Thursday, 3 December 2009

Another digital era ends

It seems to be time for change around here in our little digital world. First we have the transmigration of Revolution, one of our industry stalwarts. Then, today, another – Juliet Blackburn, head of digital for the past nine years at agency selection and management gurus AAR, has taken the plunge and is off client-side. It's a pretty bold step as it happens, as I think everyone thought that Juliet would either cave in and join an agency one day or remain at the head of the table of digital agency selection forever.

Personally I think it's a good move – and Skype will make the best of her ability to cut through the bullshit to get to the real thing. Many of us will be sorry to see her go. Some won't... I've heard various agency heads over many years vent their frustration at Juliet's sometimes disconcerting ability to navigate past flimflam. To be honest, and no matter how we'd all love to have been put forward for more (and here I'm speaking as AAR's digital agency for the past five years: we've had no special favours) it has meant AAR's client-to-agency matching process has been unimpeachable. Kerry Glazer, AAR's CEO, will have a challenge on her hands finding a replacement who is half as good.

Friday, 20 November 2009

So, farewell then, the Revolution

So, the time has come. Or rather, the untimely end has come. Revolution is taken off the stands, its feature article spiked.

It is, in my opinion, a huge shame. I've been involved in the magazine in one way or another – reader, writer, interviewee, critic, blogger – for a dozen years. I've seen it change and grow and mature since its earliest raison d'etre of providing a more client-friendly window on our industry than NMA's then-trade newsletter view.

We, that is my friends and colleagues in the industry, even put up with the doldrum years of that one awful front-cover photoshop template and remained loyal. It's a crying shame that ad revenues couldn't support the title... but it's also testament to the power of the digital revolution itself, which Revolution has so diligently reflected, that has led to the incorporation of marketing into the online. The digital universe, once so revolutionary, took over.

That the print edition is going is not so sad, except that it ends a vital period of reporting and advocacy that has now, quite inevitably and probably quite rightly, moved online. As with all changes like this though it leaves the hugely talented and engaging people behind it adrift. I hope that this talent doesn't go wasted or diluted. Gareth Jones, Andy McCormick and the rest of the team deserve congratulations, as do their predecessors, for providing an important and valued perspective on our industry, one that has been accessible, informative and fun.

So, farewell then. Revolution is dead. Long live the revolution.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Well, what a week

I started out the weekend getting my solo gliding certificate, and flying my first four flights with no-one else in the plane. Here’s a picture of the KA13 I was flying (it’s the red one at the bottom).

We then spent most of the rest of the weekend finalising our move into new offices while we wait for the brand new and very cool offices to be fitted out. How come? Well, we’ve just completed a deal to become part of Hasgrove-owned Amaze plc, the UK’s largest non-London digital agency. They’ve got 180 people in Manchester, Chester, Brussels - and pretty soon it’ll be 50 in London too. We’ve made Head of Client Services Emma Nicol and Planning Director Pete Anderson shareholders in recognition of the work they’ve done over the past couple of years while we’ve built up to this point, and it’s well-deserved.

We’ll continue to operate under the Underwired brand, and of course we own the website and trade mark, so the pointy-head stuff we do, along with the lovely design work Jason’s team produces, will continue but with a bit more, well, momentum behind it.

So, a momentous time. And we’re extremely happy. You could say I'm flying.

Here lay the Wave

So, I’ve spent a week or two experimenting with Google Wave. I’ve had some correspondence with some journalists I know, a Vistage colleague in the US, other people who run digital agencies. And it’s been a frustrating experience.

I think partly the way they’ve done the beta release is to blame. It seems that very few large communities of people that already correspond have been given a pool of invitations. So conversation has been very fragmented. The beauty of Wave, which is a kind of rolling discussion incorporating instant messaging, social media, productive wiki and email, can’t show itself clearly when there are six of you but not all on the same wavelength at the same time.

One of the features I found quite interesting is that you can incorporate a Wave into a webpage. In my case I hosted a Wave in my blog for a week, and people who were logged in to Wave could view the embedded Wave and people in the conversation could interact with it. My coding’s not up to much, so it didn’t look particularly elegant, but it’s a far cry from the basic comment field.

So I think that one day Wave could be awesome. While some of my colleagues didn’t see the attraction, I think it might become quite a revolutionary step. For example, imagine constructing a collaboratively-generated screenplay or feature article, where several people can be involved in different time zones, editing previous contributions and suggesting new, constantly honing and refining, fact-checking, editing and clarifying as you go along, until the final polished artefact is ready. On the other hand, I can see all sorts of mischief, and the experience of wiki, where attribution and defacement become important, may have to be reworked.

It’s not in itself particularly original - it is after all an agglomeration and blurring of the borders between a whole host of technologies that have been around for between 15 and 30 years - but it may take discussion itself to a whole new level.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

They is no longer The Man, They is Us

Once upon a time I taught myself how to write HTML so that my client’s logo repeated in the background. The site was a single page, talking about an awards scheme for budding playwrights. The site had been commissioned by Allied Domecq via a visionary PR agency, Scope. It was my first commercial website. It was early in 1995, and my digital agency had been going a year - it all feels a very long time ago.

And yet not a huge amount has changed, but there’s been a subtle shift. Online communities still grow, morph, die. People choose which stuff to consume and which stuff not to consume. They choose how and when to interact. They write, take part in places of play, and navigate their social networks.

They. Not you, Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms Brand Marketer. The individual consumer. They control what they do, say, think, recommend. They control your reputation. They is no longer The Man, They is Us. So now the consumer is doing the building, and the static HTML or even the documentary email is old hat. These days people use XML-based channels, YouTube, Twitter and Digg, and so on - through the browser, IM app and phones. Forrester’s (then employee) Charlene Li set it out beautifully simply in the book (book!) Groundswell, which described a new generation of segments based on how integrated consumers are with social media content production, consumption, recommendation and storage. Li told of a revolution that has taken place under our noses but behind most marketers’ backs.

The future is, as it were, here. Which means that brands too have to start getting their hands dirty. Brands have to join in the social fun, make social gaffes, fix lapses in tact and establish a reputation. Today is when you have to start if you haven’t started already. Gone are the days when background repetition created any capital for brands - we’re in a future where immersion is the new rule.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

ECRM and the Art of Customer Retention

Time was that marketers simply marketed. They told a story that engaged potential customers in their brands. They talked at people, hoping to attract, seduce and exploit. Retention was simply about delivering what was expected - not disappointing - and being consistent. When I became aware of interactive marketing in the early 1990s it was because of a CD-Rom called Xpand Expo, a virtual exhibition hall that you could click around, read text files placed on virtual stands, and that was about it. They’d spent a lot of time rendering an exhibition hall-like suspended ceiling, and done a good job of selling virtual stands to the likes of HP. What occurred to me at the time was that here was a golden opportunity to give some power to the consumer, by removing the sales person - but it needed structure and marketing thinking to make it engaging and work. I started my first digital agency to do just that.

Interactive multimedia truly gave the power of self-selection to the consumer. It meant if we gave a consumer five choices, they’d (almost certainly) choose the option that appealed to their needs most. Slightly problematic in that getting CDs to enough potential customers was expensive and the media was fixed. No-one in marketing took it very seriously. Then the following year along came the world wide web, and the world changed in twelve months.

Marketers cottoned onto the opportunity - eventually - to engage customers in a dialogue driven by the customer herself. Websites became big business for forward-thinking clients and agencies like ours; getting people to the websites became the next challenge but again, tapping into elective channels made sense and worked in practice. In fact, the agency I run now started as a search engine optimisation (SEO) agency in 1996 as an offshoot to our web agency. And actually that leads me towards the problem marketers face at the moment, which in my view is crippling the advance of interactive, elective experiences that customers can enjoy and companies can make millions from. And they can, because some have seen how to solve the problem.

The issue is that in the years following the early pioneering experimentation, digital marketing has become siloed. When I last looked there were 3,500 companies claiming to build websites. SEO has become an industry in its own right - in fact, two industries: organic (natural) search optimisation and paid-for search, (PPC – pay-per-click). Web has become websites plus tactical microsites, often by different agencies. The DM agency probably has a microsite supporting a print campaign. The PR agency is looking after “reputation management”, though it might be subcontracting the Facebook page to a social media agency. Oh, and the online ad campaigns are being specified by the media buying company.

I’m sure it all made perfect sense at the time.

So here’s the situation most clients (except the really canny ones staffed by strategic thinkers) find themselves in today. A dozen agencies, some nested or subcontracted. Each of them doing what they’ve been told. And if they’re good, each one is trying extremely hard to improve on what they did last quarter, incrementally increasing click-throughs or eyeballs or impressions or recall by 3%.

Many of the really good ones will be coming to you with really great ideas for attracting new customers. Fantastic viral ideas coming from the ad agency. A really good creative hook with legs from the online agency that will reach new audiences and probably drive some extra traffic to the website too. And what with the e-commerce company annually improving the sales funnel, well, it’s an ever-improving world out there. But while all these bits and pieces are individually doing better than whatever they were doing before, they are also gradually losing touch with each other. It used to be that marketing marched to a single coherent beat, where the TV ad established the awareness and each other medium elaborated on the brand message. Yet that’s fragmented badly, and what we’re left with is a mess of tactical, competing, agency-income-motivated digital campaigns that have no backbone or strategy, and which often do more to confuse the customer than empower them.

It’s a situation we see all the time. And there is a simple way of getting out of it, though it takes will, vision and patience.

We need to go right back to the customer. The data is the key here. All of the various marketing activities I’ve described deliver data in fairly large quantities - data about who your customers are, how they behave, what they like, how many times they buy, how much they spend, how long they last, how quickly they churn and so on. Again, it’s probably in a variety of different places, but that doesn’t really matter. The first step is to find it all.

So, step one, find the data. Any eCRM agency worth its salt will be able to manage the aggregation of this data, manage its analysis, and come up with insights about your customers. These insights inform segmentation - behavioural, demographic, technographic; value (by whatever measures)-led, loyalty-led, influence. And segmentation tells you what you need to say to each of them at what time to increase their engagement and to increase sales... when McCain Foods did this, engagement rates with brand resistors went from 14% to 63% in just ten months.

So now we have a map of what needs to be said to whom and when. In its most basic form eCRM can easily be delivered by email. This might be augmented by microsites speaking and exchanging information with each segment. Supporting this you might want to extend forums or social media that allow customers to interact further with you, or each other. If you observe these closely enough you’ll find out what’s bothering customers - in fact they might show you how to segment them even further or what’s going to interest them in the future.

And suddenly (well, to be fair it might be three to twelve months) you have the kernel of a digital strategy. Followed through, the segmentation which came from all that disparate data can start delivering genuinely useful information that essentially becomes the foundation of a marketing strategy. Simply observing the success or failure of each strand of communication with a segment by watching the behaviour of the recipient, gives you the power to change the options you make available to her over time. It’s enormously powerful, and because all that is being done is observing response and making changes based on what is seen, the power really is back in the hands of the marketer, even if it appears that the whole machine is being driven by the customer.

And from this observation of what works and what doesn’t, what motivates or engages and what demotivates or disengages, comes the magic: very quickly we start to see which segments we want more of. And that means we know what to tell our agencies to do. They are suddenly working to your plan, not theirs, and your plan is driven by an eCRM strategy not an agency account handler’s desire to make themselves famous with an award-winning viral or a 0.002% increase in banner clicks. Time was that clients drove strategy, rather than herding agencies, and eCRM brings that time back, at long last.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Mixed bag of advertising that fails to build relationships

After last week’s incredulous blog post about eBay leaping onto Patrick Swayze’s demise, and the general state of advertising (Go Compare, anyone?), I’ve actually been paying a little more attention just in case there’s anything good in between the main events.

Barclays seems to have caught a great advertising team – two ads for two different products were clever and eye-catching. I liked the latest ads for some car marque, which seemed to offer three different cars depending on your budget but I can’t remember which brand; likewise the “chasing her metaphors” piggy bank ad again, amusing ad but can’t recall the brand. I loved the army ad detailing a strike on an insurgent gun, but on reflection felt underwhelmed when this turned out to be the chap’s career highlight (the army chap, not the insurgent chap). I really liked the Cadbury’s Fair Trade ad. Actually, it was a mixed bag. I’m very glad I can avoid it all with a PVR’s ffwd button.

None of it however has been designed to develop a relationship. Even the Cadbury’s one, which presumably is part of a series designed to give me a rounded sense of the brand new brand onion, felt stuck on – unrelated to the Gorilla or those other ones that didn’t work. I’d love to see advertising that deliberately led off-screen, not just to the shop but to a place where a relationship can flower.

I can’t remember the last time an ad told me to visit the website in a clear, beneficial way. Oh, apart from all those second-string insurance aggregator sites of course, which do so so risibly it’s more a distraction than marketing (“let’s grab the consumer’s attention, at any cost” we imagine the account guy saying, shortsightedly – smacking of desperation on the part of both client and agency). I’d love to work with an ad agency that had the confidence to work with a digital specialist to create a genuine journey. Meerkats and Army aside, they just don’t cross-refer – and the beauty of the modern customer journey is that it can and should be fluid, media savvy and engaging, not ephemeral, boorish and – in some cases thankfully – entirely negligent of brand recall.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Shame on you, eBay

So, eBay scrapes the bottom of the advertising barrel, with an online banner / MPU combination listing results for Patrick Swayze memorabilia including a 99p video of Dirty Dancing – available now on eBay UK. I do hate advertising. In fact, there seems to be very little to redeem it these days. Ever since our ad breaks were transformed into zippy topped and tailed bits on Sky+, I've not missed it one bit.

And on the few occasions recently when I've actually had to sit through advertisements on the telly I've been shocked at how bad it is. To whit, crass ads that seem to have been created by morons from cheap advertising agencies, with no hint of irony. Bad acting (Peter Jones, there's no excuse), bad editing, bad voiceovers, bad construction, bad branding... has nothing moved on since the 80s? I'm aghast.

Anyway, the dross and unforgivably tacky online aberrations like eBay's let the few redeeming campaigns stand out, simples.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

An email, by proxy

I started to write a blog post yesterday about the ethics of signing an eCRM email personally, even though the signer would have been on holiday at the time of broadcast. It was an interesting question, scuppered a little by the vagueness of the ethical dilemma, and thoroughly undermined by the fact I'm off on holiday myself later today with no guarantee it would be published before I go.

This week I read about a new service that's caused a bit of a stir, that will send emails on your behalf to loved ones after your demise. Very little different to what a Will can do, though I suppose more easily distributed and less focused on a fusty solicitor's office and family tantrums, and more to do with being able to say things in death not possible due to location, fear or convention in life. In the meantime you can also, of course, have someone pretend to be you on your behalf – though a big brand hiring a PR company to write the CEO's blog is clearly beyond the pale (and doesn't achieve the Groundswell thing anyway). It's much, much more effective and engaging to just be yourself, something which, for example, Jane Fonda does so disarmingly on her blog.

Next week it will be Natalie pushing the button on Underwired's monthly news email (so if you want to read a few thoughts on the Payment-by-Results zeitgeist then drop her an email to join the list – And then of course while I'm away I'll be vicariously sending correspondents my out of office autoreply... the realisation of which finally spiked yesterday's blog draft.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Joining The Dots Between eCRM and Acquisition

Recession indicates retention. The solution (as everyone knows but few seem to practice) to the problems brought about by a severe downturn is first concentrate on what you have, not what you might have. Marketers must - must - get retention right, for a variety of reasons.
  • It’s where your current revenue is
  • It’s where the lowest hanging fruit for additional revenue is (all you have to do is not screw up, then ask for more business)
  • It’s where your biggest advocates lie
  • It’s where your data sits
  • It’s the biggest source of prospective customers for your competitors
and so on. Reducing churn protects your customer base against better offers or a better story from your competitors, and yes, they’ll try anything. But customers have a certain amount of inertia. Once they’ve started a relationship with a brand they’ll only move through lack of appropriate attention or if you don’t deliver on what’s been promised, so retention starts with not offending customers. ECRM creates stories that will keep customers engaged, and great eCRM creates stories that massively increase engagement and not only reduce churn to near-zero but increase purchase frequency, average transaction value, and active advocacy.

The customer relationship management bit of eCRM isn’t the whole story.

Buried in the above list though is a gem. “It’s where your data sits”. Your best source of information – not just for segmentation strategy – about who’s likely to spend more is your existing customer base. The data you already own can tell you how to run extraordinarily efficient acquisition campaigns.

(By the way, many people in digital have long thought that acquisition campaigns are a load of rubbish because generally they’re about feeding huge numbers of people into a funnel in the hope of converting the few people who, more or less by accident, have been hit at the right time to buy.)

By combining the segmentation that’s been created for eCRM programmes that focus on retention with the data that gets collected on how those segments behave over time in reaction, we suddenly have a potential gold mine. Great eCRM doesn’t just retain, enhance, increase - it tells you how to acquire. The new, richer data tells you which types of people are most likely to be movable from low-value to high-value. And this in turn tells you what kinds of people you want more of. And that, put simply, tells you where to spend your money to increase your feed into the improvable segments. ECRM suddenly becomes not just about retention marketing, but about all marketing.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Motivating the CEO

I just had a call from a client we’ve been after for a long time – they’re the world’s largest operator in a high profile leisure sector. We’ve been talking with them on and off for the last few months, but things had gone a little quiet.

Now, in a recession, new business prospecting is hard. In fact, as an eCRM agency we’re pretty much honour-bound to concentrate on retention, delivering more bang for our clients’ bucks and making sure what we do really works. The corollary is that (hopefully) word then might get around and we’ll win more business. The truth is that the majority of our new business this year has come from existing clients, and previous concentration on winning multi-brand groups has turned out to have made perfect strategic sense.

So it was very nice to find myself on the receiving end of a forty-minute phone call clarifying exactly what the first few steps in a relationship might be. One of the questions I asked during the conversation was what had prompted the call. Seems the CEO had got in touch with the head of customer relationships and told him that retention was a highly strategic issue and that the brand needs to invest in eCRM. Client’s pleased, though I suspect he might have wished for the buy-in sooner. Agency’s happy, because as long as the client’s goals and the budget are right, who’s worried what the trigger is?

But I am. I’d love to know why, after 18 months, the CEO has had an epiphany about digital and retention. It’s slightly like the old days, when we could speak with marketers all day long but it was the CEO who bought the website (and when I say old days, I mean 1995). I’m fully aware that reducing expenditure and improving margins are highly strategic issues, and I’m also aware that digital can address these head on. But I’m wondering why the sudden awareness of eCRM. I’d love to think it was articles in magazines like Revolution, but I’m not certain CEOs read them. I’d be flabbergasted if this particular CEO was following my Tweets about eCRM.

However, I do know that digital has become a strategic issue amongst some business leaders, forced by recession to take a long hard look at how and why the world is changing around their brands. Social media is turning sales funnel-oriented acquisition on its head, Forrester Research are re-educating business strategists with robust models for initiating change – both through listening to what they’ve called the groundswell and by using different approaches to segmentation to drive customer engagement. Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital is showing up at CEO professional development organisations like the excellent Vistage. CEOs are really taking note of a (rare) opportunity to leverage the changes wrought by recession that incorporates a new marketing world view driven by customers in a medium that is digital.

Ultimately I guess it’s the CEO’s responsibility to ensure the senior team – and particularly marketing and sales – are on the right track to support the strategic goals of the business. And these strategic goals are not just weathering the storm, but preparing for the opportunities to come.

I’m hoping it means I might get a few more calls.

PS. If you are a CEO, and you’re reading this, that last sentence was a hint ;)

You should follow me on Twitter here.

This post first appeared on my Revolution Blog on BrandRepublic.

Friday, 10 July 2009

De-fragmenting Digital

Most clients have a web agency, an online media agency, an online advertising agency... Some have an email delivery platform, or an email marketing agency, SEO and PPC specialists. And then the advertising agency or the sales promotion agency do tactical stuff (virals and vouchers, gobbling money to little useful gain). You might have some of these, or work for one.

Most clients spend lots of time getting their agencies to improve what they’ve got by 3%. That’s a 3% better website, or a 3% better performing ad campaign. It’s all, from what I can see, very tactical, very incremental, deeply fragmented.

But we’re in a recession, and it’s just not good enough. There’s a huge opportunity to think again, to take stock and look around at what’s possible today, not what was possible five years ago when you started on the road to improvement. Today customers expect to have a voice, they expect you to listen to their needs, observe their behaviour and deliver them relevant, timely brand-engagement-inducing nudges and touches, wherever they are, online or off.

ECRM offers a slightly different way of looking at things, provided you define eCRM as a strategic approach rather than an executional method. It requires that you head back into the customer data, evaluate all the touchpoints you currently have - the website, ads, emails, SMS, social media - and create a strategy that is designed not to have the most engaging website, but the most engaging customer journey. This way you become channel-agnostic, and digital execution becomes subservient to how you relate to your customers, not the other way round.

It’s worked particularly well for companies like McCain Foods who’ve turned digital on its head and are now having a single conversation across several different channels. Brand engagement with brand resistors has gone up from 14% to 63% in ten months, which is staggering.

Using a top-down strategic view doesn’t mean getting rid of your agencies, it just means they’ll all be working to a single over-arching strategy, rather than just doing the best they can do in their niche. It means you get a coherent plan that can be delivered as usual through segmented email or segmented microsites, but is flexible enough to incorporate new channels (like social media) as they emerge.

All digital de-fragmentation takes is a little strategic thinking, but what it leads to can be revolutionary.

This post first appeared on my Revolution Blog on BrandRepublic.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Bob, The Ad Contrarian

I had a bit of an argument with some guy called Bob, who blogs as The Ad Contrarian. He appears to have some kind of following in the oldschool advertising world. And he doesn't like the new-fangled stuff like the internet. So I had a bit of a pop at him in the comments on his blog (about a post he wrote in April).

Anyway, it was all very entertaining, and I don't think either of us came out of it well really – both of us have very different viewpoints and the world takes all sorts. It's a long set of posts and you can, if you like, read the whole thing on his blog. Be warned, he ends up doing quite a lot of swearing ;)

The interesting thing for me was that he then decided he was so right he'd paste the whole thing as a new blog post right on his home page, inviting people to side with him using the comments field. Which some of them have, along with the expected number of insults (pompous Brit etc.) However, many of them haven't, and I've decided to close the door quietly and back away. Anyway, here I am writing about it. I wish I'd been more articulate (though I enjoyed the wordplay), and that I'd used more stats to nail the argument down, but ultimately it's his blog, his followers, and his industry he caters to. Me, I'm just an interloper in his universe, though I still think my universe is taking over :)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Ad Contrarian, A Response

(In response to this post)

Hmm, do you know what, although I mistook the original post by Dave as directing readers to *his* blog (sorry TAC - and Dave - I'm a TAC newbie), I can't recant my reaction.

So, firstly: Dave I apologise, I'm sorry I took your name in vain, but to be honest I thought your 'read this' Tweet was in itself provocative, and when I read the TAC post I mistook it as an extension. My bad.

Secondly, TAC, I'm sure you're lovely too. I'm sure you've got a trillion years of understanding consumer behaviour, and I'm sure you're right about how venal, faddish and self-important the marketers you work with are.

But here's the thing. The internet did change everything, utterly and without mercy. We have a globally distributed notion of justice. We have a globally distributed set of cultural norms. We (finally) have a near-universal language. We have a US President accepted as a good replacement for the universally reviled previous global leader who everyone in the world knows intimately, and who has been elected based on a third of the world's cultural norms. We have a world of consumers who elect and buy, taken over from a locale of consumers you used to sell to.

Consumer behaviour may not have changed. But expectation, motivation, influence and conversion to buy have changed forever. The consumer, finally, is king. And TV, though still a powerful medium, hasn't caught up despite 12 years of interactive TV. The day TV advertising can be segmented not by programme but by the individual consumer's implicit or explicit at-that-moment requirements will be the day TV gets back on its feet. And yes, when we started an interactive TV agency for Lowe in 1998 it was arguably way too early. The fact it produced interactive TV ads for Tesco and Unilver, two of the most far-sighted marketers, doesn't take away from the fact that it couldn't make money - but it was necessary to help get the ball that may one day save the TV advertising industry's arse rolling.

My own view about what people might remember is that it takes two types of people for progress to happen - the innovators and visionaries who come at things too early but set up the parameters of the experiment, and the reactionaries that temper the enthusiasm but enforce rigour. I'm quite happy to be in one of the groups, and I'm glad of the existence of the other, because your maturity means I can borrow, say, the discipline of data planning and prove that what we do works better for the new world's consumers than what you used to do when it was the only way.

Glad this social media thing is here though, because previously the only way we could have an argument was down the pub or in the letters pages, so thanks Twitterverse and blogosphere, at least you've revolutionised how fast one man can flourish his own reactionary views, another can highlight them, a third can get it all wrong before correcting his mistake, and how fast presumably this will turn into pixels in the wind. Personally I'd much prefer to do this over a pint than in public, but hey, you know that when even the Iranians are using Twitter to complain about injustice, the world's all gone and changed while you were busy watching television ;)

Friday, 3 July 2009

Making eCRM Sizzle

ECRM is king. So why isn’t everyone doing it? OK, perhaps the rhetorical excuse for a diatribe about how everyone really must start doing it properly is a bit transparent. Actually there might be a perfectly rational explanation, no matter how much I might, as a passionate advocate of eCRM, be wary of it. The answer is very, very mundane.

We’ve recently been involved in two quite big pitches, for brands everyone’s heard of and almost everyone uses, both in transport. We’ve been drafted in as a wildcard – the brief’s been about making email marketing deliver revenues. We’ve come in and talked about strategy and how relationships, customer journey cycles and touchpoints affect frequency of purchase and average transaction values. We’ve talked at length about the processes involved in mining data, creating simple customer segmentation then rich, layered segmentation (starting with sponge cake and aiming for gateau, I suppose). We’ve described processes for selecting email providers, deliverability consultants, analytics. And we’ve talked about the results – millions in demonstrable incremental revenues, customer lifetime values that go up by 3% (read: millions of pounds), over the first couple of years.

Looking back over these two pitches, which we didn’t win (our normal win rate is around 75%), it’s clear why. These two clients wanted to improve their email marketing. Simple as that. What we should have talked about was how we improve email campaigns so they drive results. We should leave the data stuff as a functional but implicit element, same as usability, or build standards, or testing. We’ve been guilty of trying to explain the thinking, not the practice. In old speak, we’ve been trying to sell the sausage, not the sizzle. Sure, eCRM is infinitely more complex than just email marketing... there are plenty of big projects that integrate segment-driven microsites, emails, SMS and e-commerce, all in aid of making the customer the centre of a brand’s universe. But actually from some clients’ points of view they may simply want to take the next step in improving what they do already, and that may be taking a newsletter and making it more relevant through simple segmentation.

And if we do take this approach to those pitches where the brief really is for improving email marketing, then perhaps we can take these clients and move them on to eCRM by stealth. If we can start with quick wins – the kind that generate sudden revenues – then we can go on to justify spending time and money on strategic thinking, segmentation and online touchpoints. In retrospect, we’ve been guilty of a lack of patience, and it’s a trait endemic to the leading edges of the digital industry. So with (probably the vast majority of) clients new to eCRM, we need to start on ground that’s already familiar, in order to help transform the mundane into something that ensures that it’s the customer who’s king.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Ten Things I've Learned About Social Media

I started a digital agency in 1994 and pretty quickly made my share of 'netiquette' mistakes. I'm still learning, but some things never change...

1. Politeness oils the wheels
Social media online are just like any social setting: whether it's your (or someone else's) blog, Facebook, Twitter or a Newsgroup, being polite generally makes for an easier life.

2. Social media are ephemeral
When I started I used Bulletin Boards (BBS). A few years ago Bebo was all the rage. As was AOL Instant Messaging. Online forums too. Today everyone's Twittering. Tomorrow we'll all be Waving. What's cool or 'now' now won't be in three years, so get used to it. Make best use of whatever works for you right now, and keep up to date with what's next, or you'll always be behind the curve.

3. It's in public!
Whatever you say, everyone can see it. They don't have to be your friends, you don't have to have OKed it (especially Twitter), pretty much everything's there forever. Don't ever say anything you don't want held against you or quoted out of context. The funny picture of the lamp post incident taken by your flatmates will haunt you.

4. People tolerate mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, and some of us made a lot of mistakes in the early years. It makes you a rounded human being. Unless you're a brand, in which case it will make your brand seem fallible. So if you cock something up as a brand, apologise fast and profusely and go overboard to fix it, and you might just show people you care about your reputation.

5. A brand, in this new digital age, is its people
Given the above you might think you need to be anodyne to be a brand online. But brands need personality. So you need to find people who can represent your brand who you can trust not to screw things up (see 3 and 4 above), and who have a way of communicating that fits with your vision of how you want your brand to be perceived.

6. You can't edit live conversation
If you can find the right people to Tweet on your brand's behalf (or blog or broadcast or whatever), then give them free reign. It adds character to your brand. They'll make mistakes, but it shows you as a brand have faith in your people. Unless you're the BBC, which has a policy that every tweet needs a second opinion before it's tweeted.

7. Talk to each other
Make sure you're not talking at crossed purposes. In other words make sure that at least once a month everyone who is online on behalf of your brand (the web guy, the person from customer service, the PR person, the CEO, Janet) gets together to talk about what they're doing. If you don't one day you'll contradict yourselves, and 3 kicks in.

8. Social media = timesink
Social media have a tendency to be super-absorbing - you'll dive in and not emerge again for an hour. Limit yourself. I tweet and blog and Facebook too much, and I should know better. Also, the less you interact the less you'll screw up.

9. Monitor results
For the last year or so I've tracked the number of new business leads, PR opportunities, new supplier introductions and new corporate relationships that are attributable to social media. You'd be astounded. I reckon my daily 20 minutes has got me a dozen articles and interviews, and two big pieces of business. I'm even writing about social media - and my agency's an eCRM agency.

10. Have fun
I've made loads of contacts through blogs, Facebook and Twitter, met lots of interesting people, found a few good suppliers and engaged in some extremely entertaining and informative debates. Along the way I think people have got to know my company a lot better, through my own public interactions and those of my colleagues. It's meant people can relate to us a little better. It's given the power back to the customer - they're the ones who make all the important decisions, after all.

This article was written for the Institute of Direct Marketing. You can follow me on Twitter at

Thursday, 21 May 2009

How to produce revolutionary eCRM

Everyone wants to get eCRM right of course. But given that there are something like 40 different definitions of what eCRM is, just knowing where to start can put the kybosh on the grandest of ambitions. In 2003 some colleagues decided that what we really wanted, given increasing investment in digital, was to prove that relationships built and nurtured online actually delivered commercial results. And that's what we set out to do.

Today, eCRM in my view is simply the science of creating lasting digital-channel relationships that can be measured commercially. In other words, our ability to measure the results of tactical campaigns is all very well, but we need to attach results to our engagement with a specific customer over the course of the life of that engagement - which ideally should last much, much longer than a tactical campaign or two! So, how do the best practitioners go about it? Here are a few of the critical steps in creating an eCRM programme.

Understand what data you hold

Most marketers have a wide variety of different pots of data – transactional, email marketing, website traffic, in-store, loyalty club, competition entries, addresses with forgotten provenance. The first thing that has to be done is to find a way to make the data consistent (for example making sure “Forename” is matched up to “First name”). Next it needs to be centralised. This might be as straightforward as giving it to an agency who will give back a rationalised database containing everything they were given. You’ll probably find that a huge amount of the data doesn’t have a useful name attached to it (web traffic, or perhaps records that only contain first names).

You’ll almost certainly find that much of the data is out of date, or plain wrong (petitions signed Mickey Mouse!). You’ll also see that you probably have an awful lot of it.

The first task is to look at the data and start looking for patterns. You can do this in-house if you have a data team, or an eCRM or data agency can do this for you. Essentially they are looking for a way to segment the data into reasonable groups. For example, these groups might (if we focus on customers) include:

  • Customers who spend more than £10, £20, £30, £40
  • Customers who buy on particular days of the week
  • Customers who respond to discounts versus those who respond to added extras
  • Customers who have visited the website once before purchase versus those who visited four times.

That’s pretty straightforward. From this basic data we can probably derive a few insights which might be useful. For example, the above might show us that there is a correlation between the number of visits to the website and the value of purchases.

And there may be a correlation between the transaction value and how many times a customer has been contacted with what kind of call to action. Ideally the data will show relationships between a customer’s average transaction value (ATV) and the length of time they’ve been a customer.

So we’ve started to derive insights that can inform our strategy.

The data you already hold will probably show you some surprising things. One retail client had data that showed an ATV that was higher than expected – and almost every customer we looked at had a transaction value well below the average. Eventually we found a tiny segment of a few people who, every time there was a 50% discount offered on a DVD, would buy a thousand and eBay them for a profit. It gave us an unexpected marketing angle – we could promote specific titles to this specific segment without broadcasting it to everyone and wasting one of our (limited) contact opportunities – meaning we could send everyone else an offer that would be perfect for them instead.

So understanding what data you hold is critical. Eventually the holy grail of eCRM is a ‘“single customer view’”, where there’s just one database that all the sales, marketing, web and long-term data is fed into. For many that’s nigh-on out of reach, and in our experience of working with household name brands it’s not necessary in order to have a hugely successful eCRM programme generating massive revenues.

Turn the insights into a strategy

I’ve already mentioned some of the benefits of understanding the data – often it tells you what you need to do. In one of the above examples if four visits to the site makes for higher ATVs, then the marketing activity should concentrate on driving four visits. OK, that’s a bit simplistic perhaps, but you get the idea – eCRM basically works on this principle. Look at the data, see what it tells us to do, find out why (a whole subject in itself, which I won’t go into here), then establish a marketing programme that gets people to do more of it.

So we identify the different segments, and what each delivers commercially over time, say a year, and eventually a lifetime (this is called the ‘Customer Lifetime Value’, or CLTV). Then we prioritise. There’s little point in spending 10% of the eCRM budget targeting 10% of the base if that 10% only contributes 2% of the revenue. The segmentation tells us what to do. If we have limited resources, then broadly speaking spend the money on the segment with the highest CLTV!

And execute

Email is the cheapest way of reaching lots of different segments with relevant tailored messages at precisely the best time, as shown by the data.

It’s easy to allocate different creative executions based on the segmentation rules, and it’s straightforward to transfer data to email suppliers (unless you’re going via an eCRM agency who will manage the selection and broadcast process for you). It’s also – critically – easy to see the results in real time. Opens and click-throughs are OK as indicators, but properly integrated analysis is is central to any serious eCRM programme, and there are specialists in providing this kind of straight-through tracking. Ideally of course you’re tracking from email to sale and repeat purchase, and adding this information to the central database so you can see long-term trends and adjust your eCRM programme accordingly. This gets your by-segment ROI, and your CLTV, and informs refinements to the segmentation and comms strategies.

Great eCRM incorporates email, community hub sites, tactical campaigns (to grow specific segments or to fulfil business needs, like filling up under-booked hotels), sometimes even mobile. It’s tested, constantly, and honed until it produces reliable results time after time. It actually removes uncertainty and takes the guesswork out of marketing. Great eCRM can have a fantastic effect –like McCain Foods who changed engagement rates amongst brand resistors from 14% to 63% in under a year, or the improvement in ROI of 32% for The Sun’s Fantasy Football game this season. Done well, eCRM revolutionises marketing.

An abridged version of this article appeared in UTalkMarketing

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

eCRM - where on earth to start?

There are a few clear benefits to eCRM. Firstly it removes confusion and uncertainty for marketers in recession. There are proven methods, and they generate testable results, so marketing budgets can be allocated on a strict ROI basis. Secondly, solid eCRM programmes build relationships with consumers that can be both brand engagement-based as well as transaction-based. For example we've taken a 14% click-through rate from McCain "brand resistors" and transformed it into a 63% click-through rate in ten months.

The interesting thing for me as someone constantly trying to work out what's next, is that eCRM is a platform, not a channel. It's definitely not email marketing, although it uses it. It's not a technology, though it uses many technologies. What it is – and this is reflected in how it's practised – is a principle. ECRM comprises understanding (data and analytics), insights (informs planning and ideas), relevance (segmentation, targeting, timing) and testing. Notice I didn't use channels anywhere in there; I believe channels are simply the function of targeting.

And the channels can be anything – email (cheap as chips, immediate), SMS (cool but with ethical issues), microsites (essential in my view), e-commerce (handy if you want direct ROI!) and so on. We also use social media, online sales promotion, SEO, you name it – as long as you can directly track it.

All great. Sometimes though you have to start somewhere, and for many clients getting us in to take over and drastically improve an email marketing programme is the best way. Quick wins can generate millions in sales, or massive changes in engagement – as I mentioned in the case of McCain Foods. Speaking of which, we're counting down to the launch of a huge new initiative for them this autumn, providing consumers with a truly segmented brand experience and a new platform for a (properly integrated) eCRM programme.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

List of Vistage members on Twitter

I think it's high time someone started this - a vague attempt was made on Vistage View but as a discussion forum it doesn't serve as a directory.

So, please add:

- Your Vistage Group
- Twitter handle (e.g. @felixvelarde)

to this list by adding a comment below... if we can gather some momentum, we'll compile a directory or make this list available to Vistage View to take over :)

Friday, 24 April 2009

This month I've met a couple of really interesting companies who sort of dovetail with what we do in eCRM. Several weeks ago I was at an email round table event for Revolution Magazine, with some highly knowledgeable people both client-side and provider-side. It was fascinating to hear how people view the current state of email marketing, and its future. Topics ranged from managing ISP reputation scores to behaviour-based automation, drivers like client profits and critical success factors like usable design. Everyone in the room was agreed on the critical importance of good segmentation.

I followed up with two of the companies sharing the conversation. One provides straight-through analytics - one of the Holy Grails. The usual way of reporting on eCRM programmes involves extracting information from a variety of separate databases, then stringing together email tracking, mobile, web and e-commerce stats. In a huge step forward, they build a bespoke (free) database behind a fantastic dashboard, which means we can have genuinely end-to-end customer tracking underpinning the eCRM programme, without interfering with existing databases or adding unnecessarily to the cost. The other company sits right at the other end of the process. They make sure emails get delivered and read, through a combination of technical expertise and negotiating power.

We're going to try and bring both companies into what we do, as they'll help us tighten up delivery and tracking. Essentially, while we know that what Underwired does - segmentation strategy and eCRM campaign development, creative and management - drives revenue on a huge scale, there is always much room to improve the technological wiring in such a way that we can improve revenues even more. It's a combination of properly coherent, end to end attention to detail. Where we get the opportunity, bringing together the right partners to support the strategic and creative work will mean incremental revenue for clients in its own right.

ECRM gathers pace, and we're seeing engagement rates of 63% with previous 'brand resistors' and CTRs of 50%+ as a norm. And it feels like summer might be excellent too.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Moshi Moshi Brighton, a tale of wee and warm sushi

Yum, Moshi Moshi in Brighton - quick run down from London straight after work, membership card in hand and all ready for a 50% discount... what could be better? Well, let me tell you how it really was.

We'd booked a table for three at 8.30. The manager, tousled and hassled, told us the couple before us was still finishing up. In fact, he came back 15 minutes later to rant that they were being deliberately obstructive, taking forever to finish their drinks just because they'd been told to leave. Told to leave? Irrespective, the table next to theirs was unoccupied, but in need of a wipe. We waited. We were eventually seated. That was when I noticed a very faint smell. Of wee. Maybe, we thought, it was something else. It was fairly faint.

We ordered. Quite a lot was unavailable (tuna, in a sushi restaurant). Limp, warm fish started turning up (the starter arrived after we'd started in on the sparse sashimi platter). The wine, a very decent Breaky Bottom, was excellent, but the Sapporo was tepid. The waiter's IQ was tepid too, barely breaking double figures.

A table behind us came free, was quickly filled with four guys; the manager called across the loud and trendy music, "It's OK, this corner used to smell of p*ss, but it doesn't any more!" Next he was spotted munching food while he cleared away plates.

We tried one of the dishes off the conveyor to see if was any less awful than the special - warmer, limper, greasier. By this time the three of us had had enough. Bob and I decided we needed some decent grub, so we grudgingly paid ("Would you like to leave a tip?" "Nope.") and headed out. As we passed the manager and two waiters lounging on the steps outside having fags, I couldn't resist. "Still smells of **** mate." Ended up at The Regency on Brighton sea front, where we had a delicious haddock and chips, twice. Should've gone there to begin with - and I would strongly advise, touch not Moshi Moshi in Brighton with a barge pole, The Regency fish shop is spotless, professionally run and perfectly served.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Tentatively approaching Podcasts

I went to a seminar the other day organised by AAR (yes, we did their website) and presented by Dawn Sillett, a brilliant creative psychologist who does a variety of in-company workshops to improve creativity and engagement.

One of the take-outs from the seminar was that everyone has a different way of taking in and assimilating information. When we do presentations, a third of the audience may want to see diagrams and to visualise, say, customer journeys. Another third may listen intently and create a model in their heads based purely on what they hear - they might sit in a meeting with their eyes closed and a finger pointed at their ear. Another might want to get a gut feel for the people, and if they trust you, trust you to get it right.

Dawn wondered out loud how many of us had a website that caters for all three of these types of people. And it's true - we do the visual thing very well. And our eCRM website does the 'feel' thing pretty well too - people we've spoken with say they get a good impression of the people at Underwired from the way the site presents our characters.

The one thing we don't do at all is present ourselves in an auditory way. No music (though the eCRM website seems to really scream out for it!), no sounds, no podcasts.

So I've started to play with recording some of the articles I've written recently. It's hard - I've never recorded anything deliberately before, and I keep muffing it up. Someone once told me I give speeches like Captain Kirk acts - and I guess it's transferring into the podcasts. When I've got one that people here like, I'll add it to the Underwired website and you can let me know what you think - good or bad! Add a comment if you have any tips, or sign up to our email list if you want a nudge when the first recording is online.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A draft to illustrate an idea by @stevecunningham

So what is #vistagenow?

#vistagenow is a proposed Twitter hashtag that Vistage members can use to propagate an urgent business issue they would like other members on Twitter to address straight away. This may be useful tactically (just before a critical meeting) or strategically (needing a wide range of views to help inform corporate decision-making).

Replies may be short, but will likely include pointers to websites or Vistage View resources that may help. If you want to deepen the discussion, you can start a new topic in the Vistage View forums, but you should also share the link on Twitter using the hashtag so that Vistage members can find out what happened next!