Internet, Shminternet

Ever feel like your head might explode if you have to cram one more new business term in there?   Or perhaps you’re simply in the mood for a lively game of buzzword bingo.  I have some extra cards right here…

Who could blame you?  Check out this video posted by my fellow MENG Blend blogger, Pat Allen:

There isn’t room to list all the new words, terms and acronyms we’ve learned in the last few years:  moblog, m-commerce, phishing, NFC, PPC, CPA, CPO, CPS, skyscraper, pure play, Splinternet, semantic Web, SMS, TCP/IP, VOIP, XML, RSS, API, CSS, SMM, SMO, black hat (and white hat) SEO, cybersquatting, adware, P2P, spider, favicon, mousetrapping, greenwashing, augmented reality, branded entertainment, geotargeting, behavioral targeting, network effect, SERP, cloud, triple play, (Web) abandonment, (Web) arbitrage, bot, deep linking, delist, linkbait, spyware, widget, maybe a million others…and certainly dinner isn’t dinner without a good fork.  Or something like that.

But there’s a new term whose fear factor I want to eliminate right away:  agile commerce.  As defined by Forrester in its March 2011 paper, Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce, agile commerce is “an approach to commerce that enables businesses to optimize their people, processes, and technology to serve customers across all touch points.”

There’s a full fifteen pages of text and charts delineating the difference between multichannel and agile commerce, along with an accompanying Forbes article titled “Why Multichannel Retail is Obsolete.”  “Agile commerce is a metamorphosis,” says the analyst.   “It is time for organizations to leave their channel-oriented ways behind.”

The problem is that all this relies on what I consider to be a seriously antiquated view of multi-channel operations.  And this is not a Forrester issue at all; I’ve been thinking that “multichannel” has been getting a bad rap for some time now.

The definition of multichannel commerce upon which the new agile commerce movement depends is a way of doing business that leaves customer touch points and transactions in silos:  potentially envisioned, designed, managed, and measured independently from one another.  It assumes that prospects/customers probably use one channel but not another (e.g. Jack’s a “store person,” Jill’s a “Web person,”), that user expectations in each of these channels do not overlap, that content, design, functionality, payment options, etc. etc. all differ from one channel to another and that it doesn’t matter because consumers don’t really see all the channels anyway.

What contemporary marketer believes this anymore?

Is there a digital savvy executive alive who doesn’t know all the stats about connectivity exploding, and audience fragmentation, and the accelerating evolution of technologies, and the emergence of smartphones and tablets and ebooks (oh my!)?  Is it news that TV watchers also like being online, or that newspaper readership is sliding around?  And yet these are the metrics and proof points used to support the idea that it’s a new world and that ecommerce players better get with it.

For any marketer trained to start with the customer, the revelation that we must strive to deliver a 100% seamless experience (a girl can dream) from one channel to the next and that our business ecosystem must be woven together and able to learn so that a user’s behavior is reflected and rewarded as she wanders from one touch point to another…well that’s no revelation at all.

Good marketers recognized and began mobilizing their organizations toward this vision many moons ago.  The consumer is where everything begins and ends. In the future, channels are lights in a galaxy that are all turned on, and – in a sort of “Minority Report” kind of way – a consumer wouldn’t even have to pay attention to how or where she connects, per se, because all the access points would endlessly flow into the next, in all directions and in all applications, producing a single, seamless experience.

That is, if the IT and analytics challenges alone don’t kill you.

So don’t get me wrong here; I doubt there’s an organization on the planet that believes it is executing this vision as well as it would like.  Forget about the fantasy of walking into a physical location and having a person (or digital display) interact with you in a way that reflects a real time 360° level of knowledge of your relationship:  how infuriating is it right now when you transact on a website and then phone a call center whose reps can’t see any of your online activity?

We have a long, long (long) way to go.  But this post is my way of saying that no one should be discouraged or automatically assume s/he “can’t keep up.”  The next time you see or hear a new Internet/marketing/digital business buzzword, it may be just that:   a new arrangement of letters describing a principle you already understand (perhaps better than those making up some of these new terms in the first place).

Either way – as long as we keep our heads – it makes for a good game.  And…I’ve got Bingo!!!

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