Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What the future looks like

I recall a conversation I had three years ago with an older colleague of mine. We both were working for a large media company and were debating the impact of digital media channels and potential displacement of traditional channels and skills. When I told him I was hoping to up skill my traditional media skills to join this digital revolution, he smirked and suggested I had already reached my expiry date and should just accept that it wasn’t possible for me to adapt to the changes technology heralded. He was resolute that the digital world belonged to those under the age of thirty, indeed the younger the better and we should all just accept this and step aside to make way for them.
Well as much as I valued his insight then I couldn’t bring myself to accept this rather ghastly media death sentence and started a process of equipping myself with as much technological knowledge my aging brain could take. Today, I’m proud of the fact that I’m a digital immigrant, albeit a learner one at that.
Certainly my colleague wasn’t wrong about those at the vanguard of the digital revolution. A recent report by Morgan Stanley in the UK on the media consumption habits of teenagers has put this firmly in perspective and caused quite a stir. We’ve had an inkling of some of these trends in South Africa in research conducted by Hot Dogz Inc and published in the Sunday Times early this year. However, when Morgan Stanley issues a report about how digital media is transforming consumer behaviour and traditional media business models, everyone takes note.
The author of the report is a 15-year-old Intern called Matthew Robinson. His observations include that teenagers are vociferous consumers of a wide variety of media, but will almost certainly not pay for any of it. They resent intrusive advertising, especially on TV, Internet and Billboards. Print media, particularly newspapers are irrelevant, they will willingly chase after content and music across platforms and devices and Events (concerts, cinemas etc) are popular and one of the very few media they will pay for. Convergence of Gaming TV, mobile and Internet is accelerating with huge implications for PayTV. These teenagers don’t listen to much Radio either, but occasionally tune in to it. Rather they stream music content from the Internet for free of course.
Mobile is key and price critical both in terms of handset and pay as you go packages and many teenagers prefer watching videos on YouTube displacing traditional forms of entertainment.
What’s hot to them is anything with a touch screen, mobile phones with large capacities for music, portable devices that can connect into the Internet (iphones) and really big television sets. They don’t like anything with wires, phones with black and white screens, chunky phones and devices with less than a ten-hour battery life.
While these trends haven’t necessarily surprised everyone, I’ve been privy to dialogue locally questioning the relevance of these findings to South Africa where traditional media still firmly dominates the consumer landscape and where the clear economic divide has resulted in a unique market duality. It has been argued this duality will slow the adaptation to technology by the mainstream market even the younger ones at that and these future challenges are still far off.
However, I don’t agree. Given the massive penetration of cellular technology in this country alone and the reliance of this fourth screen, the uptake of younger consumers will mirror those mentioned in the Morgan Stanley review and if anything in some instances be more accelerated by local media platforms such as MixIt which has provided youngsters with a cost efficient social networking environment unique to South Africa. Also we cannot underestimate the impact Seacom will have on more affordable broadband. Changes to our local television framework also point to convergence becoming a reality and not a fictional script from a sci-fi Soapie.
One thing is clear - consumers of the not too distant future will be very different from those of today. Remember that within the next seven years Matthew and millions others like him should be making a full-time contribution to the economy. Their experiences in the digital realm will have conditioned them to expect more and demand more. They will naturally want things to happen faster and as much as possible for free.
These digital natives will be able to morph and adapt with ease to technology changes, constantly presenting business with the challenge to meet their hungry demands. Businesses will be challenged to firstly find them, then to hold their attention, long enough to converse with them in a relevant manner in order to turn the exchange into a sale. Challenging indeed!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Teamwork makes helpfulness a reality again!

For the past eight months several teams at FNB have been involved in a challenging project. The revitalisation of our transaction website www.fnb.co.za. Once again it proved that that working together in a collaborative team framework produces a better result than that of any individual effort to make helpfulness a reality.
It started with the assembly of a Digital Committee in FNB consisting of a small team of managers in FNB led by Brand. We delivered a strategic presentation to our EXCO encouraging them to buy-in and invest resources into implementing our digital strategy. Much of this strategy is now evident with work to date. It includes our social media efforts, RB Jacobs on Twitter, our various Facebook profiles, our Google initiatives, ORM systems, websites such as www.shine2010 and www.howcanwehelpyou.co.za. www.classicclashes.co.za, www.varsitycup.co.za and of course now www.fnb.co.za.
The key focus of our strategy is to make our brand promise of “how can we help you?” a reality.
I will admit to feeling a momentary and very short lived wave of self-importance in managing to get the FNB’s senior management to listen to our thinking. However, I soon had to get off my high horse and step back to allow the CEO of FNB Online to take over and create a whole new framework for www.fnb.co.za. She in turn assembled a key team in her division and engaged with all stakeholders, to put together the technical framework for the new site. I think they’ve done a great job!
This project was not without it’s lows. The time parameters of the project were very tight and created a lot of stress in the working teams. There was also jostling between business units to ensure their voice would be heard the most and from time to time, those who shouted the loudest seemed to get furthest. However in the end, sensibility prevailed. Even in the most difficult discussions, productive resolutions were reached. The important lesson for everyone was to differentiate what was motivated by self-interest and what's right for our customers. Not easy, but helped by the internal culture at FNB, which encourages Innovation, Accountability, Pride, Ubuntu and Respect.
We now have a great working start in a customer centric website. It's also really a work in progress approach which will see further enhancement and improvement over the months to come. As with all ground breaking projects there will be glitches and lessons to be learned. However and importantly www.fnb.co.za makes helpfulness a reality to our customers in this communications space.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

men and their magnificent flying machines

My husband is an adrenaline junkie who has a particular love of anything that has wings and he can fly, so I get to meet all sorts of really interesting and often eccentric people (like him) who do, quite frankly, rather dangerous, but fascinating things with their lives.
I just stepped off the airplane from Cannes and was spirited away to a charity fundraiser for the first South African who is going to compete in the Red Bull X-Alpes, a non-stop extreme adventure challenge in Europe. It was here that I met James Pitman, who isn’t going to the X-Alpes, but has a great adventure of his own coming up. James and his partner Mike Blythe exemplify to me the great spirit of entrepreneurship and adventure, which is uniquely South African. They have built and intend to fly a prototype Sling aircraft from Johannesburg, South Africa, to the Oshkosh Airventure Airshow, in Wisconsin USA, in July this year. The Sling, they say is a new light sport aircraft developed in a forge of passion and careful thought, her creators’ brief being to develop the world’s most practical and desirable light sport aircraft. The two adventurers will return to Johannesburg by continuing their journey west, circumnavigating the globe en route. The journey, including 6 days in Oshkosh, is planned to take place over approximately one calendar month, commencing on 15 July and returning on 17 August 2009.
In my earlier days as Publisher of Out There magazine, a magazine for adventure enthusiasts, I met Mike Blythe. Indeed we awarded him the title of Adventurer of the Year for his extraordinary aviation pursuits, so it didn’t surprise me that he was still committed to a life of thrills in the sky. His partner James is an ex-lawyer and mining investor - also following his passion of science, creation and aviation.
Theirs is a story to inspire - South Africans challenging new frontiers, creating homemade machines and having the courage to follow their dreams and I for one am going to follow these chaps on their global adventure at http://www.airplanefactory.co.za/. Hopefully I can persuade them to Tweet along the way…

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Slave or not?

I was sad to leave Cannes today, because each year for a few days in my hectic life schedule I get to sit and listen and marvel at the amazing innovation that is shaping our advertising, media and communications.
This year was no exception. I was exposed to many campaigns that honoured integration and took real consumer insights and applied them in inspiring ways. www.thegreatschlep.com showed how a simple consumer insight could influence a presidential race, a brilliant campaign for the the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef will change tourism communication forever, Gillette's Campaign for men showed there are no holds barred online in demonstrating (pretty tastefully I have to say) how men should trim their pubic hair. And the campaign for Distracted Drivers/Road Safety got everyone talking.
I sat through fascinating insights on how 20 million consumers around the world interact with Xbox games each month and even Unilever use Microsoft's Free Interactive Games to sell margarine. The Sagami Original campaign for the world's thinnest condom was a beautifully crafted and thought out story that won a Grand Prix in PR. The work on the Deadliest Catch was riveting with very smart media integration and I just have to see that show!!!
We were told that men go online for fantasy and women for reality - sound familiar?
I learned about Microsoft Surface, Bing, the Long Nose, The Natal Project, the Eyeblaster Project to end traditional advertising, Skimmer, MagCloud and a whole lot of other really fascinating stuff - so much so that I was told I was becoming a technology slave one night at dinner by a techie (talk about calling the kettle black) who was watching me Tweet away. Slave or not, I cannot emphasis enough to communicators, marketers, advertisers and media specialists to get closer to the technical innovations that are changing our world. Find ways to bring the understanding into your business - collaborate with others, particularly technology partners, create campaigns that engage and most important become part of the conversation.
I started Tweeting from the time I arrived in Cannes and just this involvement and engagement shifted my absorption of information and clarity of thought and interaction with others. I warn you though; it is addictive (that’s the technology monk in me speaking).
My highlight was Twitter and the young and unassuming Biz Stone. Forget the $ 500 million. How incredible it must be to have been part of creating something that is changing the world so fundamentally. I say this, because for the past few days CNN has been a Twitter with the coverage of the riots in Iran and Twitter has been a key feeder to this. Twitter is becoming the news agency of the world and people are finding a voice that would otherwise be censored. All it takes is a mobile device and you can find your voice. Where major news corporations cannot be present or report the repressive tactics of governments, Twitter will make their voices heard. It's unstoppable and profound and I count myself lucky to live in this age where the individual can participate in this global conversation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

technology rules Cannes

The techies will continue to change our world. I’m more convinced of this than ever from my time here at Cannes. Sorry to say it’s not the creative talent or marketers who are setting the agenda here. Sure there are cool ideas, but it’s the geeks who have created and will create more and more tools unlocking a world of free and flowing communication and importantly captivating consumer attention.
The Media savvy Steve Ballmer CEO of Microsoft confirmed this. He exuded power and confidence as the paparazzi snapped away and Fortune fired off live questions at him. Later at the Cannes Awards Ballmer was named Media Person of the Year? Yes indeed.
Earlier on I listened with keen interest to the HP and RG/A team talk about Cloud Computing. Coming from a magazine publishing background I marvelled at MagCloud. This enables wannabe publishers to publishing virtually without the usual financial risks of magazine publishing and the revenue model is on demand. So the only real costs to the Publisher is the content generation - the rest is sitting in the Cloud only activated and printed on demand when a consumer buys the title. It’s really exciting for small niche publishers and even larger publishers who are testing new products. Importantly it puts the power in the hands of the individual and no longer in the hands of printers, distributors or retailers.
I've spent a good deal of my time with digital media strategists and tech savvy people and they are all saying the same thing. Technology will continue to set the agenda and we will have to constantly try to work out how we effectively join the ride.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

God, Flowers and Collaboration

Today confirmed that collaboration is key to communication success. Current market conditions and the growing influence of social media and participatory culture requires all of us - agencies, marketers, media houses/owners and the rest to humble down and collaborate. Clients are also going to have to take the lead and look at new models of remuneration to encourage and reward a more collaborative approach to their business.
Listened to case study on cool campaign for Sagami Original, the world's thinnest condom and winner in PR category. Great digital campaign!
I spent a lot of time in tech sessions. Bill Buxton a scientist working for Microsoft and creator of their latest innovation Microsoft Surface managed to get a laugh out of a weary crowd when he made light of the weighty topic of tech development. He told us three screens is child's play - we are heading quickly for a multi-screen environment where technology will change consumer interactions around multiple touchpoint tech offerings. We heard about the Long Nose (forget the Long Tail), how environmentalists will ensure that Print dies (they gotta save the trees), God being the founder of advertising and flowers being some of his greatest work. ..... well it certainly beat the prior experience of listening to the Principle Platform Evangelist who failed dismally to live up to her passionate title and content on integrative technology platforms to manage cross media implementation. Theme again - collaboration and integration, although poorly explained!
Later on at a party on the Carlton Hotel beachfront I got talking to Finance Week's Specialist Editor Tony Koenderman, considered SA's leading expert on Marketing and Advertising. He confirmed for the first time in many years at Cannes, there's proof in the campaigns that collaboration and integration has become a reality. That's great news, along with the two Lions SA agencies, Hunt Lascaris (Outdoor) and Network BBDO (Radio) picked up.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Twitter mania

Well I'm back in Cannes. One year later and ready to learn some more. Just arrived and went straight to a session with one of Twitter's founders Biz Stone. The Debussy Hall was packed wall- to-wall and floor-to-floor and the place was Tweeting so much I was sure at one point I felt the room vibrating. Stone looks about 16, very charming, friendly and speaks in this naive and very honest manner. What did I learn? Well that he's learning still (yes he's honest enough to admit this). The company is still in its infancy and they won't sell now even at $ 500 million. He sees collaboration with other social media as key and can't say what's Twitter's biggest threat. Admits to not really knowing. Check out Jet Blue - company started out small on Twitter, but Stones cites them as doing a great job. He also doesn't see Twitter as a competitor to big news groups, eventhough Twitter is now breaking news faster than most newswire services (just type ACCIDENT if you don't believe him) and he wants to be friends with all. No real answers on how they're going to make money, but hey this is not unusual... FaceBook can attest. Stones is evangelical when he says; "Twitter is a triumph of humanity and not a triumph of technology" - Sound familiar?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tweet tweet

For the past few months we have been participating in conversations on Twitter. Yes indeed, we are now actively Tweeting at the bank. The reality in today’s world is that banks can no longer just rely on conventional methods of interacting with customers via branches, ATMs, Online Banking, telephone calls and emails, to meet the existing business needs.
We’ve learnt in a short space of time that Twitter aids the extension of our ethos of helpfulness at FNB. It’s also serving a vital market research function as it provides almost instant feedback on what customers are thinking and what kind of problems they are experiencing. When we first started people were a little unnerved to find that the bank, through our on-line persona of RB Jacobs, was taking a keen interest in their tweets about FNB. When they were complaining about a service problem, this sense of unease was quickly replaced with relief that we were resolving problems and delivering service on a platform that has not really played this of role in the past.
We have learned to respond promptly, (within minutes actually) with solutions to problems. It’s amazing to watch real time problems be managed and for the most part resolved positively and this has started to change the way in which we handle customer complaints inside the bank.
So who is RB Jacobs? There’s been some speculation on Twitter about who RB Jacobs is? I guess people really want to be able to pin him/her down to a personality. The reality is RB Jacobs is in fact a fictional moniker created by FNB when it was the first bank to launch credit cards (a Barclaycard) in South Africa in 1969. Ever since then and to this day, FNB cards appearing in adverts have the embossed account holder name ‘RB Jacobs’. We’re a large organisation and to resolve the complaints and queries we receive on Twitter we have to work with teams of people. RB Jacobs is the sum of a whole lot of parts in the bank.
We’ve found the majority of Tweets are valid and we prioritise our response to them. However from time to time we field some nasty and reckless comments on Twitter too and you have to retain a sense of humour and assess which comments should be escalated and what to leave. I’m often amused by the kind of dialogue that takes place on Twitter because it is so uninhibited – the real power of the web. Twitter in South Africa is currently an exclusive environment, because it’s reserved for those who have Internet connectivity via a PC or via a sophisticated mobile phone. Importantly, this space is dominated by highly connected and influential people, whose Tweets can damage or add value to a company’s reputation. A day doesn't go by now without commentary on Twitter and its influence on marketing strategies. Undoubtedly, Twitter is providing us with an invaluable insight into the conversations South African consumers are having and we are deriving great benefit and insight by participating of this community in a helpful and genuine way.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Land of Hope

Growing up in South Africa, my memories are filled with regular trips into Hillbrow where my grandparents lived and where my father purchased his weekly stock of exotic seafood’s from the local Mozambique fishery. My three sisters and I would be crammed in the backseat of the car with large brown packets on our laps, filled with live crabs and crayfish, desperate to get out. It terrified us to no end and we could never understand how my father could even consider eating this. My grandparents were of French and Maltese descent. They left war torn Europe after the Second World War with very little to their names and came to South Africa to build a future for themselves and their children. They were joined by a gaggle of family members and friends, from countries like Italy, France, Belgium and Portugal. It’s here in this country of ours that they sunk their roots and their home. My grandparents were an exotic couple who were better placed on the streets of Paris, than in Hillbrow, but for as long as I remember they were always stoic South Africans and ever grateful for the refuge and opportunity that this country afforded them. They worked hard for many years to build a life from the very little they came with. Today their children and grandchildren, including me have been the beneficiaries of this hope.

My father-in-law arrived in South Africa after the War from Holland as a homeless young adult with only the clothes on his back and no family or friends to speak of. He spent his first months in this country living in a shipping crate in the back of someone’s garden. He is by all accounts an extraordinary individual, who spent his childhood years in the Resistance movement in the war after his mother was taken away to a Nazi concentration camp where she later died. Like my relatives, he too chose to come to South Africa and very soon sunk his roots deep into the South African soil. Over the years, my father-in-law has built a successful business, which has served this community through health, education and employment.

I tell these two stories because for me they are my South Africa whose experiences ebb and flow over the years, but fundamentally don’t change. This is a land, which many still hope to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Despite its darker hours and there have been many, this is a country filled with an amazing array of people who work each day for a better life. For me, South Africa will always be a place of opportunity for those who are prepared to seize it, to embrace and take sustenance from its strengths, to love it for all its weaknesses and most importantly to forgive it, for its injustices.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

why www will never replace my favourite magazine

My favourite magazine of all time is Vanity Fair, not just because it's always an extraordinary visual feast for the eyes, but also because it publishes some really interesting stuff. I was having a robust conversation with some journalists who work with a fast growing news website the other evening and we were discussing the gloomy future of the print media worldwide. We all know of the catastrophic losses US newspapers in particular are facing as they limp along in declining economic circumstances, but more importantly they are less compelling to consumers in a world where information is increasingly being consumed on the web. While I agree completely that newspapers are the most vulnerable to the Web, I don't agree the same holds for magazines. Sure they will be under pressure as advertising moves to the thriftier and faster channel of web, but I have yet to meet a consumer who would substitute reading their favourite magazine online and foregoing the print version. 

Clearly there are some magazines that are just blah blah or mediocre, which consumers dip in from time to time, and these will probably not survive anyway the long haul of market dynamics, but I reckon there are many others who will stand the test of time. I for one will never substitute my purchase of Vanity Fair for an online version. I mean what would life be if I could not feel the smooth creaming pages in hand and feast my eyes on the extraordinary photography. I hanker after my nights and weekends when I can curl up on my bed propped up against my soft pillows, with my VF in hand and take in the fabulous and fascinating stories with an intimacy that my little Mac and its 3G connection, will never simulate.