Sunday, 5 December 2010

2010: The Year Of The Tablet

What do you want for Christmas? Well apparently thousands of us will be hoping Santa brings us a tablet computer. Last year that wasn't really an option (btw how much am I bid for a 2009 netbook?). On January 27th 2010, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs proclaimed "Netbooks aren't better at anything!" (although to be fair, Steve, most are at least pretty good at multitasking and many even support Flash). He went on, as had been widely predicted, to introduce a 'magical and revolutionary product': the iPad (not iSlate, iTab or Maclet - OK I made that one up). And the rest already looks like history. What a difference a year makes

Other tablets are already here and more are in the pipeline: e.g. Samsung Galaxy Tab, Archos 101, Blackberry PlayBook, plus offerings from Dell and HP, among others.

Apple has shipped 10 million iPads since April. Apps are selling well at around $5 each. According to a survey of 5,000 tablet users by Nielsen, 91 percent of iPad owners have downloaded an app and over half have paid for content. Early days, but looking like a success by any measure.

The rise of tablets has even offered the prospect of a new lease of life for the beleaguered Newspaper and Magazine industry, whose tough times have continued during 2010. We recently got the first results for the traffic on The Times and Sunday Times new websites with their new paywall (for a great analysis read this by Ashley Friedlein of Econsultancy). If Mr Murdoch can persuade large numbers of us to pay for the news, whether on iPads, Macs or PCs, the entire newspaper industry, and many outside it, will breathe a sigh of relief. And I, for one, will be surprised.

New iPad apps are currently being announced every day from a range of content owners including Wired, Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post. News Corp and Apple have said they will launch an iPad-only publication entitled ‘The Daily’, while Richard Branson’s new ‘Project’ will also be launched for the iPad only. Meanwhile, The Independent’s new newspaper ‘i’ will not be published on the web at all, rather it will be launched as a paid-for iPad app. The new Guardian iPad app is expected shortly.

Crucially, we should remember tablets are mobile devices and we are prepared to pay for mobile apps whereas we seem to expect everything we access on the web via our PC/ laptop to be free (eg. and Don't ask me why this is; I blame the BBC and The Pirate Bay (unlikely bedfellows, admittedly). Interestingly, the new BBC iPlayer international service is launching exclusively as an iPad app...For what it's worth, my prediction is that tablets and laptops will in time merge to form one class of machines with a wide range of specs and form factors. Until then, I'm sure Apple is happy to sell both iPads and MacBook Airs (often 1 of each to the same person!).

So much for the shiny new boxes and their glossy new content. But what about 'ads on the pads'? Check out Apple's iAd mobile advertising platform, launching in Europe this month and offering ads within mobile apps on iPad,  iPhone and iPod touch; brands including Renault, L'Oreal and Unilever are among the first to book campaigns through the network. Allegedly and in typically bullish fashion, Apple won't talk to UK agencies about advertising via iAd, its first ad network, unless they're spending £600k+. Possibly too expensive for a new initiative of this kind in this market. But if consumers continue to consume increasing amounts of content on tablets, make no mistake, we WILL find ways to drive brand engagement on these nice new screens; especially the full 9.7 inchers (and even on Samsung's and BlackBerry's smaller 7-inch models of which Steve Jobs has been so publicly contemptuous).

So, yet again, Apple has invented a new category of device. Tablets have changed the game: things will never be the same. Cue gratuitous link to my favourite TV ad of 2010, for Yeo Valley... over 1,267,000 YouTube hits and rising; 3,348 Facebook 'likers' (remember this is for YOGHURT!!!), narrowly beating (in my book at least) P&G's Old Spice Guy who started out on good old TV and then 'went social' (and indeed viral) at a much lower cost/000 (24,120,000+ YouTube hits, 1,166,000+ Facebook 'likers' and 120,000+ Twitter followers).

OK so maybe 2010 was the Year of iPad. And as for next year? Take your pick. Social Media. Location. HTML5. Mobile internet. Even faster Search. Windows Phone 7 (yes really). Android. Chrome OS. Facebook Places and Deals. Oh...and iPad 2 (new shell, camera, USB port but definitely no Flash).

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Learning AND Doing

After being asked for some advice, I've recently been reading various forums/ online discussions about Digital Marketing training and education. There is much heat vented about the merits of formal qualifications versus professional short courses and 'on-the-job training' (famously favoured by employers who don't want to fund professional input!). Then there's the old dilemma: external 'public' courses or bespoke 'in-company' training? And maybe your next (potential) employer won't believe you really know your stuff without a suitable piece of paper from the right Professional Institution/ Trade Body?

There are certainly passionate Fanbois and Fangurlz enthusing/moaning about particular awarding bodies and, as one would expect in this 2.0 world, plenty of intense debate, involving current students, alumni and even grizzled old educators. Many have strong feelings and entrenched positions. Some maintain that 'academic' education about Digital Marketing has limited value, since it's inherently a practical discipline, while others say it pays to learn the theory as well as to benefit from the hard-earned knowledge of experienced practitioners; why make your own mistakes when plenty of others have gone before you?

I may be missing something here but this situation appears to cry out for that old cliché and refuge of every trainer/ teacher/ lecturer facing a tricky question in real time: "Well, it all depends...".

Are you a marketing manager aged 28, who's so far worked alongside rather than in the online team? Or are you a 22-year-old Business Studies graduate looking to start a career in marketing? Then again, maybe you're a 40-year-old entrepreneur trying to make your PPC ads work better and cost less?

There's room (and indeed a need) for lots of different types of Digital Marketing training and education out there; so: decide which segment of the market you (or your people) fall into and then shop around carefully. Solicit and study peer recommendations (after all, it's digital!). If you don't get exactly what you were hoping for, don't worry. It's (almost) all changing all the time anyway and provided you go to a reputable provider, engage and ask questions, (almost) any training is better than no training. You'll come out with some new ideas, a better understanding of concepts previously incompletely grasped and in many cases an extended network. Then, when you do get (back) 'on-the-job', it should all make a bit more sense.

Good luck!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Happy Old Year

So that was the Northern Hemisphere Summer, huh? September already. Back to school. Brrr. A chill in the air. Colder misty mornings. Leaves turning brown. The year’s rushing by. Soon be time to start planning Christmas. OK: exaggeration. (?)

I sometimes wish I were a futurist; it sounds like fun to be able to make some predictions about the future and then run away (on to the next conference in a different continent) before anyone can hold me accountable. But let’s be fair. Just for a moment let’s pause and look back to January. What did we predict was going to happen in digital marketing this year? And has it?

I was recently re-reading my Blog post dated Jan 10 2010. Predictions for 2010 included:

The Androids are coming
Google's mobile platform is gaining ground fast. The first Android phones have sold well and more are on their way. HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and yes, even good old Motorola (who invented the category so long ago) are all getting in on the act. Meanwhile iPhone 4, after a few embarrassing birth pains, is selling well and it currently looks like RIM/Blackberry which is in danger of getting left behind in the smartphone race. The Android invasion is gathering momentum.

Location-based services/ augmented reality
Well this one was a no-brainer. Check out (or check-in?) Foursquare, Gowalla and yes, the new Facebook Places (damn - missed that one). Watch out for privacy issues though.

Rupert Murdoch to pull all his content off Google.
Well the Paywall is up for the Times/ Sunday Times and the UK ‘red-top’ The News Of The World is next. As to how many online readers have been lost, estimates average at about 50% but some suggest many more.  Are these few paying online readers a sufficiently engaged, high-quality audience for which advertisers will willingly pay a premium?  The Jury’s still out.

If anything, Steve Jobs of Apple appears to hate Adobe’s Flash even more than at the start of the year. The iPad and iPhone don't support Flash. No apologies for this from Apple. All the Flash designers I know are learning HTML5 and quickly...

...and the Apple tablet
OK so we didn’t get the name quite right (iSlate? iTab? Could easily have been.).

But Apple certainly launched the iPad on January 26th and at a stroke defined the new tablet category, selling 3 million units in the first 80 days. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has just been announced and we await tablet offerings from HP, RIM (the "BlackPad") and even Toshiba. Game on.

Meanwhile downloads from the Apple App Store hit 6.5 billion. Apple also announced the iBooks app (for the iPad naturally) while iAds promises to disrupt (or should that be kick-start?) mobile advertising in a big way. In May Apple overtook Microsoft to become the world's biggest technology company. No wonder Steve Jobs seems to be enjoying every new announcement even more than the last these days, despite the odd glitch along the way.

Admittedly we also predicted a Facebook IPO (2012 apparently), that Twitter’s growth would stall and that Steve Ballmer would step down at Microsoft. But some of these weren’t really serious. And could still come true anyway. It certainly seems that Windows 7 is a better product than the bizarre launch promotional activity had led us to expect. Oh and News International has not YET done a content deal with Bing (but watch this space). At least we didn't predict 2010 would be 'The Year Of Mobile’ (as everyone knows, that will be 2011)...

Overall, then, not too shabby. We’ll try to do better for next year. With apologies to our Southern Hemisphere readers, (btw, anyone need a speaker in Cape Town?) let’s enjoy our digital Autumn...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Bumbling politicians serve up digital dog's dinner

"The Law is an Ass" says Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. Yes, even here in Good Old Blighty, the oldest democracy in the world (err...sorry Iceland, Greece, Isle of Man, America, NZ +++), we sometimes get it badly wrong: the upshot being that we end up with laws that are ridiculous, unenforceable, dangerous or all of these. One such is the new UK Digital Economy Act (DEA). The Act was rushed through by the last UK Government without proper scrutiny or discussion, in the pre-election 'wash-up' period.

I recently took part in a debate at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park in London about the Act, organised by Digital Lounge and Digital Marketing London LinkedIn Groups (I always suspected these guys were real). I met some very interesting digital people and heard some great arguments (against) the Act but unfortunately(?) none of us is currently a Member of Parliament.

The DEA was voted through on its third reading in the House of Commons on April 7 this year by just 189 votes for, to 47 against. (there were 646 constituencies, meaning that approximately 37% of MPs bothered to turn up to vote and only some of these even attended the debate: democracy in action?).

Despite a massive '(Twitter) storm 'of opposition and over 20,000 people writing to their MPs in opposition to the bill, all that ultimately matters in these cases is what the MPs actually do on the day and the Digital Economy Bill duly went through; it received the Royal Assent on April 8 and became law on June 12 2010.

The Bill was largely the work of former Business Secretary Lord Mandelson (aka 'The Prince of Darkness' -his words, not mine). What was its inspiration? It was apparently intended to protect the intellectual property of creative people, specifically movie-makers, musicians, authors and their publishers, the thinking presumably being: "Without ownership there is no incentive to innovate"...

But maybe this view of copyright and its enforcement has been overtaken by technology. Perhaps it is outmoded and might actually stifle creativity. A friend of mine drew my attention to this excellent TEDTalks video about the lack of copyright in the Fashion Industry.

At Speakers' Corner, I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Killock, Executive Director of The Open Rights Group who is a  passionate and articulate opponent of the Act and defender of civil liberties, both online and offline. He is currently locked in talks with Ofcom (the UK regulator) about the Act. Now that it's the law, the inertia inherent in the system means the legislation tends to trundle inexorably into our lives...Jim deserves our support.

As we know, the music industry is in turmoil. At the same time, newspapers are fighting a desperate battle against 'the desire of their online content to be free' (and the unwillingness of readers to pay for it). The movie industry is focused on protecting its intellectual property and revenue streams. This Act, in a significant content market, where people spend a lot of money on the arts and are also relatively digitally savvy, will be seen by the big studios as an important pillar in their global defensive edifice against illegal file downloaders and they may even seek test cases 'pour encourager les autres'.

Another friend of mine is a photographer who has shot many classic music album covers; however he regularly sees his work in places where he wasn't paid for usage. He doesn't think the new Act will help him recover a penny in unpaid royalties (Copyright Lawyers For You anyone?). Rather, he believes the DEA is by the big content owners for the big content owners and that it does nothing to protect the little guy who has created something using his/her imagination and skill. So another Fail.

The penalties for suspected infringement of the DEA would appear to be draconian and the monitoring necessary for enforcement would potentially go against EU privacy law. Moreover the scope under the Act  for miscarriages of justice is massive. What happens if your wireless router gets hacked? What about 'Pirate Bay teenagers' or indeed 'LimeWire grannies'? Will poor old 'Bill Payer' be clobbered for the sins of others? How will guilt be established? Innocent parties might have their internet connections restricted (aka 'throttled') or even suspended. Legitimate websites may be blocked. Owners of internet cafes, university libraries and other public spaces will be too scared to provide Wi-Fi zones, for fear of prosecution under the Act. And in the Digital Age, is it fundamentally reasonable to deprive individuals and businesses of internet connectivity? So much for 'Digital Britain'!

Moreover, who is going to enforce this Act? Are we to have an even keener surveillance society? Will the Police be sent round with wirecutters? Unlikely. Instead the ISPs will be required to be the bad guys. But TalkTalk and BT have already challenged the Act, the former stating that it is not prepared to comply with any instruction to disconnect their customers. So the Act is looking unworkable even as it hits the statute book...
However: as Edmund Burke apparently didn't say(!?), "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". Already, the big content owners and various Government spokespeople are talking about "making the Act work" and "getting on with implementation". So we can't rely on this Act to implode and reform itself.

This is the most important piece of legislation about the internet EVER in the UK. It's too important to be left to politicians. Web access is a basic human right. Like food, water, shelter and political and religious freedom. (OK, we're still working on some of these too).  We didn't get the right Law. So sign the petition against sections 11-18 of the Digital Economy Act 2010. And if you're not a UK citizen, please pray that the 'Mother Of All Parliaments' gets it right next time.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Changing Times. But will we pay?

© 1979 Pink Floyd Music Ltd

Today, we find a place to rent or a house to buy, we book a holiday and stay in touch with our friends using different technologies from those our parents relied on 25 years ago. We all know the internet has changed the world, both economically and sociologically. We call it 'The Internet Revolution', but this wasn't just an event which occurred in 1998 (say) and then stopped. It's an ongoing process. This is the Revolution. We're in it. And big changes will keep on happening.

In the near future, two websites will no longer be free to access. You'll need to pay £1 for a day, or £2 for a week's complete access. The two sites are and (quick: have a look for free now, before the 'paywall' goes up!) It's not much money really. So what's all the fuss about?

The significance of this move is that these are big serious 'newspaper websites' and that this 'experiment' could go either way. We are used to getting our online news for free. But soon the c.21 million (unique users per month) readers of are going to be told: "We have 2 great new sites now, but you must pay or we won't let you see them." (No fee, no view). How will readers react?

The world is watching. This is being seen as a test case. If anyone has the 'cojones' to try this move, it is Rupert Murdoch, Proprietor of the (London) Times and the Sunday Times. Indeed it could be argued that he has little choice. The Times and The Sunday Times lost £87million in 2009. But was this due to: i) not charging enough for its content or ii) paying too much to too many journalists or iii) not attracting enough advertising revenue? (or indeed all of the above?)

We are talking about the most extreme form of 'paywall'. Google and Bing won't be able to 'crawl' the content or show it to us. Searches will no longer turn up stories from either website.  If I subscribe and you don't, when I send you a link you'll have to stop at the entry barrier until you lay down your dollar (must remember that for future posts...) This is certainly a bold initiative, and the advertising and media world is divided as to whether a) it's a good thing and b) it will work.

The Times and The Sunday Times are part of Times Newspapers Ltd which is part of News International Ltd which is itself part of News Corporation (still with me?) which also owns 38% of Sky TV and of which the founder, chairman and chief executive officer is Rupert Murdoch. The CEO Europe and Asia and heir-apparent is his son, James Murdoch. The Times itself is one of the oldest newspapers in the world. Founded in 1785, the newspaper (nicknamed The Thunderer) invented the Times New Roman typeface (=font)  in 1932. It was bought by Murdoch in 1981, and in the late 1980s, after a fierce struggle against the trade unions, based its operations at 'Fortress Wapping' in East London. Murdoch himself is not a Luddite; far from it; News Corp. owns MySpace (another brand currently engaged in a bitter fight). He has introduced much new technology into newspaper creation and production. This could, however, be his biggest battle of all; persuading us to pay for our news (+ comment + opinion); in other words, proving that people will pay for quality news journalism even when it's accessed online.

The new sites are currently available on a free trial. No expense appears to have been spared in their content, design and build. There are cool features like a culture planner (from which you can plan your week's entertainment and even set your Sky+ TV recorder) and loads of embedded video and audio. They look great (especially on an iPad). Suddenly Harry Potter's The Daily Prophet doesn't seem like Science Fantasy. Perhaps this is what James Murdoch meant when he recently predicted "a revolution in reading". Maybe, just maybe, this is what the next generation of newspapers (and magazines) looks like. And we will have to pay.

If the model works, it offers the prospect of a viable future for news journalism. (Success would also raise questions about the validity of a Google search for news in a situation where the' best' analysis and comment is hidden away behind the various paywalls). If this initiative fails, who will choose a career as a trained writer-journalist in the years to come? If the paid-for printed newspaper is becoming a 'status symbol' carried by the few as an accessory (à la FT), will the online news site subscription be its digital equivalent? (So we can send those links out to impress our friends/ Twitter followers who can click them but can't see the content? I think not.) Will sufficient advertisers enthusiastically welcome the thinned-out VIP group in the rarefied atmosphere behind the paywall, deeming this to be an attentive, engaged (paying) audience worth paying a big premium to reach? That's the gamble. We're at a crossroads.

Understandably the media (on- and offline) is buzzing right now. These are just some of the views currently being expressed:

"I want my employer to be paid for my intellectual property."
Danny Finkelstein, chief leader writer and political columnist, The Times

"They must understand the fundamental dynamics of online advertising. It is unlikely that advertisers will pay a premium for ads on The Times because the ad unit is bigger, looks nicer or indeed, is being shown to a paying subscriber.... The real opportunity is to monetise the comment, analysis, features and interactivity that are a key part of the Times offering."
Rob Horler, MD, Carat (via Campaign)

"We estimate that the (online) audience ...will drop by more than 80 per cent. They're not going to be able to charge 20 times what everyone else charges (for advertising space). But... I would never bet against News International...I think everyone should applaud what they're trying to do."
Claudine Collins, joint head of investment, MediaCom (via Campaign)

"We're going to stop people like Google, or Microsoft or whoever, from taking our stories for nothing."
Rupert Murdoch

Speaking personally, I buy the Sunday Times Newspaper every week as I have for years. It's an overwhelming tome in 9 sections and generally it's interesting, well-written and free of typos. One of the stresses in my life is how little of it I have time to read before it goes into the recycling bin. But I don't resent the cover price of £2. I believe it's more than worth it. However, online, I feel and act differently and I know I'm not alone in this. The BBC gives me almost as much news as I want - for free. When I feel I need more, there are other (free) sites which help me to keep up with the latest developments in digital marketing and, equally importantly, the various activities of Wayne Rooney, Cheryl Cole and Justin Bieber.

It isn't much money but neither is it free. Every consumer will make their own 'purchase' decision. Will enough people pay the subscription to the new Times sites and will enough advertisers be prepared to pay enough to target these few subscribers so that the whole business model works? That is what they used to call the $64,000 question.

No-one can accuse Rupert Murdoch of walking away from difficult battles. And with an estimated net worth of $6.3billion, he can afford to take some risks. But has he taken on too much this time? Writers, both professional and amateur, crave credibility, authority and INFLUENCE. That is helped (albeit not guaranteed) by building a big audience. Will The Times's world-class journalists, who have grown accustomed to building their personal brands by accumulating large (unmonetised) online audiences, find themselves ignored, lonely and irrelevant behind the paywall, like the late night DJ on local radio, talking to only a few people (which might also mean only a few advertisers)?

Will this move by The Times turn out to be the salvation of paid-for news journalism, or just another brick in the wall of its mausoleum? No-one knows for sure: not even Keith Rupert Murdoch, AC, KSG, himself. But it's going to be interesting to watch.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Digital? Direct? Or just Marketing?

(This post first appeared on the UK Institute of Direct Marketing Blog: .) 

Maggie. Dallas. Durannies. Lunch may have been for wimps, but there were plenty tucking in.

The 1980s. It was an exciting time. A combination of factors meant that Direct Marketing (a term which was coined around this time to include ‘direct mail marketing’ and ‘direct response advertising’) became ‘respectable’ and was even acknowledged for its creativity. In the UK, The Royal Mail sponsored awards and there was an annual beano in Montreux to celebrate ‘the best of direct’. Of course, the Ad agencies still tended to look down on these ‘snake-oil salesmen’; their clients, however, were attracted by the promise of accountability and measurability. Since you could count responses, it followed that you could determine with certainty whether it was working: "accountable advertising". Hmmmm.

By the late 1980s, Sales Promotion too could lay claim to having become an industry (nay even a 'profession') in its own right. Indeed as proof of this, ‘pure sales promotion’ agencies sprang up. Moreover, increasing numbers of the exponents of DM and SP did not wear ‘shiny suits’ (unless they were silk) and indeed many of them wore something Italian like their above-the-line brethren. Suddenly, below-the-line was cool, a valid career choice and in those days of Maggie Thatcher, the Pet Shop Boys and Wall Street (1), brands like Triangle, FKB, KLP, WWAV, MSW, HLY and THB&W were launched and thrived. Red yuppie braces were twanged amidst an intoxicating atmospheric mix of creativity, excitement and avarice; “let’s make lots of money”, indeed.

As the ’90s dawned, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was doing clever things at CERN which exploited the US Military/ Academic network of computers called the Internet and would contribute to the launch of the ‘world wide web’. Bill Gates was busy putting a (beige) Windows PC on every desk (with Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office helpfully and intimately bundled) and Steve Jobs at Apple was doing something similar but including design. Suddenly there was a branch of marketing called ‘Interactive’ which embraced the ‘new media’. Most marketers expected it to remain the province of ‘geeks and losers’ and never to amount to much, but it did attract some attention. It was even mentioned in Campaign Magazine (albeit in the sarcastic tone of voice then normally reserved for sniggering about a list management error in a piece of Direct Mail mistakenly sent to the Diary Editor).

Gradually at first then rapidly the ‘world wide web’ took off and soon the ad industry took a lively interest- in taking the dotcoms’ money. Since these companies were intent on burning through as much VC dosh as humanly possible, the old-media New Biz Directors welcomed them with open arms and for a while it was a very happy marriage. Soon we had ad breaks stuffed with dotcoms and everything was lowercase, with THAT suffix. (,,, and err… CompuServe). The ad agencies smirked a little when these ‘new media’ guys used good old TV and posters to build their ‘online communities’ (although mainly they weren’t actually selling anything to those people or indeed building any revenue at all) but not too obviously since they really liked their VC money. They also watched the Nasdaq rising like a rocket and sometimes even accepted stock instead of cash for services rendered. After all, they observed how those rock-solid, long-established Wall Street and City of London investment banks were funding these new enterprises; they surely knew what they were doing. Then in 2000, the bubble burst.

But of course the internet itself wasn’t discredited; just unsound business practices and the rash investors who were seduced by those heady times. Sure, the emperor’s new clothes fell down like house of cards (or something) but the web kept growing, powering thorough Cyberspace on the Information Superhighway. By the mid-nineties, “Shall we have a website?” became a non-question. As broadband took off, consumers started spending more and more time online and the web became worthy of consideration not just as somewhere to sell, but as somewhere to advertise; as a medium where Target Audiences hung out. ‘New Media’ gave way to e-marketing, ‘Online’ and finally ‘Digital’. Agencies like AKQA, Dare, Glue London, Profero and LBi become the new hot shops. Suddenly it became apparent that the world had changed. Direct Marketing looked increasingly middle-aged and untrendy. In the 21st Century, nobody launches a ‘pure’ DM agency any more; it’s direct and digital or pure(play) digital. And as for Sales Promotion, that’s a term that belongs firmly in the era of free plastic daffodils, Green Shield Stamps and petrol station free glasses promotions; soooo last century.

Times change. Precision Marketing magazine has gone.Promotions and Incentives and Marketing Direct first went online, and were then ‘eaten’ by Brand Republic. The ISP is busy rebranding itself as The Institute of Promotional Marketing. The big ad agencies have done what they always do; restructure to meet changing client demands (as far as they can divine what these actually are); the latest trend is to fire the Head of Digital (“that position perpetuates unhelpful silos”) and instead to “put digital at the heart of everything they do”.

So where does that leave Direct Marketing? When I studied for the IDM Diploma in Direct Marketing, I learned that DM was
 an interactive system of marketing generating a measurable response/transaction at any location and dependent on data. That would certainly include some digital marketing (email marketing, affiliate marketing). Other digital marketing could be deemed to be awareness/ attitude changing (eg display, publisher websites) ie part of advertising. Social Media strategy might be viewed as a subset of PR (Online Reputation management, anybody?) and Mobile might just be a way of doing all of this while walking down the street (or on the Underground with an ‘always-on’ signal of course).

Today I find it amazing to recall that as a young account director I had numerous fights with art directors when I asked them to put coupons on press ads and 0800 phone numbers on posters. “NO- I won’t let you spoil the design- it’s an AWARENESS ad.” Times have certainly changed. Today all advertising is “brand response” (‘like’).

A few years ago I wrote a book in which I dared to predict that, one day soon, “Marketing communications will at last be viewed holistically, as a planned system of activities establishing, developing and controlling a set of relationships with consumers…all marketing will be direct marketing.

I suggest that day is here. Moreover, nothing is new forever, even DIGITAL. And of course, TV didn’t kill Radio or Cinema; and neither of these killed Press and Posters. As has always been the case, the new media are talking their places alongside the old. Meanwhile, communications and entertainment technology continues to advance at a bewildering pace. I found Avatar in 3D a memorable cinematic experience but apparently we ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’. Someone called me yesterday to sell me on the need to ‘get ready for 3DTV’. A mate of mine is really excited about the next generation iPads. The prospect of Super-Fast Broadband is my excuse for avoiding thinking about Blu-Ray. Now that all my music is on MP3, is it time to get rid of those CDs? Actually, now I have Spotify Premium, do I even need the MP3s? We are living in interesting times.

So when ‘Digital’ starts to sound a bit mainstream and ‘noughties’, what will be the next new kid on the block? Mobile? Virtual? Augmented? Something we haven’t heard of yet? The web (via desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile) offers marketing tools which ‘Direct’ practitioners have been craving since the great Drayton Bird himself was a whippersnapper. Masses of behavioural and purchase data, ample targeting and testing opportunities, instant response, instant results.

These days, we’re all in Direct Marketing. Yes: even, and indeed especially, the digerati. Tell that to the trendy Flash Designers in Shoreditch. (And by the way, Steve Jobs really hates Flash and HTML5 is on the way so they’d better get themselves on a training course: super-fast!).

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Getting the most out of digital agency relationships

(An edited version of this post first appeared on

Aprais is a global business relationship management consultancy.)

For most people working in marketing, the ideal client/ agency relationship is a healthy one, based on mutual respect and perceived equality: i.e. a true partnership. However we all know "all good things must come to an end" and with agency-client relationships, this sometimes happens prematurely.

So what about digital? Well because digital is still relatively new, and fast-changing, the picture is fragmented. And because digital is growing so fast in terms of share of marketing budgets, there seems to be plenty of digital business to go around and Marketing Directors have a wide choice of agency partners to help them plan and implement their digital marketing activity. There is certainly a role for the full-service digital agency, for the specialist digital agency (design and build, search, viral, social media or mobile) and also for the ad agency which has 'strategically embraced digital' and/ or 'placed digital at the heart of its culture' (choose your preferred form of words).

Most digital agencies work on a project basis which sometimes causes them frustrations, not least because this can disincentivise them to think outside the confines of the current brief (likely to be subject to tight time and budget constraints). Moreover, many clients still seem to believe they haven't seen a creative idea until they see a TV idea.
What are the most common reasons digital agencies lose their clients?
  • Overselling: because there are often technical and jargon barriers, digital agencies often ask their clients to "trust us, this will be fantastic." This works once or twice before the CMO is called in by the CFO to discuss ROI (is that enough acronyms?). Indeed I anticipate an imminent backlash from the Boardroom against much current social media activity which may be producing 'engagement' but no attributable sales.
  • Massive error (=catastrophic mistake): rarer than might be expected; most digital agencies are staffed by experienced professionals and have systems in place for checking work which minimises the chance of this sort of thing happening; however, once in a while, the agency CEO (in an unguarded moment) might say the wrong thing to a journalist, or an intern might accidentally be let loose on the Twitter stream or allowed to put a film up on the company YouTube channel......
  • Personality clash (e.g. new Marketing Director): always possible in cases where the new senior client didn't appoint the agency in the first place. Equally, over a period of time people can simply get on each other's nerves. It may be that the agency can shuffle the team, unless the problem is with the Creative Director say, in which case he or she might agree to adopt a lower profile on the account...
  • 'Irredeemable breakdown of the relationship'. ("They wouldn't work with the ad agency; they just don't understand our business" or "They just don't get digital; they kept moving the goalposts; they never really knew what they wanted"...)
In my experience, the most common avoidable reason for client/ agent relationship breakdown is suboptimal communication from both parties, specifically the lack of a formalised mechanism for identifying and addressing problems/ issues while there is still an opportunity to fix them i.e. long before they become terminal. Some of the above is common to all types of agencies' relationships with their clients. Specifically, I suggest that clients might remember that good ideas can come from anywhere, including the digital guys. If you involve them earlier - when the strategy is being formulated - you may get more value out of them.

As for digital agencies; many would benefit from being (a) less obviously thrilled by their own technology, (b) closer to their client's typical customer and (c) more confident to go their clients with demystified, jargon-free business-building initiatives and big multi-channel creative ideas - not just cool techie stuff that works as a bolt-on to the ad campaign. Only then can they expect to be treated as top-table strategic partners. A few digital agencies have already started this process. Along with some of their 'ad' agency fellows, they will make up the top-tier of integrated communications agencies of the future, by which time 'digital' is likely to be about as cutting-edge a term as 'The Information Superhighway', 'CompuServe' or 'Netscape'...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Online video: it's going to be HUGE…

This post first appeared on:
Digital Minds from the CAM Foundation 

As Fairfax Cone, one of the founders of US advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding (today Draftfcb) observed in 1940, “Advertising is what you do when you can’t be there in person”. Historically, posters and press ads ‘ambushed’ people while they were going about their daily business and offered them something attractive, useful and/or enjoyable – something to make their life better. This was called Advertising and, as we know, a whole industry grew up around it.

Then radio was invented and soon it became possible for companies to add commercial messages to radio broadcasts.  As usual the US was first (“It’s the top of the ninth and the bases are loaded here at the Yankee Stadium but now here’s a word from our Sponsor!”) and other markets including the UK followed later. Then came TV – what an advance! The golden age of creative ad agencies (the ‘Mad Men’ of 1960s New York and London) exploded as this exciting new medium took off. So what was so good about TV for brand owners? In a nutshell: moving colour pictures with sound; truly the next best thing to putting a salesman in front of each consumer, as Mr Cone observed.

But this medium was one-way: effectively the marketer was guessing where the target audience was and shouting at them. Today we have something even better: TV ads the user can interact with. Online video advertising, whether ‘in-stream’ (e.g. pre-, mid-, or post-roll – eg. around a YouTube video) or contained within banner ads (either standard display ads or rich media) combines the best of the old interruptive TV Commercials (e.g. “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, “Mild Green Fairy Liquid”, “Have a Break – Have a Kit-Kat”) with the interactivity of the internet. The user can ‘mouse over’ to expand the banner, click the button to add sound, play the video and click to go to the advertiser’s site. S/he can enter name and email to request a quote, browse a microsite or simply sit back and enjoy a video – immersed in the ‘brand experience’. Each user will be in a different stage of awareness of/ attitude to the brand and specifically in a different point in their web session and the advertiser wants them to have an appropriate brand experience without being irritated. More than ever before, well-planned and implemented online video advertising (OVA) makes this a realistic proposition. Even better, provided privacy concerns can be addressed, the emerging discipline of Behavioural Targeting offers the tantalising possibility of serving these powerful ads only to those most likely to be influenced positively by them; the media planner’s holy grail.

Instead of segmenting by ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ marketing, we can consider ‘broadcast’ and ‘online’ as two types of video advertising. And we know the power of video. No wonder OVA is growing fast. As connection speeds increase and the ‘always-on mobile web’ becomes a reality (via mobile, tablet, laptop or PC), as static banners merge with the wallpaper and their click-through rates plunge, OVA offers advertisers the opportunity to combine the power of TV with the targeting and interactivity that Direct Marketers have been dreaming of for years; TV ads at your fingertips; instant response capability; the right message to the right person at the right time. OVA will keep growing as Marketing Departments appreciate how much it can do for their brands and their sales. If Paid Search is a direct response medium, OVA is a branding medium with the built-in option to start a dialogue with the brand; truly ‘brand response’ advertising.

So: while we still can’t be there in person, the new online video advertising might just be the (very) next best thing…

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

End of the Hippie Dream: did business break The Web?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a scientist and something of an idealist. Oh yes: and he invented The World Wide Web. I wonder what it says in his passport under ‘Occupation’…

In my book that's about as cool as having been in The Beatles. However I'm certain Sir Tim is worth less than Sir Paul (even without an expensive ex-wife). You see he has deliberately chosen not to exploit his invention for personal gain. Which (many would say) is also pretty cool.

When Mr B-L was working at CERN in 1989-90 he wrote a paper helpfully entitled ‘Information Management - a proposal’ which contained the breakthrough idea of combining the internet (a networked collection of computers scattered across the world) with the hypertext link; allowing one computer to directly (and simply) access information on another. He wrote his initial proposal in March 1989, and in 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau, produced a revision which was accepted by his then manager, Mike Sendall. The first 'Web Site' was built at CERN, was put on line on 6 August 1991 and the rest is history.

The vision embraced by TB-L, following the vision of earlier internet evangelists including John Perry Barlow, lyricist of The Grateful Dead (and if they weren't hippies then who was?) was of a great leveller; an empowering tool that allowed anyone to be a publisher, a record company or a bank. Almost at a stroke, the power to distribute information was taken out of the hands of the privileged few and handed to the many. This change has been described as the biggest transformation of society since the Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg circa 1455 and heralding the arrival of the Printing Press (btw why does no-one ever credit William Caxton these days?)

However in recent years, Sir Tim and other early web pioneers have expressed concerns about the way business has colonized the web and also about growing threats to our individual privacy posed by the sheer amount of personal information held by Google, Facebook, Amazon et al.

“We've noticed that people who browsed X..” highlights the very real issue of how people thoughtlessly give away too much personal information online - especially on social networks.

But this doesn’t mean the web's become 'evil'. Sure, bad things happen online but generally they are caused by bad people. To blame the web is tantamount to shooting the messenger.  Yes terrorist groups have used email to organise, but so have disaster relief agencies. For all its faults, there has never been anything that has so enabled, empowered and connected the global population; even though only c.25% of the world is currently online (remember that!). And it’s good that people are concerned. In most wired countries there is data protection legislation in place and healthy debates about privacy and 'the cost of free' .

So did business break the web? No: not yet. And we don't have to let it. The web will bring benefits to millions more people in the months, years and decades to come which should far outweigh the costs (cyber-crime, loss of privacy, internet addiction etc). Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, created a product which has made shopping a whole lot easier and more enjoyable for millions of people. Facebook has 300 million users which would make it the 'third largest country in the world' (ahead of the US). These people choose to 'talk' to each other and it's free. Mark Zuckerberg doesn't force people to connect (OK so maybe he encourages them just a bit...).

Throughout history, the founders of successful businesses have, generally speaking, made a lot of money. The web can be a force for good which includes good business and if people like Bill Gates of Microsoft make more money out of it than they need, they can always choose to give it to Charity. (But that's a whole 'nother Blog post...).

So Sir Tim: thanks for the wonderful gift you have given us; and please don't worry. We'll do our best to use it responsibly (won't we?)

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Digital Marketing Training: learning from others' successes (and failures)

(This Post first appeared on the CAM Foundation Blog -

There are times when one needs to be sure one is dealing with skilled, thoroughly-trained professionals.

A very senior and experienced Marketing Director said to me the other day: “You know Mike, the single biggest thing holding back Digital right now is the shortage of experienced, knowledgeable people who really know what they’re doing online.  I can’t hire them as employees and I don't see enough of them in my agencies. Of course, there are plenty of people with experience of design and build, SEO or paid search, but they tend to be do-ers rather than thinkers, and there is a lot of dead wood out there- at every level, from project manager to MD. And don’t even get me started on Social Media - talk about The Land of the Blind…”

Then she referred me to this video, which on one hand proved that she had a sense of humour, but on the other left me hoping that I’d never told her I was a “social media expert”.

In September last year, figures produced by the UK Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC revealed that £1.75bn was spent on online advertising in the first 6 months of 2009, which meant that online had overtaken TV as the UK’s biggest advertising medium. This was a ‘world first’ for a developed advertising market. The announcement shocked many of the ‘Old Guard’ in Marketing Departments and their ad agencies. There was no denying that Digital had arrived. TV had been the leading ad medium for almost 50 years; now online had overtaken it in ten. There were, admittedly and perhaps deservedly, some accusations of 'comparing apples with oranges' but no-one disputes that online advertising in all its forms has come a long way, in the UK and globally.

The point my client was making was that the rapid growth of Digital has left what HR people call a “skills gap”. At all levels there is a lack of experience and there is widespread concern that this is actually holding back the emergence of Digital as a serious, grown-up and respected part of the marketing mix. There is no doubt that budgets are moving from traditional media into digital channels, but for many marketing directors this is something of a voyage into the unknown; it is certainly difficult to know where to get impartial advice; everyone who appears to know about Digital seems to have an agenda; most of all, it could be argued, the big digital agencies. Mistakes are being made, opportunities missed. Cowboys (naming no names) are surviving and even prospering.

As we know, pretty much everything in Digital is measurable but this may not be as big an advantage as it sounds. Many online marketers are currently drowning in a sea of analytics: an excess of data and a shortage of actionable information. They are, all too frequently, at the mercy of the ‘Web Analytics Guru’ whose position of power is akin to that of the car mechanic dealing with the distressed and ignorant customer; sucking his teeth, shaking his head and naming an outrageous sum: “Bad news I'm afraid; your big end’s gone…” And then doing a poor job…

So how is the buyer (of digital marketing services) to find reputable, professional suppliers? Well for one thing, I suggest you should ask your agency about its policy on training its people. Granted, an organization’s involvement in professional training and qualifications doesn’t guarantee that its employees are competent, but it does show a commitment by the employer to professional development and a willingness to invest in its people and their careers.

Digital marketing is certainly growing: driven by technology and also partly by the belief that is it more measurable than other sorts of marketing so that ROI can be demonstrated. However: unless we, as a profession, can train a group of Digital Marketing professionals, there is a real danger that there will be a backlash; the CFO will turn to the Marketing Director, demanding proof of return and, if it is not forthcoming, next year’s budget may well be smaller. (“Well we tried Digital…”)

It has been suggested that ‘Digital’ as a discriminator will soon disappear as online channels are integrated into the overall marketing mix and the big ad agencies increasingly ‘get’ digital (very much as TV was rapidly integrated into Press, Poster and Radio advertising agencies in the 1960s ). The jury is still out on how quickly and to what extent this will happen, but regardless of this trend there will still be a need for skilled practitioners who understand the unique features of online display advertising, of natural and paid search and social media and how they all fit together into the marketing mix. There is already a substantial body of knowledge about Digital but it needs to be shared more effectively; training and professional qualifications can help, increasing digital expertise and understanding, both in marketing departments and in their agencies.

It is in everyone’s interest, and the interest of marketing in general, that sufficient people in the marketing profession get the right training in digital skills so that they can use these exciting new channels in the appropriate manner; as a key part of the marketing mix; alongside, not necessarily instead of, ‘traditional’ media. This means not only learning relevant craft skills / 'techie' knowledge but also gaining strategic understanding of how Digital channels can be utilized within the overall marketing mix, which of course is based on principles formulated long before the internet was invented.

Time is money of course, so you will want the highest quality, most appropriate training, tailored to your specific needs; why not resolve to send your people (and dare I suggest yourself?) on a professionally developed and delivered Digital Marketing course? For your highest fliers, consider a professional qualification; the right people will find this highly motivating and better people get better results! Don't look at training and professional development in these rapidly-evolving Digital Channels as a cost; think of it as an investment in your people and their future - i.e. the future of your organisation.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

More predictions for 2010

“...and a new one just begun.”

It’s the time of the (New) Year for predictions...So, having dragged ourselves back to reality, overcoming ice, snow and seasonal hangovers, let’s jump on the bandwagon and look ahead to what we will apparently henceforth be calling “twentyten”. What will be big in technology and digital marketing this year?

Real-time Search

Google and Bing are quickly ramping up their real-time search, having licensed real-time data streams from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, et al.  But real-time search is still regarded as a niche, and not yet regularly included in the main search results page. In 2010, this is likely to change as the search engines learn for which searches it makes sense to show Tweets and other real-time updates. Real-time search will also become a form of navigation, especially on Twitter and Facebook. The key will be to combine real-time search with filters so that people are given the most relevant results (a mix of the most authoritative and the most recent information). This is far from straightforward!

Cloud computing: Online apps

There is no doubt that Google Apps and OpenOffice (from Sun Microsystems et al) are already hurting Microsoft Office. Access your documents and calendar from any internet-connected device, and collaborate in real-time with others, working on the same documents. And save money (and hard-drive space) on desktop applications.

HD takes off, Blu-ray stalls

HD TVs will continue to switch to LED backlights instead of the more traditional fluorescent lamps. This will reduce power consumption and give better contrast, since it's easy to switch LEDs on or off in those sections of the image that are light or dark.

However Blu-ray, having won the brief war against HD-DVD, might find it controls a shrinking market as downloadable video (e.g. via iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand) booms. As shown by the success of mp3 audio and the fuzzy videos on YouTube, the highest quality format may not in fact be the ‘killer app’, especially if it comes at a premium price: we might instead see a 'good-enough revolution'.

As for the 'next big thing' we can look to 3D TV. But I predict 2010 won't be the big breakthrough year for this exciting new technology.

The Androids are coming

The Motorola Droid (Milestone in the UK) launched on October 17, 2009 running Google's 'Android' Operating System. Now the new Google-branded Android phone, Nexus One is launching into an increasingly competitive market. Other Smartphone makers Apple (iPhone) and RIM (Blackberry) as well as Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung are watching closely. Apple may be playing 'catch-up' for once. There are already more than 10,000 apps for Android. We'll be seeing more Android phones this year.

Chrome OS

Last November, Google gave us a first peek at the Chrome Operating System, expected to be released this year. Chrome OS is Google’s most direct attack on Windows so far with an OS built to run Web apps- fast. Google is also rumoured to be working on a Chrome Netbook which will demonstrate what is possible with it a “Web OS.” It may be perfect for Tablet computers also (see below).  Chrome OS is potentially highly disruptive.

Windows Azure

Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform, launches as a paid service on February 1. It’s a huge bet by Microsoft, which has built massive data centres; they will need to get developers onto the platform quickly.

Location-based services

A recurrent theme in this post is the mobile Web.  The combination of GPS chips in mobile phones, social networks, and increasingly innovative mobile apps means that geolocation is fast becoming a must-have for any mobile app.  We’ve seen social broadcasting apps like Foursquare and Gowalla.  New Geo APIs from Twitter, SimpleGeo, and possibly Facebook will change the game. Twitter has recently launched its own Geo API for Twitter apps and it has acquired Mixer Labs, which created the Geo API.


The World Wide Web is built on HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and the newest version which has been taking shape for a while is HTML5.  Already web browsers such as Firefox and Google’s Chrome browser are HTML5-friendly. Once HTML5 takes hold, it will reduce the need for Flash or Silverlight plug-ins to view videos, animations, and other rich applications. It will make Web apps behave more like desktop apps.  A big opportunity for web agencies as their clients demand 'HTML5 inside' in 2010!

Mobile Video

Now that video cameras are integrated into the latest iPhone 3GS and other Smartphones, live video streaming apps are becoming more common, streaming both from phones and to them.  As the mobile data networks increase their 3G bandwidth and then move to true broadband with 4G (see Verizon’s new LTE network), mobile video usage will surge.

Augmented Reality (AR)

The increasing range of augmented reality apps allow us to use the camera on our smartphone to add a layer of data to reality by associating detailed information from the mobile web with the live images captured by the camera.  Expect to see lots more AR apps this year.

And now a few more speculative ideas (just for fun):
  • Google faces a massive anti-trust suit (at last)
  • Steve Ballmer steps down at Microsoft after 10 years as CEO
  • Twitter stops growing; this trend is led by Stephen Fry and other celebs taking 'time-out'
  • “Cash or Cell Sir?”- mobile payments start to kill plastic. (see also Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s latest start-up, Square, which will be a rival to Paypal; it allows users to accept payment via physical credit cards on a mobile device.)
  • Facebook IPO (25-year-old Mark Zuckerberg would stand to become an actual $billionaire)
  • Rupert Murdoch pulls all content off Google (and does a deal with Bing)


Tablet fest!

Yes: they’re the most anticipated products of this year: tablet computers.  We’ve seen pics of some beautiful Android ‘concept tablets’, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been showing off a Windows 7 HP tablet and, of course, there is a lot of talk of the tablet which could define the category, the Apple Tablet. Or iSlate or iTab or iPad or whatever it’s called (assuming it actually exists). Rumours include a 10 to 11-inch touch screen, a processor not from Intel but instead one designed by PA Semi (which Apple bought two years ago)and a price tag of around $1,000. Indeed if Steve Jobs doesn't have a tablet somewhere under his black mock-turtleneck jumper ready to unveil at the Apple January 26th meeting there will be widespread disappointment. Do we need yet another computer in between a laptop and an iPhone?  Yes and I’m sure Steve will explain why. The fact is that increasingly the Web is all we need (bad luck Microsoft).  As all of our apps and data and social lives move onto the Web, it may be that the Tablet will be the embodiment of the Web in device form, stripped down to basics, with an intuitive touch interface. It will also be a superior e-reader for digital books, newspapers, and magazines PLUS a portable Web TV. Disruptive or what?

Most confidently of all, I predict that several of the above won’t happen. It will certainly be an interesting year in technology and digital marketing. We hope it’s a good one. And in terms of the always-on mobile internet, I suspect the war is far from over...