Things I see, things I read, stuff that comes to mind.


My eyes opened in Kenya

It’s been a long time since my last post but my current holiday in Kenya has inspired me again.

It’s well known that in countries where the national wires infrastructure has been poor, the investment has been moved to mobile. About 9 years ago I was fortunate enough to spend some time with work out in Bangalore, India (an outsourced IT project). What struck me on that trip was how much content was being pushed via mobile. On that trip, it coincided with a major cricket tournament and the mobile network were spending a lot of money promoting their video content for these games. That was at a time when in the UK, it was probably only the adult entertainment folks who were pushing mobile video.

On this trip, I’ve been amazed about the reach that the mobile payment providers have. Driving through small villages that to western eyes are completely rundown and very poor, it was amazing to see the likes of Orange and M-Pesa advertising everywhere….hut after hut.

Putting touch payments on your Visa or the Barclaycard stickers to one side, these levels of micro-payments are incredible. Here in Kenya there are some changes ahead with some increased charges coming for these payment although it looks like transferring below around 80 pence will be free. The ease with which money can be moved is a signal to the rest of the world that the user experience in this space needs a lot of work. My bank account still takes a few hours to process payments and my credit card is even worse. M-Pesa works in pretty much real time.

With the UK having a large, physical banking network, there is probably a reticence to ditch the old world fully and embrace the new. New payment apps are starting to be introduced but are focused to a reason to stay with a given bank I.e. We have some cool new stuff and not necessarily looking at what would make the very best experience. Legislation and FSA rules no doubt play a part in some of these restrictions but having seen how a completely different model works, it makes you think what would be perfect for us.

The question is, what will mobile payment look like in another 10 years and which country will I be visiting to see the latest development? Will the UK ever become the world leader?


Simplifying the mobile experience

There are an increasing number of mobile apps that allow us to join the off and online worlds.

For some years now, shopping apps have allowed us to walk into our local retailer, scan a barcode and then see how much cheaper we could buy it elsewhere, albeit missing out on the instant gratification of something new.

Providing additional content and information to consumers is now common place. Walk into your local supermarket and you can find out the life history of your organic chicken or stand in front of the latest Harry Potter (HP7) poster to see the characters come to life.

The challenge today is that each of these pieces of added content needs a custom reader such as QR code or an augmented reality app (like Zappar or Blippar) before they can be consumed. Over time we will no doubt see QR code readers becoming the norm on all mobile devices (or everything will have an RDID/NFC tag) but as has been seen many times before, trying to develop a standard in the online world is once again going to be a challenge.

Just as Microsoft have their own interpretation of HTML and Apple feel that Flash isn’t a universal standard, I doubt that we’ll find agreement between iOS, Android and Windows Mobile in the short term but to truly set these opportunities free, agreement must be found.

The possibilities of bringing offline advertising and products to life with extended information online are almost limitless.

Rather than replacing the physical shopping experience, they have the ability to enrich them. Nobody wants to see their high streets completely empty (the number of shop closures at the start of the recession was a stark reminder) but the experience must be enjoyable…..and simple. Online driving footfall into store and retail enjoying an enhanced consumer experience through digital.

Driving these standards forward will increase consumer usage, providing mobile networks and content providers with many new monetisation opportunities. And it means more people will get to see some of the amazing things that are now possible. Like watching a giant rabbit come to life.

Do you go shopping with your friends?

The world of Group buying and Deals has gone “mainstream” with the launch of Facebook Deals. With both Facebook and Google now wanting to operate in this space, you have to wonder if the execs at GroupOn are perhaps re-considering their rejection of the $6B offer from Google.

Some would say that just like the real world where you find many supermarkets in the same area, the launch of these competing businesses is a hugely positive vote of confidence for the potential opportunity.

Group buying has of course been around for a few years already. GroupTrade and LetsBuyIt are just two examples of the first generation sites. Sadly they were probably too early in their creation and the power of social had not been realised at that stage.

Clubbing together to buy something strangely brings a small sense of community however it is interesting to see that this phenomenon never took off in the real world. Given the current economic conditions you would think that if 5 customers went into their local restaurant and asked for a 20% discount, the proprietor would oblige however I suspect that most would laugh you out of their restaurant (or threaten to call the police). But if a GroupOn rep sold them the idea of being a featured deal, they would probably leap at the opportunity.

This raises an interesting question about the psychology of online Group buying. Is it the anonymity (not being seen as cheap), the convenience (the offers come looking for you) or simply because that’s how things are done today?

Having started to look at Group buying for both this post and because I was looking for a hotel, it has become apparent that there is a need to drive hyperlocal deals. Finding deals in my city is fine but on a Saturday morning, being able to find out what deals are available on my local high street is where I really see the opportunity.

The GroupOn model of using sales reps has certainly been successful however it is a business model that carries a large cost. Google’s model overcomes this in terms of self-service however is still likely to miss out the small, niche businesses that would typically attract other services and more importantly would very much welcome the extra business.

Cracking hyperlocal marketing of deals will be an important move forward and the one that cracks that well (across desktop and mobile) will take a significant step forward in terms of gaining market share….and ultimately revenue generated.

And I hope you all claimed your free coffee for checking in at Starbucks last week.

Integrating campaigns between channels

As expected in any design and build project, a large amount of time is dedicated to understanding the user journey and subsequently the user experience. Research is carried out, personas are built, prototypes are tested again and again.

If media is part of the project then often the traffic generating channels are taken into account to support bought & owned media.

I have seen a growing trend of advertising campaigns that do not seem to take into account how offline activity can support the online elements of the campaign. Media choice, placement and creative seem to fail to support any previous investment in the customer experience on-site.

Let me work through a fairly recent campaign that I saw for a soft drinks maker. The specific placement was underground on a fairly long escalator. I remember the advert (some would say a great thing except that it’s for the wrong reason) as it was promoting a campaign site that had the most obscure URL I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what it was as we whizzed passed it and it was too difficult to decipher. Yes, the brand was recognisable and yes, I could have looked on Facebook or just searched for the brand site but this begs the question about why they created the campaign site, if it’s going to be so hard to find.

There are many options that advertisers have available today;
– Redirect URLs like or a client owned site.
– Facebook page
– A “Search online for xxx” message
– A brand site URL

There are no doubt many other ways in which the campaign site could have been promoted to an audience in a situation that was less about attention and more about physical time.

Other offline media channels do have some interesting innovations in place to bridge the gap between mediums. Bluetooth enabled posters are one answer and allow content, apps and campaigns to be easily accessed.

The expected growth of web enabled TV over the next few years and the synchronisation of content to mobile devices such as Apple TV & iPad is an interesting potential route for the future. The option for advertisers to push content or products to an interested customer or even just a shortcut provides some innovative ways in which different channels can work together. Clearly if we’re all watching live TV on our mobile phones then the synchronisation is less important however multiple web enabled devices are still realistically going to be the most common setup in your living room. One thing that is certain is that the ongoing development of Wifi, geo-fencing and near field communication will enable the synchronisation of content between devices to be more accurately and smoothly managed. Whether we want to push-enable every device we own is another thing.

How do you think advertisers will link different media channels?

Hand picking media

A while back there was an article in the London Metro about the decline in the number of pick-your-own farms. I have fond memories of picking strawberries and raspberries as a kid and there was something about this which struck accord with me.

Everyone knows that picking the fruit straight from the bush is going to mean you get the very best. You can look, touch and decide whether to pick it. One for the basket, one for me. However most people just wander into their local supermarket and pick up a pre-packed box.

I’ve been watching the world of exchange buying and DSPs for a while and I see lots of similarities to the pick-your-own farms. There are lots of ways to buy media today. Directly from a site through a sales team, via an AdNetwork, online through the Google Display Network or through an exchange. There are lots of ways of potentially buying the same product.

Potentially is a very important word here. As you switch between buying methods, your ability to guarantee that you’ll get what you want changes dramatically. This is the balance of risk versus purchase price.

In other media channels (digital predominantly) the buying price for an individual item is less important. Take paid search for example. Most clients/managers are less interested in the CPC paid than what it actually does. Blended ‘rates’ are just the norm in PPC. Depending on the maturity (experience rather than age) of a client and their digital knowledge, they might just get that if you can pick up 10,000 impressions per day on a major portal for absolute peanuts, they should effectively buy as much as they can get. 10 impressions one day, 100,000 the next.

The balance of risk does have differing importance between a direct response or brand campaign. However as social media becomes increasingly important for large brand campaigns, perhaps the thoughts about environment will change too and DSPs will be able to play their part in generating significant (and relevant) reach.

It is fairly realistic to say that there will always be more inventory to sell than there are media plans to book. With data becoming key in the equation, the placement becomes less critical and the focus shifts to “who is my ad shown to”. As advertisers begin to see the importance of data more, the growth of exchanges will rocket with the renewed interest.

It is important to note that these thoughts don’t dismiss the critical role of the planning stage in any campaign. However tools like UKOM and TGI will need to evolve to provide more detailed data about the real online behaviour and ‘fingerprint’ of a target audience in order to be able to more accurately translate the research into a media plan.


The inaugural post on my new blog…the pressure to find something that might mean people come back for me. Well, they talk about contextual advertising and how adverts online can find themselves in the wrong place. Interestingly, it happens in the offline world too. This morning on the train to work, a SwiftCover poster with the tagline “Because time is money” and a Tesco Mobile one with a line “Time isn’t money”.

If Tesco had targeted that advert I’d be very, very impressed. But odds are, it was either random luck or a bored person who placed them. Alas no negative keywords in the real world.