Wednesday, January 2

Trending 2013: The Year Of Convergence

When people used to bandy about the term "convergence" as it related to media, they were mostly talking about broadcast and broadband. But nowadays, spend even a few seconds searching the net and you'll see that convergence in this niche has already happened. Almost anything and everything you can find on cable television has a connection to a computer screen, desktop or mobile device.

Sure, some organizations have a better handle on it than others, but digital is digital. The only barriers between television and broadband are the ones we create, clinging onto the past as if there are any real differences beside the screens we use to access them. Convergence means something else nowadays.

Convergence isn't between data 'types' anymore. It's all about merging the digital and the physical world.

While people still sometimes distinguish between "friends" and "friendz" on social networks, businesses have given it up. They don't have "customers" and "customerz" because they recognize that the same people online are the same people who shop in their stores or order services over the phone.

There is no difference. The medium will become increasingly indistinguishable this year, with the obvious exception of shaping its delivery. And any marketers who ignore this fact will be left behind.

It's easy enough to see convergence lurking around every corner. During the holidays, I was looking for a specific book to give to my son. A few people have read the heartfelt portion of the story (Dec. 17 post), which was recently republished by Aaron Johnston, one of the authors of the book. But there is the other half of the story that happened inside Barnes & Noble that relates to modern marketing.

It took a good half hour before I visited the customer service counter for help. I had already looked over the other possibility — from the science fiction section under Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston and new releases — and became nearly exhausted by the effort. With a couple of key strokes by the employee, she located the last copy of the book, which was sitting on a remote discount table.

It was the last copy in the store. I couldn't help but wonder why I couldn't have found it. And even if I couldn't do it using a desktop kiosk in the store, then why not my phone? Location-based technology (when I turn it on) already knows where I am. Why can't it help me find what I'm looking for there?

For that matter, why aren't books published with QR codes that automatically take you to an author page maintained by the publisher, author, or agent? Why isn't there an automated solution to pull up book reviews, recent articles, or content about the book, authors, etc. without any effort? And while I'm looking at all this content in the physical space where I can make a purchase, why doesn't the retailer give me an inventory of related books and products that are in the store (stuff I might never see)?

Who knows. Maybe I could hold a book in my hand and automatically access all of this, including any social networks where the author or authors have taken up residence. None of this is rocket science. The dots are there but we have yet to connect them between a virtual and physical world.

Moving beyond the bookstore would be simple enough. 

If this can be done with books, then other retail should be a snap. If I scan a code (or perhaps activate a proximity code on my phone) on a new car in a car lot, why can't I pull up every other car in inventory for price, gas mileage, and other comparisons? Why can't I consider every option beyond the one right in front of me or the one that the salesman decides to show me?

And if I really want to talk to a salesman, why can't I hit a call for service button on my phone instead of pushing him off when I'm not ready and struggling to hunt him down when I am ready? Who knows. Maybe I could prequalify myself for a loan right there or take in some of the sales specials that salespeople sometimes like to keep up their sleeves until they are sure you won't pay retail.

One would think that all of this ought to be second nature by now. It would be especially useful in sprawling stores like Home Depot or Walmart. It would be readily convenient if we need to find ingredient substitutes while shopping for groceries.

This is the kind of stuff that some B2B professionals have already integrated into their daily lives. (I never leave home without a digital portfolio, among other things.) But even as a consumer, I once resolved a customer service issue at Target by asking whether or not I would receive a better resolution by contacting corporate through Facebook. Where is the so-called boundary between online and off?

The first step is to stop thinking about social as a channel. 

Social networking is great, and I really enjoy that some communication work lets me operate in that space. But I'm much more fascinated with the next step, which integrates into our world as opposed to trying to prove that it has some independent value that can be measured in a vacuum. While it's possible to measure whether an organization is moving in the right direction; likes, shares, and so-called influence measures are meaningless and independent quantifiers of success. (More on that, much more, in the year ahead.)

Instead of thinking that social media and social networks can merely add communication value to the lives of the people we want to connect with, organizations need to start thinking about the technological advances that add value to the customer experience right there, right then, when they are engaged in retail space or wherever you might happen to meet. This is the kind of convergence we need in 2013.
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