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. 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.