The best marketing investment you’ll make all year

In conversation after conversation with marketing directors and CMOs I keep reaching the same conclusion: our efforts at skill building are woefully inadequate to keep up with the pace of customer change.

There are two factors at play here:

  1. Senior marketers remain risk averse so pursue conservative strategies
  2. Junior marketers willing to work with and adapt new approaches are hobbled by the strategic frameworks and their skills degrade.

Unfortunately for marketers, our customers are more agile than ever, readily adopting and consuming new models of engagement, interaction and purchase. Just think about retail disruption and the way new entrants like Zara have been able to swan into our landmark locations and capture new and existing markets while the dinosaurs of Australian retail cut costs, flounder online and bark about GST and an unfair playing field.

The same can be said of media. Platforms like Junkee and the Guardian have flown in the face of a struggling media sector, out performing traditional mastheads right at the time that it seemed that the Media market was imploding.

When you take your eye off the customer ball, you open the door of opportunity to those with a more nimble business model.

In many ways, customers are like water – they follow the path of least resistance, and the simple fact is, our outmoded channel, contact and conversion paths are resolutely locked in a bygone era circa 2005.

On the positive side, there’s never been a better time to invest in both marketing and marketing skills – for both are the engines of innovation and growth in a customer-centric world.

Let’s see what this might mean.

Marketing is digitally determined but strategy is still king
If budget (and privacy) was no option, we could conceivably track, measure and optimise every customer interaction. But would this quantifiable improve our marketing? Would it make our customers more likely to buy, buy more often, or recommend us?

One of my favourite sayings is “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should”. And this applies now more than ever. While digital has transformed the work, methods and metrics of marketers, choosing what to do and when should not always be ceded to algorithms. Strategy is a vital part of your brand and its experience and marketers should be make use of the digital domain to inform decisions, not make them.

Use social signals and analytics to inform strategy
While the term “big data” is often heralded as the answer to every marketer’s dream, it’s often surprising how well we can use “small data” to radically transform our customers experience. At various stages of the buying journey, our customers will often consciously or inadvertently reveal their intentions. They may tweet about an issue or interest in a new product. They may share interesting new offers that appear in their Facebook timeline. Or they may even photograph and geotag a product they see in a shop or online using Instagram.

Moreover, they may also tag – and by tag, I mean recommend, a product to a friend. This could be a simple tag where a friend is notified by name or ID. Or it could vine with a warm recommendation, like “you’ll love this, Gavin”.

These social signals may be too inconsequential to warrant direct engagement, but at scale, could denote the first stages of a trend or an opportunity to “go viral”. The only way to know this is happening is to incorporate social analytics into your marketing business process. In doing so, it will bring you one step closer to your customer.

Automating for frictionless brand experience
Social analytics also provide vital insight into your customers’ journey. With even a small amount of journey mapping and data analysis, you’ll soon learn of the various friction points across various touch points. And where those friction points exist, marketing automation can be used to overcome or avoid that friction.

It could be as simple as sending an in-app message, email or text message to pre-empt a problem or offer a workaround. It could be that an abandoned online shopping cart triggers a follow up from your call centre. There are many scenarios, but all should be designed to provide a value add to your customer.

The common thread linking your brand and your customer is bound up in experience. Our increasing use of technology takes us part of the way, but the foundation of strategy, creativity and tech know-how that must be in the DNA of the modern marketer is what allows it to flourish. And that means investing, nurturing and growing your team and their capabilities. In fact, skills may be the best marketing investment you’ll make all year.

Facebook Steps in to Train Journalists

Software companies have built and scaled their businesses by creating and nurturing developer ecosystems for decades. They start with a few, dedicated and passionate evangelists and stoke that passion with fire, autonomy and cool technology. Just look at the dedicated developer programs like those run by SAP or Microsoft, Salesforce or even IBM.

Years ago, when I worked for SAP, we realised that the developer ecosystem was not keeping pace with the demand for software and services. Looking into the future, we recognised that the changing demographic and technological landscape posed a risk to future earnings. So we did something about it.

Over the following 12-18 months we put in place highly targeted programs designed to attract more computing students into the ecosystem. The aim was to build overall capacity, not to create a talent pipeline for ourselves – and it worked spectacularly. Well within 12 months we had vastly exceeded our targets in half a dozen countries, and were able to scale back the acquisition aspects of our program, focusing then on a more operational cadence to our efforts. In short, we kept the fires burning.

But we learned a very important lesson. We learned that because the technology continues to change and advance at an ever increasing pace, it’s essential to train your ecosystem of developers on not just what the technology does today, but on what it will do tomorrow. We learned that our ecosystem of developers – and the corporations and partners that hire them – receive greater value, faster, when we show them our secrets, share our best practices and actively engage them in planning for the future. It’s a win-win-win outcome.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that Facebook is now following this well worn, but successful, path – providing eLearning courses for journalists.

The courses are available through Blueprint, Facebook’s global training program, and focus on the three core pillars of the news cycle: discovering content, creating stories, and building an audience.

No doubt, the course will prove a vital and useful resource for journalists of all ages and experience.

But it will do more than this. It will create a language, focus and framework for journalists and the way that they discover and create content and grow their audiences. Of course there will be a Facebook focus to the courses, but the principles will also apply to other social and digital media properties. And at some time in the future, you can expect there to be certification and qualification programs. There may even be university level partnerships.

And all of this works to create a deeper, richer and more focused ecosystem.

It was only a matter of time.

Sign up for the courses here.

Get Started with Your Startup with #StartupSundays

Once upon a time, we all had a dream of writing a novel. In fact, many of us are fond of explaining that we have that Great Australian Novel locked away in a drawer – or more likely – a computer file, gathering dust. One day … we say, we’ll dust it off and finish the story and garner the applause of the world. But like so many great dreams, the Great Australian Novel, often never materialises. But over the last couple of years, I have noticed a distinctly different aspiration coming from friends and colleagues. They speak not so much of a Great Australian Novel, but of a Great Australian Startup. Their own business.

From the number of conversations that I have had over the last 12 months, it seems that we’ve started the awkward journey of becoming a nation of entrepreneurs.

We no longer dream of writing a modern day Kings in Grass Castles. It’s all Canva this, Atlassian that.

Starting at the start

Of course, just like writing a novel, the trick to starting a startup is to “just start”. But while we can all pull out a piece of paper and start to write, surely a startup takes something more … substantial!?

Not so. The Disruptor’s Handbook, for example, is a program that literally guides you from idea to soft launch. And a lot of it requires writing words on paper. It’s just like a novel – but one where you are the hero. The villain. And the entire supporting cast.

Startups are a community affair

While writing a novel can be a fairly solitary activity, startups thrive on community. Feedback is the lifeblood of the startup, and that means the very worst thing you can do is bury yourself in your bedroom (or garage) and hope to knock out the next greatest Facebook/Insta/App. This is where coworking is your saviour. Coworking is a way to get out of the house, connect with others and test your ideas – and your business – in the hard light of day. After all, it’s no use building a business that no one wants or needs.

With this in mind, Vibewire has just announced a new program to support startups of all shapes and size. Called #StartupSundays, it runs each Sunday in October from 9:30am to midday. It’s like a lazy breakfast with motivated people. Over the two and a half hours, there will be speed mentoring and networking, inspirational talks and a chance for peer feedback and a spot of pitching. It’s a simple but effective way to get ahead of your week.

All in a friendly atmosphere – the Vibewire Common Room in Ultimo, Sydney.

  • Where: Vibewire Common Room
  • When: 9:30am-midday, each Sunday in October 2016
  • Bookings: Register here.

New Journeys in Product Development with the Qantas Hackathon

For the last two years, Disruptor’s Handbook have been working with Qantas to create an innovation program that brings the power, agility and speed of the startups into their customer journeys. With a focus on customer experience, these weekend intensives, known as the Codeshare Hackathons, expose Qantas business challenges to the scrutiny – and creativity – of the hackers, hipsters and hustlers of the startup world.

It’s a form of open innovation that we’ve developed specifically to deliver new product opportunities rapidly and at scale. This approach takes a leaf out of the startup book (should I say the Startup Bible), Lean Startup by Eric Ries – focusing however, not on product-market fit but on market-product fit. That means that we help our corporate clients focus on the business challenges they face, coach them through a process of articulation, reverse pitching and presentation, and then open the challenges to startups, students and entrepreneurs.

Then, in a matter of days, we all collaboratively develop working prototypes – what is known as an MVP (a minimum viable product) – to the stated challenges. I call it “marketing-led innovation”.

The secret sauce of corporate hackathons

To the outside world, hackathons are like a cauldron of mystery. We throw in some ingredients, mix them up, and emerge some time later with a magic solution. Somewhere in the middle of the process, a secret sauce is added. But this is anything like Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe. You see, it’s all about process and people.

Over the last couple of years, we have been building out a process that reduces the risk of innovation. We use systems and design thinking approaches, add a dash of lean startup, good old fashioned project and event management and highly targeted coaching and mentoring. We consult with clients, manage stakeholder expectations and do so within what is a relatively controlled and safe environment.

And the results are stunning. New products. New collaborations. New businesses and startups. In many ways, it’s marketing in action. And we’ve got more planned. Get involved, you’ll be amazed at how tasty the secret sauce really is.

If Only Climate Denialists Checked Their Rage to Read Your Twitter Bio

Humans can be delightful. Whimsical. Entertaining and surprising. But they can also be frustrating. Embarrassing. Comically inept.

And one of the amazing things about humans is that they can be all these things at the same time.

And the fact that humans invented Twitter – and bring it to life each and every day – shows just how creative we can be.

Author, JK Rowling seems to agree, retweeting this stellar conversation between one of my favourite astrophysicists, Katie McGarvey and one of her “fans” (ok, I think Katie may be the only astrophysicist that I have ever met).

Long live Twitter.

Share Your #CoffeeMornings Moments

It’s amazing how a relatively random event can turn into a “thing”. It’s what happens when you bring people together and find a spark.

Well over nine years ago, I walked into a cafe where I knew no one. Emily Reed waved to Katie Chatfield and I, and the first ever #CoffeeMornings became a reality.

Over the next couple of hours, plans were hatched and alliances formed. We decided to meet again the following Friday. And the Friday after that …

As we approach our 10th Anniversary, I thought it would be nice to collate some of the stories and connections, photos and even videos that make Sydney Coffee Mornings a unique event. So whether you are a casual participant or a long term stalwart, leave a comment, link or photo about your experience. Or better yet – drop in on Friday.

Special thanks as always – to Single Origin in Reservoir Street, Surry Hills – management and crew. It would never happen without them!

Enter the Constellation Supernova Awards

I’m judging the 2016 Constellation SuperNova Awards again this year. It has been a while, but I am excited to see the innovation that is emerging from enterprises around the world. Every year the Constellation SuperNova Awards recognise individuals for their leadership in digital business. and the great thing is, you don’t have to be a North American business. Anyone can enter. Nominate yourself or someone you know before August 8, 2016. It’s a great way to promote your program while also learning from others in the same field. Learn more and apply here.

About the SuperNova Awards

The SuperNova Awards honour leaders that demonstrate excellence in the application and adoption of new and emerging technologies.

In its sixth year, the Constellation SuperNova Awards will recognize individuals who demonstrate leadership in nine categories:

  • Internet of Things – A network of smart objects enables smart services. (sensors, smart ‘things’, device to purchase, artificial intelligence)
  • Data to Decisions – Using data to make informed business decisions. (big data, predictive analytics)
  • Digital Marketing Transformation – Personalized, data-driven digital marketing
  • Future of Work: Social Business – The technologies enabling teams to work together efficiently. (enterprise social networks, collaboration, digital assistants)
  • Future of Work: Human Capital Management – Enabling your organization to utilize your workforce as an asset.  (talent management, benefits, HR core)
  • Matrix Commerce – Commerce responds to changing realities from the supply chain to the storefront. (digital retail, supply chain, payments, ‘ubiquitous-channel’ retail)
  • Next Generation Customer Experience – Customers in the digital age demand seamless service throughout all lifecycle stages and across all channels.  (crm, customer experience)
  • Safety and Privacy – Strategies to secure sensitive data (blockchain, digital identity, authentication)
  • Technology Optimization & Innovation – Innovative methods to balance innovation and IT budgets. (innovation in the cloud, ENSW cost savings, cloud ERP, efficient app production).

The SuperNova Awards are seeking leaders and teams who have innovatively applied disruptive technolgies to their business models as a means of adapting to the rapidly-changing digital business environment. If you have what it takes to compete in the SuperNova Awards submit your application today: https://www.constellationr.com/events/supernova/2016

The Importance of Brands in the Social Media Sphere

Facts and figures are boring. Yet almost every B2B brand relies on facts and figures to tell the story of their products or services. Countless whitepapers, videos and presentations wheel out the features and functions or a particular platform, technology or product line, yet everything that we know, as marketers, as data analysts, tells us that there is a better way. A more efficient way. In fact, neuroscience has provided vital clues that help us understand not the power of logic to drive purchase, but the importance of emotion to tip our decision-making.

So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.

But it is one thing to know something and quite another to do something about it. Just imagine being the marketing director pitching in a new campaign to your CMO where there is little reference to product features and functions. Imagine the questions. The feedback. The personal-professional risk.

This week I recorded a podcast with the NewsModo team. We talked about branding, social media and content marketing. But mostly we talked about how storytelling allows brands to tap into the minds and emotions of their customers. One of the examples I had in mind was this video from the recent election campaign. The video captured my imagination because it’s a great example of how facts and figures can be incorporated into a campaign that drives not just action but activation. In fact, if brands (and political parties) can learn anything from the election results, it is this … listen to your audiences, understand what drives their collective mindset and help or encourage them to act on that mindset.

When you have a moment, check out the NewsModo podcast. There have been some great guests – and it may just inspire your next, best idea.

Walking a Mile in the Shoes of an Old(er) Person

At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet
— Plato

One of the great challenges of age is empathy. As a child, I viewed my father not as the young, vigorous man that he was, but as an old man. A keeper of knowledge and secrets.

As a young man I saw my elders as fixed barriers. As red traffic lights that would never turn green.

But as many of us do, I was using the lens of my youth to view the world. I saw slowness where there was none. I wore my impatience like a badge of honour. And I favoured action over strategy.

But worse.

I reined in my imagination. I conformed thought to structure. I shrank at the point that I should have expanded. And I did so out of a paucity of love.

But it was in my impoverishment that I received the greatest gift. Time and attention was bestowed upon me without expectation of return. And I learned, to my surprise, that my learning was far from at an end. And that the road ahead was built on the generosity and efforts of my elders and my peers.

To this day I seek mentorship and insight not only from my elders but the young people I come in contact with, my peers – and even strangers. It doesn’t always make for an easy path, but the rewards cannot be measured.

Find and give love in any and all its forms today. You’ll amaze someone (and it may be yourself).