2012 has seen several game changers, from the maturing of social media to the redefining of the role of marketing. Change was the buzzword in every sector, as many witnessed how data, networks and design all come together to disrupt existing systems. This has affected how we organise companies and seems set to change even the business of consulting.

The year has been exciting for those anticipating change but brutal for those caught unprepared. Businesses are struggling to understand how to engage with customers and employees alike. It isn’t helping that many people are talking but few are helping to clarify.

From technology to Islamic finance, we’ve identified seven trends and ideas to look out for in 2013.

Bits and bytes: Big ideas for organisations

By Tang Ying Chun

2012 is the year of big data, as organisations have begun to see the merit in understanding massive amounts of data collected over time, using sophisticated analytical tools to help them harness valuable insights. The most publicised user of big data is evidently Team Obama, who launched a relentless digital operation to micro-target potential supporters and bring them to the polls for this year’s elections.

From finance to retail and government to technology, big data has transformed the way organisations deal with its stakeholders. However, jumping on the big data bandwagon requires more pre-requisites, in addition to capital investment (to purchase servers or cloud storage) and ability to hire data scientists (who are also short in supply).

Past approaches to data analysis involve extracting insights from a fixed supply of data, which supports high-certitude decision-making frameworks. This, however, does not work for big data analytics due to the sheer volume and speed at which data flows. In big data environments, incoming data renders previous decisions obsolete, hence it is critical that organisations analyse, decide and act quickly and often, by continuously studying the data flows and having specific hypotheses in place.

What would be interesting to see is how organisations balance the use of big data with the need for big thinking. We expect that organisations who have a core purpose and key set of values will find it easier to guide its development of hypotheses and decision-making in its interpretation of big data. In addition, organisations who can evolve their organisational structures to better accommodate cross-functional collaboration and integration of data sources will have greater ability to harness the power of big data.

Tang Ying Chun is a Manager of Strategy at Consulus. Ying Chun has consulted several Asian companies in diverse industries such as consumer lifestyle goods, banking and engineering services. Her work with these companies involved strategic research, organisational redesign, marketing frameworks and processes, internal cultural development and customer service plans.

In retail 2.0, cater to enthusiasts

By Christina Tarigan

With faster wireless internet and mobile networks, online merchants are targeting consumers on their mobile phones and tablets. Over thanksgiving weekend in the US, Amazon’s sales on Cyber Monday increased 42 per cent from the previous year, while EBay’s rose 55 percent, according to ChannelAdvisor Corp. EBay mobile sales volume more than doubled on Cyber Monday, compared with the previous year, and PayPal’s payment volume almost tripled, Johnna Hoff, an EBay spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

Singapore’s mobile retail follows a similar positive trend. International retailers such as ASOS, which launched their app in late 2011, has seen mobile sales growth of 800% year-on-year in 2011, while Shopbop, retailing luxury goods, launched their mobile app two months ago. Both offer free shipping to Singapore. Qoo10, a partnership between eBay and Gmarket Korea, announced that it has nearly S$15 million in mobile sales transacted via 700,000 mobile app downloads. Of these, Qoo10 Singapore has contributed more than 450,000 mobile app downloads and S$5.5 million in mobile sales. Amazing figures for a mobile app launched slightly more than a year ago in October 2011.

How can smaller retailers compete with giants like Amazon and eBay?

Well, don’t.

Don’t try to carry every single product of a certain range or cater to the mass market. You will lose.

Instead, find a niche and serve your enthusiasts well.

There are aspects that your retail store can provide that an online behemoth like Amazon cannot provide. For example, Amazon may have a wide range of products in your retail category, but being able to offer advice and detailed explanations on various solutions for your customers’ needs builds trust.

We are past discussing the importance of customer service. Thanks to the amazing standards of Amazon and Zappos where they fix any issue and get the customer talking about what a great job they did, customers’ expectations of service have increased and will continue to increase in the year ahead. If your customer-facing staff don’t care about the customers, they are much better off facing a screen to shop. As online commerce continue to threaten brick-and-mortar stores, apathetic and ignorant frontline staff will have a bigger impact in turning away your customers.

F-Commerce (selling on Facebook) has been a retail buzzword since 2011. Even if you are unable to implement a robust e-Commerce website or go into f-Commerce like Gap, Disney or Gilt Groupe, basic information like store location and opening hours should be clearly accessible on a mobile device. Make it a point to try out out your website on your smart phone.

Christina is a Senior Strategy Consultant at Consulus and has consulted several Asian companies in diverse industries such as retail, telecommunications and banking. Her work with these companies involved strategic research, marketing framework, processes and communication strategy, internal cultural development and people development.

The end of consulting as we know it

By Charlene Tang

At a recent gathering an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a long time asked me, “How are you? What are you doing now?”

To keep it short and sweet I told her, “I’m in strategy consulting.”

Cue raised eyebrows. “Ah, so you’re one of those who crunch numbers and draft out business models for other companies all day.”

“Well, you’re partly right, but it’s gone beyond that these days.”

There’s been a seismic shift in the world of consulting, and my acquaintance is not the only one who hasn’t felt it yet. Nor should she be expected to, because even the sleeping giants of consulting are just starting to awaken.

Traditional strategy consulting mostly involved part-time academics collecting relevant data, studying them and applying analytical frameworks to solve problems that their clients may have. The buzzword then was “scientific management”.

This worked fantastically—back in the 1990s. Knowledge, management theories and business models were precious resources that were not easily accessible and management consultants were the select few who could unlock them.

Management consulting of the past also mostly involved “pure”, stand-alone strategy consulting.

That model may as well be a fossil in the Museum of Consulting; great to learn from but not to be put in use today. If consultants think they can still stick to that model and succeed today, it’s a foregone conclusion that they will go extinct; just as Monitor Group did.

Knowledge is quickly becoming commoditised. The Internet is a large self-help depository of knowledge and Internet accessibility has increased from 1% to 32% of the world’s population. Want to study organisational behaviour? Google it. The top 10 results will give you a quick 101 on the topic.

Today we have increasing levels of literacy. Management theories, frameworks, statistical analysis are a dime a dozen amongst fresh graduates that companies hire today. Those skills are no longer unique to the once-revered management consulting industry.

How do we stay relevant in this ever-changing world? Four simple things, in my humble opinion:

The first is still the smart use of data. Methods of scientific management are still valid today. Data was, is and will be be very powerful when harnessed well, as we saw from the recent Obama campaign, where everything was measured and used to their advantage. However, the key difference between modern and traditional consulting is that data analysis and strategising should be done within a contextual framework and not independent of it. This leads to the second point, which is yet to be ubiquitous in consulting.

The second is to understand the ground and the context to which these strategies and solutions will be applied to. This encompasses understanding clients’ industries and their customer bases, observing even the front-lines of their operations. Though two clients may be in the same industry, the solutions they need are often very different. No one solution can be duplicated wholesale and applied to another problem.

The third is that it’s not what we know; it’s what we make of it. In other words, innovation and ideation based on an acute observation of how market trends and consumer preferences are changing. To be able to intentionally and regularly challenge the status quo and think of fresh or better ways of problem-solving is a skill that till today is still highly valued.

The fourth, which more consulting companies are catching on to, is that stand-alone consulting is dead. Collaborative consulting is becoming more relevant, as we move into a world of multi-disciplinary problems that need different areas of expertise.

Charlene Tang is a Strategy Consultant at Consulus. She has consulted companies ranging from MNCs, SMEs to start-ups in consumer markets and public services. She specialises in the strategic use of data to craft and sustain brand experiences. She has worked on strategic research, marketing frameworks and processes, and customer experience journeys.

The next social change: Slaying the advertising cash cow

By Kenneth Lee

Apple’s previous failure with iTunes Ping stemmed from its inability to ensure Facebook Connect remained on the platform and to a wider extent, its lack of a social network. While it has no know-how to build a social network, its increasingly close ties with Silicon Valley’s rebellion-supporting offspring, Twitter, signals a resurgence and a different approach to building social networks.

Come 2013, Apple could potentially be the only consumer electronics maker to own a social network. This means it can bring the power of the iPad, iPhone and all their cousin devices to bear. Tied tightly with the iOS and Mac OS, Apple’s social media platform would be a strong contender for social media king of the hill.

App monetisation strategies would be simplified, with cross-device (Apple’s social network to any iDevice or Mac) apps being monetised easily by app developers. The secret sauce would be that users’ iTunes accounts would allow for a one-click payment solution sorely missing from Facebook. This ease of payment, a result of Apple’s closed ecosystem, would be a huge draw to users and app developers. In 2013, should Apple leverage on its already massive following using a social platform, Facebook will face a major contender in its arena.

Zuckerberg-led Facebook still has trouble getting people to make in-app purchases. It currently depends heavily on advertising for revenue and intends to shift more focus into mobile advertising since 60% of all Facebook users log in from their phones. However, advertising is considered intrusive and passe in our generation. True social campaigns depend more on a great idea and solid execution than on massive ad spend on Facebook. Advertising is an achilles heel for Facebook and while the shift to mobile is encouraging, Facebook evidently lacks the ability to encourage users to pay for apps. Facebook’s success (or failure) would depend on whether it can encourage people to buy content off their platform.

Another major contender to look out for is Pinterest. Its core audience is defined as females who are arts, crafts and fashion enthusiasts and it has tremendous untapped potential to viralise new fashion trends. While there is no advertising on it currently, a better and more sustainable business model would be to become a portal through which people can buy clothes, accessories and other quirky items. With 1.36 million visitors everyday, Pinterest would be able to monetise quickly without reliance on advertising.

This 2013, it’s time to slay the advertising cow. If you’re looking to jump into social media to build your brand and increase sales, now would be the best time to build a platform-agnostic app that will enhance your brand experience. Forget about spending too much on online advertising; there is way too much clutter to fight through. A social app which acts as an extension of your store would be a perfect way to build, maintain and monetise your audience.

Kenneth Lee is a Strategy Consultant at Consulus. Prior to that Kenneth has gained regional experience in audience development and social media strategy. At Consulus Kenneth specialises in creating interactive, story-driven retail experiences.

The power of crowdsourcing

By Roy Chen

What is significant this year is how businesses are starting to understand the power of crowdsourcing. It is affecting how businesses sell themselves and their products, and the power is well and truly back in the people’s hands. Web companies such as Gushcloud and Kickstarter have allowed businesses to both market and get funding in a more effective way that was previously not possible.

Singapore startup Gushcloud has more than 40,000 unique users, who have a combined reach to over 18 million social media users, and have launched their own iPhone app all within a year. Kickstarter has been a platform for companies and individuals to get funding for their projects. To date, over US$381 million have been pledged to over 73,000 projects. Some of these projects have even garnered much more support than their initial funding goal.

Roy Chen is a Senior Strategy Consultant at Consulus, who has worked on projects covering a wide range of Asian and European markets. He specialises in creating fresh brand experiences for products.

Put the Internet to work

by Nicole Brion

The days when you can get the Internet to make your coffee are closer than you think. Tech startup IFTTT, which stands for “if this, then that”, allows you to create “recipes” that will trigger an action in one channel whenever something happens in another channel. With 57 channels and counting, the possibilities range from the routine (if you’re tagged in a photo on Facebook, then the file is saved to your Dropbox) to the unusual (if you text “red alert”, then you receive a fake call to get you out of an awkward situation).

IFTTT recently added new channels for Belkin’s WeMo switch and WeMo motion detector, further blurring the lines between the virtual and the physical. This means that you can now use IFTTT to control your home electronics or to be notified whenever someone pokes around your desk.

Nicole Brion is a Senior Manager at Consulus. She specialises in designing web experiences for both business and consumer markets to boost the online presence of clients in various industries including retail, F&B, banking and real estate.

The rise of Islamic finance

By Rawi Ahmed

In most countries with large Muslim communities, Islamic banks that cater to this segment are growing faster than conventional banks, mainly due to strong support for products and services that are Sharia-compliant. But banks that combine Islamic products with a superior communication and service experience strategy are eroding the share of those who don’t.

Many Islamic banks assume that a Sharia-compliance positioning is sufficient. They take their brand positioning and credibility for granted. As competition grows, building a unique brand identity solely on the merit of Sharia-compliance will be difficult.

Islamic banks need to transform and manage their brand actively. They need to focus on customers who expect more in terms of Sharia-compliance products and services, and who have traditionally relied on conventional banks. They also need to focus more on improving efficiency and service experience.

Communicating and educating the community to promote and advance the bank’s Islamic credibility are also important. Consumers are fully aware of the prohibition against interest payments and investments in forbidden areas are the practices of Islamic banks. However, consumers are still asking basic questions like how do Islamic banks make their profits, how will the bank grow their deposits and what kind of financial help can they get from the banks for their businesses. In other words, better communication and educating the consumer are very much needed.

Products are managed in a Sharia-compliant manner but the banking industry in general is regulated by conventional financial regulations. A way has to be found to actually integrate the two banking practices which are acceptable to both.

More importantly, are the Islamic banks able to help finance growth in Asia, which will eventually address widening inequalities and transform Asia into a poverty-free region? The inability to deliver these would not only impact social stability but also makes it difficult for Islamic banks to differentiate themselves from conventional banks in order to be accepted as mainstream instead of remaining a niche business.

Because of faith, Muslims will do business with Islamic banks; to fuel further growth, better alignment of regulations could make Islamic banks more competitive and successful.

Rawi Ahmed is a Director at Consulus serving Islamic brands in Southeast Asia.

This editorial is part of The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs.