May has been a month of innovation and continued regulatory shifts in the tech sector. It can be difficult to keep up with the endless waves of change (Elon Musk’s continual indecision over purchasing Twitter spring to mind for anyone?), but the Firefly team always havs our finger on the pulse. Here’s our lowdown on what you might have missed.
It’s no secret that supply chain issues and the candidate crisis have plagued businesses significantly recently. But what if AI innovation could offer the solution?
A growing number of startups are applying AI technology alongside established logistics firms to help businesses ease supply concerns. In the recruitment arena, AI is becoming an increasingly effective tool for hiring strong candidates. Google has even gone as far to develop almost human-level intelligence. Increasing efficiencies is always beneficial; we will certainly be tracking these developments closely.
As the power of AI innovation grows, so do the legal restrictions within the technology sector. The UK Government is set to introduce new competition rules for large tech companies, paving the way for innovation among smaller businesses.
When it comes to user safety, the discussion on the Online Safety Bill continues. Campaigners argue the current provisions do not sufficiently address violence against women and girls, showing that greater protections are needed. We’re also seeing a crackdown on Big Tech’s data collection, with the global central bank calling for individuals to be given more control.
These moves highlight greater oversight is needed over the sector to ensure that everyone can engage with technology safely and freely.
June has been a less than ideal month for the crypto world, as several stablecoins crashed in a historic market collapse. Though, if anyone fancies a trip to Gucci’s US-based stores, rest assured you can use bitcoin to complete your purchase there, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Finally, let’s not forget about the ever-expanding possibilities of VR innovation. Everyone’s favourite music streaming service is now on board, and even the sunny seaside city of Portsmouth has recently launched a VR centre, so that we can all get our fix whilst on our summer holidays.
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In 2017, our CEO Claire questioned whether innovation was stagnating across social media channels. Almost two years later, I believe we can say with hindsight that the answer to this was and still is a very firm ‘yes’. The Facebook, Twitter and Instagram experiences that we all have today are much the same as they were two, three or even five years ago.
But my colleague Charlotte recently raised another question – was anyone else really underwhelmed when Apple announced its expansion into streaming and credit cards? Perhaps the mega-brand will make incremental innovations in these markets, but I’m certainly not at the edge of my seat, anticipating something exciting.
In the noughties, innovation accelerated at such a pace that it was unlikely it could be maintained. Instead, the innovation we see today is either incremental, or in the start-up world, and these firms are quickly snatched up by larger organisations to help fuel their innovation initiatives.
However, is this an overly glib view of the world? After all, the smartphone wasn’t born overnight – the first ‘personal communicator’ was released by IBM in 1992, costing $1,100, with a one-hour battery life but fully capable of sending emails. It sold just 50,000 units. 15 years later, in 2007, the first iPhone was released with a humble 3.5” screen – but it still sold over 6 million units.
And in fairness, it’s not for lack of trying – AR and VR have not provided the next revolution of technology that we expected. Even 3D printing has only just started to deliver a very specific set of capabilities in plastic and metal printing after being hyped in its infancy. This is one technology that we do believe will have a revolutionary impact, but it will take time.
It feels like the technological ‘base’ of the next ‘innovation jump’ has simply not arrived – neither blockchain nor quantum processing nor graphene has immediately delivered on the hype; probably because genuine innovation is soul-crushingly difficult. I remember talking to Stephen Sasson about how he invented the digital camera back in 1975 – before most people had computers in their homes! It wouldn’t be until 1986 that the first model (from rival Canon) hit the markets with a list price of ¥390,000 – just over three thousand pounds in today’s money, accounting for inflation!
Solutions and Remedies
So, from a communications standpoint, how can we counteract this? After all, having an awesome product isn’t the only way to stand out. I’ve lost track of the times when I’ve bought an Innocent Smoothie because of those little knitted hats they put on the bottles in winter to support Age UK – even though other smoothies taste pretty much identical. The advantages of a strong brand, and that brand’s reputation, is inestimably important in this regard.
Clearly, one (non-communications) possibility is rapid iteration of products – but then you run the risk of ending a product line that has a large number of loyal users already. It’s much safer to make use of your other brand assets, including:
– Great support: Do you go the extra mile for customers? Like Rackspace, could you build a reputation for ‘fanatical support’?
– Great personality: Does your brand know exactly what it stands for? Is it almost a person in its own right? The cute, friendly image that Innocent Smoothies cultivated sold a lot of smoothies even after competitors launched their own rival products, often at a huge discount.
– Amazing staff: When I worked with Red Bee Media (now part of Ericsson) the firm had a 98% staff retention rate because people absolutely loved working there – and you could feel that pride radiating through the office. One guy said to me “I’m the last person to handle footage before it goes live on air – why would I do anything else?”. When you’ve got staff like this, shout about them.
– A more personalised service or great consultancy: Do you stop at nothing to make sure that your product absolutely fits the customer need? If you’re working for a boutique consultancy or a services firm, like a hotel chain, this is another point of differentiation to seize.
– Great sustainability initiatives: Are you the greenest of the green – or do you just have a great, pragmatic vision for how sustainability is a genuine business asset? My colleague Marco was telling me about HP’s vision for running a datacentre with cow dung the other week, and it’s not something I’m likely to forget!
Once you’ve identified this factor, you then need to work out how to ‘turn it up’ and use it as a differentiator. As I’ve said before, every single brand has a story to tell and something to shout about – it’s just a matter of working out what that thing is!
Similarly, in the post-#metoo age of transparency, an authentic, transparent, kind brand is often as valuable, if not more so, than a truly unique product. Don’t despair if you think your product / service is ‘boring’ (and we disagree if you do think that) – there are plenty of other ways to stand out and win the communications race.
Innovation. The introduction of something new and a word we hear about all the time in the creative industry. It can be crucial to the initial and continuing success of a business, but also crippling if you don’t commit to it and give consumers exactly what they want.
Customer service is often considered to be the key to a brand’s reputation, but part of keeping the customer happy and loyal, is to bring something new and exciting to keep them engaged. And that’s where individuality and innovation come in, because people will get bored easily. Remember how popular HQ Trivia was only a few months back? Now, the novelty of potentially winning £500 at 3pm and 9pm everyday has worn off, so people simply aren’t bothered by it anymore. Consumers are more intrigued by the concept of HQ Trivia, rather than the brand itself and frankly, the game became more of a trend than a sustainable brand.
A recent study revealed that UK CMOs are almost half as likely to see innovation as the primary role of the marketing function as their US counterparts – only 25% of UK marketers identify “leading disruptive innovation” as a core functional priority. Surprising, since you only need to Google “innovation” to see all the articles that express the importance of innovation in business. So, why are marketers so resistant to prioritise it?
Understanding exactly what consumers want when it comes to new innovations can be tough, especially when there are so many other brands competing for the same crowds, and it can seem difficult to get noticed by anyone. In recent years, brands have attempted to create new marketing techniques, particularly on social media, to try and break through the noise. But some of these actually have a very minimal effect on the relationship between the brand and consumer.
Awareness day campaigns are obvious examples of this. “National Avocado Day”, “International Sloth Day” or “Bring a Potato to Work Day” are just a few of the many examples of this kind of activity that are constantly popping up and trending on social media. And brands are quick to seize the opportunity to create extravagant campaigns, even if the topic has no correlation with their brand. But because it’s trending and popular, they want to be in on it. Whilst some brands are capable of pulling something off – like Aperol giving out free Aperol spritz on National Prosecco Day (yes please!) – for others, the buzz and engagement only really lasts for the day, so is it really worth it?
Similarly, brands who jump on the clickbait-, relatable-type Facebook posts, like the “Tag your friend so that they have to look at this pickle” or “Share if you think XYZ” posts, among others, will only ever get lots of likes, shares and comments on that post and that tends to be where the engagement with the user stops. Consumers are only liking, sharing and commenting because they can relate to the content, not because they want to engage with the brand. Converting leads is said to be a top priority for 70% of marketers, but jumping on social media trends won’t always deliver the best ROI.
Churning out new products or coming up with big, extravagant marketing campaigns is what most people expect when they think of innovation, and what brands think will gain them more customers. But innovation doesn’t have to be as big as that. In fact, small, more focused approaches to innovation can be more beneficial to the brand. Micro influencers, for example, are more focused than a huge, celebrity influencer because they have followers who are genuinely interested in the content that they post.
Likewise, engaging with consumers in a way that’s meaningful will be much more valuable for your brand in the long-term. Challenger bank, Monzo, has a community forum where its users can chat to each other about Monzo products and interact with a team of Monzo employees to discuss new ideas. It allows Monzo to properly listen to what their customers are thinking, and the customers really feel like they are part of the Monzo brand.
Jumping on the bandwagon of novelty marketing trends is easily done, especially when you see every other brand taking part. But it’s important to stay in-line with business values, making sure the customer is front of mind and asking yourself “will this really benefit my business and gain me loyal customers?”
Every brand has something unique and interesting which makes them who they are – otherwise they wouldn’t be a brand. Finding what makes a brand unique and exploiting that, instead of jumping onto current, popular trends, will be much more valuable in the long run – just because everyone might be talking about one thing one day, doesn’t mean they’ll be talking about it the next.
They say that the secret of success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – and that’s certainly true for any one campaign – but when you’re facing a new financial year and taking a more strategic view, you can’t keep sweating the same propositions over and over, expecting to achieve great results.
This is particularly tough in the marketing world where it might feel like the industry moves fast, but new developments and channels can be relatively few and far between. So, when you’re considering how to promote existing products and services, how do you choose between existing, tried-and-tested tactics and new, innovative services?
It goes without saying that the first step is to know your audience and understand your micro and macro environments, conducting proven methods like SWOT and PEST (or PESTEL) analyses to learn or re-evaluate where your company and its products sit. This understanding should influence any and all tactics and campaigns you embark upon.
But after this, you’ll still have a mountain of choice. One model we’ve often adapted for strategic planning is the Boston Matrix, which is generally used for product marketing but can nonetheless be used for more general communications and PR.
Cows, Stars, Dogs and Children
The Boston Matrix splits propositions across two axes – growth and market share.
In general, the matrix looks at products – for example, at one stage, the humble iPod was a problem child – new to the market, incapable of using USB, only working with Apple computers. But as it gained ground, it became a star performer, and then a cash cow as the market saturated.
However, we’re going to apply this grid to marketing tactics, from eDM to press releases, webinars to roundtables, as well as using emerging channels like Snapchat and Houseparty.
And of course, your first reaction might be – no doubt conditioned by looking at too many Gartner Magic Quadrants – that you don’t want to be anywhere near the ‘low market share / low market growth’ category, but it’s not necessarily a terrible thing to have some presence there. In our experience, it’s more that everything should be in the right proportions and the right mix. You don’t make a cake with just one ingredient.
So, how should marketers split their time between innovation and perspiration?
Problem Children: It’s usually impossible to chart which tactics will grow like crazy – and everything, even social networks – started somewhere with a low market share. But problem children are risky – they smoke, drink and need firm discipline if they are to grow into mature adults. In the case of marcomms, these may include unusual channels and growth tactics like mixed reality experiments, new social networks like musical.ly and Houseparty (And even, some might say, Snapchat!). However, this kind of experimentation shouldn’t take up more than 10 to 20 percent of your marcomms mix.
Star Performers: Every brand loves to have a star performer tactic, but it’s vital not to make assumptions about what constitutes one. For example, many brands have seen a resurgence of success by using ‘old’ tactics like physical direct mail. This may be relatively expensive but provides a great brand experience and great returns in select sectors like women’s fashion. However, star performers can also include areas like search marketing, because Google is ubiquitous for finding new products and services. Star performers have usually been tried and tested for a year or more, but can often be cash and effort intensive. We’d recommend that these tactics form around 30 percent of your mix – if you’re lucky enough to have some.
Cash Cows: These are your absolutely tried and tested, guaranteed tactics that reach your audience time and time again. Of course, most marketers would love to invest all their time and effort in star performers, reaching the dizzy heights of success but, in our experience, it’s simply not feasible to do so. Cash cows deliver at an acceptable cost, are comfortable, reliable – but shouldn’t be over-relied on! We usually find that half of marcomms tactics are ‘cash cows’.
Old Dogs: These are old, potentially shrinking tactics delivering smaller and smaller returns. We find that many large tradeshows fit into this bracket – they are sprawling and expensive, with little focus and almost no chance of helping your brand stand out. No more than 10 percent of your marcomms budget and time should be spent with old dogs. In fact, being completely candid, there’s only one thing to do with old dogs: hug them, thank them and let them move on to the great kennel in the sky.
So why not chart out where your marcomms tactics fit in the Boston Matrix? Be warned – if all of your tactics are cash cows and old dogs, your campaigns are probably getting old and dusty. But similarly, if you’re always focusing on innovation – laudable but inherently risky – then you’re probably not delivering enough predictable value for the board to justify your budget.
Like any department in the business, marketing must never put all its eggs in one basket, and must walk the fine tightrope of propositions and innovation if it is to be successful. Simply sitting down and waiting for success won’t get you there, and you also don’t want to be landing on the crash mat with egg on your face! So take the time to run through the matrix now, see where you are, and make a change before the new financial year starts in earnest.
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