The Essence of Your Brand’s Digital Ambition

Taking a brand in to the digital space makes changes at the very heart of a business. It creates opportunities for growth or situations where market share is lost. The truth is ( and we speak from our experience in marketing, design, learning, services, technology, branding, research, consumer insights and creative ) that while consumers experience brands in an omni-channel environment – marketers and their agencies continue to work in designated, functional silos.
Nowhere is this more apparent in both client and agency organisations. Agencies offer almost routine solutions for e-mail marketing, web design, search, social media et. al. They may be specialists but they also work in silos. Is it perhaps a function of client organisations where digital or technology managers / heads also focus on specific areas with related KRA’s? Creating their own silos in the process?
Social platforms or tools such as software implementations alone, whether for say – a social media command centre or a delivery enablement feature in the ERP, are not going to create market leadership. A thought process and an offering, its differentiated positioning, business deliverables have to transform into functional enablement via a set of clear processes – where role alignment of everyone involved is crucial.
But somewhere, there is the beginning of a need. Manifesting in the fact that companies are facing business challenges beyond the obvious.
Consider this. A global brand was looking to create a social media dashboard to learn more about their current and new fans/followers across owned social media channels and produce correlations between their marketing activities and sales data with the social behaviours of their fans, to produce actionable, qualitative and quantitative consumer insights.Eventually the company opted for a conventional analytics platform and opted to track something simpler. Did they miss an opportunity to do some ground breaking work? Perhaps yes and therein lies the element of ambition for digital.
In conversations with managers, one hears the need to explore new frontiers but when it comes to acting on the plans, things tend to get a lot slower. Is it Lip service to the latest buzz words? What will nudge the decision makers to do more?
But where are the clear answers to basic questions? Where is the brand? What is it that we are really offering the customer? How is it being experienced and sustained online? Through repetitive product-centric content posts churned out by bright people starting out in their careers? Or via boring, clunky banner ads or pop-ups that lack imagination? Simply because digital or social is hygiene.
There is a need for a conversation on what it means to be Digital in the Digital Business and to figure out cross-functional solutions that are nimble and enable results. Based on consumer insights. And what value can a brand add to a consumer’s life. That is the essence of the digital ambition.
And there is a need to start this conversation. For there is a larger issue at stake here. It seems like a simple thing. Of getting the basics right. Even if the ‘ basics ‘ keep changing with time and technology.
When you think about digital we’d like you to put your customer at the centre of your decision making. No jargon, just clean, common-sensical stuff to drive business outcomes. Whether it is a clear thought process, proof of concepts and achievement of specific deliverables we’d like to work closely with you on your next digital challenge for your brand.

This post started as a twitter conversation with Riitu Chugh and has been jointly written with her. She is an Account Planner and a Social Business Strategist. We’d love to know your thoughts!

Brand Interfaces of the Future

The idea of a front-end design of the future is a very compelling. Currently, most would focus on responsive websites but if you look at the idea of front-end of the future, it is not quite a website but much more.

There are 5 points to consider.
1. Multiplicity of Screens – You are looking at a design that renders well not just in display but in relevant functionality across these screens. The screens to consider conventional desktops/laptops, tablets and phones, perhaps even your car dashboard.
2. Information/Experiences in Contextual Services – The content and design needs to focus on information that gets rendered in services like Google Now, Twitter Cards other contextual services which could be around voice e.g. Siri or Cortana. Imagine a fund raising promotional tweet with the Support button within the twitter stream. This would have rich content maybe even video, information to help buy, plus the standards of twitter cards. Imagine, Google Now displaying a reminder to a phone user about a show that is about to start.
3. Experiences in the age of Wearable’s, Continuity and Sensors – Smart watches are around the corner, notifications are not only getting smarter but you can act on them right in that interface. You do not need to open an app for it. Imagine watching something on your phone while in the car, reaching home and pushing that video straight to your TV via Chromecast. Imagine web experiences with integrated notifications, devices in the age of Continuity and similar services.
4. Social Platforms, Analytics and Delivery of Integrated Experiences – At a simpler level, what can be done with live experiences, customer sharing aggregation, on going social listening, promotional campaigns including programmatic buying and more. Given that social is also resides in the notification tab, how can one re-imagine it all. This could be personalised experiences that factor in not just past usage but also factors like where they are now. Imagine travelling to another city, where there is a performance and you get a notification that tells you about it. With the buy button right in the notifications tab waiting for you to pay with a biometric id on phone!
5. Content management takes on a different meaning. It is then not just about managing information and products and updating it from a backend. It’s about a tool and a process that streamlines information and delivers it as appropriate for the device, location, customer and the context. All in real time! In a sense that defines the meaning of responsive.
Today, this is one’s understanding of what the front end is likely to be. It’s a start and more options will emerge. It is going to be a mix and match of many services. All needing to talk to each other likely via API’s. So the front end is not just the 5 points above but the interplay between the API’s and what more we can do with them.
The experiences for a customer or an employee will have almost similar interplays across places, times and devices. Imagination, relevance and ambition are going to be key.

The Frontier of Human-Technology Experiences for an Organisation

The customer is at the heart of an organisation’s decision making. Any attempt at building human-machine intelligence system / capability needs to always put the customer first.
It is the context in which the customer engages with products and services that one seeks to build something unique. So thats the background and perhaps a truism.
One needs to consider the following
A – Clarity
B – Capability
C – Creativity
A – CLARITY
Intent – any activity such as this will certainly need to scale. An initiative like this needs clarity of intent. One may have a fuzzy starting goal and that’s fine. The intent should be kept in mind as more data or expertise emerges. What is it that we are really building?
Commitment – Fuzzy projects are also not for the faint hearted. A commitment to see it through with appropriate guidance and resources. More so in the difficult stages. It is key to long term viability.
Processes that measure and chart ongoing improvements will certainly test the capability of the wisest leader. How does clarity of intent guide the ongoing enhancements of the mission- from a fuzzy test bed to world class infrastructure?
B – CAPABILITY
Infrastructure – An organisation cannot start such an initiative with half baked starting data or infrastructure. The leader must understand the absolute minimum required for the organisation to start this initiative. It is not just the hardware, it’s algorithms, processing capability and much more.
The team will be multi functional, multi disciplinary with an interesting mix of data scientists, domain experts, product specialists, futurists, philosophers, psychologists and much more. It brings the cultural challenge of different personalities, skill sets working towards an initial fuzzy goal to something more specific later. Timing is everything! Knowing about need and finding the right talent at the time it is needed will be absolutely critical.
Responsiveness is an inherent aspect of this initiative. This is apparent however, fuzzy projects vs specific projects with defined short term outcomes will test the leaders decision making. A longer term horizon is needed. How does the leader define longer term?
C – CREATIVITY
So an insight has been developed, what does the organisation do with it to make experiences more relevant to customers?
Over time new skills and industry contexts will become a necessity.
How does this impact the project?
What will bring these people on board?
What will create new product categories or completely rework the guiding principles of an organisations decision making / experience?

Experimenting with Sensors – The Organisational Perspective

Sensor networks certainly open up many new innovative opportunities for a company. While there is potential, the organisation will need to address many factors while seeking to tap an opportunity with sensors at its core.
1. People – An assessment of the opportunity will start with the assessment of skill set that needs to be on board. Experienced professionals, relevant knowledge will perhaps be the starting point of any sensor based project assessment.
2. Be open to connect its data – The company will need to think about the data within. There is no place for a silo. So it may require strong leadership push to do away with the silo. That addresses the internal but equally the company needs to be open to opening up it’s data to external opportunities. One may say culture but it perhaps also means that the company needs to look at the opportunity that an API based infrastructure might provide.
3. Be focused on open standards – This is an obvious because it helps unlock potential by reducing friction. It is also perhaps tough to do but a journey definitely needs to be started. Sensor based infrastructure and apps are locked within their own application contexts and usage. This needs to change now. A leader needs to keep this in mind while working towards the open standards dictum. It may mean negotiating skill, understanding time frame as technology improves that allows for open standards to be available.
4. Customers and Privacy – Any organisation exists because of it’s customers, whether direct or indirect ones. Privacy concerns of customers should not be an after thought. Instead applications and infrastructure need to plan for and address privacy concerns from the first step.
5. Imagination and Experimentation – This area is untapped and the leader needs to encourage experimentation. It is possibly the best chance to create some great infrastructure and applications.
6. Power and Connectivity challenges – At the core of such wireless based infrastructure is the power and connectivity concerns of the project. Sourcing of power, stable connectivity may be a challenge in some areas but those are perhaps also provide long term opportunity. What’s needed is a pragmatic approach to these issues with appropriate technology and business intervention.

Improved Care for Senior Citizens – The Sensor Experience

People with long term medical problems face decreased mobility and need assistance for this. This is more in the case of senior citizens. Simple tasks like walking around the house, going to the dining table or the washroom become very difficult.
They need support which may or may not be available. More than the support there is also a need to actually provide assistance to the family members who may be in other areas of the home/location. To provide them with alerts if an episode has taken place.
A system that monitors mobility of senior citizens would be sensor and notification based. The intent for it would be to cover the following four objectives.
a. Alert family in case there is an episode, something that is not normal e.g. the person has fallen. The alert would allow for a rapid response to assist the person. The response and alert mechanism combined with the sensors would be configurable to particular types of situations and responses.
b. Pre-emptive tracking of changes in mobility and alertness. This could prevent any untoward incident. This could also include tracking changes in blood glucose, oxygen and hydration levels. Further, the sensors could be used to guide/remind the patient to complete certain steps at predetermined time periods.
c. The service provides a complete picture of activity, alertness and links changes to changes in medication and it’s related efficacy. This would help the doctor who attends to this person.
d. An integrated platform that includes in-location and outside location tracking with the help of related products and services. Some examples of this could be footwear with certain kind of sensors, linkages to ingestible sensors solutions for people Parkinson’s condition and more.
The above is a broad contour of a solution one could evaluate and perhaps some of the elements already exist. It has significant potential to deliver benefits to patients and their families at home.

A Farmer’s Information and Technology Experience

The brief : Is there potential for technology to play a role in assisting farmers?
The first step was to study existing solutions and services. The initial task of finding these services was substantially more difficult than anticipated though eventually the coverage seemed reasonably comprehensive.
More than 110 different applications/services in more than 20 countries are the focus of this desk research. The countries include Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Zambia and more.
The operational areas of these various apps can be summarised to :

  • Advisory and Value Added Services
  • Agriculture Information and News
  • Agriculture Query Knowledge-base
  • Animal Treatment, Vaccination trackers and Animal Health
  • Buy/Sell Crops and Fertilizers
  • Weather Information
  • Crop Management Information and Tools
  • Digital Scale
  • Earth Observation and Techniques
  • Resource Planning for larger farms
  • eVouchers, Mobile Payment
  • Fertilizers, seeds and Fruit Information
  • Land Shape, Size and Maps
  • Market Information, Data Trends, Prices
  • Messaging/Email and Photos
  • Financial Services
  • Mobile Money Credit Delivery solution
  • Agronomic Solutions
  • Supply Chain Advisory Information, Payments and Financial Serices
  • Video Library
  • Voice Helpline
  • And many more

These applications are available on diverse platforms

  • Type   : Number of Applications
  • SMS      43
  • Voice    17
  • IVRS     11
  • USSD    04
  • Web      17
  • Mobile Apps  23
  • Kiosks   02

Eventually one seeks to understand all this from the perspective of various types of farmers and the complete agricultural ecosystem. For now consider all this keeping the farmer who has a small to medium holding in mind.
As you mull over the seemingly comprehensive operational areas and platforms, consider the first issue that cropped up almost immediately at the start of the study. How do we find these applications and services?
Discoverability : Suppose the farmer wants such applications to improve productivity, they would have a tough time finding them with their available knowledge/device. It is fairly apparent that beyond the initial introduction coverage of these applications, most have not followed a consistent outreach programme within the farmer community.
Do you trust the weather information on your phone and take crucial business decisions basis this information? Or do you seek out other experts as well?
Who is the expert you seek out for other important decisions. Is it an app, a technology solution or a person?
Assuming that the farmer did sign up or install some of these services, would they have trust in the information provided.
Information Quality – A parallel research in India found limited trust in the information that was delivered by most services. The farmer would rather trust the local community than an unknown application that delivered information from a source the farmer knew nothing about. Can this be improved?
There is relatively low confidence in SMS and yet there are as many as 43 applications that deliver information on SMS. This eventually is a continuing cause of low trust in the information provided.
A related question that emerged, do these applications and services assume the farmer is simply an information receiver/consumer with limited expertise of their own?
Should the farmer not be empowered to create and manage information the way they choose best? How can technology help and specifically how these application improve their outreach and deliver on this premise.
Integration or the lack of it?
If the farmer is part of an ecosystem within the local and larger community then should the applications not be talking/sharing data? Initial study has revealed that most applications seem to be stand alone and thus limiting their potential.
Devices
Most applications focused on information delivery by SMS or voice services. Could this be because it was assumed that the devices on offer would be fairly basic? Perhaps yes but looking further ahead provides for an interesting scenario. The continued gains of the Android platform plus the enhancements of the Nokia Asha platform provide a new perspective on capability of the entry level devices in the very near future.
In India, there are more than 35 mobile devices from various companies in a price range of 30 Euros to 90 Euros. The form factors are equally diverse and range from feature phones to phablets, smartphones and tablets. Some 7 inch tablets even have calling capability and cost about Rs 5000 or approximately 66 Euros. Perhaps a similar market situation exists in African countries as well.
While the study continues there are enough indicators that point to a need for forward thinking about solutions, devices, ecosystems with the farmer at the centre of this discussion.
In other words, A Farmer’s Information and Technology Experience needs to be detailed.
The purely technology framework discussion would need to consider the following amongst many others in an integrated manner

  • People within the Ecosystem
  • Information Design and Content
  • Information Delivery
  • Payments Mechanisms
  • Partner Ecosystem
  • Data Management, Analytics
  • Devices and Technology
  • Organisational Stakeholders if any.

Ongoing discussions will seek to define these aspects in light of insights gained from the desk research, field visits that seek to understand the ecosystem in greater detail. Please do share your thoughts on this note.
To continue this theme :
Value proposition, and value delivery in emerging markets through trust
Reaching rural communities in emerging markets: Ecosystems, people, and pipelines
Contextualized Information Empowering the Farmer
Trust in SMS
The All-Important Personal Relationship
 

FaceBorg. You will be Resisted.

In the world that the leader of Faceborg lives in, he thinks of Faceborg as a country on the planet. His ambitions include making Faceborg the center of this planet or maybe replace the name of all people, countries and even the planet. Welcome he says because resistance is futile.
It is interesting that Faceborg thinks of itself as  a country. The country is not a democracy and infact they do not hold free and fair elections to anything. They just decide and rule and then change their mind and make new rules. To rule.
In this assimilated world there is only one option you have only one place to turn to. Faceborg and the option to Like. Continue reading

Google Apps in our Office

A discussion on Triiibes got me thinking about the Google Apps experience.
We have used Google Apps from its earliest days. The decision to move was borne out of the need to realign resources. There was a need to upgrade the hardware on which our mail server was running etc plus it was anticipated that there might be a need to buy more Client Access Licenses etc. In parallel, investments in Apple Macbooks etc were increasing. Here are some observations on how things have evolved.

Using Google Apps internally

  1. Resource deployments were managed easily plus backup management was not really required.
  2. We did not need to invest in Blackberry services for colleagues that were traveling. Instead Nokia phones and the web interface was what we used initially. Subsequently the Gmail app came along.
  3. All though it started as a “mail service”, but soon enough colleagues were using the Calender Interface.
  4. The Sites tool has been used extensively by us to manage documentation on projects and notes.
  5. Google Docs usage has been sporadic and person dependent.
  6. The user interface of multiple windows opening for documents etc and different applications creates a clutter of windows and tabs that needs to be simplified.
  7. Contacts and the way it can be used with say Address books on PCs or Mobiles is something that we are beginning to address in a slightly more cohesive manner now.
  8. What one finds rather strange is that Google Docs open only in a read only mode if using the mobile. One would imagine that if the mail can open, surely they could have created some ability to take notes on the go, on a mobile.
  9. Some of us have also taken the MobileMe service to manage images, documents and contacts etc. Any sync is done via the laptops.
  10. It would not have been a bad idea if they had also provided an integrated Picasa service control though.
  11. Most of the colleagues on Windows have preferred to stay on Firefox rather than move to chrome when using Google Apps.
  12. Most of us have commented on the starkness of the interface.

Suggesting Google Apps to Friends or Clients

  1. Google Apps though has been suggested to clients too.
  2. Google Apps mail makes a lot of sense when in a retail or franchise environment where branded email can be provided to partners at a fairly limited cost and with management headaches down to a bare minimum. Infact while we are not a Google Apps service provider, we have suggested to clients to setup this service and they have been able to do so fairly quickly. However the concern that some clients have is. How much does google know if they use their email service.
  3. We again used Google Apps, but more specifically google sites, to manage the workflow and teams of a clients web project which included a lot of partners, external users and internal client team. The setup for the entire workflow was done over a weekend of work and another 1 day spent on training etc.
  4. Recently in a discussion with an Education Service Client, the Google Apps approach to infra as a sort of a freemium method was found to be very appealing. The idea that one could setup customised though simple lesson plans and other related aspects and that too relative quickly and then minimise failure impact was very appealing.
  5. The awareness of Google Apps seems rather low in our country. The education that Google Apps requires a different way of working and can achieve most if not all of moderate requirements is something to be focused on.
  6. If you are an entrepreneur or setting up your business, consider evaluating Google Apps or Zoho.

What are your observations about Google Apps or Zoho? I am keen to keen to exchange notes on these and answer any questions you may have.

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What is restricted content ?

Increasingly community participation is becoming an important aspect on most websites. People have thoughts and experiences that they want to share. In this expression of thought, is there something that we call restricted content. Content that makes the legal departments of companies cringe.
While there is a sample code of ethics for people to follow, there is still a need to define what is restricted content and also how a site can work towards ensuring it is free of such content.
Restricted content could be defined in the following four ways:

  1. Confidential Information
  2. Inappropriate Content
  3. Licensed Multimedia
  4. Copyright material other than multimedia

Confidential Information

Documents or information that is covered by some legal document for non disclosure etc would be considered confidential. It would be very difficult to judge, for the site crew, if a specific information provided on the site is confidential or not. This kind of information will likely be reported through a Report Content option on the site. Once reported, the site would need to start removal proceedings including warning the user of this violation.

Inappropriate Content

Spam and other offensive material, Personal Attacks, Offensive language and other such issues would be considered inappropriate. There does not seem to be any foolproof way of technology assisted monitoring. Ensuring a strict watch on proceedings by the site community is possibly more effective. Again an option to report content should be available at all places so that it is easy for people to report content.

Licensed Multimedia

It could be in the form of images from stock libraries such as Corbis, Photo Library and more. It could be in the form of videos from established content providers such as television networks, movie companies etc. It could be training videos, corporate videos etc.
While it may be ok for a participant to hyperlink to the 3rd party content, such content should not be uploaded onto the community site. In the event of a report of such content being uploaded, content removal proceedings should start. In some cases a participant may be asked to clarify the origin of the content and the same should be recorded.

Copyright Material other than multimedia

It could be in the form of paid or subscribed reports from companies such as Forrester, Gartner or other companies. It could be in the form of books from authors. It could be content available on third party sites .
Report Content Option is still the best option to track and remove such content. A paid service such as Copyscape could be signed up to study such content. Manual scan of suspicious content may even be done through Google.

What more can be done?

  • The bottomline is in a community site, the participant is completely responsible to maintain decorum etc. The IP address of the participant could be tracked on each posting. If a person is found to be posting restricted content, then they could be barred from services and eventually there membership to the community could be removed.
  • Signup for professional services such as Copyscape.
  • Remove upload options for multimedia and images in the site. It may depend on the nature of discussions and topics.
  • Periodic review of such activities should be undertaken to constantly enhance this aspect.
  • Maybe even have moderated posting.

I am sure there is much more  that can be done to have a spirited community with engaging content. What do you think?

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