Friday, December 02, 2005

Not Getting it Right is... just so WRONG!

A little delay in this week's blog as I have found myself dealing with a heavier than usual throng of customer related activity leading up to the Christmas break. As I have suspected in the last couple of quarters, the "starting gun for online services has definitely gone off" and our clients are starting work on some significant initiatives for 2005 - which is great for the business but is meaning some long nights for us.

All of this activity on the business front has meant that some of my personal administration activities have had to take a back-seat, but I did find some time to do some online shopping for Christmas over the last few late nights and I have to say that I have been *underwhelmed* by some of the experiences I have had.

Being a good Aussie boy, I have done my best to focus my online shopping to local companies, but gee, it has been tough!! I will tell you the story of the local online record store* with whom I tried to spend $300 online, only to have my order FAIL at various stages of the checkout process THREE TIMES (and I am much more persistent that most online shoppers). I didn't buy the DVDs I was looking for from them.

There was the online "department store" that offered me certain discounts based on certain combinations of products which again, when I went to the checkout, didn't flow through to the final shopping basket, and provided no mechanism to follow through on the offer. Again, no sale there.

There was the online store which waited until the last screen in the shopping process to tell me that three of the four things I wanted to buy were out of stock with a delay of 4 - 6 weeks (no good for Christmas).... again No Sale.

A pretty dismal experience on the main.

There were a couple of rays of sunshine. I have a real liking for the team at Mr Gadget, who I think are a smart bunch of guys who just sell great toys. Their order handling and customer service are both great and their catalogue is simple, clear and provides all the information you need! (I'll be spending more money with you guys!). And I liked the multi-path browsing implemented by

The sad thing for me has been the fact that despite some strong signs of amazing growth in the Online Services and eCommerce space, Australain Companies don't seem to be getting the message about the need to catch up with their international competitors. Despite the issues of international freight, currency conversion and delivery times, it was just easier for me to buy some of the things I wanted to buy online from international stores. That is about $400 which I spend off-shore this year that I REALLY wanted to spend at home.

For Australian retail businesses it really is time to get serious about the Online Services space (I know that I have been saying this since about 1994, but folks, that light at the end of the tunnel REALLY is a train! You need to get on board or get run over...). I saw some statistics this last weekend from a local company called They have done some research which suggests that 2,300,000 Australians will shop online this Christmas and that they will buy around 9,000,000 items - that is a pretty serious market by anyone's account.

The critical mass for the online shoping market has been reached. The challenge for Australian businesses is that this market is squarely in the sights of your international competitors.

This market is different that the physical shopping environment and many retailers have struggled online because they try to repeat the physical model in the online space. The online consumer is sophisticated, has multiple "shopping personalities," is always looking for a deal, demands good service and is unforgiving .... they are always one click away from your competitors. You MUST learn to understand them and start to build relationships with them.

And you have to start doing this now.

The team I work with have been doing some very interesting work in optimising the online channels for our clients. A lot of this work in the past has been about the technical stability and capability of the platforms, and they have become pretty good at that. In the last couple of quarters, more customers are asking for help in improving the way customers use the Online Services we deliver and how to maximise the sales throughput. Some of this comes down to interface design and some of it to usability and information architecture - done well these activities will yield REAL results. We have one customer who exceeded their online sales targets to 30 June by more than 20% as a result of some of the work we have done.

This is a very big topic area and I could go on for hours about building online communities, the importance of peer referrals, the potential of rich-media content and more.... but I've got to get back to work.

In the meantime, when I do get back to my Christmas shopping, I will continue to try and Buy Aussie and Buy Online ...

*(you might remember records stores, it is what they were called before music came on CDs).... (come to think if it, you might remember CDS, it is how we used to buy music when we used to buy it an album at a time and before there were things called iPods and Googles and things....) - I am showing my age.... but I do love this stuff, because we get to change the world.....

Sunday, November 20, 2005

TV is DEAD.... Long live TV!!!

This week has seen a fair bit of press about some big changes coming down the line in TV, with technologies such as IPTV/DSL TV and Mobile TV now being seen by some commentators as being the next "disruptive" technologies.

These technologies provide the ability to deliver television-like content (broadcast video) directly to specialist video devices attached to IP Networks. Emerging devices such as the Apple Video IPod and the Sony PSP are portable video-players with the ability to connect to the internet (either directly or via a computer) and of course, most new 3G mobile phones have the ability to download and play video content on the run and already most of the local telcos are thinking about offering these services. Visit Telstra, Vodafone, Hutchinson/3 and Optus to see more about their respective offerings in these cases.

The attraction of these "on demand" TV services (I'll call it "ODTV") is that they break through some of the traditional conventions of TV. Instead of a TV network prescribing a timetable of programs and the user being beholden to watch the content at the prescribed time, the consumer can now search for and watch TV content as and when they wish to watch it. Sure there have been interim technologies designed to provide some flexibility (VCR, PVR/TIVO, and the like) but in all cases, the primary source of the content has been the TV network schedule. ODTV, of course, changes all this.

In most of the reading I have been able to do on ODTV in Australia, the shift to this model is being seen as an evolution in the traditional model. The press is a-buzz with stories of "content and distribution deals" as the owners of the "channels" (in this case the telcos) seek to acquire exclusive content as a means to enhance their value proposition to their customers. It seems to me that a lot of the talk right now is about "more of the same" as the current players rush to gain turf in a battle where the turf is not yet clearly laid out. The same names are doing deals about the same content and trying to perpetuate at least some variant on the same business models.... but is this really the future of ODTV?

As always, I get drawn to the impact of these changes on our clients - the big companies and government departments we are proud to provide our Online Services to.... and I have to say that I think that ODTV is going to be a very important change for them.

There are three reasons for this:
  1. ODTV provides a mechanism for disintermediation of video-based content AWAY from the major networks. By definition, ODTV is accessible via ANY IP connection - we are now in a time where anyone can post TV like content on the internet and it can be reached by any consumer, anywhere.
  2. ODTV is digital which means that we can augment video content with technology based services to link the offer to the means to fulfil the offer. A product placement within an ODTV show can be linked to the ability to try, learn more about or buy the product. Conversely, a request for more information about a product can be linked to an ODTV show which provides that information.
  3. ODTV can be highly targeted. No longer must a marketer think about buying airtime in TV shows which may be attractive to a target market. They can now either buy advertising / placement within specialist ODTV shows directly suited to their market, or can even create ODTV content to reach their markets.

These three elements will re-shape the "turf" in the ODTV space. Significant owners of brands with a logical reason to create their own ODTV WILL take the initiative and seize the opportunity to create some brand leadership in this space. The brave ones will agressively protect their brands and will use this opportunity perhaps as a catalyst to changing elements of their marketing mix. Good ODTV content delivered directly to the right target markets will become VERY valuable.

Unfortunately, the timeframe between when this technology is available and when savvy marketers are going to be integrating it their advertising plans is not very long. This is an opportunity for NOW and we are working with our clients to help them understand and then take advantage of this exciting opportunity.

For our clients, I encourage you to start thinking about how ODTV is going to create opportunities for you to spread your message, reach your customers, provide improved service or deliver a government service. This IS one of those technological shifts which IS going to have a significant impact.

As I always say, "we have a good job, because we get to change the world..."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Customers are everywhere and anywhere......

Every now and then you get the opportunity to see something which adjusts your perspectives on a couple of things. This weekend I saw two of them .... a hand-dryer in a men's bathroom and a VERY large aircraft... and surprisingly, these two things are linked!

The VERY large aircraft (shown to the right) is the Airbus A380 making its first trip to Australia and the (average quality) photo shows you the sheer SIZE of this thing. There are two points of reference in the photo ... the block of apartments underneath the aircraft and the small black dot to the left of the plane. That is the Learjet which was tailing the plane and taking the footage for the Qantas ads the A380 was here to shoot. As you may have gathered... this is one BIG aircraft.

In its recommended configuration, the A380 is capable of carrying 555 passengers up to 15,000 km. It is faster, quieter and uses less fuel than precedent aircraft. This is a machine designed to help people MOVE around the planet, quickly and comfortably.

People DO move about and travel is getting easier and easier (and cheaper) - I know since I do it a lot. All this travelling is having some impacts on the relationships we are developing as consumers and the business we are doing as professionals. When you add the increased capability the internet is bringing us in communications, services and utility, the reality is that the world is now a very different place. Smart, international businesses are grabbing hold of this opportunity and are reaching out to new customers, often in markets they have never actually set foot in!

I know from my own experience that the companies I am developing relationships with are distributed around the world. My music store is iStore, my preferred telco is Skype (now an eBay company) and my banking relationships are being pursued by international financial services groups like American Express and Citibank - BIG companies, trying to build a relationship with me, trying to make themselves stand out in the crowd, trying to get their message into my hands and then give me the capacity to act.

Which brings me to my hand dryer, found in the men's room of a Sydney cinema complex. This hand dryer has a video screen built into the front of it (a lot like the ones from Impressionaire in the US, but with a much better finish .... NOTE TO THE DISTRIBUTOR of the Product I saw here in Australia - I tried for 15 minutes on Google to find your product and gave up... give me a call, we can help you!!).

The idea is that when I dry my hands in the mens room, the unit will start a video stream which will run for the duration of the hand drying cycle. Apparently these things are connected to the internet and will change their content on pre-purchased advertising cycles. Not a bad idea right - get the message to me when I can't get away. ....

But is it such a good idea?

We have been doing some work for a couple of our clients about how customers are consuming their media and how this will impact consumption of their marketing messages. This is all about justifying the change in the budgets that are required by these clients to support the shift to more tangible and comprehensive online services strategies.

We are learning a lot from this process, but the thing which is resonating for me is the fact that our clients' customers are being bombarded by messages from all angles and from a wide variety of media. We are going to see more and more of this as the Online Services market continues to mature, as the mobile handsets get more capable, the TV/PC convergence continues and as specialist entertainment devices continue to evolve - as online services become ubiquitous.

The challenge for our clients is really now about understanding who their current and target customers are and then work out how they are going to get the right, effective message to those customers in a form and at a time that they can act on the offer being made.

The thing we aren't seeing though is much by way of the development of sophisticated online strategies which consider these new realities as the starting point for strategy development. Most of what we are seeing at the moment is the online strategy as an afterthough: streaming the same TV ad online..... having the above the line agency "cut a website to support the campaign"...... and in too many cases, Australian companies ignoring the Online Services space all together.

We are pleased to say that most of our clients "get it" and we ae working with them to turn this awareness into action. A lot of what we are doing these days is about gathering all of these perspectives, inputs and influences and using them as the starting point for a comprehensive online strategy. We are bringing the technology, the marketing and the business considerations together for the first time... and delivering real results.

I get a lot of satisfaction when I see our bold decision a year ago to evolve into a Pure Online Services Company turn into real business benefit for our clients. Our clients are changing how they spend their money, looking to make it more effective, more accountable - in short they are now working on REAL strategies to make the most of comprehensive, integrated Online Services .... and to make sure they keep their customers away from those pesky international competitors.

As I keep saying ... "we've got a good job 'cause we get to change the world...."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Blogging - Day 1....

The motivation to start a blog has come from a recent article about Jonathan Schwartz - President & COO of Sun Microsystems. Mr Schwartz commented that in this day and age it is important for all of us with something to say, something to share or a vision we want to bring into reality, to get our ideas out there for others to share, challenge and help to evolve. By engaging others with our thoughts we give them substance. By allowing others to challenge our ideas we give them depth and by embracing the perspectives provided by others, we give our thoughts and ideas power - the power to become actions and to then deliver results. The task then is to break some (not unbreakable) old habits and to learn how to blog.

The biggest challenge for me is not to place my ideas out there for others to test and question (and please feel free to do so) but to make sure that the topics I choose are valid, relevant and worth the time I am asking you to invest in them.

Already the ideas are coming thick and fast, but rather than allow this blog to head down a particular path, I have decided that I am going to use it to capture my insights on something BIG... the BIG thing that is the broad, deep, subtle and stark change that is being driven by online services. These changes are starting to affect just about every aspect of our work, our lives and the way we interact. Even though this change has been gathering creeping momentum for a decade, the pace of change is now reaching a canter and in my mind will break into a gallop in the next year or two... things have changed. It is now time for business, government, people to catch up.

I am fortunate enough to work with a great bunch of people who make up what we are calling a Pure Online Services Company called Hyro. This is a team of people who are devising, implementing and driving part of this cantering change for our commercial and government clients. A lot of what I post here will be as a result of the work we do as a team and the things I see as a part of my job.

Forgive me if I get a little passionate as we go along, but I enjoy my job and the things we do .... after all, we get to change the world!

Your comments, thoughts and ideas are welcome... so please click Comments below.