Tablets and Beyond

Tablet vendors at the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas had a coming out party. Driven by the wild success of the iPad, they introduced something like eighty — that’s 8-oh, my goodness — tablet PCs to the world. Now, by itself, that’s significant, especially for CRM, and something hard to miss even if you’re a proverbial blind horse. But let’s not stop there; to understand the significance for CRM, we can analyze more information.

For instance, it was widely reported last year that for the first time social media out-competed email for our attention. Add to that the growing importance of video as a content medium, and you can start to see a trend emerge.

One thing I conclude immediately is that we’re increasingly mobile, hence the need for a form factor that is easy enough to carry and big enough to do things with. But with this, we are also becoming a bit more passive in our technology use. Passive? With all these devices and movement? Perhaps. And with social media’s impact picking up, the volume of transmissions will do likewise, and the demand for better quality interactions will follow.

Video and Graphics

Tablets — or at least the iPad, which so many vendors are trying to emulate — were developed as receiving devices, things used to surf the Internet, and increasingly that means watching video content. Granted, you can use an array of screen-based and hardware-oriented keyboards, but the primary use of these devices is to slurp information from the Web.

There was a report last week, surfaced by my friends at The Enterprise Irregulars, that Apple was removing the only button from the iPad for a future revision of the device. That’s a direction keyboard enthusiasts should monitor. TV is a passive medium, and it would appear that our computing is becoming more TV-like.

I’ve spoken to a variety of marketing people recently about video and its surging importance to CRM, and I’ve written about it in this column. The sense of these marketers is nearly universal that tablets are fine for watching videos, and that means corporate videos.

Graphics packages — Harvard Graphics and PowerPoint — were thought by many to be the killer applications for the laptop because sales people could take them anywhere and deliver a more or less standard pitch.

Video will certainly become the killer application of the tablet, and that will place more responsibility on the marketing group. Video eliminates much of the need for a presenter and makes the viewer responsible not only for attention but for presenting as well.

The Science of Marketing

Thor Johnson tells me that business-to-business marketing is still by many accounts a PR and brochure business. But increasingly, tools from Eloqua, Marketo and others are turning marketing from art to science. As marketers generate and analyze more customer data they become more astutely aware of real needs, and they will have plenty of incentive to meet those needs through advanced communications, e.g. video.

Already, companies like BrainShark are delivering to market the infrastructure required to develop high-quality videos that play anywhere — from the smallest screens to the most advanced tablets as well as desktops.

The increased use of video will multiply the amount of data we push around the Web daily and drive demand for bigger networks with fatter pipes (or “tubes” if you are a member of the U.S. Senate). And just as tools like PowerPoint gave everyone the ability to develop presentations, we must expect that before long we will all become experts at developing and delivering live or recorded full-motion video.

But increasing, mobility might not pan out exactly the way many people see it. The presumption now is that mobility means more face time, and that’s probably right, though we’ll certainly need to pick our spots more carefully as the cost of transport rises. In such an environment, mobility might become synonymous with remoteness, as in working at some locations not associated with your corporation.

The Cost of Travel

The transportation issue, which I have bored you with before, could become a serious drain on the economy. It’s simple math, but if a gallon of regular goes from US$2.50 to $5, your cost of transportation just took a sharp rise. Transportation comes out of the SG&A (sales, general and administrative) line and eats into your margin like a worm through an apple. At that point, your choices all look iffy. You could drive something smaller to your customer appointment, but the cost of switching is not small. Regardless, you can’t do much about the fuel economy of the jet that takes you to another city. The alternative of not going is only supportable if there is a credible alternative.

At that point, the benefits of mobile and video technology, which right now look like a leap in efficiency that will flow directly to the bottom line, will become fixes that help you maintain your position, to tread water. Economists have a term for this — it’s called “consuming the dividend.” You could save the benefit, which is what happens when it really does hit the bottom line. Or you could plow the benefit back into the business, and that’s what I see happening with video and mobile technologies. That’s why it’s so important to get on this bandwagon. Eighty new tablet introductions is more than a straw in the wind.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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