Keeping the convergence conversation going in Seattle

When moderating a panel, unearthing the gems, especially with three people on stage, can be challenging. A main goal, as a moderator, is to “keep the train moving” and give the audience the right information to take with them to go out into the world to do great stuff.

Of course, the right mix of talent on the stage is critical and, at Postback ’16 in Seattle, there was just that. The topic dealt with the convergence of apps and the web, and the three people joining me on stage represented unique disciplines – mobile marketing, publishing and banking/finance.

Ian Sefferman, GM of Tune Console, had the mobile marketing side down cold. Scott Stanchak, managing director of mobile marketing strategy, beta and platform for the New York Times, is deep in the publishing world. Aashir Shroff, VP of mobile, app strategy and innovation for Wells Fargo, has mined the land of finance for more than eight years.

Much has been discussed in the space — and separating the wheat from the chaff can be challenging. As Shroff noted, being dynamic to solve customer needs is necessary in the face of constant change.

“(It’s about) understanding the customer landscape and how they want to interact, what they want to do, simplifying their life,” said Shroff. “It's about solving needs really quickly for customers.”

Shroff is in a unique position, being in a highly regulated environment that is focused on two parallel paths of both service to existing customers and acquiring new customers.

“Most of what's really interesting for us is the mobile app actually serves for existing customers very well,” noted Shroff. “But the mobile web, for us, has actually been the place where 80 percent of our traffic comes from prospects, and that's where they're coming through. They're coming through third party search engines. How do we leverage that? How do we turn them into customers and then get them to download the app?”

To Stanchak, the volume coming in from the mobile web, and the convergence of mobile web and apps, is becoming more pronounced and will, eventually, become something more stand-alone.

“In the actual industry you have deep linking, which is becoming easier to do, (and) universal linking, which is converging clicking on a link and taking you directly into the app, taking you to a specific page,” said Stanchak. “We’re seeing instant apps where portions of apps are being downloaded and you can actually interact with them through that technology, even attribution, which is what Tune is doing. App attribution used to be so difficult, so I think we're getting to a place now where mobile is just digital. We're going to say the same thing with the breakout of what mobile is, with apps and mobile web.”

Sefferman agreed with Stanchak, and also alluded to Shroff’s point of view on the pace of change.

“Drawing back to (Thursday at Postback), one of my big takeaways, personally from Ray Kurzweil (who gave a compelling keynote) was that exponential thinking is really hard,” said Sefferman. “It’s true, but we live in this world where things are moving exponentially, and moving really fast. We started out, it took a long time for the app ecosystem to really actually hit. We talked about, ‘This is the year of mobile,’ for a decade. Then, all of a sudden, it actually was and now we're like, ‘Oh, but this web thing. It's still a big deal.’ People care about it. A lot of traffic is driven to it. How do we actually merge these together? I think what we're going to see is that exponential growth is going to bring those together really, really quickly as well.”

Though change and pace are exciting, Sefferman believes that there are times when certain technology can be too early — or hyped to its detriment.

“One of the things that I feel is really early is bots and messaging,” said Sefferman. “I believe that we are fundamentally changing how people and consumers interact with computing, but I don't think that with the bots, and voice as well – Alexas and Siris of the world – that we've nailed that yet. I think we are a little bit early, and you do have to take some caution to make sure that where you're placing your bets is going to pay off in both the short and the long-term.”

Stanchak pointed to the unknowns that accompanied getting in early on certain technologies, bots in particular. The Facebooks and Googles of the world are moving ahead at breakneck pace, but what does that really mean for other companies that may not have the resources or fortitude to push ahead?

“For companies, we don't know yet, how we're going to be able to monetize it,” said Stanchak. “That’s a big thing. Yes, we want our content distributed elsewhere, but I want to also make money off that. Sometimes there's a challenge with being an early adopter. There's costs with being an early adopter. Think about the first TV companies that were early adopters to 3D TV. 3D TV, everyone thought it could be the future, but the hardware itself was so expensive.”

Other highly-hyped technology, virtual reality and augmented reality, are also troublesome bugbears in the conversation.

“VR and AR are such powerful platforms, but I think what you're seeing today with AR, why it's adopted so easily is because you're using one device. VR, you have to go out and actually purchase a separate device, or get your hands on a separate device to do it. Until we actually get to a place where adoption is there, and it's easily, readily available like AR, there are going to be a lot of challenges. I think how it ties into bots is the same thing.”

Countering the caution, Shroff advocated for experimentation and saw opportunity.

“I think that there is a big benefit to dabbling, just seeing how the technology works especially as the scale of things that are moving — the costs going down,” said Shroff. “Dabbling doesn't take a lot. A hackathon with a couple developers and a couple APIs, you can start to build some really interesting stuff. The other thing is to pair that against going back to the customer, or who you think the potential customer is, not just simply building a chat bot to do something without ever considering where the end-use case is. It's dabbling with that kind of customer focus.”

Hype, and its associated cycle, is a big deal — and, as the panelists noted, there is most certainly hype to follow and hype to avoid.

“I think instant apps is just a fantastic addition to our technology stack,” said Sefferman. “I think it's going to be really, really killer for marketers, consumers, for the platforms. It's a great way for us to move forward and actually figure out how to have that app-like experience merged with that web-like ease of discovery, linking, and things like that.”

To Sefferman, the hype to avoid happens to revolve around voice and, specifically, Amazon’s Echo and Alexa technology.

“(It) is a Spotify speaker. That's what it is,” said Sefferman. “Don’t get me wrong, I think voice, and I think Echo is a great product, but I think voice is just too early. There's a lot of potential there. It's just there's way too much hype going along with it.

Shroff, despite the massive attention paid to Pokemon Go, sees that AR has a place in the conversation deserving of the hype.

“I think now it's starting to peak out. We did some really interesting stuff with AR about two years ago with a company Metaio,” recalled Shroff. “It was very interesting how customers — actually for that segment it was for kids — were engaged and just fell in love with it. Turning our Little Pony that we hand out during the Christmas time into this animated pony that they could color; people actually enjoyed it, but AR died out for a little while again. Then, with Pokemon Go coming out, I think there's that resurgence.”

The big thing to avoid, in Sheriff’s view, is following the herd and going forth without a tangible reason to do so.

“(No one should) just buy in to technology for the sake of buying in to technology, or someone tells you that this is the way to go,” said Shroff. “Your strategy is not based on any logic, it's just, ‘Oh, I got an e-mail from a top person at my company and they need us to work on this.’ You should have some rationale. Does it really appeal to the customer segment that you're going for? It's rationalizing those things.”

Stanchak, for his part, feels as though that, for all the technology out there, getting the right people in the right place, doing the right things, is critical.

“The biggest avoid is hiring people with just web backgrounds and putting them into mobile roles. I think that's some of the biggest challenges that we're seeing with executives across a number of companies. People think mobile is just mobile,” noted Stanchak. “It's a different technology. It's a different nuance. It's understanding the behavior and the patterns that happen there, and figuring out how to optimize that. I'd rather hire someone with three years of dedicated mobile experience, than someone with six (with web backgrounds) and putting them in a senior role. The world is mobile today and I think sometimes people forget that.”

Stanchak’s high note, is related to payments, particularly Apple Pay for the mobile web, and “especially for us as a company that sells something like a digital subscription.”

“I went out to Cupertino to meet with Apple ahead of time, to walk through this and I walked out of the room thinking, ‘I am so excited about this. This is a game changer for the space right now’,” said Stanchak. “We’re essentially taking something that is a six, or seven-step process and I can now put a button on the actual article page itself, and that's the checkout process. We're not the only company that's going to be doing it. There's going to be a lot of companies that are doing it, but (it’s smart to) figure out the way to get out the door very quickly with this because this could be the game changer for business and eCommerce today.”

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