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If your industry contacts and friends have a keen interest in next-gen digital plays, they are most likely in Austin right now for the annual pilgrimage to the SXSW Interactive Festival, keeping you abreast with a constant stream of #SXSW photos and posts of all sorts.

SXSW is exciting stuff for sure, with a particular focus on our digital future. For the rest of us who are stuck in Sydney however, there is exciting stuff happening too – less future-facing and, say, more focused on the “here and now”.

I give you Content Marketing World Sydney, now in its third year and in full swing as of tomorrow for the next 3 days.

CMY Sydney seeks to inspire and guide Australian marketers, agencies and publishers alike, as well as address some of their immediate questions and hurdles with their content marketing approach.

IMO, it is also a great opportunity to reflect on what we aren’t still getting quite right, and how we compare with other parts of the world.

Finally, it’s worth clarifying that for the purpose of this piece, our focus is owned content.

How I came to learn about some disturbing facts

CMY Sydney first came to my attention as I was attending Joe Pullizi’s webinar on Epic Content Marketing: The 5 Essentials Marketers Need to Follow in 2015.

Pullizi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) – the producer of CMW Sydney –, a subject-matter expert and one of the speakers at CMW this year.

The insights gained from his webinar at the time, combined with the latest research from the CMI and ADMA, had helped me steer the strategic conversations I was having with a client in the right direction.

Specifically, as I was listening to Pullizi’s own experiences working with marketers and going through the research in detail, I discovered some unsettling facts about questionable yet widespread content marketing practices.

First, we learn that 9 out of 10 Australian marketers are using content tactics. Great. However, less than 3 out of 10 are having some kind of success with it. Disappointing.

Then, we discover that 46% of marketers are using a verbal-only strategy – just imagine how effective this approach would be in a large organization with a CMO, Corporate Affairs and Social Media teams etc. all meant to work hand in hand to the same strategic roadmap… enough said. In others words, nearly half of Australian marketers are winging it and hoping for the best their content tactics stick and deliver tangible business outcomes.

Not surprisingly, the research goes on to say that those marketers (only 37%), who do invest time and resource on developing and documenting their content marketing strategy are more effective in nearly all aspects.

Having a documented strategy *and* adhering to it is even better one might say. Yet only 4 out of 10 follow their content marketing strategy very closely i.e. share it with the right teams, review it and optimize it regularly etc. I guess this would largely depend on who owns it and champions it in the organization: only 39% admits to having a dedicated content marketing group – a key part of the problem in my view.

How Australian marketers compare with their British counterparts

Following these discoveries, I was curious to know: are content marketers in other parts of the world behaving any differently?

For this exercise, I thought I would pick the UK – one of the leading and most advanced markets when it comes to digital marketing, with content marketing a fast-growing component of it. So surely they know better, right?

8 of out 10 British marketers use content marketing and 4 out of 10 say they are effective. So marginally more effective.

When it comes to documenting their strategy and following it, alas you will be pleased (or sorry) to hear they aren’t faring much better: 51% are using a verbal only strategy (vs 46% in Australia) and only 44% of those who have it documented follow it very closely (vs 40%).

So all in all, a sorry state of affair on the strategic front on either side of the world. Yet a great opportunity for independent experts and agency types to offer to help and lead!

There are of course a number of underlying issues that explain the situation client-side. The lack of in-house specialist talent or dedicated champion are two that come to mind, and these are instances where external content experts can supplement marketers effectively. They can help in a number of valuable ways – at strategic level or across the full plan-create-test-learn cycle, for short or long periods of time.

For more on these and other fascinating insights, check out the Content Marketing in Australia 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report.

Have you ever wondered what a beacon looks like? I have and I have seen a few.

They are small enough they can sit in the palm of your hand, be stuck to a wall inside a store or inside an outdoor panel at a bus shelter without anyone noticing.

By Jonathan Nalder from Kilcoy, Australia (beacons by jnxyz.education) [CC-BY-2.0]

They first came to the world’s attention 12 months ago with the launch of Apple’s iBeacons in the US. This launch was closely followed by another defining milestone: the Regent Street project in the UK, a first of its kind now in full swing.

Soon after, as I was talking to two outdoor media owners, they were telling me about their plans to bring the technology to the Australian market – both understandably racing to be the first in market given its huge potential for highly-targeted mobile marketing.

Plenty has been written since on how the technology works and its marketing possibilities. For my part, I am genuinely excited about its many benefits. Yet there are some drawbacks to be mindful of also.

In this post, I specifically seek to answer the following questions:

What do you need for the technology to work?

What are the marketing applications?

Is beacon marketing for every consumer and every brand?

As a marketer, why should consider investing into beacon marketing?

And what key considerations do you need to be mindful of?

Happy reading! And as always, I welcome your thoughts, in particular any insights gained from first-hand experience or best-in-class case studies you may have come across.

What do you need for the technology to work?

As a brand – you need a native smartphone app programmed to react to one or more beacons.

As a consumer – a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, with a beacon-enabled brand app installed on it. Push notifications and location detection must also be activated on the app.

Assuming these conditions are met, as soon as one of your app users/customers is within range of your beacon(s), they will get tracked and a personalized message triggered and displayed on their mobile screen in the form of a notification, CTA or an event.

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What are the marketing applications?

The possibilities are endless. Their quality and effectiveness however are largely dependent on the sophistication of your data-driven marketing capabilities and their level of integration with your mobile ecosystem.

Two of the most advanced examples I’ve come across are the Regent Street and Slyde Beacon-enabled shopping apps. Key functionality typically includes the ability to identify a customer nearby and offer them customized promotions as they walk past a store, automatically check them into said store upon entry, mobile redemption of e-coupons and in the case of Slyde a touchless payment experience.

In terms of user experience, here are a couple of scenarios:

On a hot summer day, as you walk past an outdoor poster you may get prompted to redeem a discount on a can of Coke in a nearby Woolies, conveniently located within meters of the panel.

Another example, as you return in-store, and get near an aisle that carries your favourite brand of cereals, the store may invite you through its app to redeem a promo on that very product to incentivize repeat purchase. It may not be on your shopping list that day, but when prompted (or even better, reminded that you might be soon out of stock) you may decide to be tempted.

These are just some of many possible retail applications, and the more customer data is leveraged at the individual level (e.g. product preferences, frequency of product purchase, average basket spend etc.), the more relevant and effective the message.

Beacons may also be used in other physical environments (e.g. airport lounges, museums, cinemas, at home etc.) and to offer any number of value-add services on-site, not just retail offers.

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Is beacon marketing for every consumer and every brand?

77% of Australians over 13 are now smartphone users (source: The Digital Australia: State of the Nation 2014 report). And with Bluetooth adoption on the rise, it’s safe to say we are looking at a large audience across age groups.

Within that pool however, phone usage varies greatly. From your teenage daughter to your mum and your grandad, digital literacy and mobile user behaviours (e.g. what they use their phone for, where and when, frequency etc.) aren’t quite the same and so bound to impact on receptivity levels to your mobile marketing.

Critically also, mobile phones are our most personal digital devices. Hence how and when you choose to intrude on this very private space (once you are granted access) will make or break your relationship pretty much.

So to answer our question, all mobile consumers can benefit from it as long as you make time to know them – and know them well – and engage accordingly.

In terms of which categories are likely to benefit the most from beacons, retailers are by far at the top of the list – from your local grocer’s to your favourite fashion retailer or department store to name a few. But not just. I would also argue that any brand with a loyal following, a solid mobile presence and data integration strategy stands to benefit from it.

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As a marketer, why should you consider investing into beacon marketing?

Assuming you already have a suitable app in market (e.g. a shopping, loyalty or customer service app) with a sizeable user base, are in the process of building one or considering investing into one:

#1 – Beacons make it possible to deliver personalised mobile communications at the right time and at the right place to the right person – based on the customer’s location at its most basic, on their purchase history and shopping preferences also (when the latter are known) at its best.

#2 – They are a source of valuable customer data and insights: user data is collected at every interaction (such as store visits, dwell time, conversions); that data may in turn be used to build a meaningful and mutually rewarding relationship.

#3 – For bricks-and-mortar shops, beacons are simply a great way to drive footfall whilst allowing them also to compete with online retailers on delivering a personalised user experience offline. 

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What do you need to be mindful of?

#1 – Your opt-in acquisition strategy and ability to deliver on your customer value proposition are both critical.

For this type of marketing to be successful, you need to maximise opt-ins within your mobile user base. This requires you to think long and hard about the benefits and rewards you are going to offer in return for opting in to receive your beacon-enabled communications.

Those benefits and rewards (including their level of personalisation) must be of real value to the user for them to accept to trade off their privacy. And then, you actually must deliver on your promise. Failing that they won’t let you in in the first instance, or you will risk losing them and generating negative WOM.

#2 – The more integrated your CRM and data capabilities, the more effective your beacon marketing.

At its simplest, beacon marketing doesn’t require a fully integrated multi-channel CRM and data strategy. Tactical use cases can be as simple as driving in-store purchases on a seasonal product (e.g. sunscreen or ice cream on a hot day) amongst app users browsing nearby.

To realize its full potential however, it requires the ability to identify app users as individuals, with their online and offline interactions, purchase history and shopping preferences reconciled and accessed in real time for an optimal personalisation of the experience.

The reality is that most marketers are yet to achieve that single customer view and it may take a few years before they do. With this in mind, a staged approach towards achieving an integrated customer profile is most likely the best avenue, with a CRM and technology roadmap clearly setting out your capability improvement goals over a period of time.

#3 – Beware of the lack of legislation about what you can and cannot do.

The lack of legislation governing the use of beacon technology in Australia was flagged to me recently as a potential risk by an industry peer, and I have to agree.

On one hand, the absence of a legal framework is liberating for marketers – Amazon knows this too well as it picked an unregulated market, India, for the launch of its drone deliveries.

On the other hand, the lack of regulations may lead to an unbridled use of the beacon technology, which could antagonize consumers with marketers intruding excessively with their user experience.

So until such a time when we have guidelines in place, common sense must prevail. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Think: what would you think or do if you were to receive that message at that time and place? Focus groups, customer surveys and other forms of consumer research should help validate your approach also.

All in all –

When their application is carefully researched and planned, with the personalisation (hence the relevancy) of the message maximised, beacons can take your relationship marketing to another level. Fact.

They can be an effective way of driving sales but also building loyalty and WOM amongst your existing customer base through the messaging of timely contextual value adds.

If misused however, they could lose you loyal customers faster than you think. That is a fact also.

Have you started using beacons for your clients or own marketing purposes? Don’t be shy, let us know of your wins and learnings also.

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Lately I have been reading about connected homes and connected cars. Whilst I am (very) excited at the prospect of experiencing both in the not-so-distant future, it left me wondering about what connected stores might look like also a few years from now.

3 players stick out for me when it comes to transforming the in-store experience through the integration of information and communications technologies.

All 3 are working hard to merge the bricks-and-mortar and virtual shopping experiences into one effortless, consistent and personalised experience. This they achieve not only through a selective use of technologies (mobile or other), but also by observing their customers’ shopping behaviours and adapting the in-store experience accordingly.

According to Burberry –

For Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of the British luxury fashion brand, the shop of the future integrates behaviours that are inherent to the online shopping experience into the in-store experience.

And so in the same way as customers shop online from the comfort of their sofa at home, customers in its London flagship store are shown to a sofa at point of purchase, where they are presented with a swipe machine that swiftly computes their purchase.

Christopher Bailey commenting on the launch of the new store design in 2012 explained: “We designed it like that because when you’re shopping at home online, you are on the sofa with your credit card. You don’t stand up and queue.”

Other examples of the “digitalization” of Burberry’s largest store include embedding clothes with RFID-enabled chips that can be read by the fitting rooms mirrors, triggering images and videos of the selected garment in catwalk shows or how it was made. Kitting out the store with high-speed lifts to fast track the time it takes for staff to check an item’s availability is one other (this check is instant online).

According to Starbucks –

For Howard Schultz, the CEO of the coffee house chain, the store of the future will enable a one-to-one relationship between the brand and its customers through the personalization of the service they receive as they walk into the store.

As he explained in a recent interview with USA Today, customers with a history of in-store mobile payments made through the Starbucks app could in future be presented with their usual favorite drink as they are geo-located and id’ed the moment they step through the door – without having to order.

According to GAP –

For the high-street fashion retailer, the store of the future reconciles the rise of the omni-channel shopper with the company’s ability to connect demand (web, mobile or offline) to supply (wherever it might be also) through its backend systems. This has led the retailer to start trialing the find in-store and reserve-in store features on its shopping app.

The app geo-locates you and flags the nearest stores. By connecting to the store inventories in real-time, it shows you the inventory level for a given item and ultimately gives you the ability to find and buy the item you pre-shopped online in a store of your choice.

As you go online to shop with GAP, you spot an item you like, you locate it in a store near by and simply reserve it. The item is held for you until the next business day for you to try in store, build a transaction and possibly a whole outfit around it. Unlike pick-up in-store, it encourages customers to stick around as they try things on and build a connection with the staff and brand.

In both scenarios, the shopping experience starts online and leads to an offline transaction.

No doubt there are more examples in the same vein (feel free to share those you find inspiring!). Burberry and Starbucks however are ones to watch: they have famously (and successfully) broken new grounds when it comes to integrating digital media and platforms into their marketing efforts. And they are constantly looking for new ways to market their products and optimise the customer experience.

With this in mind, any one who ever thought the bricks-and-mortar shops would soon be a thing of the past may want to have a rethink. A converted online shopper myself, I could even be tempted to go back in-store.

A couple of weeks ago, I touched on Coca Cola’s latest foray into social TV with its 2013 Super Bowl’s Mirage Big Game ad campaign. Although it did experience a few glitches on D Day, there is no doubt Mirage is one of the most sophisticated and successful social TV campaigns to date, having generated over 11 million fan engagements according to Coca Cola.

In a nutshell, the campaign starts with a TV ad that kicks off a story (the story of 3 teams competing for an iced Coke bottle in the middle of the desert). That story is in fact a game that unfolds over 3 stages (pre, during and post Super Bowl game), and plays out simultaneously across the small screen and the social Web, as TV viewers get to choose how the story ends by voting for their favourite team on the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.

Before Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz used Twitter in a similar fashion in its UK #YOUDRIVE TV advertising campaign at the end of last year. The campaign let viewers choose the ending of a 3-part story on the new A Class model that played during commercial breaks in the “X Factor” show. According to research conducted by Twitter UK, Mercedes Benz and ITV, the integration of Twitter into the TV ads had a positive impact on the brand’s metrics and 71% of the tweets generated contained the campaign hashtags with 1 in 4 wanting to find out more about the car.

By combining dynamic story telling, gamification and social media interaction, both campaigns are great examples of TV ads linking to a social conversation – and back. Traditionally a passive consumption experience, they reinvent TV advertising by letting the audience take control of the content and viewing experience.

These campaigns are just two examples of how social TV works. There are plenty more as social TV tends to vary in complexity of the execution and may extend out beyond Twitter and Facebook to include advertiser-owned platforms.

At its most basic – the broadcast of tweets in real time during a TV programme is one of the most prevalent forms of social TV e.g. when the ABC’s TV programme Q&A takes questions and reactions live from TV viewers via Twitter back onto the small screen – a simple yet effective way of maximizing audience participation.

At the other end of the spectrum – we have companion apps such as Zeebox or Yahoo7! Fango that go a step further by centralizing all social conversations about one or multiple shows in one place, serving up related content in real time, and rewarding users for their loyalty with exclusive content or prizes.

Whichever way you go about social TV, the one common denominator and pre-requisite to its success is the brand’s ability to tell a compelling story that everyone wants to talk about. In other words, without cut-through content there is no social buzz, no social TV.

Why is social TV so much on the rise? (and here to stay.)

It leverages what has become second nature to most of us: our second screen behaviour. Or put simply, the fact that most TV viewers are using a second screen (tablet, mobile or desktop) whilst watching TV.

Which begs the question: what do they do on that second screen?

According to a recent Yahoo!7 survey into the viewing habits of Australians, 43% use social media whilst watching TV, with a large number of them posting on Facebook about what they are watching.

Twitter is the other big favourite destination for our TV-related banter to take place – so much so that it fully embraces TV as an integral part of its corporate future – why buy Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics start up that tracks conversations about brands and TV shows, if for no other reason?

In other words, Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect companions to TV shows and ads. By enabling a shared viewing experience with friends, likeminded fans and viewers as well as 1:1 conversations with our favourite brands and shows, they have in essence redefined the home entertainment experience for most of us.

But are all brands equal in front of social TV?

At first, it appears not. A recent report reveals that Television shows are amongst the most liked Facebook pages, closely followed by Retail fashion and Food brands. This makes social TV an opportunity not to be missed for brands in these categories given their target audiences’ propensity to congregate in social forums.
However, thinking about it some more, it is not so much the category that is a driver in my opinion, but I would argue the brand’s ability to effectively use social media in the first place.
If the brand does a great job out of it i.e it has a clear, single-minded social media strategy and purpose (e.g. promote the overall business – ref. Shell, provide customer service – ref. US retailers, promote a lifestyle – ref. Red Bull etc.) and the resource behind it (talent and $$), then any brand can have a shot at social TV.

And how about measurement I hear you say?

As the TV viewing experience evolves to integrate social media platforms, measurement metrics for TV programmes and ads have to evolve too.

Audience reach can no longer be judged on traditional TV ratings only; new measurement metrics need to be introduced to capture user engagement across social media platforms and devices as the story plays out on the small screen and triggers conversations on the second screen (Nielsen US is ahead of the pack in that respect as it makes it its mission to devise new metrics for TV consumption).

All in all, I think social TV is brilliant news for advertisers, creative and media agencies alike.

Not only does it give TV as a medium greater accountability and further proof that the (costly) investment is worthwile, it also gives TV advertising and the TV viewing experience as a whole a new lease of life.

Following its redesign, the Daily Mail’s website becomes *the world’s* most popular online newspaper website! Pipping the New York Times to the post.

A success story that was awarded the DBA Design Effectiveness Grand Prix this month. I have included below some of the impressive results recorded to date (source: WARC):

– Unique browsers increased more than fivefold, from 18.7m to 91.6m a month (May 2012, ABCe)
– Average dwell time up from 3 minutes to over 6 minutes in 2011 (ABCe)
– Monthly revenue grown by 180% from October 2009 to March 2012 (MailOnline accounts)

The site is a fine example of “design-driven online innovation” as it leverages Web 2.0 features and maximises user engagement. I particularly like its 5.16m deep (!) homepage and other original disruptive features such as its heavy use of images and long clickable story headlines on its homepage (very ‘newspaper-unlike’). Have a browse and see for yourself.

Given its effectiveness, all newspapers out there in the process of transitioning to a digital-focused business model would do well to follow this site user-centered design approach. It will most likely help turn their companies’ fortunes around as they tap into a new kind of readership: young, connected and highly mobile.

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