Oct 082015

I’m currently attending the Amazon Web Service Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

One of the constant themes in writings about Amazon is founder Jeff Bezos’ focus on delivering the best service and cheapest prices to the customer, even if it does sometimes rely on some less savoury tactics to chase out smaller competitors.

That ethos is on show at this convention with AWS Senior Vice President, Andy Jassy saying at the post opening keynote press conference,  “our strategy is to be customer focused, not only do all of our strategies and tactics work backwards from what our customers want but ninety percent of our roadmap is driven by what customers tell us matters to them.”

He did however fall for the temptation of dissing some of his competitors in the IT market saying, “most technology companies, particularly old guard companies, have lost their will and the DNA to invent. They acquire most of their invention that’s expensive and it really doesn’t fit that well together.”

“We’re extremely long term orientated,” Jassy continued. “We don’t call you on the last day of the quarter and say ‘boy, have we got a deal for you’. You won’t see us auditing our customers and fining them. We’re trying to build relationships with our customers that will outlast everyone in this room.”

Jassy’s points are pertinent to the current business world, the old model of seeing your customer as being a milk cow – something the older software companies were terribly guilty of – is dying. The future needs a lot more focus on treating the customer with respect.

Sep 302015

Businesses would be wise to stop telling people what they should want and let customers tell them what want says Shel Israel in his latest book, Lethal Generosity.

In this book, Israel’s previous works include Naked Conversations and Age of Context which were both written in collaboration with Robert Scoble, he looks at the technological and social changes affecting business and how they can adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Key to that evolving marketplace is the explosion of data offering businesses deep insight into their customers. as Scoble describes in Lethal Generosity’s introduction in talking about social analytics service Vintank;

VinTank was acquired by a big PR agency that wants VinTank to do for all sorts of industries what it has done for the wine industry. Are you a restaurant or a winery ignoring that data? Go ahead and keep doing that for a decade. Your competition won’t.

Israel illustrates the need to watch the marketplace in citing a campaign where Canadian brewer Molsons completely wrong footed an oblivious competitor, something similar to how one bank discovered a rival’s successful marketing campaign through real time bank deposits data described  at the recent Splunk conference.

Focusing on the customers

A customer centric outlook, not looking at competitors but focusing on what consumers want is key to success in the new economy, Israel believes. This is enhanced by technologies that allow both products and marketing to be personalised as shown in the chapter detailing how retailers and airports are using beacons and data analytics in their operations.

One good example is AirBnB, while Israel trots out the ‘biggest hotel chain’ in the world fallacy that’s pervasive among commentators, its effects on the established industry has been profound and have forced hospitality operators around the world to re-evaluate their business models.

Israel suggests the best response for businesses affected by the ‘Uberization’ of their industries is to adopt the social and analytic tools and strategies being used the upstart businesses and he provides a wealth of examples.

Seamless sales

Tapingo, the food ordering service for US college students, illustrates the seamless experience that consumers are increasingly demanding in their shopping, business and leisure activities. Israel cites how Tapingo’s merchant partners are seeing an in-store traffic boost of 7 percent and a gross profit rise of 11 percent as a result of using the service.

Shel also illustrates some of the failures in deploying new technologies, specifically London’s Regent Street Alliance that failed due to poor execution and a failure to engage the marketplace.

One of the weakness in the book – which Israel acknowledges – is its focus on US, and specifically Bay Area, case studies. While there are some non-North American examples such as Australia’s Telstra and China’s Alipay, most of the examples cited are of companies based in or around San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Focus on Millennials

Another weakness of the book is the over-focus on Millennials or Digital Natives. While this group is important that obsession risks Israel’s message being pigeonholed amongst the noise of poorly thought out pop demographics and poor analysis that marks much of the discussion around changing tastes and habits between generations.

Israel’s point that the post 1982 generation will soon outnumber older cohorts in both the workforce and the marketplace in the near future though is an important aspect for businesses to keep in mind with the safe certainties and predictable customer behaviour of the baby boom era being long gone.

However the shift in consumer and workplace behaviour is just as pronounced among all the post World War II generations as technology and the economy evolves in the early 21st Century. Focusing on the younger groups risks missing similar shifts among older members of the community.

The value of customer service

Ultimately though, Israel’s message is about customer service. Shel himself flags this is not new, in describing the competition between hiking goods suppliers The North Face and Sierra Designs in 1970s Berkeley.

What is different between today’s businesses and those of forty years ago is technology now allows companies to deeply understand their customers and provide customised marketing, products and experiences to the connected consumer.

For the business owner, manager or entrepreneur, Lethal Generosity is a good starting point to understand the forces changing today’s marketplace. The case studies alone are worth considering for how an organisation can adapt to a rapidly evolving world with radically shifting customer behaviour.

Sep 252015
the web is new neon sign

Click fraud is costing US advertiser 6.4billion dollars a year reports Bloomberg Business.

The promise of internet advertising was that it could provide much more targeted audiences with far better, precision results.

It turns out the truth is different, with Bloomberg citing Heineken US who did a detailed analysis of their advertising returns to find, as the company’s Brand Director Ron Amram says, “giving money to the mob.”

While that news is bad, although not altogether surprising, for the digital media industry there’s even an even worse revelation from Heineken.

Digital’s return on investment was around 2 to 1, a $2 increase in revenue for every $1 of ad spending, compared with at least 6 to 1 for TV. The most startling finding: Only 20 percent of the campaign’s “ad impressions”—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.

That major brands are television is three times more effective than digital puts online advertisers in a bad position, although social media gurus have long argued companies can’t measure return on investment from their efforts.

Ultimately though the Bloomberg story shows we need a new model, applying broadcast advertising conventions to online services isn’t working. We’re still waiting for a new David Sarnoff to come along.


Jul 292015

“There is no perfect product,” says Jim Fish, “but the Internet of Things makes it possible to deliver a close to perfect message.”

Fish, the Chief Innovation Officer & VP Global Automotive Diagnostics at Bosch North America, was speaking to Decoding the New Economy ahead of his visit to Sydney to speak at the 2015 ADMA Global Forum.

For marketers, the connected car and the Internet of Things presents a unique set of opportunities, particularly when overlaid with today’s social media tools.

“If you think about your ability to message with today’s Facebook and the ability for marketers to micro-target messages so you could push a message to people according to things they’ve shown preference for or things that they have liked.”

“The next leap frog ahead from an automotive perspective is in vehicle advertising specific to vehicle and location,” says Fish. “There is a battle for the real estate in vehicle’s infotainment systems. The automakers are placing a lot of effort in delivering the experience the mobile user desires.”

In the auto industry this has seen a battle between software vendors to stake a position on the smartcar’s dashboard. Fish sees Google with its mapping, search and advertising technologies as being the best placed in that field but doesn’t think there will be one single winner in the automobile space.

Smart Connected Living

One of the biggest opportunities beyond marketi Fish sees is in combining the smarthome with the connected car. “We see this exploding,” he says of Bosch’s future plans. “We see it as perfectly integrating,”

Fish sees how the connected home integrates with other technologies to provide seamless connectivity for people. Even if people lose their smartphones the smart house will be able to inform and communicate with them.

Again, combining the information gathered by social media and other services presents opportunities for businesses and governments.

Networking the smart city

For the smart city, Fish sees connected cars providing a key part in managing and planning the towns of the future citing how the Michigan Department of Transportation sees how equipping vehicles with road monitoring sensors could save the state 11 million dollars a year in inspection costs.

Fish also cites how cities are experimenting with monitoring how taxis and public vehicles are using their windshield wipers to determine weather conditions. The US Department of Transportation flags the smartcar as the mobile weather station.

Again Fish sees Google as having an advantage in applying these technologies with their acquisition of Israeli traffic crowdsourcing service Wayze.

“Crowdsourcing is in its infancy. There are many things computers can do but there are some things they will never be able to do. There are some human elements still required.”

Fish sees much of our understanding of what we can do with the internet of things and the data we generate from it as being in its infancy. The real value lies in extracting the value from it. For marketers the journey is only just beginning.


Mar 222015

Last week this site looked at the idea from Colonial First State Funds Management economists James White and Stephen Halmarick that brands are doomed in a world of perfect information.

Forecasting the end of brands is a big call despite the massive changes the internet is bringing to industries. One of the things I suggested is that the concept of the brand – which was largely born out of Twentieth Century mass communications – is evolving with the social media and online world.

This view is born out by Tom Vanderbilt in an article in Outsideonline where he describes how TripAdvisor is changing the way people travel.

In Ireland Vanderbilt claims the hotel industry found TripAdvisor to be a harsh wakeup call that saw local hospitality businesses lift their game as they realised customers were now far better informed.

Across the Atlantic on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula Vanderbilt describes how hotel owners in the town of Tulum had to realign their listings and marketing when TripAdvisor changed how they were grouped in the region. It shows how users are searching and finding accommodation.

Importantly for guests, hotel managers are using online reviews to measure how their premises are measuring up to expectations through social tools and using the results to justify capital expenses on upgrades.

This could justify White and Halmarick’s view that the major global brands such as the Marriots, Hiltons and Sheratons are in decline however it more likely shows those chains are having to raise their game to maintain their worldwide position.

What Vanderbilt, White and Halmarick indicate though is social channels are changing the way the hospitality industry works. This is an opportunity for smaller operators to build strong brands in their own niche or region.

Mar 182015

A few days ago we covered the Great Transition research paper by Colonial First State Funds Management’s James White and Stephen Halmarick and followed up with a piece in Business Spectator looking at the ramifications for the Australian economy.

One of Halmarick and White’s assertions is that brands are dead as consumers in emerging economies don’t care about corporate names and in developed nations people have better information about local businesses.

The former argument seems flawed from the beginning; Apple for example is making huge inroads in China while local manufacturers like Lenovo, Huawei, Great Wall and Haier are all working hard to establish their names in international markets.

In developed markets, White and Halmarick’s views have more basis with brand names not having the cachet they once did now consumers have a global platform to voice complaints and find alternatives.

A good example of brands that are struggling are companies like Microsoft and McDonalds, although in the case of both companies this could be more because of a shift in the marketplace rather than better informed consumers.

However brands are surviving as they lift their game and adapt to changed marketplaces, in fact its possible to argue that today’s consumers are more responsive to brand names than ever in the past.

A good example of this is again Apple which has more fans than ever before. Apple are also a good example of how big corporations can invest huge amounts into new technologies and products to give them an advantage over upstarts.

We should also remember that brands as we currently know them are largely a Twentieth Century phenomenon born out of the development of mass media communications and many of today’s household names came into the culture thanks to television in the 1950s and 60s.

So as creatures of last century’s media it’s not surprising that brands are having to evolve to a changed world, some of them will thrive and grow while others will shrivel away.

It’s safe to say though that the concept of brands isn’t dead, although many of the names we know today may not exist by the end of the decade.

Feb 052015

Coca-Cola are now selling milk as their markets move away from consuming sugary drinks, how much of this is due to the baby boomer era coming to an end?

Following yesterday’s post on McDonalds and the franchising model, it’s worthwhile considering how other businesses are being affected by today’s changing society.

Certainly the fast food industry is one of the most deeply affected as KFC owner Yum Food starts experimenting with a modernised layouts and menus to counter the drift in consumer tastes.

KFC are not alone in struggling with this as McDonalds experiments with own changes in response to the demographic and market shifts.


McDonalds’, KFC’s and most particularly Coca-Cola’s Twentieth Century success is largely due to the post war baby boom, as the children born during and after World War II reached adolescence – the Jagger generation as described by Irish economist David McWilliams – they indulged themselves in their newfound wealth and personal freedoms that were unthinkable for their parents who struggled through two world wars and a depression.

Coca-Cola was the emblem of that freedom and wealth which made up the twentieth century American dram that the world envied, adopted and copied. Today the world still looks to the United States but its a different America they see.

As the Jagger generation retires and sugary drinks are no longer their first priority their kids and grandkids are looking to different beverages; coffee, energy drinks, bottled water and, possibly, milk which are more in line with their lifestyles.

The task of Coca-Cola, and all the other brands that represented post War American affluence, the task now is to adapt to a very different generation and a society with priorities very different to that of the previous century.