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Netbiscuits CEO: Know your customers or lose them

Daniel Weisbeck was last year promoted from CMO to be the CEO of mobile analytics and device detection company, Kaiserslauten, Germany-headquartered Netbiscuits. A former executive of Corel and Polycom, Weisbeck has a name for outspoken views on technology and marketing.

I caught up with him recently for lunch and we discussed his new role, the mobile analytics space and more. Over emails we followed up and the text below is an edited version of our discussion.

 

The whole mobile web/app/analytics space is very interesting but turbulent. What are the big trends from your point of view?

Well, mobile has changed a lot about customer behaviour and business models in the last five years and many companies are still trying to figure out how to adapt, but mobile is just the beginning. Watch what happens in the next few years. Whether it’s turning on your oven at home as you leave the office, or submitting health information from a wearable device, the combination of mobile and the internet of things mean we are dealing with big data, very big data, covering a highly diverse and complex landscape of devices and customer context. The idea of connected everything means users will create a huge array of data that reveals more about themselves than ever before. The user is not fixed; location, connection and bandwidth can change and brands must look to analytics to understand and unravel this data. They must do this in a way that allows companies to offer personalised services and user experiences that customers will demand in exchange for sharing that data. And analytics will evolve to become predictive, making big data actionable and dead simple to understand. Marketers are not data scientists, and in the future they will expect the software they use to do that heavy analysis for them. 

 

Apple Pay: scary entrant to the payments space or welcome catalyst for broader adoption, given that other technologies have struggled?

There are a few key differences between Apple’s move into the payments market compared to others who have tried. The first is the Apple ecosystem. Look at the success of iTunes and the sheer number of customers who have entrusted it with their payment details. Trust is a real driver here and Apple has done a pretty good job at winning over consumers. The second aspect is Apple’s partnerships with retailers and financial institutions, particularly in the US – this will carry a lot of weight with consumers both in the US and globally. Finally, Apple are the masters of design and usability. Experience is absolutely crucial and if Apple can make usability as simple and natural as they have done with their other technology, it’s hard to bet against them.

 

It seems to me that we’re going through a period where privacy and ease of use are counterbalanced. Are you seeing best practices emerging in anticipating customer needs without scaring them off?

We spoke to over 5,000 mobile consumers in our People’s Web Report in late 2014 and the overriding thought on privacy was that users are willing to hand over some of their personal information if it benefits their overall experience. In fact, 79% said they would share information if it helped them. That means the content a brand is providing needs to work on their device and provide the right kind of experience in the right context. Brands have to build trust and that comes from a better understanding of exactly who their customers are, the devices they are using and why they are engaging. Brands can only do this using analytics. Understanding how and on what device users engage with location services, for example, can be important in guiding a mobile strategy. Get it wrong and 93% of consumers said they would leave a site and go to a competitor.

 

In theory the mobile web opens up a world of opportunity as sellers can market their services pretty well anywhere so there’s no absolute need to pursue markets in order of size of opportunity. But how is that working out in reality?

It’s true that a customer can now come from just about anywhere and at any time. And retail is a good segment that demonstrates how fast this can happen as the recent holiday season saw record online purchases which extended well beyond regular store hours and locations. But this also creates problems for sellers as consumers no longer have the same brand loyalties but instead buy on recommendations, personalised offers and online user experience. If sellers want to keep customers and grow business they have to get to grips with the mobile landscape and focus their energy on personalising to a mobile and to socially-influenced consumers. 

 

Specifically, your company can help companies figure out how their online marketing and web properties are performing by reporting on key performance metrics against traditional traffic data and additionally a buyer’s and prospect’s location, their connection speeds, screen orientation and size, device functionality and so on. How is that insight useful to a seller?

In terms of delivering great experiences which the consumers are demanding in return for engagement, these aspects are crucial to sellers. If a seller is running anything from a content marketing campaign to location-based offers, success in a multi-channel world requires knowing exactly who your visitor is, in what context they are engaging you and how well they are responding to your content or offer. We take all this data where key bounce and conversion patterns are happening. If you’re losing potential customers on a particular screen orientation or delivering content that doesn’t render due to connection speeds, or it’s served in the wrong location, or time of day, we’ll highlight those patterns so you can take action quickly and improve conversion. Equally, uniquely, we can help you track key segments conversion rates, from smartphone to tablet, traditional desktop web, feature phones and even emerging categories like set-top TV devices.

 

It must also give you some broader insights into who’s buying what device, where broadband connections are weak/strong and so on…

Yes, and it is very important that sellers track new devices as well. Oftentimes, companies build content campaigns and websites with very little testing. The market is not a two-horse race running on only the most current mobile devices and 4G connection speeds. We track device usage each quarter and one of the key things we have seen is the rise of challenger vendors. The growth of bq and Wiko, in Spain and France respectively, suggests we are starting to see a new wave of vendors emerge, predominantly driven by low cost. We also see huge variation in bandwidth connection speeds in every country, no matter how advanced the actual technology on offer is. 

 

Is brand loyalty dead on the mobile web?

We are reaching that point. Online and mobile mean customers are in control, they can choose based on price, reputation and most importantly experience. If brands get it wrong, consumers will go elsewhere. They want to be able to purchase while commuting or during their lunch break. If the payment process is clunky, for example, they will walk away. From that perspective, the kind of high-street loyalty physical brick and mortar retailers had is diminishing fast, placing pressure on brands to get mobile right.

 

With wearables, connected vehicles and so on, the mobile web has advanced far beyond dependence on handsets, laptops and tablets. How will that affect the next few years and beyond?

Consumers will continue to win in the future, with more devices that simplify their lives and offer more data and insight into their personal habits and health. But consumers will also start to demand that all the data from their devices is stored and accessible from one storage solution rather than fragmented and spread out to a host of vender servers. This will give rise to demand for ‘Personal Cloud’ storage solutions where all consumer data is held and controlled by them and made accessible to software and hardware vendors via interfaces like openPDS. In this future, if you are a seller you will need access to a buyer data and for that you’ll have to offer value and personalised user experiences. Again, this means even more analytics for sellers. 

 

Location-based services have been touted for 20 years but it’s been a slow burn. With smart beacons and some other technology changes are you expecting LBS to reach maturity soon?

I’m not convinced this is a technology problem. I think it’s also partly that sellers haven't kept up with mobile device context and functionality of their buyers. We are the only vendor in the market who can tell a seller what bandwidth speeds their visitors are accessing their content on. And we just released this functionality last year. Of course, newer technologies like smart beacons drive simpler and more valuable user experiences. But technology alone won’t spur LBS. Sellers have to become multi-channel experts at delivering the right content to the right device during the right context. Whatever you send the buyer has to work and it has to be what they are looking for.

 

Has the mobile web made old notions of customer loyalty arcane and quaint?

Well the physical high street isn’t completely dead, but customer loyalty as we know it arguably is. It’s something that we expect to continue as the millennials generation grows. They don’t know a world based on brand loyalty, they know about choice brought about by the mobile world and being able to pick and choose for their changing needs. It places pressure on physical retailers to use in-store technology to try and merge the physical and digital worlds to capture the generation of tomorrow.

 

You recently made the slightly unusual switch from CMO to CEO at Netbiscuits. How did that come about?

I think the way companies go to market has changed a lot in the last 10 years and it will no longer be unusual to see CMOs moving into CEO roles. The evolution of digital marketing and the traceability of the entire funnel from marketing to sale in e-commerce systems has put the CMO in the seat of owning revenue rather than just influencing it, meaning business levers of cost and profit are heavily influenced by marketing departments. The line between CEO and the marketing function is becoming increasingly blurred. In my case, I had already taken on product strategy and sales at Netbiscuits in addition to marketing so the evolution from CMO to CEO was a natural transition for myself and the company. 

 

So you see more CMOs making the step up to the top seat in future?

Yes. Social, mobile and cloud are changing business models for B2B and B2C vendors across the globe. Consumers and businesses are doing more than ever online and this is where marketing and sales become intimately linked. In the past, a company relied heavily on sales to understand customer behaviours and preferences, and financing to control P&L from the sidelines. Today, with marketing analytics tracking and revealing customer insights from social and mobile behaviours, marketing often knows more about the customer than any other department. Being close to the customer allows marketers to increase or pull back spend in real time, driving higher returns with less cost, thus having far more control on the company bottom line than ever before. This makes the CMO role far more important today than ever and a natural breeding ground for a company leader.

 

What are the big differences in terms of responsibilities and how has the transition been for you personally?

I’ve always felt accountable for the success or failure of Netbiscuits, as CMO or CEO, and been heavily involved in the leadership of the business, but as Chief Executive, the buck stops with me now. I have the same business responsibilities more or less, but now greater engagement with our investors and rebuilding a company from startup mode means I feel even more responsible for our employees and working culture. I think you either thrive or falter with that kind of responsibility and it seems to bring the best out in me. 

 

Find out why Daniel Weisbeck believes it’s important for IT leaders to make their firms inclusive.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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