added.

In addition to monitoring social media to understand individuals, @WalmartLabs is looking for product information. It spotted a growing interest in cake pops, for example — balls of cake on sticks, sort of a combination between cake and lolly pops. By analyzing traffic on Twitter, @WalmartLabs could tell the buyers in Walmart’s  Bentonvillle, Arkansas headquarters that cake pops were trending up, so merchandisers could look for suppliers of the baking kits.

Walmart opens voting today on another initiative that came out of the lab —Get On The Shelf. People who have developed a new product could make a video of it for Walmart where others could vote on which products they liked best.

“Get On the Shelf” offers anyone with a product the chance to make it to the major leagues and have their product carried by Walmart,” said the company, which pledged to help the winner find a suitable manufacturer if she or he needed production assistance. The idea for Get On the Shelf came from an engineer in the lab.

All this consumes a lot of data, and Rajaraman is an expert in big data. However he won’t say how much data Walmart has, and he contends the label is somewhat misleading these days.

“It is very hard to quantify the size of the data. It used to be possible when the data you had was your own, but now some is Twitter, some is Flickr and some is Facebook.”

He identified three important trends around big data in retailing. The sources of data are not limited to the enterprise any longer, and that is true not just for Walmart but for the world at large. Then the volume of data is huge and the data comes in many varieties.

Working with it is a challenge because many of the analytical tools and techniques for databases were developed over the last 20 years to work with much smaller data files. Faced with big data, many users try to fit the data to the tools and techniques they have. Rajaram has watched his students at Stanford address big data by sampling it, which risks losing important outliers.

“We have to develop techniques for the data size we have now rather than scale down the data.”

In addition to using Hadoop on stored data, WalmartLabs has developed Muppet for analyzing what Rajaraman refers to as fast data over a large cluster of computers.

“On top of Muppet, we employ a broad range of semantic analysis techniques, including information extraction and integration, natural language processing, and machine learning. While well known, these techniques have had to be significantly adapted, or extended, to deal with the peculiarities of social media. Finally, we have also developed techniques to effectively use crowd-sourcing and human computation in building and maintaining the Social Genome.”

The results of big data analytics often go to a marketing manager or a store manager who can act on the insights to make something happen.

“Data is the big frontier ahead of us,” Rajaraman added. “Customers live in a world with more and more data about products and more and more data about customers. The best retailer connects them in the most efficient manner. At the end, retailing will be a  data game.”