Thomas Stelter on the Future of eCommerce, Amazon, and Other Emerging Platforms
Thomas Stelter joined POSSIBLE in October 2013 as the VP of Emerging Solutions, directing the growth of newly established practices around Amazon, LinkedIn, and new platforms that pose challenges and opportunities for clients globally. His digital career spans nearly 20 years, and includes working on the evolution of cloud-based eCommerce procurement platforms for AOL, Hilton, and Office Depot, is an iMedia Connection advisory board member, and also volunteers as an entrepreneurial advisor to the engineering school at ONU, currently helping student teams launch a peripheral product concept for Google Glass.
You’ve been client-side most of your career — so why did you choose POSSIBLE to call home?
Thomas: The people at POSSIBLE and the challenges they were solving for. That consistently has been a common thread with anything I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of. In my early 20’s I had a unique opportunity to serve in the US Marines as a satellite telecommunications specialist, which turned out to be the beginning of my passion for new technologies, and an experience that taught me two things. First, without the right people and goal-oriented culture, it doesn’t matter how great the tools are, mission accomplishment will be more difficult. Second, working with teams in rapidly changing environments who are posed with big challenges requires a balance between creative thinking and a process-oriented approach.
After client-side roles in technology and ecommerce product development, business development, and management, I wanted to find an opportunity to leverage those learnings to help solve problems for other businesses across various industries. POSSIBLE’s focus on these challenges, their authentic culture of collaboration, and scientific approach to creative problem solving, was what really got me excited about what POSSIBLE is doing and where they are headed. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the opportunity to work with this concentration of high-caliber people and best-in-class clients.
Last week LinkedIn announced it would be opening up its platform to allow members to begin long-form blogging. With the success of LinkedIn’s influencer program, do you see other platforms moving toward enabling member-generated content, and if so, what’s next?
Thomas: To certain degree, the Internet has its roots in communicating content. Over the years, as technology continues to advance and evolve how we use global connectivity, and improve functionality and experience, the importance of what those advances enable – content in various forms – often gets lost. However, the content itself, or the ways in which that content is expressed, is ultimately what determines the value of that technical advance, new platform, or emerging methodology.
Ultimately, content is the key. For example, POSSIBLE’s CEO, Shane Atchison, is one of 300 distinguished contributors to LinkedIn’s Influencer program, which includes Fortune 50 CEO’s, entrepreneurs, politicians, humanitarians, and thought leaders - Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, and Meg Whitman, to name a few. Now, roughly two years since the LinkedIn Influencer program launched, Influencer posts frequently generate over 1 million views, thousands of shares and comments, and has become a key driver to increasing LinkedIn’s audience, reach, and functional value. LinkedIn’s platform facilitated the value of great content.
For another example, LinkedIn recently launched a new feature called Showcase Pages, which are essentially an extension of a company page, designed for spotlighting a brand, business, or initiative. We took advantage of that tool by launching an Emerging Platforms showcase page last week that shares insights related to platforms like LinkedIn, Amazon, Twitter, and Pinterest.
What we are seeing with LinkedIn, as well as platforms like Twitter and Facebook, is a return of focus to these fundamentals. Enabling content creation, developing tools that surface the most relevant content to the appropriate individual or audience at the right time, and designing systems that make communication more intuitive.
Do you have any thoughts about the future of ecommerce and data in light of Amazon’s recent announcement regarding its move into television?
Thomas: What we are seeing broadly are several moves by platforms like Amazon and Google that are efforts to help close loops between online and offline behavior and intent. For example, Google’s recent Nest home thermostat technology acquisition will present all kinds of new data dimensions to Google related to purchasing behavior. Think about how valuable it would be for a brand to present a soft-drink advertisement when you turn-on air conditioning, or know you prefer to keep it warmer than average during winter months to present discounts on home insulation and how much you could save based specifically on your usage? We are almost there today, and what tomorrow holds will make even more use of the embedded sensors in these devices.
For Amazon specifically, their move into television programming and set-top boxes is certainly an effort to capitalize on the growth of consumer preferences related to television content, but strategically, I think it’s much broader, and larger. With the influence Amazon has on offline retail purchases, and the data Amazon already collects around online purchasing history, serving the content we watch on television will provide behavior insights that will make the most influential moments to purchase intent measurable.
As a consumer, I’m looking forward to these advances. Marketing benefits the individual when the product solves a problem or addresses a need, and brands that can communicate their message at the right time, to the appropriate audience, essentially are also providing a valuable service.
What was your last tech purchase?
Thomas: My last tech purchase was actually two things – a Google Chromecast digital media player, and a vintage first generation Casio G-Shock. The Chromecast is really interesting in concept, and has the potential to open an entirely new content and developer ecosystem. The G-Shock is not just personally nostalgic – it was the first watch I ever bought – but it also reminds me of the value of simplicity and functionality that just works, and the durability of good design.
Ok, if you could have just one superpower, what would it be?
Thomas: Probably some type of psionic ability, like telepathy or extra-sensory perception. While email and text messaging certainly have changed the world, it sure would save a lot of time and miscommunication if we could in all honesty simply say, “I know what you mean”.