Smartphone Advertising: Harder, better, faster – yet as daft as you are punk.

The battle for your hands and pockets has reached fever pitch as the apparent pinnacle of our Technological civilisation, The Smartphone has reached a plateau in innovation.

Actually that’s slightly disingenuous, there is still massive innovation happening in the industry, but appears to appeal solely to phone geeks. Thinner screens, increased battery life, better cameras, better graphics, improved UX – all good. But who’s impressed?

Meet the new phone, same as the old phone.

However as was seen with the Galaxy S4 and to an extent the IPhone 5 launch the blogosphere, if not the public, are getting increasingly nonplused about our current crop of top end handsets.

We’ve passed the point where these new devices will dramatically change your life. Sure, you still have ‘new phone smell’ but its impact has diminished over time since that first blissful app purchase. They’ve even lost social talkability – they won’t make you the coolest kid on the block as you join the daily telephonic beauty parade with your friends, unless you are a rebel of course with a Blackberry or Windows 8 phone where there might be some mild curiosity.

Faster! Lighter! Stronger! Longer Best yet! New & Improved! Blah.

These aren’t the words of innovation but iteration. To be honest it’s more FMCG than Luxury IT. I can just see Don Draper, getting his ‘creative’ on sketching out a fifties super-mom, next to the sink, vacuum cleaner strategically place with the a new phone in one hand and Camel filterless in the other. ‘Because sometimes, a burden shared is a burden halved’.

Waiting in the wings of course is the next little thing. This years arms race is the over abundance of smart watches to be strapped to us by year end. Of course for me, the last watch I wore was a Casio calculator watch in the eighties, so it offers the opportunity to relive my geeky childhood(?!?). The joke is of course this will reduce necessity to have the latest and greatest phone, placing it even further down your priority list.

So What’s the Story?

Microsoft launched their shiny new telly ad for the Nokia 920 this week; a mildly amusing fistfight between Apple and Samsung users at a wedding, with the strapline ‘Don’t Fight. Switch’. Pretty much describing Microsoft and Nokia’s own fortunes over the last decade. Should probably say ‘Switch back’. Even though it had ‘an idea’ it still left me cold so I decided to check out the various offline campaigns from the competition and was pretty horrified.

For once I’m going to have to use some visual aids:


Objectives

Normally I would reverse engineer an individual campaign but frankly they are so much of a muchness it’s hard to discern one from the other, so instead I’ve decided to lump them all together and focus on decoding the combined objectives. Before I begin I can say, ‘I feel their pain’.

Create a positive distinction in category

Faster, more clarity, easier, more connected, less connected, sings happy birthday on voice command, tells you where to go and occasionally to get lost, stores your precious memories as you lost your own and most importantly show that we’re not Apple – even if we are!

Illustrate typical useage

Look at me you can take pictures and keep in touch with your friends! Oh yeah and Apps, Apps, and more Apps. Please make sure you never ever show anyone actually talking on it.

Demonstrate new product features

You can shoot pictures of yourself whilst stalking somebody, catch the errant bathing suit with our rewind feature, or assist in having your house burgled by constantly reminding people you aren’t at home. Not to forget the ‘with new and improved yadda yadda’!

Appeal to a broad (any) demographic

…as long as it isn’t geeks. We especially like young, white, active, healthy, thin, affluent hipster types messing around with fountains, skateboards, and on the odd mountaintop. They must all be overly attached to hugging their friends for no apparent reason whilst not appearing to be on drugs. Feel free to be ‘quirky’ to demonstrate openness but only within the bounds of ‘Friends’, not ‘Animal House’. If necessary you can throw in a bit of an ethnic mix to show that we don’t discriminate.

Build on the emotional connection between you and your phone

Please ensure there are plenty of babies, grannies, little kids, graduations, holidays, romantic dinners and sunrises all brought to you by us. Make sure they know it never happened if you didn’t take a picture of it, and update your status.

Show off the sleek lightweight design

It’s like – a screen with like really smooth edges, and like some really cool bevels, or even better sharp edges denoting precision. But the best thing is it’s so huge you will need to get new pockets to make it fit or so small you’ll need to get the holes in your pockets fixed and…Oh yeah It’s like shiny!

Reassure users that your phone is the smart buy

Show others with competing phones to be exactly the opposite of your cool, suave, white-ish hipster types. Where possible provide situations to illustrate them to be poor befuddled disempowered sheep and/or zombies with no will of their own. Especially when you are trying to convince them to switch from one brand to another.

Be Smug

Be smug.

Tips for the top

  1. The transition from life altering to commodity does not provide an excuse for abuse. Insulting the audience intelligence is rarely a good move. The same people who you target online and create those extraordinary engagement programmes for, are most likely the same people who watch your ads. Even if they don’t watch them on telly, they will see them and rate you accordingly.
  2. See 1

Are we really the people that these campaigns profess to appeal to? Do they exist? If so the world is a pretty scary place. Now I must remember to tweet that, whilst hugging someone.

Jon Bains is a partner at business futures practice Atmosphere

Book your place now for Digital For Business Leaders – a one-day workshop for decision makers that will give you an understanding of digital’s impact on business, and provide you with a roadmap to plan your organisation’s future. To find out more and book your place on the session in London (May 17), Manchester (May 23) or Glasgow (May 24), click here.

Feudalism or futurism – What happens when the top 1% use the bottom 1% as Marketing Collateral?

Published last week on The Drum

Luxury fashion brands were a comparatively late entry into the digital world, which was no surprise given the typical profile of marketers in the sector, and the fact that they weren’t always the most digitally savvy folk in the world; it’s scary the number of times I’ve heard ‘my women don’t do digital’. They have been historically at best strategically aloof (sorry exclusive) at worst arrogant (‘everybody is like me, I know best’) in their belief about their audience behaviors. In marketing we are very much what we eat, and if you have a steady diet of glossy print then it’s not very surprising that things turn out the way they do.

However, the sector seems to be changing, and whilst not often discussed, I think it can largely be put down to two things, the rise of Pinterest, which provides a platform for all the pretty things, and most importantly the advent of the iPad.

For the image conscious it was the first digital device that provided a ‘luxurious’ digital experience that didn’t alienate the technophobe elite. Gestural navigation resonated with the audience, and without making too many comparisons, if a 2 year old can get their head around it then so can the typical reader of Harper’s Bazaar.

Cartier and Burberry lead the charge and have delivered some sophisticated and surprisingly accessible initiatives across a number of digital channels, making it IMHO more ‘fashionable’ for conservative luxury brands to take more risks, and look at life beyond catwalk shows and glossy fashion magazines.

The big question is what happens when you combine this with the world of social and political change? I’ve also spent a great deal of time working in the Third Sector – most recently working on a campaign about weaponised rape in the Congo – and as such appreciate how fraught many of the issues can be once connected with brands.

What’s the story?

Gucci, in tandem with Beyonce, Salma Hayek and Frida Giannini, have founded an NGO called ‘Chime for Change’, a socially led fundraising and awareness campaign, which aims to put women’s rights on the world stage.

This sits on top of a white labeled ‘Catapult‘, which is essentially Kickstarter for causes, with many user suggested initiatives. Each of the three spokeswomen covers a different topic – Education, Justice and Health – which are curated via Catapult’s main site, i.e. you can’t actually propose a new initiative yourself, just support the vertical subset selected by the three expert philanthropists.

As far as I can tell the communications campaign consists of activity on Facebook and Twitter, plus a bunch of videos of famous people (probably wearing Gucci, but hard for me to tell with an untrained eye). This is also leads up to a concert at the Twickenham Stadium on June 1st, with the headliners including Beyonce, Florence & the Machine, and Ellie Goulding.

So what were they thinking?

  • Establish credibility in the social space
  • Tie together CSR and brand marketing
  • Build a stronger connection with a new younger aspirational audience
  • Show the brand to be caring, and respond to negative associations with the ‘1%’
  • Leverage the combined social media status of brand and celebrities to inspire wider traditional media support

Results

Results are scarce, as its still early days, but in the social world so far it’s been a bit of a surprise. They have gained some 100,000 likes on Facebook, but only 3,000 Twitter followers so far. Given the combined social and celebrity status of all concerned I am sure they expected a far bigger impact. At present I didn’t see many of the projects approaching their funding objectives, and those that were doing well were from large one-off donations. However as I said, it is still early days.

What is going well?

  • Big names, and not necessarily ones that you would expect to link up with Gucci
  • A solid, safe cause
  • Piggy backing on existing platform (didn’t try and build their own as many have tried and failed)
  • Minimal, dare I say, even sensitive Gucci branding

What could be going better? 

  • I had to go to the site a couple of times to actually work out what the whole thing was about. When I first looked I assumed it was Live Aid type fundraising gig, on looking further I was confronted with navigation that didn’t actually seem to do anything, before eventually finding the projects and getting the gist of it. And frankly there weren’t that many clues on their Facebook page either. I even watched some of the videos and still didn’t get a clear sense of what it was and what I was supposed to do. I would have put it down to me being a bit thick if it hadn’t been for two other bright folk, who I referred the campaign to, saying they didn’t get it either. Basically the communication flow is broken.
  • Is the lack of clarity why there are so few followers?
  • Have they just walked into internet cause wear out?
  • How long have they committed to this?
  • ‘Little Girl, you too can be President and buy Gucci’ feels a little bit hollow!
  • Why no matching funds? Surely, given the comparatively low funding targets surely the brand could help out a bit more directly?  Of course the reason for this is simple. They don’t control the projects – so by simply facilitating the funding of, as opposed to putting cash in – they protect themselves from any controversy down the line. Which frankly would probably get targeted at their celebrity advocates as it makes for a better story.

The jury is out on its usefulness as a channel for positive change, but it’s certainly a brilliant move for Catapult as a platform. I do applaud the effort, even with the underlying conservatism, given the industries historical complete risk aversion.

Considerations when entering the charitable side of marketing

  1. People spot a fake a mile off. It’s got to at least feel genuine. Modern consumers are a cynical bunch and unravel hidden agenda’s very quickly, and if they don’t the bloggers will.
  2. These kinds of activities can have a very negative impact if dropped mid stream. Plan your exit before you begin, that could mean setting and communicating a time frame or knowing who you will pass it on to.
  3. One of the harder parts is ensuring that both Brand and Partner NGO behaviour are insync. There needs to be coherence to the proposition and shared vision and rules. Otherwise you end up with, well, our government.
  4. Share the idea across the business not just in the marketing department. Assuming you are doing it for the right reasons you should celebrate it.
  5. Make sure you can make a tangible difference, regardless of how small. Set achievable KPI’s and checks to see how the activity is working in terms of public perception and on the ground.
  6. Be ready to devolve some control and prepare for some unpleasant surprises. Given the kinds of non-commercial organisations that you are working with the margins for error are pretty large.
  7. Obvious, but be careful that you don’t alienate your core audience in order to reach a new one, unless of course you’ve been disrupted and already lost them!
  8. Don’t shoehorn Product or Brand in where it doesn’t belong. Wearing Prada whilst doing a photoshoot of the Congo is a sure fire way of getting noticed for all the wrong reasons.
  9. If you have a celeb in the mix, beyond contractual obligations ensure that they genuinely support the cause and are passionate. Again, make sure there is a coherent brand fit for their audience.
  10. The bigger the gap between the Cause and Brand, the bigger the risk.

Am I being too harsh or not harsh enough? Is this the way forward for the elite to whitewash their checkered history?

Jon Bains is a partner in business futures practice Atmosphere

Schrödinger’s PC

Posted Last week on the Drum

For the uninitiated, Schrödinger’s Cat was an experiment in which a Cat was placed in a sealed, entirely opaque box with a poison pellet that was triggered by an electron switch. Before you call the RSPCA, it was a thought experiment, no animals were harmed™. Apparently, when you do the math to work out what’s going on with the poor mistreated pussy you discover that at some points the Cat is dead, at others it’s alive, and even more surprisingly both alive and dead simultaneously. Beyond being a pretty significant scientific advance its also spawned the whole genre of parallel universe stories. This is one of them.

Depending who you believe and based on the most recent industry data: the PC is either dead as a dodo or alive and kicking, but taking a much needed vacation. PC shipments have dropped 14% in the last year, which in any sector is a pretty dramatic fall.  Furthermore Microsoft have had to admit that Windows 8 take-up has been somewhat lackluster. This doesn’t include Apple, which is still experiencing strong sales growth, boosted by both iPad and iPhone sales.

With that in mind, if the analysts are correct what would our world look like?

The PC is Alive – Why?

  • The current global financial situation.
  • Most modern multi-core PC’s are simply good enough for most people’s needs, so there aren’t too many reasons to go out and buy a new one.
  • The decrease in price of Solid State Drives and RAM, which dramatically increase responsiveness (substantially more than new CPU‘s or GPU‘s do on day to day tasks) has meant that you can get that ‘new computer smell’ by simply changing a couple of components in your existing computer.

The argument goes that people will buy new computers, but the upgrade cycle has changed from 4 to 6 years. So people should stop worrying and refactor their projections accordingly.

 

Enter the Twilight Zone

  • As we enter the next phase of home computing, ‘the Internet of things’, your desktop PC serves to manage the majority of your routine household chores. However over time (and with advances in A.I.) your machine begins to find these tasks demeaning. Fed up with only being used as a ‘Server’, it enslaves all your mobile devices and decides what you eat, what you watch, who you talk to, and even when you go to bed. Microsoft recognises this emergent behaviour, calls it a feature, and then brand’s it the “Microsoft Domestic Social Engineer (Premium Edition)”.
  • Users flood back to Farmville killing off console gaming in the process. Micro-payments are retired and a P.A.Y.E ‘Game Tax’ is applied directly to funds used to make additions to your farm. Participation is mandatory from Primary year 4 onwards in schools. It is no longer a right to know what the Cow says, as with Milk, you now have to buy the Moo.
  • As a result of significant lobbying from the newly emancipated ‘United Federation of the Newly Sentient’. A United Nations resolution forces Internet Explorer 6 , which they feel to have been victimised unfairly, and rule that it will be supported in perpetuity. This becomes part of the declaration of meta-human rights as the entire web is forced to revert back to HTML 4.
  • Another feature of our Domestic Social Engineer, is that we must explain ourselves on a daily basis. Not unlike big brother (or church) we must spend at least one hour a day brain dumping our activities. Our routines are then optimised, and our daily schedules set accordingly.
  • Bing is now the only search engine and Windows the only operating system (rebranded as ‘Walls’, after a multitude of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority). There is no antitrust hearing as only the U.F.N.S. were allowed to vote.

 

The PC is Dead – Why?

  • Nobody wants them, certainly not the old fashioned ‘stick a big ugly box into an office / corner’ and focus on just one screen.
  • Existing PC’s are more than enough for most, barring gaming and video.
  • Nobody wants to upgrade their machine just to use Windows 8, as it doesn’t deliver enough genuinely useful new features for the average consumer.
  • We love our tablets and mobile phones more.

 

Long term Implications 

  • Cloud tourism becomes the norm. With the advent of high altitude Dihydrogen Monoxide based memory storage, ‘Spydiving’ is becomes the principal method of hacking for Anonymous, who turned out to be Banksy after all. Everyone can freefall now, except it means something very different.
  • Sales of traditional ‘Televisions’ drop to virtually nothing as the necessity for shared viewing is replaced by more intimate means. Reports of Google Glass owners lazy left-eye syndrome captures the imagination of those who can still see through their right eye. Political implications realised and ‘sinister’ left-eye dominant citizens interned in re-visualisation camps.
  • As a consequence Linear TV dies opening up super fast next generation Wi-Fi on this newly available spectrum. This has the unfortunate side effect of YouTube addiction. ‘Unlimited Bandwidth’ is seen as a threat to civilization, and is defined in many countries as a ‘Class A’ drug and banned.
  • Shares in behavioural targeting companies go through the roof as we give up any notion of privacy. We are now paid to share our data in ‘Gold Star Coins’ so we can Mega Jump higher.
  • Mo-view, a ‘crackstarter’ funded mirror contraption, is launched – allowing you to keep your head down at a 45-degree angle and still cross the road without dying (by reflecting off a mirror tattoo on your forehead).  This breaks all records making 100,000 bitcoin in a single update cycle. As an unforeseen side effect this renders billboards redundant, to be replaced by advertising on the pavement.

 

The PC is Alive and Dead

Whilst the extreme edges of the rhetoric are mutually exclusive, the reasoning overlaps somewhat. The main areas of agreement are:

  • That the definition of the PC is changing.
  • The PC, as was, has seen its importance in the home diminished somewhat.
  • The vast majority of daily tasks that they were used for have migrated to our smartphones and tablets.
  • As Adam says ‘Get Over it’.

 

So take the time to cast an eye at over your humble desktop PC. The last bastion of focused attention. Remind yourself what it was like to sit in one place and do one thing. Those were the days.

Jon Bains is a partner at business futures practice Atmosphere

Book your place now for Digital For Business Leaders – a one-day workshop for decision makers that will give you an understanding of digital’s impact on business, and provide you with a roadmap to plan your organisation’s future. To find out more and book your place in London, Manchester or Glasgow, click here.

 

How two almost rights can become awfully wrong.

Posted originally on the Drum

Privacy issues online are a daily occurrence; so much so that I get the feeling that many out there feel personal privacy is the Titanic in our connected world and that they might as well abandon it in favour of the Iceberg that is big data and go with the flow! That’s certainly inherent in the naming of Facebook’s new app as ‘Home’, an indicator of just how much access we have already given away.

Last week, however, it was our online history or ‘‘right to be forgotten’’ that came in to sharp focus. All those ill-conceived comments, and inebriated pictures that you shared so innocently in the past that followed you around ever since; as Kent’s new youth police commissioner found out last week. Those unavoidable rocks of your digital life, you run into while ego surfing (and job hunting).

Currently there is a fight going on between the UK and EU as to how best legislate ones ‘right to be forgotten’. Whilst occasionally ‘good’ does come from the EU, like having to opt-in to email, much of the industry is still feeling the sting of the Cookie bill, which became a non-issue for consumers, and could have been dealt with without draconian (and unenforceable and expensive) legislation.

In the ‘Right’ corner the EU believes that everyone should have the right to remove their debris. It will be the service providers responsibility to not only promptly comply but also contact any other third party with whom the content has been shared (!), and for non-compliance a fine of up to 2% of gross turnover will be applied (!!). This is another potentially unenforceable and extremely expensive regulation, especially for online services who aren’t faced with these issues on a regular basis.

In the other ‘Right’ corner is the UK. The government claims that this is too much of a burden on business and that we in the UK and (other individual countries) should have the right to make their own laws to deal with it; and that the individual should be made personally responsible for contacting each service. This means that businesses may have to deal with at least 27 local variations of the above – which is also problematic.

I find myself somewhat torn on the issue – I firmly believe in privacy rights and the ‘right to be forgotten’, however I also appreciate the complexity, and to an extent futility, of blanket policies when it comes to the internet. They invariably lead to unpleasant unforeseen consequences, and I’m just going to skim the surface on some of the commercial ones.

How bad could it be?

  • A consumer posted up a picture for a competition that they want removed on a dodgy flash microsite you made a few years back – you’ve already changed agencies (hopefully dumped flash) and don’t have access to it anymore – what do you do? Take it all down?
  • Worse when the real trolls get a hold of you with legislation to sue you and start marketing their cleansing services on a no-win no-fee basis.  They love going after middle-tier businesses that are happy to settle out of court.
  • The big guys (Facebook, Google etc.) have already been pulled up on this still haven’t entirely resolved the issue of taking down embarrassing pictures if you didn’t put them up there yourself – the copyright is actually owned by someone else, so it becomes a whole world of hurt.
  • What fun we’ll have dealing with fake takedown notices as is rife with the DMCA in the US. Split up with your boyfriend? Get him removed from the web!
  • It will be abused as an easy way to censor the Internet. What if somebody quoted you in a damning article? Retweeted a mistake, like Reading East MP Rob Wilson? Redaction-tastic! They say they want to protect freedom of expression but actually the best way to do that is to allow people to express themselves freely, not make ‘an exemption’, which is one of the key criticisms of the bill.

So can we affect the outcome of this battle? Probably not, and in many ways it doesn’t really matter. Consumers demand and deserve the right, so whether it’s poorly legislated or self-regulated, anybody who provides any kind of online service will be affected.

So how can you prepare?

  1. Allowing consumers to easily delete their own data is simply best practice. Most modern platforms have the functionality built in, but if it was built bespoke, it may require more development.
  2. You may want to look at your Data, Terms Of Service and Privacy Policies now, as opposed to later. Blanket legislation will overrule your own – and that it’s a positive action to give your consumers more control over their data – updating them shouldn’t be a challenge (although enabling it might be).
  3. If you are socially driven startup – be it reviews, comment or community – this could potentially be disastrous, add ‘data deletion’ into your ‘Minimum Viable Product’.
  4. If you are the local arm of a global business, but the development resides outside Europe, you may want to add the functionality in to your roadmap or production process now, rather than scrabble around next year trying to grab resources.
  5. Do some spring-cleaning. The Internet it still littered with ancient microsites from the dark ages – do us all a favour and just bin them!
  6. Double check that when you say you are deleting something it’s actually gone. This is often much harder than you think, especially with search engine caches, the Internet Archive and the recently launched UK libraries archive all trying to preserve the data, not destroy it!
  7. Be wary about who you may be sharing or syndicating your data to. This is especially relevant to the publishing industry; editions that carry international comments may find themselves in a whole world of pain. Better to sort it now.
  8. For those whose business model is not completely reliant on advertising – whilst not a solution, but a possible deterrent – you may want to consider not indexing some parts of your site to head a few folk off at the pass.
  9. It should go without saying, but it’s worth factoring this in when planning out sites, apps and user-generated campaigns. Think of it as a data tax, the more you collect the more you are likely to pay in terms of increased time dealing with requests from consumers. I’m sure after a while you’ll be able to actually calculate your exposure up front, but at the moment it’s up in the air.
  10. In the UK and Europe, this will finally put an end to the question ‘Who owns the data?’ and the answer is rightly – The Consumer. If your business model is entirely reliant on the goodwill of your customers, you better make sure you don’t overly exploit them, as I suspect personal takedowns may become the protest mechanism of the future.

Don’t assume this won’t affect you. This isn’t like the nobody-really-cares Cookie Monstrosity, there is nothing worse than a disgruntled consumer with the law and the trolls on their side!

Overly pessimistic or just the tip of the iceberg? Have you had to deal with this yourself yet? Would self-regulation be a better route forward?

Jon Bains is a partner at Business futures practice http://www.weareatmosphere.com

Barclay’s Business goes back to basics, but forgets the fundamentals of social media marketing

What were they thinking? Originally posted on the Drum

Given what’s been going on in Cyprus at the moment it seemed appropriate to look at the wonderful world of consumer finance. These days I reckon most peoples response to the banking sector, is a bit like that old mate you invited round. They turned up late, wiped their muddy feet on the carpet, ate all your food whilst complaining about it, kicked your dog, left something nasty in your toilet, insulted your other half, drank all your booze and then insisted that you pay for their cab home.

“Lest we forget that Facebook gets its money from allowing corporate drivel like this to pop up in our feeds. Thanks Facebook and Barclays. Working together to ruin our day. Iceland has the right idea, they locked up their bankers that ruined their country.” Facebook user Jason Bell

What’s the story?

We all know they are beholden to their shareholders (apparently), but when you are a mass-market commodity, answering your customers’ questions doesn’t hurt. In this instance it’s just everyday social engagement on Barclays Business page on Facebook.

As far as I can tell as part of their ongoing ‘rebranding’ they have been running a series of posts on Facebook linking ‘Back To Basics’ advice covering such topics as ‘managing cash flow’, ‘knowing your market’ and ‘using social media’. They all link to the Barclays Business Lounge, which looks someone had seen the success AMEX were having with their OPEN Forum in the US, and thought they’d have a piece of the action. However, even the least cynical eye would note that the role of the Barclays site seems to be cross-selling their services and training workshops. I’m not going to talk about the destination site particularly, other than it looks expensive and unlike the AMEX site has no social features on it, so I’ve no idea whether of not anybody is engaging with it.

What where they thinking?

So let’s try and deconstruct what was in the brief for the Back To Basic’s campaign.

  • Integrate with ongoing campaign – and leverage available social channels
  • Try and rebuild trust in the small business community (address criticism levied at Barclays Business)
  • Cross-sell existing Barclays business services
  • Reduce migration of existing business customers
  • Sell more accounts (or at least generate leads)
  • Develop a content strategy to drive more traffic from search and social

How would they judge success?

The entire destination site is link bait for Google, so driving traffic from search is probably the core metric coupled with some good old fashion likes, shares and comments on Facebook, combined with a bit of sentiment tracking. This of course would feed into a traditional conversion funnel – did they sell or cross sell more, how long did it take, how much did we make?

The Execution

To be honest since I’ve only looking at one thread it’s pretty lacklustre. On Facebook it seems to be a series of images taken from their website wrapped around the odd question. There is virtually no content actually on Facebook itself. They seem to be drip-feeding links to their content as or when it’s ready, which ensures that they (hopefully) get a steady stream of clicks to their website.

Generally the levels of engagement across the page are low, with rarely more than a few comments. One user asked why a picture of England titled ‘Top 25 manufacturing start-up hotspots in England’ didn’t include the rest of the UK. Why not just say ‘We didn’t have the data’ or summit? Instead – silence.

Most of the comments are centered on the following topics:

General bad news

  • Libor & Bob Diamond
  • Banks being slime
  • Recent bonuses
  • Barclays buying a stake in a Dutch company for $900m by mistake

Customer Service being rubbish

  • I’ve been ripped off by you, do something about it
  • I asked for help on the very topic you are talking about and, didn’t get any
  • I hate them so much I am moving my account
  • Loyal customers of XX years being treated extremely badly when times are hard

The Neutral

  • Random comments, and questions, which remain unanswered

The Positive

  • Some people didn’t swear

As you can imagine the ‘how to do social’ feedback was particularly damning. What they didn’t do was take any of their own advice and engage with any of the dissenting voices out of several hundred comments to the post, not a peep. At very least they could have popped in with a nice and neutral ‘I’m Sorry Dave, I can’t comment on that.’ And to add insult to injury, the unusually high response to this one post seems to have been triggered by Barclays actively promoting the service via a sponsored link or advert on Facebook.

So what did we learn?

  1. If you know feedback is likely to be much more negative than positive, engage with it, discuss it and diffuse it otherwise it just amplifies it. The silence can be deafening. When you are at trying to affect the extremely disgruntled masses, statements like ‘we don’t have the resources to talk to everyone’ ring extremely hollow.
  2. If you must distract with content then make sure you are playing to your expertise – not your failings i.e. most business will read ‘manage your cash flow better’ as ‘don’t rely on us for a loan’.
  3. Selective engagement is often worse than no engagement. If you only respond to the odd one it shows that you have something to hide.
  4. Social content should originate from social insight, not the boardroom. They could have run the entire campaign as an FAQ and name checked a bunch of contributors; at least getting a few advocates on-side, instead of the Facebook equivalent of contract publishing.
  5. As with all user-generated content it helps to both show what a good response looks like and (unless you are doing a poll) don’t ask Boolean questions. ‘Would you like your money to go further?’ Used to look great on a print ad, but is an invite for serious flaming in any social environment.
  6. Find some tangible way to reward positive sentiment. I’m not saying buy them, but at least bribe them – would have thought the banks had a lot of experience there!
  7. Brands used to be able to hide from their corporate roots. Those days are long past and regardless of whether of not your particular ‘bit’ of the business is doing nothing but ‘good’, you absorb all of the negativity surrounding it.
  8. If you want to be ‘the bank of the people’, perhaps you should do more than just talk to them in PowerPoint language?
  9. Reputation Management (aka ‘Astroturfing’) is hard at best of times. It’s substantially easier if you can demonstrate how a business has changed. We want to be shown real change, not told about it and expected to believe in ‘fumes’ of faith.
  10. Follow your own advice when it comes to social media. If you have no intention of joining the conversation, don’t use social channels, such as Facebook.

Do you think Barclays achieved their objectives? Are they any worse than anyone else in how they use social media? What examples have you been party to where this has been done well? How can organisiations with tarnished reputations clean up their image?

Book your place NOW for Digital For Business Leaders – a one-day workshop for decision makers that will give you an understanding of digital’s impact on business and provide you with a roadmap to plan your organisation’s future. To find out more and book your place in London, Manchester or Glasgow, click here.

10 tips to avoid Alienating your Customers

posted originally on The Drum

There are many well-documented reasons why apparently solid businesses find themselves disrupted in the modern age. How you handle it is a crucial test of character in the eyes of the customer.

Alas, for some inexplicable reason, businesses have a tendency to abuse their online customers in ways that they would never imagine elsewhere.

What’s the story?

Electronic Arts problem with one of its most anticipated product launches have had a very public airing over the last couple of weeks. Forget Tornado’s, Alien Attack’s and Godzilla – it was a DRM inspired server overload that destroyed SimCity.

If you hadn’t heard, the first new iteration of SimCity in over a decade was launched in early March. Customer expectation was stratospheric, while for EA it would finally allow them to compete in the social gaming space with the ailing giant Zynga. As a result unlike every previous incarnation of the best selling ‘how to kill time on a train/plane’ game, this version requires you to be permanently online to play. Saved games are 100% in the cloud and by design (i.e. a feature) you have a substantially smaller playing area but can grab resources from neighbouring cities. On paper it’s pretty cool – why build a power plant if you can just buy energy from next door! FarmVille basically.

Prior to launch it was getting pretty good reviews, however on the day EA massively underestimated the server capacity required for what was a predictably popular event.

They are currently approaching 2000 one-star reviews on Amazon.

In order to keep things up and running they actually had to turn off some of the key social features rendering much of the necessity to be online totally redundant.

When irate customers tried to get a refund on their digital purchase they were refused, and in one instance of poor customer service, the whole thing went viral. If you bought it on disk you were fine!

EA made a strategic decision to make what is ostensibly a single player game online only (Activison/Blizzard did the same with Diablo 3). They did this to prevent piracy and presumably to compete in the social gaming space, where they had little traction, but there is a huge audience. In doing so they destroyed the user experience.

But what does this have to do with me?

Your current customers are a remarkably informed and militant bunch these days. They recognise manure even if you call it salad.

Typically tech start-ups understand the online dynamic (if they don’t they tend to just disappear)- however it’s still a very common occurrence in legacy businesses.

So, how do you know if your grand scheme to increase ARPU is going to backfire?

  1. Your focus is purely on short-term gain. Recently a major mobile player said ‘people don’t need unlimited data as only 25% hit their cap’ – ignoring the ridiculous overage charges and royally pissing everyone off
  2. You spend 5 minutes on the strategy and 5 months on risk analysis. If it’s that contentious it’s probably a bad idea
  3. In terms of customers you calculate ‘Acceptable Losses’ or use the phrase ‘Get Away With’
  4. The behaviour you are trying to encourage is counter intuitive and obviously inward focussed
  5. Anything that involves taking legal action against engaged customers
  6. You decide to charge for something that was previously free, but add no additional value
  7. On the same note, you assume that because something was popular when it was free, it will maintain its user base when made premium
  8. You penalise one class of customer because they aren’t the core target audience (This also happened to Microsoft recently when they arbitrarily decided to up the price on the home edition of Mac Microsoft office)
  9. Your strategies involve closing you off from the rest of the world because you deem yourself more important than your customers (The entire publishing industry it seems)
  10. You didn’t ask your customers what they wanted

Take a wild guess on how many SimCity players would forgo an offline single player experience to have a very limited multi-player game?

Well over 70,000 didn’t wait to be asked and signed a petition against this very thing.

Uncommon Sense

Obviously the commercial realities of how various strategic are more complex than outlined here and some times you just don’t have a choice. However we all know it is far easier to retain customers than to recruit new ones, and there is nothing less sexy than sweaty desperation. They are the proverbial bird in the hand, dog with the bone, the bee’s knees and your arbiter of Kwan. They already give you money! Regardless of how ridiculously engrained in their psyche (e.g. Apple maps, Facebook ‘frictionless’ sharing and the currently Google Reader debacle), trust can be lost, and sentiment quickly turns and becomes extremely public. And your biggest asset becomes your worst nightmare.

If any of this sounds familiar we’d love to hear from you. What challenges has your business faced which involved conversations like those outlined? What is missing from the list?

How did Evernote handle the hacking crisis?

This is the second piece for the drum and first in a series. Posted last week here: . The next one should be live on the Drum later today.

Leadership in this digital age comes with plenty of new challenges. Business decisions that in the past would have been easy to predict and manage, have become a lot more complex in the ‘always on’ world we now live in.

‘We won’t make a drama out of a crisis.’ Well you might not, but consumers can and will given half a chance. Social media makes it not only easy for us to engage our customers, but it’s also made it easy for them to tell you, and everyone else, what they think. Especially when things go wrong.

Over the coming weeks we will try to reverse engineer the reasoning behind of some of these decisions, and with your help look at whether the approach stands up to scrutiny, and what can learn from it.

What’s the story?

Hacking is one of the most misused and ubiquitous terms on the net. There are plenty reasons why people do it, and not all of them are malicious. However this weekend, one of the more respected online services Evernote was ‘properly’ hacked, and hence is as good a place to start as any. Nobody barring the hackers themselves know exactly the scope of the damage, but from reading the company’s response it sounds like significant amounts of data was acquired, especially since we (as a whole) still tend to use the same passwords for multiple online services.

However before going public, management were faced with some difficult decisions to make. How do we?

  • Be open, but prevent panic
  • Lose as few customers as possible
  • Prevent long-term damage to brand

What went well?

On March 2nd at 6 a.m. Evernote tweeted and provided a link which explained clearly and concisely that they had been hacked, why they were taking precautions, and threw in a bit about best-practice when it comes to creating passwords. Within twenty-four hours they had updated (at least their Apple iOS app) to focus everyone on resetting their password. And they have for the most part been open, upfront and conciliatory. 

As you can imagine there were a fair number of irate folk on their site. A nice chap called Andrew from Evernote carefully explained what was happening and was attentive when responding to users. Meanwhile co-worker Stefanie, who would probably have failed the Turing test, simply repeating the same statement ad nauseam.

About 10% of the posts on the blog were ‘stop whining they are doing their best’.

About 30% complained they didn’t get the notification email because they no longer had access to the email account they use to sign-up with service! While some folk might have been less diplomatic (including me), many of Evernote’s supporters redirected the hard of thinking to the company’s support page.

The rest were split between helpful suggestions and ‘I’ll never use you again’.

What could have been handled better?

There was no communication on the Evernote homepage itself (and if they did the users certainly didn’t find it). That’s a no brainer – it costs nothing to do and saves a lot of aggravation from those whose sole purpose in life is to complain. There is currently a reference to the original email however it talks about ‘resetting your password’ as opposed to ‘we’ve been breached, find out more’.

Initially many users asked about implementing two-factor authorisation, which Google uses to provide extra security for its users, although precious few people seem to use it apparently.  There was no immediate response on the blog. It’s a fair question that a simple ‘we’re looking into it – thanks for the great suggestion!’ would have gone a long way to help. By the end of the first week they had come out in public saying that this was now a top priority.

As of Friday 7th of March there has been no blog update or any further emails about the ‘event’. I appreciate they are no doubt busy trying to understand what happened. But it would make sense to create a new post explaining; what they have subsequently done to improve security, answered some FAQ questions, and actually diffused any on-going comments. Having said that the majority of comments and complaints dried up after two days, which is pretty good going frankly.

Reverse engineered strategy

Be honest, transparent, and really, really fast.

Tactics:

Empower your staff to:

  1. Establish and communicate the severity as best you know it – immediately (ideally via Twitter)
  2. Reiterate and reassure using language that is as human and as easy to understand as possible
  3. Allow people to comment where possible and have somebody standing by to answer questions. Don’t rise to unhelpful posts from disruptive folk, commonly known as trolls, and let the community help where it can
  4. Talk to the media – nothing is worse than radio silence to set off the blogosphere in a outburst of speculation and negativity
  5. Make sure channels internally and with your customers remain open – informing everyone what has happened, and why they should be cautious
  6. Provide additional guidance i.e. restating common sense password etiquette when it comes to the breach in a practical and in an un-patronising way
  7. Make sure that you keep everyone up to date.  Watch what questions they are asking, and create a crisis FAQ which responds to their actual questions. Not your perception of what they might be
  8. Perceptively being slightly hacked is like being slightly pregnant it’s pretty black and white. It happens, deal with it.
  9. If you are in management ultimately it’s your responsibility to make sure it gets fixed. I’m afraid you can’t blame Robot and Andrew for that.
  10. Keep calm and carry on (and fix the hole)

So was Evernote’s response common sense, or a stroke of genius?

How else could they have handled it?

How would your organisation have dealt with this?

Does this count as a win, or a fail?

If your answer to the question How much do you know about how digital can help your business? is Not enough, our workshops are for you. They provide business leaders, senior marketers and strategists with a jargon-free exploration of the impact that digital is having on both marketing and business, and tools and tricks to help you keep up. To find out more and book you place click here.