Monthly Archives: January 2013

You’re in High Definition Demand

Back in July last year I wrote a blog article about the concept of on demand film and television and my view that it won’t be that long before the model of delivering entertainment to us will shift from a schedule basis to a on demand basis. It is interesting that only 6 months on from that blog article the shift has already started. Anglo-Yanky Kevin Spacey has recently announced a USA remake of the ‘House of Cards’ TV series, the political drama that was so popular in the 1990’s in the UK. But what is significant about the announcement is that it is intended to be released, at least initially, via Netflix online rather than via a television network. The show, which premieres on 1st March in the US, is a typically modern television feast with big budgets, big names and no doubt big expectations for success. So it is either a daring experiment or a Sky Atlantic style marketing ploy that it is being launched on the online subscription service, rather than on an open TV network. Either way, what is assured is that the entire TV industry will be carefully watching how this show does to see if on demand, online, is the way forwards.

What is very interesting is the prominence of services like Netflix and LoveFilm, to name but two of the brands avaialable. Having watched Blockbuster recently demise it is clear that the way we want to consume films and television has changed. Take my household as an example, we bought a new TV at Christmas to replace the behemoth old thing in the corner with a shiny new flat screen HD LED, with 3D and more significantly SmartTV. We are fans of LoveFilm and use their DVD by post service, but this new television now means that instead of waiting for the DVD we can simply login through the television and pick from thousands of films and television series to watch there and then. We don’t have to wait until the following week for the next episode because they are all avaialble and a lot of the films are very recently released. As we have children and are in the middle of the recession we don’t often go to the cinema so instead we can wait just a little longer and watch the film on demand, without having to pay £5 for a packet of Maltesers!

Blockbusters failure to see the power of online, and more importantly that TV’s would move online, was their own doom. But it appears that some of the leading lights in TV and Film are already beginning to embrace this, with the backing of the production companies. And that is, I believe, the key point and what will ultimately be what leads to the shift towards on demand being the norm. Once the production companies and re-sellers see the potential and start to focus on the online, on demand market rather than the showcase of cinema and scheduled television then things will change rapidly.

There is a lot of talk, plenty from me as well, that 2013 will be the year of mobile but by the looks of things it could also be the year of on demand as well. Watch this space!

2013 – the year of the mobile

Recently E-Consultancy recently wrote about the ‘most exciting digital opportunity for marketers in the coming year’ being mobile optimisation. They are right, there is little doubt about that, and their stats are very compelling. They rightly mention that a wider mobile experience is necessary, considering the whole mobile strategy rather than simply creating a mobile site or making sure content works. But something I feel they don’t highlight enough is the need for a robust strategy that aims to understand the whole perspective, as every business is different and so are their customers.

Having run mobile strategies for large global brands, the importance of understanding the context, appetite and behaviour of their customers on mobile is paramount in approaching mobile optimisation of their digital assets. It isn’t just about making everything work well on mobile, although that is a big part of it, it is about understanding how your customers want to do things on mobile devices, because it is not the same for all customers across all businesses.

The first thing to understand about “mobile” is that it has more than one meaning. In the case of this article I am referring to mobile devices (i.e. the handsets) and also people being mobile (i.e. moving around). Understanding both of these in the context of your mobile strategy is extremely important because thinking about a user journey for your customer whilst they are in the queue at the station, whilst looking at their android phone, is going to be different to to your customer sat at home in the evening on their laptop or desktop computer.

Mindset and context are all important as it changes our expectations of a site and the behaviour we exhibit as users of devices is different because of this:

  • Mobile devices are what we call ‘sit forward’, in that you tend to be sat forward looking at them for a short period of time, whilst on the move. Your ideal user journey is therefore short, involves browsing by flicking quickly through things at pace and is often shallow. As a user you make a decision about whether the content is what you want very quickly and you expect the page to be visual rather than text based. The most important thing is that as a user they are often on the move so are time poor and want content quickly.
  • Tablet devices are what we call ‘sit back’, as usually we have a little more time to think about what we are doing and are also slightly more relaxed. Users therefore expect more on the page as they are more willing to spend a little time engaging with the content, but on touch screen devices it is important to make sure the experience is engaging, visual and information and intuitive otherwise it simply won’t fit the medium. Often these are ‘browsing’ journeys as people tend to ‘free wheel’ around content as their whim takes them.
  • Desktop (or laptop) computers are more ‘premeditated’ and often involve some amount of thought before engaging. For example, it might be a research task being undertaken and therefore a user is more targetted and focussed on what they are looking for. These journeys tend to require more information, more text (although still not too much) and longer periods of time on pages. Often multiple tabs would be open on the browser and users will keep pages open and flick between them. This is the detailed information journey that takes more time and really needs to make sense in terms of linking between content.

Although there is no 100% rule on how people use one device over another, the above is a good way of thinking about it as a start point and needs to be considered as part of planning a mobile strategy. It is important to understand what the key ‘must have’ points are and make sure they are facilitated in the mobile journey. But understanding that there is a different mindset to how we consume content depending on the device will ultimately lead to planning the content to be suitable for each channel.

Creating and understanding your personas is another key consideration. There are no hard and fast rules about how an audience behaves so one business cannot assume that their mobile website can work in the same way as another’s. In strategies I have managed we have spent a considerable amount of time understanding exactly how and when an expat would use his or her mobile and therefore what they would want to know at that time, versus when and where they would use a desktop or tablet. This was key in understanding the rapidity at which they not only want but need to access content and therefore how we make it available to them.

Another consideration that comes out of this understanding is the technical approach to take with optimising for mobile. Do you go for a mobile website, a responsive site or an app?

  • Mobile websites are separate sites, often with as their URL. They exist as separate sites to the desktop site and they recognise that a fundamentally different experience is needed for mobile devices than for desktop sites. If your content needs to be detailed, in depth and very different on a desktop site to a mobile site then it is worth considering this approach, but remember that it requires additional maintenance, a whole different build and a different set of content.
  • Responsive websites are the new buzz word in digital, even though they have been around for a while. This is when you have a single website that dynamically changes itself to suit the resolution of the device being used to view it. A key consideration is ‘responsive experience’ rather than responsive design as it is both technically possible and often required (from a UX POV) to radically change the user experience depending on the device being used. The key thing about this approach is that it is one website for all and therefore the planning of this is quite key. Often starting from mobile first and building up is a good way to make sure that the mobile site has everything that is needed before working out how to pad out the desktop, rather than being left trying to work out how you would fit all the content from a desktop site onto a mobile screen.
  • Apps are the other main option. Everyone wants an app but there are key questions that you should ask yourself before building one; does the process I am building live by itself? do my users need to be able to do it offline? does it require features from a mobile device? does the app provide a solution for a genuine need? There are other questions as well, but if the answer to all of the above is ‘no’ then you shouldn’t have an app. Apps are designed to be ‘pockets’ of functionality, serving a specific need and allowing users to do this without needing regular connections to the internet or other resources.

Often a mobile strategy will include one or more of the above and I have excluded web apps from the list as they are arguably mobile websites. Understanding where your business sits and where it aims to sit in the future on the spectrum of the above is quite important. If your user-base is unlikely to use an app then focussing your effort on that area is really not the best course of action. However, if your research shows your future market will be interested and actively using apps then having it on the long-term plan is important.

Which leads me to my last major point; create a road-map. It is another one of the corporate buzz words but the concept is important. I like to think of a road-map as like looking down a lens. The stuff in the foreground (i.e. the next few months to a year) should be crisply in focus. You should know what you are doing in the next year and you should be planning in detail and working towards delivering it. The further away you look the less in focus it is, meaning that the further along your timeline you look the less defined your work is. This recognises that the further down the line you look the more uncertainty there is about what might change in the wider world. Setting an exact plan for the next five years would be silly as you are unable to respond to unforeseen changes, but also not having a general direction to work in would be equally silly because you can’t work towards anything and you can’t build the foundations for the bigger picture now.

And this brings us full circle, because without doing the robust planning and research for your strategy up front you can’t start to formulate short and long term goals, because you don’t know what your targets are. But with good planning and research you can predict, with reasonable certainty, what your future userbase is, how they will behave and in what way they will engage with your business across devices. Using this information you can plan your immediate actions and make sure they are working towards the long term picture, whilst making sure that the long term plan is clear but flexible in case things drastically change.

Twitter – more network media than social media…

For a long time there has been debate as to whether ‘social media’ is the correct term for the online sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. I recently experienced the true power of social media and would tend to agree that it goes beyond ‘social’ media. I would describe it as ‘network’ media and this is why.

For a while now I have been mulling over an idea for a new app. I have the skills myself to plan, design and write the specifications for the app, but not being a developer I need someone who I can work with to do this. Having plenty of people I know, and have previously worked with, who are developers I thought that I would send a tweet (which will automatically then publish to my Facebook wall) asking “anyone out there in my network per chance a tame iOS developer? I have an app idea and looking for someone to dev it for me. Get in touch.” I sent this yesterday (10th January 2013) and the intention of my message had been to elicit a response from people I knew, but the key word I had used was ‘network’ and that took on a whole new meaning over the course of the following 8 hours.

Within an hour I had received tweets from 3 freelance developers, none of whom were followers of mine or people I followed. I also did not know them through Facebook. As the day continued I received further contact from people offering their company or themselves as a possible developer of my app project. This escalated to the point where by the end of the working day, only a matter of 4 or 5 hours after I had posted the tweet, I had been inundated with people offering development services and not one of them was someone I knew, followed or was following me. The power of Twitter as a networking tool was really beginning to show, whilst Facebook had shamefully failed to deliver a single response). Nonetheless, this was useful. I opened a dialogue on Twitter with a  couple of the more promising developers and passed them my private gmail account to continue the conversation.

But then things started to get a little bit uncomfortable. In logging in to my privately owned domain, where I reserve an email address for non-spam type personal things, I found an email waiting for me from another Indian based app agency, quoting my Tweet in the subject line. I try to limit the use of this email for such things so I immediately wondered where they had got this from. I responded and asked some pertinent questions about their service, experience and rates and also queried where they had got my email address from. It was beginning to feel a little bit like being stalked but as a savvy digital operator I wasn’t that concerned and as I got into the car to drive home that day I reflected on the merits of Twitter as a networking tool as well as a social tool. And then my phone rang…

The voice that greeted me on the other end of the phone was a charming and very well spoken Indian woman who said that she was one of the business development managers at an India based app development house. She asked if it would be convenient to chat with me about the requirements for the app I wanted to develop. I politely asked if she could email me through some examples of their work and their rate, expecting her to ask for my email address, but instead she thanked me for my time and hung up. By the time I got home (a 45 minute drive) an email from her was awaiting me. So she already had my email address as well, albeit my google one rather than my private one.

Today I have received further contact from other people, freelance and agency, offering to help me. They have been based in Los Angeles, New York, India and Sri Lanka and the list continues to grow. Because they have my google email I have also had a gtalk request from one of the Indian freelance developers. One of the agencies has also re-tweeted my comment, opening up the network of people who will directly see my comment even further, let alone those who will see it based on a word filter – which the original contactees must have done. The world really is networked and ready to respond.

What is quite amazing about this experience is the willingness of people to contact someone across this medium. From one comment I have received dozens of responses and none of them are people are know. What is even more amazing is the amount of people who have contacted me directly having seen the tweet, rather than via Twitter, as they have gone to the effort of searching for my email. In one case it must have been by going to one of my websites and pulling it from there. Some might find the whole experience a little intrusive, especially if they had meant the tweet to be strictly for those who know them as I had originally intended. For me, however, it highlights a whole new possibility for networking and finding people who can help me push forward a development. In the space of a couple of hours I had achieved more than a recruiter would have done for me in 2 weeks, and more importantly it was all free. Even better, I didn’t have anything lost in translation in terms of my requirements as a non-technical recruiter wasn’t the one talking to them.

Having had this experience my eyes have been opened a little more to the power and usefulness of Twitter. There are a couple of things to take from this, most importantly how easy it is for someone to find your contact details. If you don’t want them to have an email address then make sure it isn’t listed anywhere as these people are persistent. The second is that if you are going to put a message like that out there, expect to receive this kind of response. As this sort of thing develops I anticipate it will become harder to sort the wheat from the chaff and new ways will need to be found to allow people to eliminate ‘spam’ responses. But for the time being I urge people to see the power of network media, for that is what it is. Don’t forget, we are all linked by 6 people or less. Social is out…networking is in!

(P.S. It is still shocking that none of my colleagues want to earn any extra cash, as none of them have responded!)

Was it all just a flash in the pan?

As a freelance photographer in my spare time, one of my bug bears is photographers who have websites built in Flash. I am not entirely sure the main reason why I get so irritated by it but perhaps it is because in this day and age it seems necessary.

To be fair, I should probably start by looking at why Flash exists. Back in the dark ages there wasn’t really a code based way to make sites interactive and, dare I say it, ‘fun’. And this was necessary as more and more people began to use the internet as people needed ways to make sites look better and feel more enjoyable as an experience. Flash action scripts provided a way to make things more exciting. It meant that websites could move, be interactive and more lively. It meant that design could push new boundaries as sites could be less image and text based and start to explore interactive experiences such as tools. And another advantage of Flash is that if the plugin is installed then it will work on your browser, removing the need for completely different approaches depending on the browser you are using (well almost). Flash was in its element (if you excuse the pun).

But that in itself is a drawback. Flash is a plugin and therefore not a natural fit for browsers. Plugins require updating and versions get out of date quickly and of course the problem that we now see is that certain modern devices (names Apple) decide not to support the plugin at all and thus put pressure on us as practitioners to find alternatives. So now we get into the nitty gritty of my problem with flash…it is fundamentally flawed in terms of accessibility and more importantly search engines. Because search engine bots are designed to crawl text content anything that is built in flash is largely, if not completely, ignored.

This brings me back to my original point; if a photographer has a website built in flash and puts loads of really good SEO related content in it, so that people in their area looking for photo services can find him, none of that will be discovered by google (save for the URL and page names). That puts the photographer at a distinct disadvantage and anyone looking at the site on a device that doesn’t support Flash, which is increasingly likely in this day and age, won’t see anything at all. The same goes for any other business building a site. A good friend of mine runs a small and growing video production company. When consulting with possible suppliers for a website one quoted him a cheap price to build one in Flash and I immediately steered him away from this. Not least, besides the above, building a site in Flash with custom CMS elements means that should he choose to get someone else to change his website in the future this will make it very difficult and costly. The company were, in essence, trying to tie him in to a long term relationship which wouldn’t have been good for him.

To give Flash its due, it had a purpose and it served that purpose very well. But with the advent and improvement of more modern programming languages such as HTML5 and the improved ability of JavaScript and jQuery libraries there is not much that Flash can offer that these languages cannot achieve. The difference is that these modern languages can be accessible, they can work across devices and they don’t rely on plugins to make them work. There are also plenty of people out there who are skilled in these areas so you don’t need to employ a Flash specialist to create something for you and you can take template libraries as a start point, reducing costs and timescales.

It was very interesting that about a year ago I was present at a presentation by Adobe of one of their products. As a lead in they introduced their full suite of products and services and Flash was conspicuous in its absence from the presentation. Was this a sign that Flash is a thing of the past? I think so. The world is moving fast and very probably towards a world of integrated, cloud based technologies that will present themselves fluidly, responsively, in a number of different contexts and positions. Flash just doesn’t fit with that world. Flash is dead, long live Flexbox (or any other language you fancy!).

Twitter Marketing Campaigns…do they work?

A slight break for Christmas and New Year and back today with a relatively short one today, focusing on Twitter Marketing campaigns.

Leading up to Christmas Tesco launched a Twitter campaign for people to win a voucher to claim a chocolate bar. All you had to do was Tweet #PullACracker to a friend and then Tesco would tweek you with a link to an interactive cracker pull, which would award one of you with the voucher. What a great idea with all the hallmarks of a good PR campaign. It was simple, easy to do, effective and entertaining and it wasn’t surprising that my twitter stream was a live with these hashtags within minutes. It was really pleasing to see a brand like Tesco engaging in the social media space in such an innovative, simple way and I couldn’t see any way this could backfire.

Roll on New Year’s eve and unfortunately it all went a little bit wrong for a friend of mine. She took her voucher into her local store in Sidcup to claim her chocolate treat. This is where it all went a bit awry for her because as she presented her voucher the till worker looked at her blankly. It then got worse as they accused my friend loudly, in front of other customers, of faking the voucher and that they hadn’t heard of this campaign at all. She left the store very quickly, red faced and rather angry.

To give Tesco their credit, she tweeted this and they immediately responded to her to get further details and to report the incident. The problem is that this is now all happening in the very public Twitter platform and undermining the good PR that was initially gained from the #PullACracker campaign. Unfortunately for Tesco the issue here was that the internal communications clearly failed and therefore a brilliant initial campaign was let down by the supply chain part of the process. This is a great pity as otherwise this would have been a standout example of best practice in Twitter marketing. Most people will now, however, take the negative view and highlight again the issues with using social media as a promotional platform. I disagree as this could have happened even if it was an offline campaign and in this case Tesco were let down by a particularly stupid member of their staff.

With a few tweaks Tesco would have hit the jackpot. I don’t know how other people got on with this campaign but no doubt it was generally a success. Kelloggs recently released a Twitter campaign for their new crisp line that was a masterstroke. They opened a pop up store in London as a place where people could drop in and get a free bag of the new crisps as long as they then tweeted about it (which they could do from the shop). It didn’t matter what their tweet said as long as they said something. And then they laid on the gooey fluffy top notch customer service to anyone who walked through the door. What happened? Well unsurprisingly they received a huge amount of positive and free advertising from people who came and got their free bag of crisps. What Kelloggs did perfectly, but unfortunately Tesco just feel short of the mark on, was that they made sure the whole end to end experience was top notch. This is the key to any marketing campaign…consistency of experience.

What this does show is that, unlike the perception, social media is a hot bed of opportunity if people are willing to actually think through the campaign. There are plenty of ways to make the multitude of sites pay off for you as a brand, as long as you take it seriously (both from an external and internal point of view). We just need to get out there and put some more of these campaigns together to prove that there is value to be got from these sites.