Monday, December 15, 2014

Are you a digital driver or just a passenger?

Are you the person leading the digital change in your organisation, or are you just along for the ride?
I've now seen enough digital transformation initiatives to know who is driving from the front and who is not. It becomes quite clear after a while (especially if you are frequently involved with similar types or style of programmes) to identify the leaders and passengers in online change initiatives.
So here are my tips on how to recognise these two types

Digital Leaders:
Typically these people have the vision or initiative to start the digital revolution within an organisation. They may be the technical person that creates the overall enterprise solution that enables a shift away from analogue processes to online ones, or the executive who drives forward the business case or rationale for sweeping channel shift. They may also have a number of different roles across a project, either stepping into different positions where necessary or act as the project manager in the absence of any other leadership.

Digital Passengers:
These are the people that try to align themselves to a digital change project without actually having any responsibility (yet will be first to claim all the credit when change does start taking place). They will understand that 'digital is the next big thing' but will not have had any real experience and yet claim to be knowledgeable when stakeholders or executive sponsors are in the room.They are also most easiest to identify by their repetition of a small number of key facts they have picked-up along the course of the transformation, possibly even getting them wrong over time.
Or put more esoterically... Just because a person is standing in the direction of movement,  it doesn't mean they are actually going that way.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Are we too reliant upon Google?

In my posting at the beginning of this year I wrote Never bet against Google in 2014, I explained that despite the search giant’s mantra of “Don’t be evil”, its very size and might in the online world meant it was highly disruptive in anything it did.

I also stated that:
What this means is that betting against Google in anything it decides to do is an unwise move. 
A year on I still stand by this comment and furthermore have started to ask myself the question of whether digital marketing and online business as a whole has now become too dependent upon Google.

To paint the picture of its huge role, here’s some typical examples of its use in my life:

  1. Search
    The current industry figures state that Google has an approximately 90% share of the search market in the UK. For me, that’s a lot closer to 100%.
  2. Gmail
    Now the biggest global email service, I use Gmail for all my work emails. 
  3. Android
    The open source mobile operating system runs my phone and integrates with my Gmail, calendar and contacts.
  4. Analytics
    This free service helps my consultancy’s clients (and me) track a range of visitor, usage and conversion statistics. Even to the point of being able to provide inferred insight about user demographics and preferences.
  5. AdWords
    Provides a (mostly) cost effective means of raising awareness, building traffic and re-marketing to your target audience. If someone is searching for something, then it stands to reason that they might be receptive to seeing an advert about something associated with that term. The fact that advertisers only pay when a prospect clicks on an ad means it is possible to quickly identify interest, track budgets and optimise promotions to get the best ‘bang for your buck’.
  6. Maps
    I use this service more than I initially realised. From looking up locations, to finding directions on my mobile phone and also as when used as a ‘mash up’ (when a map is integrated with other data services) on any number of other sites, such as a store locator on a multichannel retailer’s site. I bet most of us use Google Maps a fair bit more than we realise.

Overall for me there is one reason why I have adopted these products … it is because they are so useful. And therefore any new entrant to any of the areas that Google has a dominance in will not just have to provide them for free (obviously with the exception of AdWords, which is free to the person clicking on the ads, but costs the advertiser) but will have to provide a better user experience somehow…

But all these services have not just become second-nature in my use of them, they have also pushed out other products or services (anyone remember: Freeserve, PalmOS, , etc ?). The list of dotcom and technology casualties caused by ‘The Big G’ are proof that this company doesn't just enter a sector, it tends to own it… with perhaps the exception of Social Media, which Google has never really cracked, despite the different tools it has released over the last few years. Orkut, Waves and even G+ haven’t really reached the tipping point that they were hoped to achieve, despite being popular in specific user groups or even countries.

So are we really too reliant upon Google now?

In my opinion we are. However, I personally don’t have a problem with this right now, because on top of the usefulness argument:

  • I don’t have to pay for a lot of things I would have done I the past
  • The products and services provided work (the robustness of their service is only noticeable when there is very seldom outage)
  • They work at scale (10 Million visits a day is the current free limit in Google Analytics. A figure only breached by the biggest of sites)

And based on these factors… I’m happy to be a reliant and supportive customer.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Black Friday - The Farce Awakens

So that was the first full-scale Black Friday that the UK has ever experienced.  And what an event it was.

Stories of in-store wars, bargains snatched from the hands of those who waited patiently in line for hours and police arrests for fighting at 24 hour supermarkets have been written about and told over the last few days. The British shopping masses have been shown as a brawling uncultured rabble, who would happily trample others underfoot just to get their hands on a discounted television for themselves... that they probably would not have purchased anyway.

Previous pre-Christmas sales have now been overshadowed by the dark lord of post-Thanksgiving sales bonanzas that we have willingly inherited from the USA...without any of the thanks or the giving we are supposed to have at this time of year.

If this is the beginning of a new saga in retail... then part of me wished I lived a long time ago and far away.

Friday, November 28, 2014

#blackfridayfail - eCommerce sites struggle under high volumes

So, Black Friday fever really looks to be kicking in, as a number of websites seem to either be having issues or are down entirely.


As of writing, the multi-channel catalogue-based retailer claims to be "experiencing a very high volume of visitors"

River Island
Apparently failing to cope with the pressure of the pre-Christmas bargain hunters, the fashion retailer seems to be having a few issues delivering a homepage.


Although this site is up right now, at certain points late last night the UK's biggest retailer was only able to display a waiting page

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What does Black Friday mean to the UK?

It seems to me that the use of 'Black Friday' as a retail promotional tool is now everywhere in the UK. From Glasgow to Manchester and Plymouth to London it seems to have sprung up from almost nowhere just few years ago into a few days of serious high street and online discounting.

But why is it especially this year that a lot of UK retailers have embraced an American holiday?

Here's a few suggestions:

1. The high street needs to stimulate sales
Following a mild autumn, a lot of people have not raced out to the shops in September and October to buy items such as a new Winter wardrobe (if you don't believe me, ask your peers if many have bought a big coat recently).Consequently year on year takings are down across a number of sectors, including clothing.
2. Autumn sales aren't a new thing
Discounting around this time isn't a new concept and many stores have been having 'mid-season sales' for decades. Yes, a lot of retailers have been dropping prices of specific products and ranges in mid-to-late November, it's just that...

3. Black Friday sounds cool
It's good to give something a catchy name and it seems that yes black is indeed the new black.  I suggest the fact that it refers to the day after the US commemorate a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621 is pretty irrelevant to the average Brit.

4. The UK is becoming more and more American-ized
As reflected in: the recent growth in Halloween over this side of the pond, the increase in Seattle style coffee shops that sell huge capacity cups of caffeine and the gradual use of "Tuxedo" (an American club that adopted the use of the black suit and tie) over the "Dinner Jacket".

5. The Internet is reducing cultural barriers
I first noticed the use of 'Black Friday' on about a decade ago, when just like today, I couldn't find anything interesting to buy on the site. The increasing use of global eCommere sites like Amazon, eBay and the like have created a boundary-less society that is only too happy to embrace different retailing concepts.

Which leads me to a slightly cynical further idea... Could it be that Black Friday is just another ploy adopted by savvy retailers across the globe to get rid stuff that would never have shifted at full price anyway?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What does Direct Traffic actually mean?

Website Analytics (e.g. Google Analytics) provide a lot of insight into digital user behaviour, including what keywords they are typing into search engines, what pages they are arriving on and the locations they are coming from.

However all too often I have seen visitors coming into a site as Direct Traffic pretty much ignored or understated as a source. For example if all other digital marketing sources come to 80% and analytics says Direct is 30%, I've heard clients say “Oh, let’s just make Direct 20% and show how good my paid for efforts are"… rather than looking at why a site is showing 110% inbound traffic.

But I think we all need to stop and reconsider this approach, take another look at direct sources of visitors and assess the value that they bring.

Although we tend to take this as "the visitors who type the URL direct into the browser" - this is not the full picture. It is also includes:
- bookmarked visits
- those campaigns that are incorrectly tagged
- those visits where the referrer data is not available (e.g. those coming from an https source, such as a secure site - which may even be your own site itself )

Note: There is even the suggestion on some forums that Google Images has been a source of direct traffic because it creates visits from links that are not traceable.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Importance of Keywords in Digital Marketing

Keywords have a huge influence across many areas of online marketing. They help to drive the correct traffic from organic positions in search engines, which in-turn need to be optimised through SEO efforts (white hat only of course). Keywords also form the fundamentals of any pay-per-click activity done across Google, Yahoo/Bing, etc.

Keywords therefore have a big impact wherever they are used online and you should make sure your keyword strategy is:

1. Planned in advance of any major digital work, taking care to analyse and understand the terms and phases your target audience is really using (not just those your client thinks they should use)

2. Incorporated in your onsite efforts, such as: Page titles, Meta Description and body copy (including semantic headings & structure)

3. Communicated to other parties, such as your PR company and external copy writing / translation agencies.

4. Reviewed and updated on a regular basis, to ensure you are still getting the required traffic and conversions. This is an evolving situation after all, where new sites and efforts are always changing.