Category Archives: Business

A Simple Digital Strategy Framework

A few years back, McKinsey released their purchase ‘journey’ as a replacement for the traditional purchase funnel. There are a few things wrong with it (mostly that it is simplified almost past the point of usefulness), but it actually serves as a reasonably sound starting point for thinking about how people actually go about buying things. It’s super simple: a trigger means I need to think about buying something, I start with an initial consideration set, which I research. I add and remove brands during this phase, until I buy one. This starts my post-purchase experience, which, if all goes well, can move me into a loyalty loop – repurchasing the brand again, without going back through an active consideration period. And that’s all there really is to it.

It also serves as a nice starting point for a digital strategy framework, because it can categorise pretty neatly just about everything your organisation can do with digital. My idea here was to create a simple, re-usable framework that people can start using quickly. I cannot over-emphasise the fact that real people only ever see the things that get built and released. So, strategy should be about getting somethng built and released as quickly as possible. And perhaps this can help.

So here’s my framework. It’s pretty simple. There are 5 things, each one maps to a part of the purchase journey:

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  1. Push Communications. In order to be actively considered, your product needs to be known to people. And that requires advertising, or push communications. Display, paid search, sponsored content, even email could be on this list. All methods of ensuring people are aware of your product, so it can be on the active consideration list. You are pushing your content to help get your product considered.
  2. Pull Communications. People who are trying to decide what product to buy will be doing research. They’ll be searching for information about you (and your competitors). And that requires great content that they can find that helps them in their research. Or, if you like, pull communications. Content created to pull the person towards it, to help them learn more about the product. And it’s not just having the content there, but how this content is presented that is important. Brilliantly presented pull comms could short-circuit the whole consideration phase. Data visualisation, interaction, video, just beautifully written prose – there are loads of ways to create compelling pull communications.
  3. Ecommerce. Once someone’s decided what they want, they need to buy it. Ecommerce. But from a digital categorisation point of view, this isn’t just the actual sale, but everything that surrounds it – optimisation, A/B and mulitvariant testing, recommendations, form and conversion design. These are all areas of digital work relating primarily to the selling of the thing itself.
  4. Feature+. This is probably the hardest category to do well – the use of digital technology to enhance or improve a product or service by adding additional features, or moving non-digital services online (channel shift). This moves us out of the world of marketing and into the world of product development. Some clients find this easier than others, and frankly not all digital marketing folk make great product development folk. Still, there’s a lot of opportunity here to help clients differentiate their products and services through smart, simple online services.
  5. Loyalty and word of mouth. As well as being important for repurchasing your product, loyal users can play a vital role in word of mouth. Social media is an obvious example of this, but more than a particular channel, this is about creating digital work designed to activate word-of-mouth, designed to get loyal users of your product or service talking about it to others.

And that’s it. Think about what you need to do in each area, think about how you’d measure and track success, and get started.

I hope it’s helpful! Let me know what you think.

Teenagers, Technology and Cold Hard Cash

This is a great article on teenagers (relief all round they’re not referred to as millennials) and their relationship with social media, in particular Tumblr.

Quite aside from the amusing “Yahoo bought it and everything began to go downhill” moment, the most interesting thing about this began to occur to me about half-way through the article.

This wasn’t about technology at all.

This was about money.

And from that angle, this was exactly like teenagers that grew up in the 80s or 90s. Or whenever really.

People who are not digitally-native tend to view technology as something interesting, something fascinating. We had to learn about it, adjust to it. We were old enough when the internet arrived that we noticed how it changed our lives, so technology remains the fascination.

What’s remarkable about this piece is that the teenagers aren’t fascinated by Tumblr, nor any of the technology. It’s just a means to an end, the most suitable platform for what they’re trying to do.

Teenagers – at least the teenagers featured in this article – are fascinated by money. The prospect of earning it, of spending it, of earning more of it. Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook – they’re just delivery mechanisms. The article opens by talking about Teenagers’ skills at content creation, but rapidly strays away from even this. Pizza might be a damn witty teen, but they’re little evidence given in the article. But that’s because this isn’t about content, in the same way it’s not about technology. It’s about money.

It reminds me of a kid from school who’s dad had a wholesalers card and could buy penny sweets at a discounted rate. That kid then managed to undercut the school tuckshop, making a tidy profit until he was banned from doing it by the headmaster. Ok, so he was 11 and his tidy profit probably never amounted to more than £50. But at the time we all thought that was a fortune.

Every school had an entrepreneur or two, whatever they were selling. A friend of mine used to draw band logos on canvas bags. He didn’t care what the band logo was, it wasn’t about music. It was about cash.

And this is the same. This is entrepreneurial, in exactly the same way. Some people want to earn money and are good at working out ways of doing that.

It illustrates one of the dangers of modern day marketing. This assumption that modern teens are just – dammit – TOTALLY DIFFERENT NOW. They’re millennials. HOW CAN WE UNDERSTAND THEM? If you spend just a moment looking under the hood, just a moment thinking about it, you can see they’re really no different at all. Human motivation is still human motivation. That’s still what we’re building, designing and creating for.

So, I don’t feel this is a story about how different teens are. I feel like this is a story about how exactly the same we all still are. Which at the end of the day is quite a nice thing.

(As an aside, I do love how they game Adwords over and over again. It’s just so easy for people who grew up with this stuff to intrinsically understand how to take advantage of loop holes the rest of us either don’t see or are socially conditioned not to abuse. Possibly worth a longer post!)

Technological disruption and authenticity in service design

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This is a really great piece from the New Yorker on the modern-day Kodak. It documents their new (yes, new) super-8 camera. Old-school film fitted in a shiny-new case and digital controls. It looks beautiful, and by all accounts stole the show at CES (although let’s be honest, stealing the show from 540 internet-connected fridges wouldn’t be hard).

Kodak are an interesting case study, because they were one of the companies hit hardest by technological disruption, a supposed forerunner to Blockbuster in “companies that just didn’t get it and now no longer exist”. But exist they do, and they’re creating products that bridge the divide between old and new, between pre- and post-disruption. Products that, according to the New Yorker at least, are gaining popularity.

We’re at the point where a number of different industries have, if you’ll excuse the term, “been disrupted” – music and film foremost amongst them. What you’re seeing in the wake of the original disruption however, is a growth of people reacting against this, embracing older technologies. Vinyl records are selling at their highest levels in forever, film directors like Quentin Tarantino continue to use and popularise the use of old film. People have had time to view what the new and shiny has to offer and come to the conclusion that they still see value in what came before.

That a certain cult of authenticity exists is without dispute. In an era of cheap production costs and affordable modern products, what grants the western middle classes more distinction than authenticity? When you’re capable of buying a brand new version of almost anything, owning the original – the authentic – carries cultural cachet in whole new ways.

Digital can bring a certain clinical efficiency that actually holds little mass appeal. ‘Efficient’ isn’t sexy. It’s not friendly nor warm. It might save you money or time, but it can also be cold and clinical and devoid of personality. And what is true for products can be true for services as well. Left unchecked, the new digital world could deliver nothing but clinical, white, emotionless experiences.

But there is something interesting where these two worlds – the authentic past and the efficient future – overlap. The new Kodak camera isn’t just a return to the past. It includes an LCD viewfinder and computerised menus. It’s a hybrid, using digital technology to enhance and improve whilst keeping elements of the authentic original.

I own a BlueTube valve amplifier. It’s a beautiful vacuum tube amplifier, looks like it was made sometime in the early 60s. But it’s also fitted with a bluetooth receiver, meaning I can stream Spotify directly to it.  The luxury watch market has reacted to smart watches by bringing out versions of their own that contain technology whilst also retaining authentic mechanical movememnt. They’re hybrids – capturing the feel of the original whilst offering the convenience that modern tech provides.

Online services have yet to really find this hybrid position, because in most cases the service simply didn’t exist beforehand, or if it did it just totally sucked. However, it’s interesting to imagine how you might take the best parts of pre-distruption services and bring them online. Whatever you may think, digital has a hard time replacing the pleasant sensation when a real human being at the end of the phone actually helps you solve a problem. In truth, the issue was never with the potential quality of the solution, just with the likelihood of that potential being hit each time. Human beings unfortunately are rarely consistent.

Good digital services offer you that consistency, and the sheer convenience of not needing to speak to a human being. But the very efficiency it offers can be a cold and joyless experience.

So the next trick with digital service design is to work out how to bring in the best elements of pre-disruption services to augment this. Adding a little authenticity if you like. Early examples of this are human-sounding error messages on forms, amusing 404 pages, things that make the service feel more human (moo.com has always done a fantasic job of this).

Live chat is an extension of this, but at the moment the success feels varied to me. There’s so many different factors to get right – when in the process you initiate live chat, who is it initiated by, how do we cope with that annoying flashing button saying, “IT LOOKS LIKE YOU NEED SOME HELP”, like some terrible clippy-esque nightmare.

But improvements are being made. More and more people are understanding the way to differentiate their online service is by adding an element of humanity back into it. By adding authenticity back into an efficient service, we’re helping to make it feel more human and therefore more desirable. A hybrid solution indeed.

Rebooting The Blog

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The last year or so has proven pretty barren from a blog point-of-view. So much so that I resorted to trying my hand at sports writing and wrote up some Oakland Raider games from this season’s NFL (I’m a big fan of good sports writing, although primarily American sports. Anyone with an hour or so spare could do a lot worse than reading this amazing archive of Hunter S Thompson’s old ESPN column). Whilst I enjoyed the sports writing – and may bring it back somewhere else – that was never really the purpose of this blog. It marked the fact that I couldn’t find anything about ‘digital’ that I felt inspired or interested enough to write about. There were, on reflection, a few reasons for that:

  1. Strategy for strategy’s sake. Most of the writing on here has been about strategy and planning of one sort or another. It’s what I’ve done for most of my career now. But I spent the last year or so being a creative director, which forces a slightly different point of view. It forces you to look at the end product, what you’re putting out the door. This may sound crazy to you if you don’t work in an agency, but most strategists aren’t connected to the actual end result, their work stops as implementation begins. It made me realise that strategy is only ever important if it positively impacts the end result. No user ever sees a carefully crafted PowerPoint presentation, a beautiful Excel chart. And yet, I’ve met so many planners and strategists that have had no interest whatsoever in the implementation. That’s bad, and it made me question the validity of strategy, of planning, in what we do. That’ll place quite the downer on wanting to write about it. However, all that said, I’ve realised I still believe planning is valuable within digital. Organisations get stuck. The sheer size and scale of the problem simply grinds will to change to a halt. Rapid simplification and outlining a direction as quickly as possible, strategy that helps organisations more somewhere – anyway other than stationary – can help to change that. That’s valuable and that’s interesting, the planner as agent of change.
  2. The belief that digital transformation is about getting new technologies to improve existing business models and ways of working. It’s not – it’s about finding new business models and ways of working. That may sound a little hyperbolic, so a quick explanation of my position: digital transformation is nothing more than the disruption to industry and society caused by technological development. The concept is not new. This has happened since before the invention of the aeroplane. However, the pace of change is so much faster than ever before (and only getting faster btw) that you’re seeing instances of disruption much more regularly than ever before. That makes it feel newer, because it’s more noticeable. It is not new, and to claim it as such is silly. But it is also inevitable, and to try and preserve the status quo, to just turn a blind eye to ‘inconvenient’ developments, or to suggest that new technology should be primarily used to improve existing models is also silly. Really silly. The future will not involve a world where they have made ad blockers illegal to allow for the banner ad to continue its existence. Sorry.
    I found this one particularly depressing because there are so many people who claim to be ‘digital gurus/ninjas/strategists/whatevers’ who in actual fact have no more interest in digital transformation than they do in selling some more digital adverts to some unwitting marketing exec. New technology creates a lot of new types of snake oil. I’m not slating advertising btw. I actually really like good advertising, and from a business perspective, for the right audience I would heartily recommend advertising. Just on television or radio or in print not on the internet, which grew up without the need for a commercial backbone and isn’t well suited for the ultimate aims of what advertising needs to do. That’s it, enough moaning about that. I’m going to try and not speak of advertising again.
  3. Futurism. As much as I hate the above, I equally dislike rampant futurism and claims that “[insert new technology x] will change everything”. I’ve realised I don’t have a tremendous interest in futurology. Partly because I’m bad at it (well, equally bad as everybody else in truth) and partly because if the job of strategy is help move you forward quickly then you don’t need to spend the time working out what the future will be. You’ll find out when you get there. And you’ll be right or you’ll be wrong and either way, you’ll have to change things anyway.
    What I have realised is that I have a real interest in technology in the mainstream, or entering the mainstream today. Not the really cutting edge stuff, but the stuff that you heard about a year or two ago, the stuff that is about to be embedded into everyone’s lives, or is already embedded into everyone’s lives. It’s the part where people meet technology that really interests me.
    I remember a really great talk from Matt Webb of BERG talking about how they were always really interested in the technologies everyone else had forgotten about. The technologies that – if you know Gartner’s Hype Cycle – would fit in the ‘trough of disillusionment’. It feels like if I’m interested in technology and people – on a mainstream level – then I’d want to look further beyond that, towards the slope of enlightenment. In the latest Hype Cycle, that gives me Virtual Reality (c’mon, close enough), Gesture Control and Enterprise 3D Printing. And I do find those sorts of things intersting. So perhaps there is something there.

So, the way forward. I’m going to try to write more. Much more. The goal is a piece every 2 weeks for the rest of the year. That seems doable whilst also ensuring enough new posts to be of interest. I’m going to try and write about interesting things that happen when people meet technology, what that means for organisations and business, and how strategy can help organisations move quicker. For the most part, I’m going to try and keep it positive and constructive, and steer clear of the snake oil. Wish me luck.

On Adblocking, Business Models and the Internet

It seems like the awareness of ad blockers has reached some kind of tipping point. For a technology that has been available for browsers in some form or another for years, they’ve recently been getting a lot of heat.

No more so than from the people over at The Next Web, who took the argument to a whole new level of stupid by comparing the use of ad blockers to speeding. Yep, actual speeding on the actual road in an actual car. Despite the fact that one of them is responsible for thousands of deaths a year and is against the law, whilst the other – well – isn’t.

Crass and clumsy analogies aside, this strikes me as a rather duplicitous stand for anyone writing for The Next Web – or any publication born from the internet era – to take. News and journalism has been disrupted by digital technologies before, which resulted in the model that has allowed places like TNW to make a living at the expense of traditional printed publications. To bite that particular hand now that another technological disruption is reaching mass awareness shouldn’t generate much sympathy.

Technology disrupts business models. We all need to accept this and get over it. Napster messed with the record labels, but it was Apple that benefitted through the creation of iTunes. Legal streaming music services such as Spotify changed the model again. Apple didn’t complain that streaming was taking away their revenue, didn’t suggest that streaming music was immoral and unfair; they went and created Apple Music.

So this is the challenge. Go work out what the new business model is. Create content I’d be willing to pay for. Whatever it is you think will work. But don’t expect me to stop blocking in-browser ads any time soon.

I’m not rejecting all advertising. I’m just saying that advertising that can be blocked by an ad blocker will be. It is trivial, needless and gets in the way of the content I am trying to view. Or to paraphrase Martin Weigel, “advertising is incidental to ordinary, everyday life” (as an aside this presentation is excellent and you should read it). Most people don’t want to interact with advertising, however good you make it. And when people have the choice, they tend to choose not to watch advertising. That isn’t because most advertising is bad. It’s because most people don’t care. They want to watch a video of their friend’s cat getting a bath, not watch the pre-roll advert that precedes it on YouTube. They want to get online to finish researching their French homework, not watch the full-screen takeover that they have to close before they can reach it. In real life, advertising is not important.

And the Net has grown up and been created without the need for advertising. Content can come from anywhere, be distributed by anyone. This is infrastructure designed without the need for advertising, and one which continues to evolve without the need of it. Or as Phil put it, “I don’t want more engaging adverts. I don’t even want less annoying adverts. I want them out of my face completely. I didn’t “opt in” to receive them.”

So saying the solution is better advertising is a form of protectionism. It’s a set of people who don’t want to look outside of the business model they’re already happy with (whether that’s because they don’t see it, or because they don’t want to see it is irrelevant). It often feels to me like people do this:

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It’s the same with people who think we’ve now harnessed technology, that it’s now there just waiting to do our bidding. There’s this implicit suggestion that we’ve reached the plateau after the climb, without the realisation that this is just the base camp of the actual mountain we’re going to climb.

Whatever new model takes over, advertising online is surely reaching its end game. Display advertising is invasive, unwelcome, doesn’t work and any numbers it can generate are often fraudulent. This isn’t to say that advertising will die out or stop. Search advertising at the very least is based on direct shown intent – it is an answer I might be looking for, even if it is paying to be there – and I’m rather looking forward to a renaissance of print and local radio advertising. But technology disrupted offline publishing, and now it’s disrupting publishing online. Just as advertising provided a model for publications to evolve out of their bricks and mortar forebearers, we now need to look for the business model that will trigger the next evolution.