Facebook update – it won’t be a “Dislike”


A recent announcement by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has seen technology focused crowds chatting away this week. During a “Townhall” Q&A session at the social media giant’s Menlo Park headquarters Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook was testing alternatives to the “Like” button. “People have asked about the ‘dislike’ button for many years,” Zuckerberg said “Today is the day that I actually get to say we are working on it.”

For some the immediate response to this was surprise that Facebook was finally going to give users the feature many have joked about for years; a “Dislike” button. In truth, this update is very unlikely to deliver an actual button called “Dislike”. Why? Because if Facebook’s users were given the option to “Dislike” a piece of content this interaction could be easily misconstrued as a sign of rejection. This could start to erode the stickiness of the Facebook platform – which is bad for content creators and very bad for business from Facebook’s perspective.

What Facebook is more likely to do is test a range of buttons that allow people to show different types of emotions other than a simple like. For example, when a friend’s parent dies nobody wants to “Like” the event, but providing a way to show sympathy would be beneficial.

Of course underneath all of this is Facebook’s business model – delivering ultra-targeted advertising. What this latest announcement tells us is that Facebook is now ready to create even more complex psychometric profiles of it’s users. Knowing all the brands, pages, people and posts someone “Likes” gives Facebook an amazing view of each of it’s users – adding an additional level of behavioural interactivity allows this to get even more sophisticated.

In the short term this will give advertisers even more data to use to deliver messages. Using the earlier example, it is very easy to imagine a world where someone, after seeing the post about a friend’s parent passing away, hits a button that expresses “I’m sorry” and is then is presented with an ad for flowers delivery.

In the longer term this more complex view of Facebook’s users is going to help drive the progression of its artificial intelligence personal assistant, currently called simply ‘M’.

These new buttons will begin being tested very soon, but it will be only as they are refined and exposed to the whole Facebook user base that we will see the full impact of what a simple button, with a simple word on it, could actually be.

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The battle of the data giants


On the 9th of September Apple held its latest product release event. Apple are masters of the great reveal. They are the gold standard for creating brand buzz.

But under all of the hype and excitement there is a deeper story starting to develop. Yes, it is do with the new phone models and AppleTVs but is not the hardware itself. These will no doubt be great product releases but the truly interesting part of the announcement is how the personal assistant, called Siri, has evolved.

There is a battle shaping up between Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Each of these companies plan to make our data useful and they will do that through evolving their version of Artificial Intelligence. Apple has “Siri”, Google has “Google Now,” Microsoft has “Cortana” and a few weeks back Facebook announced that they are testing their digital personal assistant, simply called “M”.

The idea behind a digital personal assistant is that the system can see and analyse all the data you create. It understands what you like, what you want to do, and help you make better decisions, find products more easily or simply make a reservation at a restaurant.

Creating a digital personal assistant which is as useful as a human is no small task. It needs to be able to understand you deeply and then be able to not only make useful recommendations but then do something about them quickly. Facebook’s current approach is to blend computers with humans. Apple and Google are taking a much more scientific approach to artificial intelligence.

We are currently part of the testing phase of these products. They are somewhat basic compared to the omnipresent artificial intelligence described in recent movies such as Her and Ex Machina. But the technology is evolving very, very quickly.

The reason so much effort is going into this space is that the potential payoff for the technology companies would be massive. Currently these companies have a lot of information about us. But they are only scratching the surface in how they use it.

Google and Facebook mostly use our information to target advertising to us. Apple and Microsoft use it to lock you into their world of products and partnerships. Each company has their own take on how to use the data consumers create. What they all have in common is they have access to a lot of our history. What we bought, where we have been, and what we searched for.

The next big step is to work out what we want to do next. A personal assistant will help this happen. We will start to tell them what we want to do. They will begin to understand not just our behaviour, but our intent.

This is where the next big battle is actually being fought. It’s not really about phones or tablets. It’s about our data. And the company that can reliably work out what we want before we even know it ourselves is going to change the world.

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The Three foundations for Digital strategy success

Delivering quality digital experiences is challenging. Investing in customer insights and feedback is just the starting point. To ensure success there needs to be a balance between engaging your customers and delivering tangible results.

A recent Forrester study called ‘Mind the Gap’ discovered that one of the biggest challenges facing businesses in realising their digital strategy aspirations are the “…huge political battles between IT organisations and businesses”.

If this sounds familiar, and I assure you it’s common, then it’s worth exploring ways to minimise the risk of implementing a digital strategy. In our experience at Working Three, digital strategy success is driven by three key principles: leadership to create alignment; the use of analytics and sharing of information; and creating a customer-obsessed culture.


Sales and marketing teams are not getting what they need from their organisations’ IT departments, so they’re going elsewhere to find it – hiring their own technical specialists and creating their own units. This creates inefficiencies and political infighting.

Leadership to address this challenge means welding these units back into a unified whole. Developing KPIs that show each unit how it impacts the customer experience helps to quickly create alignment. Making the customer metrics transparent and visible across the organisation will help start conversations and team-work.

Spend time finding out where disconnects are happening. Our organisation has consulted with many companies which have allowed disconnects between marketing and IT teams to develop unchecked. This creates an adversarial culture which is at odds with delivering an outstanding customer experience.

It is much better to deal with communication issues and frictions as they arise rather than trying to re-engineer a broken model at a later date.


The delivery of a digital initiative is not an end point in the digital strategy process, it’s a waypoint in a journey of continual improvement.

Developing a centralised view of analytics across the business creates dialogue and collaboration. The sports drink brand Gatorade famously pioneered the NASA style “Mission Control” analytics suite as part of a digital transformation project. According to its then senior marketing director Carla Hassan, Gatorade aimed to “take the largest sports brand in the world and turn it into largest participatory brand in the world.”

We recommend that those directly involved in digital initiatives – marketing, customer service and IT units – share analytics and insights. But we go a step further. We urge our clients to create a set of shared customer experience dashboards. We call this process the creation of the ‘customer command centre’. It is best practice for everyone to see how any and all digital activities impact the overall customer experience.


This doesn’t need to be a complex process. Training and consulting advice will help. The key element in achieving this culture is for the organisation to be constantly asking itself “How will this impact our customers?” That simple question, asked over and over, will focus everyone on why most digital strategies have been developed in the first place – to create outstanding customer experiences that deliver a sustainable competitive advantage.

The most notable example of a customer-obsessed company is Amazon. In fact the first ‘Leadership Principle’ it lists on its corporate website is ‘customer obsession’. The site goes on to say “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

So if your organisation is struggling to see a measurable return from a digital strategy, by all means examine the technical and communications resources and ensure you have the right skills in place. But ultimately success will come from leadership which aligns resources, the sharing of quality analytics and a culture that is relentlessly focused on the impact of every initiative on your customers.

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5 disruptive forces happening right now

businessman looking business concept and strategy on dark texture wall background as concept

Business strategy and digital disruption

Recently I was asked to predict what forces, industries or businesses would be causing the most business disruption. While it is is hard to really predict what the next big disruption will look like it is possible to see forces at play right now that are going to have a major impact on the way businesses are run.

1 – When your data becomes your data

What is happening with the vast amounts of data we are creating on a daily basis? The average person has bank cards, credit cards, social media accounts, loyalty cards, and smart phones all of which can create a detailed picture of that person – a picture that should be able to make our lives better.

Imagine a world where all of your data was in one place and it was used to help you. Arrive in hospital with a fever and the doctors could instantly see every place you have been, everything you have eaten and every person you have interacted with. Not only could they diagnose you quickly and accurately but they may be able to stop a pandemic before it started.

Currently companies view the data they have about you as their property. And this means that all the data you create can’t work together effectively. There is a new type of technology company emerging that is addressing this issue. It is being loosely tied together by the term VRM, which stands for Vendor Relationship Management – the opposite of CRM. VRM technologies work on the principle that all the data a consumer creates is far more valuable if it is held in one spot, and that spot should be controlled by the consumer that created. It has taken a while to arrive at this point, but the world is now poised for a massive leap forward and many of the companies playing in this space will be the ones leading the charge.

Read more about this here


2 – Software writing software – Artificial Intelligence starts to automate the knowledge economy

The different disciplines within the field of Artificial Intelligence (including Machine Learning where software adapts to new situations and recognises patterns, and Automated Reasoning where software uses stored knowledge to draw conclusions) are quickly maturing and evolving. In the very near future these systems will be able to write software programs of their own, and that will enable them to evolve to a point where they can take on many of today’s ‘knowledge’ based jobs.

Research conducted by Oxford University suggests that 45% of all current jobs will be automated in the next 15 – 20 years. This will include professions like medicine, marketing, finance, software development and many others. That same research also suggests that it is very unlikely that the creation of new jobs will match the erosion of old jobs.

What will people do with all of this new spare time they have on their hands? What will happen to the world when so many jobs that comprise repetitive tasks are able to be automated? How will business evolve when it takes far less human and financial capital to meet the needs of their markets and customers?

Based on our experience of the last decade, as receptive tasks become automated more time can be spent on creative jobs. We can expect the pace of innovation to explode and whole new industries to be developed.


3 – Data utilisation – When data stops being about analytics and becomes the product

Over the next two to four years companies will start to really examine the massive volumes of data they have been storing over the last decade or so. Currently the tools for data storage and analysis (commonly grouped together within the term “big-data”) are becoming far cheaper and more commonplace. As companies get more comfortable with viewing the insights that come from massive data sets the next stage in data utilisation will pick up steam.

The data that organisations are storing about their customers and networks is currently being used to develop customer insights. It will soon move to becoming the raw material for generating revenue. This doesn’t mean such organisations be selling the data, as this would degrade its value almost immediately. Instead companies will design new products and services that allow their customers to make use of the data they have created.

The banking and finance industry is an example of an industry that is already well down this pathway. Insurance companies can now use data to provide a more tailored package. Track your driving behaviour and auto insurers can offer you a package that suits your exact risk profile. Health insurers can now offer incentives for healthier behaviours tracked through mobile phones and fitness trackers like FitBit. It’s not a great leap to expect a banking app that helps you stick to a budget by helping you make better financial decisions in real time.

Expect the next generation of digital experiences that brands offer up to their customers to be come much, much smarter.


4 – The all in digital company – new business models that will eat the world

In February 2015 Gartner published the results of survey that analysed the effects of the “connect Economy”. The survey showed that 89% of the companies surveyed by Gartner believe that customer experience will be their primary basis for competition by 2016.

Although many companies have been slow to adapt to the changing environment,the period of being “nervously immobile” has come to and end. There are a number of companies which are already going “all in” – integrating the customer experience through scalable, digital solutions.

The pace of change is making many business leaders nervous that they will be unable to keep up.But the more courageous companies are reforming their companies to make the most of new opportunities. These companies are doing more than just replacing one form of marketing with digital techniques .They are looking for completely new ways of interacting with their customers, and developing new business models in the process.

The first wave of “digital disruption” was owned by the silicon valley startup. The next wave may well be owned by big brands who start acting more like venture capitalists than monolithic organisations looking for investments within their market.

Read more about this here


5 – Chief Digital Officers – The role that is changing every aspect of business

The digital revolution is already generating “internal disruption” within many firms and will soon produce organisational change. It will take the shape of a new senior management position with an entirely new role and dedicated resources.. That person will be the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

Last year Forrester research told us that 39% of CEOs believe that they personally set digital strategy for their firms, but only 26% of their direct reports from within the executive team believe that is so( that their CEO actually does own digital strategy). With the ever increasing importance of digital in everyone’s lives it is clear that many organisations will require someone at the senior management level to lead the charge on digital.

It is possible that the current CIO or CMO roles evolve into the CDO. But it is equally likely that this will not happen. Companies are rapidly shifting away from maintaining operational systems to implementing the digital capabilities that attract, convert, serve, and retain customers. This suggests that the role of CDO will need to have influence over marketing, technology, strategy, customer insights and product development. In short they will be at the pointy end of total business transformation.

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How to value customter data


As digital marketing techniques have gained acceptance and matured over the last few years the momentum to collect and utilise data has rapidly gathered pace.

In the customer experience and communication space ‘data’ has become the catch-all term for anything digital including contact details, transaction history, behavioural information and even content such as images or video. This has inevitably led to speculation about the value of these data.

So here is the way we think about this issue at Working Three.

The value of data doesn’t come from collecting and storing data. Rather, it follows from the process of analysing the data, developing deep insights and taking actions based on those insights. It comes when brands provide better outcomes for the creator of the data – the customer – through improved engagement or better-tailored goods and services.

In an environment where it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to engage with marketing messages this process can generate considerable value for brands. Customer data utilised in this way can help make marketing efforts more engaging, efficient and tailored – and, thus, valuable.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of models that marketers can employ to utilise data, better optimise the marketing spend and drive marketing-focused innovation. These are:

  • Improving segmentation through the use of pattern recognition algorithms
  • Making accurate predictions through propensity modelling
  • Filtering information served to a customer to make recommendations


Customer segmentation, otherwise known by data professionals as clustering, becomes far more sophisticated when algorithms are used to analyse customer data sets. Humans can only process a few variables related to customer segmentation. Software is not bound by that restriction. This is particularly important when a business is trying to calculate the real value of a specific customer.

Additionally marketers can rapidly break out of traditional segmentation models, which are usually based on a small number of basic demographic data points and look for far more meaningful segmentation models. These include product-based segments (algorithms that discover the type of products, and groupings of products, which people do and do not buy from), brand-based segments (algorithms that discover the type of brands, and groupings of brands, people do and do not like) and behavioural segments (the type of behaviours which people display such as purchase frequency, time spent on site, high or low engagement with marketing content and the degree to which they are influenced by discounting).

Propensity modelling

Propensity models allow you to predict the future behaviour of an individual customer or customer segment. Assuming you capture the right data, it is possible to use algorithms that compare one customer to many others to predict how much that customer is likely to spend with you over their ‘lifetime’. For example, while one customer may make a higher initial purchase they may not be as valuable as another customer who makes more frequent but smaller purchases. In this case it would make sense to focus acquisition marketing spend on the customer with a higher overall lifetime value.

It is also possible to predict a customer’s propensity to engage. Understanding how likely it is that a certain customer will click on your content marketing efforts or email communications can result in significant efficiency gains.

Another valuable propensity model measures the propensity to buy. This tells you which customers are ready to make a purchase, enabling you to target these customers with the right kind of offer. This kind of model also highlights the customers who are not ready to purchase, so that brands can target them with a more aggressive offer.


Amazon made automated recommendations famous with their ‘people who bought this product also bought…’. Employing recommendation algorithms it is now possible to go beyond the simple up-sell and provide a digital service that really helps customers discover new products and services that they will like.

Cross-sell recommendations can become one of the most useful to consumers. Rather than trying to sell a bigger version of the same product you can suggest what type of products are bought with it, thereby bundling a set of products up. This works well for apparel but can work equally well for the entertainment industry (‘pre-purchase your refreshments with your movie ticket to get express service’) and many other markets.

‘Next sell’ recommendations take into account a broader set of data to suggest the next item a customer may wish to purchase. This works best when it is presented as a value-added service. For example, if a bike company knew a customer had just upgraded her bike they could then offer a range of tools and accessories to help that customer get more use from her purchase.

Using the types of models described above companies can, and are, starting to realise the true value of the data they are collecting. As they start to understand what insights the data can generate they will begin to uncover even more value.

Ultimately, this is how the value equation needs to be thought about. It is not storing data that is valuable but the act of doing something based on utilising the data that creates value.

Some of that value can be guessed at, but in most cases, the biggest leaps will only be discovered once you actually get started.

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You don’t want your customers talking about your advertsing


Life is not easy for a marketer these days. The media landscape continues to be reinvented and fragmented, affecting the ability of marketers to capture the attention of their target audience.

The power of the mass-media model is waning, so attention is turning to digital innovation and data-driven direct communications. Yet, as many brands have found out, relying too heavily on technology can turn your advertising campaigns into nothing more than smart spam with a decreasing return on investment.

To further complicate matters, research data shows word-of-mouth recommendations are now disproportionately influential in a purchaser’s decision-making process, especially those from friends and family. The“Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messaging” report published by Nielsen in late 2013 said 84 per cent of global respondents said this source was the most trustworthy.

Consumers are becoming harder to reach, and gaining their trust is becoming much more difficult even if you do reach them.

To manage this challenge organisations and marketers have been looking to better understand the entire customer journey to enhance the customer experience. But this approach comes with an inherent conflict best summed by the following question: “Do want your customers talking about your products or your advertising?”

It is true that advertising provides a direct line of communication to your existing and prospective customers. But a customer experience advocate, on the other hand, will ask; “why not let the customer experience speak for itself?” So how should brands think about this issue?

Reframe the question

I recommend taking a long, hard look at your customers and your organisation to identify opportunities to greatly improve the customer experience. In today’s world almost every consumer-facing company should be doing that in some way. Customers’ ability to be heard en masse is far too powerful not to.

Inevitably, when companies do seek to improve their customer experience, many of the outcomes become innovations and new digital communication channels.

But should these replace the need for advertising? Not at all. However, what they often do is reframe the question, “What are we advertising?” After all, if your company has invested heavily in creating a great customer experience, shouldn’t you tell the world?

Take Medibank for example. It sells health insurance but its current advertising campaign is focused on raising awareness for its GymBetter mobile app. This app allows the user to pay to use a gym, without having to pay regular membership fees. It’s not Medibank’s core business but it is brand-aligned and delivers great experience, and it gets even better if you happen to be one of its customers.

Market trends are maturing in a way that will start to impact on how brands interact with their customers. Here are some examples. The way consumers understand and use their own data is creating a whole generation with very different expectations about the way companies should interact with them. Social media is now reaching ubiquity, but there are still significant jumps in online communication that will be made in the next few years. Technologies such as 3D printing will dramatically alter traditional value chains.

These are just a few examples of near-term trends that will bring further rapid change. These cannot be ignored – and businesses cannot advertise their way around them.

Creating a unique and fantastic customer experience is a way for businesses to stand out. But how the consumer interacts with the product or service, or how they discover that product or service for that matter, is part of the overall experience. Deeply integrating advertising into the way a customer experiences a brand is becoming an essential aspect of the overall marketing mix.

Do we want people talking about the product or the advertising? Neither. We want people talking about an outstanding customer experience, of which both are a part.

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Discussion with Catherine Heath From Huge Inc.


In late August this year Melbournes digital elite assembled at the citys public library. The event was the Australian Interactive Media Industry Associations V21 conference, and this years line up promised to be the biggest event yet.

One of the key draw cards was Catherine Heath, the Head of Strategy & Planning, US West Coast, for the digital agency Huge. Among digital agencies Huge, a member of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is one of the standouts on the world stage. Its renown owes much to recent Initiatives such as the development of the HBO GO platform, the TV anytime experience for HBO subscribers, the new website for the phenomenon that is TED, and the new immersive cross platform digital experience for one of the most beloved multi generational entertainment series: The Simpsons.

A couple of weeks after the Melbourne event Catherine and I shared a telephone call while she was in between meetings in Singapore. We spoke for some time about: what it was like to work in a company like Huge (by all accounts being surrounded by hundreds of very talented digital designers, technologists & strategists is pretty fun most of the time); what the youth of today were doing with digital technologies (the best way to sum it up is they are setting expectations on UX/UI, not following them); and where the world of digital marketing and branding was heading (digital is quickly becoming the lead player in the overall marketing mix, meaning other forms of marketing are having to support the digital strategy, a complete turn around of events).

The conversation then moved onto what companies have to do really become leaders in the digital space, a topic dear to my heart.

Catherine doesnt describe herself as a techie. She comes from a brand strategy background. But that is what’s now needed to provide meaningful insights in the field of digital communications. In the initial years of the digital marketing revolution the people with the power were the tech-heads. And they still are an inherently important, though its what surrounds them now with cross functional agencies that makes what they do really interesting on a broader scale.

For someone deft at writing code the logical side of their brain is the area that gets exercised most frequently. As a result conversations with talented technologists can become black and white, on or off. This is great when it comes to designing software, but it does not produce an engaged conversation with a business leader who is looking to transform his business.

And on reflection that was the interesting aspect of the conversation with Catherine. I dont think we talked about technology trends once. Data was only mentioned very briefly. The majority of what we discussed was about how digital thinking was now shaping the value around brands and the impact that would likely have in years to come.

We discussed what it meant for a business to go all into digital. That included the effort required from clients, and in particular the courage that leadership needed to transform a company to face the challenges of todays digital firstworld. its not about digital ideas, rather ideas for a digital world as she says. life first thinking is imperative in a world where digital is omnipresent, digital is no longer a channel or a medium its simply a way of life.

Huge is fortunate to have Catherine working for them. She is intellectually curious and very bright. And she leaves you with no doubt that the digital transformation that has been happening in world of branding, marketing and communications has really only just started.

There is a new wave of customer relationships and connections being invented right now – and she is in the middle of it.

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The next issue for CMOs to deal with is on the doorstep

The marketing industry has completely reinvented itself over the last few years. In fact it is difficult to think of an industry that has had to deal with so much change as marketing and advertising. But while many marketers may feel like they are finally getting on top of the technology and data needed to hit their targets, the truth is the marketing space is still being disrupted – driven by changes in consumer behaviour, as it has always been.

Major financial meltdowns and recessions force businesses to evaluate their spend on marketing and branding. As revenue and profitability become squeezed marketers are pressured to improve return on marketing investments. The recent Global Financial Crisis was no exception. The difference this time was the influence of a relatively mature internet and the way consumers chose to use it. 

As consumers completely altered their media consumption patterns marketing budgets began to focus increasingly on optimising consumers digital buying journey. This meant big investments in data driven awareness marketing such as search marketing, driven by Google, and social media ad placements led by Facebook. 

More recently, as businesses have become more comfortable with data driven targeting, major investment have been made into cloud-based Customer Relationship Management database solutions such as Salesforce, and Marketing Automation platforms to complement and integrate the awareness efforts. This – seems like a natural next step – collect as much data as you can about your customers, find out what makes them tick, use that information to send out highly targeted and personalised marketing messages. 

However many marketers are now realise that this form of data driven marketing can become nothing more than a pathway to delivering very smart spam to existing and potential customers, a surefire way of undermining value in the one thing they are meant to be protecting – the brand. 

So CMOs and marketing professionals are refocusing on the customer – who has always held the balance of power.  Having data is no longer enough. Marketers need to create a compelling customer experience, one that will integrate all of the digital initiatives around their company’s core brand values. And as they go through this process the focus changes from “collect all the customer data we can” to “what data will help our customers experience our brand?” 

This is where the next big challenge for many marketers lies.  And this is because it’s highly likely that the data that will help customers experience their brand may not exist yet, or if it does it needs viewing with a very different lens. Of course companies like Nike realised this some time ago which is why they built the Nike+ platform. Their brand is not about selling shoes. Its about performance. And the Nike+ platform helps their customers track and improve their performance. The information Nike gets about who is using their products and why is almost a happy byproduct. 

Not many brands have the type of marketing budgets that Nike does. But the size spend is not really the issue. Much of the technology is now relatively cheap, and continually falling in price. The biggest issue is developing the strategic clarity to know what to do. 

So the CMO of today now has to be part data scientist, part creative technologist and part innovation strategist. Because creating and growing a market is now more difficult, and critical, than it has ever been. The stakes are high. But it is for this very reason that many of the CMOs of today will be the CEOs of tomorrow. 


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AIMIA Retail Research Report – Australian retailers fight back


It’s safe to say that the pace at which Australian consumers have adopted shopping online has taken some retailers by surprise. While many may have seen the writing on the wall during the years following the Global Financial Crisis, a turning point in online trade, some of the more traditional retailers were slow to accept the inevitable – and even slower to invest.

This is particularly true in Australia which seemed somewhat shielded from the financial crisis sweeping the world – why invest in digital innovation when the local economy seemed to be so robust? Fast forward to today, where we can look back with the benefit of hindsight, and it now seems obvious how the market was going to change. Innovation overseas would bring new waves of competition and the data driven marketing techniques that were reshaping the communications and media industries would forever alter the way that retailers connected with their customers. The Australian retail marketplace would be, and still is, going through a digital transformation.

For the last six years The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association [AIMIA] in partnership with Australian Centre for Retail Studies at Monash University, have been asking Australia’s retail professionals how they see this changing landscape. The report, of which I am this year’s Chairman, combines qualitative interviews and a quantitative survey to deliver deep insights into the state of Australia’s digital retail landscape. The 2014 release of the research report, downloadable here, reveals some of the clearest insights thus far.

It’s not omnichannel, it’s just retail

One of the strongest sentiments to come out of the report this year was the negative perception of some of the language that permeates the digital marketing space and the term omnichannel in particular. One retailer was anonymously quoted as saying “Omnichannel is just another term, it’s consumer expectations that have become omni if anything … Now customers expect to be able to research on their mobile, maybe even buy on the device, or at least then go to the store the next day and look at the product. There is an expectation for how retailers deliver on these channels, that is what is important – we need to to take commercial advantage of these expectations.”

Overall most retailers agreed that there was no “one size fits all” approach to retail promotion across so many digital and non-digital channels. Spending time to get the strategy right, and having clarity about what each channel was to be used for, is essential in creating optimal cross-channel experiences.

Think less about the channel and more about the experience

One critical evolution in tone that came through clearly in this year’s report was the role that digital tools and techniques play in developing a customer-focused business and leading changes in customer engagement. While no one respondent claimed to have all the answers, many were looking for ways to constantly improve.

A constant focus on the customer experience combined with the strategic use of customer data was seen as central to creating a sustained competitive advantage. Naturally, taking this approach across so many channels raises concerns around complexity. As such marketing automation was seen as the only scalable way to manage the levels of customer engagement initiatives that many firms sought to achieve.

Digital strategic importance is growing rapidly

Compared to when the AIMIA report was published in 2011 digital is now seen as “business as usual. It has become integrated part of normal business operations. And this clarity has seen it’s strategic importance grow quickly over the last 12 months. Another anonymous interviewee said “Because of the rapid growth of our [online and digital] performance we are making a material difference to our company’s overall year on year sales growth. So we’re not 50 percent of the business but contribution sales growth is significantly more than our sales as a percentage of the overall sales. For that reason we’re getting growing visibility because we’re basically helping the company grow quicker than it would otherwise… It’s about the customer, giving them great customer service and offering different service to a regular store. With digital we can provide more and more value added services, where a few years ago it might just be store locations and opening hours, now it’s personalised specials using data, just to actually help people shop and save money.”

Australian retailer are in a mature digital landscape

While e-commerce itself may still only make up a small percentage of overall sales for many retailers, the digital landscape touches every aspect of the retail marketing and branding journey. It would seem that Australia retailers are now fighting back against overseas competition by adopting digital marketing techniques and looking for new way of thinking through long term strategy, with customer experience and data and the centre.

The AIMIA Retail Research Report was conducted with many of Australia’s leading retailers and was focused on gaining insights from decision makers in the areas of e-commerce and digital marketing. The report is available for download here.

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We have big data, now we need big ideas

Big ideas

I recently attended an event that focused on Big Data insights and techniques for retailers. It was well attended and had some great speakers presenting including Myer CEO Bernie Brooks. By the end of the two hour seminar it was clear that Australian businesses have been busy investing in Big Data technology thereby ensuring they have access to a large number of data sets.  But as my taxi pulled away from the venue I felt bothered by how little was actually being achieved with that data. We have the big data, but we seem to be lacking the big Ideas to make the most of it.

One of the major constraints on what organisations achieve with big data relates to their approach to the acquisition, ownership and use of big data. Companies have their own set of objectives and as a result, are currently viewing customer data as a resource to squeeze value from. I wrote about this in an article titled “Data is not the new oil, it’s the new soil” in October 2013 for the website of Smart Data Collective. In this article I suggested that businesses view customer data to a resource akin to oil: “Oil is valuable. If you find, collect and store oil it will remain valuable. Data is a very different thing. Data is generated when people do something. It is a record of an event. That means it starts losing value almost as soon as it is generated because it ages. We can see trends and obtain insights but to get real value from data, it must be used in real time. Simply gathering and storing data is a pointless exercise.”

Many businesses are now past the point of simply gathering and storing data. They are using it, but the focus is too heavily weighted towards simply deploying  it as a marketing tool. Using customer data as a tool to better target and personalise communications is extremely important. In a fragmented media landscape it is vital to invest in this kind of marketing to remain relevant. But it is not enough.

If a company views the data as a marketing and communications asset then they will naturally try and get as much value from it as possible. But think about what will happen in the longer term. If businesses  invest in big data systems and techniques they will have to show a return on this investment. As this return on investment starts to be proven and reported shareholders will come to expect consistent and even higher returns on this type of  activity.This means more data will need to be collected and even more messages (mostly in the form of emails) will need to be sent out to drive customer behaviour. This will then produce  a vicious cycle where customers  become fatigued at best, and completely distrusting at worst.

What businesses need to do now is start to shift their perception of data. It is an asset, but it is an asset they share with their customers. The only real way of creating true long-term value from customer data is to take a step back and say “how can we use customer data to generate value for the very customers who are generating it?”, or put another way, how can a business create amazing data-driven experiences that will develop their customer relationships?

To really make the most of data companies need to work with everything they have. They need to get the most creative people working with the data scientists to ensure data is used to benefit the customer. To do this, they must have  great digital and data strategists that know how to speak the language of business, technology, creativity and customers all at once.

There is a big opportunity for businesses to become much more than the sum of all of the data-parts they collect. They need to move back towards big Ideas-which now can be underpinned by big data.

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What can LinkedIn’s updates teach us about selling software?

The sign up page of Linkedin.com is seen in Singapore

With above 300 million professionals on the platform worldwide, browsing LinkedIn is now the default way for keeping tabs on people in your professional networks. In fact, many professionals spend more time managing their LinkedIn profile than keeping their CV up to date. Recently the social network added a range of new features to their premium subscription service. Peeling back the layers of the new offering reveals something interesting about how they are building their overall value proposition. It also tells us something about the software industry in general, and the model commonly referred to as Freemium.

AS with many software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, Linkedin employ a technique called “Freemium selling”. Put simply, they offer up basic features free of charge, and then promote additional, higher value features for a cost (usually a subscription fee). However, unless you are a recruiter or professional salesperson, the difference between a free and paid account was not clear. Recently though, LinkedIn has made some improvements to their premium accounts. These are mostly focused on increasing the visibility of the account holder, deeper analytics, and access to better search and communications tools.

For LinkedIn, converting members to the premium model isn’t their only revenue stream, but the recent updates suggest it is starting to become more important. It is likely that this most recent round of updates for its premium service is the start of a process that will widen the gap between the free service and the paid one. And looking at this progression tells us something about the Freemium model itself.

For software platforms that employ the ‘Freemium’ model, one of the most important questions that they must deal with is, “what will it take for someone to become a paying customer?” By default the platform promotes two sets of value propositions: the first focuses on getting customers to sign up, using the platform and providing enough value to “lock them in”; the second focuses on getting them to part with money for additional benefit. If the distinction between the two offers is not strong enough then the conversion rate will suffer and adjustments will need to made – as is the case with LinkedIn’s recent upgrades.

One of the difficulties in dealing with this problem is that the solution changes over time. Early adopters see value in the paid model and rapidly buy in. In LinkedIn’s case, this was primarily recruiters and sales professionals. But as this market segment approaches saturation point, new features must be developed to appeal to other, less obvious, audiences.

An important part of this process is ensuring that the platform doesn’t go stale. Ongoing innovation and incremental product releases ensure that users don’t start to suffer from interface fatigue. On the other hand, having too many changes or interface updates that are too big a jump can cause user backlash, as Facebook has had to deal with many times. There is a delicate balance that must be struck.

Overall the Freemium model is one that requires constant user analysis and ongoing innovation. As the term Software-as-a-Service suggests, customers are being delivered a service that must be managed and matured to ensure it remains relevant – and that requires constant attention to developments that drive both customer acquisition and the conversion of existing customers to the premium service.

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How to win at digital transformation

The same economic and technological changes which expose weaknesses in existing business models also pose huge opportunities for those willing to embrace change and respond to evolving market demands. Joseph Schumpeter, a famous American economist, referred to this process as “creative destruction”. But being on the winning side of this process is rarely a simple matter.

The  disruption that the proliferation of online technologies is having on business activities such as marketing, communications and customer interaction and a wide range of business models is a prime example of the forces of creative destruction at work. Many businesses have moved quickly to become ‘digital leaders’ and are already benefitting from this process. Others are still coming to terms with what this change means for their business.

But the time for wondering if digital transformation is right for your organisation is now over. In July this year online retail giant Amazon.com turns 20 years old. The significance of this milestone is that e-commerce, and the digital space in general, is now firmly entrenched in the global economy. It is no longer a question “if” your business becomes digital but “how”. Digital transformation is now a matter of survival.

This is obviously true for industry sectors such as retail, where the move to the online space is plain for all to see. But it equally true for other sectors. We are relentlessly heading to a world where everything that can be digitised, will be digitised. The development and adoption of technologies such as 3D printing and further advancement in mobile technology will further increase the pace of change.

So let’s look at what is needed to become a leading digital enterprise. 

Develop a healthy obsession with your customer

Today’s customers are more informed and more empowered now than any other time in history. The rapid uptake of online social media, has done much more than just give people new tools for communicating. It has become the catalyst for rising customer expectations. This is pushing business to make improvement across all their channels to market as their customers are now expecting a seamless brand experience across all touch-points.

Spending time designing you customer experience, all the way from generating awareness through to the actual service and post-service stages, is a critical first step. It is easy to say “we want a unique customer experience” but operationalising that takes real effort and leadership support. Thinking through the challenges of securing and respecting your customer’s data is vital as trust can be eroded very quickly if customer data is misused. In this regard it is important to continually look at the information that your interactions with customers is giving you, and use it to refine the customer journey. 

A paper called “The seven habits of highly effective digital enterprises”, published by McKinsey&Company in May this year, highlighted Zappos as a market leading example of this customer focused obsession. The paper said that “[t]his mind-set is what enables companies to go beyond what’s normal and into the extraordinary. If online retailer Zappos is out of stock on a product, it will help you find the item from a competitor. Little wonder that 75 percent of its orders come from repeat customers.”

Be unreasonably demanding

Big aspirations and a clear vision of what you wish to achieve is essential precursor to developing a digital strategy that will compete and win in today’s landscape. Leadership teams need to become comfortable with new team structures and think differently about how their business needs to operate. Setting unreasonable targets and being overly aspirational is a way of “shocking” your organisation out of complacency. As the McKinsey report noted it “…is a way to jar an organisation into seeing digital as a business that creates value, not as a channel that drives activities… if your targets aren’t making the majority of your company feel nervous, you probably aren’t aiming high enough.”

The McKinsey report goes on to highlight case studies: “Netflix was another brand with an unreasonably aspirational vision. It had built a successful online DVD rental business, but leadership saw that the future of the industry would be in video streaming, not physical media. The management team saw how quickly broadband technology was evolving and made a strategic bet that placed it at the forefront of a surge in real-time entertainment. As the video-streaming market took off, Netflix quickly captured nearly a third of downstream video traffic. By the end of 2013, Netflix had more than 40 million streaming subscribers.”

Start small and move quickly

When it comes to digital transformation, strategy and planning are important, but just so is experimentation and simply “getting on with it”. The digital space moves very quickly so trying things out and allowing teams to feel comfortable with “failing fast” can be a highly efficient way transforming your business. Adopting methods such as agile development allows digital teams to respond to changing environments and unpredictable situations quickly. 

When digitising processes, such as rolling out a marketing automation programme, choosing the toolset is important but simply getting started with it is the best way of creating success. Start with small projects and build on successes quickly along a path toward your vision. Your higher activity level the more data will be generated, data that will enable your organisation to make better decisions. 

The McKinsey report highlighted P&G as a leader in this space: “P&G, for example, created a single analytics portal, called the Decision Cockpit, which provides up-to-date sales data across brands, products, and regions to more than 50,000 employees globally.” This focus on making data visible allows the organisation to make decisions, and define projects more quickly.

The three guidelines discussed above all point to a common theme. Winning at digital transformation is not simply about the technology adopted, but rather how leaderships teams communicate and execute the transformation. And this leadership is the most critical element in determining if a digital transformation project is going to be a success.

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Digital innovation in retail


The way we shop has changed forever. E-commerce sales continue to climb. A 2013 Forrester report stated that Australian e-commerce sales in 2010 were worth $27 billion and by the end of 2013 had jumped to more than $37 billion.

Over the past few years, major retailers overseas saw strong currencies and economies as an opportunity to expand into the Australian and New Zealand markets. These changes in consumer behaviour and competitive landscape took many local retailers by surprise. Many have been struggling to combat and capitalise on the shift towards online purchases.

This year that is all changing. Australian retailers, big and small, have stepped up their level of investment in online sales. The beauty and fashion industries, in particular, have come under intense competitive pressure and, as a result, they are leading the charge in maturing the e-commerce landscape in this part of the world.

The digital world can be confusing. There is an endless list of software products to invest in and getting the timing and combination right can have a huge impact on the return on investment. So if your business is one of the many retail organisations that is about to make a significant investment in e-commerce, it is worth identifying the most important elements you need to think about.


The digital marketing space is awash with software vendors touting amazing products. Most are effective if used in the right way, but the trick is to know which ones are right for your business and how to prioritise and organise your investment “schedule”. And that is all about ensuring your digital strategy is aligned to your business objectives, your customers’ expectations, and where your business sits on the “digital maturity curve”.

An article entitled “The Four Types of Digital Marketer” published in Strategy + Business highlighted four types of digital marketing companies and described them in the following way:

“Leaders are a small but growing group of companies, including Nike, Burberry, 3M, Apple, L.L. Bean, and Coca-Cola, that have mastered the two main capabilities involved in maintaining an online presence: insights and analysis on the one hand, and platforms and activation on the other.

“Scholars are skilled at consumer insights and analytics; some of them, for example, have developed sophisticated forms of market segmentation based on deep insights about the way people make purchases. But they have not yet converted these insights and analyses into profitable action.

“Pioneers have established a robust presence in digital media, with viable forms of electronic commerce, their own media platforms, or other kinds of web, mobile phone, or app-based services. But these activation platforms are not sufficiently customer-centric; they are not grounded in insights about their customer base and therefore they do not engage consumers as well as they might.

Novices are still coming up to speed in the practices of digital marketing, and (in many cases) discovering which facets benefit them and which may not.”

Once you have determined where your business sits on the digital maturity curve, you need to determine where to go from there. A Booz & Company report, entitled How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Model identified three categories of digital strategy:

DIGITAL BRANDERS are often consumer products companies, retailers or other marketers that focus on building brand equity and deeper consumer engagement. These companies are moving away from traditional linear advertising and investing in digital experiences that connect with their customers. They are focused on recruiting new consumers to the brand, increasing advocacy and driving loyalty.

DEMAND GENERATORS, such as retailers, play the numbers game. They are focused on driving traffic and converting leads in the fewest steps possible. To quote the report, ‘All elements of the digital marketing strategy – website design, search engine optimisation, mobile connected apps, and engagement in social communities – are tailored to boost sales and increase loyalty.’

PRODUCT INNOVATORS use digital marketing to help identify, develop, and roll out new digital products and services. Booz explained that ‘. . . these companies employ digital interactions with consumers primarily to rapidly gather insights that can help shape the innovation pipeline’.”

Your digital strategy is about understanding and designing the entire digital customer experience journey. So your digital “plan” should be a well-thought-through expression of your customer experience strategy.


 A database of active, qualified leads and customers is a vital strategic asset for an online retailer. It gives you the options and insights necessary to design effective communications.

The key is to make sure the database entries, or “leads”, are qualified. Buying a list won’t work. Make sure you have a separate marketing program designed to grow your database. The amount you invest in this area should be constantly assessed and aligned to the value the database is generating. The more data you have about the contacts, the better qualified they will be and more they will worth to you. Invest wisely and communicate strategically.


Conversion rate optimisation is a key component of any digital program. You need to have people on your team who can look at sets of data, assess them against best practice and identify opportunities to do better.

Conversion rate optimisation focuses on the conversion performance of all your digital touch-points with potential consumers including email open rates, content marketing engagement rates, search marketing performance and e-commerce website performance. It then seeks to optimise the path to purchase.

The trick is to test and refine in a scientific and disciplined way – develop a hypothesis, predict the results, test, and report the findings to the entire digital team to ensure insights can be adapted to others areas.


Content marketing is a buzzword, gathering momentum because of the results it is getting. A report published in 2012 by Kapost showed that per dollar spent, content marketing produced three times more leads than paid search. And it cost less than paid search: 31 per cent less for small- and mid-sized companies and 41 per cent less for large companies.

The proliferation of social media platforms has both added complexity and changed the focus for marketers. Content marketing is less about campaigns and more about a constant flow of engaging content – although it should always support campaign activity.

Content marketing is about tailoring messages to suit specific segments and designing the content to get as much reach as possible.

The content marketing initiatives within your organisation will most probably become the engine room for all marketing activity. It will be the program that determines focus and directs activity.


An accurate marketing automation program ensures all of your digital marketing activity operates at maximum efficiency and that all the elements link together coherently.

A report published in July 2012 by Aberdeen Group called Marketing Lead Management Report showed that companies using marketing automation see 53 per cent higher conversion rates than non-users, and achieved an annualised revenue growth rate 3.1 per cent higher than non-users.

Marketing automation is more than a sophisticated email delivery platform. It is a combination of the tools, processes and resources needed to ensure that you can capitalise on opportunities wherever they arise.

E-commerce is quickly moving out of the trial and experiment stages and becoming a central part of the growth plans for many businesses. My prediction is that 2014 will be seen as the year that Australian retailers stopped fighting digital disruption and started using technology to make their mark on the world.

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The Wu-Tang effect – Innovation in the entertainment industry


Image source: WuTang Clan Twitter account

Few industries have experienced more disruption from the advancement in digital technology than the entertainment industry. From the moment the peer-to-peer music sharing service Napster came onto the scene in 1999 the writing was on the wall for the existing business models of the music, film and television industries.

They initially resisted the change but are now succumbing to the impact of digital innovation. But not all innovation potentially impacting this industry is purely digital.
Just recently I read about the model that USA based hip-hop band the WU-Tang Clan are about to try out. They have decided to combat the impact arising from the ability to instantly share music brought about by digital advances by making and releasing just one copy of their new album “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin”. What on earth they are thinking? Let’s explore.

The story starts with the Wu-Tang Clan commissioning a one-of-a-kind engraved silver-and-nickel box by British-Moroccan artist Yahya. The box will soon encase the one and only copy of the new album the band has been creating in secret for the last two years. One of the members of the band, RZA, recently said, “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the sceptre of an Egyptian king.”

At first sight this appears to be a monumental mistake. Even if they sell the album for a million dollars or even two this still wouldn’t match what they made from their earlier album sales. But the true genius is in what they plan to do before the album is sold. The album is going to go on a world tour, focused on around the types of organisations that normally show high profile artworks; museums and galleries. And like the exhibits that normally are the start of the show at these public buildings there will be a price to attend and listen to the “artwork” – after going through a heavy security screening of course.

Once the album has finished its “tour” then it will be put up for sale. Assuming the album is not leaked it is likely that youth culture focused brands would be the first in line to buy the album – which is likely fetch millions of dollars. And once it has been purchased the owner is free to do what they want with it. In other words the plan is to create a unique, exclusive and valuable music “property”.

There are risks to this strategy. As album’s main producer “Cilvaringz” put it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.” But it is a bold and courageous experiment in inventing a new way for music to find value. As Cilvaringz said “I know it sounds crazy, it might totally flop, and we might be completely ridiculed. But the essence and core of our ideas is to inspire creation and originality and debate, and save the music album from dying.”

What I like most about the great Wu-Tang experiment is the fact they have clearly spent time thinking about how they can reframe what music is to their customers. It is a fact that music is social and something to be shared. But it is also a source of excitement – a special experience – especially in that moment when you hear a tune that grabs you for the very first time. What Wu-Tang Clan are trying to do is create a lot of “first times”, while also positioning their music as a work of art. They are reengineering the music listener’s customer experience.

Will it work? I don’t know. But I applaud the band for being brave in the face of an industry confronted with dramatic change. It is encouraging to see radical new ideas being tested in the market. That’s true innovation.

Now it’s up to the rest of the entertainment industry to step outside of its old world paradigms and take on the challenge to be truly innovative.

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Innovation in sport – understanding the Fan Experience


Few businesses get the passionate brand engagement that sporting organisations enjoy. In fact, many businesses would give their proverbial right arm to have available the intensity of fan engagement, rich sources of content and “pulling power” of sporting organisations.

So why is it that many sporting organisations are struggling financially?

Sporting organisations, ranging from clubs to high profile teams and venues ,are currently undergoing a period of rapid evolution and pressure to change the way they do things. This has become most pronounced for organisations who govern sports at a national level. As the media landscape has become increasingly competitive and fragmented many of the traditional sponsorship opportunities available to sport have become more difficult. And sponsors are now demanding much more for their sponsorship dollars than ever before. Brand exposure alone is no longer enough to warrant long term sponsorship.

To take full advantage of their significant brand assets and to stay relevant and exciting, sporting businesses need to think and act differently. The more visionary sporting bodies-and there is a number of them – now recognise that digital innovation is both their biggest challenge, and their greatest opportunity.

But how does an organisation go about ‘digital innovation’? Most sporting organisations are filled with very talented people who have a passion for the sport they represent. But this can create it’s own set of challenges. When an organisation has spent much of its time focusing on high performance athletes and major sporting events, and has never really had to battle to capture the attention of the public, then seeing the world through the customers’ eyes (in this case that of the fan base) can be difficult to do.

At Working Three we are committed to helping sports organisations drive systemic change. We usually have three key objectives in mind at the outset: to help find new opportunities for revenue; to provide better value for sponsors; and last but not least, to provide better experiences for customers.

By beginning with customer experience disciplines, and using the Fan Experience Framework that we have developed through our work with many sporting bodies, we can help them achieve these objectives.

So if you are involved in a sporting organisation what can you do? Begin with customer insights. What do you already know about your customers? What pockets of data do you have that would allow you to develop a deeper understanding of the people in your fan base? It’s often surprising how much data your company has available. Use that as a basis for building a map of the customer experience. Even at this early stage opportunities for doing things differently become clear.This should be mapped against key business objectives to provide focus for your effort.

Next find out what your fans really want. Fans are often willing to pay for more value. The trick is finding what that value proposition really is. It might be access to content and other assets that have already been created, but don’t assume that. There are other models and many opportunities for generating revenue so don’t let current thinking hold you back. Remember, you are designing a service so allow yourself the freedom to make that service as good as it can possibly be.

Validated opportunities can then be used to design an optimal fan experience and innovation roadmap. Delivering this this may require organisational change and that typically is not easy. In fact stakeholder management issues can be one of the main factors that inhibits sporting organisations from rapidly evolving. So get your people involved. Take them on the journey and spend time listening to their ideas. And ask your advisor to help you build a “stakeholder management plan” that helps you anticipate and navigate the challenges you are likely to face.

My experience tells me that the most successful organisations are those avoid the temptation to rush the innovation process. Spend time allowing everyone to come up to speed. Develop a programme that will allow your organisation to get the most out of fan engagement and smooth out the issues that can arise from focusing too heavily on a single major event. Fan experience innovation is about finding out what your ‘customer’ needs, and is willing to pay for every day – not just the day of the event.

From music to movies and television, the entertainment world has been irreversibly altered by the rapid evolution of digital technologies. Sports is one of the oldest forms of entertainment and it too is part of this changing landscape. But unlike many other industries, sport has a culture and passion associated with it that makes it uniquely positioned to benefit from these changes. The key to unlocking this gain is seeing the world through the eyes of the most important participant – the fan.

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Recognise a broken customer experience and do something about it

As a consultant I sometimes spend more than a reasonable amount of time on planes. Recently I travelled between New Zealand and Australia several times over the course of one week. During one of my many visits to an airline lounge I met the chief executive of an Australian retailer. He asked me what I did for a living. And I explained that our company is a customer experience and digital innovation consultancy. His response was as follows: “I hear people talking about customer experience a lot but don’t businesses already know everything about their customers? Isn’t the experience obvious?”

He had a point. It should be obvious. But in fact many companies have become so disconnected from their customer base that delivering a wonderful customer experience is a very hard thing to do – or even worse very low on their priority list.

It shouldn’t be. A recent report commissioned and published by customer experience software vendor SDL found that “60 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for a product if the brand delivered a positive customer experience.” Another report by Watermark Consulting, released in April last year, showed that “for the 6-year period from 2007 to 2012, Customer Experience Leaders… outperformed the broader market, generating a total return that was three times higher on average than the S&P 500 Index.”

Clearly there is a strong business case for optimising the customer experience across a multitude of touch points. There is always something that can be done to improve the customer experience from a process perspective but currently the big wins are coming from significant innovation projects in the digital space – where new and exciting touch points can be taken to market quickly, and at scale.

Innovation can be a tricky beast to tame, especially in the digital space. It’s far too easy to get excited about ideas early on and jump into a project without understanding what impact it may have. The real trick is to find the areas of your customer’s journey that are beginning to break down and focus on innovating around these areas.

So how do you know if your organisation has a need to commence a customer experience innovation project?

There are a few key indicators that would suggest that your organisation is need of rethinking its customers’ experiences.

Customers are complaining
It can’t be much more obvious than this. If customers are complaining about an issue or some aspect of a process then there is an opportunity to innovate. The trick is to treat complaints as opportunities and use the information they generate. And go beyond industry norms. Just because your Net Promoter Score is on par with other companies in your industry it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be greatly increased with the right focus. Why not try and be an outlier than average?

Internal silos creating communication “black holes”
When one department isn’t speaking to another in your organisation the end result can frequently be a broken customer experience. Take a critical look at the way your organisation operates. Has there been years of organic growth within company silos? If so then there is a good chance that you may be creating communication “black-holes”.

Inconsistency across channels
How many customer facing channels does your business manage? Retailers for example may have stores, e-commerce sites and partnerships with third party retailers. Service providers may have their core service, a customer service business function, digital value adds and other key touch points. If there is any inconsistency in the way that customers are treated and managed across these touch points then the typical journey will not be a smooth one.

Social media is viewed as risky
Social media is not right for every organisation but if your company is a consumer facing one there is very good chance it will have or be having an impact. Think about how social media engagements are viewed in your organisation. If it is seen as too much of a risk because of “what people will say” then you have to step back and think about why that is and what you can do to fix the overall experience.

Internal KPI’s are not linked to customer satisfaction
Measurement and accountability create focus. Are the key leaders in your organisation measured against a customer satisfaction metric? If not you are probably developing issues for the way that customer interact with your brand.

Now that you have identified within your organisation the need to address customer experience , what do you do next? Here’s my suggested list.

Use data to develop a 360º view of your customers
The world is awash with data. Social media, website interactions, in-store behaviours, email opens, product usage and every touchpoint in-between is generating data that you can use to understand your customers from every angle. The key is to spend time knowing exactly which data points are important to the relationship between you and your customers – then collect and use them effectively.

To do this marketing, customer service and IT must work together with shared goals. And data collection and usage is not just about sending out marketing messages. It is about creating real value for the customer. Use it wisely to generate deep relationships with your customers.

Focus on behaviours first – then transactions
When you are trying to redesign your customers’ journey it is essential to think about every touchpoint your customers will interact with – and not just the ones that are generating revenue. Taking this broad, holistic view of the world is essential to viewing people as more than simply the sources of a financial transaction. To create a fantastic customer experience you need to think about the behaviours that people are currently exhibiting at each touchpoint, and the behaviours you want your customer to exhibit.

Break down internal silos
This point is important, and it won’t be the last time I comment on it. Make sure that internal silos are working together well and, in particular, sharing data and insights. This will ensure customers have a constant and reliable experience. One of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction is to ensure you meet expectations consistently.

Map the CX
A very important item on my list is ensuring that you have mapped out the entire customer journey. This means looking at the stages your customers go through while interacting with your brand, mapping out and understanding what your customers are thinking and feeling at each touch point. This map will serve as your guide to help identify and map each and every touch point. This, in turn, allows you to begin to design an innovation pathway.

Use human centred design processes to innovate
One you have mapped and understood the customer experience and decided where you want to take it you need to start designing innovations. Using design thinking or service design methodologies you can explore opportunities and build out concepts into prototypes – always keeping the customer at the centre of what you are trying to achieve.

To quote Kerry Bodine from Forrester “Unlike customer experience firms that take an approach akin to management consulting, service design agencies leverage human-centered design practices like ethnographic research, co-creation, and low-fidelity prototyping. The combination of these practices enables service design agencies to more quickly — and cheaply — identify the real customer and corporate problems that they need to address and develop effective solutions. These activities also serve as potent communication vehicles, exposing assumptions and marshalling early buy-in from employees and stakeholders.”

I didn’t explain all of this to the man I met in the airline lounge. I didn’t need to. All I had to say was “Would you pay more to fly on your favourite airline?”. That started him talking about why he loved flying with Virgin and how he would pay a extra for the privilege. I could almost hear the penny drop when he realised what value a well thought through customer experience could deliver.

And now you now know what to look for in your organisation.

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How Qantas can become a digital leader


Qantas has had a lot of press recently, and for all the wrong reasons. When the Treasurer signalled that the Government sees Qantas as so entwined into the Australian economy that it has become “too big to fail” the airline’s mounting debt problems became an issue for the Australian taxpayer. The question many people are now starting to ask is; what will happen if the airline does get a bail out? Could it ever regain its market leading position?

As I write this article I’m sitting in a Qantas lounge waiting for my plane to commence boarding and with the benefit of this pleasant environment here is what occurs to me.

Qantas has an amazing asset in its brand. It is one that everyone in its home country and many people around the world identify as uniquely Australian. It is both grand and powerful. But it feels like it is part of the 20th, not the 21st century.

A good example of this is the way that Qantas have handled social media over the last few years.
As many brands have discovered social media can be a minefield. Qantas learned this when it set up its Twitter and Facebook accounts with a customer service focus. One can only assume they had seen case studies from around the world that demonstrated the ability of brands to monitor social media for mentions of their name then jump in and address customer issues and complaints. For Qantas things went wrong fairly quickly. The negative interactions got all the attention and people who complained got sorted out quickly. Indeed this happened to me. I was on a delayed flight, complained on Twitter and several minutes later got an upgrade.

Qantas had created a perverse incentive. The loudest complainers got the most attention, incentivising ever higher level of complaints. Fast forward today and look at the Qantas “Follow Us” page . You can now see they are using even more social media channels – but in a much more controlled and broadcast focussed way.

Notwithstanding this progress the way that Qantas has dealt with emerging technologies and how its customers interact with its brand across all digital touch points makes it appear out of touch and slow to respond. The company has an extensive digital network of websites, apps and online promotions but they all feel like disconnected projects, detached from the needs of the customer. As a digital observer, commentator and strategist, it looks to me like Qantas has taken outdated customer engagement thinking and applied it to its online presence.

Qantas is not alone in this approach. Many businesses are now having to deal with the fact that being “customer-centric” in the highly connected, always on, social media driven world means something quite different than it did before everyone had a smart phone in their pocket.
But most of those businesses don’t have the powerful brand that Qantas does.

That differentiator gives Qantas an exciting opportunity. With a robust digital strategy that focuses on the entire customer experience it has the ability to not only match what some other airlines are doing but to leapfrog them and develop a world leading approach to customer engagement.

In particular Qantas has an asset that it could be using to change the way that consumers interact with them online – their frequent fliers loyalty programme.

When Qantas experimented with social media and it went wrong the company reverted to a command and control model. Instead it should have stepped back and asked itself, “if we have been so effective at incentivising behaviours we don’t want , what could it mean for us if we started incentivising the behaviours we do want”.

You could imagine a world where Qantas invites you to connect your social media accounts to your Frequent Flyer membership. Once you do Qantas then starts to reward you for positive interactions online. Engage with an online campaign and earn couple of air-points. Download the new Qantas app and get a few more air-points. Actively promote their pages or offers and get even more air-points. Become an influential referrer and get some status credits. You could even imagine a time where someone, who doesn’t necessary fly that often but is graded as ‘highly influential’ because of their impact on the purchasing decisions of other customers, gets the First Class treatment when they finally do decide to fly with Qantas.

There is complexity to rolling out a programme like this – but it can be done. My company, Working Three, is doing just that for a number of brands. We call it Customer Royalty and it focuses on the idea that consumer advocacy is not random and chaotic – it can be managed and developed as programme.

The rapid adoption of online communications platforms and online tools has presented a range of challenges for large brands. But it is also opening up a world of possibilities and allowing old business models to be rethought.

While managing advocacy and customer engagement is not the fix- all solution to Qantas’ woes the airline is one of those few brands with the ability to do the unthinkable. It can redirect a proportion of it’s massive marketing budget to focus on incentivising and interacting with its customers – and leave its competitors scrambling to catch up.

Image source http://www.youtravel.com.au/

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Social-Business Transformation


On the 18th and 19th of February a number of the world’s best social media and digital strategy thinkers met at the Recital Centre in Melbourne for the first “Social Business” event. The keynote speaker was Brian Solis, principal of USA based Altimeter Group, futurist and the author of three books including “The End of Business as Usual”. In social media circles he has become something of a prophet.

I spoke to Brian the week before to get his views on how and why social media is having such a dramatic impact on the way that businesses are evolving.

Our discussion centred around how businesses are dealing with managing the changes in communication that social media has brought, and the economics of relationships at scale – a fundamental issue in today’s environment. This is not a technology issue. To quote Brian, it revolves instead around the fact that society is beginning to “rethink the nature of the transaction”. All transactions involve the trading of data and unless every party walks away from this trading with a sense of value the whole engine will stop working.

The mind sets of two broad groups of consumers are shaping the evolution of the nature of transactions. The first group is the “Pre-Digital Lifestyle” group. This encompasses Baby-Boomers and much of the Gen-X segment. This group (including myself) grew up in world before the internet and the ubiquity of smart phones. Their world view is one where privacy is a right and public notoriety is earned. To many in this group the term “data” arouses feelings of concern and even paranoia.

Then we have the “Post-Digital Lifestyle” group. This group comprises most of the world’s population – Gen-Y and everyone born after this generation. This group has only experienced a world driven by the internet, connectivity and social media. These “always on” people know that their data has value and take a dim view of brands that don’t respect that fact. To them data is currency-something to be traded.

The “Post-Digital Lifestyle” group are empowered with information like no other in history. They don’t want a to join organisations and are progressively moving through the ranks of society. They are looking for short-cuts. Their default setting is to think “I don’t care if it has always been done this way – I think it can be done better”.

This may sound arrogant and confirm the views of those who believe that “the younger generation doesn’t know how the world works”. It is nonetheless the truth and businesses need to know how to deal with this thinking, both internally and from a customer facing perspective. Dated processes and a centralised command and control mentality won’t work. The “Post-Digital Lifestyle” group are looking to be empowered. And increasingly the “Pre-Digital Lifestyle” group are now coming along for the ride.

Businesses need to build a culture that is focused on empowering their stakeholders through their brand. They need to be facilitating this change in mindset. They must focus less on control and more on managing relationships. They need to decouple themselves from the use of technology for its own sake and start deploying technology to become more human. They need to stop thinking about data as something to be collected and mined – and treat it instead as a private asset that can unlocked to provide value for your customers – if they give permission.

The world continues to evolve and businesses must strive to keep up with the pace of change. They should bear in mind a comment Brian Solis made at the outset of our discussion : “As we have become more digital we have also become more human”.

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Digital marketing models and customer experience.


The ever-expanding digital landscape is continuing to alter consumers’ behaviours and disrupt a broad range of industries. Some, such as retail and consumer products, are being particularly affected. Today’s customers are expecting a lot from the brands they engage with. As a recent Booz & Company report, entitled How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Model, explain it this way: “Consumers today expect to browse, research, solicit feedback, evaluate, and push the “buy” button at their own pace, and at the time and place—and via the platform—of their choosing. Consumers also continue to engage with brands online after a purchase and to share experiences with one another.”  

Those of us involved in marketing and dealing with the complexity of digital advertising and customer engagement experience the environment Booz describe every day.

Although there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to digital marketing  a limited number of  models are now emerging and becoming more widely accepted. The Booz  report  identified four models; Digital Branding, Demand Generators, Product Innovators and Customer Experience Designers. I describe and discuss these models below and draw some conclusions for marketers.

Digital Branders are often consumer products companies, retailers or other marketers that focus on building brand equity and deeper consumer engagement. These companies are moving away from traditional linear advertising and investing in digital experiences that connect with their customers. They are focused on recruiting new consumers to the brand, increasing advocacy and driving loyalty.

Demand Generators, such as retailers, play the numbers game. They are focused on driving traffic and converting leads in the fewest steps possible. To quote the report again, “All elements of the digital marketing strategy—website design, search engine optimisation, mobile connected apps, and engagement in social communities—are tailored to boost sales and increase loyalty. Although Demand Generators also need to leverage content to drive engagement, they are more focused on driving volume and efficiency…”

Product Innovators are organisations who use digital marketing to help identify, develop, and roll out new digital products and services. Booz explain that “…these companies employ digital interactions with consumers primarily to rapidly gather insights that can help shape the innovation pipeline.”

The fourth and final model Booz identify is Customer Experience Designers. The report states that these companies focus on “reinventing how they interact with customers, and wowing them at multiple touch points; these companies hope to create an ongoing dialogue and build a loyal customer base.”

I agree with the overall premise of the report that the digitally influenced  consumer environment is leading to the emergence of new digital marketing models – and I like the first three models they describe although they are not necessarily mutually exclusive models. For instance a “digital brander” could also choose to adopt the approach of a “product innovator” in its marketing strategy.

But I would argue that “customer experience design” is not a fourth model but rather a discipline that should be applied across all three digital marketing models. It creates the focus for the digital interactions involved in implementing these models.

For example, using the Booz  model classification a large retail client that my company is working with would be classified as a Digital Brander. However we are using customer experience frameworks and data points to mature and evolve their activity – across mobile, e-commerce, social and in-store.

The fact is that online marketing needs to be relevant, timely and, most importantly, derived from a position directed at the value to the customer. Brands can no longer rely on interruption marketing. They must focus on value creation. They need to develop experiences and messages that connect with their customers. Going one step further and delivering valuable experiences creates  a sustainable dialogue, and ultimately costs savings.  Brands who adopt this approach are thinking beyond “spray and pray” marketing techniques and see customers as more than just database entries.

Customer experience disciplines allow brands to understand the “jobs to be done” – what their customers are trying to achieve – and innovate around that. All the best brands relentlessly focus on the needs of their customers in this way. Understand what they are really trying to do and provide a solution. That is what allows products like the iPod to come into existence.

So as you develop your marketing plans for 2014, identify your marketing model, define your objectives and then take a disciplined approach to using customer experience techniques to carve out your unique position in the market. Listen, learn, innovate and succeed.

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Customer Experience predictions for 2014


Knowing where your customers are and how to keep them happy in a low cost way has always been a challenge for business. As social media, smart phone apps and other digital technologies have moved into common usage, businesses have suddenly been swamped with an influx of customer and behavioural data. Suddenly knowing where your customers are and what they are doing is not the biggest problem. It’s now time to do something with all of the data that has been collected. Designing the “keep them happy” stage has become a major focus for many businesses.

This is why an innovative approach to customer experience strategy has become so valuable. With so many of the customer touch points becoming digital, understanding how these fit together is vital. So for those of you who are looking at your customer experience let’s explore what areas you should have on your radar for 2014.

Social media will splinter into highly specialised areas

Over the last few years most businesses have dabbled with some form of social media or another with varying levels of success. In general social media channels have been used for marketing (mostly unsuccessfully) and dealing with customer service issues (far more successfully) and distribution channels for content marketing (which is seeing positive results and maturing quickly).

In 2013, roles such as community management, social customer service, content marketing manager, social data analyst and social app developer rose to prominence. Next year these will become far more commonplace. Social media will become more than a place to simply tell your story – it will be seen as the platform to deliver a range of high value services.

Loyalty programmes will become “social”

Traditional loyalty programmes have always focused on incentivising repeat transactions. As technology has evolved, the plastic loyalty card of old has been replaced with interactive smartphone apps – now it is possible to use the same “points” mechanisms to incentivise other behaviours. Why would you not get your customers to buy the new widget AND tell all of their Facebook friends about it?

Consumer data will start to take centre stage

There is a vast amount of data being created by the average consumer. We generate data every time we use our credit card, send an email, click like on Facebook, use our smart phone or search for some thing on Google. Currently, most of this data is invisible to us. Next year there will be a lot of focus around how this data is released from the gigantic data centres and used by the very people who create it – us! Your data is about to become a new and highly valuable utility.

The smart companies will “get it”

Forrester Research not so long ago said that we have exited out of the information age and are now in the “Age of the Customer” – where commercial success comes from empowering and engaging with customers. The world’s smartest companies understand this and are moving fast to take advantage. They design customer experience maps, creating interactive customer experience journeys and create the innovations that empower their customer base.

The pace of technological change is continuing to speed up. The way that people communicate is becoming increasingly digital. This is not going to stop anytime soon and it is changing the way that consumers deal with the brands they purchase from. Shifts in market trends can now happen overnight. The customer truly is in charge. The only question is: how is your company going to deal with it?

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