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Or, put another way, Hipstamatic is a “proper” business as well as a (very) good photography application.

I posted last year about how, from the outset, Hipstamatic was walking the walk in terms of monetisation. It clearly had a business plan to go with its idea and its excellent execution.

It’s time for an update.

It’s time for an update because I’ve had first hand experience of how that business plan has moved on, and of how Hipstamatic has turned into a proper business.

This picture tells a couple of important stories.

1) Hipstamatic’s business has moved on from a) charging for the app, and b) charging for add-on “Hipstapaks” containing new lens/film combinations. They now offer merchandise and analogue products like the iPhone case featured above through their Hipstamart. You can create an account and order this stuff online as opposed to buying the Hipstapaks through the app. It’s a “proper” e-commerce set-up.

2) Barely legible in the footer navigation at this blog-cropped size is a Customer Support function. This too is “proper” as I’ve found out to my delight in the last couple of days.

I ordered an iPhone case partly because I like all things Hipsta, but mainly because it comes with a tripod adaptor.

However, for reasons which I believe were beyond Hipstamart’s control, the case has thus far failed to arrive.

Being the impatient type I took a double-barrelled approach to “reaching out”, both via Get Satisfaction and via Customer Support.

Having experienced the extremely flaky, if not non-existent, customer support functions behind far too many over-hyped but under-financed web 2.0 brands my expectations were low.

Way too low as it turns out.

I had genuinely helpful, genuinely concerned responses within hours (Customer Support) and within minutes (Get Satisfaction).

My problem has been solved by Angelina in Customer Support. Quick, professional, customer-focused. Very impressive.

The kind of impressive that can only be delivered by a proper, robust business with proper, sustainable income streams.

“Proper” comes at a price that all too many app-based businesses (or rather non-businesses) evidently can’t afford.

What is really exciting for Hipstamatic/Hipstamart is that the price of “proper” doesn’t include any loss of brand cool, cachet or hipness.

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A couple of summers ago I got chatting to a guy in the queue to pick up a hire car at Palma airport.

Turned out he was an independent cheesemaker from Devon. We nattered for a while in the air-conditioned office whilst our respective families melted in the Majorcan heat outside.

Then I watched, aghast, as his hard-earned holiday imploded.

His phone rang.

He stood to one side to take the call.

He was clearly agitated.

It turns out that he had just effectively been summoned back to the UK for a make or break meeting with Tesco. Fly back or lose your listing was the gist of the call. And, no, it can’t wait until after your holiday.

Wankers.

Every Little Helps and all that but I find Tesco increasingly hard to like.

Then you see a tweet like this.

On the one hand there’s nothing wrong with playing commercial hardball.

Tesco would probably argue that this wouldn’t be happening if the Premier Foods brands in question were strong enough to command a higher price.

But I’m at the point with Tesco where I question their motives. I don’t think they care about the right things. Or they don’t care enough.

I get the impression that Morrisons is doing rather well just now. We don’t have one near us. But I’d flock to it if we did. My anyone but Man Utd attitude to football has now transferred to Tesco.

And I’m heading that way with Facebook.

I question its motives in the same way that I do with Tesco.

It is very good at what it does and it is immensely powerful. So maybe it doesn’t have to worry about people questioning its motives.

At least not until a viable alternative comes along. Will people then flock to that?

Google+ is trying to find out right now.

I haven’t had a play yet. But I have read a mixed bag of tweeted remarks and blogged punditry. Most recently this thoughtful piece on, of all places, the All Facebook blog.

Some of the Google+ tweets have been very funny in a snarky way. But I’ve resisted the temptation to retweet any of them for cheap laughs. Partly because, until I get an invite, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But mostly because I really want Google+ to be a viable alternative to Facebook and I don’t want to contribute in even the tiniest way to strangling it at birth.

Snarky, funny tweet. But I stayed strong and didn't RT.

Tesco and Facebook are both very big and very useful.

But they’re both increasingly hard to like.

Is it inevitable that brands of this scale have their motives questioned?

Is it inevitable that brands of this scale create vacuums for viable alternatives?

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Scriberia sketch of John Willshire's Firestarters presentation

Process increasingly gets in the way of problem solving.

Thus spake John Willshire, Chief Innovation Officer at PHD, at last night’s excellent Firestarters event. The event was generously hosted by Google and masterfully curated by Neil Perkin.

John will no doubt post his slides in due course, and I’ll link to them from here when he does, but several of his points really struck a chord.

To paraphrase…

1) Process is a crutch

Piss-poor photo-journalism

Process is reassuring because it’s a thing you can see and buy.

But whilst process might help to make bad ideas good, it also tends to make great ideas good too.

Process breeds homogeneous mediocrity.

(Thus spake John Willshire).

2) Process is a broken crutch

The dynamism and interconnectedness of today’s technology and communication channels means that a silo-based, division of labour approach to process doesn’t work any more.

We should be more agricultural (generalist) than industrial (specialist) in our approach, behaviour, culture, organisation, recruitment and training.

(Thus spake John Willshire).

3) Process is anti-collaborative and counter-productive.

Crap photography again, but this got a lot of knowing laughs.

Everyone has their own proprietary, trademarked planning and creativity process to sell.

Everyone’s proprietary, trademarked planning and creativity process is better than everyone else’s.

It’s a farce that we’ve all seen played out at first hand.

I’ve felt the encouragement (pressure) from above to package, productise and hence monetise intellectual property, when experience, intuition and a base desire to just do great work tells you that a one-size-fits-all solution is no solution at all.

Modern problems demand intellect rather than pre-packaged intellectual property.

(Thus spake me).

(Inspired by a thus-spaking John Willshire).

This is why a lot of start-ups do really well coming out of the blocks. Enlightened, like-minded clients can buy direct access to experienced intellect (in its fullest diagonal thinking, t-shaped sense) in an entrepreneurial environment, before it gets sucked into a larger-company, productising, monetising, intellectual property mindset.

It’s also why my favourite creative brief format is a blank sheet of paper that allows the experienced practitioner to frame a challenge and hint at possible solutions in a bespoke, problem-specific way.

The problem with that approach is that less experienced practitioners need to be able to write briefs too. That’s when some structure, some brief writing process is useful.

But, as John spake thusly last night…

Process is a great place to start your education but a shitty place to stop.

Agencies and clients need to move on from this shitty, process-driven place at which they’ve (we’ve) stopped.

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Trying to be something you’re not is too much like hard work.

It’s usually stressful and almost always unsustainable.

Even if it is with the best intentions.

Just ask Bart Simpson, who radically alters his behaviour to impress a virtuous girl called Jenny (voiced by Anne Hathaway no less) in the episode called The Good, The Sad and The Drugly.

Image borrowed from http://www.tv.com

All’s well to start with as his goody-two-shoes behaviour impresses not just Jenny but his mother Marge too.

Oh Bart. I don’t care that this is just an act. You’ve finally become the boy every mother dreams of. A girl.

But the relationship is obviously doomed to failure and ends in bitter recrimination.

Jenny : Are you saying our entire relationship is based on lies?

Bart : Not our entire relationship. Just the stuff I said.

If rule number one for success in social spaces is to be the best you can be

(Or, as John Willshire puts it, excelling at your “verb” – great post by the way. Read it).

… then rule number two surely has to be “be yourself.”

There are plenty of examples of brands that have made ill-fated and short-lived advertising attempts to be something that they’re not. The brand equivalent of being the forty year old at the disco.

(Aside : Like policeman and teachers, the people who are too old to be at the disco are getting younger and younger).

But increasingly it (brands trying to be something they’re not) will happen in social spaces too.

And it won’t necessarily be about brands screwing up by trying to be down with the kids in the tone of their Facebook status updates.

It will be more fundamental than that.

The bigger, more fundamental problem will not be about how social networks are used. It will be that the organisation, the culture behind the brand just isn’t set up to be social.

The back end of your presence in social spaces is at least as important as the fan-facing front end.

Does your CEO really get it or is (s)he liable to pull the plug at the first sign of negative comment?

Who does the community manager speak to (in real time) to get a (real time) legal view on a (real time) issue raised by an (influential) person?

Who do they talk to in Customer Service to get a human response in similar (real time) circumstances?

And is the community manager empowered to over-rule and prevent a potentially disasterous, obviously uncaring, platitudinous response from making matters worse?

Fan : Are you saying that our entire relationship is based on false pretence?

Brand : Not our entire relationship. Just the rest of the iceberg below the tip.

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There’s a fine line between healthy cynicism and bonfire pissing.

And it’s a fine line that the experienced creative industry practitioner has to tread carefully. Especially when she or he is dealing with the fresh-faced envangelism of a young, thrusting brand manager.

Marketing can be a ridiculously up itself business sometimes. And a sense of perspective born of experience is usually a good thing.

But one man’s sense of perspective is another man’s pissed-on bonfire.

Young, thrusting brand managers don’t do healthy cynicism.

By and large young, thrusting brand managers are not rewarded for health cynicism.

Quite the opposite in fact.

The young, thrusting brand manager’s brand IS the best thing since sliced bread.

(It fucking well is, ok?)

(OK?)

Your average young, thrusting brand manager is incredibly sensitive to the tiniest slight, real or imagined, on their brand.

In the eyes of a young, thrusting brand manager, if you’re not 100% with the brand you’re 100% against the brand.

The world of the young, thrusting brand manager is one of extreme black and white contrast.

They don’t do grey areas.

Which could be tiresome before the world went social.

(Tiresome to the extent that you’d occasionally have to play some silly bugger political games to ensure that a sense of perspective informed strategy and execution through the back door even if the brand manager were blocking the front.)

But now it’s a pretty big problem.

Put another way, if brands talk about themselves in social spaces in the way that brand managers talk about them there will be lots of Facebook-induced corporate nose bleeds.

All the things that are counter-intuitive to the young, thrusting brand manager are exactly all the things that make brands more human in social spaces.

  • Humility.
  • A sense of perspective.
  • Self-awareness.
  • The ability to say sorry.
  • (And mean it.)
  • Preparedness to accept that the competition can occasionally do something right.
  • Self-deprecation.

There needs to be a radical mutation of the brand management genetic code in order for the profession to evolve quickly enough to deal with the demands of social spaces.

Of course, and in the interests of perspective and healthy cyncism, I’m not saying that agencies are immune to the young, thrusting, anti-social mentality.

There are plenty of people in our world who have had the full frontal healthy cynicism lobotomy.

It’s no wonder that, as we’ve seen recently, agencies are just as prone to howling social media faux pas as our client-side counterparts…

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One could be excused one’s WTF? reaction to a Betfair Poker tweet taken in isolation.

And Richard Bloch, International PR Manager at Betfair, has had to handle a few awkward, WTF? conversations with senior colleagues since the brand embarked on its zany Twitter adventure.

That at least one of these awkward conversations was with his CEO, and that the zany adventure continued thereafter, speaks volumes about a corporate culture that allows someone like Richard to experiment with an “off the wall project that I’ve been allowed to run with.”

It was the unusually off the wall tone for a branded/corporate Twitter account that piqued my interest in @Betfairpoker. (My interest, and that of several hundred other media/digital/advertising/social media junkie/groupies). And I was lucky enough to know someone who knows Richard and thus give that piqued interest an outlet.

Richard very kindly gave of his time for a telephone interview in which he gave me chapter and verse, the straight dope, on the method behind the apparent madness.

This, by the way, is the method (and the madness) that made @Betfairpoker the UK’s second most Follow Friday recommended Twitter profile the week before Richard and I spoke. Rio Ferdinand was number one, and there wasn’t another corporate or branded profile in the top fifty.

The Madness In Front Of The Method

It was only when Betfair decided to get serious about Twitter that they decided to get daft with @Betfairpoker.

They observed that the the most followed and the most highly engaged Twitter profiles were personality led. So their role models were people like MC Hammer and brands like Compare The Market (Aleksandr Orlov).

They also observed that writing for personality in 140 character bursts (and doing it well) is a skill, a skill that they didn’t feel they had in house. So, in much the same way that they bring in outsourced expertise to provide betting opinion, insight and analysis on their betting.betfair.com website, they took the decision to use outsourced expertise to create their Twitter persona.

So they have retained four “expert” Twitter writers – a combination of authors and comedians, all of whom have significant Twitter followings in their own right.

One of the interesting aspects of this project is that none of these people was previously monetising their Twitter activities. Betfair has given them a opportunity to do so. Richard gave me a ballpark figure for what each of these writers is being paid but I don’t think it’s fair to reveal that here. Suffice to say that, given the buzz being generated at the moment, this is a cost-effective profile building exercise.

Betfair has refused to reveal the identities of its writing team, but occasionally teases its followers with statements like not being able to confirm or deny that Audley Harrison is behind the tweets.

The result of all this is beautifully bonkers.

The @Betfairpoker Twitter stream is a barmy cocktail of cod-motivational philosophy, and what appear to be the random tweetings of a rogue Betfair employee. Richard chuckles at the idea of a zany character who has taken over the Twitter account, dishing the office dirt. Indeed in the early days of the new approach there were some at Betfair who genuinely believed the account had been hacked.

Such early disbelief/disdain has mostly (the odd CEO excepted) given way to a warm embrace. These days Richard is the regular recipient of email suggestions for tweet content. The Twitter profile is proving to be not just a pretty social media face. It is also a catalyst for internal communication, an effect which is amplified by the fact that all the alleged (twalleged) shenanigans of daily life at Betfair – as fabricated by @Betfairpoker – do actually feature real Betfair characters. There is a queue of people waiting to be lampooned.

The Method Behind The Madness

@Betfairpoker is but one of a wide portfolio of Betfair Twitter profiles.

As well as @Betfairpoker this includes @BetfairNews and @BetfairFootball, plus over 40 country-specific Twitter  profiles.

Richard talks about some things that were done well in the early days, such as the brand protection exercise that registered all these profiles before Betfair had given any thought to what it was actually going to do with them.

(Unfortunately, despite these early moves, they still missed out on the @Betfair profile which is currently being squatted by some geezer called Martin.)

He also talks about the mistakes and the lessons learned when various Betfair toes were being dipped in the Twitter water – doing too little with not enough resource and with little internal encouragement attaching to a channel that wasn’t generating any revenue.

“You have to have an opinion and talk like a real person. Ask questions. There’s no point just posting. You have to comment and engage with people, particularly influential people in your sphere.”

@Betfairpoker had between 2,000 and 3,000 followers when the decision was taken to step things up and adopt the current personality led approach. This decision was based on a confident, positive assessment of Twitter as a channel frequented by poker enthusiasts and professionals.

“Poker players travel the world. They have mascots. They spend lots of time with headphones plugged into iPhones and Blackberries. They’re tech-ed up. We knew it [Twitter] was a good market. The pros are on it all the time.”

In addition Betfair ran various quizzes through @Betfairpoker last summer, when it had around 4,000 followers, and the insight gleaned from this exercise confirmed that there was a real poker following – not necessarily high-stakes players but a significant number of beginners and enthusiasts. And a softly softly, high personality approach to engaging with these people on Twitter was felt to be the best approach to building relationships, at the same time as affording the best way to boost the brand’s profile.

Now I have to say that it was my impression that the personality-powered @Betfairpoker was an overnight success.

Within the space of a few days its tweets were peppering my Tweetdeck columns as several friends retweeted its random and rousing posts.

But the truth, as is often the case with Twitter, is that this apparently sudden arrival on the scene was actually the result of a serendipitous event, or rather several related serendipitous events in quick succession.

And, in fact, these serendipitous events happened several months after the team of writers behind @Betfairpoker began doing their thing.

The profile became a talking point in the diary pages of The Independent.

And it was compared to @shitmydadsays on Techcrunch.

And the rest, according to the Twittercounter chart below, is history.

And there’s a similar pattern relating to Follow Friday mentions.

This palpable buzz around the account has raised interest levels even further within “Betfair Towers“, and has hopefully reduced the number of awkward conversations.

Meanwhile, Richard and his team are planning the next phases of their Twitter strategy.

They are slowly but surely introducing more poker and betting content into the Twitter stream…

… but in their own inimitable style.

One of the writers is posting introductory poker tips aimed at the beginner audience that makes up the lion’s share of the Twitter audience, linking to the betting.betfair website. Again in the style of.

And, in the not too distant future, there are plans to buy one of the writers into a major poker tournament. Cue random live tweeting and poker face twitpics.

The moral of this story

It’s one thing to talk about the potential of social media for marketing communication and brand engagement.

It’s another thing entirely to be prepared, both personally and corporately, to take the calculated risks necessary to realise that potential.

And @Betfairpoker is a calculated risk that appears to be paying off.

How apt is that for a poker brand?

And long may it continue.

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For proud read lazy when it comes to sponsorship.

As in “proud sponsors of”.

You can tell they’re lazy.

It takes no effort to describe your relationship with a sponsored entity as “proud sponsors of”.

And if you put no effort into describing your relationship it’s a safe bet that you put no effort into working the relationship. And certainly no effort into the entity itself.

Proud sponsors pay as little money as possible to get as much profile as possible with as little effort as possible.

They want to bask in the reflected glow of somebody else’s idea.

If a sponsor wants something to be proud of, they should create that something, or co-create it, or make something happen that otherwise wouldn’t.

A short, ranty post prompted by recent encounters with proud sponsors.

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