Technology

CONFESSIONS OF AN ANALOG MAN IN A DIGITAL WORLD

Paul Stockford
Paul Stockford is Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers & customer service.

At one point in my life I had an epic collection of vinyl record albums. I even had the Beatles’ first album, “Meet the Beatles” that accidentally found its way from my dad’s record collection to mine. I had Nicolette Larson’s debut album, “Nicolette,” which reminds me to this day of her angelic voice and the huge crush I had on her. I had a library of rockin’ Rod Stewart albums leaning against my Ramones’ “Rocket to Russia,” which sat next to the “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Pistols” album I found in a record store clearance bin long after it was initially pressed in 1975. There was nothing better than dusting off the needle on my turntable and dropping it into the groove of a high fidelity album.

Then the music industry went optical. Optical Compact Discs (CDs) hit the market as somewhat of a curiosity in the early 1980s, but by 1988 they were mainstream and the music industry was pressing over 400 million CDs a year. Portable CD players made portable tape players like the Sony Walkman obsolete and made vinyl records nothing more than a distant memory. In fact, vinyl record sales represented literally zero percent of music industry sales revenues by 2001. In the late ’90s, I decided I had to get rid of my obsolete vinyl album collection, which had been lovingly packed and moved with me from California to Texas in the early ’90s and from Texas to Arizona in ’96. They were sitting in a box, gathering dust and taking up space. I tried donating them to Goodwill and even they didn’t want them. I can’t remember where purthey ended up, but I eventually got rid of them and concentrated on my growing collection of Cds.

Then the music industry went digital. Between 2000 and 2008 music sales in the U.S. continued to grow, but sales of Cds dropped by over 20% as MP3 players and online streaming of music replaced the CD. By 2012, CDs represented only 34% of music sales in the United States. The CD was headed in the same direction as vinyl records.

Then a funny thing happened. After bottoming out more than a decade ago, vinyl records are making a comeback. Vinyl record sales increased by more than 50% in 2015 and now represent 7% of recording industry income. It’s actually possible that vinyl records will outsell Cds before the end of this year. So what’s driving this renewed interest in analog music format? According to music industry statistics, today’s average vinyl record buyer is male and approximately 25 years old. What is it about vinyl that makes it so appealing to today’s record buyer? My suspicion is that it’s because vinyl records are more tactile and longer-lasting than anything streaming. Sure, you can’t take your vinyl records and listen to them when you’re at the gym or when you’re annoying other passengers on an airplane, but when your favorite artist gets into a spat over revenues with the streaming service and pulls his or her music, you still have the vinyl record to listen to.

Beyond that, vinyl records are retro and anything retro today is cool. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Amazon, which currently lists about 87,000 vinyl records on its site. In the contact center, I think a similar phenomenon may be occurring. Since the advent of Facebook and more recently Twitter, there has been a rush on the part of many contact center technology suppliers to trash traditional marketing methods in favor of digital marketing. What exactly is digital marketing? I’m not sure anyone really knows, but everyone wants it.

In very broad terms, digital marketing employs any form of digital media to reach the customer. This could include search engine optimization, email blasts, social media marketing, e-books, and just about anything with which you can use the Internet as the primary delivery vehicle. You know, the same stuff we’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so but now it has a new name.

While “digital marketing” is definitely the buzz term du jour in the contact center industry, I don’t think it’s going to last. For one thing, most digital marketing is just traditional marketing tactics that have been digitized and downloaded. Distribution is different but the marketing tactics are the same. I also think social media will soon run its course as a marketing channel. Before the end of this decade, I predict social media channels like Facebook will be used primarily for personal connections and Twitter for business purposes will be relegated to a basic customer service channel for the enterprise.

According to JIM LAVERY, vice president of Contact Centers and Credit Services at Desert Schools Federal Credit Union in Phoenix, and one of my favorite sources of grounded contact center industry information, “I don’t pay attention to Twitter feeds or Facebook posts about any service provider. Digital marketing plays a very small role in any of the decision making factors I use when purchasing any type of contact center equipment.”

Results of Saddletree Research’s November 2015 research survey among contact center executives indicates that the two most important factors that play into a purchase decision are return on investment (ROI) and the relationship with the vendor. Digital marketing still plays an important role in the decision-making process, although probably not as important as the vendor marketing geniuses believe.

“Digital marketing is convenient, easy to absorb and often can be more engaging,” Lavery continued. “I appreciate receiving white papers and case studies to put some framework around how others are using a particular solution. However, I typically review these items after I have established a relationship with a company. Generally speaking, a marketing piece will not drive me to a specific vendor. It may provide name recognition and pique some interest, but that’s about the extent of it.”

I think musician Joe Walsh (James Gang, Eagles—look it up) summed it up best in a song he wrote a couple of years ago called “Analog Man.” It’s as true in the contact center industry today as it is in the music business.

“The whole world’s living in a digital dream. It’s not really there. It’s all on the screen.”

Paul Stockford is Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers & customer service.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline, http://www.contactcenterpipeline.com

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