Thinking Ahead of the Agency Curve

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Many years ago I was setting up a digital team within an agency and a great brief came across my desk. It was a make or break opportunity. It came from our largest client and it took quite a deal of negotiation to even be included – and all eyes turned towards what was then, a fledgling capability.

The brief asked clearly and simply – “should we build our own site or should we just advertise on other sites?”

My response at the time continues to be my mantra for digital (or even business) strategy:

Share the message, own the destination

What I was arguing for was the creation of a platform where the brand and its customers could co-create value. It did take some time to flesh this out in practice, but it proved to be a winning strategy for that client – and for many which followed.

These days, as technology not only invades – but becomes an essential part of our business and brand strategy – this guiding principle “share the message, own the destination” resonates even more strongly. And it does so, because our work as marketers and as business leaders, happens well beyond the bounds of our enterprises. We are always on. Always connected. And always running.

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Running towards brand infrastructure

Because we are always running – always seeking new value (or should be) – we also need to be thinking ahead for our own businesses and clients. We need to not only out-run competitors but to out-think them. And to do so, we need to look for accelerators. Which is why I am excited about this presentation from Zeus Jones’ Adrian Ho. They have been consistently ahead of the agency curve for many years – taking an innovative approach to solving clients problems with new approaches to strategy AND execution.

Pay particular attention to slides 19-28 where Adrian explains the three different kinds of platforms that connect brand infrastructure:

  • Growth platforms – operations as marketing and marketing as operations
  • Loyalty platforms – for managing relationships with current users
  • Mass platforms – earned media at scale

Now, platforms are challenging – but they can deliver massive upside. They also provide a way to truly differentiate from your competitors while also creating new market (and marketing) opportunities.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is – “how am I out-thinking and out-executing” my competitors, my industry, my disruptors?

How to Get Your Board Onboard with Digital

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When the eConsultancy/Marketo State of Digital Marketing report for Australia and New Zealand was released recently, it revealed a number of worrying trends. Not only was knowledge of digital ranked as “very poor” in 10% of organisations – up from 4% in 2014 – but a massive 63% rated this knowledge at “Okay” or less. Only 7% rated their digital knowledge as “excellent”. All of these leading indicators of digital skill and organisational capacity are trending down. But more worrying is the dearth of digital leadership at the Board and Senior Executive levels. Only 9% of eConsultancy respondents indicated that senior execs and directors have an “excellent” understanding of digital.

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While I am not proposing that Boards need a deep understanding of digital, there does need to be a rebalancing. In an era when the world’s most valuable and profitable companies are “digital first”, Australia cannot compete while 91% of our Board directors languish in a 20th Century mindset. IBM’s Global Managing Partner for Social Consulting, Andrew Grill explains this as lacking “digital literacy”. In a recent BlueNotes article he suggested:

… the issue of digital literacy remains, in my opinion, a much more important issue than it was back in 2001.

In 2015 it has the ability to affect the stock prices of publicly listed companies in the short to medium term if left unchecked …

I see firsthand how companies are struggling to ensure the C-Suite can quickly grasp the impact of digital disruption being felt across all industries. Digital disruption is not just around the corner, in many industries it is already here.

Australia has a history of downplaying the importance of digital transformation and innovation. But the clock is ticking and the threat of digital disruption is real.

At a recent MIT symposium, it was estimated that 32% of revenue is at risk over the next five years due to digital disruption. Furthermore:

One panelist went so far as to suggest that companies won’t exist in 10 years if they focus only on “traditional products.” The way forward, he suggested, is to offer products and related services enabled by digital technologies.

Digital Natives, Reverse Mentoring and Digital NEDs

Having been Chair of youth not-for-profit organisation, Vibewire, for about seven years, I have seen first-hand, the massive changes in the way that young people, think, act and work – especially in relation to digital and social media. Close collaboration with digital natives – those who were born after 1980 and have always had access to the internet – can be eye opening. But also informing and enriching. It can transform the way that you work – if you are open to it.

This is where “reverse mentoring” comes in. More senior executives and Board members can be paired up with younger employees where cross-skilling and mentoring can take place. This can be a two-way experience – where each person’s experience and skill is honoured – and new experiences and skills developed.

But how do these skills reach the Board? Andrew Grill suggests engaging digitally savvy non-executive directors. Qantas has adopted this approach, appointing ad agency boss, Todd Sampson to their Board earlier in 2015. The question, of course is, how do you spot a digital NED? Here are some pointers (hat tip to Andrew):

  • Identify someone who understands the urgency and speed of change that is taking place
  • Look for those who understand the complex workings of the enterprise and can translate this to digital
  • Seek experimenters and those with a degree of hands-on experience.

Autobots, Decepticons, Technology and the New World Order #MarketingNation

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marketoWe all say that the world has changed. That the customer is at the centre of our business and marketing strategies. We say that our marketing teams are going to spend more on technology than our tech teams. And we say that customer experience is at the heart of what we do as businesses.

But is this all talk? Or is it smoke and mirrors?

On Friday, August 28, 2015, the Marketo Marketing Nation roadshow rolls into town – and the agenda promises to answer these questions and more.

With keynotes from Marketo CEO, Phil Fernandez and firebrand CMO of Xero, Andy Lark, it promises to be a great day of market and marketing insight. And also a day of action.

  • Charles Ross, Senior Editor Asia-Pacific, The Economist Intelligence Unit is speaking on the rise of the marketer: driving engagement, experience and revenue
  • Andrew Lark, CMO, Xero will be discussing the connected customer: Why and how enterprises must transform to achieve greatness
  • Jennifer Arnold, Head of Marketing, SAP Australia and NZ looks at digital engagement: Australia’s performance through the eye of the customer
  • Rose Herceg, Chief Strategy Officer, STW Group and Author of The Power Book will examine the agency of the future
  • Cheryl Chavez, VP Product, Marketo will share what’s new in the world of personalised engagement marketing
  • Lara Brownlow from LinkedIn will share five key trends for marketers
  • Chris Savage, Growth Accelerator, PR Leader, Inspiring Business Advisor will explain how you can keep yourself relevant in a changing world.

There will also be customer panels and plenty of opportunities for networking.

After the lunch break, I am speaking on the way that technology is not just changing marketing but also IT – establishing a new world order. And it is in this new world order where marketers need IT skills and IT teams need marketing skills. It’s like the world of The Transformers. Who is the Autobot? Who is the Decepticon? And what do we need to do to explore our shared future?

If you are coming along to the conference, be sure to say hello. And if not, check out my live tweeting at #MarketingNation or live streams on Periscope or Meerkat.

When a Brand Ambassador Takes Control

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They say that you can’t control social media. They say that the message is in the hands of your customers. But is it really? What happens when that customer is on your side. And which side, exactly, is that?

During the US summer, Target received a range of online complaints about gender focused signage. In response, the company decided to take on the feedback and transform the shopping experience, making it more gender neutral.

In making this kind of change, Target no doubt, expected some response on social media. But it seems they didn’t expect a customer advocate to step in and take control of the conversation. But that’s exactly what one brand fan did.

Over a period of about 16 hours, a fake account setup with the Target logo and the name “Ask ForHelp” trolled the commenters on the official Target Facebook page. Provocatively arguing with other customers, the account was eventually suspended.

This kind of activity has occurred in the past. Two comedians from Atlanta, Ben Palmer and Nick Price setup an account with the name “Customer Service” and spent time randomly arguing with customers on various brand pages. And while all this makes for light entertainment, no doubt, there are social media managers working furiuosly behind the scenes to clean up the fallout.

While the Target page has been cleaned up, there are plenty of screen captures circulating. Here are a few samples. But the question is – how would you respond? What would you say to your CEO. And where do you go from here?

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The State of Social Media in 2015 – A Future Business Roadmap

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I do love a review of social media. It reminds me of how far we’ve come and maybe gives an inkling of where we might go. It can also provide a guide by which you can assess, review and benchmark your clients and their activities. BUT. And with social media there is always a BUT.

For the vast majority of those who work in social media roles, or who work in social media with their clients, reports such as the Percolate State of Social Media 2015 are more practical than you might expect. For they provide a roadmap to future business capability.

That’s not a benchmark, it’s a roadmap

Every second on the internet, masses of content is being produced. Around 2500 Instagram photos are uploaded, almost 10,000 tweets are sent, 2000 Tumblr posts are published, 1800 Skype calls are made and 50,000 Google searches are conducted. It’s mind blowing. But it’s not useful.

What IS useful is thinking through the implications of this:

  • Media is being produced by individuals not just by media companies
  • Content is curated, shared and distributed entirely through digital channels
  • “Phone” calls are making the phone obsolete
  • Knowledge is sought on demand.

Looking deeper, we see not the symptoms of these technologies but the behaviours which underlie them.

  • We prize creation over consumption
  • We value networks over channels
  • We crave connection over function
  • We seek satisfaction over perfection

If we take a similar approach to the headlines from the Percolate report, interesting opportunities appear:

  • Social media moves beyond social – we need to build “social media” capacity within our organisations in preparation
  • Customer service shifts to experience – customer service is no longer back office, but front of house. Time to prepare our teams as ambassadors rather than problem solvers
  • Crisis management hits the risk radar – have you developed a crisis plan? Now is the time
  • Social business is everyone’s business – similar to the first point above. But think about social media not as a marketing function but as a core business capability. This is where the digital rubber meets the transformation road.

Social becomes business

The fundamental shift that is recognised in the report is not the NEED for social media, but the need for SOCIAL BUSINESS. As social impacts all aspects of your business from the boardroom to the reception desk, the need for an organisational wide strategy and enablement program becomes paramount.

How can this be done programmatically – and (despite the name of this blog) without chaos?

The answer lies in becoming a responsive organisation. Using agile methodologies applied to business functions and outcomes. It means disrupting yourself before you are disrupted. Now is the time when social becomes business.

Google Goes Back to the Garage with Alphabet

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When a company the size of Google makes a massive change in their structure and the way that they do business, it’s big news. Today, Google announced the formation of Alphabet, a holding company that will stable the portfolio of companies formerly known as “Google” – giving the organisation potentially a new lease on life and a new direction – or series of directions.

Constellation Research’s R ‘Ray’ Wang provides a laser sharp analysis of what the announcement means in the following video.

Given that so many organisations grow to a size which prohibits innovation, this restructuring offers an amazing live case study of an attempt to avoid the “Kodak moment”. The new, low carb version of Google – which generates the vast majority of revenues – will look vastly different and more tightly focused on digital and internet properties:

  • Search
  • Advertising
  • Maps
  • Apps
  • YouTube
  • Android

This structure effectively hives off the “business as usual”, high velocity, transactional revenue streams into a separate unit which will continue to be called “Google”. The new CEO, Sundar Pichai will be able to keep that digital focus while continuing the optimisation and incremental improvements that keep Google at the centre of our online lives.

The high potential, future-oriented remaining businesses will become separate businesses under Alphabet. Taking a portfolio investment approach to innovation, Alphabet’s stable features near and far term innovation ventures that are:

  • Inside us: Life sciences – biotech research through new company, Calico
  • Around us: Consumer home technology – internet of things hardware for the smart home through Nest
  • Connecting us: High speed internet service through Fiber
  • Moving us: X-lab – the incubator charged with developing self-driving cars and drone technology

And Google Ventures will continue its investments in early and growth stage ventures.

While the business implications for this restructure are significant – the most interesting impact is likely to be felt at the level of culture. Creating a culture of innovation – and maintaining it over the long term is extremely difficult. This is a bold move that brings Google back into the garage from where it came from. It sets a new model for tech sector innovation and has the potential to re-invigorate Google’s innovation agenda.

Who will be the fast follower – or copycat – to Google’s lead? Time will tell.

It’s Not Stalking, It’s Social Selling. Three Lessons for Corporate Social Success

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A few years ago, while working with SAP, I setup a social selling program for our leading global sales team. Given their initial reluctance – and the bad wrap that social media held within corporate circles – I developed a deck with the title “It’s Not Stalking, It’s Social Selling”. The title alone got us over the first hurdle – the natural distrust of technology and social networks that almost all of us feel when first venturing into the vast social network space. But what followed was an eye-opener for both me and the teams. And those lessons continue today.

Here are three vital lessons that I learned years ago, but continue to learn from today:

1. You’re only a leader when you have followers

When I boldly pitched this program to senior executives, I had a sense that it was groundbreaking. That no one had done this before. But it also needed to succeed, so I had to tread carefully. It had to be successful. The first focus for “social selling” was Twitter. We built a program, trained the teams and gingerly began engaging with customers. What response did we get?

Crickets.

Then a couple of clients emailed to explain that they LOVED that we were engaging this way. But they were not ready yet. Don’t expect engagement. Interaction. Sales progression. The program was too early. It was worth nothing.

2. Go with your instinct but follow the data to reach a discovery

Following on from my disastrous first steps, I realised that I had followed my instincts not the data. While my instincts were correct, they led to the wrong conclusion. Yes, the shift was on for digital engagement and social selling. But no, at that stage, Twitter was not the right channel (but these, days, hmmm – maybe we should talk). When I conducted a personal branding audit, I realised that the teams had an untapped resource right at their fingertips. LinkedIn. There was a network already in place. They were comfortable in using it. And our clients were also present.

Go with your instincts – but back it up with data. Setup a hypothesis, test it and learn. Save yourself the grief of a too-soon failure.

3. We are all experts

Hardly any of us can view our skills, experience and achievements objectively. Naturally, we judge our own capability according to our own efforts and the activities of those we trust most – and if we all work, operate, collaborate and share with like minds, we often don’t end up with innovation but with “group think”. Keep this in mind.

When I began shifting the social selling program from Twitter to LinkedIn, I conducted a brief audit. I rang participants to understand their online behaviours. I asked about how they used LinkedIn, what worked for them and why. I also looked for best practices. I found there really were LinkedIn gurus within the company whose abilities and profiles were far superior to my own. They used LinkedIn in a qualitatively different way. So I canvassed their opinions and insights too.

I learned that each person’s view of expertise is limited to their worldview. The first step in transforming practice is to open that worldview to the “glare of the guru”. And this is where data comes into play again. If you have been using a social platform for years, have a few hundred followers or connections and feel like you have “joined the conversation” – then you’ll be an expert. But are you an expert at scale?

If only I had LinkedIn’s social selling index back then. It’s a daily-updated dashboard that measures how effective your personal brand is, how well connected and engaged you are on the LinkedIn platform, and how well you build relationships. Importantly, it also measures you against your existing network – as well as your industry – so you know how you compare across two measures, not one.

Of course, it’s focused entirely on driving greater use of LinkedIn, but if that is where you are starting with your social selling program, then it’s perfect.

Based on my profile, it seems I need to engage more on LinkedIn (ie consume content, comment etc) and find more prospects (no doubt with the LinkedIn Sales Navigator). At least I now have action points based on data. So look out, if we’re connected, I’m coming to talk to you about what I’m good at. But don’t worry, it’s not stalking, it’s social selling.

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The secret lesson for corporates from the world of startups

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When ANZ chief economist, Warren Hogan recently explained Australian business’ aversion to risk, it made a lot of sense. Not only are corporates concerned about project success, they are also geared and structured towards large projects which makes it more difficult to innovate in a more “agile” manner. This gives rise to several other challenges. Without flexibility, Australian corporations are subject to:

  • Unnecessary competitive disruption – smaller businesses can easily capture mindshare, momentum and a raft of unhappy customers simply because companies don’t have the agility to address emergent threats.
  • Higher levels of customer dissatisfaction – if customer experience projects are subject to this same lack of responsiveness, then customer satisfaction is more likely to quickly result in customer churn and lower NPS.
  • Market irrelevance – today’s customer is hungry for differentiated experience. Slow response to market challenges simply means that your market moves elsewhere. And they do so “at the speed of digital”.

But all is not lost. There are four key lessons that corporates can learn from the world of startups. And they can all be easily implemented, trialled and scaled with a minimal investment. I explain more here.

Hootsuite and the Instagram Integration You’re Still Waiting For

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Instagram has been wildly successful in building an alternative and deeply connected community of users. And I say “community” for a reason. Far more than the one-to-one-to-one connection that has made Facebook so popular and adoptable, Instagram’s connection architecture provides an easy way to connect people with similar interests and passions. And it does so whether that passion lasts only an instant or a year.

And while some brands have been able to build vibrant communities around their Instagram accounts, it’s often a hit and miss affair. It’s hard to keep track of the growth of a community base, almost impossible to gather key metrics, and even the simplest publishing functionality is notably missing.

Until now.

Hootsuite has announced that Instagram will now be integrated into their social media dashboard. This means that Hootsuite users will be able to:

  • Schedule and publish Instagram content
  • Monitor and engage with conversations on Instagram
  • Create team based workflows.

With content marketing becoming an ever-more important component of marketing strategy, this new integration provides marketers with a simple and easy way to bring that content marketing strategy to life.

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To get started:

  • Ensure you have the latest version of Hootsuite installed on your smartphone
  • Turn on Instagram notifications in the Hootsuite Settings
  • Start publishing.

Now, for the bad news.

While you can schedule Instagram posts, you still need to manually post to Instagram from your device. The Hootsuite integration just notifies you at the appropriate time that the post is ready to go. So, unfortunately, those wanting to seriously engage with Instagram as a brand and marketing channel will need to struggle with the lack of API integration.

This means Instagram will remain a promising but ultimately immature channel for most serious brand marketing activities. At least for now.

Periscope Captures from the ADMA Global Forum

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Live streaming using apps like Periscope and Meerkat have revolutionised conferences of all kinds. No matter whether you are hosting a small lunchtime gathering of friends, colleagues or experts, or attending a massive conference, these easy-to-use apps allow you to share what you are seeing with the wider world. Or at least those who follow you on social media.

With this in mind, I thought I’d put both Meerkat and Periscope through their paces at the ADMA Global Forum. The ADMA Global Forum brings the world’s leading data driven marketers together to share insights, best and emerging practices, case studies and strategies. This year, there is strong representation from technology firms with good stories to tell. Oracle, IBM and Marketo are represented. Facebook is too. I also dropped by the stands of IVE, Minfo, and others. This year is an improvement on last, but there’s more work to be done on their exhibition stands and their ability to talk to marketers on their own terms. If you have a tech brand needing to talk “marketing”, then maybe we should talk too.

I live streamed and recorded a number of sessions and embedded them below. Tomorrow I will go deeper. Do some interviews. Chat with the teams on the exhibition stands and some of the audience. Let me know what you’re interested in and I will see who I can talk to.

@AndyVen from TheOutNet

Marketing Automation with @Missguided

Case study from @Missguided

Case study from Bosch

Case study from Regions Bank

Content Strategy from @TheOutNet

Case study from Getty Images

Personalisation strategy from Sitecore ANZ