The Signal-Man – a cautionary tale of Digital Innovation

The Signal-Man – a cautionary tale of Digital Innovation

Traditionally the Winter months are the time for ghost stories and spooky tales. I watched one of the best recently. Charles Dickens’ short story, The Signal-Man, is the story of a lonely signalman on a lonely line who foresees his own death. It’s beautifully written with a strong sense of foreboding and doom throughout.

And this got me thinking about the digital world and the nature of digital transformations. In The Signal-Man we have someone working in an outdated job in an old-fashioned industry who is killed off by technology.

My experience in IT: predictions of doom

In all of my working life I’ve been involved in major digital innovations… And, like The Signal-Man, there have been frequent premonitions of the demise of one technology to make way for another.

First Windows and Distributed computing were going to replace Mainframes and mid-range servers. But the the prediction didn’t come true. .

When I was at IBM I was involved in the global launch of their e-learning platform. Some people predicted that this was going to replace classroom training. This didn’t come true either. Although e-learning is now a multi-Billion industry worth over $300M classroom training is still alive and well.

My move into digital print (first at IBM and then at Ricoh) was heralded by dire warnings that Print was dead. In fact the global market for print is forecast to top $980 Bn this year, and, according to some Analysts is actually growing by approximately 2%.

Then Books were dead. They were going to be replaced by eBooks. They haven’t been. Last year over 687.2M printed books were sold. According to the latest figures as reported in Publishers Weekly, print book sales have grown for 4 years in a row, with growth of 1.9% 2016 to 2017.

So the big question is – why don’t the premonitions come true ?

I’m a part-time Lecturer at Abingdon and Witney College and this is exactly the question I posed my students on their Digital Information for Business Module last term.

How come that, even when organisations aspire to innovate,  the implementation of new technology can takes years – decades even?

The answer is that organisational change is complex and – in some ways – the technical implementation of new technology can be the easy bit. There are a number of key factors which determine how ready organisations are to undergo digital transformations.

And this brings me to my #BigIdea for 2018.

 Digital capability framework – the #Bigidea

For my course I created a simplified version of a Digital Capability Framework. This looks at the bigger picture, namely key factors that need to be considered when implementing digital transformations.

Importantly it looks at the barriers which stand in the way of adopting digital innovations. The framework I used was:

  • Digital technology
  • People
  • Process
  • Leadership

Digital Technology – Organisations already have digital technology and this is often a barrier in itself. How many organisations have rigid IT policies which can make implementing new and different technology difficult?

Even in organisations which are built on digital technology, implementing change can be difficult.

A great example of this is Foxtons Estate Agents. In the early 2000s they build their own in-house system (BOS) which revolutionised the way they worked and became a key factor in giving the Estate Agent a significant competitive advantage.

However, now, according to experts, the very same system that was central to their success are now “in danger of becoming the albatross around Foxtons’ neck” because it cannot easily be adapted to meet the new demands of the market.

People – As anyone who has been involved in any transformation project (not just digital) know, changing hearts and minds can be very difficult. There a number of reasons for this. Some people may feel threatened by new technology. But above all, many people simply don’t like change.

A number of years ago I was the Project Manager for the roll-out a new online training eCommerce solution in IBM UK. We had already developed the technical solution and had trialled it with selected customers across Europe. The biggest challenge we had was persuading the sales teams to support the solution. We had to spend a significant amount of time addressing their concerns, before we could move ahead with the implementation.

Process – This is often overlooked but is arguably the one thing that will make or break a digital transformation.  In many cases digital innovations can improve an existing process. For instance replacing a paper-based system with an online system can reduce errors, speed up the process, and eliminate the need to store paper documents.

However often new technology actually creates new problems – sometimes quite unforeseen.

For example, the recruitment process has been revolutionised over the past few years by the use of technology. With sites like LinkedIN and online recruitment sites like Indeed and Monster, perhaps it’s never been easier to find and apply for jobs. As a result HR Departments have been inundated with applicants. According to Collingwood average number of people who apply for a job is 118 .  I’ve been told “off the record” by recruiters that on average an organisation can expect to receive ‘hundreds’ of applicants for every job.

As a result HR Departments are increasingly having to resort to Applicant tracking systems and AI software to sort through CVs. However this in itself creates new problems. According to CIO.com  “non-traditional candidates or candidates with unusual experience that might be a very good fit could fall through the rules-based system, even one that learns and improves with ‘experience’.”

Leadership –  no digital innovation will get funding it needs to succeed long term without the support of the organisation leadership.  However this can be more difficult to obtain that you might think – and it’s not just budget.

There are many reasons with the Leadership in an Organisation may not support a new digital innovation. Maybe it’s timing – perhaps the Organisation has just been through a long and painful Transformation. Maybe it’s personalities – perhaps the CIO was the one who introduced the very IT system you are planning to replace.

Or maybe it’s the state of the Economy. For instance last year, according to a recent BBC report, the leadership of many businesses are choosing not to invest in the new technologies that would boost economic performance.

“This year also saw even big asset managers raising the alarm over how little businesses were investing in the future – preferring instead to increase payouts to shareholders. “

No baggage – the Startup advantage

Many organisations look with envy at the way Startups like Uber and AirBNB can innovate. The key thing is that startups have no baggage; they can build everything from scratch – including their corporate culture.

The interesting thing that we are seeing now is that when Startups mature they have to acquire much of the baggage of large organisations. So maybe in 5 to 10 years time these very Startups will also struggle with implementing new digital innovations. And that’s my prediction…

Predictions are not Premonitions

In Dicken’s story the poor Signal-man meets his end, just as he has foreseen.

However in the real world, the Signal-man wasn’t replaced by technology. In fact this was a key role on railways from the 1830s until the 1950s. And there are still Signal-men – the role has changed and adapted as new technology has become available.

This illustrates that Digital Innovation in the real world is rarely straightforward.

So beware of predictions about the death of types of technology and remember that they are not premonitions…

 

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world. 

#BigIdeas2018 #DigitalTransformation #DigitalInnovation

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New interactive lesson on how Marketers can get a competitive advantage from GDPR

This is my interactive lesson to explain how Marketers can get a competitive advantage from Data Protection and GDPR.  Let me know what you think !

https://www.oppia.org/embed/exploration/gMBgFrMf-jsN

GDPR – big sticks but carrots too for Marketers to create a competitive edge

GDPR – big sticks but carrots too for Marketers to create a competitive edge

Much of the focus and attention surrounding the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation  (GDPR)  has been around the big sticks that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will wield. The level of fines will be significantly increased  – up to 4% of Global Turnover or 20M euros, whichever is the higher.

Some Marketers could infer that the new regulations effectively kill off Direct Marketing..  But there are carrots too for organisations.

As Elizabeth Denham the ICO commissioner said in a speech to ICAEW in January 2017 that the new Accountability principle offers a payoff down the line: –

“not just in better legal compliance, but a competitive edge. We believe there is a real opportunity for organisations to present themselves on the basis of how they respect the privacy of individuals and over time this can play more of a role in consumer choice.”

So what I wanted to focus on in this article was how Marketers could use the new GDPR regulations to build a competitive edge.

But first – why am I qualified to talk about this ? I’m a Marketing and IT expert who has worked on implementing major direct marketing campaigns worldwide (email, print and social media) for IBM and Ricoh Europe. I have first hand experience of working under laws very similar to GDPR as I have run campaigns in Germany. The German Federal Data Protection Act (2003) is very similar to GDPR, as I’ll explain later.

Open new worlds Germany
One of the Direct Marketing campaigns I’ve run in Germany

Reforming data protection – the plus side for Marketers

It’s interesting that, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website refers to GDPR as Data Protection Reform. GDPR is an evolution of existing laws and practices which were first introduced in nearly 20 years ago – before Facebook, before Google, before Smartphones. However there’s more to it than just updating Data Protection laws for modern technology. It’s also about responsibility – changing the way organisations think about the personal data of their clients or target clients, and managing customer data sensitively and ethically.

In this context there is no difference between B2B and B2C:  we are all consumers and we will all have a right to expect Marketing organisations use our data responsibly and in accordance with the law.

If Marketers learn to respect the privacy of their consumers, and to avoid activities which are likely to annoy, offend or cause distress then these individuals are much less likely to complain to the ICO.  More importantly Marketers can develop a new relationship with their consumer and this is where Marketers could start to make a competitive advantage.

The new approach to Privacy gives more power to consumers. Consumers will have more control over their data. They’ll have stronger rights to be informed about how organisations use their personal data, and they will even be able to obtain and port their personal data for their own purposes across different services.

This really changes the relationship between the company and the consumer. Marketers will need to be much more specific and transparent about what they are using customer data for. Gaining consent from consumers to use their data will be more complex:

“consent will need to be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous, and businesses will need to be able to prove they have it if they rely on it for processing data. A pre-ticked box will not be valid consent”

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner

However the plus side is that, with imagination and planning, Marketers should have much better data about their consumers, and – crucially – consumers should be more receptive to receiving Marketing messages.

So, here is my advice for where to start to capitalise on this advantage.

 

Quick Wins

 

Make sure you comply with the existing regulation. GDPR in fact assumes that organisations are already compliant with DPA.  In particular there are a lot of straightforward things that you can do now to improve your marketing and to comply with the legislation.  These include.

Take notice of your Privacy Notice – this is a requirement of DPA and ICO have published guidelines as to what it should contain. The key thing is that the Marketing should pay special attention to what this says and make sure that it accurately covers the Marketing activities you are planning to do with customer data.

If you don’t think this is important, then this should focus your mind.

Cancer Research was recently fined £16,000 for profiling potential donors (using third parties) to assess their wealth. In their judgement the ICO highlighted that this wasn’t explained in their Privacy Notice and so it happened without the knowledge of the individuals.

Double- optin –Under the double optin an individual has to confirm their consent as follows…

How double optin works (Source: Mailchimp)

 

Although this isn’t required until GDRP comes into force, in my experience it is good practice.  When I’ve run campaigns in the German market (where they have had Double Optin laws since 2003) the nett result is that getting your customers to confirm their email address not only gives you much cleaner data but it also gives you “warm” contacts who are expecting to hear from you.

Best of all it’s actually not that difficult to do. Tools like Mailchimp already have Double Optin built in.

In practice, however the ICO is unlikely to fine you over a missing Privacy Notice or confusing Optin statements.

 

Sweat the big stuff

 

Opt out processes – make sure you have robust internal processes for Opting people out / removing them from your database(s).  Make sure that it is really easy for people to opt out.

(Note if you are a charity under the new FPS you have to respond to requests to opt out within 28 days).

Marketing Data – review what data you keep on individuals. Is itadequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed” ?  Remove any unnecessary data.  Remember that your customer data maybe held across multiple systems – e.g. CRM system, email tool.

Consent   –  are you sure that you have consent from your contacts for marketing purposes ? Can you prove it  ?

Importantly – if you use lists bought in from third party then you can’t rely on their consent.

In May 2016, the ICO fined Better for the Country Ltd for sending out 500,000 texts, urging people to support its campaign to leave the EU. It obtained the phone numbers from a third party and did not have the consent of the people it sent text messages to.

No one wants to receive one of these !

The ICO states that you are not required to automatically ‘repaper’ or refresh all existing DPA consents in preparation for the GDPR. However it has to be a good idea to play it safe. And, it’s good practice to ensure that you definitely have consent and any new consent gained needs to meet the GDPR standard on being specific, granular, clear, prominent, opt-in, properly documented and easily withdrawn.  Cleaning your marketing database will also bring additional benefits anyway.

Get ready for GDPR – and tailor your messages to your audience

 

Extended information about consumers – under GDPR consumers can be specific about what they are signing up for. So rather than just saying “Sign up to receive information” – it is better to identify what you will use their data for. This is actually a good opportunity to identify customer interests – such as:

  • sign up to receive insights about XXX
  • sign up to receive information about special offers
OCVA email notice
This explains what you’re signing up for…

The key thing here is that you deliver against your promise.  Rather than send out -a one size fits  general newsletter to your contacts, send personalised messages tailored to their stated interests. That way you are much more likely to get a better response.

Profiling of data – there is a lot in the regulations about profiling and especially automated profiling. The bottom line, for me, is to think carefully about how you will augment existing data and – if you are planning to do any tele-matching (e.g. to find out phone numbers for your customers) then make sure your customers are informed.

Data on children – anyone under 16 cannot legally consent. (You have to get the consent of their parents or guardians) So, you need to be very careful about marketing to children. If children aren’t in your target audience then at the least it’s worth asking your customers if they are over 16.

 

Having your carrot and eat it – a win win

Just as the new GDPR regulations will punish poor marketing practices, they will also reward good marketing practice.  There could well be a significant plus side to this work: a better relationship with your customers.

If they have knowingly opted in to receive your marketing communications; if they have freely told you what they are interested in; if they are comfortable with the way that you use their data – then they will trust your brand more, and they are far more likely to respond to your marketing messages.

For me, that’s the win win.

 

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world.

If you can’t beat them, join them – reaching your MVP in Social Media

If you can’t beat them, join them – reaching your MVP in Social Media

I hear a lot from senior managers of a certain age that Social Media isn’t for them. They feel that they should participate but Social Media seems to be an alien world, for the under 25s only.

So here’s my advice on how you adopt some of the practices of Growth Hacking and the Social Media world to build your own presence and take advantage of Social Media tools.

Why MVP ?

Growth hacking is the new approach to development. It’s all about fearlessly getting to market and growing as quickly as you can using whatever methods you can (some not so legal!).  Fail fast, then fail better..

The idea of an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is that you get to market with just enough so that you can launch, and establish the market opportunity.  If you are successful, you then develop as you go to meet market demand.

You can use the same approach to Social Media.  You don’t need to invest lots of money to build a presence. You can get started very cheaply and easily, and build from there. Provided you follow some key principles.

Don’t underestimate the power of Social Media

Whatever your views on Social Media, no one can deny that it has incredible power. Take, for example, the Champions League Match between Dortmund and Monaco. The match had to be rescheduled due to a bomb attack on the Dortmund bus, and there were thousands of Monaco fans needing accommodation in Dortmund.

German fans turned to Twitter to offer accommodation to Monaco fans.  What was amazing was not just that Monaco fans could find accommodation but the goodwill generated by the many shares on Social Media of Dortmund and Monaco fans together.

Don’t over-estimate Social Media

But, there’s also a lot of hype about Social Media…   Not everyone uses Social Media. And the world of Social Media – like much in the Digital World – is highly fragmented.

Im alot cooler on the internet
This T shirt says it all !

Even in the UK, where we have a relatively high level of literacy (above the European average according to Digital Economy and Society Index DESI 2017 )  there are 5.3 million people who have never used the internet. (Office of National Statistics)

There is also a dark side to the internet. Millions of accounts on the leading platforms are actually fake accounts – and nearly 77% of all internet activity in Europe is “dark social”;  untracked and off the radar. (eConsultancy, Feb 2016)

In the UK, there are 5.3 million people who have never used the internet. (Office of National Statistics)

The Key point is that it is highly unlikely that 100% of your customers and prospects will use Social Media. And it is extremely unlikely that they will use Social exclusively as a channel to find out about your company or your products.

Social Media is a channel not a strategy

So you have to include Social Media in your strategy, but don’t make Social Media the strategy. Social Media platforms provide great communication channels to your target audiences.

But remember that Social Media platforms are highly fragmented and tribalised. So my advice is:

  • Link your messages on Social Media to all of your other channels. Don’t treat each channel (and this applies as well to email newsletters, campaigns, website, PR) as a silo. Link everything together. This will probably save you work too !
  • Consistent messaging – have consistent messages which you deliver across all of your channels.
  • Adapt for different audiences: different audiences have different expectations on the various Social Media channels (and this also applies to email, web sites and so on). For instance, platforms like Snapchat and Instagram tend to be highly image orientated. LinkedIN tends to be more thoughtful and business-like.

However beware of generalisations… because…

Rules – what rules ?

You see a lot of articles setting out rules for how to maximise use of platforms like LinkedIN, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter etc.

However in reality there are no hard and fast rules. Twitter didn’t even invent the Hashtag:  end-users created this. But this is exactly how these platforms develop and innovate…

rules what rules

Social Media is still relatively new. Most of the major platforms are under 10 years old and there is a lot of change going on in this sector.Facebook owns WhatsApp

  • Facebook introducing new Business features
  • Facebook owns Instagram and is introducing new features to counter the rise of Snapchat
  • Microsoft owns LinkedIN
  • Twitter may charge for Premium membership

Content – quality not quantity

According to Marketing Week, nearly 60% of all corporate content is clutter.  To be fair this doesn’t just apply to Digital content (how many people actually read brochures ?) however Social Media makes it deceptively easy to create and distribute content, without any of the usual balances and controls you would normally apply to a printed piece, or content for your website.

Unintegrated marcomms

People say that the average life of a Tweet is 18 minutes – so, if you add it all up, the vast majority of digital content has no impact, and is quite possibly never read.

So, my advice is as follows,..

  • Quality not quantity – If it isn’t worth saying then don’t say it !!  (Be honest, who actually reads #Mondaymotivation tweets ?)
  • Be consistent – each Social network is a Communications channel… have a clearly defined objective for your messages and adapt them for each channel.
  • Cut and paste blogs for each separate channel

Play the game – when you get to your MVP you can be selective over who follows you

If you are going to participate then you need a Minimum Viable Presence – this means a credible number of followers.

  • So, for LinkedIN, this means at least 200 followers, preferable over 1000 to become an All-star Profile.
  • For Twitter and Facebook, at least 500 followers

There are a number of simple techniques to do this. Contact me to find out more.

This means that you will have to accept a lot of poor quality followers … people who have no business value… but I would say that you can be fussy about your followers once you’ve got to your MVP…

So, my advice is that, to get the best out of Social Media you need to put it in its place.  It’s a valuable communications channel, which can really add value and reach new people in new ways.

Just don’t put too much effort into using Social Media.  No more, no less.

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world.

Digital transformation in Publishing – my presentation to The Galley Club

Digital transformation in Publishing – my presentation to The Galley Club

Here’s my presentation to the Galley Club last night on Digital Transformation in the Publishing Industry.

Here’s a write up of the event by members of the Galley Club.

an excellent account of e-business transformations and what this means for publishers today

 

A great insight into the varied Digital World

 

 

The Twitter challenge – advice from our future leaders

The Twitter challenge
My slide from the challenge…

What do we want from our graduates entering the world of work ?  We want creative leaders, according to Dublin City University president Brian MacCraith.

So I was both a little bit surprised and – I’ve got to say – impressed last week by a class at Abingdon and Witney College.

Let me explain… I’m training as a part-time Lecturer at the College, and I volunteered to set an activity for a class of Higher Education level Management students.

 The Twitter challenge

The idea of the activity was to set a Strategic challenge. So I chose Twitter.  Twitter, to me, seem to be very much at a strategic crossroads. After years of growth, suddenly they have a major challenge – their user base isn’t as growing as fast as it was, and they are losing advertising revenue, partly due to the association with Donald Trump (the “Trump effect”).

So, the challenge was – if the students were running Twitter, what would they do next ?

Like a keen, newly inducted, earnest teacher I had a complete timed plan for activity ready, along with help if the students needed some inspiration…. I even had some “late breaking news” lined up to mix things up half-way through..

They didn’t need any of it..

 Creative solutions from tomorrows leaders

They weren’t daunted by the challenge. What folowed was a lively and wide-ranging dicussion covering celebrities to bots.

Some students brushed off the current woes relating to Trump with a very mature assessment that, if their model is based on growth, and they are growing then they don’t have a problem longer term.

Others came up with ideas to target new celebrities and drive growth (and improve Twitter’s image).

Others suggested focusing on driving live events through Twitter ..

 

Rising to the occasion

 

Personally I learned a lot by this activity.  Principally not to underestimate the potential of students. Give them an interesting challenge and they will rise to the occasion.

Isn’t this just what we want from our future leaders ?