Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Social Platforms get serious in Europe

In the past couple of weeks social platforms Twitter and Facebook have both announced a serious push into Europe. First Twitter opened a London office. On 25th November they announced “Twitter plans to have a small number of people on the ground in Europe in 2011. We’re currently researching locations and potential candidates.” Then Facebook last week announced they would also be strengthening their presence “to help agencies and developers create more effective ad campaigns on the social network.”

The moves by the big two is recognition the importance of advertising on these platforms for brands in Europe. Facebook in particular was recently voted the ‘most important developing advertising platform’ in the IPA online media owner’s survey. Facebook currently has over 1 million developers worldwide working on content for the site and with over 550,000 branded applications now live, so this move is not unexpected.

Both players have realised that the European markets have become hugely important advertising markets and the move means that Facebook can now work directly with agencies and brands to develop highly innovative campaigns, hopefully that will mean far more relevant and integrated efforts from brands.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Contactless payments by mobile phone could become mainstream in 2011

Something odd happened in the past couple of years. Everyone stopped asking whether it’s the year of the mobile. That’s probably because mobile has now become mainstream and with the mainstream comes the tsunami of innovation, not least in the financial services sector.

This week Nokia announced that they were making a huge move in the mobile payments market to move closer to contactless payments with the launch of their C7 phone in 2011. The rumours are that the Near Field Communications (NFC) technology required are also appearing in patents being filed by Apple for the new generation iPhone and in addition Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO has also announced that they working with NFC technology for the android platform. So does this mean an era of contactless payments may be just around the corner?

Alex Kwiatkowski - Principal Analyst in Ovum's Financial Services Technology Team voiced some doubts stating that 'While the ecosystem is evolving, old concerns (10+ years) over a viable business model for sustainable/decent revenue remain' he went on to say 'Nokia pulled its 6216 device (using NFC & SWP) in Feb '10, due to current state of NFC ecosystem and poor consumer experience.' So Nokia definitely have some credibility issues when it comes to the technology and with Symbian still performing so poorly, the issue is compounded.

However as always with Google and Apple in the frame the play becomes more serious from a software perspective and with Nokia’s ability to flood the market with low cost hardware, the battle could be fought on two fronts.

Ecosystem and revenue concerns there may be, but with 3 such massive players making a play and a whole host of bit part players around the edges, you get the impression that there must be something in it. Personally, the sooner I can get rid of my wallet the better so I’m hoping we’re not far away.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Lessons from Sibos 2010

Sibos drew to a close at the end of last week and while the cream of the banking industry were there in force with some of the largest stands ever seen, it was noticeable how many new players were present . Reflections on the conference can be found here, but the innovation on show covered in the main, mobile, the cloud and the future of business payments. All of which are putting more and more power in the hands of consumers.

Strikingly amongst all of the big banking that was being talked, there appeared to be a groundswell of new businesses coming together to promote new models. The first project that had real stand-out was a view that we were about to see the new Financial Reformation.

This bold vision was echoed by the Future of Money project. The project started out as a blog post, a few weeks prior to this year's Sibos. It was a post that galvanised small businesses with a vision for the future of transaction, payments and new economic models, to not only donate their time but their money to build this vision for the future. This is a vision that cuts out the banks and relies on communities to find ways and means to build new transactional models.

It is inconceivable that these views would have been given exposure at the same event some years ago. However, it is a measure of how the financial crisis has hit the sector that there is a real challenge to the old model in their own backyard.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The future of money is here and it's in our hands

The Future of money project started out as a blog post, a few weeks prior to this year's Sibos. It was a post that galvanised small businesses with a vision for the future of trasaction, payments and new economic models, to not only donate their time but their money to build this vision for the future. This is a vision that cuts out the banks and relies on communities to find ways and means to build new transactional models.

The Future of Money from KS12 on Vimeo.

I'm fascinated to see where this goes next. It feels like it's created amazing connection across the world. This is the start of the money revolution keep your eyes peeled.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

Anyone who saw Sir Ken Robinson's first Ted talk in 2006, will be pleased that he returned this year in a follow up to the talk that persuaded TED's organisers that they might just be on to something.

The first talk is absolute essential viewing

The second is just as engaging.


Human augmentation and human restoration

Via RWW this morning I was taking a look at the 2010 Gartner hype cycle as below.

It's pretty fascinating stuff. However there was one tag right at the bottom of the cycle that I knew very little about, i.e. human augmentation. A quick search bought up the video posted below. It's frankly quite amazing stuff. It's over an hour long, but if you have the time it'll be worthwhile. I haven't finished watching yet - work and that - but really it's astounding from the off.


There's more info from MIT World and additional resources here.




Thursday, 7 October 2010

ASB opens first Facebook bank branch in the world

Three weeks ago ASB in New Zealand opened the doors (or whatever you term the online equivalent, launched I guess) to Facebook's first online bank branch. On my company site I blogged some months back about the potential for Facebook to become a major player in banking services and what ASB have done is recognise that potential and faced it head on, moving their services on to the social network. It's a brave move in the FS industry, but one that was inevitable.

Last week I tried the branch out. It's a very simple service. At its heart it's an online chat interface built directly into Facebook. There are a selection of advisers to choose to talk to, all of whom are named and photographed individuals, to increase the person to person appeal that is the hallmark of social networking and you are able to choose from those available to chat.

I spoke to Elysse to find out how the launch was going? She was friendly, personable and very knowledgable and stated there had been considerable interest in the service. Although ASB are at present unable to offer services to those overseas, she said they had had considerable contact from New Zealand travellers who were able to sort out their issues quickly and easily through Facebook.

I then went on to have a brief Twitter chat with Anna Curzon the General Manager, Internet Banking for ASB who confirmed the interest

That second statement really underlines the point of introducing this branch concept in to Facebook. In a time impoverished and globalised environment brands need to be in the places their customers are. Financial services brands are definitely behind the curve in following that trend, but ASB has made a huge step forward.

While the services through the ASB Facebook branch are currently limited the mere fact that they are there speaks volumes for their foresight and ambition. This is a bold first move and we’re sure it will be the first of many. I'm keping a firm eye on whether ASB benefits from first mover advantage.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The IFA is dead, long live the IFA

In a side room of the Liberal Democrat conference last week, the traditional IFA was put on life support. Lord Newby stated in a satellite meeting that, “The traditional model of the IFA looks to me like a doomed species. I think there will be a drift away from old fashioned financial advice”.

He went on to say. “I hope people do take financial advice but they will want it free and they will want it delivered electronically.”

This may well be true of the old model, but at the same time in Newport the IFP was holding their annual conference. This collection of individuals represents the future of the industry. Life planners and chartered financial planners, who embraced RDR from the minute it was announced and are now using new technologies to engage with their customers and run a completely fee based model. This was a room of individuals harnessing the power of the web to ensure that the advice model adapts and changes and letting the world know through a vibrant hashtagged twitter stream.

Businesses like Informed Choice with its Brilliant with Money and recently launched Brilliant with Advice split option portals or Jackson’s whose MD Pete Matthew recently launched the completely free video based Meaningful Money .tv channel are looking to overlay free sensible advice with quality paid for financial planning.

This new model for advice is being supported and electronically enabled by businesses such as Paraplanplus whose Moneyscope product is about to launch. In addition the IFA focussed social network IFALife is growing exponentially to support the community and stimulate the growth in this new electronically enabled financial planning model. To facilitate that growth they launched their new iPhone app last week.

The IFA may be dying, but the future of ‘paid for’ financial advice is alive and kicking stronger than ever online.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Fostering a new culture of test and learn in financial services

This week a group of digital industry professionals came together at the Dmexco trade show in Cologne to discuss the future of marketing. The key take out of the day was that Marketers must take more risks if digital is to be fully capitalised upon. Digital channels and platforms are so fluid that it's essential brands begin to look at running far more testing. That means allocating realistic small budgets and spending time and money on analysis. That means being open to failure, multiple failure if necessary and moving on quickly until success is achieved.

This is easy to say, but financial services is a category built on risk elimination and steeped in compliance process. Test and learn is not a natural fit within that environment, however test and learn requires a shift in thinking about the problem that may not be seen as so risky. In fact it could actually be safer in the long-run.

Seth Godin this week expanded on his initial thoughts - commonly held by many - regarding the shape of the prospect funnel. He has long held a belief that targeting in modern marketing is skewed and has gone beyond the expensive ‘one to many’ philosophy of old advertising and flipped to a 'one to the most relevant'. His assertion is that you should spend the majority of your time identifying the most influential individuals for your products and then work with those individuals on multiple small projects and rely on the viral effect to monitor an increase in spend.

This more risky initial approach could in theory actually be a less risky strategy in the long-term. You're effectively developing live real-time test cells and focus groups which will help to identify and promote your future successes at a lower cost per test and all online. Over time the products that win out will be those that are the most attractive and the most stable. It's time to think bigger by thinking smaller, be more experimental, be less risk-averse but ultimately win.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Geo-location is where it's at, but should financial services brands check-in?

An interesting video was uploaded by a French developer this week, in a few hours he'd developed a product called Track Dropper. This allowed users to leave musical 'treasure' for passers-by in specific locations. Do what? In simple terms you choose a music track from your mobile device and attach it to your location. Users who then pass that place in the future and are using the same software would be able to pick that track up, upload it to their mobile device and listen. Why's that of any use? Well it could be used by brands that have music as a core element of their strategy. So for O2, at the O2, or maybe for Diesel in their retail outlets, this could provide fantastic brand value.

Geo-location has been the building story of 2010. Since SXSW in March this year the fight has been on to win the geo-location battle. The main protagonists so far have been first Foursquare who has successfully built 2 million followers by tapping into the enthusiasm for gameplay. Users who 'check-in' are awarded points and badges while sharing their location with their friends. Second there's Gowalla who allow users to attach pictures and videos to locations for other users to pick up when they next check-in. Then on the horizon is the big beast Facebook with its Places product, with 100 million users updating on their mobiles, the opportunity for Places is absolutely monumental as people start to share their location on a huge scale.

But what are the implications for Financial Services brands. There's been plenty of chatter about location-based services, but that doesn't mean brands should really be worrying too much at the moment. There's no harm in experimenting with some accounts as an individual, and/or setting up profiles for your organisation's locations, all these new services should be tested out to identify utility. But there's no pressing or immediate need to go any further with it. There are some applications that I feel could work well for the insurance or mortgage lending space, but at present the services need to mature and users need to start getting involved more deeply before location will have real impact

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The shifting summer holiday paradigm

I started running again recently. There are myriad reasons why it's good for me, not least the fact that I get to run in places that I wouldn't normally have occasion to visit. My running coincided with the beginning of the summer holidays and as I huffed and puffed around the back streets I dragged past a bench that I've gone past many times before. You've probably seen loads of benches like it. Someone, or some body placed it there years ago, but you've never seen a single person actually sat on it. You've probably wondered why the hell it was ever built in the first place.

On that particular night though there were three kids sat on and in front of it, about 14/15 years old chilled out, enjoying the early evening sun (yes there was sun this summer) and just having a very pleasant looking time. Three days later on the same route I passed the same bench, but this time there were 5 or 6 kids hanging out. Same vibe, quiet, chatty and relaxed. There was a mix of boys and girls and
they looked pretty cool (what do I know, I stopped being able to read that barometer years ago). It had a lovely feel to it, not so much incongruous, as unusual that this was where they'd chosen to be. Granted it had a little bit of greenery, some shade from the sun with the trees, but nevertheless it was basically in the middle of a suburban sprawl with no shops nearby, no real 'entertainment' on hand, just a bench as a focal point and few opinions.

My running's continued sporadically over the summer holidays and rather than varying the routes as is my normal practice I've been following the same pattern and as the weeks went by the size of the group that was gathering around this previously unloved bench grew to around 20. I started to enjoy running past it. It was convivial, quiet, considered and above all fun.

Then it began to change. As I ran past it seemed slightly more fractious. The group was bigger, there was alcohol, it was rowdier, there were factions, the conviviality had gone and as I ran on, two of the original kids I'd seen weeks before were walking away.

I went on holiday at the end of August, returning at the end of the school break at which point I resumed my slow painful fitness regime. When I ran past everything was different. The original kids had gone and had been replaced by a completely different group of individuals. Obviously I'm looking at this as the parent of kids not a million miles off this age, but they were oiky, 'orrible, oily individuals.
There was a lot more drinking, a lot more shouting and the original spirit was gone. Come yesterday evening, two days after the schools had gone back there were four kids left drunk and surrounded by litter.

The bench was over. The cool kids had moved on. The spirit had disappeared. The paradigm had shifted. I’d like to think the cool kids had found another anonymous bench. If I’m honest they’re probably back at school, but it suits my romantic side that they’re all happy chatting in Pleasantville just a few streets away.

Now inevitably this whole episode has led me to muse on the nature of social networks, their adoption and possible future abandonment. I watch brands pour millions of dollars/pounds through specific channels and often think ‘I really hope they don’t ruin this’, because if they do their audience won’t stick around they’ll just move on elsewhere, not only that they’ll switch that brand off ‘FOREVER’ because that’s the choice being online gives you.

Facebook popped up out of nowhere 5 years ago, 515 million users on the late majority are still ploughing in, with brands following in their hoards, but there’s really no reason to believe that Facebook won’t go as soon as it came.

Facebook’s sudden disappearance is unlikely, but it’s important to understand when the cool kids leave and where they’ve gone, because they’re the ones who’ll spark the next big thing and as a brand you need to know about that and be prepared to act upon it. I’m not going to go into how in this post as that’s a whole different issue and in fact the answer may be, ‘do nothing, hang back’.

The point is, you have to be fluid, you can’t be too brash and you have to consider the huge range of variables that may open up to you through digital channels and be prepared to embrace them. Concentrating in just the one area and using it and abusing it for every last drop of value is a dangerous game and can ultimately leave you in the wilderness, with a bunch of ‘friends’ that left for a better bench long ago.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Apparently the web's dead - should financial brands be worried?

This week Wired called the death of the web. This piece came a week after a column in Ad Age asking 'Do we still need websites?' The argument is that with 'simpler, sleeker services — think apps — [user experience is] less about the searching and more about the getting'.

So what does this mean for financial services. There is an argument to say that financial services hasn't fully embraced the full power of the web yet as a customer enablement tool, so maybe many brands could circumnavigate it all together. For some services like payments this could already be deemed the case, with the increasing pace of mobile payment solutions in the market, there is currently no need to open a browser at all.

The greatest opportunities though probably lie in the servicing side of the business. Manage my account and customer query could very effectively be executed through secure apps. Why force your customers to a web interface when it could all be browserless and mobile. Far more convenient. More likely to be secure and certainly more convenient for the customer.

In truth the web is unlikely to die any time soon. There has been plenty of counter-evidence written to prove its continued vitality and in truth financial services need to improve user-experience across the internet, but as people look for more defined content interactions browserless becomes vital if a brand is to ensure that their website doesn't become a virtual ghost-town.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Has marketing got a million times harder?

I’ve been in the communications industry for 15 years now. I’ve worked in DM agencies, advertising agencies, integrated agencies, digital agencies, I ran my own business for a few years.

In that time I’ve helped send millions of direct mail packs to blanket audiences. I’ve helped spend millions on hair-brained dot com marketing schemes. I’ve helped build a customer base of millions, from scratch, for an ISP with no USP. I’ve launched TV ads that have had over 200 million opportunities to see. I’ve delivered online display campaigns with over 500 million page impressions.

I’ve been involved in some really good work over the years, but without wishing to bag my career, I’ve done an awful lot of untargeted, unmeasurable, unmeasured stuff. It’s been pretty, it’s won awards, it’s been a sensation, it’s been hailed as innovative, but actually when you dig below the surface it’s rested on some relatively shallow foundations. Even the stuff that was measured for marketing effectiveness was based on some funny old massaged metrics.

And on top of all that, I’ve worked bloody hard. I’ve done 18 hour days, 7 days a week, for 2 months straight. I’ve done press passes at 3.30 in the morning. I’ve spent all night sat on floors envelope stuffing, I’ve worked 72 hours straight to get a piece of work out. I’ve sat with a creative department and studio of 30 people, all of us, maccing, creating, splicing and boarding until 6 in the morning for a pitch at 9am.

But that stuff was easy…

...that stuff took a bit of thinking up front, it took the adaptation of a template that we took off the shelf, granted it involved some highly talented creative sparks (but that’s rarely been me) and then it took some schmoozing, a couple of awkward get out of jail client calls, a bit of elbow grease and out the campaign went. Brilliant.

Those days have gone. They’re long gone. The template doesn’t exist anymore. Shiny and pin-sharp holds little of the overall value these days. Every single piece of work I start on today is built from the ground up. Every solution we deliver is completely bespoke. Every piece of work has an inordinate amount of brain-work poured in to it, because none of it is about launch, it’s all about the long tail, the follow-up work, the impact on reputation long-term. The industry’s said that’s what we do for years. Actually if we all admit it, none of us has really worried too much about it, because frankly we could make more money not worrying about it.

Come on, be honest. That’s right, really honest. Yes you’ve probably done some amazing work, you’ve probably done some award-winning work, some work you were really proud of, but be honest, was it really hard work? It may have been tiring, stressful work, but was it hard work, work that made your brain permanently fizz?

Marketing’s got harder, a million times harder, but actually I think I might actually stick at it now, because it’s a damn sight more rewarding than it was in the past.

Friday, 13 August 2010

How many tweets are actually being read?

Measurement in social media has long been a hot potato. There is still limited solid information out there upon which to make reliable ROI based decisions. However, there are big strides being made towards more tightly focused metrics. A thought-provoking piece published this week, suggests that Twitter reach may be around the 2% mark. It was not a scientific study, it was a piece of personal research aimed at kicking off a debate around Twitter’s true impact. So for balance, a similar metric developed last year suggested it may well be 10% with the additional value of up to 1.3% CTR.

Reach is a good kick-off point, however Twitter is not merely a broadcast medium. These stats are just the start for the true potential of Twitter. Used properly and consistently, it is a powerful tool for engagement. If your brand is simply using a Twitter stream to post press releases, then 2% readership could be a cause for concern, especially as you have no control over who your readership is and also your brand is unlikely to understand its true influence in the space. If it is part of your overall social CRM strategy however, one of your tools for engagement, then simple readership is just part of the overall package.

Social communication is not all about followers, or readers, or fans. It’s about a new way of communicating and co-creating, it’s about creating exceptional service and finding out if you’ve got a service problem. This is not to be dismissive of the purist measurement of the reach of social media. It is essential that this becomes more robust and as an industry we are starting to get more scientific with open source movements such as ‘Measurement Camp’ helping to build more reliable models that will stand even your FD’s scrutiny, but we need to ensure we keep focused on social media's killer USP and that is 'dialogue'.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Is Facebook the answer for financial services brands?

Facebook announced its 500,000,000th user this week. That makes it the equivalent of the third most populus country on the planet; 7.4% of the world’s population; 1 in 13 people is a member etc. etc. I’m sure you’ve probably read the stats, they’re front page news after all.

However, the question remains. Is Facebook the right place for all brands and in particular the large established financial services brands to start engaging with customers? While trust remains at such a low ebb, financial services brands have got a long way to go before they can be 'Liked' on Facebook with any true conviction.

There's no doubt that financial services brands should be involved in social media, but the job at the moment is to listen. In many ways it could be argued that brands with the lowest trust levels should be modelling their businesses around social even more than those that are loved. That means listening, learning, feeding that into customer service, product development and innovation and then releasing and engaging through multiple touchpoints with consumers.

There is an opportunity right now for financial services brands to build businesses that could emerge as some of the most customer responsive and fully immersed companies in the market. So Financial services braqndsdon't concentrate too much effort on being 'Liked' on Facebook. It's a distraction. Concentrate on being 'involved' with your customers at as many touchpoints as possible.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Move over Meerkat, Old Spice is the new guy on the web

What’s 71 years old, looks fantastic in a towel and smells great. That's right, Old Spice baby. In the past couple of weeks Old Spice guy has stormed the Internet, in what is without doubt this year's 'Compare the Meerkat', in terms of it's impact, engagement and huge, fast-growing fanbase.

At the heart of the project is Old Spice guy, a smooth talking, towel wearing, hottie, loved by men and women alike. While the TV advertising sets out his buff credentials, the online activity has taken the campaign way beyond TV's dreams.

Since Tuesday, Old Spice guy has been personally responding to questions posed by fans and online big hitters alike. So far, the team has shot over 200 30 second video responses posted on Youtube, each within a couple of hours of the original question. The video postings have so far prompted over 10 million views in just 3 days and grown a Facebook fan base of over 500,000.

Undoubtedly the key to the Old Spice success has been the digital engagement strategy. The strategy sits at the heart of what started out as a TV ad aimed at going viral. The social media phenomenon that was Meerkat, started out as a side project which successfully grew exponentially as time went on. The recognition by P&G and Wieden and Kennedy (the agency behind the campaign) was that online social media needed to be, 'as well as', the TV not 'instead of'.

This has taken bravery and trust from the client, who are effectively handing over sign-off of, what are effectively, 100, 30 second TV spots, per day and enormous commitment and resource from the agency. There is currently a team of techies, film crew, analysts, marketers, writers and producers holed-up in a studio somewhere in Portland, Oregon working round the clock to get these things out.

As has been proved time and again digital and social media in particular is not the easy option. It takes a herculean effort of co-ordination, man-hours and creativity. Given the right time and space though, the rewards can be countless. Monocle smile @-)

Monday, 12 July 2010

Transactions via social networks and mobile gather pace

New research last week suggested that the pace of movement towards mobile payments is gathering. Teamspirit has been tracking the rise of alternative payment methodologies for a while, but it would seem the big banks aren’t necessarily taking the threat of the spread of these systems, through social networks, that seriously.

I’ve blogged previously about the potential impact of Facebook bank, but in the absence of a full commitment to all services the Facebook credits system that has been introduced, and widely used for payment of services such as online gaming, is very reminiscent of the way Paypal leveraged E-Bay to secure a foothold in the payments market to ultimately launch across the entire web. Facebook credits could easily follow the same model and become much more than the virtual currency it is currently.

But apart from these large social networks moving towards transaction it is the tipping point, provided by the adoption of smartphones that we feel will probably see the category explode. The emergence of smart phones, which can simply enable mobile wallets and interact with both marketing databases and payment-settlement networks means these devices can provide a bridge for what are currently e-commerce processors to reach the physical point of sale.

Evidence of this trend emerged earlier this week with news that PayPal and Google have found ways to let accountholders with their payment systems use their handsets to tap those accounts with physical merchants. As always the internet is finding ways of sweeping away all the old traditional structures, this doesn’t mean that the banks will necessarily lose, but their strong survival will in large part rest on an extremely powerful mobile strategy.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Facebook may finally have a true rival

On Thursday Google made their first major update to Google news since 2002. The aim is to make the whole news section more relevant, personal and of course, as is de rigeur these days, more real-time. We’re wondering though whether it may be a precursor to something much bigger and could perhaps be part of the functionality development within Google Me.

‘What’s Google Me then?’ you may ask. Well it’s just a rumour, however, it’s coming from some very credible sources. By all accounts Google Me is a social service due to rival the might of the now omnipresent Facebook and frankly a competitor probably couldn’t come soon enough. It’s been argued that Facebook’s sheer scale is strangling innovation as it harvests all the best ideas and releases poor imitations of the original idea.

However the real win here is the focus on the privacy issue within Facebook. This week Mark Zuckerberg has been in the UK facing questions about the privacy issues and he and the company have assured users they are tightening up on security. However, Google have an excellent reputation for data security (despite the slight Streetview blip) and given that fact and their similar scale they could provide a real alternative to Facebook. Let’s just hope Google Me doesn’t end up being the next Buzz or Wave.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Nationwide bookie's taking bets now

So there I was watching the England v. Mexico game (or should that be one side traversty) last night and the new Nationwide Building Society ad. came on. Leaving aside the pros and CONS of using Little Britain characters to represent your brand, the core message promoted the 4 year Football bond and promised 'If England win you win'.

Unfortunately I can't find the video anywhere but the promise is repeated on their site.

Now is it just me or does that basically make Nationwide a bookie? I'm really not sure that in an environment that needs Financial Services providers to rebuild trust with their customers that becoming a bookies is a good idea.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The dangers of putting all your eggs in the Facebook basket

A couple of months ago Loic Le Meur posted a tweet. The founder of Le Web's assertion was that 10 years ago brands’ presence on the web was all about their websites, 5 years ago it was about Google and today it was about Twitter and Facebook. Our response was that we felt that today a brand's web footprint needed to be far wider than just Facebook and Twitter. We didn't get a reply, but as a digital heavyweight I doubt that Le Meur's thought was as narrow as the literal tweet suggested.

However it does highlight an issue that has become a serious concern in the past month, as the Facebook privacy row has exploded all over the web. There are plenty of brands who have ploughed a lot of resource into a very narrow Facebook channel, building huge (successful) presence and even changing their digital calls to action to point into Facebook and adopting Facebook Connect as the route to login. Given the growth of names around Facebook in the past 18 months on the face of it this make sense, however building such strong presence in one place is not necessarily about becoming more social, but actually about an extension of destination thinking that started with every brand on the planet rushing to open up shop on the web in the mid 90s.

There is a real danger in putting so much resource into one channel that is completely out of your control. The fact that people become fans on your Facebook page is great, but their interaction is still independent of your brand and entirely dictated by the terms of the channel in which you've chosen to exist, a fact that has been brought in to sharp relief with the Facebook privacy issue.

Now all of the above has to be taken with a pinch off salt against a backdrop of numbers that suggested last week that, a) the number of Facebook names had reached almost 500 million b) that visits to the site were up by 2% c) that the dwell time on the site was up 1.2%, a number that is already 4 times that of Google it's nearest rival in terms of daily visitors.

However, Facebook isn't the social web. It's a very big social media channel which requires it's own processes, governance, guidelines and forms of accountability. However brands must break out of extended destination thinking and go to where customers are, not rely on them to come to them. As we replied to Le Meur brand footprints need to be wide, it's important that you surf in many channels, test in many channels and be aware that at any time one channel could suddenly become irrelevant. After all remember Friends Reunited and Friendster.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Redefining financial services one character at a time

Photo courtesy of viZZZual.com

Steve Bee at Paradigm Pensions announced last week that he would be creating a Twitter style glossary aimed at defining all pensions terms within 140 characters. A challenge, but nevertheless this is the kind of activity that the digital space is enabling more and more. The need for simplicity in financial services is indisputable and the need for that to happen online is even greater.

However, what Bee's done goes further. By inviting pensions 'experts' to contribute to the glossary he can reach a fully consensual crowd-sourced definition that can be broadly agreed by the industry and become highly useful to the consumer audience. This sort of collaborative exercise should happen more within the industry.

The barriers that exist between providers have been built around the need to protect customer data, protection of IP and corporate espionage. In reality the walls have been extended so far into organizations, that simply don't require them, that collaborative behaviour is anathema. If the industry is to rebuild consumer trust some of these walls need to come down and there needs to be a far better sharing of information for the good of the industry not just for the good of individual companies.

Monday, 26 April 2010

First Direct Live - 6 months on

It is coming up to 6 months since First Direct launched First Direct Live. The site has been hailed as a triumph of the open and honest sharing of customer feedback in real time. First Direct is still really the only UK retail bank that has successfully engaged with its customers online. However, in reality the online experience isn’t ‘amazing’. The persistence in using white out of black in the design is still an accessibility minefield, however because it looks different it has been allowed to pass and while the First Direct 'Retail Experience' is so much better than other competitors it tends to be regarded as highly successful. However, if you place the offering next to some other large consumer brands it doesn’t stack up as successfully.

Now this is not to say that First Direct is not a decent experience, but it could be better and it is against this backdrop that the questions around First Direct Live come. There has been little critical evaluation of the site. It does seem to have snuck under the radar with little scrutiny, so 6 months on from launch there are 5 areas in which I feel the site could definitely be improved as a true reflection of customer sentiment.

1. Ratings - The ratings widget is an automated sentiment scoring system at present. In reality there isn’t currently a sophisticated enough algorithm to replicate true human sentiment, so the scoring needs to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.

2. Curation – the filtering of content appears to be moderated, or highly selective and you don’t seem to get a full view of all feedback. It would appear that not all comments are posted and you get no feel for the volume of comments received.

3. Live words don’t really mean as much as they could and because you can’t click through to any of the content that the tag cloud is made up from it’s difficult to understand context. There is also a mismatch between the positive and negative scoring and the overall sentiment scoring and it hasn’t really been explained why. As an additional point, the words that make up the cloud and how they are rated negative and positive bring into question the overall sentiment algorithm again.

4. The platform is still all about push and destination web thinking. There’s almost no interaction and the lack of a human face makes it feel quite corporate.

5. The fact that the site’s been leveraged with a campaign leaves a suspicion around the original motives for the site. The satisfaction proposition is indeed very strong, if a little unspecified, but again this feels suspicious.

Now I have to say that what First Direct has done is laudable. It’s certainly much better thought out and executed than many brand forays into social media to date in any category. However, it’s more controlled than other attempts and that’s where the conflict exists – control is not what you’re looking for if true transparency is to be achieved. Now maybe we haven’t reached a point where true transparency can be achieved for a corporate company and in terms of First Direct taking things forward it’s brave and still unique within UK financial services. The digital community has unbelievably high expectations of what brands can currently achieve given the corporate structures that remain in place and until businesses are modelled around social we won’t see truly social businesses, so I guess where First Direct is, is good, however we do need to consider First Direct Live with a more watchful eye.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Could a billion people break the existing banking model

In February Thomas Power the founder of eCademy wrote a blog entitled ‘What happens when Facebook becomes a bank?’. It sparked a huge debate around the role of social media in banking something that was firmly on the agenda at SXSWi last week with Smartypig, CreditKarma, Mint and Lending Club sitting on the panel, however while SXSWi was running Power followed his blog up with a clarification of his position on video.

His argument runs that when subscription levels to Facebook hit a billion - as predicted by the end of 2012 - that it will hit a scale and organisational maturity that will not only facilitate the sales of simple products such as loans, insurance and savings, but will mean groups of individuals will be in a position to come together to execute group purchases and lending on a huge scale. It would be a simple task for Facebook to integrate a facility such as Zopa onto it’s platform and then users have access to all the tools they need.

If we work on the basis that Facebook's 2008 poll has some validity then 13% of users would be happy to use the platform as a bank. If we then assume an average £1,000 deposit with the bank of Facebook then at a billion users that's a £130 billion business, something financial institutions would have to sit up and take notice of.

Mark Zuckerberg is an ambitious man. Scale is his goal. The product will develop itself and as Power says the person with the biggest number of names wins the game. Financial institutions need to take note.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Remember - Do cool stuff - 5 of the best

I had a fantastically refreshing chat with a client yesterday. We were talking about the development of their online social strategy, the integration with their B2C strategy and the dovetailing of their CRM process. All good business-focused conversation, but I tacked on at the end 'We shouldn't forget to do the cool stuff'. To which they said 'oh yeah we're definitely not going to forget the cool stuff'.

There's a lot of talk at the moment about how social media strategies are often nothing more than a bunch of tactics thrown together willy-nilly and in many cases of course that is absolutely true. There is a poor integration of online social planning into overall business models - something which I plan to write about more over the coming weeks - but in the rush to create more social businesses we need to remember the great tactical stuff as well and shouldn't become too earnest in our pursuit of connectivity.

After all it's the really cool stuff which actually becomes unforgettable.

Here are 5 of my favs:

ASOS dashboard
My current fav. It's effectively a great big curation exercise, but ASOS and their partners Adaptivelab have created something really engaging.

Zappos shoe map
From last year the Zappos shoe map is a really simple mash-up of their real-time sales data and the Google API. Really simple, really engaging and endlessly fascinating as a small anthropological window on the shoe buying habits of the US public.

Uniqlo Try
An enduring classic. How do you make a survey about bra tops interesteing? Turn it into a giant swirling, music and video driven infographic.

Qashqui Car Games - Spanner league
More of a campaign this, but the Nissan Qashqui Spanner League was a great spoof of a global petrolheads competition that caught the imagination of thousands and spawned 100s of copycat UGC videos.

Sony Bravia: Balls

I know, I know it was a mistake, but when Fallon happened to shoot their Sony Bravia commercial in blogger central San Fran the buzz about the 1000s of balls that swept through the city prior to the final ad. being released was phenomenal. It actually became the template for pre-ad buzz for ad agencies all over the world and soon got tumbled as just that by every savvy blogger out there (so be wary).

Now oddly enough (or not) many of these are tactics are employed by organisations that have the makings of very strong social strategies, which I guess is the point, get the strategy right and you can do as much cool stuff as you like.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Was #Likeminds the best gig ever?

If you're not a Pixies fan - or even if you're a little bit of a Pixies fan - you might not know 'Into the White'. The song appeared on the B-side of 'Here Comes Your Man' and had enough energy to power Exeter for a week. For about a year the Pixies used to open with it religiously and I saw them play it about 5 times in a row at the Town and Country club between 1988 and1989.

They used to fill the stage with dry ice, shine spotlights through the fog and kick in with that unmistakeable bass line. Each time it was utterly electrifying, unique and played just for the fans. We used to tumble out of those gigs go home and play the live gigs on Maxell 90s - bought off some dodgy goth outside the venue - at full volume for hours. Those nights are some of the most memorable of my life.

Last Friday as I got into my car to drive home from Likeminds, I reached for my iPhone plugged in the MP3 jack and scrolled to Surfer Rosa by the Pixies and turned up the volume to max. and drove 100 miles (way too fast) up the A303. That says an awful lot about how good the day was.

Walking out of Likeminds felt like you'd been exposed to something utterly unique, something special, something raw, but at the same time very slick. In short it felt like you'd seen one of the best gigs ever.

Some reasons why it's up there with the best

1. It had a string of amazing support bands and the main act didn't quite play by the rules.

Of course the term support bands is pretty derogatory in this context, but it can't have been an accident that Chris Brogan was on last.

Jonathon Akwue opened with a great story around the parallels between the rise of hip hop and social media. I think he also helped to set the tone for the entire day. His examples of how public bodies were reaching out and creating spaces for people, run by people, really added some clarity to how important it is to be available, authentic, real and empathetic. Many of the insights he shared I know I can take away and apply to highly commercial organisations.

John Bell outlined a fantastic approach to socialising an organisation and how to structure a truly far-reaching internal training programme, something I certainly need to apply within the spheres I'm involved with.

Joanne Jacobs gave everyone a master class in not just how to use new social technologies smartly and appropriately but, also how to be an engaging presenter. No matter what she thinks of Paul Clarke's photos of her, they captured the passion with which she delivered her subject.

Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder) laid out the case for re-structuring an organisation around what he termed 'social communications' a really thought-provoking piece moving the conversation away from social media and towards more social businesses.

Yann Gourvenec explained how Orange had approached the social space. Refreshingly though he helped us understand that what customers are looking for is appropriate levels of engagement. It's not about the channels, it's not about sitting and pondering about social media, it's about getting out there and engaging appropriately. Listening and acting consistently.

And last but not least. What can I say.

Chris Brogan came on almost broke his mic, came very close to knocking over the on-stage table and went on to break the swearing embargo within 15 seconds (something that even Joanne Jacobs had managed to avoid). He then went on to outline his theory around guest experince design as opposed to customer service, a brilliant piece of shared thinking that has made me completely reappraise a proposal I already had in the pipeline.

2. It made you think you'd do things completely differently from now on.
Little of the content was brand new, but the focus that Scott Gould and Drew Ellis had put on the theme for Likeminds - 'people to people' - really helped to refocus thoughts away from the tools and mechanics and towards the real point of social media - the participants. The real conversation is the one that happens person to person and develops real value - not just commercial value, but emotional value and that has to be central to future thinking.

3. People came away feeling they'd been part of something special, but all had a different and unique story to tell.
Which have been very usefully curated by the Likeminds crew here.

4. It left you wanting more
I had to shoot pretty much straight after it finished, so watching from afar, as the post-conference get togethers and satellite events bubbled away was extremely frustrating, but just went to show how productive the whole event was.

5. The venue was mysterious, but perfect
Likeminds took place in a conference hall that none of the local taxi drivers realised was there and you had to get in the queues early to get the best seats.

6. It had it's very own beflowered roadies
Stuart Witts picked up Chris Brogan from the airport and transported him to Likeminds and according to Stuart they spent three hours shooting the breeze about comics and films. Sounds like a damn good use for three hours on the road.

7. You had to be there, but if you weren't there's a lasting legacy

The whole event felt like a highly participative gathering. Likeminds is a perfect title for such an inclusive, informal but informative event, but within the framework of that intimate gathering, the lunchtime sessions allowed you to get even more in-depth. It was a fantastic way of putting something back into the local Exeter community.

By holding 20 separate events at different venues and all within 10 minutes of the venue, it put a different slant on things. My particular lunch hosted by the lovely Kate Day had a great balance of banter and sharp eyed insight. Teamspirit the company I work for has always based our internal briefing around story-telling so how that applied to social media really resonated with me.

8. It was hyperlocal, national and global all at the same time.
What struck me was the number of local Devon business people that were there. I met some fantastic people for which Likeminds had ignited a completely new way of doing business. It felt that Likeminds had spawned a networked community that simply hadn't existed prior to the first event in 2009.

At the same time I was able to finally meet with a lot of the people I was following already and hadn't met in person and put a face to an avatar (by the way Avatars are confusing) and of course the buzz that Likeminds created meant it was a global trending topic at points during the day and that Twirus had it in the top five UK hashtags two days running. Successful in so many ways.

So was it the best gig ever?

It was definitely pretty close, I bust one of my car speakers as a result, so that has to notch it up in the rankings.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Metpolice campaign uses youTube tabs - nice

Really like this very simple Metpolice knife crime ad. from last year.

The opportunity provided by tabs has really transformed YouTube videos into really simple interactive sites. With Boone Oakley being my favourite example.

Love it.