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So maybe we’re not the centre of the universe after all… November 29, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, web 2.0.
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In 1543, a book called “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres)” was published, authored by Nicolaus Copernicus. He died with the first copy in his hands, having set in motion what would come to be known as the Copernican Revolution, the notion that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

I’m working on a comprehensive digital strategy for my company, funnily enough because that’s a big part of what I was hired to do. I’ve just drawn up a large diagram on the white board next to my desk (you guys remember white boards, right?) which had started by me writing the word “site” in a box in the corner and then putting things around it, with arrows going in all sorts of directions.

I did a core dump of ideas then stepped back to assess what was there, and see what I’d missed. The thing that leapt out at me though was purely accidental, yet hammered home something I had read plenty of but hadn’t actually understood until now. By putting my company’s site in the corner and expanding diagonally to the right, I had wound up with a white board full of scribbles, and at the core was a large box, inside it written “social media”.

As I looked at the diagram, I realised that only a handful of things had arrows pointing back to the site, but everything flowed to and from the social media box. And at that point I suddenly understood the notion of a de-centralised web, what that means for my company, other companies, and how that fits together. Makes me wonder if one day in the not too distant future companies will cease to have websites and will instead just have web-based applications that promote their services…food for thought.

For more on this, check out Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategy blog, it is a great piece of work.

Talking to the hand that feeds… November 27, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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My company has two very distinct audiences that we talk to. One we can talk to in a highly irreverent fashion and it doesn’t matter too much, in fact it is encouraged.

The other audience though is actually the one that keeps us in business. There is a significant premium on their time and as a result I am extraordinarily cautious when we talk to them and in the way we talk to them. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes, feel their pressures and think about what would be relevant to their day to day life. I think I’m more empathetic than most (thank you many years as a struggling actor) and can usually put myself inside a situation fairly easily. What I find when I’m there though is I don’t know if I really want to hear from my company; if I’m even remotely right, then that has serious ramifications for more than just a semi-regular newsletter.

Do you receive news from people you spend money with? If so, do they make it worth your while? If not, how could they?

They call it bleeding edge for a reason… November 13, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in blogging, branding, digital strategy, web 2.0.
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I just watched a fantastic interview with a guy I’ve mentioned a couple times in as many days, Avinash Kaushik. The interview was done by Simon Chen who heads up the Eight Black group (Disclaimer: my company does a lot of work with Eight Black, they’re great people) over at the Blogworld expo in Las Vegas. When Simon first said he was headed over there, I kinda giggled in his general direction, even though I’ve been blogging since before they called it that.

If you head over however to Simon’s own blog, you’ll see that it has turned out to be a great collection of people really at the forefront of how companies talk to their customers, and people talk to each other. He has a range of discussions up with different practitioners, along with some video of talks he attended. I don’t have time to sit trhough them all, but invariably if Simon puts something up there is some sort of insight to be gleaned from it; of course I get to do that by having him in my office once a week.

The last 1:30 of his discussion with Avinash really struck a chord with me. His key message to corporates and CEOs who are scared of engaging with their customers via blogging was if you’re not doing it, then you’re not at the cutting edge of blogging. He talks enthusiastically about the upcoming generation (Disclaimer: I am Gen-Y, therefore predisposed to liking nice things said about me) and their disdain for traditional media (TV, radio, magazines etc.) and the messages contained therein. He says we’re not influenced by those things, and for the most part, he is right.

When I think about the sites I like, the writers I like, the people I respond to, the level of candour is always paramount to how I engage with them and how what they say resonates with me. I said in my very first post here that the second you say “We’re cool”, you’re not, and the same applies. You can’t tell someone your content or message is relevant, you can only sit it in front of them and say “I dig this, and if you give a shit about the things I give a shit about, then maybe you’ll dig it too.” The power comes in stepping away and leaving that choice in the consumer’s hands, in essentially acknowledging you are power-less to force the outcome you desire. The great thing about that though is when you do get voluntarily chosen by your customer, you have empowered them, you have engaged in the age old paradigm of “the customer is always right”, which was always about sitting your customer on a pedestal. Them choosing you brings you up to their level; whether you stay there or not depends entirely on you convincing them there is value in having you around.

Avinash concludes the short interview with the following missive, which I like so mch I have printed out and stuck on my wall: “If businesses want to convert their customers into evangelists…the only way to do it is to put yourself out there, participate in the social environment, have a blog, show your passion, contribute something of value and then you don’t have to talk about yourself, you can get your customers to go talk and spread your gospel, (they) will become your marketing machine.”

Amen to that!

Convincing the Hippos November 12, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, web 2.0.
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That title means more than I care to let on, suffice to say it is apt for me and what I do. It was just introduced to me as an acronym via an excellent talk on web analytics by Avinash Kaushik. The video is just under an hour and well worth your time.

In his video, Avinash used the word Hippo as an acronym; HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion. No matter what you did in the room argued Avinash, it would be the opinion of the Hippo that provided the action. Too bad if you fail to convince them!

This thinking of course is nothing new; most of us spent time at university figuring out what our lecturers liked reading in order to get the best marks from them; however artificially inflated that number might have been, the song remains the same; your proposal for a piece of work doesn’t need to make all the arguments, just the right ones.

Avinash is an absolute evangelist for analytics, consumed with the intelligent interpretation of data, which it turns out is all about context. Context informs the why in your visitor’s behaviour as opposed to simply the “what”, which is derived from clicks. He also espouses the virtues of having goals on your site, a line you’re running towards, and after hearing him talk I can’t help but feel some of the things he said should be (in hindsight) as plain as day. Sitting around watching numbers is one thing, setting a direction for them (at least something more informed than “up”) is another.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the HIPPOs I deal with, how I can make compelling cases for improving our product in the ways I believe it needs to. I’ve been spoiled in the past with CEOs who, bizarrely now it would seem, took me at my word when I said something was a good idea. As much as my current situation is a pain in the ass, it’s also a great lesson in justifying my arguments and making sure I have done my homework properly and am not just operating on a (possibly VERY incorrect) assumption.

I highly recommend anyone involved in working online to check out Avinash’s video. I’m beginning to work through his book, and while I’m not a stats person and ceased doing maths first chance I got, I’m strangely excited about what lies ahead and the information I can glean from the site to make our company stand out from the pack. Turns out HIPPOs like numbers, and that’s what analytics is all about.

Just to be seen November 6, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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I was talking with one of our marketing people the other day about radio, web, and what power (if any) there is in simply “being seen”. Is a campaign successful purely if it, on paper, reaches the target audience? Or is some sort of interaction mandatory before raising your brand’s flag and claiming victory?

Being purely online, I see a level of engagement as the only measure of success, however I forget that traditional media have never had this luxury. The marketing person I was discussing this with was running through a radio campaign that had, on paper, “reached 35%” of our target demographic. I asked for proof, of which none could be provided because it is all based on a sample of 2000 people in the radio network’s broadcast area. 2000 people whose data is extrapolated to the n &supth; degree, whose choices, likes and dislikes are then sold to advertisers as the habits of the nation. All the while nobody talking about the elephant in the corner, nobody being willing to say our demo doesn’t actually listen to radio anymore.

I set about de-constructing the numbers, trying to get a solid idea on what our CPA (cost-per-acquisition) was. I’m not going to go ito too much detail, but broadly speaking, I could have wandered university campuses around the country and handed out six-packs of beer and achieved a similar outcome; this does not get chalked up as a win in my book.

I forget though that the accountability inherent in an online platform can be frightening to people from traditional media backgrounds; putting a price tag on each person reached by that campaign is scary for the folk I work with as it only serves to highlight inefficiencies in our marketing practices. And because it so quickly reveals the flaws, people are quick to judge, become defensive, and bury their heads even further into the sand while the digital steamroller edges ever closer.

As marketers we should be embracing hard numbers, even if most people went into marketing so they could avoid math. We should be taking closer, more scrutinised looks at ourselves and learning from our mistakes. That’s easy for me to say when my preferred medium lays it all bare anyway, but to run from our ability to know more about our audience, their habits and how they think and transfer that into flawlessly executed campaigns is tantamount to admitting defeat, hanging up our BlackBerrys and going off to work at an organic farm, longing for simpler, easier times.

I’ve never thought it enough just to be seen, but there’s an increasingly short shelf life looming for anyone who does.

Candid Conversations November 2, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in branding.
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It has been the week for breakfast meetings, I had another one today. Now, I am to mornings as Superman is to kryptonite, but the company I can keep over a morning cup of coffee makes it worth my while to get out of bed a little earlier, despite having crashed out at 2am the night before. I can recall being 22 and getting no more than 6 hours sleep every night, and somehow this was always fine. These days I can barely get out of bed after 9 hours, which says more about poor lifestyle choices and particularly a penchant for that extra glass of wine I imagine. Regardless, I found, to my utter astonishment, that not only did I arrive on time for the 8am meeting, but that there was actually some fantastic dialogue to be had.

I’m a firm believer in there being no monopoly on good ideas; indeed it can often be the people least savvy with a particular medium who arrive at the best outcomes; they’re not bound in any way by what has gone before them. That statement has nothing to do with breakfast however, as across the table from me sat a good friend whose ability to think critically and objectively about a given situation I really admire. He hit upon a very interesting point, and one that particularly resonates with work I’m doing right now: much less does my company’s brand resonate with its intended audience, but does my audience, frankly, really care? The site exists to provide a particular service. And, provided this happens for the people who come to use it, what impact if any can the brand then have on the individual? More to the point, does it need to?

We talked about Google and how they are so intrinsically linked with search that the noun has also become a verb. We now google using Google; I’d be curious to know if anyone has ever heard of someone saying they googled using a competitor such as Yahoo or MSN. But I digress, the question was asked: does Google’s brand actually resonate with its users? Do people feel an affinity for it? I’m not so sure. I think people have feelings towards Google as a company, which is based on their admiration of either an ethical approach to business, or the appreciation they have for a core function (search), which in turn spurs their core product (advertising). I certainly wouldn’t wear a Google t-shirt, but then I don’t wear any clothes with overt branding on them, which speaks volumes about me and nothing about Google’s brand.

It begs the question though, if a brand fails to resonate with its audience but still delivers on a core service, will people still use it? What does that say about traditional marketing and branding? How does that change the rules online? If I want to book a flight, I go to WebJet and find the best price on any airline. Qantas resonates with me as a brand, but JetStar and Virgin resonate with my hip pocket, and that speaks far louder. The point at which the value of the company’s service eclipses the power of the brand is an interesting thought – does that then mean, as I mention in a post below, a company can no longer affect mass change in the way a brand is perceived without alienating the people who use it?

Or in simpler terms and to touch back on a comment I made earlier, there is no monopoly on good ideas. But once that idea gains mass acceptance, perhaps you forfeit the ability to affect change in that idea; that is left to the users.

Of course when your share price heads north of $700, I imagine you have other things on your mind…