Monday, April 29, 2013

In the future this will all be...

Ever wondered what is going to happen in the next few years or beyond that? Well, with my digital crystal ball I’ve come up with a thought or two on where things are headed.

1. The future is going to contain more technology.
It’s going to be faster in its processing (and therefore seemingly more ‘clever’), more usable and even more ubiquitous than it currently is. However (because of this and other factors) it is also going to be more complicated and connected, meaning that even the word we live in now will seem like a pre-industrial medieval state in just a decade or two.
From clothing embedded with NFC chips costing only a few pence that tell you they’ve been at the bottom of the washing basket for over a week, all the way through to comparison websites that automatically compare the information from that telematics insurance box now built into your hybrid electric car.

2. Data is going to be the most valuable currency
We already know that the huge valuations of online services such as Google and Facebook are not just because they have great functionality (such as to link us to our friends & old colleagues) or a great way of finding stuff…  but because they collect, use and continue to build up data on individuals and their habits, preferences, friends and what they had for breakfast. Amplify this fact by an increased population which is online more often via more devices, collecting even more data and you really start to understand how (after water and  perhaps actual currency) data is going to be the most valuable commodity there is.
I’m not suggesting you will always be able to pay for a bottle of water in a street cafĂ© by giving them your date of birth… but is it that hard to imagine a time when you will be able to use your Starbucks loyalty card to get a free bottle of water in return for signing-up for their new improved reward programme, which just needs to know one piece of information…. Your birthday??

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Learning the art of learning

I have learnt a lot more in the last 15 to 20 years than I ever intended. It wasn't intentional... the aim was that I left school and university (actually, it was a Polytechnic until the last year I was there) then went & got a job.

I thought I was done with learning. I'd never really enjoyed studying whilst in the education system. I'd coasted through on the minimum of effort, didn't try to learn any more than I needed to and got distracted by cars, girls, TV & computer games along the way.

But something has happened since then:

1. I now enjoy learning

2. I've learned to learn

3. I now learn so I can can tell others

Nobody told me how to learn, instead I had to work hard at it. This meant spending a lot of time reading, re-reading and focusing on truly understanding a subject.. enough to be confident that I could put it into my own words for others to comprehend it too. However, it has now got to the point that when I'm half-way through browsing through an article or online blog posting I suddenly think "oh, that makes sense... I need to blog about that".

Perhaps now I understand the Oscar Wilde phrase:
"It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Organisational eBusiness Maturity

Thankfully, a growing number of organisations are looking to improve their digital channels. Consequently they are looking around for others who have already made a step forward and to learn from their innovations (without hopefully copying their mistakes).  Consequently I have seen certain trends appear over the years that may act as a model of not only where companies have come from, but also where they can grow and develop in the future.
Note: Like most of my work on this blog, this model is a ‘work in progress’ where I post my thoughts before they are completely refined and documented. It is therefore submitted with the aim that it will not only be refined by my own further understanding and application, but by wider feedback (either via comments on this blog or by other means).
Here’s how I see the organisational maturity of a company progressing (typically in the retail, financial services and travel markets, but potentially in others where this model can be applied):
Online initiatives originally sprung up thanks to the innovation and inspiration of specific people. Historically this may well have been a young-ish or passionate person who saw the opportunity to utilise some form of digital technology to improve something or interest to them.  Based in the IT, Marketing or other part of the company, they would initially have had very little influence, but potentially the opportunity to create and learn by themselves.
As the individual has grown in their knowledge, they may well have caught the eye of senior individuals. Aligned with a growing understanding of the possible benefits of digital channels for communication, acquisition, commerce and engagement…  this one-man initiative may have grown into a team of people who have specialist knowledge of digital (marketing, eCommerce, User Experience, Analytics, etc.). From experience this has usually been the ‘land grab’ stage, with different high-powered players staking their claim to know all about modern technologies and taking this department under their wing.
Eventually the rest of the company wakes up and realises it is not just the digital team that either needs to understand and use digital tech, but that the whole organisation has become an e-ebusiness, with a digital eco-system around it… enabling everything from new customer influence and marketing through to existing customer self-service and HR connectivity (e.g. automatic postings to job sites, etc.)
For a company to truly ‘live’ digital however, it needs to move beyond the connected state (e.g. creating a bunch of fixed  digital connections with its customers and suppliers) it needs to extend some of its functions outside the organisation and embrace co-creation as a way to generate a flow of sustainable new ideas and talent.  API’s and XML interfaces enable these companies to allow 3rd parties (individual developers, agencies and sometimes even entire industries) to build upon their data and functionality, to reach a new audience or to connect to other web services in ‘mash-ups’. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t easy stuff and very few companies have the will, ability and braveness to venture into this territory. But for those who do (e.g. Amazon, Google, etc.) the rewards are obvious.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Online advocacy - is it balanced?

Have you noticed nowadays just how many advocates there are for products and services online?

And I'm not just talking about your 'Apple fanboys' who will buy anything that flies out of Cupertino regardless of its quality or perceived incremental improvements over a previous version. It happens across nearly every product category, from stain removal powder through to IT equipment. Plus it doesn't just stop at products.... Services (e.g. Those provided by local tradesmen on 'rate my plumber' type sites ) have their own advocates, as well as critics.

I've also noticed that those who provide recommendations on some items tend to be the ones who do it for others. In short, there's a hardcore bunch of online reviewers out there who provide significantly more than their fair share of feedback and ratings.

Note: I'm deliberately not covering the area of fake reviews and astro-turfing here.

So my question for today is... does this minority of online advocacy really reflect the opinions of the masses, or merely the view of the few? If so, should we really put as much faith in these digital praises or rants as we do?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Multi-channel shopper marketing

A couple of months ago I write a post about how I saw the discipline of shopper marketing (SM) evolve into digital shopper marketing (DSM) and then into Multi-Channel Shopper Marketing (MCSM).

Now I've had a little while to think about this some more and work with clients on this, I thought I would share some more of my thoughts and observations.

1. Shoppers are now multi-channel
It is not simply the case that online marketing influences online purchases and traditional marketing influences in-store transactions. Online and offline are now just different channels, each potentially contributing to the acquisition and retention of the customer over a range of time.

2. Influence has a huge part to play
The path to purchase starts with initial awareness and continues up to the point that the shopper reaches for the product. In between these two events, there is a wealth of channels, touch-points and devices that the shopper uses to make their purchasing choices. Google calls this the Zero Moment Of Truth (or ZMOT for short) and has produced a number of studies to show just how many information sources a modern multi-channel shopper uses before they commit to a sale.

3. The shopper is getting more savvy
We now live in an age of austerity for most people, where nearly everyone is watching what they spend (in a way, this is the way it always should have been). This translates to a change in shopper behaviour, where they now search around for the best price of brands / commodity products and a lot more now look out for discount codes and promotions. This has a clear effect on eCommerce sites, where a lot more visitors now jump out of the transaction funnel just before they compete the payment look at voucher sites and to hunt down any relevant offers.

In the future I hope to dig into the ways that brands and  retailers can utilise this behaviour and get the maximum benefit from the new ways that multi-channel shoppers act.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Yes, but do you build websites?

On a call with a business prospect a few weeks back, I began to get the feeling they really didn't understand either what they wanted or what myself & my team could offer.

Why? Well here's a rough precis of the conversation I had:

Them: "So why should we hire you?"
Me: "We are a team of digital consultants and delivery experts, who have a wealth of online experience across the creative, user experience, commercial, marketing and technology disciplines".
Them: "So tell me about your recent experience with Internet technology"
Me: "Oh, that's a pretty big topic and I don't know what technology we are talking about yet, so I'll talk conceptually"
Them: "So you don't understand about Internet technologies then?" [some scribbling].
Me: "Yes of course we do... however I don't know the details of your systems so cannot dig into the detail. Would you like me to give you an overview of our systems experience?"
Them: "Oh, I thought you understood about these things" [rapid scribbling]
Me: "Yes... Err, we do. Do you have a specific piece of work in mind?"
Them: "We need to improve our customer journey"
Me: "Great, we can review your key personas and user flows, then identify the major drop-off points to optimise your goals"
Them: "So can you tell me how you would improve our customer journey?"
Me: "Oh, as I said... we'd look at your conversions, acquisition paths, hopefully review your analytics and suggest quick wins as well as longer-term improvements" [a small scribble]
Them: "We've been told that we need to improve the customer journey and that we need a content management system. What you've told me doesn't sound like a Content Management System"
Me: "Err... No, what I've explained is our process to deliver site improvements. We can also deliver a CMS for you, design and develop a multi-channel interactive platform and ensure it is delivered then marketed in the right way to meet your KPI's"
Them: "Yes, but do you build websites?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why optimisation should be your digital strategy

The online market is growing in its maturity each day. More and more people I talk these days about digital technologies, communications and commerce have far more awareness and understanding, have more professional processes for their implementation and are actual users & consumers of online services.  So as a digital strategist, my role is not so much to build awareness and educate clients, but to work with them to develop and enhance an already existing digital strategy.

Let’s be honest, by now most senior execs are only too aware of some of the opportunities that are possible in the connected world. They might not be fully up to speed with the latest techniques and processes… but they have some idea of the potential benefits, such as: cost savings, enhanced engagement and increased market share for those that get it right.

In short, the digital strategy of any major organisation has moved from one of ‘experimenting' or ‘finding our feet’ to one of increasing capability and eventually optimisation of all relevant online touch-points and connections.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The limits of updating an eBook

This morning I received an email from Amazon, informing me that a recent book I have on my Kindle has an updated version. Apparently because the publication has had significant editorial changes made to it, I need to download a new version.

Fair enough, the ebook wasn't expensive (in fact it was free) and dipping back into my Kindle account doesn't take too long. But there is one issue... because the ebook has undergone significant changes, any bookmarks, notes, or highlights I have made will not transfer across to the new version. Now this wouldn't be so bad if this was a novel or other piece of fiction. However the book in question is actually the Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) User Guide.

This irony wasn't wasted on me and neither was the obvious point that I had two options:
1. Download the updated version of the electronic book and lose my page notes and tips
2. Stay using the old version of the digital guide and live with the discrepancies that predicated the major editorial changes in the first place.

This situation therefore begs the question....Why isn't there a clever way to retain the notes I've made on my Amazon Kindle, even if there are editorial changes?
It was after all one of the reasons I got the thing in the first place! Even if my comments were retained and presented back at the end of the paragraph or chapter... That would still be of some benefit to me.

Yes, I know that with a paper version of the publication I would have to purchase another updated copy of the book and would not be given the option to simply upgrade it at my own leisure... but that misses the point. We now have a number of ebook systems in use and to ignore my ability to make notes in the margin (as I used to do with a lot of my printed reference material) limits their flexibility and eventual use.

Presumably as more books are digitised and placed online, this situation will become a growing issue. I therefore hope that the vendors such as Amazon eventually find an elegant and workable solution to this problem.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to upset the Omnichannel masses

Oh dear, I fear I've just opened up another can of digital worms.

In my latest article for my other online column, I've had a dig at those that use the term 'Omnichannel' rather than 'Multi Channel' or some other existing phrase.

But let's be honest... Omnichannel is a pretty crap word and to have a bunch of over-blown consultants walking around claiming it's the future is the online equivalent of 'The Emperors New Clothes'

In other words it is more than enough to get my back up and therefore is fair game.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

PPC : change nothing and nothing changes

I've helped a lot of organisations over the years optimise their digital advertising campaigns. This means I've seen a number of different ways of setting up and configuring paid search in services like Google AdWords, Microsoft's Bing Ads (previously Yahoo's own Search Marketing efforts) and others.

In several notable examples the PPC (pay per click) campaigns had seemingly reached their peak and the organisations concerned were happy to carry on doing the same thing day after day. In nearly every case the person managing the activity was happy to spend a very similar amount each day or month and deliver the same amount of visitors. (If I'm honest, they were almost scared to make changes once they found a set-up that worked).

Unsurprisingly, this infuriated the heck out of me for various reasons:

1. There is never an optimum way to build PPC campaigns. If you think you're doing the best paid search you ever could, then you're sadly mistaken.
Note: If your digital marketing agency says there is and that they've found it... They are trying to either get an easy ride or hide something

2. Google, Microsoft and the rest of the search engines never stop evolving their products, so failing up change your paid SEM will only risk leaving you with outdated approaches and techniques.

3. New competition comes into the market all the time (and some leave) and the current ones get smarter or more determined. More competition for the same terms will therefore push the bidding price up in systems such as AdWords.
Note: Your clever competition knows that change is good and how it can help to improve customer acquisition costs... Do you?

4. Websites change and therefore variables such as Google's Quality Score vary over time. If you're directing prospects to a site where the content and catalogue information is changing all the time, you can bet your QS is fluctuating too (it might even be changing when you have a static site!).

But more importantly than all if these should be the urge in every online marketer to improve on what is there... Not necessarily by making huge changes to your PPC account on a daily basis, but by the use of incremental changes and small experiments that test new ways and wording.

After all... Don't you want to learn and find out more about paid search? Do you want your skills to stand still in a market place that rewards talent? Don't you want to compete against your peers out there, all intent on bettering those CPC and conversion rates ?
(Or are you just happy to take your employer's or client's money for the short term?)

Monday, April 1, 2013

The straw man digital strategy

If you've been in a business meeting with me lately, its highly likely that you've heard me use the term "straw man" when speaking about the way to create a digital strategy. It's a popular term for me right now, with several clients and colleagues mentioning it.

So what do I mean by the use of the term. "Straw man digital strategy"? Here's several points to explain my approach:

1. With the rate of change in the technology world being so fast, any digital strategy you put in place now will be quickly out of date. By the time you've had a chance to write a document of any length, let alone get an internal review & approval... Things will have moved on. Think how quickly the app economy took hold and became a 'must have' for some organisations... creating and destroying business practices at the same time. That's just the beginning.

2. As the overall online market is still so new in places (especially in the minds of some corporate dinosaurs), the exact ways of doing something new that is specific to your business might not be established. Sure there will be overall best practice, but every organisation is different and therefore the plans to protect or grow it needs to be as relevant as possible.

3. As people move roles and take on different responsibilities in the evolving workplace, skills within the online industry are in constant flux. Consequently many people trying to make sense of their digital way forward might not have all the experience necessary to "dot the I's and cross the T's".

4. Being agile in the delivery of online has created many new and different sites, services and products. These are things that an older 'industrial' era might not have come up with, if the exact specification had been fixed at the beginning. This flexibility in building things can also be applied to the creation of the strategy that runs over the top of each work stream.

5. Putting a straw man concept up before it is complete helps stakeholders understand and contribute to the strategy. In much the same way as a UX prototype helps senior people in your company visualise your ideas, so this approach should not only help you get the input from other clever and experienced people around you, it will also help you get buy-in at the senior level.