By Zsofi Kulcsar - December 1st, 2017

When designers solve customer needs, everyone wins. Susan Kuchinskas reports on day two of the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco.

Solving consumer needs is the road to success for mobile apps and services. It's also the best way to make the case to executives for more investment. That was the clear message from the second day of the Open Mobile Summit 2017, held in San Francisco on November 29 and 30.

Is channel conflict a thing?

Breaking down silos is critical for mobile success. Those silos extend way beyond databases to include the organization, channels and technology.

 In traditional businesses, channel conflict was an important concern. In the B2C world, digital access has flattened the organization—at least in the minds of consumers. They expect to buy whenever and however they want to, as well as to switch seamlessly between all digital channels and physical stores, according to Leslie Grandy, senior director of technology development for Best Buy. Therefore, companies can't afford to silo their operations.

Eric Hanson, digital experience, product management and omni-channel integration director of Lowe’s, agreed. "I don't think any of us works in a silo. We have to figure out how to stitch experiences together," he said.

This approach often requires a shift in the org chart. In the case of McDonald's, like a lot of companies, digital was a part of e-commerce, while innovation was in its own silo, according to Don Bordeau, senior director, global digital product and capabilities. Twelve months ago, store operations, technology partners and the digital team were all brought under the aegis of the CTO.

Now, McDonald's is exploring conversational commerce, that is, technologies including natural language processing and chatbots, to let customers order more efficiently.

On the other hand, maintaining siloes for marketing, operations technology and products was essential for fast iteration of the initial offering at HereNow, BMW's platform for ridesharing and mobility. "Now that we're up and running," said Mujteba Naqvi, vice president of product for Reach Now, "we moved them into one spot over the last 12 months."

Breaking silos

In addition to organizational changes, companies may need to make a culture shift—and that's the job of designated change agents, according to Lisa Luscap, vice president of digital marketing and consumer experience, Dolby Laboratories. When she moved from VMWare to Dolby, she found her new team behaved very differently. A key issue was that the team worried about failing.

Salah Zalatino, head of product and technology, Forbes, added that often staffers resist change if they don't feel heard. While the product and engineering teams adapted to an emphasis on mobile, he noted that the impact on the ad sales team is dramatic. Mobile ads have to compete harder for attention, while the number of pages per session is lower.

It's also a big change for the editorial side. How do you tell journalists used to writing long-form articles that they should create bite-sized pieces of content? Forbes' solution was to create beta teams within each of those groups, starting from scratch to create content, ads and technology products in a mobile only environment, and then seed those back into the larger organization.

This tactic of creating a separate innovation unit was used by many of the companies presenting. For example, Adidas created Glitch, a unit that created a soccer boot with outer skins that can be swapped, as a way to test new product and marketing concepts.

Celine Del Genes, vice president, concept to consumer, explained that the business unit is isolated from the overall company's timelines and sales metrics. The top KPI for the project is building experiences for consumers. "While that's not a tangible KPI," she said, "it's helping us develop our strategy through 2024."

Design for consumers

Several presentations focused on the importance of the UX—what used to be called the user interface—in creating successful mobile services, whether on the web or in an app. Didier Hilhorst, design director of Uber, walked the audience through several of the ideas his team considered in producing the new version of the app, launched a year ago.

His design philosophy is, "Start at the end," that is, what you ultimately want users to gain. For example, the original app was focused on immediate pickup. The new one focuses on the destination. This allows Uber to let users know upfront how much they'll pay and how long it will take to reach their destinations.

The design team toyed with rendering cars on the map in 3D, but engineering said they couldn't do it. On the other hand, the app does indicate what color the arriving car will be—a small detail that's very helpful. "For every feature or design, there were hundreds or thousands that didn't make the cut," he said.

John Deere designs for two different user groups: traditional farmers and emerging farmers. Although they may differ in how used to technology they are, they can have similar problems, such as dealing with the complexity of setting up automated equipment. The common ground, according to Kelly Sikkema, manager of UX design, is, " working efficiently, being informed and not being stopped by the interface."

Both Uber and John Deere have created design systems—bibles that document styles, colors, principles, visual assets, and patterns to be used. Not only do design systems ensure a unified look and feel to a company's interfaces, they also speed workflows, according to Mary Lukanuski, senior design director, Autodesk.

"It takes a long time to get software out the door, so a design system accelerates product development. It provides building blocks that free developers for more challenging design and implementation problems," she said.

Constraints for success

A design system can keep designers and developers among different business units from straying from the company's branding. Constraints are also necessary to make sure features and functionality don't hinder performance.

A panel composed of Jazz Singh, director of product, mobile and connected for the NFL; Tom Robertson, senior director of product, Twitch; and Harry Lang, vice president of product, Hallmark Movies, Hallmark Labs, agreed that the most important part of the experience for streaming video is the quality of the stream.

Said Robertson, "Our engineering culture has two rules: no latency, and the app size can't grow. If you want to put something in, you have to take something out."

Acronyms of the future

AI, VR, AR: These three acronyms could change the future of media, marketing and society. Artificial intelligence is already endemic in the worlds of media and marketing, as many of the expert panelists revealed.

Erik Lundberg, chief revenue officer, Artsai, and Patrick Schmidt, executive director of monetization, Pandora, made a strong case for artificial intelligence as the key to making better use of the exponential amounts of data available to marketers.

Pandora has used Artsai's advertising optimization platform, powered by AI, for several years. Artsai can test more than a hundred variables in an ad in real time and then automatically optimize ads for each user.

For a real estate advertiser, the system drove a performance lift of 214 percent, while a finance brand found a difference between the top-performing and worst-performing ad combos of 141 percent.

Lowe's, meanwhile, has found some success with augmented reality. Lowe's found that many people couldn't visualize a project, so they never started it. "That's a $70 billion problem for us," said Amanda Manna, head of narrative and partnerships. An AR application lets consumers design a bathroom and then step into it, helping them get a biter sense of how the room is laid out.  

Diego Miralles, creative director of Vive, HTC's VR headset, said that content for virtual reality is lagging the hardware. The most compelling use cases in the near term, he thinks, are medical, gaming and training.

No company wants to waste resources chasing the next shiny technology; but it's hard to know what works until you try it. When it comes to innovation, the consensus at the conferences was that the right approach is crawl, walk, run.



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