The Great #Data Overload Part 3: Differentiating in a #Digital World

Have you noticed that what was once old is new again? In particular, I’m talking about traditional direct marketing techniques, such as door-to-door sales, print circulars, and telephone cold calling. It’s as if businesses realise that to be heard and to get noticed in the digital world, you have to do something different or unexpected, and nobody expects to see a door-to-door salesperson these days!

MBPI mostly work from a home office, and in recent months I have had door-knockers trying to sell me car tyres, energy-saving devices and fire extinguishers. That’s in addition to the telesales calls persuading me to switch phone and utility providers, take out insurance or upgrade my security software (yes, I know that last one is probably a scam). Plus, more and more local businesses and tradespeople are using good old-fashioned leaflets and letter box drops (which is interesting, given that around 58% of local search is done on a mobile device).

Why are some advertisers reverting to this form of direct marketing?

I can think of several reasons:

  • They need to cut through the digital noise and reach their target audience via “novel” promotional tactics.
  • Their products and services are less-suited to on-line or in-app purchasing decisions.
  • Their sales activities are focused on acquiring existing customers from competitors, a conversion process more likely to succeed via personal contact.
  • Or simply, the costs make more sense.

Why is it important to differentiate? 

It’s 10 years since “Blue Ocean Strategy” was published, which stressed the need to stand apart from your competition (“avoid the shark-infested waters”). The message is even more relevant today, because the ubiquity of social media and content marketing platforms means that everyone has access to the same tools, and it’s not that difficult to play technology catch up; and while there may be good reasons for your business to engage with these channels to market, you also need some alternatives, like offering direct customer engagement that is not wholly reliant upon on-line and digital. That’s why some banks are opening more branches as part of their growth and customer acquisition strategy, why some retailers are offering “buy on-line, collect in-store”, and why some service companies are moving to an integrated, end-to-end customer experience, so that customers get the same person helping to resolve their problem from start to finish.

How to differentiate?

Standing out from the crowd (for the right reasons!) is critical to attracting customer attention. Competing on price alone is typically a race to the bottom where nobody wins. Getting noticed, especially when everyone is using the same marketing tools and sales offers, may mean doing something unusual or unexpected (for example, ALDI‘s “anti-ads”) as part of your marketing campaign. Or connecting directly with your audience in a way that doesn’t rely on “Likes”, “Shares” or “Follows”.

Sometimes it’s as simple as as this leaflet (shown above) found in my letter box the other day. At first, I thought it was a flyer for a local bar. Then, I noticed it was promoting a new smart phone app. On closer inspection, the flyer comprised a printed sheet hand-pasted onto a page torn from a magazine. That’s a lot of manual effort to promote a digital product, but using a lo-tech solution that totally makes sense! (No doubt, it appeals to the hipster crowd, ’cause retro’s cool, right?) So, the element of surprise (if that was the intention) worked – it got my attention because I wouldn’t have expected to receive a leaflet for a new app.*

Next week: “Why? Because we’ve always done it this way…”

Notes

* For an interesting story on the power of the unexpected, see Adam Posner’s talk on customer loyalty programs.

 

The Great #Data Overload Part 2: Is #Digital Making Us Dumber?

The pursuit of digital (and by implication, many data-related activities) is making us dumber. Whether it’s constant multi-tasking, the need for instant gratification, the compulsion to always be “on”, or the ease of access to content and connections, there’s actually a law of diminishing returns in trying to capture and engage with all this “stuff”.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 10.24.54 am

Image © 2014 Universal Pictures

Consequently, our decision-making is increasingly governed by a hair-trigger mechanism – a single-click here, a right-swipe there, a “Like”/”Share” here, there, everywhere – which makes the outcome far less important than the instantaneous and self-validating process (“I Tweet therefore I am”). The quality of our interactions and relationships risks being reduced to a single lowest common denominator of the “fear of missing out” (#FoMo).

Current business practises focus on lean, agile and flexible – meaning that we have to get used to operating in a rapidly moving environment. However, agility is not helped by either procrastination or rash calls.

Faced with these demands on our attention, how can we come to a truly informed opinion or considered conclusion? The trick is knowing whether or not you are required to respond (not everything is relevant, vital or critical that it needs your constant or immediate participation – sometimes silence is golden). If you must make a call, then know when you have enough (hopefully, the “right”) data to make a rational and reasonable decision.

How do we build a capacity for calm, considered and constructive engagement with the digital world?

Part of the challenge is changing our (recently acquired) habits and behaviours. Speaking to friends and colleagues, there is a growing realization that reaching for your smart phone just before going to sleep (or as soon as you wake up), or constantly checking for status updates, is a noxious habit. Apart from the impact it has on our brain activity, it is also reinforcing our belief that this is normal, that we are somehow subservient to these devices, and that interacting with the digital environment takes priority over everything else. I know, I’m as guilty as the next person (watching the tennis on TV while checking the cricket scores on my iPhone…), but I am also trying to be more critical of my own digital consumption:

  • Not responding immediately to every e-mail – this is about time management skills as much as anything else; the faster you respond, the more you raise expectations that you will always answer straightway
  • Unsubscribing to mailing lists – in recent weeks, I have been unsubscribing to various newsletters because I was simply no longer interested in them or because they were no longer useful; if something’s important enough, I’ll no doubt find out about it from another source
  • Being selective about social media – I’ve written about this before in the context of authenticity and personal branding; in short, I find it essential to use different social media tools for different purposes (and to use each tool differently). That way, I manage to keep some separation between various parts of my professional and personal lives – at the very least, it acts as a helpful filter between the public and private
  • Choosing on-line connections carefully – this is another topic I have covered in a previous blog; not all our interactions are equal, and other than some basic relationship filters, most social network platforms don’t allow us to distinguish between friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and someone we met at a conference.* So, I generally decline unsolicited “friend” requests if I have not actually met or interacted with the person previously, or if I cannot find relevant mutual connections, or if I do not see what value I can add by being connected to this person.
  • Limiting notifications and status updates – similar to managing in-bound e-mail, I tend to switch off/ignore real-time notifications and updates. Instead, I prefer to check-in no more than once or twice a day, rather than always being logged in.

Finally, I’m hoping to develop a status setting for my smart phone that responds to all incoming notifications with messages such as: “Neither on nor off, merely resting”, “taking a mental pause”, “out to lunch”, or “making time for reflection before I respond”.**

Next week: Differentiating in a digital world

Notes:

* I recently heard about Humin, which is sort of moving in this direction, but it’s really a personalised CRM tool for your smart phone

** Apple’s “Do Not Disturb” function only supports “on/off” with respect to phone calls, and with a limited scope to filter contacts

Content Marketing and the “New Hierarchy of Needs”

Maslow’s theory on the “Hierarchy of Needs” has become shorthand for explaining human behaviour and motivation – primarily in our personal lives, but increasingly in our working lives. At the risk of offering an answer to yet another first world problem, it seems to me that many social media platforms and content marketing solutions are trying to recalibrate Maslow for generating deeper (and sometimes more meaningful) engagement with consumers. So, by way of a simple infographic, I am offering my own theory on the new hierarchy of needs:

New Hierarchy of Needs

 

When we are looking for a product or service to meet a need, we are usually in “discovery mode” – we are searching for content that helps us by offering suggestions, comparing products and prices, and clarifying the precise need. So, we are either browsing, curious, or looking for assistance.

Having found some possible solutions, we seek reassurance via informed recommendations, peer referrals and published reviews. We may place different weight on this information depending on the source, but we are seeking justification for our reason to buy, or validation for becoming a customer.

If we are happy with our choice, and given the right opportunity and encouragement, we may be willing to tell our friends and anyone else who’s interested via Likes and social media posts and reviews. This is an interesting point in the engagement transaction – going from peer-to-peer sharing, to looking for approval for our decision from the wider community.

Finally, if we are so enamoured with the product, and we enjoy sharing our experiences, we may be flattered into making a lifestyle statement about our preferences; we could become a self-identified “voice of authority” through blogging and endorsements, or we might be willing to be closely identified with a brand as an advocate or champion (the sort of customer beloved of Net Promoter Scores).

The ultimate consumer-turned-champion was, of course Victor Kiam, the customer who liked the product so much, he bought the company….

Joining Australia Post’s “National Conversation”

In a previous blog, I offered some thoughts on the possible digital future for AusPost. In response, I have been contacted by one of their social media consultants, drawing my attention to the “National Conversation“.

First, I acknowledge that AusPost is attempting to have an “open” conversation with customers, but I don’t see how this is really helping, other than generating a range of (conflicting) opinions, with little cohesion around the key issues. Participation rates in the Topics to date has been very erratic (in terms of numbers, and geographic distribution).

Second, I have read CEO Ahmed Fahour’s latest address, and frankly it did not inspire me. Basically, it was a whinge about the decline in letter volume, and the “challenges” of the Internet (which, as he says, has been with us for 25 years…. hardly a new event!) I also think there are some factual inaccuracies in Mr Fahour’s assumptions: I don’t believe that Australians are any less digital citizens than their OECD counterparts – they have always been reasonably early adopters of new technology (as evidenced by the number of smart phones and tablets). Where they have been slow is in moving to online services, but this is in large part due to poor Internet services (notoriously slow connection speeds and restricted bandwidth, and exorbitant access fees), coupled with a paucity of reliable online platforms – which is ironic given the push towards eGovernment, eCommerce and the digital economy around 1999-2001.

Third, and staying on the topic of eCommerce, the one recurring theme that does emerge from the National Conversation so far is the high cost of sending small parcels. I agree with some of the feedback that it is often cheaper (and quicker!) to order consumer items from overseas online retailers. Shouldn’t Australian consumers expect to benefit from the economies of scale to be achieved from a growing parcel business?

Finally, my previous blog suggested that digital transactions are the future for AusPost (while acknowledging the need to maintain its statutory obligations for letter delivery) – but apart from e-mail and bill payments, Mr Fahour’s address was rather silent on this point. That scares me, as it suggests a lack of vision for an integrated digital strategy. After almost 5 years in the job, you’d think a few more ideas would have emerged by now.

(Afterthought: maybe AusPost should check out what Shomi is doing – a local start-up with some smarts in linking the physical and digital worlds.)