Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Success in 2009

My last posting this year and something a little more up-beat. Personally its been an epic 2008, including: marriage, moving and materity.

I really just wanted to wish all clients, partners, friends & staff of Ideal Interface a fantastic & successful 2009.

Hayden

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

blogs have more impact than social networks

A report of a survey done by Buzz Logic & Jupiter Research back in the Autumn of this year shows that over half of all US blog reader (sorry, it doesn't seem to have a global reach) find blogs useful for purchase information. (Full press release here)

And suprisingly, blogs have more impact on purchasing decisions than social networks because blogs are more trusted!

Its even better news for niche blogs, as of those who found blog content useful for product decisions, over half of them (56%) said niche focus blogs and "topical expertise" sources were key. Unsuprisingly this information was most useful for technology-related purchases:



So had blogging actually come-of-age now?

Well it seems that for a certain segment of the population that answer is "yes", as blogs now rival search as a means of navigating to information that influences their decisions.

Face to Face is highest Cost-to-serve

Following my recent posts on implementing and managaing customers down to a lower cost-to-serve channel, I got several emails from people asking me about face-to-face communication and where it fitted into my Interaction diagram.



Unsuprisingly, face-to-face (F2F) contact appears at 'Position E' in the top right corner. This channel of customer interaction is the most costly, involving premises or travel and a lot preparation. It may also need the customer service individual / account manager / client contact / handler, etc. having all necessary information and support materials to-hand.

Costs can potentially increase further depending upon the demands of the interaction. For example: you may have a complex product that needs explaining / configuring or possibly a prestige client-base who is used to the "Low Tech / High Touch" approach. Try managing these people to a lower interaction channel and you could instantly see them quickly migrate to your competitors.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Measuring Wisdom

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours in the company of some great minds recently. Hidden in the corner at a company Christmas party (the equivalent of the guys hanging out in the kitchen at a dinner party I guess) we discussed many topics, including the subject of wisdom.
The main question we eventually distilled the issue down to was:

"If wisdom is the application of knowledge and if there are ways of measuring knowledge, why is there no easy way of measuring wisdom?"
Taking this thought further, I would like to state that we don't give wisdom (and really I mean those that have it) enough credit.

Perhaps because we haven't been able to apply a metric to it yet?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Customer Experience in a Recession

Two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the UK economy means we are officially in a recession (even though most sensibe people been saying that for almost a year).

Note:
A recession it may be, but its not technically a 'depression'. I think the best desciption of both has to be Ronald Regan from his 1980 presidential nominee speech:

"A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."


Economists now generally agree that the downturn will last at least about two years. First becoming worst in 2009, it will eventually tail off around 2011.


To so this, they will consider a number of questions:
  1. How can you gain competitive advantage/market share without significant expenditure?
  2. Can you restrict your customer strategies, especially if there is not tangible/obvious Return on Investment (ROI)?
  3. At what point do you forget the ‘customer experience’ and cut costs?
  4. If customers are increasing their usage of different channels (e.g. mobile, internet/media devices, etc.) how do you faciliate these on the same/less budget?
However, as an example of corporate Darwinian theory, the best business will survive in these conditions. Those that do survive will have learnt to be flexible & lean, but should be ideally placed to take advantage of the economy when it eventually returns to full-health.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wordle graph of my blog

I'm always on the look-out for ways to chart/graph/depict complexity. I was therefore please to recently stumble across http://www.wordle.com/. By typing in the feed from this blog, it creates the visual representation you see above.

A better quality version of it is available here on Wordle's site.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Online PR still too specialist?

Back in August of this year a survey by Big Mouth Media reported that out of 100 UK PR firms, 79% did not have dedicated online PR services and could be missing out on an opportunity. It now seems that the market hasn't moved much further on.

A new Econsultancy Online PR Industry Benchmarking report, based on a survey of 300+ marketers & PR folks in the UK states that:
Online PR is still clearly viewed as a specialist and technical PR function by many respondents.

If companies outsource their Online PR to agencies or specialists, the breakdown is as follows:
  • 51% use PR agencies
  • 29% search marketing agencies
  • 22% web development agencies
I therefore think the picture is still far from clear right now. Whilst some PR agencies have obviously risen to the challenge, others are happy to let web-specific agencies eat their lunch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Delivery for loyal customers

A short posting today (and nothing to do with last night's Christmas Party, honest!). I just thought, as we've only 2 Amazon Super Saver shopping days to Christmas...








... that I'd share this article from yesterday's Internet Retailing site. A news article stated that "Customer loyalty does still exist — but free delivery and special offers are now the key retailer deciders".

The report from GSI Commerce, ( and I still find their website a little confusing) says that:
"pushing free delivery and special last-minute offers needs to be a priority in the final few days of online Christmas shopping,"
It seems that given the same product at the same price from 2 different eTailers, 68% of customers would opt for the one that offered free delivery. Although that's hardly a shocking fact, you do have to worry what the other 32% based their decision on.

However, more shocking was the news that Amazon is apparently mis-treating its warehouse staff to reach its incredible near-perfect delivery rate. It seems that free delivery may come at a cost in the end!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad multi-channel experiences

A bad cross-channel experience could well affect your customers, leading to lost revenue and bad feeling.

Its possible to create a frustrating multi-channel experience when dealing with a company via just two different channels, let alone 3 or 4! This is especially true in the digital world where customers are only one click away from abandoning a company if their expectations are not instantly met. Lets be a little clearer...

1. Optimising your channels is not necessarily all about the lowest cost-to-serve (The average cost required to deliver a service to a customer), its about maintaining the right revenue streams and quality.

2. Consistency across channels (call centre, website, in-store kiosk, customer interaction technologies, etc.) reduces customer frustration. Or put another way: a report by BT back in early 2008 showed that:
"ninety-seven per cent of customers expect their interactions with companies to be consistent and seamless"


Be careful how you plan and implement your multi-channel strategy for 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Customer Interaction Technologies lower cost to serve


In less-certain economic times, companies come under increasing pressure to reduce costs and as I mentioned last week, this can mean managing your customers down to lower cost-to-serve channels (e.g. moving them from positon 'B' to position 'A' in the diagram)

For those who've read my previous post, you will know I believe you need to provide the right amount of customer interaction that a customer needs (but perhaps just not the level they want). This is where the web becomes incredibly useful.

But building a website to interface with customers is no-longer just a case of building a static content-fulled site, its about creating another interaction channel. And sometimes, providing customers with a basic level of interaction (e.g. Position 'A') just goesn't cut it any more. Fear not, a technology solution can be used, it just has to be used more carefully and cleverly.

Providing a rich user experience for your website is something that I've worked with a lot of clients on. Developing an intuitive and often complex site (e.g. Position 'C') obviously adds to your cost-to-serve, but in the longer-term this is a relatively small incremental cost per customer. It should also prevent the customer automatically heading off to to your 'Contact Us' page to phone your call centre. Technologies such as: Silverlight, Flash, and AJAX can help your site provide better interactivity and customer empowerment, and personalisation & other decision-based logic can provide a more individual experience.

But there is a middle ground and it sits somewhere between the slick responses of a video-based interaction and the human-to-human contact we all crave. However its an area that many websites have yet to fully understand and tackle (and it sits at Position 'D').

CIT or Customer Interaction Technologies as they are called, can all help bridge this interaction gap:

Click-to-call
Is a way of connecting your call-centre with your customers, who can leave their details and be called back as a time better suited to them or the company (e.g. during any particular quiet periods your customer services representatives have).

Self-learning avatars
Virtual assisitants, provided by people such as Creative Virtual, are still a technology that has yet to break into the mainsteam and its hard to work out why. Perhaps when one passes the Turing Test, we may see a change.

Interactive FAQ's
These online knowledge bases can provide dynamic Frequently Asked Questions, that understand context or provide more than just the standard content-managed answers. Link these into your personalisation functionality, track their usage and you get a rich set of data on what people are looking for (and what they don't know about).

Customer chat
In essence a business version of Instant Messaging, this technology has been used on websites for serval years now and provides a customer with text access to your call centre. Yes, I know this may seem like a slower (and therefore more costly way) way of interacting, but done cleverly it can reduce the cost-to-serve or even allow your operative to have more than one conversation at the same time.
E.g. pre-typed or 'hotkey' responses to produce instant answers to familiar questions, such as specific issue information or company contact details

Although these Customer Interaction Technologies haven't gained significant ground on many websites, its possible that as times get leaner andcompanies put more pressure on their websites to increase conversion and customer satisfaction, they they become a cost-effective toolset for the digital channel.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Managing customer expectations in a downturn

If you're in the business of serving customers, you can see the story unfolding before you.
  • The economic crunch is here
  • Company revenues decline
  • You get told to reduce service levels
  • You reduce staff and/or cut the hours of cover
  • There's a dilution in the customer experience
  • This causes an erosion in customer loyalty
So tricky days ahead then as we welcome the ever-decreasing cycle of recession-based customer services.

But this need-not be the outcome, as a recent McKinsey article highlights. This report covers the possibility of finding your customer 'Break Points' and carefully tracking this to avoid a complete drop in customer satisfaction.

One alternative to this is managing your customers down to lower cost-to-serve channels such as online, without a drop in quality of service. As I mentioned in a previous post, this can also be difficulty to pull-off correctly, but then this is a recesssion... and you don't just judge the person during the good times do you?

Bad signage

OK, slightly off topic today... but it is funny and Friday!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is MSM?

MSM stands for 'Main Stream Media' (or mainstream media). In other words its: newspapers, TV and (possibly) radio these days.

But hang on, I thought a principle media these days was the Internet in all its flavours? (Google search, content sites , Blogs, Social Networks and everything else). Its in the top 3 of all media consumed and advertising money spent, as well as the main method a lot of us choose to receive our news and information by.

Surely now there's a justified case for saying that the Internet is now a member of the mainstream media?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Low cost to serve doesn't mean low quality

I've previously put together my thoughts on cost to serve vs interaction models, but have been sent various examples recently where companies have obviously decided that low cost to serve means low quality of service. From examples of bad IVR, through to the refusal of some large companies to stick their customer services telephone number on their website.

This does not need to be the case. Just because you are using a lower cost-to-serve channel to service customers, doesn't mean that there has to be a dramatic reduction in the quality.

But delivering a good quality customer service experience does not necessarily mean providing a human voice all the time. Yes there there may still be the expectation among your customers that they will speak to an operative when they phone your billing number; but its how you deal with them when instead they get a voice-recognition system that matters. Also there is often more than one choice of communication channel for the required level of interaction you need at a lower cost-to-serve than a call centre.

Once company that has turned the entire customer service experience on its head is SwiftCover Insurance. The advertising material they've put out over the last few years has made a point of covering the fact that they don't have any Clucking Call Centres:


Clearly aimed at those no-nonsense people who don't like dealing with low quality call centres, they obviously have eliminated a higher cost-to-serve channel straight away. Its not suprising that they've managed to gain a share of a market given some of the incredibly bad practices apparently being used by some call centres such as using fake names and hanging up when things get difficult (This article in The Times is a real eye-openner if you have the time).

Actually, are you aware that there is a British Standard for Customer Service?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Risky Business


The more people interact on the Internet, the more risk they are subjecting themselves to. For example: we're told that the more information you post up about youself on social networking sites, the more likely you are to be the subject of a phishing/social engineering/etc. attack

But what about when you're a company employee, and you decide to interact on behalf of your company? How does the company minimise the risks of saying something incorrect in a situation where you are trying to encourage human interaction and generate a real community?

My recommendation is to make sure that you have a clear set of social media moderation guidelines. If staff don't know the rules, how can they follow them?

However, what if your employee is trying to cultivate their own personal brand? What if they are trying to own the conversation? (Well Jeremiah has a very similar blog post today, with some suggestions on how companies may try to manage this issue.)

One thing is for sure, personal brands are here to stay and some companies actively encourage the employment of them. Rather like an actor for a film, they are hiring an individual to play the lead role. But well known actors expect to make their own changes to the script and of course they have their nuances and traits that make them popular and therefore social. This is very different to giving an unknown some specific lines to say verbatim and its something that film studios have lived with for years...

I'm just not sure that the digital communication space is any different.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to confuse your customers

Being 2 metres tall (6 Foot 6 inches in old terminology) Alto, the online clothing store for tall gentlemen is a site I regularly visit. I've even signed-up for their email bulletins for bargains and the like.

I was therefore suprised today to receive an email from them with the subject line
'New Tall Mens Clothing website launching in 2009'.

I did therefore have some obvious questions:
  1. Why send me an email on the busiest online shopping day of the year, telling me that your new site is coming next year?
  2. Why start your email copy....
    'New clothing website coming in 2009.
    The all-new Alto Clothing website is coming in 2009. We have been busy working through all your customer survey returns and suggestions that will help us bring you the clothing you want.' ?
It is only when you read past all this repetition and select to view email images that you see the line: 'In the meantime we are still open for business!' ...

I am sure that most of the people who would have even bothered to have openned up the email would have stopped reading by now.



I will not dwell on the the email itself, which was an appalling mixture of colours, fonts, random bold text and strange layout. Instead I would just advise Alto, that to send such a confusingly worded email in a heavily competitive industry and during such economic times, is perhaps not the best way to generate click-through and sales?

Friday, December 5, 2008

its not digital's recession

An old friend (I've known him for about 8 years, he's not old in years!) asked me the other day what I thought the business climate in the eCommerce and on-line marketing space, especially in the UK, would be like from about mid 2009, once the worst of the economic difficulties were passed.

Here was my perspective:

1. The market for online (eCommerce, Marketing and general digital stuff) is still going to see growth in the next 3 or so years. There are various predictions by intelligent and well-regarded people about what this growth will actually be, and most of these have however been lessened in the recent economic climate. However none are fore-telling a short-medium decline in the online space!
Note:
Despite Ad Age's recent article announcing a 'crater in online sales', which eventually admits:
holiday e-commerce sales will ultimately match the $29.2 billion spent during November and December of last year
2. There is still the view that buying online is: easier, cheaper and providing a greater selection - without the: hassles, petrol usage, parking fees/fines and other burdens that accompany a shopping trip

3. Online Marketing is an accountable science, that shows (almost) instantly what works and sells.... and what doesn't! Showing a Return On Investment is key right now and I don't think this will go away, even when the market picks up in a year or two.

4. London is the home of the UK (and possibly the European) digital comunity. There are lots of networking events still and great people to meet & work with. Although Silicon Valley and SF is the home of the new economy, London is its hard-working cousin over the Atlantic

5. Its still a fun industry to be in now. There is still work in digital (albeit less highly-paid consulting roles) but the full-time market for online people is still OK.

So, for now, it doesn't look like its online's recession.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Press 2.0 - 1 year later

Well, its been a year now since I wrote my first posting for this blog and what a year its been!
(Not forgetting that personally, I've: got married, moved house and now we have a child on the way)

There have been almost 25o postings to the blog. These have covered various topics based around company & customer communication methods, whilst still trying to keep up with my per subject of the demise of mainstream media.

So, what have I learned along the way? Well, here's a few thoughts:

1. Blogging (almost) daily is hard work.
Maintaining a reasonably professional blog requires a certain discipline to keep abreast of technological, social & communication practices. It then takes more effort to actually type stuff up into (semi) coherent thoughts and perspectives. This is especially true when you have a full-time consultancy job and a company to run. Several times now I've found myself tapping away in the office gone-midnight in an effort to piece together an article to automatically schedule a publish in the morning. However, that said.... its been a good experience and I'm still enjoying it.

2. Its slightly easier to post about different (but related) topics
I have to admit that I've found it easier to produce postings about multiple subjects on a regular basic. For example: by discussing ecommerce market growth projections on one day and video newspaper initatives on the next, it allows me to investigate different issues that are still inter-linked by my passion for all things digital. Also, I'm sure I've strayed completely off-topic sometimes, but hopefully my readers have enjoyed the occasional tangents taken.

3. Getting comments is a very satisfying experience:
Its nice to know sometimes that not only am I getting visitors (I do track usage via some Google Analytics code inserted into every page), but that they are actually reading what I write. I'm particularly grateful to: Tristan, Ellify & Boudewijn for their feedback - both for their comments via the blog and also separately [thanks chaps].

So... what hasn't worked? Well certain things haven't exactly planned out as I hoped. For one thing, I haven't entirely stayed true to my original aim of treading that line between the 'Press' section & 'About Us' part of the company website and the mainstream media. But then, as my thoughts and understanding have evolved, so has this blog.

Proof perhaps then that life isn't necessarily what you set out to get from it; but it turns out being what you put into it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cost to serve modelling

Many of our company's clients (plus anyone who has cornered me on the subject) knows that I can talk for ages on the subject of Cost-to-serve models. But for those who haven't (and apparently you should count yourselves lucky), here's my main theory:

The average cost to serve a customer (e.g. to make a sale or to answer a complaint) depends upon the channel they use to contact you and then how you deal with that contact. Basically, some channels (e.g. face-to-face) cost lots and others cost less. Companies wishing to minimise their costs, should therefore try to 'manage' customers to the lowest relevant cost channel required to provide the level of interaction needed to service the cuctomer.

For example, in the diagram below 'B' shows that a high level of customer interaction (e.g. face-to-face contact to sell a new car) has a higher cost to serve than the lower 'A' which needs lesser levels of interaction (e.g. a web page). Basically, the more complex or 'human' you need the service to be, the more it costs to achieve.



The difficulty comes when a company badly manages their customers down to lower cost to serve channels, especially when the customer will always try to use the one with the highest possible level of Interaction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Your anti-social graph

The whole concept of the corporate social graph gained traction as a concept after I started reading about the personal social graph and applying it to corporate influencers. However, the corporate social graph, doesn't just show those people who have something positive to say (or write) about your company, it shows those who are negative about them as well.

The question for today (and possibly picked-up again in subsequent postings) is:

In plotting this negative sentiment, are you therefore creating your
anti-social graph of corporate influence?

Monday, December 1, 2008

More multi channel madness - lost?

Last week I was asked how you create a multichannel strategy (mainly from an eCommerce perspective) and of course I tried to put a decent and structured answer together. I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing customers (or in this case, my client's custoemrs) becoming more complex in their channel usage and buying patterns. If this is the case with your company, then you have to at some point embrace the Multi-channel madness.

But for those who have never done this before, beware... its a minefield!
And for those who have... well, my sympathies.

As the old joke goes:

When a lost person went up to someone and asked them for directions, the response was... "don't start from here".


Creating your channel approach is a little like being lost. Not only is it a case of where you want to go, but also it is:
  • How did you manage to get to where you are right now? (history)
  • What do you currently know ? (data)
  • How do you want to get there? (tools & technology)
  • What's the journey ahead like? (impediments)

If you're planning your multi-channel strategy for 2009, consider starting from an informed and understood place. Oh, and obviously be careful who you ask for directions along the way!

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's the opposite of celebrity endorsement?

I mean... what's the official term for the situation where a person in the public eye and a key influencer of significant amounts of people decides put down or generally voice a negative view about something?

Celebrity derisement perhaps?

Now I've previously commented that Celebrity is not to be confused with influence, but when a person has both of these and they start giving their opinions, people listen and act accordingly.

This was once-again brought to my attention yesterday when Rory Cellan-Jones mentioned Stephen Fry's negative Twitter comments about his new Blackberry Storm on Twitter. It seems that one man is able to make a difference in the successful launch and selling of a product.

The topic must therefore get around to the question of "which celebrity derisement do you need to avoid?" or "which key inflencer's negative sentiment causes the most impact?". How do you find this out?

A theory:
By understanding, measuring and plotting your company's corporate social graph, you can specifically identify your celebrity influencers as well as other key figures (journalists, officials, etc.) and appropriately deal with their positive and negative endorsement.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

CRM - old acronym, same business value

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has its roots in the basic business justification that:
you should satisfy customers with the best possible product in the market
through a relational exchange process.
Its as simple as that! However,the term has fallen out of favour to more recent and newly-hyped theories & tools such as anaytics-based and 1-to-1 marketing . Why?


Customer relationship management goes beyond the normal transactional model (customer told, customer buys, customer goes away) but actaully enables the marketer to estimate the customer's sentiment and buying intention, so that the customer can be provided with products and services before they start asking (or even realise).


This is possible through the integration of four important company components:

  • people
  • process
  • technology
  • data.

Perhaps its time we take a look again at CRM.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The digital future of the BBC

For those who haven't been following what's been happening with the BBC recently, I'll try and recap:

  1. The BBC Trust on Friday (21st November) has rejected plans, described as 'controversial', to launch a network of local BBC news websites with video content.
  2. This scheme would have cost around £68m, but was judged "unlikely to meet [licence fee payers] needs" or improve the service
  3. The regional press has welcomed this decision, as it saw these plans as direct competition to their own local efforts (less laughing at the back there please) and would potentially affect their revenues by 4% per year.

This is in direct contract to nearly every other major media player, who is currently cutting back its regional news operations (e.g. even ITV). For more information see the well-balanced report on the BBC website.


What I believe the BBC management have done is find an area of communication (e.g. local coverage) that isn't the subject of innovation and ground-breaking new models that we would have once hoped for from the regional press. By planning a new, alternative and professional service that moves the Corporation one step further from broadcaster to local media hub, it surely is only trying to provide what people want?


Note:
This isn't necessarily the end of the matter. There is still a public consultation process which will see the final decision given on the 9th January 2009.


Perhaps the BBC now needs a new Media Relations Manager?http://jobs.guardian.co.uk/job/776268/media-relations-manager

Monday, November 24, 2008

Good service from UK Customer Service?

I recently posted on how good Customer Service can make a difference in these current difficult economic times. However just how efficiently are Customer Service departments dealing with the people they are supposed to help?

Well, apparently not very well, as in the UK we spend almost five days a year communicating with customer services by phone, in person or via the Internet.

This astonishing fact comes from a recent European DHL survey that suprisingly shows that 5.8billion hours a year in the UK are spent dealing with Customer Services staff. This is an average of two hours & 16 minutes a week......!

The UK's top three dislikes about customer service are:
  • waiting times (83%)
  • language barriers (80%)
  • lack of knowledge (74%)
Can you afford to upset the very customers you are supposed to be helping?

Friday, November 21, 2008

What's in a name?

Ok, slightly off-topic posting today. But given that Mrs Sutherland is pregnant right now and we're still deliberating names.... I couldn't help but share this funny

Skyping Baby Names

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Multi-channel online sales

Offering products through multiple online retail channels is a great way to gain improved sales!

Why do I say this? Well you may currently be making enough money on your current branded eCommerce site to keep the boss and shareholders happy, but what are you missing out on?

Answer: An opportunity!

Lets put this another way, your customers don't always use the same online channel to:
Gain awareness, review features, understand detail, discuss their potential purchase, etc. Some use shopping comparison sites (e.g. Google Shopping, etc.) , some go direct to brand sites, some go to independent & industry-recognised reviews and others ask their friends on social networks. http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1006719

Q: Doesn't that just commoditise our product?
Sure, there's the chance that cusomers just look at price, but that happens anyway. Others use multiple online sources to gain information and clarify their purchasing decision. If you are not present when they are making that decision you are missing an opportunity.

Q. How do I do this ?
Easily! Most eCommerce software/vendors allow you to take a regular product (including price, image reference and even inventory/stock) feed from your online catalogue/database. This feed (usually in XML format) can be provided to key partners or affiliates, who can easily re-format it and put it up on their site to work for you.
Note: If your eCommerce provider says this is difficult or even impossible to do this, consider reviewing their contract ASAP

Q. Doesn't this cannibalise my existing eCommerce operation?
Possibly and lets be honest about this. If you are running a successful online sales channel and you provide a feed allowing your products to be sold on other channels, then there is this risk. This can however be measured and avoided by carefully selecting your channel partners. This comes from understanding & comparing the sales made with that of your own site . It may be that these partner channels target a different demographic or catch people at an entirely different part of the product consideration process. Careful analysis is imprortant here.

Has anyone got any more questions?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The influential millennials

There's no getting away from them, the Millennial are a defined generation, typically born in the Thatcher & Reagan years and beyond (or the 'Eighties & Ninties' if you prefer). They're also referred to as 'Generation Y' (the one that came after Generation X, obviously) and the biggest generation in numbers ever.

So just how influential are they?

Well, in Europe they make up about eleven percent of the workforce despite having higher costs for higher education than previous generations.

Having never known a world without the Internet, they obviously spend a great amount of time online and 18-24 year-olds make up 19% of the adult online population. But despite their apparent stereotype, they do not demonstrate the impatient, self-absorbed and disloyal characteristics sometimes labelled to them, but instead they are more optimistic, more loyal and less rebellious than previous generations .

Even though these tech-savvy young adults may still live at home with their parents, they do strongly influence many adult consumer buying choices (e.g. parent shopping habits) particularly the family technology preferences and habits. In a recent Motorola study Millennial were shown exerting: considerable influence on parental decisions about cable, DSL and satellite service, as well as on which HDTV to purchase, and even which programming packages to buy.

A slightly older piece of research from 2006 showed they influence household purchases in the fol owing ways:
  • 81% of clothing and apparel purchases
  • 77% of groceries purchases
  • 76% of movie, video, DVD purchases
  • 69% of video games and systems purchases
  • 68% of computer purchases
  • 66% of cellphone and computer software purchases…

And lets not forget that they are now politically active. For example in January 2007 Farouk Olu Aregbe, a student government coordinator at the University of Missouri, launched a Facebook group, "One Million Strong for Barack."

As mentioned by Brad Sago, in his report on The Online Shopping Psychology and Expectations of Millennials:

Over the next few decades, Millennials will continue to stamp their own unique imprint on business and society.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Modern Brand Building

I've been getting increasingly frustrated with some companies I have spoken to and their treatmant/attitude to their own brand (I won't name them right now, as we're currently tracking their activity as part of some client reasearch we're doing).

Company1:
Has no brand manual (the logo use varies from campaign to campaign, fonts are varied, writing style is confused, etc.) yet they think they have a great brand. It seems that sales are declining in their high-specialised market right now, but this is the 'customers fault for not understanding them'.

Company2:
Has a great 'brand bible', put together less than a year ago by a highly-paid brand consultancy, yet has started to ignore these guidelines because the person who commissioned/championed the work has left (they went on to bigger & better things). They have now been replaced with someone who wants to put their own "emphasis on things".

The thoughts that my companyIdeal Interface have taken from this experience has been:
  1. Document your brand (if you don't know, how are your customers going to?)
  2. Take every opportunity to use your branding across all channels
  3. Be consistent, be very consistent

So once again, I find myself referring to the work of Mr Paul Isakson and his thoughts on branding in the modern age:
http://www.slideshare.net/paulisakson/modern-brand-building-presentation

Monday, November 17, 2008

Motrin apologies

An update:

Following a social media outcry, McNeil Healthcare (the parent company) have issued an apology on the homepage of their website http://www.motrin.com/




As well as this, they have also issued apologies via email to concerned customers and pledged to remove all occurences of the offending advert as quickly as possible.

This apology seems to have been relatively well received:
http://www.ladybuglandings.com/2008/11/motrin-heard-the-news/

I'm sure there will be several commentators out there who will provide their opinion on this series of events, but here's my main bullet points:
  • Following the backlash, McNeil Healthcare, and in particular its VP if Marketing, seem to have responded over the weekend and today (I guess time will tell how badly this has affected brand and revenues)
  • Several Motrin names on Twitter have now been taken by 'concerned' individuals (I'll not post who they are, as I don't think they have acted entirely in the public's best interest)
  • Brands can no longer afford to ignore social media and should take steps to monitor the mentions and sentiment all the time

Further reading:
http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9120519
and
http://www.myfoxny.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=7880169&version=5&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.3.1

A social media crisis for Motrin

Word has reached these shores of a Social Media backlash to the TV adverts for Motrin a painkiller in the US.

The ad targetted mums who carry their child in a sling on their body and went on to mention how this this is fashionable and gives you back pain. They haven't gone as far as to say "your child is a pain in the neck", but a lot of people took offence to the clip, blogging about it:
(e.g. http://shakethesalt.com/2008/11/motrin-the-anti-mom/ ) and using Twitter. (At this time of writing, the http://www.motrin.com/ website is even down).

Judge for yourself :



This is a warning to every brand. Your customers could take offence, even at your highly-researched campaign, especially if it targets a sensitive section of the population (e.g. new mums). Make sure you have plans in place for how to deal with this sort of crisis and learn from how other companies respond.
(Note to Motrin: Perhaps taking down your own website at a point like this isn't the best policy?)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Predicting the future

As I look forward to becoming a father in 2009, I've been thinking about what the future has in store over the next year. This therefore brought me round to think about how companies can use modern methods of communication to try and predict what lies ahead.

Astrology, tarot cards, tea leaves, etc. have now been replaced by: scenario modelling, data-mining and a lot of computation & analysis. However I can help but think that this is still similar to palm reading and its ilk. Why? Well, it still uses one critial part of the system that is fallable... the human component!


Although a single human may be considerably inaccurate at predicting the future (Old Moore, Nostradamas, etc.), is a collective group of humans any good at guessing what happens next? Well, on the basis of the recent financial crisis, it would seem not , but perhaps there is light at the end of the predictive tunnel....

The recent USA Presidential Campaign was

Friday, November 14, 2008

Integrity and why we have forgotten about it?

OK, I've focused a few of my postings over the last few months on brand values used by companies (e.g. this one on Human Attributes). These are often words such as: Trustworthy, Transparent, Approachable, Innovation, Collaboration, etc.

But after reading through many of these from different companies, I've noticed one word missing from the collective bunch... Integrity


Why is this?

Why do companies not include "The steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code" as a differentiator? http://www.thefreedictionary.com/integrity

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New York Times is spoofed

I was sent an email by a friend yesterday, who told me about a free version of the New York Times they apparently picked up yesterday. After they read the surprise headline 'Iraq War Ends' and saw the date of 4th July 2009, they realised it might not be genuine.

A quick search on the web, shows that the NYT actually noticed as well:
http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/12/pranksters-spoof-the-times/

It seems that newspapers still have a role in getting the message across, but its perhaps more worrying that they had to give away the 1.4 million printed copies of this hoax, rather than charge the cover price for what is obviously a great souvenir!

Virgin Airlines and Facebook....

... the problem otherwise known as 'the case for segmenting your personal Social Graph'.

For those who aren't aware, Virgin Airlines recently sacked 13 of its staff for calling its passengers 'chavs' and apparently criticising the company's safety standards

“There is a time and a place for Facebook. But there is no justification for it to be used as a sounding board for staff of any company to criticise the very passengers who pay their salaries.”

"But hang on.... this is Virgin Atlantic Airlines" I hear people say. "They are the 'fly in the British Airways ointment', the company that has a Facebook page with quotes from Richard Branson, endorsements by James Bond and they actively encourage their customers to take silly photos of your free DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) socks as you travel the globe with them".

But, in my opinion there is a definite difference between a company presenting itself in a friendly way on a social networking site and the action of some employees venting their frustrations and opinions on the same platform.

Is this therefore not a principle case for segmenting the different contacts in an individual's Facebook account? Surely to have: work colleagues, school mates, customers and everyone else all seeing everything you say or do is not what anyone really wants? Wouldn't it be better to classify some aquaintances in one way (e.g. Business contacts) and others in another way (e.g. people I can say what I like to)?

Classification and segmentation of a personal social graph must obviously be the next step for all multi-purpose social networks (or over vertical/market-specific social networks that allow you to import your entire social graph). Perhaps following that segementation, companies will be likely to follow-suit and understand just who within their Corporate Social Graph they can have contact with and what that contact should be.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Michael Rosenblum tells it like it is

Forward thinking Michael Resenblum tells it like it is this week whilst backstage at the Society of Editors conference in Bristol:

His words during the conference were very powerful. Quotes such as:

“Any idiot can do this, making TV is not hard, it's not complicated, it's not difficult. The technology makes it incredibly simple.”

were meant to galvanise publishers into thinking more about cost-effective TV production and less about paper. It the news that's inportant, not how its delivered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A failed experiment

I've been following a rather heated debate started by Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 on the failed business models of traditional (old) publishing. He's had some intersting debate, mainly thanks to his main challenge that newspapers aren't entitled to make a profit just because they think its a valued venture.

Or to quote him directly:
Nobody has the right to a business model.
Amen to this! The World is filled with people who had a great but failed idea. Why should the newspaper industry survive just because:
  • "that's always the way we've done things"
  • "that's what I trained for"
  • "we helped bring down a government in the 1970's"
  • etc.
Now I've already covered this subject in a post back in April "What does press2.0 really mean?" but to put it more succinctly.

We may eventually find that the profitable running of a newspaper was a failed experiment!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Better than free

I've covered the subject of the gift economy previously in my posting Open Source Your Idea. But thought it needed further coverage. This happens when the economies of scale work on a global level (thanks to the Internet) and the cost of distribution becomes almost zero (but never really really reaches it), it becomes a business advantage to give at least part of your products away (and is still recommended as a strategy by some eminent VC's).
For example, just take a look at how many 'lite', 'freemium' or 'trial' versions of software packages there are out there (I'm currently a sucker for the demo / trial versions of applications on my iPhone).

So, you've recouped the cost of development, shown it costs you virtually nothing to produce a copy (e.g. software, an idea, a process, etc.) and then your strongest competitor comes along with something...... and charges for it. What makes it worse is that customers pay for it, a lot of them.

So how does that work?

Well according to Kevin Kelly, a great modern thinker, Editor-At-Large for Wired magazine and Author of the 1997 book New Rules for the New Economy (which still holds true 11 years on), there are 8 reasons for paying for something rather than settling for a free version:
  1. Immediacy
  2. Personalisation
  3. Interpretation
  4. Authenticity
  5. Accessibility
  6. Embodiment
  7. Patronage
  8. Findability

Basically, there are several reasons why paid-for stuff is better than free.

It therefore strikes me, in these modern and leaner times, that companies need to reconsider if the really need to give everything away and that this may be the difference between profit & loss (and therefore economic survival).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Customer Service makes a difference in crunch times

As my old Economics teacher used to say "in a perfect market, all prices are known and the market finds its equilibrium quickly". And thanks to all sorts of online innovations (e.g comparision sites) the price of similar products (e.g. groceries) and services (e.g. insurnace) becomes increasingly easy to compare. These items therefore get increasingly competitive (e.g. near enough the same everywhere).

Therefore, assuming the quality remains constant, the only real competitive edge comes in the delivery and support of the item. In other words, the service provided, either during the transaction or afterward, becomes the difference.

This is especially true online, where customers think they get a lesser service compared to in-store. This is proven in a recent survey, where eight out of ten consumers believed they get better customer service in-store, rather than on the internet or over the telephone. What's even more surprising (especially in these more-frugal times of a recession) is that 73.4% say they are prepared to pay more for a product if they receive a better service in-store.

Tim Ogle, CEO at Retail Eyes , who did the survey is quoted as saying:

The public has spoken - even when their pockets are stretched in times of financial adversity like now, they are prepared to pay for quality of service.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UK retailers face tough time

Recently I was appalled to find out that there is an insolvency specialist who has compiled a list of 323 retailers it thinks stand a 70% or greater chance of going under by the New Year.

The idea is that banks will continue to finance retailers over the coming Christmas period, when a lot of retailers make a significant proportion of their money, This will be in the hope that this revenue is enough to keep them afloat.

The role of companies like Begbies Traynor is to rescue companies about to go under. Its therefore good business for corporate insolvency specialists to identify those who are not doing good business (think of this as the equivalent of a corporate dead pool)

Mark Fry of Begbies Traynor said:

"There is every chance we will witness a rash of retail failures at the start of 2009"


Gulp!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Suffering Election Burnout?

If you've already had enough of the USA elections, you could be suffering from election burnout.

But share a though for those gamers currently playing the new Burnout Paradise xBox360 console game. This is currently one of the screen shots captured from a particularly slippery part of the xBox Live course:


Thanks to Dan Shust over at Resourch Interactive for the image.

Although this story has now been picked-up by several of the mainstream media such at the UK Telegraph, what nobody has so-far done is identify who these targetted adverts are aimed at.

However, I think I now have identified who this online gaming population segment are and may even have captured one of them mid-play:

Zombies

Given the shenanigans going on in the USA today, I thought this old Bob Hope clip was quite funny!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Multi-channel madness

Its not enough these days to be great just online or to make lots of sales on the High Street (unless you're a discount retailer, that's not really happening these days). No, you now have to be good across a range of different sales or communication options... known as multi-channel.

But how do you make sense of it all? Well, if you are using more than one communication or retail channel, then you need to think about how to leverage these touch-points so that you get the right mix of: message, content, sales, support and whatever else.
So, if you:
  • Advertise online to get customers into store
  • Provide a kiosk for an online newspaper
  • Sell online and have customers collect from store

Then you've probably found out already how mad it can be.

But are you providing the mix that your customers want? For example, in the US earlier this year, retail customers cited the 'Ability to return merchandise to a a store, even if it was purchased online or over the phone' as the feature they desired the most from multichannel.



For those about to embark on this epic journey, multi-channel comes with its own set of challenges, including:

  • The analysis (and decision) of what channels to implement
  • Identifying the right metrics/KPI's across channels (and then actually measuring & acting on them)
  • Organizational impact from exisiting 'siloed' departments
  • Maintaining the message consistency across channels
  • Finding or building the central technology to manage the whole thing
  • Integration of the data between disparate systems

I'm going to try an focus on these challenges (and quite possibly more) in forthcoming posts and try to figure out how to avoid or resolve them. Hopefully it won't make us all mad in the process.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Search Engine Optimisation: Art or Science?

I'm not an expert on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and leave this to people who know far more about this subject than myself. But in one conversation on this subject with a few Internet industry people recently, we ended up discussing whether SEO is an art or a science, and I thought this was a great topic to mention further.
Now I've previously said (in various forums and presentations) that online marketing itself is more a science than an art, but this has been based more around:

  1. writing an online marketing plan/strategy
  2. implementing it
  3. analysing it
  4. learning from it
  5. refining it
  6. etc.

However the work of an SEO person is less easy to test as:

  • You don't get immediate results (spiders take time to crawl)
  • Variable amounts of content are produced about each term (making organic search results varied)
    New content is constantly produced
  • The exact ranking/prioritisation of search results are closely guarded secrets
  • The algorithms behind these results can change over time
  • Each search engine has different algorithms(and a bunch of other more technical things that get increasingly complex the more you ask on the subject)

No wonder you need a PhD to understand this stuff!

From this lack of immedate results springs a set of businesses that are focused on spreading theory, rumour and suggestions, then testing them to destruction... the SEO industry. This is hardly a scientific community and one where discussion boards are regularly set alight by the merest hint of actual information.

For clients who use these services though, SEO agencies can perform wonderful feats of illusion and in some cases magic (one apparently even made BMW's German site disappear from Google for a while back in 2006).

But hang on, there may be a glimmering light out there in Optimisation Land. Some people are actually trying to put the science back into search. For example Professor Mike Thewell (who has the wonderful title of "Professor of Information Science and leader of the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton" - didn't Doctor Who face him back in the 1970's?) has recently started blogging over at http://linkrelationships.com/ on exactly this topic.

His intial post on Scientific SEO sums things up nicely:

But at the end of the day decisions are based upon gut feel and received wisdom:
art rather than science
His research & insight (which can be brain-hurting to mere mortals) should be interesting to watch over time, as he divulges more about his research. If academics are to eventually try and add credibility to what was previously just subjectivity and conjecture, surely that cannot be a bad thing?

My verdict... For now, lets call SEO work a 'craft'. Something that is on its way to absolute definition and measurement, but still shrouded in arcane terms such as 'black hat' and spiders.

(I think it must be Halloween soon)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where do all the bloggers live?

A quick posting (as I've been at the eCommerce Exibition in London today), but I was interested to find out where all the people who write blogs come from.

Luckily in their recent report, 'The State of the Blogosphere' Technorati provide the answer:





I'm actually quite suprised, not that North America is so well represented, but that Asia and South America are not. More investigation is perhaps required.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apology Accepted

Whilst attempting to write a post last week I was frustrated to be told by Blogger (the online service that powers this blog):
Well, at least they have apologised (twice). And in this world of spin, mis-representation and blamestorming there’s a lot to be said for apologising when something goes wrong.

E.g.
Q: What do you do when you are technical news site that relies on user-generated content, which then disappears when you have a technical glitch?
A: You put a news article out explaining what happened and encourage comments
http://techdirt.com/articles/20081023/1124452627.shtml
Not that surprisingly, the community has responded with sympathy and not lambasted the site.

Compare this with the ‘issue’ over at Amazon, where reviews of a computer game were accidentally deleted/removed/hidden [delete as appropriate] with no apology and just a comment by a spokesperson that:
"Amazon did not knowingly or consciously choose to remove the reviews. The team is working on resolving this issue now and restoring all the reviews on the site."
To be fair to the online retailer, this could have been a one-off technical problem….
… were it not for the fact that negative comments of a game by the same manufacturer (and a major supplier of games to Amazon) were also removed a while back. [cough]

However, if you want to see a 'proper' company apology, take a look at the one from David Needleman the CEO of JetBlue airlines, written by him when customers were left stranded for significant time due to weather (and possibly bad service).
Note: This is the man who writes to individual letters called 'Blue Notes' to staff in his company who show superb customer service.

As Mr Needleman puts it on behalf of his company:

Nothing is more important than regaining your trust

Friday, October 24, 2008

SNCR announces 2008 winners

Those forward-thinking Fellows of the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) have announced their choices for their awards this year.

Visionary of the Year:
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, whose book Groundswell sits on many of my peers' bookshelves (and mine included, when I get it back from a client I lent it to)

Innovator of the Year:
Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams the founders of Twitter.
(Which I mist admit to using, but less-so recently)

Brand of the Year:
Dell, for making the most in-roads to using new communications technologies, etc.
(E.g. For Dell Idea Storm, PR Blog, etc.)

Note: I'll obviously take credit for mentioning all of these winners in this blog and therefore expect my honorary membership to be in the post tomorrow [grin].

Thursday, October 23, 2008

7 years old today, but what was it?

In 2001 Apple revealed their new $400 baby to the world. Back then a much heavier, 5Gb, Mac-only, low-battery-life version was announced by Steve Jobs as the device that

"puts a thousand songs in your pocket."
Yes, 7 years ago today the first iPod was launched.

(For those who are really interested, you can read about the lifetime of the music player at http://www.ipodhistory.com/ - should you be that way inclined)

Today and 100’s of millions of white headphones sales later, they make up 29% of the company’s revenue.

The Super Influencer

As part of a piece of research I've been doing for a startup I'm working with, I've revisited the Universal McCann research 'When Did We Start Trusting Strangers?' that I mentioned in a previous post.

Peer-to-peer influence is a strange thing when you investigate it further. Now, thanks to social media and the 'always connected' society, everyone has the potential to influence everyone else. However, "not all influencers are created equal" as the report says. This has therefore created a new breed of Super Influencer! (Fabio Turel goes into more analysis about the report's findings here).

However, what the report does mistakenly do is depict the network of connectivity between individuals as a set of 1-to-1 connections .





I'm sure the visuals done were not meant to be exactly representative of the exact web of connections the report goes into more detail about, but were done by a graphic artist to a brief. However, had his/her brief been a little more realistic it may have looked something more like this:





http://infosthetics.com/archives/2006/03/social_network_physics_visualization.html
(a social network data visualization based on a model that is based on "mobile particles that randomly bounce off each other")

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Google to research social influence

According to a recent BusinessWeek article, Google has a patent pending on technology for ranking the most influential people on social networking sites. Althought Google is declining to talk about it further, it is understood to be based on similar solution to Google's PageRank algorithm (Not named after the ranking of 'web pages' but after 'Larry Page', the person who developed it and one of the top 3 people at Google).

If this works as planned, it could give an influence ranking of you and your contacts, potentially charging more for the advertising on the pages on more influential people (and therefore potentially appying a value to the individual's social graph).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't confuse celebrity with influence

The cult of celebrity has gripped the 21st Century pretty firmly. You only have to plot the appearances of reality television participants and the webpages devoted to talent-less hotel empire heiresses, to see how much this phenomenon has grown.

(Hint: if you actually do want to plot the popularity of those in the public eye, see sites such as http://qdos.com/ and MSN's xRank service)

Celebrity is also not just a traditional media focus, it affects digital media as well. 4 of the top 10 entertainment sites are blogs and actors, (soda) pop stars & others take up a significant amount of the top search engine places, with some stars' search results very likely to infect your PC from dodgy downloads such as screensavers.

So, are these pop-stars, footballers, models and other media darlings true influencers?

Not necessarily!

The relationship between a celebrity and their fan base is often termed 'Parasocial', meaning:

“the seeming face-to-face relationship that develops between a viewer and a
mediated personality”
This one-sided affair, increased thanks to 24 hour coverage of cultural icons, creates false / insecure relationships that are not an exact replica of the day-to-day relationships that normal people have. If influence is the ability of an individual to affect another's behaviour, then technically celebrties do have influence. For example in research by Cole & Letts in 1999 they found that 9% of the young people in their study stated that their idols had influenced some aspect of their attitudes and beliefs.


However, don't confuse the two. Just because a celebrity looks attractive or has something to say (most do), it doesn't make them automatic influencers. Others (Boon & Lomore 2001) has shown that while some participants in a Canadian study indicated strong attractions to their celebrity idols, the participants did not feel they were inspired to change their own behaviour based on those celebrities’ lives, choices or accomplishments.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Online UK adverising set to grow despite economy woes

I've previously covered the expectation of an forthoming UK recession (or a "contraction in the economy" if you're a politician) and now its looks like its actually here.

I don't think there's any doubt that the overall ad market will be affected by the financial crisis. Indeed Guy Phillipson, CEO of the U.K. division of the Internet Adverting Bureau has said:
"Online is not immune from the economic downturn, but while other sectors see
falls in expenditure the Internet is still experiencing an incredible increase
and is propping up the entire advertising market."
But indicators are that online advertising spending should continue to rise. Indeed some organisations (e.g. eMarketer) are even predicting its double-digit growth through to 2010.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Online Newspaper Revenue... still dropping

But instead of blaming their monetisation strategy or a declining product, what have they claimed is the reason? .... According to the New York Times the reason is that they have too many adverts.

So, despite online advertising revenues growing, newspapers claim that with a huge site with lots of adverts comes the awful burdon of generating sufficient advertising dollars across all of it. Those days of generating huge online editions that were not only copies of the paper-based product, but enhanced versions with loads of additonal topics/opinions/comments, may be a thing of the past.


Yes, you did read that right. Newspapers online are considering reducing the size and number of adverts they display (and some are already doing it) .

Note: The problem apparently comes when everyone wants to spend money buying up the homepage, but don't care about the rest of it. Therefore newspapers struggle to find the right online ad sizes that they can sell premium advertising revenue for.

To quote media economist Robert Picard,
"newspapers keep offering an all-you-can-eat buffet of content, and keep diminishing the quality of that content because their budgets are continually thinner. This is an absurd choice because the audience least interested in news has already abandoned the newspaper."

Does this mean...
Perhaps. Or just possibly as Robert Picard says, "they are just trying too hard".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Human-ise your company

We often think of and describe companies in human terms, its part of our nature to personify and understand. Therefore to encourage this thinking and to bind us to them, better brands usually give themsleves 'attributes' that are human in meaning, such as:
  • 'trustworthy'
  • 'approachable'
  • 'innovatative'
Note: Some companies obviously do this, others just ignore the exercise and make it up as they go along - honest, they do!

This is exemplified in Google's mission statement "Don't be evil", even mentioned in their 'Code of Conduct'. Its partly a way of reflecting how balanced the company wants to be (in everything from its search results to the treatment of its staff in the workplace) and partly a method of separating themselves from Microsoft (often regarded as 'The Evil Empire') . I think this statement (partly a Bill & Ted philosophy and partly a commandment) does a lot to add humanity to a large company.

So how do you describe your company in human terms? And more importantly...
.... how to your customers?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Money markets lose, FT gains

In the last month, where the current financial crisis has caused more than just a few tears in the dealing rooms across the world, one news provider has been smiling.... the Financial Times.

In a recent Reuters interview, FT's CEO John Ridding announced:
  1. Sales of the paper has just risen by 20% (Asia & Europe) and 30% (US) from August to September

  2. Registrations to FT.com have significantly increased (also boosted by a slight relaxing of their paid content model)

  3. Page views are double year-to-date, with a 300% increase on the week of 22 September
    (Goodness knows what they were last week then!)

However, market melt-downs don't happen that often and if you can't plan a profit then I guess you can't plan a financial crisis to benefit from either.... well, most of the city folks can't apparently.

But the FT does have further plans to improve its website, including: adding (more) video, providing more formats (Fancy using a Kindle anyone? No, I didn't think so!) and ignoring the taunts that it is cannibalising its print version.

However upbeat about the benefit of the recent crisis Mr Ridding is, he's also quite sobering in his parting thoughts:

“No one has necessarily nailed the business model in media, but we feel that we’ve got a pretty strong vision and operation.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quality in the DNA

We've just spent the last few days in Switzerland at the headquarters of a very large food company (so no hint there then!).

Having ventured again to the land of cuckoo clocks, cheese & chocolate, I became a little heavier, happier and once-again amazed by the professionalism and quality of everyone in the country I've had dealings with. From hotel staff & train conductors, through to store owners & the executives we met, everyone seems to been intent on providing a professional service. When I asked a friend & former colleague why it was that everyone one in the country had this approach he replied:
"Quality is in the DNA here"
Having now returned to the UK, I've now thought more about how other countries, companies and individuals could learn from the Swiss and their approach to quality. In a commoditised world where one product is now so globally similar to another, its nice to know that quality can still make a difference.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In a crisis, remember your customers

I can't really let the financial events of the last few days pass without saying something. But rather than tell you what bank I'm not going to invest in or what mattress my money is hidden under, I'll focus on customer communications happening with Online Bank Icesave (http://www.icesave.co.uk/)

I guess there's a tendancy to forget about customers when you're working for a bank that has not only been nationalised, but when the entire country is teetering on bankruptcy. Or should there be?

Is it really enough to place a message up on your homepage for over 24 hours that merely says:
We are not currently processing any deposits or any withdrawal requests through our Icesave internet accounts. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause our customers
Mor recently (today) they have placed a link through tothe UK Govenment's treasury website that explains further the plans to protect UK citizen's savings, but where's the:

1. Regular updates from senior people in Landsbanki (its parent bank - nationalised)
2. Informative statement's from Icelandic Financial Services about the situation
3. Link through to other useful information

Although this bank's fate may be sealed, you wonder what the lack of messaging on other loss-making financial services sites may be doing to easy their customer worries... and therefore what it may be doing to their longer-term reputation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Trust in different media

When yet another survey is released that states normal people distrust what newspapers say, the same newspapers go on the defensive? Therefore its therefore hardly unsurprising that when a study shows a small variance in these pessemistic figures (e.g. a small rise back in favour of newspapers), the newspapers make a bit of a song and dance about it?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2008/sep/12/uk1

However, neither Roy Greenslade nor the report writer Claire O'Sullivan from the research company Metrica, can offer no explaination or even an hypothesis for this upward trend.

:-(

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who's listening?

I've had some rather interesting dealings with a UK energy company recently. No, Ideal Interface hasn't ventured into yet another market segment (we're happy enough consulting with Retail, Financial Services & Travel right now), I've just been trying to sort out the bills for our company office in West London.

Its meant that I've been regularly exposed to the recorded voice, just before I'm connected to a 'Customer Services Representative' saying:


“This call may be recorded or monitored for quality, training or security purposes”

Taking the time to break this sentence down the other day, whilst I was repeatedly put on hold, I realised how bad a job this message does of reassuring the listener.

1. They May be doing this if they want to
2. How is this conversation being stored?
(Note, if you then pay with your credit card is the voicemail system PCI-DSS compliant?)
3. Who's quality, yours or theirs?
4. Training, aren't they not already trained enough to speak with customers?
5. Security? Is for their security not mine?

Surely there must be a better message? Something more likely to provide even a small amount of assurance to their customers that they have their interests at heart, perhaps?

I'll wait to find out. Well, I've been waiting long enough on hold already......

Friday, October 3, 2008

IBM corporate newsletter goes social

IBM are making a big thing recently about their Enterprise 2.0 or Enterprise Social Network credentials. Its therefore only fitting that they highlight how this has been of benefit internally for them.

The document below shows how they are leveraging social networks to improve the communications between their staff, current and past, creating an Alumni site which as of July 2008 had 45,000 members.

However, as well as highlighting how IBM is using modern social technology... I can't help but think that they are also using it to cut down on the fragmentation of communication caused by various employees (past and present) setting up networks on: Facebook, Xing, LinkedIn, Orkut or other publically available social networks.











You can also read this document on Scribd: Social media IBM study

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The trust of strangers

Purchasing decisions are changing because of customers use of social media. As a consequence almost 40% of retailers are using social networks to reach and influence these peer-to-peer decisions.

However, lets just think about this for a second. We allow others to give us an opinion and depending upon the amount of influence they have, we trust that opinion less or more. Therefore the customers (In reality everyone, for we are all customers of some products & services) are influenced differently, but to some extent we value the input of people we don't know. It is now possible for anyone to influence anyone else.

Before you deny this, consider if you've ever read a review on Amazon before buying a product or checked on the eBay seller before bidding on their item.
On the Internet, information about past transactions may be both limited and
potentially unreliable, but it can be distributed far more systematically than
the informal gossip among friends that characterizes conventional marketplaces.
Resnick & Zeckhauser 2001

This report is interesting as it tries to explain why buyers trust unknown sellers in the "vast
electronic garage sale" known as eBay, which, although isn't a social network to the precise letter of the definition, definately creates a sense of community, feedback and trust.

So, its not suprising then that http://www.universalmccann.com/ have recently published their latest research report entitled "When did we start trusting strangers?".
Hint: Way before social media became a popular term and perhaps we may have to look back even before Mr Resnick & Mr Zeckhauser started their research.

This report identifies a trend called casual influence, showing how its incredibly easy to influence other consumers by using quick voting and recommendations. They indicate that influence and online have almost become one and the same thing, as they put it:
There are so many tools to do this that we no longer have to really think actively about influencing

Food for thought?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vodka, Petrol & Bankers

What do these three have in common?

Well, in Interbrand's most recent research of the 100 Best Global Brands, the only 3 companies that come from the UK are:

  • HSBC - Financial Services (No. 27)
  • BP - Energy (No. 84)
  • Smirnoff - Alcohol (No.89) - its parent company is Diageo
What relevance is this? Well, as someone from the UK, I see it as a shame that we don't have more. Perhaps its also notable that although this a Global report, 52 of these brands are based in the United States.

The rest of the World is represented as follows:
  • Canada : 2
  • France : 8
  • Finland : 1
  • Germany : 10
  • Italy : 4
  • Japan : 7
  • Netherlands : 3
  • Republic of Korea : 2
  • Spain : 1
  • Sweden : 2
  • Switzerland : 5