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Oct 26, 2020

How to Choose the Best Partner to Transition Your Technology to MACH

While many digital transformation projects can be made more successful with the support of a qualified implementation partner, it will be almost essential for businesses that want to pursue a MACH technology architecture. In this article, we pull from a history of MACH implementations shared by Contentstack and Valtech to share the top evaluation criteria that businesses must consider when selecting a MACH implementation partner.What is MACH? MACH is a new breed of technology built on four key principles: It’s microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native, and headless. This kind of technology architecture enables businesses to build ever-evolving digital experiences with tools that are always modular, pluggable, and scalable. Why Go MACH? MACH technology allows you to create an enterprise technology stack made up of exactly the tools you need, when you need them — and replace them once they no longer meet your needs. Microservices help cut development lead times by 75%. MACH technology is, by definition, easily extendable. That means, with MACH, your business can use robust APIs to quickly integrate all of your technologies with any new tools (like personalization engines) or new channels where your customers might be found (like augmented reality applications).And because cloud-based MACH Is always up-to-date, it never requires costly, time-sucking upgrades; ultimately reducing your total cost of ownership. In fact, cloud deployments deliver 3.2X the ROI of on-premise ones.Why It’s Important to Have a Partner for Your MACH Transformation Moving to MACH architecture requires specific expertise both for the initial shift as well as the ongoing, business-wide transformation that switching to MACH can incite. For this reason, it makes sense for businesses to partner with professional services providers that have MACH implementation and operation experience. Not only will the best MACH partner have the right staff on-site (or the ability to source the talent needed) to get your implementation off the ground, but they’ll also be able to help design and implement a solid foundation for your business and provide ongoing guidance for your team.Tips for Choosing the Right Technology Partner for Your MACH Implementation Remember these 6 tips when you’re evaluating for the best technology partner to implement MACH within your organization.Look for Outcomes, Not Time Spent First things first, you want a MACH implementation partner that prioritizes a results-focused engagement — not just a package of hours for a one-dimensional technology implementation and an ongoing support agreement. To find out how likely a potential partner is to deliver actionable outcomes for you and your customers, you can start by taking a look at their past MACH technology implementations. First, ask for case studies, which will give you an introduction into their track record for producing results. Consider contacting past clients and finding reviews across blogs, review platforms, and even social media.Pursue Ancillary Skills That Power the Entire Engagement Beyond the technical skills that go into a MACH implementation, there are ancillary skills a partner should also have to make your entire transformation a success. “In my opinion, one of Valtech’s strengths is both the technical delivery of the services related directly to Contentstack, but also what I call the ‘soft skills’ critical to the overall engagement: Customer experience strategy, data science, content, etc.,” said Peter Fogelsanger, Contentstack’s Global Head of Partnerships. “When you’re moving to MACH there’s a lot more to it than just replacing your CMS. It needs to be strategic and it needs to be agile and it needs to fit with the rest of the stack. “It’s like building a house. You can learn how to do it yourself, but it’s nice to have a partner who can actually guide you through things like getting your internal teams spun up to support MACH.” When transitioning to MACH, it’s best to do it alongside an implementation specialist that can support your digital transition every step of the way, even through the less technical tasks.Find Cultural Alignment Working with an implementation partner that aligns with your culture should be a priority when it comes time to transition to MACH. For example, Contentstack and Valtech’s MACH implementation projects have always gone over so well because both organizations are culturally aligned — both are members of the MACH Alliance, both feel passionate about helping enterprises achieve a MACH future, and the end-user experience is a top priority for both businesses. “One of the things that has made our partnership strong is that both organizations are customer experience-oriented,” said Matthew Morey, Senior Vice President Of Technology at Valtech. “It may sound cliché, but a lot of service providers are only billable hours-focused and many software companies are only results-focused. We’re both interested in the end-user achieving a desired KPI or improving their ability to do a specific task.” When you’re aligned with your professional services provider, you’re more likely to be on the same page when it comes to setting and achieving goals throughout your MACH transformation. That’s a recipe for a happy team and, eventually, happy customers.Engage in a Paid Proof-of-Concept Project Boilerplate demos of individual MACH solutions won’t give you the full picture of how an organization-wide implementation will go for your business. And simply talking to an agency or watching their pitch won’t be the same as actually working with them.Consider instead embarking on a small but paid proof-of-concept project when choosing a MACH implementation partner. This monetary investment means your own stakeholders will be more engaged and will give you a more accurate idea of what it’s like to work with your implementation partner of choice when real results (and funds) are on the line. Your investment in a paid proof-of-concept project doesn’t necessarily have to be a loss. If chosen well — and your partner can help with this! — you may end up with a useful chunk of code or even a start to a product that you can develop for customer use. Another reason to invest in a paid proof-of-concept project is that you’re likely to work with the team with which you’ll be paired when it comes to instrumenting a full MACH implementation — giving you another chance to experience how your cultures align. Luckily, with MACH, building out a paid proof-of-concept project doesn’t have to be an arduous process. Thanks to the ease of composability of MACH technology, projects can be spun up in a matter of weeks — not quarters — when teams are aligned on goals and priorities. On-premise, monolithic systems don’t give you this opportunity the way cloud-based, modern solutions do. Take advantage of that.Seek Out the Boundary Pushers The Valtech + Contentstack partnership works because both parties are boundary pushers. Valtech is always excited to implement emerging experiences using Contentstack’s platform — which is pushing boundaries in its own right in the world of headless content management. Recently, we worked together to take something for which there was no blueprint (a content-rich augmented reality experience) and push the boundaries to charter our own. The augmented reality demo that we built in under four weeks — Project Spyglass — was only possible because of MACH principles and because both partners were willing to challenge the status quo.Partner on Prioritizing Innovation As parting wisdom often is, our final bit of advice is a bit philosophical. In the words of Pascal Lagarde, Valtech’s Vice President of Commerce in Europe, “ … don’t focus on features. Focus on vision; direction.” Instead of honing in on the specific features or solutions a potential partner is currently working with, look at whether they have the same overall philosophical vision as your organization. MACH technology is ever-evolving and ever-improving. Businesses and implementation specialists that don’t have a philosophy that prioritizes innovation will never make it in a MACH future. You must make sure you’re on the same page as your implementation partner about the fact that composable architecture is the future of enterprise technology. And you must be sure they’re willing to go on a journey of continuous innovation with you, not just sell you a one-time solution. Get the Guide from Valtech and Contentstack Learn more about MACH technology implementation and how to make it work for your business in our new in-depth ebook from Valtech and Contentstack: Break the Replatform Cycle With MACH Architecture

Oct 23, 2020

What's the Heart of Your Digital Strategy?…

In 2020, Google processes 4.2 million search queries per minute. Two hundred emails are sent every minute. And the marketing technology landscape includes 8,000 different solutions. Today, distractions come in all shapes and sizes and from every angle for the busy digital manager. This can make it extremely difficult to cut through the noise and focus on what truly has the potential to move the needle at your company.Allow us to cut through the static and help you refocus your efforts and energy on what matters most: The content at the heart of your digital strategy, and how to manage it to make the most of current opportunities.Why Content Should Be the Core of Your Digital Strategy These are three main steps the majority of buyers will go through before they ultimately patronize your business. The awareness phase is when a consumer realizes the need for a solution to a problem that exists in the market. The consideration stage, when the same consumer starts researching options for solving their problem. And the decision process, when they finally land on the best solution. And you know what powers each of them? The answer is “content.”From your marketing websites to your product and service descriptions, social media messaging, blogs, email marketing campaigns, how-to videos, customer-facing knowledge base, and beyond — content is the underlying element that powers each of your customers’ experiences.Content is the customer service that’s always available to answer consumer questions accurately. Content is what helps your business rise to the top in the competitive world of search engine results. Content enables you to position yourself as an industry expert — and a resource your loyal customers can share with their friends and followers when they want to rave about their favorite brand.Content is your consistent voice in an omnichannel environment where consumers are exposed to constant marketing, whether they’re walking past a billboard, scrolling through social media, or watching their favorite video streaming service. Take it from nearly 50% of eventual buyers who engage with 3-5 pieces of content before they even get in touch with a company about a purchase they’re interested in making. Useful content should be at the heart of your digital strategy, which is why you really shouldn’t skimp when it comes to managing it.Can You Afford The Cost of Poor Content Management? With great content comes the necessity for a great system to manage it in a way that makes the most of the opportunities it affords. What you can’t afford are these significant losses that accompany poor content management practices.Content Loss and Rework Wastes Big Time Salary Dollars Data from the market intelligence firm IDC shows that organizations with over 1,000 workers spend $5 million every year, paying employees to duplicate content that has been mismanaged and lost.But despite this expensive effort to create business content, 81% of office workers still report wasting too much of their time at work trying to process ineffective content that is either too long, poorly organized, inaccurate, unclear or all of the above. There’s no doubt you pour a lot of effort and resources into creating content. Unfortunately, this outpouring loses all return on investment if your content management process is too weak to ensure the content you’re creating is valuable and accessible to various departments who need to locate, use, optimize, and even reuse content for a growing number of audiences and distribution channels.A Lack of Content Management Costs Precious ProductivityAlong with salary dollars, poorly-managed content costs worker's valuable time they could be spending on productive tasks instead. Knowledge workers spend an average of 2.5 hours of every workday searching for the business content they need.Additionally, looking for hard-to-find resources, other content-related tasks that employees often waste productive hours include working through approval requests, managing draft versions, and sharing content resources with the right people throughout the organization.Badly-Managed Content Can’t Cash In on Personalization When it comes to developing customer experiences that convert, it’s not just content but the context that’s king. Today’s consumers are, quite frankly, over generic content. A popular study found that 78% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that serves them relevant content, 64% would recommend the brand that delivered this relevant content. Half would spend more on products and services if their brand experience were personalized! The fact that consumers prefer highly-relevant content-driven experiences isn’t all that surprising. Unfortunately, what’s surprising today is finding a brand that can deliver the personalization level that consumers prefer. If you’re ready to be one of those rare brands, it’s time to adopt a system for managing content that’s easy to find, optimize, and publish to any channel, for any audience segment, and at any scale.The Best System for Creating a Modern Your Content Management Process Developing an effective and efficient content management strategy is beneficial for businesses in a lot of ways. It can uplevel the reach of your content marketing efforts, support your personalization capabilities, and even improve the content-powered customer experiences that ultimately shape your bottom line. To take advantage of these opportunities, you need a content management system (CMS) that empowers your team to leverage content like the valuable business asset that it is. A headless CMS is a cutting-edge content management tool that should live at the heart of your digital strategy. The “traditional,” monolithic CMS (think WordPress) kept content and the formatting layer in one system. This coupling was an adequate solution in the days of static content for delivering content only to websites. However, today using a monolithic system requires you to recreate content manually each time you want to publish content for a new audience or channel. With a monolithic CMS, it’s nearly impossible to personalize and distribute content at scale. A modern, headless CMS (like Contentstack) stores its content and its formatting layer separately. This separation is critical in enabling marketing teams to create and optimize content assets. Simultaneously, designers and developers build out distribution for those assets, whether they’re delivering it to a new website, email campaign, internal knowledge base, or anywhere else. The application programming interface (API) technology that makes this modular functionality work also makes it easy to integrate tons of other critical business technologies to build an end-to-end digital strategy. A headless CMS works as a content hub to connect your customer relationship management platform, data management platform, AI-powered content optimization tools, ecommerce store(s), translation and localization services, and anything else you may need.Today, content is the currency of business. Choosing a modern content management system to build a flexible and thoughtful digital strategy is key to generating more of that currency to spend on new customers. If you’re new to the concept of headless CMS, there’s a lot more to learn. Enjoy free access to Forrester’s webinar “Learn the True Value of a Headless CMS.” This webinar explores why headless CMS architecture is critical in an omnichannel world and how its built-in content delivery and management features are ideal for busy marketers and developers. And once you’re ready to start shopping for a headless CMS for your organization, check out our guide “How to Choose a CMS,” or get in touch with our team here at Contentstack to take our headless CMS on a free, no-obligation test run.

Oct 22, 2020

Why 51% of Digital Experience Capabilities Sit on the Shelf

Enterprise companies only use half of the capabilities of the digital experience technologies they invest in, according to our recent survey of 100 business, technology, and marketing leaders in UK enterprises. Those features aren’t just taking up space, but significant costs. Respondents estimate that, on average, maintaining and licensing these unused features accounts for 24% of their current digital experience investment. While our study focused on businesses in the United Kingdom, unused software is hardly a regional issue. A 2016 study estimates that there is $259 worth of unnecessary, unwanted software on each computer in every office worldwide. Features aren’t going unused because of a lack of need. Over half of our survey respondents (52%) said that they expected substantial investment in new technologies to meet their digital transformation ambitions in the next 18 months. Worldwide spending on digital transformation is expected to reach $2.3 Trillion in 2023; if companies are allocating a quarter to unused features, that means billions of dollars on unused capabilities. While we were surprised to learn that such a large percentage of digital experience investment was wasted, we did expect that very few companies were exploiting their full technology stack. We were more curious about why these tools aren’t implemented and how companies evaluate new tools to prevent unused investment. Today’s Roadblock: Expensive Implementation The high cost of implementation was the most significant pain point, with 43% of respondents listing it as a barrier responsible for unused digital experience capabilities. For many companies, a rapid transformation has led to a web of custom integrations made on an as-needed basis. Implementing new technology doesn’t just mean wiring it into the system, but detangling the spaghetti of integrations currently there. A tedious process at best, and in some cases, it turns into a scavenger hunt for information on connectors built by someone no longer at the company. Tellingly, 58% of the respondents (and 74% of technology decision-makers) said that a lack of integration ability was a top reason their current investment would become inadequate over the next 18 months. The integration headache doesn’t just slow down transformation, it can stop it. In an interview about the company’s decision to modernize its architecture, The Spectator’s Director of Digital said, “In terms of ability to innovate, everything had a cost associated with it, which put us off doing anything risky. That meant our technology was stagnating — and so was our ability to serve customers.” If stitching a new technology into the stack is the largest barrier today, when application integrations rates are just 31% in the US and 26% in the UK, companies aiming for a more connected experience need an integration makeover — or risk getting locked into a legacy knot of dependencies. Tomorrow’s Road: Composable Architecture While it would be great to stop time and tidy up your toolkit all at once, businesses don’t have that luxury. “Companies are modernizing their approach to digital in stages.” explains Neha Sampat, CEO of Contenstack, “They need to be able to access new technologies and tools now while transitioning their stack over time. Modern software needs to integrate not only with other new technologies but also with legacy tools to make the wider digital transformation as smooth as possible.” An increasing amount of software providers are coming around to this way of thinking. The digital experience is now too extensive for any one platform to handle, and modern vendors understand that the most competitive tools are the ones that excel in their specific area — and play nicely with everyone else. Recently launched, the MACH Alliance is a growing group of enterprise vendors and system integrators that believe this type of composable architecture will power the next generation of business and technology. With Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless solutions, the Alliance is helping enterprises embrace the paradigm shift from legacy platforms to an open technology ecosystem that’s designed to evolve. Today’s Roadblock: Feature Bloat Feature overlap between tools was said to be a reason for unused investment by 38% of respondents. These companies may have started on a one-size-fits-all software suite for their digital experience, but as their ambitions became more unique, they turned to more modern tools. For instance, a company’s main site might run on the legacy platform. However, a headless commerce system handles transactions, another vendor optimizes on-site search, and there’s a custom-built solution for the mobile experience. Because the original vendor suite was designed to be a “one-stop-shop” for digital, adding a new tool often requires custom workarounds to integrate — making the original platform very sticky. A critical part of the business may depend on only 10% of the legacy platform, but the licensing fee still requires payment for 100% of the suite. Business, technology, and marketing decision-makers felt similarly about feature overlap, with 35%, 41%, and 36%, respectively, listing it as a barrier. However, they differed when it came to feature necessity. Technology leaders ranked “they are features and capabilities we do not need” as the most common barrier (44%) while business and marketing both ranked it as the lowest (19% and 15%, respectively). Hinting at a disconnect between the groups in regards to digital ambition and technology capabilities. Overall, whether due to duplicate features or unnecessary capabilities, it’s clear that many enterprise businesses are finding their modern ambitions are stuck on legacy feature management practices.Tomorrow’s Road: Modular Tools As mentioned above, enterprise technology is moving away from the classic, single-vendor suite to a modular solution ecosystem. In a recent interview with Matthew Baier, MACH Alliance board member, he spoke about the freedom offered by composable tools: “MACH is as revolutionary as the “undo” button. You can make decisions that don’t punish you for years to come. You can pick a piece of technology that you’re unsure about, and instead of committing to it for the next ten years, you can test it out. If it works as expected, it’s already there and integrated. And if it doesn’t, you can remove it from the stack without everything falling apart.” Technology is one half of the equation for useful features; the other is market awareness. When discussing the best ways to evaluate new technologies, the Director of Digital of an iconic British luxury fashion house advised: “The best question you can ever ask in an evaluation is if they can give you a specific example of where they deployed something recently that came from a customer idea. For the platforms we chose, within seconds, a person in the room could tell us one or two very good recent features they built because a customer suggested it. That is really authentic insight showing that they are listening to and partnering with their customers.” Selecting modular tools with customer-driven feature development helps businesses quickly access the capabilities they need and quickly remove the ones they don’t. Today’s Roadblock: Maintenance Burden The high cost of consistently maintaining capabilities was listed by 38% of respondents as a barrier to use, and 36% said that the time spent maintaining their current digital experience investment is disproportionate to its business value. According to Devada’s “2019 State of the Developer Report,” 66% of developers find that maintenance of legacy systems and technical debt hinders productivity. So it’s no surprise that 64% of businesses list the need to upgrade outdated infrastructure as the top reason for increasing their IT budgets in 2020. Of course, maintenance is not only a burden on the backend. Both business and marketing decision-makers were more likely to list maintenance as a barrier than their technology counterparts (45%, 36%, 32%, respectively). The sales promise of a “data-driven” experience can, in specific platform promotions, conveniently leave out that delivering on that promise requires the user to enter and update massive amounts of data manually. On average, an employee uses eight SaaS applications to do their job, and companies with over 1000+ employees have over 200 SaaS applications in their stack. If these platforms don’t automatically sync, the time required to copy data between them means it’s simply not feasible to keep them all up to date. This means that many data-centric features, such as personalization and analytics capabilities, remain unused. Tomorrow’s Road: (Really) Try Before You Buy If a software vendor claims to have a flexible solution that helps businesses move quickly, it should be no problem for enterprises to take a test run of the software beyond the standard sales demo. “I always recommend to any other company going on this journey to hack your way past the sales deck.” says the Director of Digital at a British luxury fashion house, “There were three key selection decisions that were thrown completely on their head by doing a small, one-day hackathon. We were able to evaluate bottom-up, with facts and evidence, on business cases signed off on by the CIOs. Effectively, decisions were changed because we spent that little bit of time proving things worked.” These real-world trial runs shouldn’t be limited to developers. Having cross-departmental teams evaluate solutions means that red flags are identified early on in the selection process. Unifying on core selection criteria from the start can help teams agree on mini compromises along the way and prevent anyone from getting locked into effort-heavy tools they never had the chance to veto. Pave the Way Now for Continued Digital Acceleration Companies have felt the pressure to transform for quite some time. In 2020 the digital experience is being forced to change even faster. It’s estimated that complex business challenges companies are facing due to Covid-19 has accelerated companies’ digital communication strategy by a global average of 6 years. Only 27% of our survey respondents felt that their current technology could adequately support their digital transformation ambitions over the next 18 months. One in ten believe that their existing tools are an obstacle to their goals. With ambitious transformation goals and urgent digital needs, many companies are renovating and expanding their architecture. These improvements can incorporate modern, modular tools to ensure companies unlock themselves from the current barriers of legacy technology and create a solution ecosystem that will be easy to evolve with the enterprise’s digital ambitions. See the full results of the UK enterprise leader survey: The State of Digital Experience Investment in the United Kingdom

Oct 15, 2020

Building a Working Retail Augmented Reality Prototype: Final Week of Development

When it came to building a mobile-web-browser Augmented Reality proof of concept in less than four weeks, we knew two things: We knew we would run into a whole bunch of unexpected challenges. And we knew it would get done. Software development in a time crunch is almost guaranteed to come with eleventh-hour surprises, late nights, and frazzled nerves. And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Luckily, the Valtech and Contentstack teams building our Augmented Reality demo do not rattle easily. The team had come up with a concept for a content-rich AR showcase in less than one week; the week after that, became subject-matter experts on the topics of beauty and skincare, and determined the must-haves for a usable and working AR POC, and finally had designed and developed live interactions in AR, including how the data would be structured and pulled from the CMS, last week. Here’s how it all came together in week three — as we raced to build our working Augmented Reality prototype that would help a retail beauty (skincare) buyer navigate supermarket shelves and browse through a brand’s products to receive a personalized recommendation; take a product home and get onboarded to using it; and finally get recommendations for repurchasing, changing usage, and/or leaving a review. And spoiler alert: yes, we did all of that, and yes, you can try out the AR app for yourself.Integration, integration, integration “If this were Sesame Street, the word of the week would be: Integration!” quipped Danielle, our project manager, at the start of week three. Week two had consisted of building all the individual ‘parts’ of the application in small ‘samples’ — little scenarios that could, in parallel, all be shown to work. This included things like: designing the scenarios in 2D; displaying the scenarios in AR to look like they did in 2D; programming the app to recognize the bottle moving as a controller for making the experience change in AR; pulling data from Contentstack, and so on. “Integration!” meant actually combining all of it together — is it any surprise that we were expecting to run into some weirdness? Design: Fusing brand with functionality The plan all along was to show the app working with three “generic serums”: To simulate one beauty brand’s different serum product offerings, and thus illustrate how a customer could browse between them using the AR experience in-store. The thing is, Svante, our designer, had been working on beautiful serum labels, while Alex, our developer, had been figuring out how to make the information we needed display (and persist) in AR using clear markers. (More on that in our week two post.) Since we chose to work with fiducial markers, which are essentially big black boxes with asymmetrical shapes or content inside, Svante’s task became to fuse — or integrate — these marker “boxes” with a custom, and beautiful skincare-like, label in the beginning of the week. Needless to say he was up to the challenge, and he created three beautiful label designs that worked seamlessly in the AR app. So people could access the AR experience, and it looked like a real beauty product. Check! Print these labels at home to try out our AR app. The rest of the week was a game of expectation vs. reality for design. Prior to this week, Svante had only been designing in 2D, so once the designs went “live” into the 3D AR experience, Svante needed to make quick adjustments on the fly so things could look and work the way they were supposed to. For example, we had originally planned to have a “recommended” ribbon in Scenario 1 which appears wrapped around the bottle that the app recommends for the user accessing the experience. It turned out that it’s pretty tricky to wrap a 2D object around a 3D one, so our wrapped ribbon tails turned into more of a crown.Development: Will it run?A-frame skeletons The week started with Alex building out the A-frame skeletons for the AR experience. Danielle explains: “For rendering content in 3D space, we used A-frame and AR.js libraries (see the research on the different frameworks we considered here). AR.js is the Augmented Reality component — it makes use of the camera to do computer vision, recognizes markers, and places content on top of the real world. A-frame allows us to describe a 3D scene with HTML-like components. Essentially, you can tell the experience, “there’s going to be text here, and a graphical element there, and something else here”. A-frame can also be used to define gestures, like the rotation and tilt of the bottle. It’s a higher-level programming language than if you were to go straight into WebGL and try to define all these components and sections. So before we could actually start working with the content from Contentstack and the visuals and assets from Svante, we had to actually lay out the skeleton, or template, for where all those pieces would go.”Integrating HTML elements into the AR experience On the HTML side of things, we added some cool graphical HTML elements to the experience, especially noticeable in Scenario 1, where a pop-up in the lower third of the screen gives a fuller context to the shopping experience. It can tell you which part of the “skincare routine” you are shopping and lets you save selections. Here is where we started to hit some road bumps. Blending the AR.js together with the HTML elements turned out to be trickier than we expected. We discovered that AR.js, as written, adds A-frame elements to the document body, and then sets the size of the body to the dimensions of the web cam, which makes it tricky to integrate properly positioned HTML elements atop an AR scenario. It wasn’t planned, but the team ended up forking the AR.js code and making a local branch that fixed this issue, so that we could render 2D HTML elements and our 3D AR content as expected. Note: We love and are fully committed to the open-source community and its practices, and as a next step, we plan to commit these changes as a pull request back to the AR.js library.  Another thing that we ran into was some issues with tapping gestures, because raycasting (which is how you can click on objects in a 3D scene) was not working properly. This was due to some customizations in the AR.js “scene camera” setup (the view into the 3D world). Once again, we knew how we could fix it, but we didn’t have time in this final week of development. Luckily, the team came up with the idea of using a “swipe” gesture instead, and this worked really reliably and felt natural in use. Note 2: These kinds of issues could also be resolved by working with “native” AR tools, i.e. ones that leverage Android and iOS AR frameworks. We chose to use a mobile-web-browser-based experience to make user access as seamless as possible. We knew this would come with tradeoffs, and these are just a couple of examples. Building mobile-web AR experiences is still a little bit of a “wild west”, and we are all still learning about how to make them better. Text height An unfortunate reality of working with 3D graphics is that unlike 2D browser renderers, A-frame (and a lot of other 3D libraries) don’t automatically figure out dimensions of elements and make them flow and stack within a document-object model. Which was of course an issue when getting text from Contentstack that might be dynamic, changing, or simply not come with a known “text height”. This was a time constraint that drove us toward the decision to hardcode the text layouts in an effort to complete the work in time for the end of week three. However, this issue has since been addressed and corrected through a few sneaky post-week-three hours. Parcel.js issues We also had some weird, unexpected bugs with our build tool Parcel.js, such as it being unable to use our custom fonts (fixed through hosting the font files on Contentstack assets), and also referencing HTML files incorrectly (addressed by debugging the command-line parameters for Parcel to make sure the paths in the built files were generated correctly). We figured it out, but it was another eleventh-hour surprise... exactly the kind that is relatively expected in fast-clip software development! Reusing markers When it came to actually using the application, we wanted to put everything into a single HTML file, accessible from one button, so that we would only have to ask for permissions to use the camera and the sensors once, and leverage a lot of the same elements. The problem was that re-using a marker and associating it with different 3D content for different scenarios was really tricky and created conflicts. This would have required a lot of code to make work that we didn’t have time for, so for now, each of the three scenarios are separate documents and require unique permissions — though they can all be accessed through in-experience buttons once you’ve launched a scenario.And finally... We did it! The team pulled together and with the help of Ben & Gal at Contentstack, Alex, Jason, and Svante pulling a few final late nights, and everyone else cheering them on with fingers crossed... we built the thing. It’s working and it’s live. Check out the demo video below. And of course, try it for yourself: Go to, print the labels, and see the magic happen! Stay tuned for our lessons learned summary with lots more details on how we built this Augmented Reality demo, what enterprises need to know about building out AR experiences, and why we believe there’s endless opportunity to explore emerging technologies with MACH (microservices, API-first, cloud-native, and headless) architecture.

Oct 07, 2020

Digital Banking and Financial Services Trends for 2021 and Beyond [Infographic]

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing life as we know it. The sudden need to do everything from working to acquiring groceries to handling financial matters remotely only accelerated a paradigm-shifting trend that was already on our doorsteps. The always-on, always-digital customer experience must function seamlessly across the hundreds of channels and devices people use today.  This customer experience is the “battlefront” upon which businesses will compete. In their Retailing 2020 report, PwC states the percentage of companies investing in an omnichannel customer experience jumped from 20% in their Retailing 2015 report to more than 80%. And it seems these investments are for the best, considering that the Forrester Total Economic Impact Study found that companies with strong omnichannel strategies experience 10% YoY growth, a 10% increase in average order value, and 25% growth in close rates. In the special COVID-19 edition of The CMO Survey, marketing professionals noted a 10% increase in marketing spend in the customer experience category since February. However, spending on specific omnichannel outlets such as mobile (70%) and social media (74%) increased drastically during the pandemic — and is sure to keep rising. While many sectors like travel and entertainment have been ravaged and will likely be forever changed in the wake of COVID-19, the financial services industry has been lucky to be relatively unscathed so far. Instead of re-imagining how they function and where they belong globally, banks and financial services providers need to catch up with the digital and technological trends that were already on their way to transforming the customer experience. This infographic shares trends and tips about the technologies banks and financial services providers can adopt to take advantage of digital trends and create seamless omnichannel experiences in 2021 and beyond.

Sep 25, 2020

How to Build a Modern Financial Services Marketing Strategy

Many marketing professionals in the financial services industry have seen the shift: The “old guard” of traditional banks and other financial services providers is being overrun by FinTech (financial technology) firms that offer modern, software-based solutions.And, just like their modern financial offerings, these FinTech firms also have modern marketing strategies for reaching today’s omnichannel consumers. To keep up, traditional financial services marketing pros need to reassess their strategies, from the messaging to the underlying technological structure that makes spreading that messaging possible.The following tactics will help you build toward a modern financial services marketing strategy that enables your institution to remain competitive and up-to-date even as your firm grows and changes.Four Tactics for Modernizing your Financial Services Marketing StrategyFrom gaining a deep understanding of who your customers and prospects are to serving up smart, personalized experiences on all their favorite digital channels — these four tactics will help you build a modern financial services marketing strategy that grows along with your business goals and resources.Create Marketing Messaging That Resonates With Your AudienceIt’s often the most baseline marketing tactics that get overlooked in favor of more advanced, exciting strategies. Let’s start from the beginning to make sure you take one essential first step in modernizing your financial services marketing strategy: Developing marketing messaging that your audience wants to receive.There are several ways to identify what it is that resonates with customers and prospects. This strategy doesn’t require any high-tech tools or a big chunk of your budget. First, take a look at what you’re already doing and how that’s working. Use your website, application, and social media analytics platforms to see what types of content and subject matter are garnering the kind of engagement you want. Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, FullStory, HotJar, and Optimizely are all great website analysis tools; Mixpanel and Countly do the same for mobile apps, and social media management platforms like Hootsuite and Buffer also come equipped with analytical abilities. And to see what else your audience may be interested in learning about your institution, see what kind of marketing similar institutions are creating and any results they’ve shared on the topic. Additionally, you may try conducting keyword research on various search engines. Don’t forget the large social ones like Facebook! Keyword research lets you see precisely which financial services topics people are trying to access. In a world that’s overwhelming customers with advertising, content marketing that provides actual value stands out — it’s as simple as that. Build Personalization Into Your Financial Services Marketing ContentEighty percent of consumers report that they’re more likely to do business with companies that personalize their experiences — and 40% of banking customers, in particular, would readily switch financial institutions to receive more personalized service. Today, consumers want their financial institutions to provide the same kind of highly relevant experiences they’ve become accustomed to elsewhere in their lives.As important as personalization is, many organizations have trouble figuring out where to start. However, building a personalization engine can be done in five relatively simple steps.But first — what is a personalization engine, exactly? According to Gartner, a personalization engine is a collection of tools that empowers organizations to create a “relevant, individualized interaction between two parties” by automatically gathering and applying context to deliver personalized marketing messaging to individual consumers.If you’re worried about getting too invasive when pursuing large-scale personalized marketing messaging, don’t be. Three-quarters of consumers say they’ve never thought a personalized experience was “too invasive,” and over 80% are happy to share their personal data as long as the consumer can maintain control over it and the organization is transparent about how it’s using the data.Now for the main event — the five steps to putting together a personalization engine that will empower your team to create and deliver individualized marketing messaging effectively and efficiently: 1. In what may be the most intensive part of this entire process, first you’ll want to round up the content, data, and marketing management platforms that will power your personalization engine.Start by choosing a content management system (CMS) like Contentstack for content creation and distribution. Ideally, it’ll be capable of integrating with the other personalization tools you’ll identify in this step.If you’re already using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, that will help you develop behavioral insight about current customers and leads. If you aren’t already using a CRM, good options include Salesforce, HubSpot CRM, Zendesk, Intercom, and Insightly. You may choose to use a customer data platform (CDP) like Evergage or Exponea in addition to building a complete profile of your customers and leads.A data management platform (DMP) such as LiveRamp or Clearbit will power up your personalization efforts by enabling you to gather, segment, and integrate data from your digital domains, partner domains, and aggregators. 2. Whether you choose to monitor consumer behavior manually, use a website analytics platform, or implement specialized software, it’s essential to perform behavior tracking to learn where each of your key customer types interacts with your marketing on their journey to make a purchase.3. Next up comes creating metadata — which is information that describes the content of a digital item. Metadata describing an image may consist of its name, its size, its creation date, etc. A good CMS should come with metadata fields, as it gives digital items identifiers that personalization tools can use to source the right item for a specific user type. 4. Personalization engines need rules, which are basically “if, then” statements to determine which marketing messaging is appropriate in a particular instance. For example, a rule could be: “If the customer has read several blogs but has not signed up for financial services, then display marketing messaging about the benefits of signing up.”5. Finally, you’ll use your CMS to create marketing messaging that targets each customer type and situation. You’ll attach metadata to this content so that your personalization engine can find and distribute the right message, at the right time, to the right audience.To get even more detail on building your personalization engine, read our guide, “How to Build a Personalization Engine Into Your Marketing Plan.”Scale Personalized Customer Interactions with AI-Enabled TechnologyBanks consider FinTech software equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) to be their most worrisome competition. AI is an umbrella term that includes several different technologies that give machines the ability to mimic human cognitive activities. AI introduces a whole new level of personalization to marketing programs by enabling technology to “understand” and deliver on individual consumer requests with speed, accuracy, and scale that no all-human team could reasonably achieve. Chatbots are a popular application of conversational AI. With chatbots, organizations can automate a large percentage of marketing messaging and customer support via natural-feeling, chat-based conversations. When a customer engages in conversation with a chatbot, it uses AI to analyze data about the customer and the request to deliver personalized and accurate answers and related marketing messages, product recommendations, and more. As machines, chatbots do all this around the clock and at record speed, so your marketing proficiency never suffers no matter how your financial firm grows or changes. As the conversational AI behind chatbots gets smarter over time and thousands of chat instances, bots will be able to handle more and more of the repetitive, manual tasks that often eat up a marketer’s day. That doesn’t just generate annual revenue growth of 10% for financial organizations; it’s also expected to reduce the cost of doing business by billions every year.Don’t just take our word for it — check out several banks that are already using chatbots in a variety of interesting ways!Deliver Modern Financial Services Marketing Messaging Across Channels, SeamlesslyThe 2019 Financial Marketing Trends report by Digital Banking Report and Salesforce saw the focus on new customer acquisition grow from 30% in 2018 to 44%. It also showed increased attention on marketing via new digital channels — which rose from 32% in 2018 to 35% in 2019.Just personalizing your financial services marketing messaging isn’t enough if your organization wants to compete at the highest level. You need to deliver personalized marketing on the channels (and devices, platforms, and so on) where your customers and prospects are. Today, reaching omnichannel consumers is more critical than ever. Over 70% of consumers shop on multiple digital and in-person channels. And omnichannel consumers are undoubtedly more valuable to retailers than their single-channel counterparts. In retail banking, 60% of customers use multiple online and mobile digital channels. At the same time, 75% of actual bank sales take place via telephone and in-branch.Financial services consumers come from all walks of life — and each of them expects to access the products, services, content, and help they need on their preferred channel at their preferred time. Financial institutions that can deliver on this desire are the ones that will succeed — no matter if they’re FinTech or “old guard.” That fact brings us to our paramount strategy for executing a modern financial services marketing program: Seamless, omnichannel marketing delivery using headless CMS. A headless CMS is a modern answer to traditional, monolithic CMSs like WordPress. Monolithic CMSs combine the content and the presentation layer in one single publishing flow. This “coupled” approach means the content must be manually recreated and reformatted each time it’s shared with a new customer type or via a new channel. That makes it a costly commitment that isn’t right for organizations that need to scale personalized marketing.With a headless CMS, the content and the presentation layer work together while being managed and stored independently. That means marketing folks can create, optimize, and distribute content collateral. Simultaneously, designers and developers can build the best display for that marketing content, whether delivering it to a website, a mobile application, a chatbot, a smart billboard, a social media campaign, or anywhere else you can imagine.The application programming interface (API) technology that makes this “decoupled,” modular architecture possible also makes it easy for some headless CMS platforms to integrate the technologies we mentioned above — CRMs, DMPs, CDPs, and others, including ecommerce platforms, translation, and localization tools, etc. — and complete, well-rounded personalization.Ellie Mae, the leading cloud platform for the mortgage finance industry, is just one example of a financial services firm making the most of a headless CMS. They have used it to give their marketing professionals publishing independence and empower their developers to focus on innovation.Since adopting Contenstack’s headless CMS, Ellie Mae has been able to devote 40% more of their time to revenue-driving initiatives, getting users engaged on their digital properties, and adding more leads to their sales pipeline."Contentstack isn't just a CMS of today. It's a CMS of the future." — Auden Hinton, senior manager of Web Services at Ellie MaeWhere Will You Start Your Modern Financial Services Marketing Strategy?No matter where your financial services marketing strategy starts or needs to go, every step is achievable with some time, research, and the integration of a few powerful technological tools to achieve the accuracy and scale you need to succeed.

Sep 17, 2020

Development of an Augmented Reality Retail Skin Care POC: Content Modeling and Interaction Building (Week 2/3)

Week Two: Content modeling for AR; final designs; selecting and programming marker tracking movement patterns and text display parameters. Welcome to the reality of building an augmented reality demo. This is the second-to-last week of our "live" project documentation (find week zero here, and week one here), and this week we moved away from designs and theory and into hands-on development on all fronts of this project. In this week’s post, you can read about:Content modeling for AR experiencesInteraction design on top of the real worldDeveloping the AR content display and marker tracking interaction As a summary, we have decided to build the following: A mobile web-browser Augmented Reality (AR) experience to be used with a brand’s skin care products -- for the purposes of this POC, we are focusing on the skin care category of serums. It will help the customer to select the best serum for them in the store; to receive onboarding instructions and personalized recommendations when first using it; and after using it for a while, receive updated recommendations and information. First up this week: how to actually get all this information into our AR experience.Headless CMS content modeling for Augmented Reality In order to provide a content-rich AR experience to our users, a lot of data (brand and product names; product textures; ingredients’ purpose, source, contraindications; usage instructions) must be stored in our CMS (Contentstack) to be easy to query (so it shows up the way we want, at the speed we need, and prepared for personalization), and easy to edit or modify (because products get added; names change; instructions get updated; new ingredient configurations and contraindications happen). The process of documenting all the types of content you’ll need for an experience (whether AR, VR, mobile app or website) and putting it into logical buckets to ensure your CMS is effectively configured for editing and delivering that content to that experience (or many experiences) is called content modeling. (Here’s a primer we’ve written on this topic.) With traditional content management systems, which have been designed for building web pages, this is a pretty straightforward process. You basically have a few ways you can organize things: folder structure can reflect your site pages, or it can reflect content types (elements of a webpage like banners, images, forms, text; repeating formats like blog articles, press releases, customer testimonials, and so on). Then it’s just a matter of giving editors page templates that allow them to mix and match these content types within certain identifiable limits. Or in some cases, the CMS even comes with static templates that can’t be customized or made more flexible at all. This is based on the assumption that because there are only a few, relatively predictable ways that this content is going to be used for all customers of that CMS, that it’s easier for everyone to pre-define the content models. When it comes to headless systems, though, things are a little bit more fluid. Especially for a CMS like Contenstack that was designed to be as un-opinionated as possible about where that content is going to end up. While you can have (and we do provide) lots of solid guidance on specific examples for different industries and use cases, at the end of the day, your content model is going to be hyper-unique to your organizations’ ways of working and ways of delivering your content. As it turns out, this is actually a good thing when it comes to building out Augmented Reality content models.Benefits of a headless system for Augmented Reality Ben Ellsworth, Solutions Architect at Contentstack, says that headless CMS is somewhat of a no-brainer for developing AR experiences precisely because of its flexibility, or lack of opinion about where your content is going to go. He explains:  "There isn’t a long-standing tradition of AR and VR applications, and there’s no solution that is pre-built for the problems that an enterprise is going to experience when they’re developing for AR. When you’re trying to do something uncharted, you cannot let yourself be limited by something that was built with “websites” in mind. Contentstack is extremely agnostic to the display and dynamic in the way it relates content to the display layer, so that you can architect the data and the content structure in the best way for where it’s going, no matter what the end goal is.” “You’re only constrained by the limits of today’s technology,” adds Gal Oppenheimer, Manager, Solutions Architects at Contentstack. “So, in the case of AR: what can the phone browser do, and what can the cameras do? Those are actually our constraints, because that’s where we’re pushing the boundaries in terms of what technology allows us to do today.” Content modeling: Identifying, classifying and uploading content What did content modeling for our AR experience actually look like?Step 1: What content is there?  First, we had to figure out all the different kinds of content that it might want to use. To do that, we had to research some serums so we could know what kind of information exists about them. We found this site particularly useful for discovering the purposes of product ingredients. Step 2: Extrapolating - what are the content types that we might need? In this step, we listed every kind of content that we could identify about skin care products that might be relevant to our purposes. We laid this out in a document with hypotheses for the way that we could structure these in the CMS (text, group, reference, etc.) The Contentstack team consulted with the Valtech team on how best to structure this content in the most useful way.Sidebar: Flexibility vs Ease of use The biggest question that comes up when designing content models in headless CMS is whether for a given scenario, more flexibility would be better, or whether some rigidity would actually better serve the end users (editors). Ben explains: "There is a point of diminishing returns where additional flexibility ends up being detrimental to productivity. When a content creator has access to 1,000 options for structuring a piece of content, they have to make 1,000 decisions every time they create a piece. This is an extreme example but with a headless content management system, the person modeling the content does have the power to create an infinitely flexible system. “As you model your content, ask yourself why you’re giving the editor the options you are. “For example: in our application, we were deciding between using a group field or a modular block for the product usage instructions. The modular block would allow editors to move the instructions to any place in the AR content display. However, because we would only ever need one set of instructions, and the single set would need to be mandatory, we went with the group field. It has most of the benefits of a modular block without the unnecessary features like multiple instances. “On the flip side, we had originally considered using a simple drop-down to choose product categories. In a non-headless system, this would be par for the course since the editor needs to be able to pick between many options for each product. With a headless system, we can do better and use reference fields. This lets us create a whole new content type for the categories where we can store their names as well as additional information like descriptions, links, and images. We then let the editor reference that field in the product content type. If we need a new category added to the list, we don’t have to change the content model directly, which would require a higher level of access in the system that could break other processes. We simply create a new entry of the category content type and it will automatically be available to all product entries.”Step 3: Input the content for the AR experience into the CMS With decisions on the content types made, it was time to build out and populate our content model. To do that, we had to create some serums! We did this by taking inspiration from the real serums that we researched in step 1, and coming up with some ingredient combinations and usage scenarios of our own.  We entered the content data into the CMS. This part was pretty straightforward, since we were following the model that we had already laid out. The bonus aspect of this is that now, when a brand wants to build out an AR experience like this for their products, the content modeling has already been done. So we’ve got a template to work with in the future (of course, customized to their particular use case). Below, you can see some examples from the live stack! Step 4. Querying the database The last step was figuring out how to get data out of Contentstack and into the AR experience. Contentstack has two ways to retrieve data via our Content Delivery Network (CDN), and the team wanted to test both of them. So Valtech wrote a quick sample that pulled down the data we entered (as JSON) from each in turn. They decided to use the new GraphQL API because of the simplicity of queries, and because it returned fewer data properties. They then added an additional function to process the response JSON to simplify the object structure — removing extra nesting on reference field JSON, rearranging how the data was organized in the response from the API — so that it was more easily and efficiently consumed by the AR code they were already writing. Designing what the live experience will look like Following last week’s progress on creating sketches and comps for how to display the AR information around the product bottle, this week Svante (our designer) worked on figuring out what the whole AR experience will look like. That meant going beyond the “augmented” part of information display and marrying that with the “reality” side of things. For Scenario 1, shopping in the store, we created a way to hone in on a particular product while in a brightly-lit, colorful shop. As you can see in the graphics, the idea was to darken and blur the background (more on how we developed this below) and zero in on exactly the product that the customer wants to see more information about. For Scenarios 2 and 3, a similar “darkening” effect was applied so it would be easier to see the displayed information no matter what kind of colorful or distracting bathroom the user might be accessing the experience in! Then it was over to the developers to figure out how to actually make all of this happen. Developing the live interaction This week, the development focused on three major elements of the AR experience that we need to nail down for this POC: Finalizing what the fiducial markers will look like, Figuring out exactly how we’re going to track those markers to create the best user experience, and Figuring out how the AR elements will be displayed, including the background dimming effect1. Fiducial markers: smaller & customized Last week we figured out that fiducial markers (those black square things) would work best for this POC as they were the easiest for our AR framework to latch onto. But we also want our product to be as pretty as a skin care label usually is, so we tried to see if we could shrink those markers down for more design flexibility. The standard size is 1 inch, and we were able to get them down to 0.5 inch and still have them tracking the bottle movement - in all 3 axes - really well. We also tested creating custom markers, which is of course going to be crucial for designing stylish skin care bottles. These also worked - in fact, in some cases they worked better than the standard markers. Custom “umbrella” fiducial marker.2. What’s the most user-friendly way to display AR content in response to markers in motion? We tested different ways of spinning and tilting the bottle to display what was being shown on-screen. Alex Olivier explains that her main concern - other than supporting natural hand movement - was to lower the risk of the marker getting lost. “In many AR experiences, the content disappears entirely if the marker is lost for a second, which I think is a mistake,” she says. For this reason, the most compelling motion they found for the bottle-as-controller was a rotation around its own axis. A big decision point at this stage was how to display the content that would be controlled by rotating the bottle to detect multiple markers. The team created a system to have keyframe rotations around a 3D layout and then animated / interpolated as different markers were detected. “We had to dust off our trig books!” says Alex. Using this rotation motion (instead of a back-and-forth tilt, for instance), we are lowering the risk of losing the marker, allowing the content to persist in a natural way, and making it more likely that the final user experience will be seamless. 3. Maximizing AR element visibility for a content-rich AR experience Here’s something we learned about content-rich AR experiences, from Alex: “Displaying text (and doing it beautifully) is difficult in computer graphics. You need text to look good at multiple scales and at multiple distances and from multiple angles! That’s why we ended up generating a signed distance field font, which is a bitmap font (but a special one) that uses signed distance fields to beautifully raster text. (You can read more about it here.) “The other thing about text in 3D graphics is that unless you’ve written yourself some handy library, you’re having to do all of the content layout manually. There are a few basic features that were available to us (e.g. alignment of text), but a lot of the work involved flat-out building the layouts that Svante had designed and calculating where to put text & writing functions that could generalize this so it wasn’t 100% hard-coded. If you’re used to slinging CSS or using nice built-in iOS features, you may not appreciate the effort that goes into text in graphics… and now you know why you rarely see text-rich AR apps!”The last element we built out this week was making Svante’s cool darkened-background design come to life. Alex explains, “to do a blur, the most efficient way to do it is usually to use a “shader”, which is a program you run on a graphics card. You take a texture or an image and you pass it through that shader, where all the pixels get transformed. “There were some tricks to this for plugging everything involved in this into AR.js via A-frame: for example, making sure the blurred area is always the same size as the webcam screen, which involved transforming those vertices to be a certain size. It wasn’t necessarily difficult - but it was a lot of things to learn in a short amount of time.” Despite these challenges, we were able to get this working by the end of week two, which was a win! P.S. Tip for all AR developers: turned out to be invaluable for helping us test things out on our phones. Before we discovered it, running code on the phone required a pretty complex choreography of copying over security certificates. ngrok lets you run an HTTPS server on your local computer that can be easily accessed from anyone on the internet, with the proper security settings for AR to work, which made testing so much faster. Check out Week 3: It all comes together! The pieces we’ve been tracking thus far (content, design, and development) must all integrate with each other into one working demo.

Sep 10, 2020

The New Normal: How to Translate the Luxury Retail Experience into Digital

Not long ago, 24 “anti-laws” of marketing detailed principles — like “forget about positioning,” “make it difficult for clients to buy,” and “do not sell openly on the internet” — that counterintuitively helped luxury brands set themselves apart and command high prices. Then, in June 2017, LVMH (a French conglomerate that owns luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon, Christian Dior, and more) launched their multi-brand ecommerce website. And that seemed to put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional marketing strategies that governed the luxury retail experience. Technology has changed everything. Today, most retailers are living on the same plane — the digital plane. The plane where ecommerce giants like Amazon have taught consumers that they can get pretty much anything worth wanting quickly and for a competitive price. The plane where a great digital retail experience is the norm. Here’s how the times are changing for luxury retailers, and strategies that decision-makers in the luxury retail space can implement to translate their unique brand into a digital format.  Digital is the New Normal for Luxury Retail The average age for a luxury consumer has fallen dramatically from 48 to 34, substantially impacting shopping practices.  Deloitte found that that 42% of luxury purchases made by Millennials are entirely digital. And a report from McKinsey found that today’s typical luxury consumer takes an omnichannel approach to shopping. They may seek advice from peers offline or on social media, read reviews on various blogs, and finally complete their purchase in-store or directly from the retailer’s website.By 2019, consumers were already spending $37 billion online on personal luxury goods every year. By 2025, 25% of the luxury industry’s value is going to come from online purchases. Consumers are more than ready to spend money on a fully-digital luxury retail experience. Here’s how managers in the luxury retail space can update their strategies to keep up with modern-day demands. Strategies for Taking Your Luxury Retail Experience Online Luxury retailers face a new generation of technology and shoppers that require them to go omnichannel, adopt personalization, and implement other digital strategies that we’ll talk about today if they want to keep their position in the global market.   Take Advantage of the Online Purchasing Experience One of the best ways retailers can provide a luxurious experience and retain customer loyalty in the digital age is by taking a direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach. Selling direct to consumers is exactly what it sounds like — your brand selling your products directly to your customers, so you get to control the experience instead of any third parties or other intermediaries. This approach empowers brands to continue to share their heritage, enforce their bonds with loyal customers, and provide value through the luxurious experience they’ve always excelled at in-person — just using a different digital platform. The digital storefront on which you choose to host your online shopping experience should include modern touches that make the shopping experience feel luxurious, including flawless functionality across desktop and mobile devices, advanced search capabilities, real-time availability updates, a multi-media presentation that enables shoppers to experience products in various ways, and easy-to-use customization features for products that can be personalized. Commercetools is an example of a cloud-based ecommerce platform built on a microservices architecture making it scalable and easy to integrate into the rest of your digital business systems — an important feature that we’ll talk about later. Create Intimate Digital Connections Through Personalization Whether in-store or online, no luxury shopper wants to be anonymous to the brands they patronize. They have a name, unique preferences, brand experiences, and a purchase history that they expect you to utilize in your communications with them. Fostering a connection with your brand isn’t just a nice “perk” — it’s a significant factor in revenue and profit performance. MBLM’s “Brand Intimacy Study 2019” found that the same U.S. brands that had built strong intimate connections with consumers over the previous decade significantly outperformed the top brands in both the Fortune 500 and S&P indices when it came to revenue and profit. And the same study — which analyzed 6,200 consumer responses and 56,000 brand evaluations — ranked the luxury industry 14 out of the 15 industries when it comes to fostering a personal connection with consumers. Ouch! The silver lining? There’s room to improve. Enter personalization. Deloitte’s 2017 report “Global Powers of Luxury Goods” found that almost half of luxury retail shoppers desire personalization. What does that look like in practice? It could be making a product recommendation based on an occasion you know the consumer has coming up. This personalization triggers an offer email based on a consumer’s behavior and preferences. And perhaps, the email displays dynamic call-to-action buttons tailored to use language to which the customer is likely to respond (like their name). Now, how do you deliver this kind of personalization at scale? That’s a trick only technology can deliver — technology that we’ll detail later in this article. Fashion Engaging Post-Purchase Communications In the “UK E-Commerce Shipping Study 2020: Fashion Edition,” parcelLab found that only one out of the ten leading British luxury fashion brands followed up with their customers right after completing a transaction — leaving post-purchase communication solely in the hands of the delivery company which, as many of us have experienced, can quickly lead to miscommunication and disappointment.  In the retail industry, the average email open rate is just under 14%, but the average open rate for post-purchase emails is a whopping 60%. Engaging consumers in post-purchase communication is a relatively straightforward strategy with a big payoff for managers looking to translate the luxury retail experience into the digital realm. Conducting proactive outreach in the window right after a transaction allows sellers to continue the immersion in the luxury experience, strengthen brand loyalty, share tips on taking care of their new purchase, provide any shipping updates, answer questions, recommend complementary products, and, of course, set the tone for a long relationship full of future transactions. Does the thought of adding an all-new online shopping platform, personalization, and post-sale communication to your to-do list have your head spinning? Then keep reading to learn about the technology that can help. How Headless CMS Technology Can Help You Deliver on the New Luxury Retail Norms According to the founder of the Customer Experience Group and luxury industry expert Christophe Caïs, shoppers in the luxury retail space often value the brand experience more than the actual products they purchase. And we already know that in 2020, customer experience has become a more critical brand differentiator than price and products themselves. It’s evident that luxury retail brands absolutely must prioritize bringing the above personalization, post-purchase communication, and online sales strategies to life. A headless content management system (CMS) platform can help automate content creation and synchronize all the tools you need to build a shopping journey that lives up to consumer expectations. A headless CMS is an API-first content management platform, which means it’s built from the ground up using application programming interface (API) technology that allows microservices, applications, and other systems to function together. This structure makes it easy for content teams to create, optimize, and distribute content to every consumer channel you serve. It also enables retail managers to integrate ecommerce platforms, CRMs, CDPs, translation tools, localization platforms, and everything else they need to empower online shopping, personalization, post-sale communication, and any other strategies to help bring the luxury retail experience online. To learn more about using a headless CMS instance to build the system that you need to create luxurious digital customer journeys, download a free copy of Gartner’s “Elevate Your Horizontal Portal to a Digital Experience Platform.” For more insight on the intersection of headless CMS and the retail space, read “The Omnichannel Technology You Need to Navigate a Fragmented Retail Market” and the very timely “The Digital Secrets of Retailers Who Are Thriving Right Now.” And to get a better feel for how headless CMS may work in your retail organization before you go all-in, get in touch with the Contentstack team today, and we’ll set you up with your own full-access, no-obligation trial run.

Sep 08, 2020

Augmented Reality for Retail: From Concept to Game Plan (Week 1/3 of Development)

The team at Valtech is building a Contentstack-powered Augmented Reality proof of concept in 4 weeks. Week One: AR Framework & User Research, Marker Tracking, Content Modeling, and Interaction Design If you’re just joining us, you can find a summary of week zero (how we got this far) here. Today we’re covering week one, the goal of which was to define everything needed to accomplish the POC. The concept so far: We are building an application that will take some complex information from a beauty/skincare product and make it easier to understand through augmented reality and personalization. Experience and Interaction Design Before any development work could begin, our concept had to be translated into isolated problem statements which could then be made into tasks to fill out our three one-week sprints. This meant it was time for another brainstorming session. What experience are we creating? The team spent 3 hours on Zoom and in their Miro board with the goal of hammering out the following:What problem are we solving for customers? What specifically are we going to demonstrate in our POC?What data are we going to display?What is the interaction model? 1. What problem are we solving for customers? What task do we want our users to be able to accomplish? What are the user needs? For many at Valtech, this step was a rapid onboarding into the world of skincare. First, the team took a look at some major skincare retailers to get an idea of the basic taxonomy of skincare products: What do they call things, and how do they classify them? They also did some user research: a quick internal Google Forms survey that aimed to identify what the biggest skincare questions, concerns, and needs were among real people who might use this kind of app. Based on these two research questions, the team found the following: there is very little variation in the way products are categorized (cleansers, exfoliators, moisturizers, etc., came up over and over again as product category descriptors), and people are generally overwhelmed with the amount of undifferentiated information thrown at them by skincare products and brands. In other words, though you might know you need a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, that still doesn’t tell you which one works best for you; whether the ingredients will help or harm you personally, or interact poorly with each other; or even how much of each to use, when, and in what order. So there was definitely an unmet information simplification need here. Check. 2. What specifically are we going to demonstrate in our POC? What products are we going to work with for scanning & information display? Here, the Valtech team pulled in some beauty & skincare subject matter experts that they found within the company. They identified the different steps that go into a skincare routine:Cleanser - to clean the skinToner - an astringent to shrink the pores and change pHSerum - which nobody could explain, beyond “something magical with vitamins”Moisturizer - to prevent the skin from drying outSunblock - to protect from the damaging effects of the sun Big insight #1: people are especially confused about a particular category of skincare products. Based on this, the team decided that for the purposes of this demo, the specific example they would zero in on would be helping people to navigate selecting and using a serum, since this is the product that they could find the least clarity on (and therefore, could reasonably surmise that the information needs for this product would be immediately obvious to the biggest number of people). What on earth is a serum?3. What data are we going to display? At the root of this next question is one that the team assures me they keep coming back to over and over again: How are we actually going to make this useful? Explains Jason, “if people are just looking at words, then it’s essentially just a website brochure. We want users to be able to interact with this in a way that can help them accomplish the tasks they need to accomplish.” In the case of figuring out what to do with a serum, the team identified the following information needs that could arise for our POC:Concentration of serum — do I need 5% or 2% “active ingredient” (eg. Vitamin C)?Usage recommendations — how do I use it, and where does it fit into my routine (in which order, how many times per week)?Product recommendations — what are other products that go along with this serum (e.g. the next step in the suggested skincare regimen?)4. What is the interaction model? How does the user interface with the system? Looking at the usage story so far, the team mapped out the following:  Someone wants to buy a serum from a particular brand. They want to know which product is recommended for them (based on — for this POC — a pre-existing “profile” with preferences, current routine, etc. already known), how to use it, and whether at some point the products they are using need to change in any way (e.g. concentration, increase sunblock or moisturizer, etc.) This is when the team hit on… Big insight #2: this service will be the most useful if we stick to one product over time. Up until this point, the idea had been to make an app that helps to choose between products in-store, and have it offer several kinds of interactions depending on what kind of help you were looking for. But the results of the research and brainstorming showed that with skincare, there isn’t necessarily a need to constantly keep shopping for new ones. Consumers have a desire to select a product that is guaranteed to do what they want to accomplish at that point in time (e.g. reduce wrinkles, moisturize dry skin, protect from the sun) and then understand exactly how to make that happen once they take it home. The questions don’t stop once you leave the store with the product in-hand. There is still a lot to understand about making this product most effective for me, in my routine, right now. So, the team decided to build 3 interaction scenarios that would show just that — personalization of information about one skincare product over time.What exactly will we build?Interaction Scenarios I didn’t know what interaction design was, so I asked Svante Nilson, Senior Designer. It’s basically: How we want users of the application to consume the AR content we are producing, as well as designing the look and feel of that content. Or in other words: What's that AR experience going to look like and feel like? What's going to show up on your phone, what's going to display around the product? How's it going to display? How are you going to interact with that? And why would people want to use this? (There’s that #1 question again.) And then repeating that over the different kinds of interactions: in the store and at home. Sketching comps The team zeroed in on three scenarios that they wanted to build out, and Svante got to work on designing them as pencil sketches. He would then run these past the engineers to determine feasibility, and adjust as needed, until they arrived at interactions that seemed easy, useful, and possible to build quickly. Scenario I: At the store Differentiate between multiple bottles on a shelf. AR information here can include things like reviews, cost and affordability, ingredients from the perspective of allergic reactions or sustainability, and any other things that might make the product stand out to you to make you want to purchase it. In this scenario, you are scanning the shelf with your phone. You are not holding any products in your hands, so you are able to tap and interact with the augmented reality information laid out around the product using your free hand. This is what you can see being worked out in the sketch below. Scenario II: At home, first time using the product Once home, receive AR onboarding to using this product: things like frequency per day and usage steps. Here, instead of holding your device (phone or tablet) at a distance from products that are on a shelf, you’re holding the product in one hand and your device in the other hand. Your interactions with the AR display will have to be in the real world, using the product itself as a controller. Think rotating the product, or swiping up and down on the surface of the bottle, to see additional information. Below are early sketches of these interactions. Scenario III: At home, after a while After you’ve been using the product for a few months, your needs for information will change. You may want to progress to another product concentration or another product in the line; your frequency of use of this product may need to be adjusted. You may also want to leave a review. To facilitate these needs, the interaction model and visual layout can stay the same, while prioritizing other information in the AR experience itself. In the sketches below you can see a benefit of using the bottle as a controller: this naturally allows for adding “tabs” with additional personalized information and notifications (e.g.: the humidity index in your area is low; use additional moisturizer with this product; or: you’ve been using this product for 3 months, time to think about changing the concentration.) By focusing on just one product and one product line, from one brand, we are not only narrowing our scope to be able to complete the project in this tight timeline. We are also making it more applicable to an enterprise retail use case for Augmented Reality: one of helping a skincare brand tell their story across several interactions, and eventually, products. Below, you can see the current mock-up that came from this sketch interaction design process. Early preview of the real interaction and labelContent Modeling Identifying and populating the data that needs to be stored and accessed As the identified scenarios make clear, there is a lot of information that our AR demo will need to access. Some of it will be dynamic, like personalized product recommendations or changing concentrations of the active ingredient over time. Some will be static: brand names, product lines, ingredients. All of this will need to be stored in Contentstack in a manner that makes it both easy to query, and easy to edit or modify. This process is called content modeling, and we will cover it in detail in Week 2. Development On the development side, the team also started with some research. Before anything can be built in Augmented Reality, there are a number of parameters that need to be defined. It’s not too different from a website or app project. You need to define language, database, framework, (for us: AR framework and graphics libraries) and any other parameters specific to the project. For us, that meant determining how our AR application will identify the object that’s in front of it, as well as how it will “know” the bottle is being used as a controller. I. AR Frameworks and Graphics Libraries Augmented reality development is somewhat of an uncharted territory. While there are a host of SDKs available for developers wanting to build AR experiences, there aren’t all necessarily enterprise-grade, cross-platform, or even production-ready. So the first step for developer Alex Olivier was to do her homework: evaluate the available AR frameworks and graphics libraries to determine which of these would fit our criteria: suitable for a web AR experience (not requiring a native app installation), and as close as we could get to something that a business might actually use to build this kind of application for their own brand. For the curious: the research is documented here. The TL;DR is that we chose to go with AR.js (as the best option for building AR for mobile web browsers), Three.js (WebGL framework in JavaScript) and A-frame.js (a framework for Three.js that lets you write HTML-like elements to compose a 3D scene, and also provides a visual 3D inspector.) The next challenge was to get these tools to bend to our will.  Our goal was to be able to track a (serum) bottle’s movement in such a way that our application could determine its position and behave a certain way in response. Or more simply, for the first test case: If the bottle tilts to the right or the left, change something.II. Spatial coordinates and marker tracking for using the bottle as a controller AR.js library — Where is the marker? As the team started working with AR.js midweek, they hit a few road bumps. Danielle notes, “The biggest challenge with the AR library is ensuring the content appears where we want it to appear, which is the biggest challenge for any AR application!” They started with Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) in AR.js but noticed issues with the alignment between the image and 3D object overlaid. They then looked into how the coordinate system was set up in AR.js, which led them to discover another underlying issue around the virtual camera: AR.js likes to position the camera or the marker at the origin of the coordinate system. It has different modes for whether the camera is fixed or in motion, which can affect how it tracks multiple markers. Essentially, the coordinate system in AR.js is set up to look at objects where either the markers are stationary or the virtual camera is stationary and has trouble when both are moving around.  Marker tracking and fiducial markers to identify object motion We tested a couple of different markers to make it easier for AR.js to find the serum bottle. QR codes were especially interesting as these are in common use today. However, ultimately the far better performing markers turned out to be fiducial markers. Explains Jason, “Fiducial markers are black and white images which look kind of like a QR code but are simpler and have a black square bar around them, and have any kind of rotationally asymmetrical symbol in the middle so the computer can tell which way that square is turned. These have been used in AR for a long time, so there is a lot of solid code around how to deal with them.” Fiducial marker Three.js and A-frame to Act When Motion is Detected As a last step, we tested what happens when we try to tell AR.js to recognize the rotation of the bottle. Under the hood, AR.js leverages the Three.js WebGL framework, and there's another framework called A-Frame (by Google) that can be used with both of them to quickly write HTML-like markups to describe your scene. The team built a custom attribute for A-Frame elements that triggered a rotation event when the bottle is tilted left or right in front of the camera. … And it worked! In the video below, you can see that as the bottle is turned, the attribute that we created is looking at the acceleration rate and which way it’s turning, and when it determines that it’s tilted, it switches the image in the middle to blue. So we’ve got an interaction using the bottle as a controller, which is pretty great! Next week: learn how we will pull in data from Contentstack to populate the AR interactions, the benefits of a headless system for creating AR experiences, and our path towards building real scenarios and views, using final assets! Read the Week Two Project Spyglass update now.

Sep 01, 2020

How to Concept and Pitch an Augmented Reality Demo (in 1 Week or Less)

Week Zero: Getting to the Pitch Sometime in the beginning of summer, the Contentstack marketing team called up Valtech, and asked them to build an Augmented Reality (AR) demo on top of our CMS. We caught Pascal Lagarde (VP Commerce) and Auke van Urk (CTO) in a good mood. They said yes. Then everyone went on summer holidays. Until about 2 weeks ago, when Pascal called us back. He said: “We’ll build you an AR demo. And we’re going to do it in the next 4 weeks.” This is the story of how they did it, told (almost) live. Today, what happened in Week Zero: how the development team at Valtech went from receiving our somewhat vague brief to pitching us two sharply defined concepts a week later. We’ll even be sharing the actual pitch deck. (It’s at the bottom of this post.) Getting the Brief Jason Alderman is a senior engineer at Valtech, but he used to work designing interactive exhibits in museums. One of his favorite projects was a donation machine for a museum lobby, which was a giant glass porthole attached to a set of sails. When the machine detected a donation bill, it would suck it up through a snaking tube into the porthole, which would then activate a sensor that would make the sails blow as if in the wind. He’s excited about the possibilities of Augmented Reality. “I like the connection between the physical and the digital world. Right now we're holding up these small pieces of metal and glass up to our faces and moving them around like a magic window. The technology is still evolving. I'm really interested to see what the end result will be.” Jason was the first team member to get tasked with responding to “the brief” which was, admittedly, a somewhat rough Google Doc where a few Contentstack people had traded ideas with a few Valtech people along the lines of “could it look like Minority Report?” and “it needs to be interesting for marketers and developers alike”. This was the actual brief. Jason is positive about this experience, telling me: “We were given a lot of creative free rein. That's one of the things I love about this company — they really invest in the people and let them run with their ideas.” He planned a workshop with a few other developers, UX researchers, and experience designers. “We figured that we probably needed to get as many perspectives inside the company as we could and brainstorm things.”Identifying the Parameters: Why Contentstack?1. IDENTIFY HOW A HEADLESS CMS WILL BE USEFUL IN AN AR CONTEXT Contentstack is a Content Experience Platform (CXP) with a headless content management system (CMS) at the core. It’s essentially a highly user-friendly database and environment for content creation and storage (text, media, or otherwise) with powerful APIs and integration capabilities that allow that content to easily be delivered to any kind of channel or environment. Traditionally, content management systems have been used to power the web, but today the demand for content-rich experiences is significantly more diverse. Beyond web and the mobile web and even app, brands need content to exist in an atomic form, ready to be delivered in an optimized and personalized way to digital billboards, point of sale terminals, social media, marketing automation systems — and yes, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality experiences. Valtech is one of the founding partners together with Contentstack of the MACH Alliance, which is a governing and educational body promoting a new standard for enterprise architecture: Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and headless. Says Jason, “It's a way of having an enterprise CMS that can feed all sorts of different front-ends from mobile apps to react apps.” 2. LIST KNOWN STRENGTHS OF CONTENTSTACK CMS The Valtech team made a list of all the strengths of the Contentstack platform that could be highlighted in an AR demo, which looked like this (see more of this in the pitch deck at the end of this post). The strengths of Contentstack for AR demo, as identified by Valtech.Detailed content models can be structured easily to feed websites, apps, and of course, AR. Internationalization: robust multilingual support, including fallback languages — for instance, if there is no content for a given channel in Mexican Spanish you can rollback to general Spanish content.Robust ability to set up workflows — easily configuring layered steps comprising different actions (approval, commenting, adding elements) that can be set up to automatically push to the next stage.Tremendous capability for personalization through powerful integration with tools such as Optimizely or Dynamic Yield.Isolating the Task: Why AR? AR is hot right now. But the team that took our brief wasn’t a pure AR team. It was a group of people who know how to build experiences and augment them with technology in order to make them either useful, or really fun, or both. Given the brief of delivering content-rich experiences pulled from a headless CMS, their first question was "are we sure the best way to accomplish showing off this CMS is through AR?"1. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS AND USEFUL APPLICATIONS OF AUGMENTED REALITY? Along with Jason, leading the brainstorm efforts was Danielle Holstine, Delivery Manager — a software engineer turned project manager — who spent ten years developing AR and VR technology. She sees potential for AR in everything: “To experience VR you currently have to put this big thing on your face and it's like blinders — you can't see anything else around you. AR, on the other hand, uses what you're already seeing and just adds information on top of it, so it's additive.” Especially interesting is the potential of web-based AR and the ability to move away from native apps, which makes these experiences more accessible and easier to engage with. “Phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have been investing in the hardware required to do augmented reality functions: improving cameras, sensors, all those kinds of things. And equally on the software side, there's been a lot of development on browser-based AR so it no longer requires a dedicated application to make use of your camera and the sensors on your phone, but rather being able to access the information through just a browser.” But UX researcher and designer Hayley Sikora had questions. “Knowing that we’re working with an amazing CMS and that the brief was to convey information through it, my question was, why are we doing it in AR? Because it’s very difficult to get large amounts of information across in AR.” Britt Midgette, Sr. Experience Designer, agrees. “We can’t just do AR because it’s cool. It must enhance the experience in a needful way. VR is a different thing — you are creating worlds, there’s "no reason” to do that — but it’s fun, and you can add a lot of stuff in that world. You can still show people a lot of things in an AR world but really — why?! Some things should be static. AR can just get in the way of what people are trying to do.”2. FRAME THE BRAINSTORM TO SERVE THE OPPORTUNITY The resolution came from framing the question in a storytelling narrative: Since Augmented Reality is layering information on top of the real world, hopefully to make things easier and provide context, there are industries that have complex information, which can be simplified or explained, personalized, and delivered through an AR experience. The team (Jason, Danielle, Hayley, Britt, Pascal, and engineers Alex Olivier and Brian Harrington) then broke down this narrative into its component parts and discussed each in turn. The goal was to come up with 1-2 strong concepts that could be presented to Contentstack in a pitch the following MondayBRAINSTORM Q1. What are industries that have complex information? The team used Miro as a digital whiteboard. The Miro board with dot voting star stickers. The ideas did not start out clustered together, but rather as a brain-dump of all kinds of industries that have complex information that might be difficult to understand, or that people might need some help digging through and figuring out what is relevant. Some of the ideas included:Vitamins, health, skincare, beauty productsMedicine & pharmaceuticalsSoftware documentation, technologyCollege admissionsInsurance, credit cards, financeReal estate, apartment huntingOutdoor equipment, travelHome goods, auto parts, instruction manuals (and IKEA) The team plotted it all out in a grid of post-its, then clustered it into meaningful groups, then voted on their favorites. The two industries that seemed to be the most popular were skincare & beauty and museums & education. What are industries that have complex information? Miro board brainstorming. That was the first part of the narrative: There are industries that have complex information, which can be simplified or explained, personalized and delivered through an AR experience. The next step was to identify the kinds of information that could be simplified and explained in the two most favoured industries.BRAINSTORM Q2: Given the industries “beauty & skincare” and “museums & education”, what is their complex information? The questions that people had around beauty and skincare came naturally to many people in the room, like Hayley, who admits, “I have so many questions about what goes into my own skincare regimen.” Ideas listed included:Ingredients: How can I understand the composition of this product? Are there known allergens in this? How have these ingredients been sourced?Benefits: What is actually healthy, versus just a “scam”? What is this product promising to do, and how can I track whether it’s actually working? Reviews: Can I see a rating or review? Who recommends this product? Are there influencers that have covered it? When it came to museums & education, Hayley was inspired by the experience of her aunt, who recently decided to homeschool her children: “I was thinking that it would be a really amazing opportunity to provide kids across the world with some interactive learning tools that could, first of all, give their parents a break from having to be their homeschool teachers 100% of the time — but also give them some fun ways to learn this content." Ideas for museum & educational complex information included:Learning management: Tracking systems for grades, assessments, progressAdditional context: Who was the creator of an artwork? What are narratives behind certain artifacts which give them context, beyond just the names and dates?Details: Virtually dissect a dinosaur skeleton — pull out different bones and see where they were found, what they were for, and how they evolved.Media: Sound clips, 3D models, music (instrument types, styles)Provenance: How did the artifact get to the museum? Where was it originally created; what hands did it pass through; will it be, or has it been repatriated to the original cultures or people to whom it belongs? What is the kind of complex information that we could work with? Here the team had fleshed out the second part of the narrative: There are industries that have complex information, which can be simplified or explained, personalized and delivered through an AR experience.  The final piece of the puzzle was personalization.BRAINSTORM Q3: How can we personalize this information? Jason explains that without personalization, any content experience, AR-enhanced or otherwise, is just a bundle of information. The benefit of using technology to represent content in a dynamic format like AR is that it can be personalized, made highly relevant and specific to the person accessing that information. Adds Hayley, “Personalization is only going to continue to get more important. The newest generation is seeking more personalized material than ever because they get instant gratification all day long with personalized content that is sent to them on their social media feeds, so they're expecting that out of other channels as well.” How could personalization be used to de-complexify the types of information that we identified in beauty & skincare and museums & education? Beauty & Skincare:Ingredients: Which of these ingredients will help me achieve my goals?Recommendations: Based on your purchase history, preferences; hide products that might cause an allergic reaction or are otherwise incompatible with your personal history. Upload a “shelfie” and get an analysis of how this would fit into your existing routine.Face scans: Similar to other Valtech projects showing makeup on someone’s face “live”, can products be recommended based on a scan of your face?Phone a friend: Are there reviews I can see from people I know, or from elsewhere online? Can we support or mimic the social buying experience? Museums & Education: Game mechanics: Tour, scavenger hunt, quizSocial dynamics: Tether two people virtually to join in a trivia battle, or to share the experience in a personal wayResponsive content: Dynamically generating a layout of a physical space to match your preferred experience, such as drawing a “map” for you personally to follow through a museum exhibitAvatars: To protect kids’ privacy, instead of putting in all of their own personal information into the app, can they create an avatar that represents their preferences and personality traits?Text to speech: Keeping in mind that a lot of content stored in Contentstack CMS is text-based, could text-to-speech be implemented to create a personalized audio tour experience using existing written content? How can we personalize this information? There are industries that have complex information, which can be simplified or explained, personalized and delivered through an AR experience. This was the end of the brainstorming session, where two strong concepts had emerged to be taken into the pitch presentation.Can It Be Done? From here, the final question was, can this be done in our timeline: 3 weeks from this point on?  Here’s Danielle: “We knew we had three weeks, which is a very short time, to implement something this complex. A traditional two-week sprint process obviously isn't going to cut it for this. This work needs to move so rapidly that we don't have extended periods of time to wait, to have something blocked, those kinds of things. “So as the brainstorm team was talking, I sketched out a three, one-week-sprint plan with rough goals for each of those weeks. “The first week is really focused on nailing down the technology we're going to use. So what are the AR libraries that we're going to use? How are we going to track the items? Are we going to do it with fiducial markers, are we going to do it with image-based markers, are we going to do it with object tracking... Each of those has an increasing level of complexity. So we need to make that decision really soon. The next step was nailing down our interaction models and what we want the experience to be. “Then the second week goal is going to be focused on really hard development: making the application, getting the data into Contentstack, and getting the data back out and visualized the way that we want it in the AR space. “And then the third week would be really focused on polishing and refining. So, the intention is between the first week and the second week, to actually have our proof of concept — a working thing that we can send around to everybody to test and manipulate, get some feedback on it. And then spend that last week editing, adjusting, and refining. And if we have time, adding in some of the many nice-to-haves that we left on the drawing board."The Pitch1. LOWEST EFFORT, HIGHEST REWARD Based on what they knew they could accomplish in 3 weeks, and that had the highest potential to deliver a “wow”-factor demo, Valtech pitched Contentstack two ideas for an AR proof of concept.2. PRESENT IN AN EASY-TO-IMAGINE FORMAT Valtech kept the presentation short, and pitched only one slide per concept, complete with hand-drawn illustrations that showed the concept, but made it clear that it was a mere idea, and not a fully living thing. Knowing that it was possible, and armed with a wealth of ideas, here are the two ideas Valtech presented to us.Beauty & SkincareWhat’s Inside the Bottle? Scan a product on the shelf or at home to get personalized recommendations based on the ingredients in the product. See other products that are similar based on some criteria (feel, effect); products that are different (avoiding allergens, discovering other product lines); learn about sustainability and sourcing of the ingredients; or get instructions (see influencer content on tips and tricks, see usage and recommendations from the brand.) The beauty and skincare concept, with sketch illustration by Jason Alderman and Lindsey HarrisMuseums & EducationPersonal AR Audio Tour. In a museum gallery or a simulated at-home environment, receive a personalized museum audio tour using text-to-speech technology, including; paths based on how objects in the museum are related to each other; paths that follow a particular preferred narrative thread or subject; synchronize the audio tour with other devices so users can experience the tour together with family or friends. Museums & education concept, with sketch illustrations by Jason Alderman3. OFFER RECOMMENDATIONS & GUIDANCE The team also gave some personal guidance on their preference, which was towards the retail app. Says Jason: “I love museums, but we did not think that museum demo would be as effective as one that retailers could translate their business onto more easily.” Hayley adds: “The opportunities in education are almost endless because there’s so much we could make interactive and gamify. The challenge with education and museums is bureaucracy — who actually takes ownership of it? What school system is going to pay to create an AR learning program for their kids? That's just not feasible. So I think taking this down a route where we could be talking about products that can go to a broader consumer audience makes sense.” The Decision On the Contentstack side, me (I’m Varia — Director of Marketing) and my colleague Gal Oppenheimer (Manager, Solutions Architects) immediately gravitated towards the retail and skincare application idea. So that's the application we'll build — and over the next few weeks, we'll share with you exactly what that looks like.  We're calling it Project Spyglass. In the coming weeks, we will show how Gal and his team helped Valtech to build the content models that will help to power this experience from Contentstack. Plus, Valtech’s software engineers research AR frameworks, interaction design storyboards start to take shape, and we wrestle with the surprisingly sticky problem of marker tracking. Read the week 1 post now.  See the full pitch deck presented by Valtech below: Pitch deck: Augmented Reality POC by Valtech and Contentstack from Varia Makagonova

Aug 28, 2020

Out With the Old: How to Modernize Your Content Strategy

You can’t build a cutting-edge skyscraper with a hammer and a box of nails. Modern construction projects call for modern tools designed for the job. And the same is true for your content strategy.You can’t deliver the content-driven experiences that your audience expects using tools designed for a different era. But because technology and content marketing evolves fast, you might still be using methods from a bygone era without even realizing it. And if you’re an enterprise marketer, chances are even higher that you’re being held back by misaligned goals and knowledge silos that make it difficult to adapt.The following helps marketers and content strategists identify which content tactics to kick to the curb and create a modern content strategy that makes the best use of emerging technology.Taking Stock: Finding the Weak Spots in Your Content StrategyAs technology and marketing practices have evolved, there’s no doubt your content strategy has, too. However, it’s just as likely that your company hit its stride somewhere along the way, finding tactics and tools that worked and sticking with them well past their expiration date.Meanwhile, the information your audience wants has shifted, in large part, because technology keeps providing new ways for them to access content. You need a content strategy that takes advantage of emerging technology, just like your audience does. Otherwise, you risk losing potential customers.Keep reading to find out which era best describes your content strategy and how to give it new life with modern methods designed for today’s market.The Age of the Internet The Approach: You have a website with necessary information about your company, and maybe even a blog that you occasionally update with general information, but you’re not active on other digital platforms.Why It Needs an Update: In the early days of digital marketing, having a descriptive web page or a blog provided a new way for customers to learn about you. But today, an effective content marketing landscape requires much more than just being present, and your target audience — no matter who that is today — expects more.New content formats (video), platforms (such as the IoT?), and advanced content management and distribution tools allow modern content marketers to share content more widely and personalize it for each customer. To be competitive, you need to use them.The SEO Years The Approach: You became an early student of all things SEO, so your focus is on the number of times your keywords need to appear in each piece of content to make it rank well on Google.Why SEO Needs an Update: Search engine algorithms, led by giants like Google, are continuously updated. They can now spot, and often lower the ranking of content that stuffs keywords without adding value. The new best practice is to create high-quality, long-form content that naturally uses relevant keywords instead of stuffing them where they don’t belong. And if you want to get modern, optimize your content for the coming onslaught of voice searches. The Growth Spurt The Approach: In an era of deep content saturation, you’re trying to maximize SEO results by doubling down on content creation — using different keyword variations, of course.Why It Needs an Update: Like keyword stuffing, the top search engines have learned to spot duplicate and low-quality content, which gets penalized in search rankings. Today, search engines place more emphasis on page quality and relevance, which makes it easier for people to find the information they want. Modern best practices emphasize high-quality content on well-designed web pages that are easy for visitors to navigate. Considering that more than 90% of unique website visitors are using mobile devices, today, a well-designed website is a mobile-ready website. The Dawn of Clickbait and the Race to Go ViralThe Approach: You studied how to write headlines that get more clicks and pored over viral content to decode how the magic happens, in hopes that you’ll crack the formula that will draw massive traffic to your digital platforms.Why It Needs an Update: The conditions that cause a piece of content to go viral are mostly unpredictable, and the effects can be short-lived once people grow weary of over-the-top headlines. Even if you hit the holy grail, that’s no guarantee that you’ll attract your target audience or that people will sustain their engagement. Trying to force it only diverts your energy away from creating consistently credible content that will keep people coming back in the long term.The “Buy Me” Generation The Approach: You have embraced digital platforms as a sales opportunity, and you consistently include a call-to-action encouraging people to make a purchase.Why It Needs an Update: While digital engagement is crucial, no one enjoys solicitations to buy things all the time. Great content focuses on the customer, not on the brand. Your content strategy should align with the sales cycle, which includes different tactics for engaging people at the top and the bottom of the funnel. Content marketing excels at the top of the funnel, where you can cultivate a digital following by positioning your company as a valuable and credible source of information that helps them solve their problems. Once they trust you, they are more likely to become a paying customer.The Eternal Optimist If your content strategy includes any or even several of these ideas — there’s no need to panic. The following sections help you create a forward-looking content strategy that’s as modern as your audience is.Forward Momentum: How to Modernize Your Content StrategyUpdating your content strategy isn’t rocket science. It begins the same way that processes have begun for a very long time — by documenting it. Gartner’s research shows that nearly two-thirds of the most successful marketing leaders have a documented content strategy versus only 14% of the least successful. The following steps help shake off old habits and propel your content forward with a well-documented content strategy built for the future.Clarify the Goals of Your Content Strategy Why It Matters: As a content marketer, you can only create compelling content if you know what your company needs your content to achieve, and the answer isn’t always obvious.How to Do It: Talk with internal stakeholders to learn about their priorities. Are your company’s goals focused on launching on a new product? Are you trying to attract new customers? Or do you want to reduce the churn rate of existing customers? Once you’re clear on the overall direction that your sales and leadership teams want to go, you can develop a content strategy to help them deliver.Update the Personas that Guide Your Content Strategy Why It Matters: If the tactics around your content strategy need to be updated, the buyer personas that underpin your content probably need an update, too.How to Do It: This is another opportunity to consult with your colleagues to ask some key questions. Who is your target audience? Are the people you want to reach today the same ones you tried to reach five years ago, or even last year? Consumers’ buying habits change all the time, which means that your customer demographics may have changed as well.Make sure you know who your target customers are, and update your buyer personas as a guide to help you create content that will resonate with them. And remember, there’s nothing outdated about having more than one audience — you need to create content that speaks to your highest priority target customers.Conduct a Content Audit Why It Matters: You have invested a lot of energy into creating content, so you can’t afford to let it all go. However, holding on to irrelevant or inaccurate material hurts your marketing effort’s effectiveness in the long run.How to Do It: Take inventory of your content, including the topics you cover, which personas they speak to, what type of content it is, and how well it performs. Identify which pieces still align with your goals and personas, emphasize your best-performing content, then look for opportunities to update older material with new statistics, a timely twist, or combine pieces to create something new. Take note of any gaps you see between where you’ve been with your content and where you want to go.While revisiting and removing old content might seem counterintuitive to developing a new content strategy, editing and auditing are essential to the content lifecycle management process.Identify New Content Ideas Why It Matters: Even though you can reuse some of your old content, the chances are high that you have gaps to fill, not just in the substance of your content, but in the type of content.How to Do It: Brainstorm new ways of delivering content that solves problems for your target audience. Creative options include visual assets like infographics and video, long-form content like case studies and ebooks, or even a series of email campaigns to follow up with people who purchase specific products. Unlike the early days of the internet, modern consumers trust a variety of different content types.Website and application analytics, social media listening, SEO research, and even a chat with your customer service and sales teams can inform which topics you should cover using your new content types. Develop an Omnichannel Content Creation and Distribution Plan Why It Matters: Today’s customers expect to have a seamless experience no matter where they engage with your brand. An omnichannel distribution plan allows you to reach your target audience wherever they prefer to be, increasing the chances of meaningful engagement.How to Do It: As part of your persona research, you should learn where your target audience spends their digital time. Using this information, you’ll be able to create tailored content for each audience on each channel. Sound kind of impossible to manage? Maybe manually, but not with the right (aka modern) content management solution. A headless content management system (CMS) like Contentstack eliminates the need to recreate content by separating content creation and storage from how the content is published. Application programming interface (API) technology is then used to locate the right content module, run it through whatever personalization and optimization platforms you’ve integrated (such as CRM, translation, A/B testing, etc.), and then distribute it to your chosen channels. For example, a social media channel, IoT device, website page, and so on.Your CMS is your primary tool for everything, from creating to optimizing and distributing your content. As you modernize your content strategy to include new content for new audiences across new channels, invest in a CMS that can help you do the heavy lifting — no more hammers and nails.Keep LearningTo dive deeper into modernizing your content strategy, check out our “Modern Content Marketing in Practice” webinar series. Part one helps you figure out how to make content marketing work in your organization. Part two gives guidance for getting your content operations in order. And part three demonstrates ways to measure the success of the customer experiences you’ve created with your new content marketing strategy.

Jul 31, 2020

Beyond Text Searching: a Marketer’s Guide to Voice and Visual Search Optimization

In the mid-1960s, Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk summoned the on-board computer on the USS Enterprise in the same way we casually ask Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri to play music for us today. Voice search and its cousin visual search are rapidly gaining ground as technology catches up with things we used to watch on television. In 2019 alone, an estimated 3.25 billion digital voice assistants were being used in devices worldwide. Forecasts suggest that by 2023 the number of digital voice assistants will grow to eight billion — similar to the earth’s population at the same time. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have brought yesterday’s sci-fi to today’s fingertips. As smartphones get smarter and more digital assistants move into our homes, customers are interacting with content in new ways. Instead of looking at a map, we can ask Siri for directions. Visual search capabilities turn every moment into an opportunity for brands as consumers point their smart devices at objects to learn more about them. Like Captain Kirk’s voice queries, end users don’t see the algorithms that go to work locating the information for which we ask. However, marketers need to know about the back-end processes that make their content easy to find, no matter how someone is searching for it. This guide helps marketers understand the latest search methods and how to adapt your content to capture traffic from increasing voice and visual searches. The Evolution of Content Searching: How We Got to “OK Google” and Why it Matters In the early days of internet content, tools like WebCrawler ushered in text-based searches. Yahoo! Directory soon followed, along with search engines like AltaVista, MSN Search, and Google. These search engines have long relied on keywords to find content that matched our wants. But with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) that’s smart enough to deliver content based on human requests and questions, hands-free voice search came on the scene. Instead of using a few short keywords, voice searching is more like a dialogue. With voice search, people ask longer questions as if they’re speaking with another person. For example, when we want directions, we say, “Hey Siri, get directions to the nearest gas station.” When we want the weather forecast, we ask, “Alexa, what is the temperature outside?” If you plug those words into a search engine, you’ll generate quite different results than if you type a more concentrated query like “St. Louis weather” or “gas stations in Albuquerque,” even when you’re after the same information. Speed and hands-free capability top the list of reasons why people like voice searching, but ease and accuracy follow closely behind. Voice searching is also a powerful accessibility tool for users who can’t use text-based search methods. Then there’s the newest frontier — visual searching. With a visual search, the image itself is the search query. For example, if you see something you’re curious about — like a beautiful sofa — and you want to know more about it, you can snap a pic, upload it to a visual search engine, and look for matches. For a furniture retailer with a catalog full of high-quality sofa pictures, visual searching can shorten the sales journey by reducing the steps a customer takes from wanting something to finding and buying it. Voice and visual search optimization help you differentiate your brand and create more engaging experiences for the growing number of customers poised to take advantage of this technology. By employing voice and visual search optimization tactics, you can now get a step ahead of your competition. Let’s look at how you can achieve that. The Nuts and Bolts of Voice and Visual Search Optimization Tech-forward marketers can follow these tips to adapt their content for voice and visual search. Write How You Speak The best way to optimize for voice searches is by writing how your customers speak. Blending conversational phrases seamlessly into your content helps ensure that voice-enabled search engines find your material. When used alongside your regular keywords, your content will offer the added context that will help elevate your relevance in search results. The key is to consider this from your customer’s point of view. What kinds of questions would they ask if they’re searching for something that your company can provide? What are the answers to those questions? If you sell running shoes, your natural keywords might include stability, motion control, or neutral support. In a voice search, your customers might ask, “What are the best running shoes for people with bad knees?” If you want to bring more precision to writing for voice queries, try readability tools like the Flesh-Kincaid reading test (which is conveniently embedded in some word processing programs) to match your writing level to that of your target audience, thereby increasing the probability that your content matches their style.* Look Local If your business has any local component, a great way to level-up your performance on voice searches is to focus some energy on optimizing your content for local searches.  Research shows that in 2019, almost a third of online consumers in the United States used the internet to search for local businesses daily. And nearly 60% used voice search specifically to look for information on companies in their area. Incorporate High-Quality, Optimized Images for Visual Searchers Visual searches help people searching for something quick, or that isn't easy to describe using text. The first thing to consider with visual searching is whether your company would benefit from the effort. Some service-focused industries may not generate the same ROI from the visual search that product retailers would. The simplest way to measure this is by asking: “Can I photograph what we offer?” If the answer is yes, you can improve your discoverability by incorporating your products' images into your content. In visual searching, AI and machine learning algorithms identify the objects in an image and try to match those with images of similar objects. Quality matters, both for the image itself and the surrounding text. High-resolution photos will make it easier for search engines (the most popular ones are Google, Bing, and Pinterest) to process your image and match it with a search. Search engines prioritize results from high-quality sites, which are those with fresh and original content — including pictures. Stock photos won’t perform nearly as well as original images. Remember that quality still shouldn’t come at the cost of usability. Don’t use large photo files. Use a well-known image format, such as .png or .jpeg, and compress your photos to ensure they load quickly. In addition to the image itself, search engines make excellent use of the related metadata, such as captions, image titles, alternate text descriptions (also called alt tags), and URL paths. Customize these, and be sure to use relevant keywords that accurately describe your images, to help improve accuracy. Lastly, your images should align with the surrounding content on your web pages and be placed as close as possible to the most relevant content. The More Things Change, the More SEO Best Practices Stay the Same The trend toward voice and visual searching emphasizes some standard best practices in search optimization, including prioritizing website speed and mobile usability. Voice searches tend to use more words than text-based searches, which means your content may get longer and take more effort to load. Likewise, visual searches are heavier on bandwidth. Don’t disappoint potential customers by making them wait. It’s also important to remember that voice and visual searching are increasing in popularity precisely because of our growing reliance on mobile devices. While optimizing for mobile devices used to be an afterthought, it is increasingly worthwhile to design your content with a mobile-first approach. After all, over 90% of websites report more unique visitors from mobile devices than from desktops. And Google says, “Mobile-friendly sites show up higher in search results.” And of course, the most effective SEO tool of all is offering straight-up amazing content designed for humans, not for search engines. The Final Element of Your Content Optimization Strategy: The Right Content Management System The process of voice and visual search optimization is infinitely easier with a content management system (CMS) that makes creating, optimizing, and delivering voice- and search-friendly content a breeze. Headless CMS streamlines voice and visual search optimization by storing all of your content assets in highly-accessible modules. So instead of the exhausting process of rewriting, redesigning, and relaunching content every time you want to publish it to a new channel or audience — marketers enjoy a single source of reusable content which can be run through various translation integrations, SEO plugins, and more before being published anytime, anywhere. To keep learning about the new digital technology and trends that are reshaping business and how to adapt your strategy to keep up, enjoy complimentary access to Forrester’s report: “Digitize Your Business Strategy.”