Dockless bikes – digital transformation on two wheels

Dockless bikes  – digital transformation on two wheels

As I was walking along Broad Street, Oxford I saw three students cycling. One of them, a young woman, stretched out her arms and shouted spontaneously, “Isn’t it great to be alive ?”

It was a timeless scene.  The Autumn Sun was hot and bright making the ancient Oxford colleges beautiful.  Many of the students were dressed in sub-fusc – dark clothing with gowns worn on formal occasions at Oxford University.

Yet, change is coming to the cobbled streets of Oxford. A new type of bike is appearing. Brightly coloured and garish … all powered by a digital transformation.

Dockless bikes – the new digital transformation

Oxford is one of a number of UK cities which is targeted by the dockless bike companies. These range from mulitnationals like Ofo (Chinese with revenues of $3Bn) and oBike (Singapore) to local UK startup, Pony Bikes.

Why Oxford? Oxford has a long heritage of cycling. In fact our local Council has just unveiled new signs on all of the major roads into the city, proclaiming Oxford as a “cycling city”.

Convenience – a new way to rent bikes

The concept of Dockless bikes is simple. Register with one of the companies and download their App. Locate a bike, use your App to unlock it and then – the key thing – leave it where you want.

Pony pricing model

Pricing is simple too – Pony Bikes charge 50p for 30 mins.

The key thing about this business model is convenience. You can literally leave your bike anywhere within the city – unlike other schemes in the past you don’t have to find a special docking station.

The Uber of bikes ?

People have called this new scheme the “Uber of bikes “ but I believe there is much to it than that.

Like Uber, these schemes are built on data. They will know when people cycle, where they start, and where they go. This data can then be used to identify hotspots for bike demand. It’s a great example of Web 3.0 – using digital technology to move physical objects around to meet demand.

The companies involved are also heavily dependent on Venture Capital Funding.  Ofo raised nearly $600 million dollars in funding and there is a growing list of Dockless bike companies worldwide.


However these schemes create new challenges.

These companies have trucks (and also bikes with special carriers) that patrol the city picking up bikes and redistributing them where they are needed.  There have already been instances reported in our local press about people vandalising the bikes.

And you do see the odd dockless bike left in strange places ! I saw one in the middle of a field in the Oxford Green Belt….   The question is not so much why it was left there as how did they get home ?

Banner image.jpg
Double take… dockless bikes like Pony stand out !

Learning from Uber / working with the community

When I first heard about dockless bikes I was sceptical. I own a bike and I cycle as much as possible. Oxford already has thousands of bikes and lots of bikes shops so I was a little surprised to find that the local Council is supportive of dockless bikes.

However when I interviewed Oxford Council’s champion for cycling, Louise Upton, in relation to a charity bike event I’ve been working on, I got a different perspective.

The council’s stated aim is to get more people in the city cycling, In 2011 17% of commuters in Oxford cycled to work. The council have a very ambitious target of growing this to 70%.

They prefer people to be riding well-maintained bikes with working brakes and lights.  The Council have even put in place a code of conduct to ensure that the providers fit into Oxford.

Oxford already has a significant problem with abandoned bikes – typically students at the end of their years. One college alone has around 65 abandoned bikes every year. This represents nearly 15% of students in the College.

And, of course, unlike schemes like London’s Boris Bikes, these schemes cost the Council nothing.

Punctured ambitions or freewheel to success ?

So, will this new transformation stick ? There are many reasons why the dockless transformation may not take off…

Maybe there isn’t the demand. Maybe there are already too many companies competing in this space. Maybe we’ll end up with a bike share graveyard, as has been reported in the Chinese city of Xiamen.

For my part, I hope it succeeds.  The more people who cycle the better. The more cars we remove from the roads the better.

But, above all, if this innovative scheme brings more joy to more people on a sunny Autumn day in Broad Street, then it’s all good to me.

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

#Digitaltransformation #Docklessbikes #Innovation


Smart Directions: the imperative to change in the Print Industry

Smart Directions Conference May 2017 : Better Business – Invaluable Insights for Printers

The focus of this year’s Smart Directions Conference 2017 was on seeking out ideas and inspiration that can help print businesses to prosper and grow.

  • How can you diversify to strengthen your product offering?
  • How can you get the best out of your staff?
  • What benefits could the fast evolving trade printing
    sector deliver?
  • Could it be that your own body language holds the key to growing sales and profitability?

Expert speakers at the The Smart Directions Conference provided the answers to these questions and more.

Digital transformation – the imperative to change

While printers may see opportunities in the way consumers are delivering a backlash against digital advertising, they are also coming under pressure to embrace digital through their technology and processes, as well as their service offering.

In this presentation I looked at what digital transformation means for printers and how they should respond.

“Digital transformation” was explored by marketing consultant Roger Christiansen, who described digital print as a “quiet revolution” – with virtual stock, faster time to market, printing locally and on-demand services continuing to see off the threat of e-books.  Digital Printer Magazine


Roger at Smart Directions Conf 2017 4

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 ?


Revinventing the eNewsletter for the Twitter Age

Revinventing the eNewsletter for the Twitter Age

Isn’t it surprising that, in an age of instant news, AI and increasing automation the humble eNewsletter still persists as a staple of Marketing Communications ?

Newsletters have been around as long as printing – in fact historians believe the first recorded print newsletter appeared in 1538. And eNewsletters have been around as long as email – the late 1990s.

They may not be the trendiest of Marketing Tactics, but I believe eNewsletters just need a revamp to bring them into the modern age.

Here are my 6 steps to reinvent your eNewsletter…

Step 1: it starts with the strategy

Just like any other Marketing Tactic, you should be clear about what you are trying to do – i.e. Who are you trying to target, when you want to say it and what you want to say.

How you reach your target audience is another matter. So it’s important to separate the medium from the message.

Step 2: sort out your database

This may be really really obvious but to send out an eNewsletter you need – err – a database. Yet, all too often I have found that data quality can be a major problem.

In one of my email campaigns I was given a spreadsheet of 30,000 contacts – all it contained were email addresses… So we had no idea who these people were, whether or not they were the right target audience. And we didn’t know if we had their permission for us to contact them.

So, before you start your eNewsletter planning, get your data into shape. It’s always worth cleaning your data, even if it comes from your CRM system and Sales Teams. Remember that your customers will expect you to know their details. And, if you want to do any personalisation or targetting you’ll need information like firstname, Job title, company name etc…

There are a number of ways of cleaning your data, including:

  • Telephone your contacts
  • Self-cleaning – ask your contacts to confirm their information
  • Progressive profiling – use automation tools to request missing information

And the new GDPR regulation is a great method for cleaning data as well. The regulation is based on the German Double Option, in which works as follows..

  1. You ask someone for their permission to market to them – they fill out a form and provide an email address
  2. You send an email to them requesting them to confirm that they want to optin (hence the double optin)

In my experience the end result is that every email on your database has been confirmed as current and accurate.

Step 3: get creative – ditch “Sign up for our Newsletter”

When it comes to getting new contacts for your eNewsletter, then you have to be a bit creative. “Sign up for our Newsletter” is one of the least successful ways of gaining subscribers.

Designing effective Calls to Action is a special art and there’s lots of great advice available such as .

It’s best to be a specific as possible, such as:

  • Focus on the value your call to action provides: e.g. register for insights into the world of XX
  • Address the user’s questions about the call to action
  • Have a small number of distinct calls to action
  • Use scarcity to encourage action: e.g. limited offers
Great example of a sign up form from Google


Step 4: content is king / the importance of the contract

A very long time ago Permission Marketing was all the rage. The basic idea was that it was a reciprocal deal. I’ll give you my details If you tell me about stuff I’m interested in.

Nowadays the contract seems to be broken – I find a lot of digital content is one-way traffic based on your transactional or browsing behaviour.

Interestingly there are now signs that Permission Marketing could be on its way back..

“So in 2017, if you haven’t already done so, ditch the newsletter for an automated email series full of value, teaching your audience about something specific that they actually want to learn about.” Sumo 13 Email Marketing Trends to Follow in 2017: A Sumo-Sized Guide

So it’s worth taking the time to understand your target audience, and their interests. There are many studies that show that personalised content gets a much higher response rate than non-personalised.

Just – please – avoid the “one size fits all approach”

Step 5: timing is everything

The original print Newsletters were designed around print production schedules. Yet the design and concept of the vast majority of eNewsletters that I see have changed little from their print forefathers.

In a world of 24/7 instant news, does anyone actually sit by their phone or desktop eagerly anticipating your eNewsletter so they can get up to date with the latest information ?

But packaging content together does have value and I think there’s a lot to be learned from Media organisations.

For example take the BBC. They distribute their content via a multitude of channels: TV, web sites, Apps and Social Media. The key thing is that they have different types of content for different purposes, such as:

  • Breaking News alerts
  • Short articles
  • Long, in depth articles

Your content may be much simpler than the BBC, but you could still implement a hybrid approach to provide your audience with a range of content to interest and inform them. And, of course, like many Media companies you could even charge for premium content.

Step 6: expand your reach – think beyond email

It’s important to reach your audience WHERE they are. And this means you should not just rely on email, especially as,  according to the latest stats, most emails are now opened on mobile devices.  



So be careful not to design eNewsletters that look beautiful on the iMac Retina 4K displays used by your Marketing Department or Agency but which are not optimised for mobile devices.. 

71,6% of consumers will delete emails if they don’t look good on mobile, while an average of 10% will read it anyway. – Adestra “Consumer Adoption & Usage Study” (2016)

Finally don’t forget print. Print is a very powerful medium. It’s much more likely to reach its destination and more likely to be read.

In general, 80% of traditional mail is opened while 80% of emails is disregarded (just 20% is read). B2C Print

Final thoughts…take advantage of your key advantage

You know your audience and you could know their details & interests !

This is your key advantage. Use the information you have from CRM systems and other sources to create compelling content that is relevant and interesting to your audience.

So what could an eNewsletter look like in the digital age ? This is what I’d recommend..

  • Redesign your eNewsletter to make it short and sweet – like a Twitter feed
  • Send out information multiple times across multiple channels
  • Throw away the publication schedule – if you’ve got important information to get out to your audience, send it out ASAP
  • Use blogs for your news stories. That way you are not communicating key information you are building a knowledgebase (great for long term SEO)

This way your eNewsletter will be fit for modern age.

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 at John Lewis

Digital transformation at John Lewis

Yesterday I attended an excellent seminar by Andy Street, ex MD of John Lewis. Although the topic was about Ethical business, for me it was really another fascinating transformation story.

What was most interesting for me was how JLP’s ethical approach helped them to respond to, and transform their business in response to the double whammy of digital disruption and the Credit Crunch.

Back in 2007, JLP were just starting their foray into multi-channel and had purchased to  to establish their online business.  However soon after, the credit crunch hit and their revenues declined dramatically.

This required a major restructure of their business, but it was impressive to hear how they stuck to their guns and continued to focus on their future growth – their online business. They were one of the pioneers of click and collect and at a time when their competitors were reducing investments, they also opened more stores as they realised that, in order to compete in the online world, they had to have more points of presence.

The results ?

  • Online sales grew from 12% in 2008/9 to 36% in 2015/6
  • JLP has evolved from a Multichannel to an Omnichannel model: stores run as local businesses

Last, but not least, JLP’s business is still based around bricks and mortar (I look forward to the new JLP shop opening in Oxford) . It t seems to have successfully weathered the storm and come out of the digital / credit crunch stronger and fitter for the future…

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