Key focus points for Selling to the Digital Natives (and how I miss the download bar).

A couple of weeks ago I attended a panel session at innovfest here in Singapore

Doing an excellent moderation job was:

Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist – Salesforce

And the panelists were:

Cedric Dias, Head of Digital Marketing – OCBC Bank

King Quah, Co-Founder & Managing Director – SaltyCustoms

Parin Mehta, APAC Trips Operations Director – Airbnb

Shanru Lai, Co-Founder – ShopBack

Tim Kobe, Founder – Eight Inc.

Firstly, what is a ‘Digital Native’? Simply put, it’s a person who has grown up with Digital – someone who (unlike me) hasn’t had to transition and get used to the digital world.

Inherent in the title of this panel discussion is some assertion that it’s somehow different now when we sell to digital natives. This could be interpreted two ways I suppose: one, that we distinguish between digital natives and everyone else (including me) when we try and sell stuff or two, that we simply regard everyone as being digitally engaged nowadays and not worry if they’re a native or someone who had to make the transition.

It’s probably easiest to (generally) think that everyone is now best engaged (mostly) through digital means. It’s interesting that I should be considered potentially different because I am not a native. Let’s consider this difference in the context of some of the points raised during the discussion.

Tim Kobe made the observation that we should be ‘recognizing behaviors and replicating them’. As someone with a grounding and background in design thinking, I can relate to this. Tim, I think, is encompassing several things here – most importantly probably is that digital and technology should take its lead from real people and an understanding what they want and need and not try and invent behaviors. I’ve had plenty of tech vendors come to me and try and shoehorn a shiny piece of functionality in to some fanciful and imagined user need to try and give it some credibility and relevance.

As a non native, I have lived through the early days of the revolution and learned that digital and technology have not invented needs and desires but merely (albeit it in staggering, unimagined and wonderful ways), helped us do what we want to do. That grounds people like me and, quite possibly, balances the imagination and creativity of a native (who never thought putting a PDF brochure online was digital) with proper consideration to user needs and putting the user at the center of innovation.

(And making money too, but that’s another story).

Shanru spoke of the highly social nature of the native and the need to always be giving them content. She didn’t get the chance to expand further on exactly what she meant by ‘social’ but as someone who lived through the days when the digital landscape was rife with predictions of people never mixing in the real world again, I’m guessing Shanru wouldn’t recognize this concern and, perhaps, not even be aware that some of us lived through these dark scenarios!

Cedric echoed the contemporary refrain that experience is key. And I wonder if, ideally, a non native would warrant a different experience to that of a native. It’s possibly fanciful thinking of course to think that we would want to invest in selling using different digital experience for natives but, even assuming we could easily distinguish our audience and customize their experience (native versus no native) I wonder what we might choose to be different.

Perhaps, to address another point made, we might wish to slow down the experience for non natives! We were told that the natives are increasingly impatient and, whilst we can all relate to this, I think there are interesting points to consider here.

I use a podcast app (Downcast) to download and listen to podcasts and the download speed can be so fast now that I actually miss the ‘downloading’ bar. That wait, the inevitable wait that was part of our digital transition, became a cornerstone and foundation of our digital experience for many years. And it speaks to a fundamental difference between natives and non natives – that we know what it used to be like and (without elevating myself to the level of someone who has really suffered) what the struggle was. It really was hard to get ‘images’ to download in 1988 and that’s something the natives will never know.

It’s perhaps why one of the panelists described the natives as the spoiled generation. And also why Parin of Airbnb spoke of their focusing on the offline experience. For us non natives the experience was the digital bit itself – the waiting, the fixing things that broke, the realization of the what the new dawn offered, the download bar and getting a a 7 Mb file downloaded across a few floppy disks.

Digital now is increasingly the experience enabler and not the experience itself. Perhaps understanding that will help us sell in the future knowing that those of us who really experienced digital itself are making way for the spoiled ones for who ‘our’ digital is just that thing they never have to think about.

Pipedrive just made me smile

I’m in the habit of googling promo codes before I sign up to anything online or before I buy something. I did that this morning as I was signing up for Pipedrive. This was the page I landed on:

 

It made me smile. Their brand image for me just got that bit better. I thought they were awesome before. Now I’m sure.

Embracing the Airbnb experience

This post was originally published on www.webintravel.com on 20th October 2015

airbnbIt was interesting for me listening to Julian Persaud of Airbnb simply for the number of times he used the word ‘experience’. He had a lot to say, of course, about the company and his last role with Google. But that word kept cropping up – he even used the phrase ‘touching the Airbnb experience’ when describing what the rest of us might call ‘using the app’.

One could be cynical of course and imagine that this phrase is drummed in to him as part of some sophisticated internal PR drive. But that doesn’t really matter because calling a person’s interaction with Airbnb – with any of their touch points –is that person’s brand experience. And a company that really understands that (even if it’s ingrained as part of internal brainwashing as some cynics might have it) is a company that is riding the proverbial wave of contemporary consumer-centric thinking.

Julian talked about the experience as it pertains to the actual stay of course, citing his 1,000 nights of hotel stays when at Google as a bit of a blur.

But crucially what Julian and Airbnb understand is that ‘experience’ is not just about the stay. It’s not just about the holiday or the flight. I would go as far as to stay that, in some senses, those obvious aspects of the experience – the stay or the flight – are almost trivial. What Airbnb does is focus on every touch point – on every interaction someone might have with the brand over and above the actual thing itself.

And I can pay personal testament to this. A year or so ago I applied for a job with Airbnb (I didn’t land it). And even the job application process with them is a delightful experience and that’s something I can say even though the ‘experience’ was ultimate unsuccessful. The email I received from them when making my application was simply a ‘nice’ email. Most of you reading this I’m sure will have had job applications with other companies where your application wasn’t even acknowledged.

So I’m prepared to look past any cynicism. Julian works for a company that understands the importance of experience when it comes to job candidates. It’s no surprise that they totally get it when it comes to ‘touching the Airbnb experience’ on a mobile device. You know: using the app.

What working in Design taught me about doing online marketing and advertising.

First published on Clickz Asia October 2013

My name is Carl and I used to work in design.  There.  I’ve said it.

SIDTSpecifically I worked for Philips Design for nearly 5 years in Singapore with a couple of short stints in Amsterdam and Eindhoven.

It’s easy to mock design, of course, and the industry frequently finds itself the subject of parody. We’re all familiar with the turtle neck sweaters and thick black-rimmed glasses – the ones who look a lot like advertising CDs – and familiar too with the hipster-types and those without socks or with a pair of sneakers paired with a linen suit.

Yeah, it’s easy to mock, and the industry probably gets more than its fair share.  Some of it, as with any industry is justified because there are some characters lurking in the design industry who don’t seem to be able to offer much beyond their quirky dress habit and a hugely inflated sense of self importance but look beyond and around the edges of the squirming oversized egos and there’s an awful lot of great processes, ways of working and approaches to thinking about things from which any business or industry would benefit.

In this series of articles I’m going to talk about the notion of Design Thinking – a broad business approach – and, in this first article, focus on one of its three central tenets – that of customer-centricity. (I’ll move on to discuss the others over the coming two articles).

Design Thinking is a concept or approach that has been popularized over the last few years by people like Tim Brown of Ideo and is described on its Wikipedia page as, design thinking is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

It can seem obvious to talk about the importance of thinking about and understanding the customer when designing a product or a service or when looking to engage an audience with an idea or communication.  And many companies and people do but normally in a very cursory way – a way where most of the understanding is concentrated around a demographic perspective or a process driven perspective.

In working with companies over the last few years it’s been interesting for me to ask them what they know about their customers.  The answers are invariably very similar and take the form of percentage splits by gender, age group and location. – “Oh, I know a lot: 37% are male, 35% live in Thailand, 22% are in this income bracket etc.”  Like I said – almost always the same answer and almost always about demographics.  And these people really think this data gives them enough to connect well with their customers.  They may also talk about a process – we need to provide them this, this and this.  In already thinking about the thing they want to give their customers, they’ve failed to dig deeper into the underlying need.  Thinking you need to give someone a pen because you’ve assumed they want to write something down may be missing an opportunity.  That person may not wish to write – they may simply want to record something for later retrieval.

Since beginning to write this article I’ve met with a friend of mine who works for Ideo.  We talked about advertising and he comes into contact with many advertising companies and, in doing so, finds he can really relate to some of the strategic planners.  That doesn’t surprise me and I find myself regularly engaged in my own office with my planning colleague with both of us passionately vocalizing on subjects, ways of approach and practices that I, at least, was very exposed to during my design days.

Only yesterday we talked about Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus notion and how customers’ behavior is proportional to their motivation. (It’s a lot more involved than that but let’s leave it there for now).  If we think back to our typical business’ idea of understanding their customers through their (almost exclusively) demographic data, whilst allowing business to conveniently compartmentalize and segment their customers, in reality it reveals very little about their customers’ motivation.

Knowing customers is more important now than it’s ever been and tomorrow it’ll be even more important.  To speak about the ubiquitous internet and always online consumer just in terms of convenience and amount of time people can now be online is to fail to understand the reality of what we now face.  Whereas conversations in advertising years ago were largely limited the post purchase phase and generating brand awareness and consideration, we now live in times where we are able to touch our consumers constantly – before, during and after purchase. And the again – before, during and after.  We need to always be considering their motivations as they move through the brand engagement cycle.

Not only are we now potentially with them ALL the time we are with them everywhere they go.

When people tell me the demographics details about the customer base I tell them it’s not enough.  “Tell me who these people really are.  How do they get to work?  What keeps them up at night?  How do they want to be perceived?”  And then, when they might think about buying our product. “What questions do they have about the product or service?  What might stop them buying? What worries them?”

Knowing all this allows us to create our opportunities.  We can’t (generally) do much about motivation – we just need to understand as much as we can about it – where it happens, why it happens, what can stop it etc.  Understanding this means we can look at all the possibilities digital now offers us and deliver appropriate and relevant engagement channels based on a real understanding of people – not just about what they want or what might turn them on but in tune with where they are in the buying cycle and whether they’re sat on a train, stuck in traffic or at home lying on the sofa with an iPad.

Every company thinks they need a website.  But understanding where your website might sit in the customers’ journey is key in determining its content and architecture.  I remember talking with a chap who’d told me that, on visiting the local bus company website he’d been able to read all about the senior management but unable to find anything that would help him know if he could make a particular journey using one of their buses.   It’s way too easy for companies to think they know what stuff to push to their customers.  Asking them to take a couple of hours to imagine the needs and motivation of those visiting their website and asking them to imagine ‘why’ and ‘when’ might make for a different result – bus info, for example, rather than senior management bios.

When you really know people you can be more intimate with them and they begin to recognize and appreciate your understanding.  They begin to invite you in because you’re relevant and interesting – a bit like a good friend.  And people don’t generally have that many friends.  As with our own motivation there are limits to how many messages and communications I will let in.  You need to be relevant to be in my attention stream.  Just think of a Facebook wall – it’s a beautiful virtual manifestation of a stream that people let in to their consideration.  If you’re not relevant or meaningful because you fail to understand the nuances if your customer’s motivation at that point you’ll (in the case of the Facebook wall almost literally) be switched off.

And you’ll need to know more about them than just their age and gender.

In my next 2 pieces I’ll discuss the other two central tenets of Design Thinking: ‘The appropriate use of technology’ and ‘Business objectives consideration’

What working in Design taught me about doing online marketing and advertising. Part 2.

First Published on Clickz Asia October 2013

In this, my second piece in a series of three, I’m going to talk about a second tenet of Design Thinking – ‘The appropriate use of technology’.

design-thinkingIn generic ‘design thinking’ terms this technology tenet is often articulated in terms of feasibility.  i.e. the question is expressed something like, ‘for that thing we want to do, is there a feasible technology?’

When it comes to advertising and marketing I like to express it another way and ask myself, ‘for those people with whom we are trying to engage, and in this specific context, what is the most appropriate channel and does it make sense?’

We are living through times with unprecedented speeds of change and development. People are already talking about version three (even four) of a technology that wasn’t even in the hands of most people until half way through my life.  And whilst exciting, this speed of development nurtures demons of which we need to be aware – demons in the shape of rigid orthodoxies.

For those of us who have lived through the various iterations of the ‘internet’ the problem is only multiplied.  Many of us, for example, see mobile as an extension – as and add-on – to what we had before.  It’s another channel isn’t it?  For many of us it was (and still is) a case of ‘we can now put all that desktop stuff on mobile devices’. And recently I’ve seen multi-million dollar brands with QR code scans leading mobile users directly to desktop web pages on their phones.  We suffer from the legacy of yesterday when grappling to exploit and leverage the technology of tomorrow.  Or as Marshall McLuhan rather more poignantly put it, ‘We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future’.

It is no coincidence that developers in emerging markets manage to see mobile for what it is – stripped bear of the clutter that our desktop legacy -tinted glasses impose over the top.  They didn’t have desktops – mobile is the only internet some of them have seen and they see it for what it is, not for where it came from.

Being able to recognize the most appropriate channel for the most appropriate content is challenging and our history and experience is often conspiring against us.  In addition to the new technology channels provided by devices themselves they come too with their own sub-channels, technologies and applications.  With over the top messaging applications, GPS and the whole mess of generic mobile applications, the temptation for digital marketers and advertisers to jump all over these is compelling.

It is no surprise then that we have seen thousands of early adoptions of these opportunities in countless guises almost every one of which is now defunct or absorbed into something else.  I even wonder about the longevity and continuing stickiness of some of the most successful applications like Foursquare.

I recently held a workshop where we were considering the potential for mobile technology payments and here I suspect that in order to innovate and create real value and change we need to let go of the legacy of the past.  It’s too easy to think of swiping a phone instead of a card.  This isn’t good enough.  We need to understand the essence of the behavior and look at mobile and at the pure potential of what it offers.  Seeing mobile as something else that can be swiped is to entirely miss the point.  In a great piece in Wired from a couple of years back, a guy and his company doing stuff in Russia with 4G networks articulated the disruption in an interesting way: “[With this project] we are redesigning money, rather than banks,” Oskolkov-Tsentsiper says.

An openness to look at the very essence of the thing rather than the contrived tools and processes that we have as a legacy is where the real excitement is.  But being less abstract for a minute our selection any application of technology must always go back to the needs and desires of people and their context when and where we are trying to engage with them.

And because these things haven’t fundamentally changed in years any technology that attempts to create a new need or desire should be viewed with suspicion.  It’s unclear to me if Foursquare, for example, attempted to invent something in me (some kind of excitement around checking into places).  All I can say is that whilst it had my attention for many months I recently realized that I’d stopped using it and my life is still pretty much ok.

This whole area of embedding and creating behavior in and around new and appropriate technology and making it stick is tough when you really look at it.  It’s very tough.  Despite our living in times when technological evolution is advancing at speeds most of us will never really appreciate, it is testament to how hard it is that I still do my shopping today the same way I’ve been doing it for years.  Just look at all the technology our there and the potential it affords us and still, when it comes to the supermarket, not a lot has changed.  I’ve been hearing about technology initiatives in the high street and malls for years – location sensitive apps, in-mall mapping, magic shop windows and all the rest.  And how has my mall experience changed over the last few years?  About as much as yours I‘d guess.

The ‘appropriate’ in ‘the appropriate use of technology’ can be interpreted in many ways.  When starting this piece I used the word feasible and when it comes to engaging with people making something ‘feasible’ means addressing and ticking off a number of pre-requisites.  Invariably this will involve addressing an existing need or desire.  It will almost certainly mean making something easier or quicker or a lot more fun.  It may mean addressing the very essence of the thing rather than substituting one process for another (swiping a phone v swiping a wallet).

When it comes to advertising and marketing we need to strive to engage people in meaningful and relevant ways and a key component of this is the technology.  And evidence would suggest that it’s tough.  Very tough.

 

Four things a Digital Transformation is NOT

digital_transformation

 

Digital Transformations are all the rage nowadays – at least talk about them is. Eighteen months ago whilst working for a big ad agency here in Singapore we pitched a global digital engagement to a big FMCG prospect. “Let’s call it a ‘transformation’”, I said. No objections there and so we went in all guns blazing with details of just how we’d accomplish that. It was a great pitch but we didn’t win.

Since then I’ve heard the term used time and time again with clients who want it and agencies promising it. It’s fast becoming the new coveted space agencies and consultancies want to get in to.

I want to touch on four things and hopefully draw attention to what I think might constitute real transformational change.

Digital Transformation is not about:

  1. More digital stuff: Transformation is NOT simply a case of doing more digital. Or even just about doing it better or more seriously. It’s not just about shifting more budget into the digital marketing pot and building better and brighter websites, starting a YouTube channel or doing some eCommerce. It’s not even getting with the new(ish) and adding Pinterest or Instagram to your already (probably) not so effective existing Social Media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. No. A digital transformation is about something far more organic – about something that needs to be embraced from the heart of the organization and by all of it. It’s about a shift in the way the company does all of its business.
  2. Just the communication and engagement strategy: Digital Transformation is way more than better ‘digital’ marketing communications and ‘digital’ consumer engagement. It’s about embracing an ethos which should realize itself through consumer empowerment and (amongst other things) the provision of utility and the further democratization of data and systems. It’s about moving from the brand making sure we know about it to the brand making sure they know about usabout each consumer as an individual. And then, whenever possible, speaking to us as such.
  3. Just about the (Digital) Marketing Department: No company digital transformation should be confined to the marketing department. Being a digitally transformed company means embracing the consumer-centric opportunities that digital affords and adopting a new mindset and way of doing things in all parts of the organization with consumers as well as with internal stakeholders. It’s not a marketing vehicle – it’s a way of thinking about things and doing stuff in HR and within the R&D department. It’s about everywhere.
  4. Being part of a job title or work responsibility: Working for a digitally transformed company will impact every employee. Everyone will be embracing digital in their work, not simply in the trivial sense of using a digital device or looking at a computer, but in the essential elements of the ways they do things armed as they will be with new knowledge and insights they have when relating to consumers and to their colleagues.

In fact, today’s digital marketers may end up being just a small (perhaps insignificant) part of a company – a company entirely composed of digitally transformed employees doing the sorts of things they do now but in ways that you might not recognize.

Unless you have already been successfully digitally transformed. In which case you’re probably well ahead of most of us.

Tour de France and mobile

I can get pretty worked up about digital and mobile. And about cycling too!  So when we get on to talking about ‘Tour de France’ mobile apps I’m there with bells on.

THE PELOTON CLIMBS THE COL DU GALIBIER ON STAGE SEVENTEEN OF THE 2008 TOUR DE FRANCE
THE PELOTON CLIMBS THE COL DU GALIBIER ON STAGE SEVENTEEN OF THE 2008 TOUR DE FRANCE

Below is a response I wrote in August 2011 basically bemoaning that year’s TdF app, highlighting that it simply repurposed desktop content into an app albeit it in a half decent way.  By all means read it but to sum up I wanted to suggest how I thought the app could and should be better by understanding what it really means to be ‘mobile’.  I came up with an idea of driving users into bike shops with some idea of a simple partnership business model allowing everyone to win – the stores, the consumer and the main brand sponsor.  My idea and the model are not really important – it was just an off the top of my head suggestion.  My main point was one that could be summed up (in the quite catchy phrase I hope you’ll agree) as the difference between ‘merely mobile and truly mobile’.

 We’re all pretty tired of seeing those stats slides rolled out as part of countless presentations around the world detailing the numbers of mobile users there are now and the percentage of web traffic that runs over small screens.  (At least I think we’ve now had ‘The Year of Mobile’ haven’t we?)

Getting serious about mobile means grasping the difference I coined above – understanding what transforms something from merely mobile to truly mobile.

To do this we must consider the following:

Context – how and when is the user using the mobile app / site?  What unique or persistent needs might they have at that point?  What can / should the app deliver for the best possible contextualized experience?

Location – perhaps the most obvious but not necessarily most important aspect of the above.  We must ask ourselves what does ‘where they are’ offer us in terms of being ultra relevant.

Cutting the crap – ask yourselves, ‘what information and stuff could the user do without at this point?’ – your brand’s board members might be half interesting to a few people but save it for the desktop site (probably).

Utility – how can we move from information and content to something that really provides usefulness.  What would be ‘great’ for the user right there at that moment?

Responsive design is now almost a hygiene factor although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at some sites.  And it’s important – don’t get me wrong but I think focusing on it can be a hindrance.  It, almost by definition, gets people in the mindset of taking all of what’s there and making it accessible via a small screen.  A might better approach might be starting from scratch and staring from the bullet points above:  Where are they?  What are they doing?  What would they want to know right now and how can we make something useful?

 As I mentioned above the reply (below) was written three and a half years ago and despite all those stats slides and mobile’s importance being drummed into us I don’t see that much truly mobile stuff as opposed to simply being merely mobile.

 

Original reply:

I had the Tour de France app running on my iPhone in July. And I have used the live timing screen on the Formula One website for some years now. My question is: are these apps that we have now really mobile? That’s not meant to sound as stupid as it might do! Of course they are mobile. In one sense at least. And great apps they are too whilst, at the same time, being little more (in most cases) than existing content repurposed for mobile devices. The TDF app was, as I mentioned, great but did nothing over and above the ‘web’ content other than make it available on a small screen and handy when a laptop or desktop was not to hand. And it was sponsored by Skoda wasn’t it? – an ad campaign totally lost on me.

 Isn’t the really power of mobile – the time when apps become truly mobile – when they know where you are and what you are doing? Isn’t this when mobile advertising tips into something truly game changing and disruptive?

Imagine that Tour de France app. Instead of just having a Skoda screen on startup (the same screen for everyone everywhere in the world regardless of age, location, interests etc) what if it alerted me to a cool bike shop as I walked by telling me about some great offer on a bike and that they were showing Le Tour on TV? In other words the app contextualised my interest and my location and gave me something useful and potentially really relevant and engaging. So, instead of a one off fee with Skoda (let’s ignore the broader advertising deal for now) the app developers had invited hundreds of thousands of bike shops all over the world to partner with them in handing over 5 bucks for every punter they drove into a store brandishing a code that got them 10% off stuff. Isn’t this the sort of thing that will be the future?

This feel likes the future of mobile advertising. When apps become truly mobile in their ability to understand and contextualise people’s situations and behaviour. The difference, if you like, between a truly mobile app and an app that is merely mobile.