Think of the world like Twitter

I presented at the ‘Make it Happen 2013’ conference this week. I was in esteemed company – great speakers like Phil Jones, Steve Clarke, the irrepressible Steve Head, as well as our great host Kriss Akabusi. I enjoyed the day immensely, meeting people from HP, Yahoo and many others. My favourite story of the day was the moving account of the terrible accident and never-say-die attitude of 2012 gold medal paralympian Mark Colbourne – you could hear a pin drop as he was telling his story.

The event underlined another thing – if I created slides that were made up only of blocks of text, what would the audiences think? Would anybody concentrate for longer that a minute or two? How long would it be before people switched to reading messages on their phones, the web or social media platforms, and completely ignore my presentation no matter how compelling?

Text is yesterday’s business and droning on with repetitive messages is passé. To engage today’s audience, we need pictures and headlines. People respond to images, they like short videos, their brains are like filters and block out the majority of information thrown at them, so why do we send our customers pages of text, long documents and expect them to respond?

Reach people with messages they can absorb in seconds and stop putting out material that is off-putting before you start reading; engage using images, video, material that is interactive and engaging and quick and easy to absorb.

Think of the world like Twitter – you have 140 characters to get your message across. Technology allows us to try things and quickly change course along the way – find out what works and measure everything.

My Future

When asked “How will the future look?” I replied “Differently.” How different I am not entirely sure, but I can confidently say a few things.

  1. The future will include an increasing amount of measurement, ie. using data to crunch our business information. The more we know about our customers, the more we can target them with products they need and want. Why try and sell a lawn mower to a lady who lives on the 10th floor of an apartment block? A scatter-gun approach of marketing to thousands in the hope that five people buy is history. The future market segment is “One.” One person. One set of preferences.
  2. In future, customers will help set strategy arm-in-arm with CEOs. Technology allows us to be better listeners and social media especially is redefining the way business interacts with both customers and employees.
  3. The future is up to me. I will assemble my own degree from the thousands of excellent courses available, most of them free of charge. I will learn when I want, on the device I choose. I will learn on my iPhone on the train to work, on an iPad in the evening and on the laptop at the weekend. Each will know exactly where I left off and at which point to pick up.
  4. In future I will have more control. When I my car breaks down, I will access the ‘Parts’ section of my car’s website, download a new component, print it on my 3D printer, and fit it by watching and listening to instructions. In 60 minutes I am on the road.
  5. Almost everything in future will be connected. When I brush my teeth twice a day for two minutes, my toothbrush will know. I will be given recognition and offered an ‘m-voucher’ via my mobile for toothpaste the moment I walk into a supermarket – my reward is a free tube of toothpaste by a leading brand and a discount towards my next dental check due in 4 weeks.

People will not allow technology to watch us all day, every day, but these things are happening. It will be interesting to see how they play out.

The Evidence

At a recent event we talked about getting out of our comfort zone in order to be remarkable. If we stay doing the same things in the same way, why do we expect results that are any different?

We must break from the past and need look no further than a company I grew up with, Kodak, if we are to see how destructive this technology movement can be if we stand still and don’t embrace change. Regardless of the sector our business is in, we are being impacted – a new way of listening and engaging, a new way of reaching our customers and in many cases entirely new ways of transacting.

Kodak invented film, but they also created digital photography. What the company didn’t do was embrace a new way of working and let go of the past (I have talked about ‘Learnability’ in this column before). Often it takes bravery and imagination to leave behind a legacy, especially when the legacy has held the company in good stead for decades, but for Kodak it was catastrophic.

The digital age has changed more, faster, than anything that preceded it. The number and speed of smartphones sold compared to desktop and laptop computers is evidence of that. We need to remember the past and learn from it, but we must also leave it behind. Every company has to find where the magic happens, because that place is somewhere different.

Haircut sir?

I recently finished Walter Isaacson’s brilliant biography of Steve Jobs. The more it described Steve as different, the more I warmed to him, because the imperfections made him more human.

One of the early Apple board members recounted when he first met Jobs and Wozniak, sharing how he looked beyond the fact that both desperately needed a haircut. He was amazed by the ideas and the work that he saw, figuring that the two Steve’s can always get a haircut!

The Apple ‘Think Different’ campaign really put the company on the map, raising awareness of the brand to new heights. Today, we take the genius Apple products for granted and yet we ignore the talent of people for whom the gadgets and technology are second nature. Remember the need to understand them on their terms, for they will be both our customer and our workforce of tomorrow, so market to them on their terms, and when recruiting them, please don’t ask them to fax through their CV. You will be waiting for some time..

Shopping & Listening

I was following the news of people scrambling to shop for just about everything on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when America goes wild for bargains. Now I have witnessed this personally in Chicago a couple of years ago. It was crazy and I quite enjoyed it!

People choose not to buy an item because they don’t see value in it, then decide it is priceless once it has that little red and white discount label attached to it. 25%, 30% or 70%-off turns even the most sensible of shoppers into a possessed individual who has to have the item they turned their nose up at a week before.

I tracked back to the 1950s, when the US discovered the disposable society and set about telling consumers they had to replace and update almost everything they owned. Then it was all about dictating what people buy, the era of the advertising agencies – epitomised in the series ‘Mad Men.’

Today, it is all about asking customers what they want. The smartest companies are already engaged with their most influential networks (people we sometimes call ‘sneezers’ or ‘yawners’ who are very good at spreading news), already at the centre of all discussions around their sector and as a result the first name that comes up when searching for that product. You don’t have to be a technology company to make this work for you. Just look at how a crystal glass making company in Wales has become expert at making social media work for, and grow, the business. You can learn a lot by following them on Twitter @WelshRoyalCryst.

Forget the old, embrace the new.

99% is listening

I presented at the Kyocera event today at the stunning Coombe Abbey Hotel and Conference Centre today (see pic to the right). I always enjoy partnering with Kyocera because of their commitment to the next generation of learners and workers, and Pearson support the apprenticeship they are spearheading with other manufacturers of printers and multifunction devices in their sector.

I shared my thoughts on new marketing, especially around social media, and I emphasised that social is only 1% posting stuff. 99% is about listening to your customers and audience and responding with solutions that they are ready to buy into. If you look at what happened to Netflix when they tried to change their pricing structure, its customers revolted, posting 82,000 negative comments across its social platforms. Within months the company lost thousands of customers and two-thirds of its market value.

Interesting that back in the 1950s, we discovered the disposable society and went about convincing consumers to throw away and replace, rather than preserve and keep. Now the key theme is asking them what they think, so we can interpret that into what they want. That is what new marketing is about. We must never forget, social is 99% listening.

Is Marketing dead or different?

Social media has seriously impacted traditional marketing, but is marketing dead, as claims Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide and one of the smartest thinkers around? He said recently:

“The role of marketing has changed. There is nothing new anymore. If marketers are just hearing about something going on then it is already old in today’s world. Speed and velocity is everything today. Marketing’s job is to create movement and inspire people to join you. Everyone wants a conversation. They want inspiration. Inspire people with your website. Don’t just interrupt, but interact. Asking about Return on Investment is the wrong question today. You should be asking about Return on Involvement.”

Thought-provoking indeed. Globally recognised universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are putting entire courses online for free. Why? Because you can’t earn a degree on YouTube, and if that’s where today’s students are hanging out, it becomes free marketing. The best students have a choice where they study and platforms like YouTube are how to reach them.

Amy Cosper, Editor of the excellent US-based magazine Entrepreneur, talks about customers as active participants in companies, brands and collaboration.

Last word to Kevin Roberts: “The big idea is dead. There are no more big ideas. Creative leaders should go for getting lots and lots of small ideas out there. Stop beating yourself up searching for the one big idea. Get lots of ideas out there and then let the people you interact with feed those ideas and they will make it big.”

The social tools and technologies allow us to have a conversation with customers old and new, invite opinions and evolve our business. That is how marketing has changed.

The Facebook Way

Since its IPO, the media has attacked Facebook from every angle. I would like to take a moment and highlight some of the positives to come out of camp Zuckerberg.

You have to give credit to its creativity, its ability to scale and allow millions of people to connect on a social level. You also have to applaud the platform now used by the likes of British Telecom, Heinz and others to get closer to its customers. Heinz in particular is brilliant at marketing via Facebook, involving their customers in creating products such as the new balsamic vinegar-flavoured ketchup and their personalised ‘Get Well Soon’ can of soup. I have said it before, the future of marketing is not about campaigns but conversations.

More importantly for me, when you dig a little deeper into the empire, you start to understand the Facebook way – Mark Zuckerberg talks about moving fast and breaking things. Facebook, like Google and others from its generation, launches products quickly, listens to what its customers are saying and adjusts accordingly. New online furniture company has built a great business entirely on this model. In some ways, if you don’t develop this way, you will be left behind. At Apple, the iPod is now almost obsolete, and two-thirds of its revenues come from products invented after 2007. At printer giant HP, the majority of revenue stems from products that did not exist a year ago.

Mark Zuckerberg narrows his focus to two things – having a direction for the company and what it builds and assembling the best team possible. The talent in Menlo Park cannot be doubted. We can learn from this model. On a more local level, my good friend Kypros, CEO at Ryman, the UK’s best stationery company, talks about how they differentiate. It is no secret. Go into their stores – the formula is the same. They find great people, train them well and look after them. The attitude cascades down from CEO throughout the organisation and extends to its customers every day.

Technology or not, it’s all about the people. Always.

Using technology to drive the best marketing of all – Word of Mouth

There is some interesting research and debate around technology facilitating word of mouth marketing. I have always believed that nothing competes with shaking hands, making eye contact and building relationships, but Facebook and other social platforms are adding something else by creating conversations and driving engagement.

Brands are constantly seeking ‘likes’ and ‘recommendations’ from users and marketers are always looking to find those individuals who can spread the word very quickly because they are well connected – we call these people the ‘one-percenters’, yawners or sneezers!

The fact is, you tell one person something in the office, they will typically share it with one or two others. If you tell them on Facebook, it is likely that you tell an average of 140-150 others.

While word of mouth is more commonly understood in face-to-face contact, it is more about recognising what drives people to talk about things, then applying appropriate tools and platforms to create that engagement. British Telecom famously ran a series of adverts for their broadband service where Adam met Jane and after years of uncertainty they got married. BT cleverly tied the TV ads into email invitations and a Facebook page that encouraged the public to vote for the wedding dress, wedding car and music for the couple’s first dance. 500,000 people voted. That is some success.

Heinz have done it brilliantly with their ‘Get Well Soon’ can of soup that can be personalised and sent to an unwell acquaintance via Facebook, and my favourite of all is Blendtec, a blender company with more than 150 million views on YouTube taking requests from followers (in the thousands) to blend anything and everything. An ordinary product doing extraordinary things, creating buzz, conversation and deeper engagement.

Word of mouth is ultimately people talking about cool things, brands, events, products and stories that have raised levels of interest, regardless of tools or tech – just as I am doing now.