Three Newsletters for Digital Leaders

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As much as we write about the end of this or the end of that, one consistent form of communication that refuses to die, is email. Love it or hate it, newsletters and the like continue to go from strength to strength.

And there is nothing more telling about the role of email than when some of the most innovative digital thinkers start their own newsletters. Over the last few months, newsletters, not blogs or podcasts, have been started by at least three digital leaders that should be on your must-read list (or at least in your “Primary” Gmail tab). These are:

  • Rosie & Faris’ Strands of Genius: Part business diary, part link collection, this newsletter by Rosie Yakob and Faris Yakob has a particular advertising and innovation focus that is hard to find. It is peppered with the dynamic duos’ personal sayings, interesting perspectives, and content that favours insight over statistics (though there are plenty of both).
  • Kris Hoet’s Warped: A weekly curated email featuring the best ideas, trends and awesomeness from the previous seven days. Kris keeps an eye on innovation and trends emanating from Europe.
  • Dave Phillip’s Work Study Dad: Short and sharp – Dave’s Five Things newsletter focuses on social media marketing and culture and contains only five links to items worth reading.
  • Natural Disruption: The newsletter from our Disruptor’s Handbook team keeping you up-tod-ate with disruptive trends, technology and ideas.

And yes, I know that makes four. Make some room in your inbox for all of them ;)

#Digitalks: Digital Disruption – how to thrive through change

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Each quarter, Firebrand host a lunch time seminar for the Sydney marketing community. This quarter, hosted by Adobe, I presented on the topic of digital disruption – and how marketers and innovators can apply the principles of the lean startup to transform their businesses.

We covered the three things you’ll need to pay attention to in order to build your business:

  • Marketing innovation: How to think and act like a marketing-led startup to innovate your way to profitability
  • Metrics: The key metrics that give you insight, focus, and control
  • Momentum: How focused action yields data and drives outcomes

You can:

 

The Amazing Case of the Disappearing Technology

BranFerren

BranFerren

Technology is stuff that doesn’t work yet.

— Bran Ferren

Bran Ferren’s words echo across the wifi to us like a premonition. The former President of R&D at Walt Disney Imagineering’s deep understanding of the way people use and engage with technology is only starting to play out in the devices that we so readily take for granted. The fact that we can call a piece of technology, a “device” at all shows how far we have come; after all, a device is something personal, knowable, intimate. And it was only twenty-odd years ago that carrying a “mobile phone” could put your back out. Personal technology is shrinking at a considerable rate.

Big Machines, Small Data

For decades, technology has driven business innovation, resulting in the rise of professional services firms, technology companies and most recently, software platforms. Until the early 90s, we designed systems around single business functions – like purchasing or order management. While this was a huge improvement on previous systems, it entrenched departmental silos and required duplication of work – put simply, the same information had to be entered into completely separate systems. Occasionally, the IT teams were able to integrate systems – connecting some pieces of data together, but this also required governance, standards and compliance – which added cost and complexity to already complex systems.

At the centre of this data frontier were the CIOs – vital drivers of innovation and productivity in almost every business. And held tightly in their grasp was information.

We realised that the faster we could crunch business information, the faster we could make decisions. Accordingly we built electronic supply chains, implemented ERP systems and automated what we could. We brought disparate systems together with a single package providing a reliable flow of data from one department to another. We had massive computers pumping relatively small amounts of data through relatively small, connected pipes. In some cases, remote controllers would be hooked up to servers via dial-up connections – and these ran multinational businesses!

The focus for all this innovation was the “back office” – far away from the prying eyes of the customer.

The Rise of the Front of House

While ERP innovation was driving efficiencies within the hardened arteries of businesses, the sales and marketing folks were still working from the same trusty rolodex and dog-eared business cards they had used since the Great Depression. But Tom Siebel had other ideas. His company was to do to customer relationships what SAP had done to finance and enterprise resource planning. The vision was – as it remains today – a single view of the customer. Like many grand visions, the reality remains tantalisingly out of reach.

But this focus on customer facing business functions, brought sales and marketing into the connected enterprise. Customer billing systems, processing, pipeline and opportunity management and a range of other functions were all digitised – and the field of business re-engineering flourished. Consultants had learned through the ERP years that return on investment lies in business users actually using these systems – and that meant customisation, training and change management. In large enterprises, this task was enormous – but was largely contained by the limits of the business. The focus was on engineering the business not extending beyond the safety of the firewall.

After all, even the top of the range, slimline laptops were clunky, heavy and slow in performance. And the business systems were ugly, hard to use and the data networks were notoriously unreliable. It appeared that innovation was always going to stop at the dizzy limit of a thin blue ethernet chord. And everything from the design of the software and hardware through to the challenges of remote access served to remind us that we were always operating out of our comfort zones – that we were dealing with technology that could both help and hinder us.

Outside-In Innovation and the Crowd

While most businesses were licking their wounds after the dotcom bomb, a new generation of tech entrepreneurs flew below the radar to create a whole new way of connecting the dots around businesses. These emerging social networks skipped the B2B market and launched direct to consumers, corralling vast swathes of the population into tightly bunched, loosely connected groups.

Similar to the way that dolphins collaborate to feast on an abundance of school fish, fast moving digital platforms like Google, Facebook and Yahoo skirted around our flanks and drove us together. Overwhelmed by the speed but excited by the possibilities, we willingly handed over our privacy, location and even identity in order to join with others who were “just like me”.

These platforms, working at warp speed, innovated at the speed of customer experience. They were unencumbered by years of process, archaic business systems and entrenched ways of working. They pushed out new features to the delight or disgust of their members, changed as necessary and moved on.

Sensing a fickleness in the consumer landscape, these fast growing startup enterprises blitzed past the “sense-and-respond” mantra proffered by management consultants the world over and created “lean” businesses that responded to changing conditions through automation, strategic outsourcing and peer-oriented customer service. The suggestions of the crowd – the paying customer – drove changes in business models, product features and even business strategy.

And all this outside-in innovation was happening from the comfort of our homes, with the convenience of technology we could hold in our hands.

The Internet of Things Gives Way to the Internet of Me

The real revolution in all this is three-fold:

  1. Consumers have built their own ecosystems around the experience that they want to create and curate for themselves
  2. “Technology” is disappearing from our lives, shrinking to a size that can be incorporated into our daily fashions
  3. Data is proliferating and permeating devices, systems and everywhere in-between

At the moment we are seeing the Internet of Things gaining traction in our homes, workplaces and public spaces. Connected by low bandwidth protocols like bluetooth, devices like Withings weight scales function like an analogue machine, displaying your weight – but add an additional dimension powered by the web and big data. Not only is your weight captured, your profile is queried in real time, and your height details are returned. Then your BMI is displayed while your latest reading is transmitted back to the cloud.

In some retail stores, sensors like iBeacons track your movement and signal your identity based on the apps running on your phone. Store assistants are proactively updated on your current status, interests and so on, and are ready to more readily assist you. Sound creepy? It’s already happening.

This is no longer the internet of things, but the internet of me. We are creating personal versions of the same kind of ERP networks that were developed in the 90s – linking our payment systems (banks) to our supply chains (shops) through sensors, apps, profiles and devices that we carry or wear at all times. And all of this is happening largely out of our view. It’s invisible. And once it becomes invisible it becomes “the way of life”.

Fresh Ideas-Woolworths launches innovation program for startups

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One of the greatest challenges any startup faces is distribution. How do you get your new product or service into the hot little hands of your customers? How do you do it quickly and with a high conversion rate? Gone are the days when you could drop your new app into the Apple App Store and start seeing download traction.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in July 2014, it was revealed that there are now over 1.2 million apps on the iOS App Store (Google Play, by comparison, is estimated to hold around 1.2 million apps on their store). This literally means that the chance of someone stumbling upon your prized and well-loved app is way less than one in a million – and when you add in algorithms, rankings, reputation and efforts to game the process, the average app developer is at a distinct disadvantage.

Rather than placing all your bets as a startup founder on “going viral” and creating the “next Facebook”, many are turning to some form of collaboration with corporates. And just as the startups turn to corporates, so too do the corporates turn to the startups.

Over the last few months there has been increasing interest in curating engagement with the startup community – not just sponsorship of events which is a light touch, but more substantial programs. While these may start out as “hackathons” where teams of developers come together over a weekend to collaborate on often random projects, when successful, the programs evolve into more substantial efforts. Firms like PwC host Open Innovation events that bring together entrepreneurs, small business owners, clients and researchers to solve challenging problems; NRMA and Slingshot recently launched their JumpStart program; and Telstra has progressed even further, establishing their Muru-D accelerator which has just accepted its second intake.

In an unexpected – but welcome move – Woolworths too are stepping into this space. It is still unclear what the benefits would be for a participating startup – the Wstart program website explains:

This is an opportunity to be heard by key Woolworths executives and discuss your business idea that could drive new thinking within Woolworths. We provide a collaborative environment to learn, share and network with others.

The format of the first event is Speed Dating where you can showcase your idea, collaborate with like-minded individuals, network, and receive mentoring from industry experts.

But the Wstart website is sparse – and to be honest – collaborative environments are popping up faster than I can blink. Or write. And while mentoring is great, access to potential customers, users and communities are far more important for startups.

After the speed dating event there is the opportunity to continue discussions with Woolworths.

If you are interested in participating, you need to submit your startup idea for consideration by 17 November 2014. You can do this on the Wstart website.

 

Marketing Led Sales – a new era for Hubspot and CRM

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Back in the beginning of 2013, I released a research report into the field of marketing automation. It investigated the challenges faced by marketers – from the explosion in digital and social channels to the newly emerging connected consumer and sought to map out the strengths of the various marketing technology vendors and their software offerings. In this report, I had identified that:

HubSpot looks to upset the apple cart.

With the focus on inbound marketing I predicted that HubSpot was well placed to become a future category leader.

At the recent INBOUND2014 conference, HubSpot announced a bold new offering – HubSpot CRM. Now, HubSpot, along with many other marketing automation platforms have long provided a simple CRM-style database – or tight integration to dedicated customer relationship management platforms such as Salesforce. But this feels different. It is different. It is FREE – as part of your HubSpot subscription.

But it’s not the pricing (or lack thereof) that feels revolutionary. It’s the fact that the HubSpot CRM reverses the priority of CRM – from sales first to marketing first. So now, rather than CRM and sales leading the customer process, HubSpot reaches out through its marketing platform to engage customers and then automatically connects them through to the sales teams seamlessly. The CRM platform works almost behind the scenes, logging your sales emails, phone calls and leads as they are made, not after the fact. And because it is part of the one platform, the marketing data that has been accumulated through various touch points, from web, to download, to webinar and so on, is also immediately available to the sales team as the relationship moves closer to conversion.

This new extension to an already powerful mid-market solution will strengthen what is already an attractive software platform. More importantly, it presents small and medium businesses with a compelling proposition – all in one, integrated sales and marketing automation.

And while this is a welcome mid-market addition, I am most excited about what this means for those organisations actively engaged in strategic digital marketing. Sure, most companies are shifting to digital, but those organisations with a mature approach to digital will be able to quickly deploy this kind of solution to create a competitive advantage. With HubSpot CRM, customers – and the customer experience – is more tightly connected to the sales process. It’s marketing led sales, not sales driven marketing. And this is a revolution that has been waiting in the wings.

Now I can’t wait to see what the next act brings.

It’s Gruen for Innovation – That Startup Show

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What is a startup? How is it different from a small business? And what role does innovation and/or technology play in a startup?

These are some of the first topics addressed by the new “entertainment startup” web-cast show, That Startup Show. Hosted by Dan Ilic and streamed live, the show takes a leaf out of ABC’s The Gruen Transfer – a smart, funny and insightful panel drilling into focused topics interspersed with clips and live pitch sessions.

Panelists Bronwen Clune, Alan Noble and Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, provide an industry perspective and Dan Ilic does a great job of keeping the conversation flowing. They take live tweet questions from the crowd and cover a vast range of topics in a very short time.

This first episode marks an important innovation in the development of the Australian startup ecosystem. It’s “StartupAus” beginning to tell its own stories at scale. And that can only be a good thing. Looking forward to Episode 2.

The Twitter Mirror Reveals All at Vibewire fastBREAK

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This Sunday, 25 May, as part of Vivid Sydney, Vibewire and the Powerhouse Museum will be hosting the biggest and boldest fastBREAK event ever. From 10:30am, you will be treated to a barrage of ideas and topics from 10 great speakers. There will be a band as well as breakfast. And for those who are fascinated by technology and social media, there will be an additional special guest – the Twitter Mirror.

Capturing all the behind the scenes action, the official Twitter Mirror allows the fastBREAK speakers to take a quick selfie or short format video Vine before and after taking the stage. These intimate shots will be pumped out through the fastBREAK hashtag and @vibewire Twitter account.

It’s yet another way to bring a different view of innovation – all thanks to the folks at Twitter Australia.

Remember to book your tickets before they are sold out.

Young people put their mark on the future at Vivid Sydney

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On the last Friday of every month, Vibewire in conjunction with The Powerhouse Museum, host fastBREAK, a rapid fire event showcasing young innovators. Starting at 8am, five speakers are given five minutes to tell the story of their innovation – and why it chose them (or why they chose it). But this month the format has changed. It’s bigger and bolder. And it’s on this Sunday as part of Vivid Sydney.

With the theme SAVE THE WORLD, this fastBREAK will feature 5-minute talks by:

  • Senator Scott Ludlam, outspoken Greens Senator for WA
  • Tom Tilley, triple j’s Hack’s man about town
  • Jess Scully, the creative powerhouse behind Sydney’s Vivid Ideas festival
  • Urthboy, music innovator, entrepreneur and performer
  • Dan Ilic, comedian and driving force behind A Rational Fear
  • Ella Weisbrot, social justice and climate change campaigner with AYCC
  • Alex Greenwich, the independent Member of Parliament for Sydney

vw-fastbreal Jess Scully, festival director of Vivid Ideas and returning fastBREAK headliner said, “Creative people can – and will – save the world. We’ve got the skills, the passion, the radical point of view. When you empower young, creative people to use those skills they’re pretty much unstoppable – because they bring the vital elements of energy and optimism to the mix.”

Since launching in 2010, fastBREAK’s five minute format has showcased over a hundred creative changemakers and provided the inspiration for many more.

At fastBREAK – Save the World – in addition to the speakers, there are also two workshops and a band. And the world famous (ok, locally famous) breakfast courtesy of Black Star Pastry, and visual installations and storytelling courtesy of Sydney Digital Publishing (SDP).

When: Sunday 25 May, 10.30am – 12.30pm

Where: Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, 2007

Tickets: vibewire.org/events/save-the-world

The Digital Tool Landscape

DigitalTools

DigitalTools

For years, I have been collecting tools that help me get things done. Some of them run on my computer or on a web platform. Some of them have become obsolete or were closed down when the startup money ran out. But almost always, digital tools have some value to the marketer – even if it is just to stimulate our thinking about the way that consumers engage and participate online.

As the market has matured – and as we have found more business focused benefits that come from digital engagement – categories of use have begun to emerge. We can now find various use cases for digital technology, white papers, research and even case studies. But often we still struggle with determining which tool to use when. For example, we may look at crowdsourcing for insight rather than ideation, or collaborative platforms for brainstorming rather than development.

Now, rather than just applying trial and error, this great interactive tool from strategy+business can help you choose the right tool for the right job. Now, you can spend more time doing and less time trying to figure out how. No more excuses!

We Are Smarter Than TV

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Back in 2007, Drew McLellan and I embarked on a journey of crowdsourcing discovery. Inspired by the We Are Smarter Than Me collaborative writing project, we wanted to see whether the collective intelligence of marketers across the globe could make sense of the emerging social media landscape. Three months later, the first edition of The Age of Conversation was published. It brought together over 100 writers from 22 countries and captured the mood of the time.

Three editions and six years later, working on these collaborative publishing projects has made me a firm believer in the power and insight that comes from focused communities. In fact, working on the latest edition – Age of Conversation 4 – is again reminding me of the breadth and depth of insight that comes from a diverse – yet focused – group of professionals.

The one consistent theme through all of the four editions, however, is the role of inclusiveness. From a brand perspective, we tend to think of this as a “loss of control”, but through the lens of the consumer, it’s a different story. Rather than seeing this transformation in terms of a shift of power, we should view it as a fundamental mark of mutual respect. And rather than thinking about limitation and even copyright, we should think of generosity and awareness. Effectively this shift means a transformation of what we consider the “marketing funnel” with “conversion” being less about sales and more about shifting our customer relationships away from transactions and closer to longer term engagement. This in turn requires an understanding of customer lifetime value.

The publishing industry has faced this transformation for decades and continues to struggle. The music industry is now making a much better fist of the challenge, but TV seems resolutely trapped in the quagmire of industrialised thinking. This makes the entire industry ripe for disruption. And platforms like Netflix and Hulu are well placed to deliver this kind of broad disruption. And as Oscar winner and artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London recently said, it’s time for TV to learn from other industries. It’s time for them to learn from the crowd. After all, we are smarter than TV.

1963 ... television eyeglassesCreative Commons License James Vaughan via Compfight