Up until a couple of years ago, many experts would have scoffed at the idea of influencer marketing becoming a powerful marketing tool. These days? Not so much. According to recent studies, an average influencer marketing campaign has earned $6.85 for every $1 spent.
As more and more brands are starting to find out, word-of-mouth marketing is routinely outperforming all other marketing types by a large margin. Does this mean all businesses should focus exclusively on taking advantage of influencer marketing? It's not quite that simple. Though influencers can play a vital role in your marketing strategy, they also bring a specific set of challenges that can affect your campaign.
Here are three things every business owner needs to know about influencer marketing.
1. Not All Influencers Are Equal
Influencer marketing is still relatively new, so it's probably no surprise to see brands struggling to identify the right influencers for their needs. Many celebrity-level influencers have over 300,000 followers on social media, but their fans might not be the right target audience for your brand. Can you confirm that these followers were not purchased? Can the influencer in question provide quality content? What about the level of engagement their posts are generating? In many cases, you'd be better off focusing on the so-called micro-influencers. These people have considerably smaller media followings, but they're often able to influence more purchases from their audience. Additionally, their rates are generally lower than those of celebrity-level influencers. If you want to find the right influencers for your campaign, your first step should be to define your business goals.
Do you want to focus on getting followers, increasing your conversion rate or driving website traffic? Once you have your answer, look for influencers that are relevant in your industry. With enough research, you'll be able to identify those of them who can engage your target audience.
2. Determining Your Campaign ROI
How can you tell whether influencer marketing is worth your investment? With other marketing strategies, the easiest way to do so would be to calculate your campaign ROI. However, influence marketing is somewhat of an outlier in this regard, as measuring direct financial return is often impossible.
One way to approach this issue would be to provide your influencers with unique money-off coupons. Any time their followers use one of these coupons, you'd be able to measure the conversion rate. This is what Nutrisystem did. Nutrisystem is a diet company that launched Nutrisystem Nation Blogger program some time ago. Through this program it reached out to women bloggers, like Beatrice of Bestiews, who would be willing to try the popular diet, and blog about their weight loss experience. Nutrisystem gave these influencers special coupon codes to offer to their followers. People used these Nuitrsystem coupons to purchase the diet program allowing the company to measure the campaign’s ROI.
If you're not planning on providing such discounts, though, you can take note of your other campaign factors such as brand advocacy, brand awareness and reaching your target audience.
There are a couple of online tools that can help you with this task. For example, NeoReach is a social media platform that allows you to monitor your campaign results. Thanks to this tool, you'll be able to keep track of your influencers' impressions and the engagement they're generating. In addition to that, you can take note of your overall campaign spending and compare it with the cost per impression and the cost per engagement.
3. Attracting Influencers
When it comes to influencers, their content creation rates can obviously vary wildly. However, there are some statistics that can help you determine how far you should go in order to attract the right people for your campaign. According to Influence.co, the average cost of an Instagram post made by an influencer is $271. Additionally, an average micro-influencer (fewer than 1,000 followers) will demand $83 per post, whereas celebrity-level influencers (over 100,000 followers) will ask for $763 per post.
We should also note that influencers are busy people, and attracting them is far from a walk in the park. In a recent Econsultancy study, it was found that 59% of businesses are struggling with this task. What's the right way to approach them? Well, many experts believe that influencers are more likely to pay attention to marketers who try to befriend them instead of pitching them.
In other words, you should spend some time researching the influencers you want to work with. If you happen to share any common interests or if you liked some of their recent work, make sure to mention that in your emails. Keep in mind that your main goal should be to give them a reason to care about your campaign.
The World Economic Forum has also listed cybercrime as a major global economic risk and warns that more sophisticated cyber-attacks are on the rise. The economic risk is confirmed by a report from a 2017 Cost of Data Study sponsored by IBM which shows that the average total cost of a data breaches is $3.62 million. Further, the study found out that one in every four companies experience a data breach.
Digital devices are increasingly playing a significant role in people’s lives these days, and this is one of the factors that are fueling cybercrime. A recent Norton Cyber Security Insights Report estimated that 35 percent of people across the globe have at least one unprotected digital device that leaves them vulnerable to cyber attacks. These devices are therefore a growing security concern for small business owners given the fact that a good number of them use small digital devices like their smartphones to run their operations.
Some of the major cyber threats small companies face include Hack attacks, Ransomware, CEO fraud, phishing, denial of services, among others.
So how can small businesses protect themselves against cybercrime?
Fortunately for business owners, there are preventative measures they can take to avoid falling victims to cybercrime. Here are some of them:
Use IBM Watson
Watson by IBM is an artificial intelligence of many talents. It works as A.I by day and a cyber crime fighter by night. It improves a security analyst's ability to keep up with sophisticated threats, by drawing from unstructured data (ex. blogs, websites, research papers) and correlating it with local security offenses.
Educate Your Employees
Small business owners need to train their staff on proper security measures. First of all, “employees should not use their work computer for personal business and vice versa”, says information technology expert Dirk Anderson. It is crucial that every employee in your business understands the inherent risk of digital communications. Run regular cyber attack training sessions and let everyone understand that it only takes a single click to compromise the entire system. They should not be quick to open attachments or click on any URLs even if they receive them from trusted friends.
Restrict Access to Important Data
You need to restrict access to your company’s critical data to only those staff members that have to work with it. Don’t forget to shut down accounts of your former employees as quickly as possible. An employee can access the data after leaving your company and use it to compromise your system. Also, it is extremely important to run background checks on potential employees before hiring them.
Be Aware of Unsecured Devices in Your Business
As noted earlier, breaches through mobile devices are on the rise, and this should be a huge matter of concern. You need to understand that any unsecured connected digital device in your business can be accessed easily by cyber-criminals. It is therefore vital to ensure that all the devices brought into your business are secured with very strong passwords which are regularly changed. Have up-to-date security software on all these devices.
Monitor Your Cloud Infrastructure Constantly
Your cloud provider can do this for you. Ensure that all your servers are secure all the time, monitor advanced threat management systems, web application firewalls, security patch management, data storage, among other things. Regularly scan for any vulnerabilities, and take appropriate measures if you find any. You also need to carry out a security assessment of your website regularly.
Install a Combination of Security Software
Use anti-spam, anti-virus, and anti-malware software and make sure you update them regularly. There are many security protection solutions including Symantec and Avast which have practical solutions for small businesses. Antivirus software experts at Qetes advise to always have a firewall software to fend off spyware, virus and phishing attacks.
Back Up Your Data Routinely and Have a Disaster Recovery Plan
Make sure you back up all your data on the cloud, external hard drives, and other locations. Carbonite offers automatic backup solutions for small businesses from as low as $5 per month.
Use Complex Passwords on All Your Computers And Devices
Use passwords with a minimum of 8 characters and make sure you change them regularly. This resilient password policy should also apply to your employees. Ensure they change their passwords often. There are free password management tools like LastPass that you can use to generate very strong passwords and keep track of all them safely.
To sum this up, at times it may be unfortunate that even after doing everything right, you still fall victim to a cyber attack. It is therefore wise to consider having a data breach insurance that will help you mitigate any costs as result of a data security breach including legal fees.
The low priority that businesses have placed on Data Quality has caused the failure of many projects over the last 10 years. In today’s Big Data era where massive scale and complex data reign, success is achieved by prioritizing Data Quality management.
To gain a competitive advantage many companies are performing advanced analytics on Big Data. It is described using the 5 V’s: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity and Value. Social Media and the Internet of Things (IoT) are examples of large Volume and extreme Velocity of data. Variety represents data types; structured, semi structured or unstructured.
Data Quality impacts all 5 V’s as highlighted by Anmol Rajpurohit in a KDnuggets article. The two most important for Data Quality are Veracity (the ability to trust the data) and the Value the data enables.
Top Data Quality Issues
Lessons learned from top Data Quality issues that existed a decade ago in traditional relational systems with ‘small data’ are still relevant today. Small and Big Data have the same Data Quality issues. An estimated $3.1 trillion are spent in the United States on Data Quality issues, according to IBM Big Data Hub.
Lack of Data Standards
Metadata Definitions/Quality - Incorrect definitions or lack of proper definitions describing the data within a column (i.e. allowed values)
Manual Human Intervention
Data entry errors and use of spreadsheets for data preparation
Broken Business Processes
Changes in business requirements not properly captured/accounted for leading to broken business processes (i.e. outdated data feeds)
Poor Data Requirements
Missing or incorrect data configuration rules, mappings or cleansing handled by custom application code unknown to stakeholders in a data migration/integration project
Big Data Quality
One might argue there has been an increase in Data Quality issues from mere volume with Big Data. Data Scientists spend 80% of their time in data preparation activities as indicated by a Forbes article. A large effort of time is spent cleaning “dirty data” prior to the fun tasks of generating data models, applying sophisticated algorithms and using machine learning.
Data has become more complex in today’s world with new characteristics, but the foundational Data Quality principles remain:
Focus on business goals that produce Value
Prioritize data that supports the business goals and use cases
Institute a Data Quality initiative that identifies data issues inhibiting value
Execute Data Cleansing where it matters
What has changed today is the approach in Data Quality analysis execution, as now it must consider the 5 V’s. Data Quality thresholds will vary based on how data is produced. Social media data will not have the same standards as operational data. Data Quality must be scalable and keep up with the growing volume and speed of data. It’s no longer sufficient to just focus on automation using profiling tools. The future for Data Quality is using Machine Learning (ML) technologies to help detect future issues or similar issues with varying data sets. How will you use Machine Learning to help your Data Quality program?
What is more important: a great product or a great marketing? The truth is that a mediocre product with great marketing will always defeat a great product with mediocre marketing. This is because great marketing can influence consumers through psychological tactics. For example, a marketing campaign that creates scarcity and urgency, makes consumers think the marketed product is more valuable than the one that exists in abundance.
When a market is so overloaded that is difficult for you as a merchant to stand out, your marketing may be more important than the product you are selling.
Weight loss is a very crowded market. It is comprised of commercial weight loss chains (i.e Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig), diet pills (i.e Alli, Belviq), diet food home delivery services (i.e BistroMD, Nutrisystem), medical procedures (i.e gastric bypass surgery), and even weight loss gamification (gadgets and mobile apps). In fact, at some point, an incentive-based app by IBM aimed to bring weight loss gamification to the workplace. Many of these products and services offer effective solutions to the problem of obesity. Yet, as is the case in almost every market, 10% of these weight loss products absorb 90% of the customer base. What’s interesting, the weight loss solutions that are most successful do not necessarily provide a better service than their competitors. They are just better marketed.
The largest weight loss program in the US today is Weight Watchers. More than 8 million people visit it website every month. With more than two-thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese, there is an enormous weight-loss market – to the tune of an estimated $66 billion this year. Weight Watchers has cornered a significant share of it, thanks to a smart strategy in targeting dieters.
With $1.16 billion in revenue in 2016, Weight Watchers is at least two times larger than its biggest competitors in the space, Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig. It’s also seen a meteoric rise in shareholder support, as its stock price has skyrocketed more than 2,000% from $2.13 per share in 1999 to $44.44 in December 2017.
So how did Weight Watchers rise to the top? Surely, the product they sell is very well designed. For over 50 years they keep improving what they offer to the point that today the company’s reputation precedes its service. But, the company’s success is based to a substantial degree on great marketing tactics, not the product itself. This is, after all, expected for a company that spends 90 million a year on advertising campaigns. Let’s take a look at what Weight Watchers does right.
Lesson 1. Present the Problem, Make it Look Complicated
First, the company makes the weight loss problem look complicated. Despite what dieticians may have been telling us, according to Weight Watchers, it’s not just calories in, calories out. Instead, it’s all about how your body processes different types of foods. A 200-calorie cupcake is processed differently than a 200-calorie salad, according to Weight Watchers’ nutritional scientists.
Weight Watchers’ new Freestyle program incorporates new data from recent research in the field of eating behavior and psychology. What makes us gain weight is not homeostatic hunger (eating to meet the body’s energy needs) but hedonic hunger (eating for pleasure), they tell us. This makes the issue complicated in the eyes of the consumer. If weight loss is not as drop-dead simple as we thought, then we feel that we have to turn to a company who can provide us the right solution.
Lesson 2. Offer an Exclusive Product that Solves the Problem
This brings us to our next point: Weight Watchers has created a solution to a complicated problem that looks relatively easy… but not so easy that someone can follow the system all on his or her own. Weight Watchers has created the PointsPlus system that assigns a certain number of points to each food based on how the body processes it. It used to be that points values were calculated based on calories and fat content, but now calories have been taken out of the equation. It’s now based on what it does in the body, a more complicated equation that considers carbohydrates, fat, protein and fiber. A 272-calorie apple serving has 0 Points while a 272-calorie ice cream serving has 7 points. A sophisticated mathematical formula calculates the points which means that consumers need some type of a guide—whether it be a special Weight Watchers calculator, a book or online tools—to tell them the number of points for each food.
Lesson 3. Exploit Your Competitors Weakness
Another smart marketing strategy employed by Weight Watchers has to with taking advantage of its competitors’ weaknesses. People who struggle with their weight generally don’t like rigid food plans or having someone else tell them what to eat. If they did do well with meal structure and discipline, many of them probably wouldn’t have weight difficulties in the first place. Weight Watchers has smartly tackled this in its marketing campaigns by contrasting the freedom to eat what you want in their program to the food restrictions in their competitors’ programs.
For example, Optifast, Jenny Craig and Medifast are all meal-replacement programs. And Nutrisystem is considered by many the best diet meal delivery service. Although all of them do offer some flexibility in letting customers choose different meals, Weight Watchers has taken advantage by referring to their foods as a “’boxed burger” and “microwave pizza.” Weight Watchers then contrasts this with its own strengths by saying you can eat “real food in the real world. You want a burger? Go ahead you can have it. Weight Watchers is not a diet”.
Lesson 4. Sell Feelings Not Products
That brings us to our next point: Weight Watchers focuses on people’s feelings and making them feel good. On the Weight Watchers plan you can eat “real food” versus “boxed food”–that just makes you feel better. Even in the company’s promotional materials, famous singer Jennifer Hudson talks about how great Weight Watchers makes her feel as a mother and as a performer. She talks about how Weight Watchers gives her so much energy, makes her “feel great and liberated in so many ways”.
In one interview, Jennifer says: “Weight Watchers has helped make my new lifestyle a reality”. What Weight Watchers is doing here is selling the feelings around the product, not the product itself. Currently, in the Weight Watchers home page, spokesperson Jessica Simpson “feels like she’s on top of the world” inviting readers to see why Weight Watchers worked so well for her. Weight Watchers knows how to sell feelings.
Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics explains that businesses make this mistake all too often. They try to sell software, marketing strategies, copy-writing services, websites, etc but what customers need is not the product; they want what the product will give them: money, respect, freedom, etc. They want the feelings associated with the product.
In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek proves that successful businesses are those that have managed to clearly communicate their “why” (the belief, the lifestyle and the feelings the brand represents). To the contrary, businesses that focused on the “what” (the product), didn’t go that far.
Lesson 5. Give them What They Want, Not What They Need
Finally, Weight Watchers is so successful because it employs one of the best marketing tactics in the book: it gives people what they want, not necessarily what they need. By allowing members to choose the foods they love (as long as they stay within their PointsPlus limits), they are still letting members follow their desires. Perhaps members should be eating more fruits and vegetables (and those foods are enormously rewarded in the Weight Watchers system by usually being worth 0 points), but Weight Watchers gives them the option to eat chocolate, cake, ice cream, donuts, burgers, you name it. By doing so, consumers don’t feel restricted or feel like someone else is telling them what to do, and so they will gravitate more towards that type of weight-loss program.
Lesson 6. Let Potential Customers Join for Free
Allowing people to try your product without attaching any strings to it (i.e credit card information), eliminates the sense of fear and risk that often stand as an obstacle between your product and your potential customers. Weight Watchers allows you to join their program for free. You can experience a Weight Watchers meeting discussion free of charge and without any obligation in some of the 30,000 weekly meetings in the US for people trying to lose weight. For those who want to continue the program promo codes for Weight Watchers products are always available. Of course, there is always a sense of hurriedness as the offer ends soon.
Overall, Weight Watchers provides a fantastic case study of marketing weight-loss products. From offering exclusive solutions to a complicated problem, to letting people join for free, the company has been incredibly savvy in the way it promotes itself to consumers. With the weight-loss market only expected to go up for the foreseeable future, Weight Watchers only stands to benefit as more and more people seek the program that gives them the right feeling when it comes to shedding their extra pounds.
What can YOU learn from Weight Watchers’ marketing approach?
Some people like celebrities can have a significant effect on the character of brands. Since these individuals (influencers) have a vast following and appeal to many people, brands use them to promote and sell their products and services. This is what influencer marketing is all about. While there are other channels for influencer marketing, social media influencer marketing is currently the most effective. Businesses are taking advantage of influencers with a massive following on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and other platforms to sell their brands.
Although influencer marketing has been around for a long time, it has recently become a hot trend and is expected to be the next big thing for marketers. One of the reasons it is trendy now is the fact there are more people than ever before using various social media platforms, with an opportunity to share their opinion and content on anything. Here are reasons influencer marketing is considered the next big thing;
It is powerful
Influencers can significantly improve your brand’s sentiment among consumers. A study by Rhythmone showed that influencer marketing campaigns that lasted for 14 days or more led to a 9 percent improvement in positive brand sentiment. Investing in influencers who believe in your products and services has even more benefits.
Social media is a big factor
More consumers are shifting to social media by the day, and this is going to make influencer marketing even more effective. Social media is, in fact, turning traditional marketing models on their head. A recent report from Salesforce showed that up to 70% of brands will allocate a bigger budget on social media. Nowadays consumers are connecting with each other on social media and making purchase decisions by learning the experiences of each other and those of their favorite personalities.
It is currently an arbitrage
When Facebook launched its ad network, business owners who adopted it early had record ROIs. Currently, influencer marketing is a massive arbitrage as there is a huge supply of influencers, but few brands are running the influencer campaigns. For instance, Periscope and Snapchat present good markets for influencer marketing but very few marketers are investing in it.
People are getting tired of paid ads
Consumers are these days exposed so many ads that they at times unconsciously tune them out. For instance, can you remember the last ad you saw and what it was promoting? Infolinks (a digital advertising platform) found out that just 14% of its respondents remembered the recent ad they saw and whatever was promoted in it.
Influencer marketing is good for SEO
Besides driving sales more effectively, influencer marketing can also boost your ranking on search engines. A study by The Social Media Revolution suggests that user-generated social media posts account for up to 25% of search results. The more your brand is mentioned on social media, the more relevant and popular you get on Google.
It is more effective that traditional models and other forms of digital media
A case study by WhiteWave Foods and TapInfluence found out that per 1000 views, influencer marketing brings in $285. This is 11 times more ROI over other forms of digital media.
It is also worth mentioning that Millenials have become vital game-changers as far as influencer marketing is concerned. The rules of marketing to this generation have changed, and traditional channels no longer appeal to them. Studies show that these days, only 3 percent of Millenials consult traditional forms of marketing such as TV, magazine and newspaper ads before making purchase decisions. Instead, they go to social media platforms, websites, and blogs to find out what their friends are saying. Again, the Gen X and Millenials only trust people they know.
Contrary to what you might expect, content does not matter so much to Millenials, authenticity does. If they don’t trust you, no matter how good your content is, they will not bother looking at it. Influencer marketing seems to be working for them, and this necessitates the need to engage them on social media or the blogosphere.
Experts also say that consumers’ trust in brands has been decreasing over the years. On the other hand, the tendency to rely upon word-of-mouth has been increasing. Consumers continue to demand authenticity, and instead of using outdated brand messages, authentic brands are now focusing on the human component by, say, putting a face to the brand’s name. This genuine and relatable marketing creates a connection with consumers and can foster brand loyalty if done effectively.
An Influencer can have millions of followers or just a few thousand. The number of people who follow an influencer is not that important. What matters when looking for the right influencer to promote your brand is the level of relevance and engagement. Therefore, while a celebrity with a 100 million followers, like Kim Kardashian’s younger sister Kendal Jenner could be the right influencer for a beauty and lifestyle brand, micro-influencers like Leandro of LifetoLiveit and Alex of Wikigains could be similarly effective for a fitness brand or a brand that uses coupons and deals as a sales promotion tool.
How to know if influencer marketing can benefit your business
If you intend to use influencer marketing, here are some tips for telling if the marketing campaign would be right for you.
Lifestyle and statues. For instance, if you are selling luxury products like watches, then you might want to consider influencer marketing.
Do consumers need to trust your products and services before they buy? If yes, then this marketing campaign can drive sales for you.
If you are working in a very competitive industry or one that is commoditized or homogenized, influencers can help you stand out from the rest.
Online reviews have a very strong influence on the success of any business. According to the Wall Street Journal, consumers’ behavior is influenced by social norms. This is why online reviews—the new social proof—is such a powerful concept. A survey by Bright Local in 2017 found that 85% of consumers trust online reviews like personal recommendations. No wonder why Influencer Marketing has become such a powerful weapon for brands. Just consider the initial steps you normally take when you are thinking about buying a product or service. You most likely go online and begin looking for reviews to help ensure you are spending your hard earned money wisely. Your clients or customers will also want to do the same thing before they purchase your products or services.
According to a study that was conducted by YouGov, 78% of customers consult online reviews before making a purchase. Another online review survey done by Bright Local’s in the year 2016, revealed that 88% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as they trust recommendations from family members and friends. That same study also found that, 74% of costumers say that the positive reviews make them trust a business more.
If you are a business owner, the aforementioned statistics should provide you with sufficient evidence of the importance of the online reviews. That being so, many businesses tend to struggle when it comes to getting reviews from customers. Either they get very few reviews, or none at all. So, how do you get people to review your products or services? Here are our top 6 tips;
1. Spotlight the Customer
Most people like being the center of attention. When you receive a review from a client or customer, you can show gratitude by giving them some spotlight. Giving your customers or reviewers attention can actually encourage other customers to give their reviews. Moreover, expressing your gratitude in public can help you inspire customer loyalty. You can also feature the best reviews on your website or social media pages, and even go a step further and give shout outs to each reviewer by name.
2. Send a Follow-Up Email
At times, it can be somewhat intimidating to use emails to encourage clients to leave reviews as you might feel as if you are harassing them. However, when done correctly, this can be one of the most efficient ways of getting more reviews. If you've the client’s email address, consider sending out a personalized email 2 to 7 days after the purchase. The follow up email should contain links of where to leave a review. Remember to let them know that your goal is to create the best possible experience, and that you do value their feedback.
3. Make It Easy to Review Your Products
In order to inspire customers to review your products, you need to make it easy for them to do so. You should list your business on various different review sites which are relevant to your particular business. Some of the best review sites you might want to consider include: Yelp, Lodlois, ConsumerAffairs for Brands, among others. That said, make sure you not only provide them with the website URLs, but also explain how to leave a review.
4. Respond to Reviews
If you ask your customers for reviews, the least you can do is read what they've written, and respond when necessary. You should show them that you are available to talk by personally responding to their reviews. Responsiveness actually shows that you value their feedback and care about their opinions. It also increases the likelihood of other customers joining the conversation and adding their own reviews.
5. Don’t Forget to Ask for Reviews
This is one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to convince clients/customers to leave online reviews. If you do not ask for reviews, many customers will not remember to do it since they've other things going on. According to a 2016 survey by Bright Local, 70% of customers were willing to write a review if the business actually asked them to do so.
The ideal time to ask for a review is when the value that you have delivered is fresh in the customer’s mind, therefore making it easier for them to recall the purchase, and write a honest review. So, do not wait for too long before asking for a review since the happy memories will get more out of focus with every passing minute.
6. Incentivize Your Customers
It is really amazing what a little incentive will do to encourage people to leave reviews. For instance, you can set up a program which rewards customers at random for leaving a review. The program should be designed in such a way that it rewards any review at random regardless of whether it's positive or negative. That said, be careful not to give an impression that you're trying to compensate customers for writing reviews.
The Superbowl. It is the culmination of a football season and the most watched football game each year. But for football fans and non-fans, part of this event’s draw are the commercials. Every year, the “big boys” – Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay, and more – put their marketing and advertising teams to work to come up with amazing commercials. For days afterward, these commercials are analyzed and voted upon by a loyal following.
For average businesses, however, this type of marketing is an impossible dream. They have to use more conventional methods, most of which involve developing customer personas, trying to develop relationships with customers, providing responsive customer service, and creating online advertising and content marketing which is, actually, pretty budget-friendly.
Hacking Through a Noisy Environment
The problem with internet marketing, or marketing of any kind for that matter, is that the environment is noisy. Marketers are throwing a lot of “stuff” out there and hoping that some of it will stick with some of their target audience members. And consumers are growing tired of the growing disruptions of marketing of products and services that don’t meet their needs.
Many marketers have also come to use data analytics to keep track of the success of specific campaigns they run – tracking consumer response and the number of conversions that can be attributed to each strategy. And this can drive marketing decisions that they make for future campaigns. It’s a good use of “science” to make marketing strategies more effective.
Before and After-the-Fact Analytics
There is data and then there is big data. Conventional analytics is “after-the-fact” analysis. But what if bigger amounts of data could be gathered and gathered before marketing campaigns were ever crafted in the first place? This is the promise of this new big data science. Here is an example:
A bank has had a portfolio of loan options for consumers – auto, home, personal, business, etc. – for a number of years. Now it must compete with a host of new loan products from a host of new lenders, especially online lenders, and business is falling off. How does it determine how to alter it current products, perhaps design new ones, and market those effectively, in order to gain a good market share? Big data analytics can do this.
With the right software and tools, and the right questions, data can be gathered from all over – from the competition, from social media, from consumer review sites, etc. – and all of that data can be organized and synthesized to provide answers that will drive the loan products the bank will offer, to whom, and even how and where they will best be marketed.
The idea of big data analytics is that it is supremely scientific. It deals only with factual information and is based upon actual consumer behaviors that are gathered from multiple sources and then presented in reports that businesses can use to predict how consumers will act in the future. Armed with this knowledge, business owners, managers, and marketers can make smart decisions about what they offer, when it is offered, to whom, and the best places for their campaigns.
6 Ways in Which Big Data Analytics Can Boost Marketing
Consumers looking for products or services often conduct generic searches. And, according to Matt Kirkman, Director of Grapefruit Digital SEO Agency,
“...consumers rarely go beyond the first page of a search result, in fact, beyond the top five results. What big data analysis can bring to the table is not just the most commonly-used search terms, although that is a critical factor, but also the demographics using those terms, where they hang out online, and the most common needs they identify related to products or services. All of these can be used to craft content that search engines will find valuable.”
More Precise Definition of the Ideal Customer
Marketers spend a lot of time developing a target audience persona. Some of this may be based upon current customers, and some may be a “guess and test” strategy. Big data takes the guesswork out. Companies can see who is buying similar products/services, what and where their related conversations take place, what other websites they visit, the social media platforms they use, and, when, where, and how they prefer to be contacted.
Anyone who has shopped for a product on Amazon or ordered a movie from Netflix, will find suggestions for additional purchases or other movies they might like. This is the result of big data and machine learning, gathering information on previous customer behaviors to predict those of future customers. Marketers for any business can use such data to suggest additional products or services too.
Another aspect of personalization is targeted marketing based upon predictive analysis. When leads come in to sales teams, they can be categorized as hot, warm, or cold, based upon how similar leads have behaved in the past. This allows sales teams to spend their time more wisely relative to those leads.
Better Content Marketing
Marketers have used analytics to measure responses to their content – blog articles, social media posts, etc. The right big data analytics tools, though, can now crawl through related content all over the web and analyze responses to it all. This provides marketers with topics, with “pain points” to address, and with offers such as loyalty programs and discounts.
Managing a Reputation
New analytics tools also allow businesses to monitor any mention of their brands or products/services from any place on the web. They can then immediately access those mentions and respond accordingly. When compliments are given, that behavior can be reinforced with coupons, discounts, etc. By the same token, negative comments can be addressed publicly with resolutions that both satisfy the unhappy customer and let others know that a business is serious about its customer service/relationships.
Because of big data algorithms and analytics, it is possible for businesses to rapidly obtain information on competitors’ pricing, price changes in the sector as a whole, and even price points at which customers may be turned away. Pricing optimization is a huge factor in marketing and sales, and the ability to get information and suggestions based upon actual data relieves marketing departments of a lot of manual research, which may not be comprehensive.
This list of six benefits is only the beginning. Data science is relatively new, and promises to be the single most important factor as businesses look to design products and services that consumers really want and need, to find their ideal customers, and to market their brands most effectively.
You start working on a spreadsheet from your home office. Later, on the train you open it up with your phone to check out a few of your calculations. When you get to work, you open up your laptop, and continue working on it. You’re not carrying the document around on a flash drive. You’re simply taking advantage of the convenience of cloud storage. It may be time to move forward, and treat your accounting the same way.
Using cloud based accounting solutions is certainly not bleeding edge technology either. As of 2014, 69% of accounting firms were using cloud based financial solutions. More than 25% of the small to mid sized businesses that were surveyed indicated that they were using cloud based accounting solutions specifically.
Whether you’re a small business owner handling your own financials or a dedicated accounting pro, there are plenty of reasons to consider cloud software. It’s certainly a technology that’s growing in population overall. Keep reading to learn more about the growth of cloud solutions for accounting, and why it should be a viable option for you.
Access And Collaboration For Team Members
Cloud based accounting solutions are highly regarded because they don’t keep people pinned to their desks. You also don’t have to rely on emails or file sharing to share accounting data with other team members. Instead, those with authority and connection can simply access the accounting system from any connected device.
Cloud based accounting systems also enable collaboration. Files can be accessed, modified, and created by multiple team members. This ensures that everyone has the latest version of each document.
It Takes The Heat Off of Your Systems
In addition to financials, your home-based systems handle a lot. You likely store customer and employee data. You may process transactions. There’s also emails, data related to other systems, security and antivirus software, and more. That’s a lot of processing and storage. This doesn’t come for free.
By moving your accounting to the cloud, you can take a load off of your networks, servers, and peripherals. This can lead to better performance, and more room for the data you do choose to keep in house.
Cloud Accounting Solutions Are Often Less Expensive
In all likelihood, running your accounting solution is the cloud will result in lower out of pocket costs. First of all, if you purchase an in house solution, not only do you have to cover licensing fees, you’ll also have to cover the cost of any hardware upgrades required to host the solution. Also, you may be able to break your payment into a series of monthly payments thus defraying your upfront costs even further.
You’ll also pay less for hardware maintenance and other resources. This is especially beneficial for smaller businesses. Rather than hiring an IT person, or bringing in a consultant to deal with maintenance and upgrades, you can simply leave that to your solution provider. This is much less expensive than paying for an IT pro or consultant that you may only need part time.
Cost of storage is another thing to consider. With cloud based solutions, you only pay for what you use. And, in many cases your subscription options will likely give you plenty of room to grow before you move up to a higher, pricing tier.
Finally, keep in mind that as in house solutions grow, you also have to consider the physical space you have to store servers and other hardware. It’s not much of a stretch to go from having some equipment in a well vented utility closet to needing a fully realized computer room with raised flooring and other bells and whistles.
High Security Protocols And Standards
Unfortunately, some very publicized events relating to cloud storage has put people off the idea of using cloud as an accounting solution. They believe that their information won’t be secure. However, in most cases that’s simply not true. A reputable host is going to have exceptionally high security standards and protocols. They’re also going to have the manpower and knowledge to maintain a much more secure system than most businesses.
Truth be told, unless you’re a large company with a data security team, the right cloud provider is very likely to outdo you when it comes to data security and access control. However, this is important enough of an issue that you should ask questions about data security when you’re exploring cloud accounting solutions.
Flexibility And Scalability
If you select a cloud based ERP solution, or even a standalone accounting solution, it’s quite likely that you will be able to customize it to the needs of your organization and clients. This can often be done by selecting apps that are created by your vendors. Another option is to customize cloud based accounting systems yourself. This is one of the advantages of cloud computing that actually stretches beyond accounting and financials. You can do this in house, or bring in a software development contractor. This option is popular enough that many vendors offer development platforms, and open source products.
Cloud based solutions are also scalable. If you’re operation is growing, the cloud simply grows with it. You don’t have to calculate how much server space you may need in six months or how much you will need a year from now. Instead, you can spend those resources focusing on providing clients with great service and earning profit.
Cloud to Cloud Integration is Now a Possibility
If you’re already using cloud based solutions for other business applications, let your accounting solution provider know. It’s relatively, but the truth is cloud to cloud integration is absolutely a possibility. In all likelihood, all of your cloud based applications can share data amongst themselves in order to truly provide you with rich, enterprise solutions.
Automation Leads to Accuracy
Many cloud based accounting solutions are largely automated. That means there is less human intervention. That leads to less error,and more quality control. Fraud, duplicate entries, and other issues can be flagged and dealt with, often with limited human intervention.
Ease of Maintenance
In order to keep your in house systems working, you have to constantly concern yourself with upgrades and maintenance. Servers must be updated as your company grows. You’ve also got security patches and other upgrades to stay on top of. Even for a small accounting firm, the job of ensuring your servers, devices, and networks stay up and running can quickly become a full time task for at least one of your team members.
That’s not the case with the cloud. You don’t have to concern yourself with maintenance at all. These tasks fall under the responsibility of the software provider. Don’t forget the cost of server downtime. Depending on the solution you choose, a cloud based accounting system may mean you’ve got as little as 45 minutes down time each month.
Not only have cloud based solution providers gone a long way in allaying concerns about security and privacy, they’ve taken steps to ensure that their solutions are more secure than most other options. In addition to this, cloud solutions can be less expensive as well as using up fewer resources. Any accounting firm or small business in need of an accounting solution should strongly consider looking to the cloud. There’s a very good chance that there’s something in the cloud that will meet your needs.
The American Medical Association (AMA) is working alongside leading IT companies like IBM and Cerner to develop an integrated healthcare big data analytics platform. The name of the project is Integrated Health Model Initiative (IHMI) and it is aimed to provide a continuous learning environment that can produce interoperable technological solutions, as well as valid care models based on relevant feedback.
IHMI will feature a central data model for organizing and exchanging information, as well as a physician-led validation process to review the clinical applicability of the data. The technology that will deliver this type of sensitive data analysis will be developed by IBM and Cerner, as well as other partners that may join the project in the future. This new healthcare analysis big data platform is set to be developed and released in 2018.
The Central Aims of IHMI
The main goal of IHMI is to provide a digital basis that will support a collaborative approach to optimizing population health management. This will be achieved by identifying the diverse factors that have led to positive medical outcomes, as well as pointing out the points in healthcare development that require improvements. The platform will also offer comprehensive information for medical research.
According to James L. Mandra, MD, the CEO of AMA, the amount of health data produced in the US has reached impressive proportions. However, much of this data remains "fragmented, inaccessible or incomplete" in spite of its potential to lead to valuable improvements in patient outcomes.
As such, IHMI was created as a collaborative effort that could enable the healthcare system to "collect, organize, and exchange patient-centered data in a common structure that captures what is most important for improving care and long-term wellness, and transform the data into a rich stream of accessible and actionable information”, says Mandra.
The healthcare platform is specifically targeted to gather data about high-cost and high-impact clinical areas, such as diabetes prevention or hypertension management. This platform would serve doctors and researchers in optimizing patient care tactics and developing new healthcare protocols based on comprehensive feedback, which has the potential to improve patient outcomes.
The Usability of IHMI
The AMA's big data platform is will ultimately be designed to be used by doctors. As such, IHMI will feature a close collaboration between physicians and IT specialists that can provide the specialized data analytics features that will be both useful and accessible to the medical community.
According to Laurie McGraw, AMA's Senior Vice President of Health Solutions, the new data platform will actually encompass many existing data standards that the medical community is already familiar with, such as SNOMED, CPT, LOINC, or ICD-10.
However, it will be taken one step further because it will help users gain access to patient-centered data, such as patient goals, function, and state, which are essential for an accurate assessment of patient wellness. McGraw said that IHMI is expected to "build bridges with health technology leaders and bring the physician voice into the innovation space”.
IHMI will help physicians access specific patient information in the patient's record more efficiently by putting together patient care models which can be easily deployed and the biggest advances in IT technology that target protocols and workflows.
This type of interdepartmental collaboration could lead to technological breakthroughs that would deliver sensitive information that is relevant to the specific needs of a group of users. Similar developments where technology can help facilitate certain red tape processes are made every day.
For instance, in 2017 a tech solution was made available that can issue an electronic Vietnam visa for US citizens upon demand. This will simplify the visa release process tremendously and hopefully, the model will be implemented for visa systems in other countries as well. In the same way, IHMI is meant as a technological advancement that could then be applied internationally.
To conclude, the Integrated Healthcare Model Initiative will have the titans of healthcare and IT working together for the development of comprehensive big data analysis platform that will fuel the optimization of the American healthcare system. It remains to be seen when the platform will be made accessible to the medical community, but it has the potential to fuel ground-breaking advancements in patient care.
Think about it. The importance of creating great customer experience predates computers. For example, people have always appreciated the following:
Well organized stores with easy to find merchandise
Knowledgeable customer service staff and salespeople
Servers who remember a customer’s regular order
Helpful suggestions that are based on the customer’s preferences and history
Interactions and experiences that simply work quickly effortlessly and effectively
Experiences and actions that bring pleasure
Historically, have not only appreciated these things, they’ll even pay more for better experiences. Early user experience efforts include Henry Ford’s creation of mass production technology, Walt Disney’s carefully designed strategies to make his parks a joyful place, and Don Norman’s pioneering work at Apple focusing on functionality and usability over aesthetics. In fact, it was Norman who coined the term ‘user experience’.
What’s slowly developed in recent years is that companies can now do a much better job of pinpointing the experiences that customers want. Even better, they can do it more effectively, and much less intrusively. Credit for this can largely go to big data and artificial intelligence.
The Role of AI in User Experience
A large part of the conversation about user experience and AI centers around chatbots. The idea is that AI driven chatbots can become more intelligent over time as they receive input from consumers as well as data from other sources. While this is true, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Artificial intelligence also plays a role in the creation of websites that deliver great user experiences. For example, The Grid uses artificial intelligence to help create sites with great UX nearly automatically. Netflix allows AI to do the grunt work of creating user experience by creating a framework of algorithms and rules that AI technology can work with. In the meantime, that leaves designers and others time to focus on the more human elements of user experience.
While AI plays a role in UX beyond the bot, that doesn’t mean the bot should be ignored. Chatbots are an emerging technology that have and will continue to improve the user experience. No, they aren’t perfect. There’s no doubt that most of have rolled our eyes at the seeming cluelessness of bots. However, thanks to advances in the way that bots process natural language, the ability for bots to respond and react appropriately to what people input is rapidly improving.
Paul Gordon at 720 Digital specializes in conversion rate optimization. He says, “Bots are no longer intrusive sales machines. They are intelligent. They possess the ability to interact, to show insight, and to meet customers’ needs when they interact. This is an exciting technology that will continue to improve UX down the road.”
Considering that most people have only five apps on their phone that they use on a regular basis, and that the most used of those five is likely to be a messenger app, there’s no reason to ignore the role that AI can play in messenger apps whether it’s facilitating purchase, acting in a customer service role, or simply providing information.
Big Data And UX
Another asset in the ability for businesses to deliver great user experience is the improved ability to collect and store data. This data can then be used to inform decisions about creating better UX.
One way that startups are able to use data to improve UX is by collecting that data in less obtrusive ways. Analytics software can deliver data about true consumer behavior. Not only that, sometimes big data can gleen better information about customer information than customer feedback through surveys and other instruments.
Of course surveys are a valuable means of connecting with customers. Market research is also an apparent tool for reaching out to the users. However, once again it’s intrusive and requires customers to provide input that they would not otherwise give freely.
Businesses have been collecting and using data from customers and other sources for years. However, thanks to analytics they can identify the right questions to ask in the first place, and also identify where data collection might require a bit of sensitivity. After all, at the end of the day businesses want customer data in the most convenient way possible.
What do Customers Really Want From UX
From the time they leave their homes, log into their computers, or walk into your store, customers really want just one thing. They want to be provided with easy, informative, and easy to connect experiences. More importantly, customers understand the value of CX. They want convenient, safe, and entertaining experiences.
With the online-based evolution of the IT world, moving apps to the cloud is a fundamental step in the future of technology. As the demand for app development for the cloud has increased more and more in the past years, specialized cloud-based platforms have been created to take apps from idea to URL.
Nowadays, web developers have several platforms that can optimize their work and enable them to make better apps for the cloud. In this article, we are going to tell you all about the rise of cloud-based platforms for app development, along with the benefits they bring, as well as their inevitable shortcomings.
The Demand for Cloud-Based Platforms
Moving an app to the cloud has become one of the most appealing ideas in the IT world because it is extremely convenient. Essentially, it entails running an app on the internet instead of the company's servers. As this idea grew to become a full-on sector of the IT world, three main types of cloud-based app development have been established. These are as follows:
1. IaaS - Infrastructure as a Service
The IaaS model entails that the app is created on the company's platform. Then, the entire app-platform bundle must be deployed to a cloud infrastructure. This is the most lucrative form of cloud-oriented app development because the developers working on these apps have their work cut out for them. However, the IaaS model provides them maximum flexibility, which could be essential when it comes to apps meant to suit very specific roles.
The PaaS is becoming more and more popular because it offers developers with quite a bit of flexibility, but it significantly reduces the work they have to put in by providing them with specialized features that can optimize certain parts of the development process.
3. SaaS - Software as a Service
The SaaS model means creating cloud-based apps by using a pre-existing app the offers the required functionalities. The best example for this model is the full range of apps that allow users to log in using their Facebook accounts.
Instead of creating new data for the app's log-in system, developers can simply link it to the Facebook app. While this model is clearly convenient, it keeps developers somewhat limited because they need to adapt to existing apps.
While each of the three models has its own advantages and disadvantages, the highest demand has been observed for the PaaS model because it offers the best of both worlds. Developers have flexibility in the processes they choose to run, and the middleware platforms can help them reduce the work they put in.
The Main Roles of Middleware Cloud-Based Platforms in App Development
Middleware cloud-based platforms, such as Heroku, Microsoft Azure, AWS, OpenShift, and others, are all focused on increasing developer experience. These offer a set of specialized enterprise features that can optimize their work by making the development process more accessible.
By simplifying and speeding up the processes of deployment, app configuration, scaling, testing, and tuning, these platforms can let developers focus on the creative part of their jobs, rather than spending a lot of time on technicalities.
In fact, the most complicated part that developers have to get through is the deployment step because this determines how smoothly their apps will run in the cloud. This is where middleware platforms make a difference because they can make the entire deployment process far easier and thus increase developer experience significantly.
It is extremely easy to deploy Django to Heroku, for instance, precisely because the Heroku platform is made to run processes written in traditional programming languages. Then, it will make the transfer to the cloud as smooth as possible.
The Advantages of Middleware Platforms and PaaS
If this is the cloud-based app development model that show the biggest potential for enterprises, as well as start-ups, let us tell you more about the primary advantages boasted by PaaS and middleware platforms.
Optimization of Testing and Deployment
Whether you are using AWS, Azure, or Heroku, middleware platforms are meant to help web developers try various configurations of their app and run comprehensive tests to assess its performance and its compatibility with various cloud systems. This is an essential part of speeding up the deployment process and increasing developer experience.
Increased Focus on Business
By simplifying the app development process, companies can focus more on their core business targets. The PaaS model can optimize the web development department with minimal effort because middleware platforms are specially created to be suitable for any development system adapted for the cloud.
By simplifying the testing process, platforms like Azure and Heroku are not only useful for developing new apps, but also for creating new features for existing ones. If the developers can test these new features quickly and efficiently, they can implement them efficiently to their apps.
The Drawbacks of Middleware Platforms and PaaS
While these specialized platforms for cloud-based app development are on the rise, there are several aspects that must still be improved. While the drawbacks of middleware platforms are not significant, they can constitute issues for certain business models.
While clearly more permissive than the SaaS model, PaaS platforms still keep web developers limited to a series of features. As such, this could prevent them from creating certain features that might be of interest to some businesses. This is why it is essential that these platforms are chosen in accordance with the company's needs.
As any emerging IT sector, Paas platforms require improved cybersecurity. As such, it is essential that companies stay in touch with vendors to have access to the latest updates to this middleware, as increasing security is one of the primary objectives for the optimization of these platforms.
As you can see, cloud-based applications are clearly an important part of the upcoming IT era. By using specialized platforms such as Heroku, Azure, or AWS, web developers can quickly make the transfer from traditional programming languages to cloud-optimized systems, thus maximizing the potential of the entire project.
You’ve finally done it. Your ecommerce site is ready to go live. Now, you can relax and wait for the orders to roll in. Can’t you?
Unfortunately, you can’t. In fact, the day you go live is the day the real work starts. Keeping your ecommerce site up and running, and profitable requires continual maintenance and monitoring.
Ensuring that your site is secure, and that it can handle the volume of transactions you anticipate is, of course, a primary concern. However, that’s something that the average business owner should anticipate and plan for. What many aren’t prepared for are the three most common challenges.
According to experts from Zfort Group, who have developed more than 150 ecommerce websites, there are three key challenges that remain common among all of them after they’ve launched. These are as follows:
Ensuring That Products are Presented in The Best Light Possible.
When a potential customer arrives on one of your product pages, that’s a big deal. It is the successful result of many efforts and investments including:
It’s a real victory. The worst thing you can do is squander that by failing to deliver what the customer wants in that moment. Here’s the real challenge. You’ve got about 8 seconds to make a good impression. There are four things you can focus on to ensure this happens.
The images on your product pages are going to register in the minds of your visitors before any of the text does. High quality images play a major role in whether or not customers will stay to read more, and whether or not they will convert.
Case studies have shown that larger images can increase conversions by up to 63%. Of course, it’s a no-brainer that images should be the highest possible quality. The rest isn’t so cut and dried. For example, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the number of images that should be included on one of your product pages. That depends on the product you’re selling, and the needs of your customers. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Should the page show photos of various options such as color?
Will customers benefit from seeing the product from different angles?
Is my hero shot adequate?
Would a zoom feature be beneficial?
There are other things to consider as well. Tagging images will help ensure they rank in searches. Keep image file names short but relevant. Use dashes to separate words. These Tweaks are important as 78% of SEO issues can be attributed to problems with images.
Clear, readable, and compelling product descriptions are also important. This is an area where it is imperative to prioritize the needs of the mobile consumer. Keep in mind that 44% of mobile users list the ability to read product descriptions clearly as extremely important.
When writing descriptions, focus on two things - features and benefits. Shoppers want to be able to quickly discern whether or not your product will meet their needs. A scannable list of features will facilitate this. The other side to this equation are benefits. Focus on describing ways in which your product can add value or convenience to the lives of your customers.
Finally, keep social proof in mind. You know your product best, but shoppers want to know what others think as well. To be certain, many will read reviews before making a purchase. Consider embedding positive reviews about your product directly onto your web page.
Use cross reference links and data to improve customer experience, and provide information about your products. Here are some examples:
List relevant product and part numbers, especially if they have changed.
Link to complementary products and accessories that you sell.
Inform shoppers of compatibility with other products.
Let shoppers know if your product is a workable alternative for a product sold by others.
Consumers expect your product pages to load within 2 seconds. If load time exceeds 3 seconds, you’re going to start losing people. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to improve page performance. These include, image compression, enabling caching, optimizing images for SEO for starters.
Why page performance matters so much? Well, if you are experimenting with paid advertising, fast page loading speed will result in more page views, and ultimately higher conversions, especially for mobile users.
Keeping products updated regularly, and the time involved in that.
Stagnancy is the enemy. If you don’t update your products regularly to meet the changing needs and wants of your customers, you’re going to lose sales. In addition to this, your growth going forward will also depend on your ability to select and offer new products that meet your customer’s needs. Pay attention to customer feedback, and keep up with developments in your niche to keep your product offerings up to date. Here are some things to consider when determining whether or not to update or add new products to your site.
Are customers asking for upgrades and changes?
Are there new products arriving on the market that are complementary to the ones you sell?
Have changes to industry standards or regulations occurred recently? Do your products need to be revised accordingly?
Can you exploit new markets and opportunities by expanding your offerings?
Staying On Trend (with Holidays, News, Competitors, Offers, etc.)
Today’s consumers are a bit spoiled. They are accustomed to receiving special offers and discounts to commemorate virtually any event you can think of. Whether it’s Christmas, the beginning of the school year, or some other event, you can count on your competitors holding some sort of sale. Plan ahead so that you can remain competitive.
Keeping up with holidays and current events also offers you some important opportunities. Not only can you impress your customers with special offers, you can also reach them with relevant content as well. Then, there’s the opportunity to offer select merchandise for holidays and other special events.
Your ecommerce site is a bit like a needy pet. It requires constant feeding, attention, and nurturing. By staying on top of the three challenges mentioned above, you can help ensure consistent growth and profitability.
Bitcoin and blockchain. It’s still a mystery to many, including C-level corporate executives. And yet Bitcoin has come to its own, as a cryptocurrency, having closed on October 3, at a price of about $4300/coin. It has become a major disruptor of traditional financial institutions and financial transactions, despite naysayers like Jamie Dimon.
But it is not the bitcoin currency itself that is causing such a stir. It is the technology behind the transactions – blockchain. And it is this technology that is now capturing the attention of a variety of industries, not just financial.
Just What is Blockchain?
Consider that financial transactions in traditional banks are all housed in huge databases of ledgers. When a customer wishes to access his/her account online, he can see every transaction over a selected period of time and be given a real-time balance. This is a personal banking ledger and it is a part of the larger ledger databases that are reconciled overnight, every night.
Here is the issue: these ledgers can be altered, either by those who have digital permission to access them or, unfortunately, by hackers. They are therefore not unalterable, permanent records.
Blockchain technology was developed to make financial ledgers permanent and unalterable. Here is how that works:
All activity (e.g., a banking transaction) is entered as a part of a block of transactions over a specified period of time (e.g. ten minutes). These transactions are verified by multiple people, and the block of activity is then “hooked” to the previous block and to the block that follows it. Blocks are permanent and can never be altered once verified and entered. No one has permission to access and modify, and, if anyone did attempt to do so, the other verifiers would immediately know and shut that down.
The use of blockchain transactions is especially attractive to enterprises that wish to do business in countries in which financial institutions and currencies are unstable. Using a cryptocurrency and an unalterable ledger of financial transactions keeps such transactions safe and secure from corrupt governments as well.
Ethereum is another blockchain organization that began with a cryptocurrency of sorts (called an ether), and individuals can purchase Ethereum tokens just as they do Bitcoins. But these individuals or organizations can use ethers to conduct far more than just financial transactions, as is the case with Bitcoin.
Early Ethereum Blockchain Adopters Have “Shown the Way”
Getting financial aid to organizations in countries with unstable/corrupt governments and financial institutions.
Monitoring the actual activities of countries in climate change initiatives. Right now, there is discussion of using Ethereum blockchain to record the activities of all signers to the Paris Climate Change Accord, as well as the trading of carbon assets. Interestingly, IBM and a company called Energy Blockchain Lab are collaborating to use blockchain technology to record the carbon trading market in China.
Permanent record of people’s identities. More than a billion people are unregistered as citizens of any country. This means that they are not eligible for critical benefits of their home countries. The ID2020 Alliance is a new UN organization with a goal of providing everyone in the world a digital identity, using Ethereum blockchain. In fact, Microsoft and Accenture have already developed a prototype for doing just this.
Corporations are Coming On Board
The prospects of creating blockchains through Ethereum for a host of business activities is what is now attracting corporations to this organization. In addition to financial transactions, Ethereum has opened its technology to a host of organizations and corporations, and all sorts of activity can be permanently recorded on the back of Ethereum blockchain technology. Ethers can be purchased by corporations for the use of this technology.
Consider the following corporate uses of Ethereum blockchain technology:
All of a company’s financial records can be housed in unalterable blocks, not only for its own use but for “proof” if ever needed for tax or legal purposes
Personnel records and all personnel actions can be entered into blocks and never changed – a permanent record that can never be altered by anyone
Financial transactions between suppliers, wholesalers, and customers can be memorialized permanently
Contracts become permanently recorded and cannot be altered. And any agreed upon modifications to contracts can be entered in blocks of the chain as well.
Corporations that deal in Bitcoin can enjoy the collaborative effort between the two blockchain technologies as well as the use of Eidoo.io, a clearinghouse of sorts, which simplifies buying, transferring, and exchanging cryptocurrencies by both individuals and corporations.
Permanent, distributed public ledgers makes blockchain technology a “natural” for supply chain management. If a company has multiple suppliers from multiple states and countries, it is hard to keep track of them all, when orders were placed and fulfilled.
Smart contracts. These are a major part of the Ethereum technology. All parties have access to all terms, and, because the record is permanent, the contracts enforce themselves.
The potentials for blockchain technology are just now beginning to be understood by many more organizations and enterprises than just the financial industry. Already, education is being disrupted, by allowing a permanent irrefutable record of students’ coursework, especially when it comes from multiple institutions and some online. And, no matter what industry niche corporations are in, the use of blockchain can provide security, consistency, permanent records of every transaction and internal activity – records that are publicly available and that provide a transparency that has not previously been there.
Once business owners and C-level executives see the value of blockchain technology, and what it can do to streamline and provide transparency within their operations.
Launching a product is overwhelming. Overseeing or conducting development, doing your marketing, meeting investors – there’s a lot of chores a founder needs to juggle all at once.
Legal matters are often left unattended in this merry hustle and bustle. Of course, developing your vision is way more exciting than getting through the murky legal waters. Yet, failing to establish a strong legal base for your business can cost you your company later on. The following four tips are the bare must-do for any founder launching a tech venture.
Choosing a Domain/Brand Name Without Doing Your Homework First
Just made up a cool sounding name for your venture? Awesome! Now it's time to do some digging apart from checking its eligibility on a domain registrar.
You will need to make sure that you have not picked a name that is the same or sounds similar to an existing registered name, especially a trademarked one. And failing to register a trademark can be a huge roadblock later down the road.
Think Apple. The company has been continuously suing various Chinese companies, who have been “trademark squatting” on Apple’s iPad without any legal consequences. According to the China laws, whoever registers the trademark first, owns it for good. Also, during all those squabbles it turned out the name "IPAD" was already legally copyrighted to a Taiwanese company back in 1988. Suppose that makes a good lesson on why researching and protecting your business name is so important, especially if you decide to expand to a foreign market.
That’s why it may be worse to do some preliminary digging and commission a patent and trademark search before you go all into product development.
Failing To Protect The Source Code and Other Intellectual Property
Intellectual property laws are not evolving at the same pace as the technology advances. Hence, startups now enter a somewhat sticky area with no fine line defined, especially when it comes to the product source code.
Imagine this: you are licensing some software from a 3rd party vendor to power your product, API integration for instance. What happens if that vendor goes out of business just when your product finally starts taking off? To avoid these scenarios, you may want to negotiate a software escrow agreement with that vendor through an agent. The agent will store that licensed source code and give you immediate access to it once the respective conditions apply.
Next, think about your web app design – what if it gets completely or partially ripped off by some 3rd party? While filing for utility patents (protecting the way the product is used and works) is rather common for startups; filing design patents, which protect your product looks isn’t something most companies consider to do.
The official US Patent Office stats prove this tendency: in 2015 over 9.2 million utility patents were issued, compared to just 746,000 design patents.
But think about this – obtaining a utility patent for software inventions has become significantly harder in the US after the Alice v. CLS Bank case. Design patents may be easier and faster to claim and they will still protect the essential parts of your product such as GUI, logo, screen flows and so on.
Operating Without Proper Paperwork
Hiring and legal mistakes come hand in hand just too often. You should prepare in advance all the required paperwork for the new people with clear contracts, NDA agreements and any other supplementary clauses you deem appropriate.
As a founder, formulating strong bylaws should be on top of your agenda. Your work contract should specifically list all the existing policies, how the disputes are settled, descriptions of duty, conditions, and terms of employment and the rights and powers of key shareholders. Also, you should mind the worker's compensation laws in your state (as those differ largely) and establish the procedures for claiming injury compensations, which cause not just financial, but reputational damage as well.
You will also need to have a business owner's insurance (BOP) before moving into an office space. It would have your back covered when it comes to property damage, personal property coverage (hardware, furniture, and other possessions). Some insurances also offer extended coverage for valuable documents (both paper and digital), meaning you can receive compensation of related costs if you lose access to those files.
Have a Formalized Founder’s Agreement
Also called the operating agreement, it will help you avoid certain conflicts among the founding party. This legal document should clearly define the relationships among the founders; outline how the communication is expected to happen and incorporate a conflict-resolution clause that should minimize and regulate the disputes.
Richard Harroch also suggests that a founder agreement should absolutely include your agreement on the following matters:
Who obtains what percentage of the company?
The shared and common responsibilities of each founder and their primary roles.
In case one of the founders leaves the business, can another founder or the company buy that founder’s shares? If yes, at what price?
Is the ownership percentage being subject to vesting based on continued participation in the company?
Are founders entitled to any salaries? How can the salary be changed?
How the key and the day-to-day company decisions will be made?
What are the circumstances for removing a founder as an employee from the company?
How will you decide on the sale of the business?
What kinds of assets will each founder contribute/invest in the business?
While doing the legal chores may be not the most exciting part of your job, you will have to prioritize them at the beginning to avoid paying for your mistakes later down the road.
We consumers love our gadgets. And as technology gives us the “latest and greatest,” we jump to acquire it. From Apple watches to Fitbits, to controlling our home heating and cooling and locking systems, we have become a people wedded to convenience and efficiency.
New “smart homes,” in which everything can be controlled remotely through a single smartphone with a single technology, are the future for sure. But what about the homes that have added smart devices one at a time, each with its own manufacturer and proprietary technology. And these device manufacturers are very jealous of their technology. They want it to be unique and are not particularly fond of collaborating with other manufacturers to standardize the architecture. As a result, there is one app for the refrigerator, another for the heating and cooling, and still another to operate the home locking and security system.
What began as a revolution in convenience and efficiency has turned into a quagmire of device fragmentation.
Middlemen Offer Solutions
Several services have tried to fill the mess created by incompatible smart devices by offering packages of “smart” lights, thermostats, and security cameras that will all work together.
Companies like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and Verizon are happy to sign consumers up for a monthly fee, usually around $40. This may be fine for some basic devices, but appliances and other smart home devices are not included. This doesn’t seem like a truly viable solution for the consumer who only gets a partial “fix” to his incompatibility issues.
Individual Manufacturers Want a Solution that Involves a Monopoly
Manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung have expanded their smart device product lines, hoping that consumers will “dump” their current smart devices and take a package from them. So, a consumer could buy a Samsung washer, dryer, TV, fridge, etc., and they could all talk to one another, but this could obviously be pricey. And a manufacturer like Samsung will not produce every smart device that a consumer may want to purchase. They are savvy, and they will research the quality of everything from slow cookers to robo-vacs and make purchasing decisions based upon reviews and recommendations, not on manufacturer name.
So, What is the Solution?
There is no single solution at present, although many are working on it. The goal is to have a technology that, when inserted into every device, no matter the manufacturer, will allow a consumer to control everything from a single smartphone app.
And there are people working on this right now.
Recently, Qualcomm unveiled two innovations. The first is a chip-based integration system. What it claims is that if consumers put this into their connected products, then those devices will connect to anything. It has also developed a technology that uses Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri, and Google Home. Consumers can ask a question of any of them, and supposedly, the best assistant for the task will answer.
Two other names in the attempt at standardization of some sort are ZigBee and Z-Wave. Both of these are using wireless networking that will let devices from different manufacturers and different technologies to talk to one another. While hundreds of device manufacturers have “signed on” to one or the other of these standardization technologies, manufacturers of appliances have generally not. And until the manufacturers of the bigger items agree to allow standardization, no progress will really be made by either of these two concepts.
Another hub which sells for $99 can communicate with appliances over Wifi, once those appliances are connected wirelessly. Everything is accessible through one smartphone app, which is at it should be.
The Consumer May Need to Step In
It doesn’t appear as if manufacturers are ready to agree to any standardization which would reduce their control. And if they will not “sign on” to such as Zigbee and Z-wave (or some other standardization element), then the consumer must look to work around them.
Right now, the biggest promise is some type of hub and, while it means another item to buy, at least it is a one-time purchase. Middlemen services’ monthly fees go on forever.
Purchasing the technology that will bypass the proprietary technology of individual manufacturers will ultimately make their technology meaningless. And once that is meaningless, they may be willing to agree to standardization. Remember, while they are certainly on a smaller scale, phone chargers, USB ports and cords, Bluetooth devices, etc. have all been standardized to meet consumer demand. And at one time, Mac and Windows didn’t “speak” either.
Yes, smart homes are still a “hodge-podge.” But we can probably take heart that there are those working on solutions.
This IBM® Redbooks® publication gives a broad understanding of storage clouds and the initial functionality that was introduced for mainframes to have Transparent Cloud Tiering.
IBM DFSMS and the IBM DS8880 added functionality to provide elements of serverless data movement, and for IBM z/OS® to communicate with a storage cloud. They introduced the following key areas:
A gateway in the DS8880, which allows the movement of data to and from Object Storage be using a network connection.
DFSMShsm enhancements to support Migrate and Recall functions to and from the Object Storage. Other commands were enhanced to monitor and report on the new functionality.
DFSMShsm uses the Web Enablement toolkit for z/OS to create and access the metadata for specific clouds, containers, and objects.
DFSMSdss enhancements to provide some basic backup and restore functions to and from the cloud.
This IBM Redbooks publication is dived into the following parts:
Part 1 provides you with an introduction to clouds. You might be new to clouds or have a confused view of cloud terminology. If so, Part 1 is helpful in providing you with the basic knowledge you need.
Part 2 shows you how we set up the Transparent Cloud Tiering in a controlled laboratory and how the new functions work. We provide points to consider to help you set up your storage cloud and integrate it into your operational environment."
Points to consider buying a good mattress and assuring Improved Sleep
Spending in bed around a third of every day is common, regardless of whether this time is spent slumbering blissfully or turning and tossing. All these depend on the mattress. There is no doubt that a mattress has a great impact on the sleep of a person. Mattresses affects sleep also relates to the network of capillaries, the fine blood vessels running beneath your skin.
Lying on your body for a period of time means the weight reduces the blood flow to those blood vessels, thereby depriving the nutrients and oxygen to the skin. This causes pain sensors and nerve cells sending your brain a message to roll over. Rolling over assures good blood flow, but it also disturbs your good sleep.
Ideally, a good mattress improves your sleep and can be more productive at work. This is because a good mattress reduces on your body the pressure points and gives a better night's sleep. However, note that the ideal mattress varies with each person. The productivity level depends on our activity and inactivity. People failing to acquire good sleep at night cannot recharge their brain and body fully. The performance will surely deteriorate.
There is a need to change the mattresses after a span of 5 to 7 years. Likewise, while investing for good bedding significantly, there is a need to ensure there is the original bounce even after 7 or 10 years, so that it proves to be a good mattress improving your sleep and you can be more productive at work. Alongside good pillows are equally important.
Things to consider
Buy mattresses that are not too soft or too firm.
Mattresses too firm may cause misalignment and too soft sinks your body causing bad posture while sleeping, leading to pain.
Consider adjustable beds and if possible take mattress on a test drive
Check and confirm about trial periods or comfort guarantees before buying
Without fail, check the warranty period.
A good mattress improves your sleep and can be more productive at work is true, but as such there is no definition making a mattress firm or soft. This is because a person who is 250-pound may say the mattress is soft, while the same mattress for a person with 125- pound may find it firm.
Which Mattress Is Right?
Finding a right mattress is not like looking for some top-tech brand. In fact, even an expensive mattress may not be as per your expectation. A high price tag alone does not determine the mattress. So, avoid concentrating on brand name or price, and think that you expect in a mattress that is really very personal. The choices vary, some prefer softer, while some firmer.
Of course, there is no scientific evidence proving the mattress type that can ensure you sleep better. Thus, consider buying a medium-firm mattress with a softer pillow that will offer the required cushioning and balance of support.
An adjustable bed also is a good buy if you prefer sleeping positioning your head raised. Such beds allow adjusting your hips and knees to a 90-degree angle and relieve sore joints.
Just under a decade ago, Google’s concept of a self-driving car seemed outlandish. That’s not the case today. Now, brands like Tesla, Lyft, and Uber are actively pursuing the idea. Even mainstream car manufacturers are conducting research into the concept of self-driving cars in an attempt to gain their own foothold in this space.
But here’s what is certain. In the future, we will be driving autonomous vehicles. Yes, there are still things to work out in terms of the technology, but the truth is we are coming closer and closer to this being the reality.
Then again, technology isn’t the true roadblock. Nor is safety. When 93% of all accidents are caused by human error or intentional action, it’s clear that the safest thing to do is take the human element out of the picture for the most part. Instead, it will be legal and regulatory issues, and resistance among drivers themselves that slow down this progress. There will also be pushback from those who benefit from maintaining the status quo. Then there are the logistics of it all.
Job Loss is a Real And Perceived Concern
When self driving cars become mainstream, there are potentially millions of people who could lose their jobs. This includes delivery drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers. This will likely impact those working in complementary fields. Imagine the impact of this change on a motel chain or truck stop that relies on vehicle traffic for its main source of income.
This, of course, puts politicians in a quandary. Do they vote in favor of policies that support autonomous vehicles? This gives their challengers ammunition to refer to them as job killing and out of touch with the needs of their constituents. The current political climate doesn’t exactly seem to be leaning towards progression at the cost of populism.
Drivers Will Need to Rethink Personal Safety And Liability
It turned out that the fatal car accident involving a self-driving vehicle from Tesla was the result of the driver’s failure to download a vital software update. In the future, if autonomous vehicles are going to become a reality, one of the challenges will be getting drivers to buy into new concepts regarding vehicle maintenance. Replacing worn brake pads, keeping tires inflated, and having cars checked out a few times a year are all commonly accepted ways to keep cars safe and operational. In the future, keeping up with software upgrades, even installing vehicular anti virus and security software will be considered the vehicle owner’s responsibility in terms of keeping cars safe for themselves and others.
There are definitely unanswered questions. For example, who is liable if a driverless vehicle causes an accident? We know that if a driver loses control of their car because they did not properly maintain it, they are responsible. If a driver is in an accident as a result of their negligence relating to their AV, are they equally liable? What about the manufacturer. There will very likely be new laws that will need to be written. Attorneys will have new challenges to face as they seek to protect and help those who have been injured in car accidents caused by self-driving vehicles.
Tough Decisions And Higher Expectations
Every driver makes mistakes or chooses to drive recklessly. Sometimes those mistakes and choices end in near misses. Other times, fender benders are the result. Then there are times when injury even death are the consequences. We accept that risk.
In spite of the fact that AVs reduce risk, they cannot eliminate it altogether. Although it was later proved to be human error, Tesla was initially blamed for a fatal car accident. Self-driving cars from Uber have been tagged running red lights on multiple occasions.
So, what happens when a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident? In addition to accepted risk when humans are in control, there is often some level of sympathy and understanding towards those whose mistake cause an accident. Reckless, illegal, or intentional behavior being obvious exceptions to this. There’s no way you could have stopped in time. It could have happened to anyone. Don’t blame yourself.
Reactions to accidents caused by machines are starkly different. There is an expectation that these machines will execute perfectly, and make the best decisions possible. When the inevitable happens, it will and has become fodder to justify preventing this technology from becoming mainstream or rolling back progress.
Security is a Serious Concern
Hackers have already taken over vehicles that have some self driving features. However, in cases where there is a driver present, there is less risk. An alert driver can see that something is amiss, and override the driverless features. When a car is truly driverless, that’s not an option. When all aspects of the vehicle’s operation are software driven, how will the car know when things aren’t right. Auto manufacturers will have to work hard to ensure that the security measures they implement stay far ahead of the malicious individuals or groups who could literally turn a self driving vehicle into a weapon.
Self driving cars will eventually become the norm. It’s inevitable considering that all major players in the automotive industry are slowly adopting the technologies that will take us from fully manual vehicles to partially autonomous, to fully autonomous. However, it is clear that the transition will not be without challenges. Politics, human nature, legalities, and logistics will need to be dealt with before progress is made.
Disruption. That’s the new term for big change that comes to industries as a result of technology. Consider just the changes in communication and services as a result of technology. The internet, smartphones, social media, education, entertainment and beyond, have all changed dramatically in the last decade, showing how technology marches on at an incredible pace.
Disruption in the financial services industry was inevitable. And it is upon us in major ways. What we witnessed in 1998, with the founding of PayPal, we are now seeing on a huge scale, with banking, investments, lending and insurance affected by huge disruptions that are being embraced as quickly as they come. As both financial service providers and consumers look to the near future, here is what to expect.
1. Fintech becomes a solution for the little guy
Traditionally, only investors with deep pockets could enter the banking and financial services industry. This is no longer the case. Lean start-ups, focusing on specific areas of financial services, do not need the kind of money that traditional institutions needed and are eating away at the market share that were traditionally the monopolies of large financial institutions.
Pushing this along, obviously, was the financial crisis of 2008 – people lost their trust in the big banks and welcomed new and innovative services that allowed them to have more personal control and choice.
Everything from transferring money to buying insurance, investing to bank accounts, even getting a mortgage loan can now be accomplished online through companies that do not have the large overheads that traditional institutions do. All they need is talent, and there is plenty of that.
And consumers love this new form of “shopping” for services, especially because they can compare all in one place. In a recent PwC Global study, respondents from traditional financial service institutions stated that by 2020, they expect to lose 25% of their business to FinTech enterprises.
2. Matching investors with those in need of capital
Time was, if an individual needed venture capital, they had two choices – family or traditional banks. The problem with traditional lending institutions was a lack of access unless all “hoops” were jumped through and all conditions met; as an industry, moreover, large institutions enjoyed a concentration of power and, often, a lack of transparency.
To compete with the venture capital industry, savvy disruptors created crowdfunding platforms and what is known as equity crowdfunding. In the former, smaller investors can contribute to a start-up venture with the anticipation of receiving a payback at interest. The latter involves individual investors putting up money for an equity position in the new venture.
Peer-to-peer lending models include such companies asIndiegogo and Kickstarter in the U.S. and Crowdcube and Seedrs in the UK. Additionally, larger companies, like Barclays and Accenture, have been attempting to find new and innovative financial solutions through acquisition, reducing the risk potential or need to conduct the research themselves. Smaller market infrastructure firms such as NEX. NEX have been successful in competing with the larger venture capital institutions and banks by partnering with growing fintech companies.
3. Data science
Data analytics have come a long way. From e-commerce businesses tracking who comes to their websites and what pages they visit and how many move into the buying funnel, technology has moved to the collection of huge amounts of data about consumers and their behaviours. From those aggregate collections, sorting that data into information that large institutions can use to make decisions about what products they offer, to whom they offer those product to, and even when they make such offerings.
This has meant a big paradigm shift from focus on products, to focus on consumers and what they want and value. Financial services institutions that use big data to drive their decisions will win the competitive race in the long run.
4. Investments – more consumer participation
Financial investment services have traditionally lain with brokerage houses and financial advisors who evaluate personal investors’ finances and make recommendations regarding investments. Then along came “day traders” who thought they could compete with the “big boys,” cut out the middleman, and make their own fortunes. In most cases, this was disastrous – they just did not have access to the research and information that the career professionals did. And, again, like banks, these career pros had a monopoly on bringing individual investors into the markets.
The mystique is now gone, and individual consumers are demanding the same information that the investment services industry has and getting it. They are also demanding personal participation in investment decisions and their own asset management. Digital robo-advisors hit the scene, and brokerage houses and investment counselors were caught off guard.
Investment institutions will have to make the change to more user-friendly platforms if they intend to keep a decent market share.
Charles Schwab realized this earlier than others. It began in the 1970’s as a discount brokerage house, offering cheap trading prices to individual investors. But when disruptors like Wealthfront and FutureAdvisor came along, the company had a choice – be beaten or change its business model.
They took some time to analyze this robo-adviser disruption and see if it was viable. It was. And so, the company became a FinTech startup itself by launching Schwab Intelligent Portfolio. It was a huge success and today it outperforms other startups.
5. Insurance and IOT
Insurance companies have also become more consumer-driven, given that customers can shop for their insurance needs online and compare products. This of course has forced insurers to modify products and become more competitive. One of the biggest disruptions in the insurance market is the internet of things (IoT). From home and car security devices to remotely controlled temperature and appliance turn-ons and shut-offs, to devices placed on cars to monitor safe-driving habits, insurance companies can use digital information to set individual rates.
6. Public cloud services will streamline banking operations
The more cloud-based computing becomes mainstream, the more comfort financial services institutions will have using it. And SaaS apps are continually improving. As this happens, core activities of financial services will be taken to the cloud and automated. As this continues to occur, the need for people services within company infrastructures will certainly be reduced. It is predicted that by 2020, core functions, such as payments, statements, billings, and even credit scoring/worthiness will no longer require human/manual work. The implications for underwriters alone, in the mortgage lending business for example, are pretty big.
7. Cyber-Security – A continuing risk of increased technology
Executives in the financial services industry continue to worry about security, especially due to the increase in the use of mobile devices and IoT technologies (particularly older devices that do not have the latest security) on the part of consumers and the potential for cyber criminals to “back door” into their systems. Cloud-based technologies can help some, but are not immune to attacks either.
These are only seven disruptions that technology has brought to the financial services industry. There are more to come – the shift to Asian technological innovations, blockchain technology which is still a bit of a “mystique” to most financial services executives, and the technological advances in the regulatory sector. And there are more to come, for certain. FinTech startups are trying to out-pace traditional institutions. Traditional institutions will need to make decisions to step up their game or to find ways to collaborate with those startups that prove to be successful. If Charles Schwab can do it, so can others.
The financial industry crash in 2008 severely damaged faith in the traditional banks. But even before then, banking and financial transactions had been moving into new digital realms. PayPal had already been around for 10 years, and other virtual wallet systems had begun to pop up too.
Enter Bitcoin in 2009. Developed by an unknown individual or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, it is an asset/payment system that uses no intermediary (i.e., a bank) – a peer-to-peer transaction platform that is be fully secure and almost without fees. The concept is that “value” can be virtually exchanged all over the world in a digital environment that does not transmit any sensitive information (e.g., credit card numbers) that could be subject to cybercrime. That “value” can then be converted into any fiat currency on the receiving end, although the value of a Bitcoin would be subject to market volatility, just as currency exchanges can be.
Slow to Catch On
The disruption of cryptocurrency has not been rapid. It’s tough to get individuals and businesses to make a paradigm shift to virtual currency and to understand such things as blockchain technology. But there are many who predict that Bitcoin, and perhaps some other cryptocurrency platforms, will replace the traditional bank card payment system.
We are not there yet – not by a long shot – and there are many “wrinkles” to iron out if this is to happen. But the question is certainly out there. Can Bitcoin replace traditional payment systems? Some say “yes;” others say “no.”
Government-backed currencies have no limit on the amount of money that can be minted. This can create havoc among monetary systems. Currently Bitcoin has a limit of 21 million, although each coin can be divided in much smaller pieces.
Bitcoin transactions are secure, through blockchain technology which produces an irreversible distributed ledger. Transactions cannot be changed in any way once they have been executed, because the ledger is public.
Some third-party payment processors are “stepping up to the plate” to assist with reducing the volatility of exchange rates and locking in value at the time of transaction and providing for instant processing at that locked-in rate.
Merchants will find it too attractive not to get “on board,” considering the drastically reduced transaction fees, and business-to-business transactions will be far more efficient and streamlined.
There are some hurdles, such as too much power in the hands of a relatively few number of “miners” (individuals who maintain the ledgers) and inevitable regulations, but these can be navigated and resolved in time.
The average merchant would have to develop a technical savviness that he is probably not prone to want to do. Bitcoin transactions do not have the support structure that bank card processing has, and merchants would have to create and manage their own digital Bitcoin wallets, in order to accept funds and convert them to fiat currencies.
Traditional payment processors are getting much better with what they do, especially considering the competition out there. Most payment gateway services are providing the streamlining, the lowered transaction fees, and the support that merchants want and need. And they are beefing up security measures by leaps and bounds today.
Merchants who use Bitcoin will still need some processing support, from providers such as Stripe, PayPal, or others that are now in the business – processors who are able to lock in exchange rates at the point of transaction. For example, if a merchant were to accept Bitcoin that is currently worth $1500 U.S., but the value had dropped to $1200 by the time he exchanges that Bitcoin for USD, then he is out $300. The lowered transaction fee is worthless at that point. Using a processor to convert the Bitcoin to a fiat currency at the time of payment processing will be essential, and that actually adds another step to the whole process. It’s just not the maximum efficiency that most merchants want.
There are also problems on the consumer side of Bitcoin transactions. Online purchases using credit cards come with certain risks. The merchant could be fraudulent; ordered products may not be received. Exchanges and refund requests are commonplace transactions. These are currently handled pretty well when normal bank cards are used for purchasing. Refunds can be directly credited to a personal credit card account. And, if there is a dispute, the credit card company acts to resolve it.
Bitcoin transactions are irreversible. There is no process for disputing a charge or getting a refund, except directly through the merchant. And these are not always successful, particularly if the merchant is unprincipled or simply disputes the consumer’s claim. Where is the consumer recourse? Currently, it is non-existent. There are no consumer protections in place. Even if they were to be put into place, they would have to be managed by a processor divorced from Bitcoin itself. In this case, that processor is still in business, not replaced.
It’s still out, obviously. Predictions as early as 2014 stated that bitcoin would replace legacy financial transactions, for merchants and even for individual consumers. That has not happened.
For the near term, fiat currency exchanges, traditional bankcard transactions and processing, and consumer purchasing protections are strongly in place with legacy systems. People are comfortable with their systems, and Bitcoin still holds a mystique that is difficult for both merchants and consumers to fully grasp. It still seems a little bit like “fake money” to many. And change comes slowly.
But no one should discount the ability of Bitcoin to evolve and to take its place within the payment processing industry. The security it offers, as well blockchain technology and lower fees, all provide an attractive alternative to traditional processing through banks and legacy payment processors.
On the other hand, in its current environment, Bitcoin will have to rely on traditional processors that have the ability to lock in exchange rates and to ensure that both merchants and consumers are afforded the protections they need. Only time will tell. For the moment, traditional payment processors are still in business.
This IBM® Redpaper™ publication is a comprehensive guide that covers the IBM Power System™ S822LC for High Performance Computing (HPC) server (8335-GTB model). The S822LC for HPC server is designed for high-performance computing applications that support the Linux operating system and high-performance data analytics, the enterprise data center, and accelerated cloud deployments.
This paper introduces the major innovative S822LC for HPC server features and their relevant functions:
Powerful IBM POWER8® processors that offer 16 cores at 3.259 GHz with 3.857 GHz turbo performance or 20 cores at 2.860 GHz with 3.492 GHz turbo
A 19-inch rack-mount 2U configuration
NVIDIA NVLink technology for exceptional processor-to-accelerator intercommunication
Four dedicated connectors for the NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPU
This publication is for professionals who want to acquire a better understanding of IBM Power Systems products and is intended for the following audience:
This paper expands the set of IBM Power Systems documentation by providing a desktop reference that offers a detailed technical description of the S822LC for HPC server.
This paper does not replace the latest marketing materials and configuration tools. It is intended as an additional source of information that, together with existing sources, can be used to enhance your knowledge of IBM server solutions."
Below, you can read a review which includes more details about one of our clients from Sales and marketing professionals
In today’s world, social media is becoming more and more relevant by the day. With billions logging into Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Instagram and many more every single day the business and marketing opportunities of the sites are endless. People using these sites to gain publicity for their business or their own personal brand have been able to make huge amounts of money by using the convenient format for placing advertisements and their own personal content. As a result of this movement, there are many services on the internet which can be used to increase your social media presence quickly and without having to put in any hard work in order to try and reap the rewards. This may be very risky as it is likely to look very obvious that you have done so but there are certainly positives to using a service such as this to gain thousands of followers and kick start your career.
The effort required
Creating interesting content or growing a successful and exciting business are extremely difficult thing to do. This means that only very few people manage to find a niche online as social media personalities or online businesses which become successful and widely used by the public. Whilst it may not be as honest as using your own ingenuity to come up with great ideas to use on social media platforms, it is far quicker. Using services online where you can simply pay money for Facebook likes or Twitter follows for your personal or business channel is potentially a very quick way to gain a large number of followers. This will therefore quickly increase the amount of exposure you get and will hopefully increase the number of followers you will be able to amass from there on in. This can cut down dramatically on months or years of struggling to get people on the internet to notice you.
The investment made
Making content that is going to grab people’s attention on social media doesn’t come cheap. With millions of viewing options online, there has to be something specific about the message you are creating if you are a new online presence and you want to get people to notice you. Using an instant famous scheme, however, can circumnavigate this problem however as your increased exposure will already have come from a small investment with a company for followers, rather than spending a lot of money on making potentially unsuccessful content to attract people to what you are trying to do.
Social media can be a goldmine
Using social media in the right way can bring an individual or new business huge amount of money and exposure very quickly. Those with large followings on platforms such as Instagram can be paid thousands per post for simply taking photos with products from businesses who want their product exposed on a wider stage. This brings about opportunities to earn huge money from simply having a large following; something that can be greatly helped by the use of instant famous social media schemes. Businesses also can attract higher profile personalities to work with them simply because they have a large social media presence. This allows entrepreneurs to grow into hugely successful individuals or to take their ideas and transform them into a great business, all because they were able to quickly find followers.
Having more followers will lead you to greater advertising opportunities. On social media, there are always people looking for spaces to sell advertising and if you are a presence with a large following already you may have access to some of the most premium advertising spots on the internet. At the beginning, these may be too expensive but if you can take advantage of your quick growth then your bank account should grow and you would then be able to afford the best advertising opportunities possible for your idea or brand. This would then further increase your exposure and let you take your idea even further.
When you are perceived as someone who is successful then you will be granted with a wider range of opportunities for whatever it is you are seen to be growing. This may not happen instantly but after the initial investment and careful management you could hugely increase your online footprint and work yourself into a host of other possible opportunities. Whether they are advertising based or possible investment opportunities in other growing social media presences. The chances you will be given should give you the best possible chance of growing even further and allowing more development of your personal or professional brand. If people see you as a great investment they may even interact with you that way and this could help boost your followers up even further than you ever thought.