Friday, 23 August 2013

Keeping Up

Is keeping up the hardest thing in digital?

I think it is. It's especially hard for those entering the industry or starting to get more involved in digital. For those of us who have been in the game a long time we are in fact topping up, rather than discovering it all from afresh. Much easier.

People are generally good at using online tools to keep-up (RSS readers etc.) and scan well. The problem I see is people get caught up in lots of whizy cool stuff and  then find it difficult to keep up with the things that matter - or even know what those things really are in the first place.

The things that really matter (top of the list) haven't really changed:

  • Your company or client companies
  • Your or their competitors
  • Your or their markets

The information you are looking for might need to change so that now you capture the 'digital' things as well, and suddenly this isn't such a big leap forward.

You then need to consider the other things that are really important, like:

  • Have others been doing some of the things you want to or are about to do - what can you learn?
  • What likely technology influences are there acting on the competitive paradigm?
  • What threats are there in this?
  • What consumer insights can you use to determine where the next opportunity is?

At this point you start getting close to 'way too much information', so it is here we have the problem. What I recommend doing to 'keep up' and deal with this problem specifically is to look at news and information services online in a slightly different way. They are now providing so much information that you need to start to break them down. I do this by making information dashboards. Sections that break down information into chunks that start with the big macro things I want to keep up with through to the client organisations, competitors and markets I need to know about. These dashboards don't provide all the insights, they provide the 'what is happening' then from here (after a quick scan) you can find the detail you need - this is the age of the tinterweb after all.

This is all very basic, but I think a lot of people need to have a look at the information they are receiving and start to think about how they can make this far more efficient and valuable. Then keeping-up becomes much easier. And for a lot of people it will make them far more focused digital professionals.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

HSBC celebrate the British & Irish Lions 2013 has arrived. Time to find out about the journeys that made the legends. #LionsHSBC

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Call in the Professionals

There have been a lot of articles and discussions recently in the digital services industry about the continued increase of non-professionals / experts claiming they have the ability to achieve a certain outcome or communication task when in fact they don't, or certainly not for the budget and timescales they initially propose, and certainly not to the professional standards expected. This is best summarised by an image floating around Linkedin which simply says:

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur."

I couldn't agree more. Nothing I've seen in digital has ever lead me to witness the "cheap" or the "easy" option working well. It just needs to be the best value option (i.e. cost vs. ROI) and the effort needs to be exactly what is required to achieve it (i.e. neither easy or difficult).

I think there are some explanations for the continued proliferation of the amateur in digital when really it's a job for the professional, and here's my top 5 reasons:

  1. It's an accessible medium, people can figure things out as they go, there's lots of information around and everything seems possible. So it's easy to say "yeah, we can do that for you.", and by implication also suggest it's therefore appropriate and possible to do it without forethought or reason. It all falls down when you don't do your homework and you find it is possible, but only on your computer and not on the actual Internet, or that people haven't a good reason to interact with it or use it in the way it's presented to them etc.
  2. Budgets are still disproportionately low in digital. Often organisations still aren't investing the majority of their marketing and service development budget into the digital bit (odd given for most markets and audiences it's the highest consumed media and the place they want to 'do business'). This means that things are relatively tight and we often have to do a lot with a little, and the person who says they can do it on the cheap is therefore always going to get a look in. Again, value and appropriate levels of investment are key to success.
  3. Media platforms are now in the conversation more than ever, and when partnered by a digital professional or organisation they are massively helpful to the whole process. However it all gets a bit difficult when these entities are understandably selling their solutions to the problem with little thought about the bigger picture, overall strategic context or in fact the knock on implications of these technologies or services. This one is easy to overcome but it does fuel the misconception of "it's easy, I've got it here already!", or set the budget and timescales bar unfeasibly low when only one organisational factor is taken into consideration. The sell in price is always highly attractive!
  4. There's always new things in digital, so the professionals can't always claim any more understanding than the amateur who has potentially got some experience of a new and exciting technology or platform. The reality is 'there is no substitute for experience', and whilst in theory it might be brand new, in reality it will share a number of important characteristics with a lot of other things. It will therefore need the same approach taken with other things to ensure it is fit for purpose and implemented in the best possible way.
  5. Someone else is doing it already. Once it's been used by another business the perceptual barriers to adoption are of course reduced. This doesn't make it any less attractive if it seems like the right thing to be doing, but it does make it harder to accept that often adoption in digital isn't a 'just make it like this' exercise (trans-creation is getting there though). The effort required to assess the opportunity (feasibility and viability), make sure it will deliver for this different purpose / brand / consumer etc. and then to build it is often similar to the green-field route taken when doing something original. And therefore just because it's being done already doesn't mean the amateur should get a look in.

It's understandable that we continue to see the non-professional as a viable option, and there are times when this is true, but these times are the exception and not the rule. The answer perhaps lies with professionals, who need to be clearer on their reasons for working in a particular way to achieve a goal. And I certainly believe we need to be spending more time in digital selling value as opposed to the digital thing we'd like to make / do.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Cool Tools

I've been using a bunch of cool tools, so I thought I'd share them:

Our mobile planet:

Consumer trends:

The internet map:

The consumer barometer:

Twitter users:

Form follows function:!/main 

I haven't used this one yet, but it is interesting:

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The New Design Paradigm

There are lots of really good trend reports and 2013 predictions floating around. I think people are getting better at this stuff as most of them I tend to agree with these days. So given they're all out there already, and pretty good, I thought I'd write a quick blog post on a movement I think is happening and where I think it is going. This is sort of my 2013 key area of interest in this ever changing digital world, rather than a prediction.

This digital world all started a long time ago with computers and stuff, and it has made some things easier, mostly for the consumer (?!). It has also created a lot more complexity for businesses and sometimes the consumer as well (?!). It has introduced lots of technology (obviously), but with it lots of things that businesses don't poses the core competencies to understand. "We're really just a business that provides...". Or worse they are so disruptive that businesses stop being able to really understand who / what they are and subsequently what they need to do to remain competitive. This has mostly made them reliant on other businesses and external people to enable them to distribute their marketing assets and services within the context of the new marketing 101 paradigm - right place, price, person, time, level of personalisation, last interaction etc. etc. The other difficulty is that digital hasn't really replaced anything, it has often augmented it, added to it in other ways or just provided an alternative. Therefore it has often added costs, demanded new business process and functions and created a hugely complicated web of interaction between customers and businesses. And sometimes it isn't relevant, but businesses are finding it difficult to say "no, we don't want to do that, we are better off using this channel instead".

Arguably the most important impact digital has had is on consistency. Consistency of brand message & promise, consistency in the standard of the experiences it provides, but also a consistency in the understanding people in the business have of what is going on and a general alignment to a common cause or set of decisions.

I think that the biggest impact of all though is on the now rapidly changing function of 'design'. I'm not a design expert, although it takes up a huge part of my life, so the following sentence is deliberately summarised and illustrative of the point I want to make (queue the debate). Design used to be about making a thing take the form or expression it needed to in order to be functional or create the visual impact it intended. Now of course that thing is no longer a thing at all, it is invariably many things. In basic terms you design a poster, banner ad, press ad, TV ad, your search positioning etc. You then have to think about the experience that follows, how you want people to express it in social media (if they choose or you prompt them to amplify it) and so on. Suddenly any simple design task is of course a complicated one. Even if you only design the one thing, because time and money or other pressures only permit this, the designer still needs to create something with the legs and potential to be many things any way - it has to fit and it will probably have to grow / find its way into other things. The shift in the design function on this basis makes it so much more important than I think a lot of people and businesses have fully accepted. And if you look at the most successful businesses in recent times then there is clear evidence that they have put design at the heart of what they do e.g. Apple (not so much recently though - queue the next debate).

So what does this really mean for design and how we do things? In simplistic terms the 'design' function will increasingly take many forms, names and roles. The creative technologist function we've seen emerging over the past few years is a clear example of this. Sometimes these people are more technologists (e.g. former developers) than creative's (e.g. former digital designers) and sometimes neither. Designers are now the engineers of experience, shaping visual experiences and interactions. They are fast becoming the masters of business success, driving the creation of solutions and even the production of them to ensure they meet the goals they are designed to achieve. This means that they know a lot (or sometimes a little) about a lot of things (or at least they need to). They need to be constantly involved in the business process overall, so that they are the recipients of data and insight as much as any of the channel or senior management functions. They need to be put in front of the decision making forums that steer business decisions as well - and we do have a tendency to hide them away, or not help them to develop the soft skills to be more actively involved in these things.

So I see a shift in the 'design' paradigm, an expansion in the breadth and depth of the function, and increasingly a centricity to the role. I'm certainly on a mission to help this happen, and as a digital business person I don't really have a choice - it is the answer to most of the organisational and business challenges I face.

Monday, 23 April 2012

A couple of Tweets

If we were in any doubt about Smart TV taking off...

Barclays Pingit, just a lovely unique thing that they can show off about...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Evolution of the Living Room

From the first-ever TV commercial in 1939. From Black and White to Colour to glorious HD it has been in your living rooms for over 70 years. As we fast forward to 2012 we are all witnesses to the next major shift in the evolution of TV. Multiple technologies are synchronously converging to create the right conditions for change. The way that users are adopting and appropriating these technologies can help us define what this new era may look like. Increased bandwidth, cloud services, connected TV, voice recognition, virtual assistants, gesture, dual screening, VOD, app stores, social networks and custom targeting tools are all shaping the new “grammar” which we will all need to apply to our communications strategies. How are these technologies and our use of them impacting advertising and the evolution of our living rooms?

Interactive technologies for TV, from Ceefax back in 1974, the Red Button, to Sky and Virgin Media’s Time Shifting and VOD, they have all been with us for some time. Some of these functions have become essential enablers to our busy lives, while others have been passed over. So when we talk about the new technologies that are being developed, tested and rolled out how do we know which ones will stick? Why is suddenly the time right for brands to start taking this seriously?

The answer like with any technology is timing. It’s not about being the first; take Facebook, for example, certainly not the first. Remember Geocities? It’s all about timing and this is defined by many factors - examples:
  • User adoption of platforms: Evolving services on the web such as YouTube have been the training ground for us to be open to instant self-selected content through search and aggregation.
  • User adoption of new technology: Look at how platforms like iPhone and Android have conditioned us to embrace applications. Or you can look at how games consoles have allowed us to learn by playing with connected, interactive technologies such as the Wii and Microsoft Kinnect etc.
  • Infrastructure: IPTV providers have used their independent networks to give us VOD while the open web was still buffering. Now with 30mb super fast fibre from Virgin and BT services like Amazon’s Love Film and Netflix can flourish.


Content Publishers

Content publishers are already gearing up for change. Catch-up, time shifting applications are being developed for mobiles, tablets, consoles and Connected TV’s. If the traditional scheduling model is going to be eroded over time then publishers need to know how to effectively distribute their content. Sky, BBC iPlayer, 4OD are all publishers who are looking at web born platforms like, Youtube, Revo, Hulu, Netflix to reassert themselves. It will be the business models and tech infrastructures that all of these services create that will show brands the way. This may be pre-rolls, interstitial and skipables. These seem to be the staple at the moment. It may be that these publishers invite brands to increase their role of sponsoring programming. It may be that brands are invited to create or commission their own content and have that served alongside other non-branded content recommendations. The one thing that is clear is that publishers will need advertising revenue in one from or another. Not all publishers are lucky enough to have the national funding enjoyed by the BBC or be able to exist on subscription models alone. Spotify is a great and innovative brand who has simultaneous ad funded services and premium subscriptions across connected media devices. Brands should look to these models to see how relationships with publishers can flourish. 

Yesterday, today and yes, tomorrow. Scheduling

Lets take a look at the TV broadcast system that we have had for the last 70 years and understand how it has defined the way brands work in the medium. TV has been based on the scheduling of content within a linear time line contained within a broadcast channel. These channels may have multiplied exponentially to a point that the EPG model can’t really cope but never-the-less its all much the same. The scheduling system has determined the durations of TV content to 30mins, 60mins, 90, 120, etc… For brands this model was simply scaled down for media buyers and applied to fixed duration ad breaks giving us the 30, 40, 60 and 90… second ads. So what happens when this structure is redundant. The average YouTube video is about 4 minutes. This short form viewing preference will certainly have some affect on certain types of content duration but its worth pointing out that not many expect this to change over night.

Bill Gates said "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." 

Look how long it has taken us to migrate to digital TV from analogue.Traditional formats have a residual value for mainstream users to help them gradually migrate to a new way of interacting or consuming. So while the 30second ad may be with us for some time yet, it is estimated that 40% of us will have Connected TV’s by 2014 and that presents a massive opportunity as long as we can convince people to actually plug them in! Manufacturers are betting on Connected TV and so are Content publishers so agencies and brands better be ready too.

At JWT my colleagues and I are starting to think about a range of subjects:
  • Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) and what its new form will take.
  • Social TV and not just the aggregation and recommendation of TV, but also the power of social recommendation etc.
  • Dual or Triple Screening.
  • And of course the TV production process - with Connected TV comes the power of data. Effectiveness of TV ads based on engagement has historically been about quantitative and qualitative research. But our clients have enjoyed the level of targeting and data reporting that other digital channels such as display advertising can provide so why should Connected TV be any different?
 Things are set to change and the evolution of the Living Room continues at pace.