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”.

Take the Australian Social Business Survey 2014

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To call out the term “social business” seems almost anachronistic in 2014. After all, aren’t we all now working in “social businesses”? Haven’t we all been part of the digital transformation sweeping every business?

Well, yes and no.

When I ran my first social business survey back in 2011, I was interested to gather some data on Australian-based businesses. After all, there was plenty of information available about the US – but anecdotal evidence suggested that we were behind that curve. Way behind. And again, in 2012, the survey revealed that there was a gap – not only between Australia and the US – but between businesses and the customers they served. It was what IBM called a “perception gap”.

These days, despite what we hear at conferences and read on news sites and blogs, it seems that social business, digital transformation and (dare I say it) innovation continues to struggle. Sure there are pockets of connectedness. Campaigns for transformation and change. And even some success stories. But what is the true picture?

Participate in the survey and receive the report for free

When you participate, you not only have the chance to share your perspective on the state of social business / digital transformation in Australia. You will also receive a copy of the report when it is complete. This will allow you to get a sense of where you and your business stand in relation to others.

Please take a few minutes to complete the survey. And if you already happen to have AskU on your smartphone, simply enter the Private Code social2014 [case sensitive]. And be sure to share it with others. The more responses we get, the better the report will be.

Kickstart Your Campaign with Video

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The crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, is a fascinating microcosm – it brings together all the elements and challenges of a business often before that business exists. So in many ways, a Kickstarter project is a pre-startup startup – and accordingly it faces many of the same immediate challenges. But where startups sprint towards product, Kickstarter forces a path towards market development. Those who can’t market, don’t win. And like current marketing trends indicate, video plays an increasingly important role in that process.

Research from MWP Digital Media shows that Kickstarter projects that have a video are 85% more likely to achieve their funding goals. This tends to match some of the trends we are seeing in broader marketing circles – with YouTube and Vimeo consumption continuing to rise – impacting not just brand and engagement metrics but also working at crucial junctures in the path to purchase.

Video, however, is a steep learning curve – so there are obvious benefits to outsourcing. But new features in familiar apps/platforms like Instagram and Twitter (via Vine) make it easy to experiment. And I have a feeling that the role of user (or brand) generated video content is only going to accelerate in the next 12-18 months. I have already begun testing this out for myself and with clients.

These days marketing never sleeps. I hope this shift isn’t catching you napping.

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SuccessConnect – Where Talent and Social Collide at the SuccessFactors Conference

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Reading Mean Tweets – Social Media Beyond the Magic Mirror

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Are you an executive stepping into the world of social media? Are you a leader learning to tweet? Or are you in charge of a social media account or community site for a brand? If so, you may have experienced a flurry of mean tweets. And by “mean” I nasty.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose brand is fairest of them all?

You see, for decades, we have all been living the life of the Evil Queen, viewing the world through the wonderful frame of our very own magic mirror. We frame the question. Ask it. And wait for the adulation to return. And in a world where every question, all “market research”, surveys, ratings, reports and so on can be framed by our own perspective, we’ve lived a relatively sheltered life.

But the moment we step into the world of social media, the Magic Kingdom disappears. In the real world of 21st Century marketing, there is no Fairy Godmother. You are known – and become known – for your good works and bad, your efforts and your laziness.  You are what you tweet. It’s what I call the “4 BEs”.

You want to be found, known, trusted and successful. Many of us, however, fail on one of these counts. Especially in the early days of our social media journey.

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Now, no doubt, you will have heard the cliche that social media is a marathon not a sprint. And like most cliches, it is based on a deep truth – you cannot build a relationship with anyone – a customer, a friend, a partner or supplier – without investing in that relationship over time.

And it is with this in mind that I would encourage you to step out from behind your own magic mirror. Read some of the tweets that are sent your way. Read them out loud. To your teams. Think about the impacts that they make. Is there a truth? Or are there always going to be haters?

Take a look at the way celebrities respond to some of the nasty tweets sent their way. Notice how, when spoken aloud, some of the nasty tweets lose their impact?

Reading the mean tweets will prepare you for what will follow. For no matter how many white horses you ride, one day you’re going to eat an apple meant for someone else. It’s time to end the fairytale, but with some work, a decent strategy and a bit of luck, you may just reach your happily ever after.

THE END

It’s Not Charity: It’s Social Enterprise-investing in the future

It's not charity, it's social enterprise

When I give money to charity, I look closely at the aims of the organisation. I listen to the story and look for the downstream impact. And I look at the finances. I am keen to know how much of the money that is donated goes to programs and how much goes to administration.

Over the years my giving has changed. I noticed that I became more focused on this programs/administration split. I would stop supporting organisations as the admin component grew. In frustration, I eventually shifted my entire focus away from larger organisations to Kiva and to Vibewire – a youth arts and media not-for-profit. Through Kiva I have funded almost 100 loans now and continuously roll them over – I see them less as charity and more as social enterprise. In fact, that is what they are.

The same can be said for Vibewire which is entirely focused on providing a launchpad for young change makers.

But through my work with Vibewire, where I also serve as President, I have also learned about the need for administrative – or core – funding. Sure it is important to support programs and to impact individuals, but not-for-profits run on passion, enthusiasm and commitment. The money simply keeps the doors open. In general, NFPs stretch every last cent out of their available funds. On the surface, this is great. But in doing so, they find themselves with very little capacity to innovate.

As a result, the impact of change is more like a ripple than a tidal wave.

And yet, when we give to charity, we want and EXPECT to see that massive, transformational change. As Dan Palotta explains in the video below, charities are rewarded for how little they spend, rather than on the results that they achieve. Surely this should be the other way around.

So next time you are giving to charity, think about your actions and expectations. What happens when you think of your giving not as a GIFT but as an INVESTMENT in the future?

That’s the way I think of Vibewire (which is easier since it works specifically with young people). See what happens when you change the way you think about charity. What impact do you want to see and how can you make it happen – beyond the transaction of donating/giving? Take an additional step. Contribute skills. Expertise. Get involved. After all, it’s your future too.

Yammer’s Community Management Playbook

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As a boy I can remember my Nanna holding court at a friend’s house. We were sitting at a 50s laminex kitchen table (you know the kind with the fake marbling and the shiny metal edging) and there were copious cups of tea, home made cakes, scones and biscuits carefully laid out. But no one was eating. The conversation was coming thick and fast – with this coterie of grandmothers exchanging tips, sharing stories and laughing at each others’ family stories. It was a community gathering firmly held together by the will of these formidable women.

Even as a child I could sense the power of connection that was taking place. I could feel the energy. And I knew, almost instinctively, that there were rules to be followed.

Many years later, when I began to get involved in corporate “communities of practice”, I noticed many of these same rules applied. Well, not necessarily applied – but were vital for the health of a community.

With the massive shift to digital and social media, online communities – and community management – has emerged as a discipline in its own right. And while it is largely viewed by business as a “fluffy” or “touchy feely” role, organisations such as Yammerare connecting communities to hard numbers and strategic outcomes. In many cases, having an active and engaged community manager is becoming a strategic advantage.

But for those organisations who remain skeptical of the business benefit of social media, concepts such as community management can feel as removed from business reality as fairy stories. This is where the Yammer Community Management Playbook comes in handy. It’s a step by step primer on the establishment and maintenance of communities. Take a read. It may just save the future of your business.

 

Report – CMOs: Time to Re-Cast the Marketing Funnel

It is often said that companies only have two functions – marketing and innovation. Despite this, most corporate marketing practices are based on century old theories and frameworks that no longer adequately accommodate the complexities faced by today's CMO. Rather than the inside-out view offered by the traditional marketing funnel, marketers need to develop a view of the customer journey that takes into account the challenges and opportunities presented by digital and social technologies.

To be released tomorrow this "big picture" report provides an outside-in view of the “connected customer” and key stages in next generation customer experience. The report provides a vital framework for marketing leaders seeking to move from a transactional relationship with their customers to one based on what I am calling the “5 Ds of Customer Engagement”.

But wait! There’s more!

You can go beyond the report and join me for a webinar on this topic to understand:

1. Six trends driving change in digital marketing
2. How the 5 Ds of customer engagement reflect the new realities in customer engagement and marketing
3. Key recommendations for marketers seeking strategic approaches rather than simply digitizing "business as usual"

And the best thing to remember about a webinar is that they are recorded. If you can’t join live, register and watch in your own time and tweet me with any questions.

News Analysis: Google Takes on Financial Services

In the UK, Google is set to launch a new financial services division with a new credit business the first product to market. As Adam Clark Estes reports, the initial offering will provide businesses with a small line of credit linked specifically to Google’s AdWords program.

A number of items within the announcement are worthy of attention:

  • It’s a new product within a new division of Google
  • The plan is to expand to countries beyond the UK in the “next few weeks”
  • Credit cards will be issued with very competitive rates

Why This Is Important

  • Financial services is a fresh field ready for disruption: Disruption in the financial services sector has been a long time coming. The sweeping tide of digital has washed through most sectors but has been held back from regulated sectors like financial services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Innovators are seeking a way into these lucrative markets
  • Google understands speed to market: Many industries rollout new offerings over extended time frames. It can take years for innovations in one national market to reach another. Google’s intention clearly intends to move very quickly to cement a foothold
  • The loan book is the thin edge of the wedge: As I suggested at a recent personal lending conference, disruptive competition is likely to come from outside the financial services industry. Cash Converters in the UK last year saw 154% growth in their personal loan book; in Australia they experienced a not insubstantial 28% growth. This is not about bit players – it’s about trends – and there is a wave of change coming. Google plan to be surfing this wave

The Bottom Line: Connected Consumers Shift to Where their Sense of Trust Takes Them

Despite advertising and branding blitzes over the previous 24 months, most financial services companies are viewed with suspicion by many of their customers. Long term lock-in has allowed FS companies to claw back GFC losses and to grow. This move by Google (and the accompanying announcement by Amazon) will capture the imagination of Connected Consumers – the tech savvy early adopters of a disaffected consumer world. Google has been building trust with Connected Consumers for years, turning every search result, every click and every app login into a brand experience. This may be the first step in what could truly be a transformative monetization strategy.

Your POV

Would you take a loan from Google for AdWords? What about cash? Where do you see this leading? Add your comments or send us an email.

Please let us know if you need help with your digital strategy efforts.  Here’s how we can assist:

  • Assessing social business/digital marketing readiness
  • Considering new digital community strategy
  • Developing your social business/digital marketing  strategy
  • Designing a data to decisions strategy
  • Create a new vision of the future of work
  • Deliver a new customer experience and engagement strategy
  • Crafting a new matrix commerce strategy

Trust and the Marketer

Consumers have always suspected marketers. Of something.

But this “something” has always been elusive. Hard to pin down.

In the back of the mind of most consumers, there is a small voice – a remnant of our evolutionary instinct – that warns us of a potential risk, a trap. The limbic system is part of our pre-verbal brain that we commonly refer to as “gut instinct”. And because it works without language, we are often challenged to put these feelings into words. As a result, we are left with a sense of mistrust. Something vague. Indiscernible.

But the limbic brain is also the space of creativity. It is the place of imagination and symbolism. And it is the essential playground of the marketer.

Each day, as consumers are bombarded with 3000+ messages, it is the limbic brain that acts as a first level of defence. Most droll pieces of advertising or communication are discarded – with only the most creative and most relevant breaking through.

These days, marketers have to work even harder to cut through the noise and confusion. It’s not just about creativity. It’s also about psychology, human behaviour (change) and analytics. We need to cover all four.

Over the last few years, Australian TV show, Gruen Planet, has peeled back the layers of the mysterious advertising onion. It has laid bare the role of planning and strategy, creative, copy, image and production. Blogs like Adam Ferrier’s Consumer Psychologist provide insight and analysis into what people buy and why they do so.

Infographics like the one below, provide a neat way of understanding some of the techniques used in advertising – but my limbic brain also tells me that we need a different approach now. Sure these approaches will continue to work – but we need to go further. We need to build a different kind of marketing – one that does not set off the limbic alarm bells. We need to address the deficit of trust experienced by consumers.

What if we could create marketing with a purpose (not marketing with a cause). Imagine what that would mean for our customers. Imagine what it would mean for our employees.

And imagine what it would mean for the marketing industry.

Sound dangerous? Don’t worry, it’s just your limbic system acting up.

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