Bye, Bye Buyosphere – A journey of disruption, disrupted

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Focusing on the customer journey is never easy. After all, customers are fickle, transitory, loyal and contradictory. I am somebody’s customer. You are. We are all somebody’s customer. And being a customer is an emotional experience. We buy on whim, impulse or trigger. We may plan, research and save as long as we like, but decisions can be swayed by friends, connections, a good salesperson. Or even a lingering smell.

But knowing this doesn’t make easy for businesses – even marketers don’t make it easy for marketers. With every click, interaction and purchase, with every review, tweet, blog post or call, connected consumers like us are shaving away the stubble of established brands. We are eroding the protective layers that brands have built up over time to insulate themselves from us.

We know this has been happening for some time. It is a shift of power in the buying process away from brands to consumers. It is digital disruption in its purest form – connected consumers tapping into the opportunities and power of the internet to out flank the efforts of brands. And helping us to chart this disruption – indeed helping us to move from idea to practice, has been Tara Hunt, author of (amongst other things) The Whuffie Factor, coworking pioneer and theorist (in a very accessible way). In many ways, Tara has been a harmonising voice in a technology dominated world – reminding us that its the people that matter most.

Tara’s 2009 presentation on vendor relationship management has influenced the thinking of many (or even found its way into the thinking of many surreptitiously), including myself. But never content to let ideas percolate in isolation, Tara  went beyond the theory into practice, bootstrapping and launching Buyosphere, a fashion suggestion and style matching website. I can remember signing up myself, wondering how it may work out here in Australia. It was an idea ahead of its time.

In late 2012, after growing and struggling to scale, Tara stepped out of Buyosphere, taking a role with Toronto based communications and engagement company, MSLGROUP. As she explained at the time, “If we were going down, let’s go down in a blaze of glory. Or at least with a product we could be proud of.”

Yesterday, in classic style, Tara shared the next stage of the journey – saying goodbye to Buyosphere:

Once upon a time there were three startup founders who had a dream. They were going to build something that solved fashion search. And they spent 3 years of their lives, their entire savings and pretty much all of their energy on it. Fortunately, they built something great and learned a whole bunch. Unfortunately, they ran out of money, time and energy and had to go back to work and once they abandoned the site, it never took off. xoxo Buyosphere. We love you.

Watch this video and you will hear the very personal, emotional and exciting journey that Tara and the team went through. It’s the journey that so many of us take – or wish we had taken. And while I too, feel sad, to see from a distance, that Buyosphere has ended, I also feel great hope. There have been lessons learned and friendships forged. This is a story of disruption, disrupted, not destroyed. And I for one can’t wait to know what’s next – not just from Tara but from all who build on her experiences.

Disrupt Your Strategy – Planning for Audiences not Generations

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I have never been a fan of demographic profiling. Sure, this information, at scale, can reveal certain things about a population – and this can be useful to understand whether there might be a connection between our age and (for example) our propensity to over-eat. Or contract disease. Or buy new cars every four years.

But populations don’t interest me. They feel like a dead weight around my sense of, and interest in, humanity. Instead, I prefer audiences – which is perhaps why I studied theatre rather than statistics.

It’s also why I am continually fascinated by digital technology and transformation – and it is why social media continues to attract the attention of people, corporations and governments. For digital transformation is not just about bringing the non-digital world online – it’s challenging the very nature of what we consider “our selves” to be.

As marketers, we are constantly drawn to the idea of demographics – the cashed up profiling of the Baby Boomers, the anxious, try-harder Gen X-ers and the slacker Gen Ys. But like any generalisation, these labels are easily unpicked. There are plenty of Baby Boomers who are slackers and plenty of cashed up, power wielding Gen X-ers. And Gen Y are just starting to flex their creative, financial and intellectual powers – and there is more goodness to come. Rather than simply relying on this style of profiling, we should be working harder to understand these audiences. We need to map their behaviours, attitudes and interests, not just their age, sex and location.

This is why I quite like the work that marketing automation firm, Marketo, has done on Generation Z. And while, yes, they have started out with the age-focused label, the research carried out by agency, Sparks and Honey, reveals the patterns of behaviour, interests, attitudes and insights that can help build a deeper understanding of this audience. While the data reflects a US-based audience, there are cultural parallels that are useful indicators such as:

  • Do-Gooders – an interest in making a difference in the world
  • Shift FROM Facebook – Facebook lost its allure when the parents arrived. Gen Z are embracing newer platforms like snapchat, secret and whisper
  • Creation trumps sharing – Gen Z embrace the prosumer ethic of digital media creativity.

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But to really understand this “Gen Z” audience, I would go further. I wouldn’t stop at the age of 19. I would ask:

  • Why would my brand be relevant to audiences exhibiting these behaviours
  • Why would these audiences choose to purchase my product/service/thing
  • Which values embodied by my brand augments the life, behaviour, experience or purpose of this audience
  • How do these behavioural profiles help me understand my customers regardless of age / demographics

And when it comes to planning, insight and future proofing your brand, I’d look to opportunities to self-disrupt your strategy. Ditch the path of lazy profiling, put the work in to really understand your audiences, and then invite them into the process of creating a brand that has a purpose. Start by delving into the data behind the Sparks and Honey research (below) – and then work on your own business by starting with the audiences you rely upon.

Pungent Granularity – Penn and Teller take on the Anti-Vaccination Conversation

Hungry? [Explored]

Social media has a powerful ability to stimulate and create conversation. But when you are planning your communications, it’s essential to know your audience. And these days, “knowing” your audience isn’t just about mapping, analysing and researching. It’s about understanding their “pungent granularity”.

Pungent granularity and the social audience

To survive in a world where consumers expect one-to-one marketing and real time business responsiveness, we need to move beyond the simple targeting of our consumers. This means responding to:

  • The three forces of self-segmentation: Before we take an action, make a decision or puts our hand into our pocket to actually transact, we make a quick personal assessment. We self-segment according to our needs (does this “thing” solve a need state that I have), behaviours (does this “thing” reinforce, challenge or shift my behaviour) and attitudes (how does this “thing” make me feel?). Marketers must understand the nuances of this self-segmentation and bring this understanding to their efforts
  • What we already know about our consumers: Whether we capture “big data” or just quickly trawl the social web, we can quickly amass a detailed knowledge of our consumers. The challenge with this becomes not one of data collection but of frameworks for making decisions and taking actions. This is where I quite love Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. Moving away from the MBTI mappings, he suggests that Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism can be easily assessed via our digital footprints. And in doing so, we can plan our communications accordingly

When we pull together all this information, we get a deep sense of our consumers. We know not just what they say they “like” but how this influences their actions and decisions. We understand their connections, social graph and the way that they operate in a digitally-connected world. And deeply buried amongst all this is the “trigger” – what motivates.

The “trigger” is the kicker

Take a look at this fantastic video featuring “illusionists and entertainers”, Penn and Teller. It’s on the subject of vaccinations. It’s forceful and NSFW (with a few F-bombs scattered throughout). The language is direct, the message clear and in your face.

But will it achieve what it is intended to do?

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will. The motivation here – not of the creator – but of the viewer is triggered by the same level of frustration shown by Penn. Those who are pro-vaccination will be keen to share and validate their own position. Those who are anti-vaccination will reject the facts, figures and approach outright. The frame is out of focus for the second group – and the argument will be based on the framing of the data as a way of disputing what is “true”.

This is why wheeling out big data will also be challenging. While the Mayo Clinic clearly states:

“Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven’t found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted.” Mayo Clinic – Childhood Vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers (here)

… many still view this sceptically.

But if there really is a desire to change the point of view (or point of belief), behaviours and attitudes of anti-vaccination folks, there is a need to more deeply understand them.

Hungry? [Explored] Riccardo Cuppini via Compfight

A Minute is a Long Time–On the Internet

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They say that a week is a long time in politics.

That was certainly the case when there was a “daily” news cycle. Any announcements or revelations needed to be revealed in time for stories to be written, edited, photographs to be prepared, processed and newspapers to be printed. Breaking news was the domain of the more instantaneous broadcasters like radio and TV. And even then, only the most explosive news items would break programming.

But the web changed all that.

It has taken two decades at least, but the internet has now thoroughly transformed the way that we source, gather, verify and consume news. There has been a breakdown between those that produce the news, those who are the subject of the “news” and those who consume it. And the structures which once provided certainty, built trust and way points for navigation in a chaotic and busy world have, in the process of this disruption, been swept away.

These structures have been replaced by data.

Data about data.

In a way, it was ever thus.

And the new arbiters of this data – our navigation beacons are themselves built of data. Google. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Pandora and Amazon. They sound like the names of ancient gods straddling the primordial chaos – but they are massive enterprises designed not to serve, but to create value. Revenue. Share holder returns.

So think about what happens in an internet minute (see the infographic from Intel). Every minute of video. Every byte of uploaded photo data. And every tweet costs someone somewhere something. The question for you today is what does it cost YOU?

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I’m Just a Little Bit in Love with This

I'll Give You All I Can...

I’m just a little bit in love with a great presentation by Martin Weigel.

I didn’t want to get in the way between you and this presentation – but it’s important to remember that there is a huge perception gap between what WE think consumers want, and what they EXPECT from us. It’s not even that we have to CLOSE the gap – just acknowledge it is there. Then we can get to work on truly inspirational customer experiences.

I'll Give You All I Can... Brandon Warren via Compfight

Let Your Customers Tell the Story of Your Brand

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We have lived for many years with the illusion of control. We believed that we could:

  • Control the experience of our brand
  • Manage the way our brand was represented
  • Dictate the messaging people used when discussing our brand

To administer this, and to reinforce our sense of ownership of our brand, we created processes, guidelines and tools of management that enforced consistency, clarity and style. We measured our control in pixels and pantone colours. And we sat at our desks in the contented glow of our three ring binders, style guides and brand books.

And because we controlled the medium in which our brands were discussed (or at least paid large sums to those broadcasting our messages), we came to see this belief in control as truth. This, in time, made us happy.

And then along came the web. It was billed as a levelled playing field but it was really a simulation of what had gone before – the means of publishing production remained centralized, controlled and administered. But a new power was created. The ascendency of the geeks was underway and the promise of the world wide web remained tantalisingly close – veiled behind layers of code and techno-speak.

It was not until the advent of the social web that publishing, distribution and creation was democratized (of course, consumption is another question). Now, anyone with an internet connection (yes, even mobile), can engage in the publishing process.

This social media free-for-all remains a challenge for many brands. In fact, despite Australian audiences ranking amongst the most avid consumers of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many companies still tread warily around the edges of social without a clear strategy to engage, participate or simply listen.

But for every story of risk and corporate fear, we also see celebrations. For whether we like it or not, our customer use the products and services we create – generating unique experiences and amazing results.

Look what happens when high school student Melody Green produces a video documentary of her school science experiment. Not only does she tell the powerful and exciting story of a young girl learning about high altitude science (should be more of it) … it generates story after story:

Getting behind this kind of momentum is a brilliant move by GoPro and the High Altitude Science folks. It’s a great example of what can happen when you do let your customers tell the story of your brand. But it’s amazing what happens when you not only let that story be told, but you actively promote that as PART of your brand.

Just think … you could do that too. Today rather than obsessing over the negative, shine a little light on the great things your customers say. It might just amaze you.

World PR Forum – Using the Power of Stories to End Global Poverty

With the World Public Relations Forum arriving in Melbourne 18-20 November 2012, there’s bound to be plenty of on and offline conversations around the changing role of communications. But with a theme of “Communication Without Borders” – it appears the organisers are setting a broad agenda.

One of the more interesting sessions scheduled for the three day event will be hosted by Michael Sheldrick, from the Global Poverty Project (GPP). His view is that the world of PR has plenty to learn from the practices of seasoned social campaign-focused organisations like the Global Poverty Project.

The GPP engages people in a new way that shows progress in the fight against global poverty. Through their work and directly via their communications at all levels, the GPP aims to “show people that movements can still change the world”. The key to this, Michael explains, is to “craft stories that captivate large numbers of people”.

He sees that there are four elements to a successful campaign:

  1. Grassroots advocacy – tapping into the personal power and passions of your grassroots supporters
  2. Media engagement – enlisting celebrities and activists with loyal followings provide a focus for media engagement and storytelling
  3. Public engagement – extending the conversation on and offline (from YouTube and image sharing, petitions through to local activists making phone calls to local MPs)
  4. Government relations – lobbying and working with political advisors, ministers to provide them with the “public ammunition” they can use to effect change

But how does this work in practice? Is there a measurable impact?

The GPP measure by outcomes – not likes, follows, impressions or even reach and frequency. By way of example, Michael shared details of the recent The End of Polio campaign.In Australia, there were two goals – to have Prime Minister, Julia Gillard raise this campaign at a regional summit – and for the Australian Government to contribute $50 million to polio vaccination programs. Both of these goals were achieved – and Prime Minister Gillard went a step further, urging other leaders to contribute – resulting in a total of $118 million being contributed.

But there is also plenty of experimentation in the GPP approach. They are hosting a “free ticketed” music festival in Central Park, NYC, featuring Neil Young, Foo Fighters and the Black Keys later this month. To attend, you have to download the app and then earn points by learning, sharing and taking action against extreme poverty. Concert goers go into the draw to win two tickets only AFTER earning “three points” on the Global Citizen App.

With over 50,000 downloads, over 30,000 people have already accrued enough points to go into the draw for tickets.

One of the things that I like most about this is the strategy. There is clear alignment between the brand, the vision, the action and the lifestyle of their social consumers. There is an experience on offer but there is also a social compact. This shifts the relationship from merely one of transaction (buying a ticket, watching a show) to engagement (make an impact, join a movement).

Now – if only more of our communications achieved this much – we’d all live in a much better world. Or at least a world without poverty.

Don’t forget you can catch Michael Sheldrick at the World PR Forum in November 2012.

Trust is the Gateway to App Sales Success

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When we search on the internet we are investing a small amount of trust in the speed, responsiveness and accuracy of the search engine that we are using. After all, the future of your brand is micro. We trust that Google or Bing is reliably trawling the web for the latest information, indexing knowledge to the deepest level and connecting the dots between what we need to know and where it can be found.

Both Google and Microsoft invest significant resources in improvements to their search engines. But it’s not just about the information source – it’s vitally about relevance. This is the scary truth about search – that the search engines already connect a vast amount of information about us and make it available to the public – to people, brands and businesses.

But this fantastic chart from Silicon Alley Insider reveals that when it comes to recommendation – specifically for app discovery – social referral accounts for almost as much as search. The research carried out by Nielsen indicated that 63% of Android and iOS users use search to discover new apps in the various app stores – only slightly in front of personal recommendation from family or friends at 61%.

But the thing that drives both of these figures is trust. We trust search and we trust our friends and family. We trust search and social. And together they can be a powerful driver of sales – for whether we like it or not – we are all retailers now.

The Hard Work of Radical Transparency

I remember feeling like my jaw had hit the floor.

I had just started my first week of working for IBM and had read about an article published by an analyst firm. Days earlier – working as a freelancer – I had tried to contact this very same firm to discuss another topic – and gave up, stonewalled at every turn. And when time is money (and that money is your own), you have to choose your battles.

But this time there was something different. “Gavin Heaton from IBM” sounded so much more important. I was FROM somewhere – and it was somewhere with a big brand name. And within seconds I was speaking with the document’s author – discussing some of the findings and thinking through how this might impact my new role.

Over the years that follow, I fell in love with branding. I loved the way it extended into people’s lives – how it opened the door to opportunity and how it could change our experiences – as customers, employees and partners. But these days, branding is a different beast. It’s been inverted.

Sure, many of the strengths and benefits remain, but we have to work harder now. We cannot rest (or hide) behind the brand in the way that we used to. We have to inhabit a world of radical transparency … one where our brand does not stand alone in the public sphere – but is accompanied into the spotlight by our governance processes, decisions, data and even the personalities of our staff, executives and stakeholders. Take a look below at this video from the SEOmoz team.

Are we ready for radical transparency? We’d better be – for it is already upon us.

SEOmoz on Radical Transparency in Business from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

Welcome to the Age of the Social Consumer

Names can be confusing – especially when it comes to that ever shrinking membrane between businesses and their customers. Variously we call them customers, clients, stakeholders and consumers. Sometimes these people – for they are always people – are also our employees, partners, shareholders, suppliers and even executives.

The lines have blurred.

Let me just say that this has always and forever been the case. It’s just that in the past we have been happy to jump between roles – to change our mask as we pass security and to leave it at the door as we enter our homes. But over the last 20-30 years there has been an erosion in the compact that we make with businesses that once allowed this play acting to continue. We no longer have a job for life. And we are equally likely to discard one brand for a competitor’s at a moment’s notice.

The casualty in all this is, of course, trust.

This introduction to the Q3 refresh of the Outlook on Australian Social Business in 2012 reveals the trend – that we are already, always connected. And that we are – now more than ever – digitally connected. And no matter whether we see ourselves as employees, customers, shareholders or executives (or anything in-between), we are all Social Consumers.

The updated report is divided into three sections:

  1. The new face of doing business looks at social consumers, their expectations and how these play out at the membrane of the brand
  2. The business value of customer intimacy investigates the style of interactions and engagement
  3. The hidden power of enterprise social media focuses on the types of behaviour, systems and processes that are being used behind our business firewalls

You can purchase and download your copy of the report today.