Internal consistency as bedrock to market success

Communications is growing more important in marketing and is more coupled with sales than ever before, but something much less visible is going on as all three are critically dependent on an organisation's digital backbone. Whether that organisation sells online or not does not really change the situation.
That's in part because the conceptual boundary that was traditionally considered as an impenetrable shield has become porous and transparent in the digital age, making it possible for the outside world to see through it and get a degree of information and understanding about the inside of a company or institution that's unprecedented in recorded history. So for all practical purposes, we should consider internal alignment, effectiveness and efficiency as directly beneficial to the organisation’s public image and ultimately its ability to address the needs of its key constituencies.
Furthermore activities traditionally considered as having more of an operational impact without influence on marketing and communications are, in fact, more than ever providing the bedrock for the value proposition and for the promise of the brand. For example, a telco’s back-office, billing and customer care services will have a critical impact on the brand’s reputation and in the field of e-commerce the quality of customer service may easily become a critical source of competitive advantage as has been the case over the years with Zappos (part of Amazon since 2009).
We've represented this on the following framework that we use to assess marketing, communications and sales in companies and other institutions. There are other much more complex models out there to help examine how goals, processes, tools and skills align to deliver beneficial results to a company, but we've found this one to help concentrate attention on key elements and their interactions, while at the same time being easy enough to explain to a business audience.

Framework of analysis for digital transition in marcoms
The framework shows:
  • a porous organisational boundary that compels companies and other institutions to invest resources in internal consistency, impeccable processes, adequate tools and competent people;
  • the critical role played by goals in determining which processes and tools should be deployed towards achieving those goals for the company;
  • how processes and tools depend on skills and quality of human resources;
  • the major importance of an "always be testing" mentality and on focusing on the feedback that those tests generate;
  • a need to reconsider goals - thus potentially processes, tools and skills - on a regular basis depending on the results of feedback collected in constant testing and measurement of the effects of the way an organisation functions.


Parody: effective and fun brand communications

Here is a recent example of attention grabbing and fun communication for a brand that challenges the generally accepted idea that digital and connected is a better way to do things. The sequence works because it is a caricature of our collective behaviors and consensus about how great Apple's ads are. Of course it could backfire, but that would require a serious competitor to IKEA with great agility and a world-class cross-channel commercial organization able to show the audience how a smart catalog with all the right tools could beat its more traditional competitors. Given that such a player only exists in the future and has a name starting with I and ending with A, today's IKEA can safely play this marcoms game.
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About customer service

As Internet technologies become more pervasive in business a number of things are happening that are not unlike what many of us saw in the early days of use of IT in companies: after an enthusiastic early adoption that also happens to be a very chaotic phase, businesses become more mature and systematic in their approach, so operational aspects become critical aspects of the experience customers have of the company's products and services. However, with social media giving customers a much stronger voice, there is one specific aspect of operations that is of strategic importance: customer service, both in the traditional sense and in the form of self-service / self-care functions available online. There are at least three important guidelines every executive should keep in mind when deciding about marketing, sales and customer service.
1. Consistently good customer service comes through systems, not just smiles. 
2. Extraordinary customer service comes through smiles, not just systems.
3. You can’t give good customer service if you don’t hire appropriate employees.
To get another more quantified perspective on the importance of customer service, we recommend reading a recent publication by McKinsey&Co titled "Why companies should care about e-care".


The challenges of design for the mass market

Margaret Gould Stewart: How giant websites design…: http://youtu.be/quJdL9ggETI


Social media for brands is not a silo business

Over the past couple of years scores of marketing professionals have been faced with a regrettable habit that many companies and brands have developed: a desire to be present in social media with lack of strategy that tends to be replaced by a whole discussion about tools and who will "own" them internally.
The first huge fallacy is to engage in social media thinking that it's only a channel to communicate or sell to an audience that is often thought of as "captive". There is no such thing as a captive audience these days, firstly because people are free to allocate their attention where they want consciously or not, secondly because attention is scarce and thirdly because the platforms used by people are customising the content they show to them. As a result, no brand can think about an audience as being "captive".
A second big fallacy consists of believing that the audience will stay very disciplined and only use the content a brand provides for the purposes initially intended by the brand. That is not what experience teaches as people will use any point of presence of a brand to talk about any topic that they feel in important to them from rants about the service to enquiries about job offers or activism in favour of a cause like the environment or labor conditions with subcontractors (as the fashion industry is painfully learning). So no brand can consider its presence in social media as being just for one purpose and under the authority of just one silo within its walls. By the way, the current technological environment makes those very walls porous and therefore what happens inside ends up showing outside, often in a way that is neither pretty nor in line with the company's desires.
Last, but certainly not least, is the trend that has senior decision makers in many companies completely oblivious to the fact that heated discussions about tools and platforms will never replace rigorous thinking and decisions about strategy. A tool is a tool and has to serve a business purpose; the tool is not a master.
Here is an excellent article on Forbes about how social media will not fix a broken customer service. Very good food for thought for senior execs who need to learn more about the unique ability of the Internet and its technologies to break silos and compel all functions within a company to collaborate and converge to serve customers across all facets of the business on all customer touchpoints.


POEM and the tweeting bra

Over the past decade we've seen momentous changes in the media landscape with the emergence of the (social) media of the masses that have become increasingly intertwined with traditional mass media although the latter have had to deal with convergence from their old platforms to the Internet. As a result, many have claimed that brands have themselves become media, that they now control the channel and are supposed to produce and distribute content associated to the brand so as to orchestrate new forms of marcoms. While this is true to a certain extent, brands face real challenges and complexity in organizing their communication and in using the various channels that are available to spread its messages, interact with specific and increasingly fragmented audiences and acquire new customers. Principal challenges are as follows:

  1. the limited ability to fully grasp the importance and nature of new forms of (social) media in order to be able to put them to use in a consistent manner
  2. a relative lack of creative thinking in putting together structured campaigns that leverage all types of relevant media, whether traditional or social
  3. a profound lack of skills, tools and processes required to produce and distribute relevant good quality content to specific audiences
  4. often there is a disturbing disconnect between the marcoms initiatives and the business strategy, the business model and the fundamental business assumptions of the brand
  5. assuming all challenges above are addressed properly, there remains the issue of putting together and actually assessing systematically proper indicators of performance measured by one or more analytics platforms. In this area there is often too much focus on the tools and too little on the skills of the analysts, on the methods of analysis and on the focus that has to remain very close to the things that matter in a given business or industry
Leading consulting firms in the digital space have produced impressive output when it comes to characterizing types of content and kinds of channels that can be used by a brand. Among those there is the below overview of content, channels and formats by the Altimeter Group and the social media brandsphere by Brian Solis.

Working on a project involving the assessment of social media initiatives and contributions to putting together a marcoms strategy for a new business, we developed a simplified framework for structuring a brand's approach of paid, owned and earned media. This framework was partly inspired by an analysis of owned, paid and earned media done by Forrester which can be found at this link. The BusinessQuests framework is aimed at:
  1. defining the three kinds of media in a simple and unambiguous way
  2. identifying their primary purpose and possible unintended effects
  3. outline the relationships between the three types of media as an effort to contribute to dispelling some myths, e.g. that digital and social marcoms can be done without any significant financial investment or that an agency can orchestrate a viral campaign out of thin air
Our framework is as follows:
BusinessQuests' framework for paid, owned and earned media

While earned media is highly desirable it is also elusive and difficult to generate "artificially" because it takes something special in the content or in the nature of a given initiative to convince channels that have an established relationship with a given audience to relay a brand's content. Many experts give the example of how Apple has been consistently able to get substantial free coverage in the media for new versions of its iconic smartphone, however they fail to show the ties between the excellent work done in the past to build the brand through expensive campaigns in the (paid) media and they also omit the fact that Apple is able to attract attention in great part because of its ability to preserve secrecy and control the flows if information within the company and between the company and outsiders. So it would be really hard for most brands to aspire to such levels of achievement when it comes to earned media without first investing in various aspects of their business, paid media being the least critical or impacting. A better example might be provided by a campaign called "Tweeting Bra", which was run by Nestlé in Greece in October 2013, i.e. during the breast cancer awareness month. That campaign, which was put together by OgilvyOne Athens combined magnificently traditional paid media in the form of TV ads, star power in the form of a lady celebrity journalist, social media both as part of the initiative to raise women's awareness about good practices to prevent and cure breast cancer and as a medium for viral transmission of the info of the first "tweeting bra" ever. Here's the ad that aired on Greek TV to drive traffic to the microsite:

The initiative achieved its primary goal which was to generate traffic for a microsite dedicated to the issue of breast cancer, which was released by Nestlé as part of the campaign that was associated to Nestlé's Fitness line, whose primary target is the same as the audience of the initiative, i.e. women caring about their health and well-being. But more remarkably, the campaign also achieved significant exposure in unpaid media, i.e. earned media often in remote countries thus giving Nestlé's initiative an impact well beyond what the company initially aimed for.


E-commerce in China: a whole different world

Researching on critical factors of success in e-commerce targeting the world's most dynamic economies and some findings are just amazing. Of course the context is profoundly different from what we have in Europe, but consumer preferences may be even more different and perhaps counter-intuitive in certain cases, e.g. sites designs that would feel crowded and too "loud" in many European markets appear to be just about what Chinese consumers like in many product categories. Really fascinating read, which also makes it very clear that China is as much a big commercial opportunity as it is a riddle for European companies.

Here's a short sequence from a show on CNN in which the boss of leading player Yihaodian (backed by WalMart who have been smart enough to not interfere with the way the business is managed locally). He claims that one of their approaches is to list the top 5 things foreign players are doing when entering China and do the exact opposite (100% different as he says). Better watch:


Market share and trends for top e-commerce platforms

E-commerce has been a very hot area for many years and we were lucky to be involved in different roles in e-commerce businesses. After the disappointment of the early years of our century, click-and-mortar visions have morphed into cross-channel and then omni-channel approaches focusing a lot on delivering a consistent experience to consumers across touchpoints throughout a wide variety of possible customer journeys. What is the market share of each of the top e-commerce platforms in different segments of e-commerce sizes? What are the trends? Which look like good entry-level options with potential to scale? Some answers in a summary of a bit of research in this post.


Brand equity and brand content

Working on brand equity, storytelling and community management with customers in recent months gave us food for thought regarding the relationship between a brand and the contents associated to that brand. Our conclusion is that the interaction between brand and brand contents may either be nurturing or weakening the brand irrespective of the intrinsic "quality" of contents. In fact, it's a matter of consistency between what the brand stands for in the minds of its consumers and the contents associated with that brand. That degree of consistency will define how trustworthy the brand appears to be and how credible and desirable the brand stories are in the eyes of the consumers.


Zappos' Hsieh: Building a Formidable Brand

As usual Hsieh speaks with passion about the importance of culture and of creating a workplace that is fun to work in. Crucially he shows how building a formidable brand is never divorced from the endeavor to developing an amazing culture and to creating a workplace that's fun to work in day in day out. The presentation below is really worth your time, especially if you live and work in a country where customer service is not the strongest point of focus of businesses.


Kate Spade Saturday concept trial in Manhattan

Back in the summer of 2013 Kate Spade Saturday tried a concept involving huge touch-screens deployed at different locations in Manhattan to offer a service making it possible for consumers to order and get the products delivered anywhere in the city. The concept was deployed in cooperation with eBay.

The whole operation definitely captures attention. It may be a good way to communicate with the public about the brand and its cool, innovative spirit, but is this a viable business model?

A case of botched pivot

A few days ago GetGlue merged with i.TV and executed a "zoom-in" pivot dropping its universal check-in model to focus on becoming the platform for real-time updates about live TV. Aside from the expected benefits from the move itself, which is discussed in a post on Engadget, the dimension of execution seems to be leaving a lot to be desired and shows how carefully a pivot should be prepared.


From inspiration to acquisition

According to recent reports, ASAP54 recently got a round of funding in excess of € 3m to develop its app, which allows smartphone users to process images and identify products in the picture. With only minimal interaction with the user, the app will offer a list of products similar to those in the picture and allow the user to filter them according to criteria like color and price range. So, your favorite actor is wearing a jacket that would suit you perfectly? All you have to do is take a picture or a screenshot and have ASAP54 suggest similar products along with links to shops selling the jacket. Same thing for nice design objects or furniture. The app will also allow users to publish their "asaps" and their lists of asaps which could end up looking like moodboards or like more intelligent versions of Pinterest's pins. The following video will give you an idea of how the app will work.


The obvious business model for this app feels like being affiliation, whereby online merchants will pay ASAP54 a fee for business the app sends their way, but there is also strong potential for that app actually becoming a tool of trend-setters and influencers in fashion, interior design and styling.


Smart move by Dropbox

Dropbox started sending out emails to its users with a special offer granting 48 GB of storage free for two years. That feels like a killer approach to convert non-paying users to subscriber status because when you have all those gigs available online you will be tempted to keep them there. If conversion does not reach their target levels they still have the options of: (a) extending the free period, (b) lowering the entry level subscription, (c) offering a special discount for a period of time to new subscribers.

Service (re)design needed at MediaMarkt.be

Very simple and modest case study of some of the worst pitfalls in designing and promoting an e-commerce service. It is quite surprising to see that type of situations in rather big companies and it's probably a good example of the reason why e-commerce requires proper service and UX design, especially when the ambition is to offer a consistent cross-channel experience.

Pivot: a crucial strategic move

With the extraordinary adoption of "lean" or "agile" methods in the field of start-up foundation and development founders and leaders of more established businesses come across the concept of "pivot". The term has a more positive flavor to it than "restructuring of the business model" or "change of strategy", both of which it is in fact. But, the concept of pivot is not always very clear and we sometimes come across teams that fail to understand how critical the timing and management of a pivot move is; in execution the most challenging aspects are often:

  1. the alignment of internal resources to the new model
  2. communication with the market
  3. transition to the new model in terms of customer retention, service continuity and discontinuity, operational interfaces with established ecosystems

When we are dealing with such transitions in larger organizations the pivot is less of a pivot and more of a tectonic shift with a completely different magnitude of challenge when it comes to managing change, training people, hiring, firing, reorganizing processes, changing tools and methods... etc.
In this post, you'll find a good presentation about pivot, while in future posts we'll give you:

  1. an example of a botched pivot move at GetGlue, now tvtag
  2. an account from the field in an established company that needed to re-invent itself


New site

More than time to put some order into our online presence. Over the years, BusinessQuests has been trying all sorts of tools and experimenting with different formats: typepad, wordpress, flavors.me, posterous, twitter, facebook, google+... The result was chaos in our own web presence and some serious challenges to ensure some form of consistency in terms of topics tackled and media channels used to speak about those topics.
So we made the decision to clean-up a bit and simplify a lot to focus more on content about what we enjoy doing and do very well by customers' account. While running a visually hyper-attractive site is easy these days, we chose to go back to a very basic and robust platform to power this site (blogger) and to leverage other resources to make it more visual. So no sliders, no animations, no fancy multi-level menu and a super-basic implementation of language selection. We'll also be notifying about new content on our accounts and pages on twitter, google+, facebook and linkedin, probably using rules-based procedures via IFTTT. Depending on topics of research and on projects we may also develop specific mood-boards on Pinterest (e.g. this board which is about doors, the focus of one of our recent projects - yes, our line of business is full of unexpected yet marvelous contexts).
Our "historic" blog has also been migrated from typepad to blogger and remains online at this link although it will not receive new content from now on because we're refocusing content on the topics listed at the top banner of this site.


Hello world

Hello world...
Yes, we left this online although it was only used to help us in our work to set-up a new version of web presence. It's an anchor for the time when we migrated, simplified and refocused our writing ;-)