The Danger of Dismantling (Digital) Learning

More than once or twice in the last few weeks I’ve been on the defensive about education, particularly in dialogue with industry folks in the digital sector. So here’s a bit of a brain dump.

There’s a problem at the moment – but it’s not quite as straight forward as you might think, and there’s certainly some misinformation fuelling some of the traffic – and decisions being made by young people, parents and employers are to some extent being informed by some significant propaganda proposed by a powerful vocal group whose interests may only reflect their personal short-term financial gain and not long-term issues.

Why did I go to University? I can’t remember why now. I know there was an expectation that I would go, and that I was going to be a rare thing because only about 5% of the population went to University. Fast forward more than 25 years and around 45% of the population now go on to study at university level. Whatever you think about fees, loans, debt and so on, there has been a marked increase in access to higher education – some folk think that’s not required and that it’s a waste. Other people think it’s only fair that anyone who wants a bash at Uni should be able to have a go.

Many people have talked about declining standards (usually the same people who think GCSEs have got easier – until they are asked to do some of the questions themselves: just you have a go at that GCSE maths paper if you’re not a mathematics person and you’ll see how demanding it is).

Standards haven’t declined – what’s changed is the range of performance, and also the level of work that’s used to get people the education that works. Compared to my time at Uni, there’s a massive amount of work that goes into supporting learners – staff who are trained to teach, who are up to date in their field, who have practitioner experience, who spend time with industry as well as engage in research.

As a practitioner who works in a University, I’ve spent a long time constantly updating and improving the experience and the knowledge that we pass onto students. My grads go out with skills they can use instantly as well as talent they can draw upon for decades to come. One thing hasn’t changed – and that’s what University has always been about – and that is that graduates are also ‘trained thinkers.’

Something I often hear – “University isn’t preparing graduates for work” – often by people who haven’t seen what I’m doing. Often by people who came from a University a long time ago. What they mean to say is – “Some CVs we have looked at don’t say that person X knows how to use software Y”.

University isn’t about learning how to use software Y. University should mean that person X will be able to use any software in the future, because they have some deeper, intrinsic thinking that allows them to adapt to any new situation. As a trained thinker, they will be ready to adapt to a situation, develop a new behaviour, acquire a new skill quickly when it is needed – because they have this deeper grounding that means they can do this for the rest of their working lives.

Which brings me on to the danger of the new panacea – apprenticeships.

Plenty of lads that I knew at school went on to do apprenticeships when I went off to Uni – particularly in an oil-industry town I came from. I’d come home and they’d be showing me their new motorbikes and cars. They had cash, skills and everything even a few years after I graduated – they were clearly well off and they had skills.

Then the arse fell out of their world – new technology, change in the law, whatever. Suddenly they were out of jobs. Their skills were highly specific, very linked to a technology which a disruptive event rendered obsolete. And to put it bluntly, they struggled to get work because there were engineering graduates who had not only got experience in the work place, they had also got the ‘trained thinker’ grounding that made them adaptable and ready. The guys who had been apprentices had no chance despite having been on some of the most excellent apprenticeships ever.

The danger of apprenticeships is that some are being sold as “an alternative to University” to people who would very reasonably benefit from a University experience. The use of scaremongering language regarding debt and fees is prevalent.

I don’t doubt the value of an apprenticeship but there is very little information on the drawbacks of such an approach – for all stakeholders, especially the apprentice. The curricula around the programmes is dominated by experiential learning of repetitive, operational tasks.

There is some doubt about the validity of the knowledge. I spoke to one young apprentice last week who was unhappy, because he felt that he was learning about one way of doing things – the company way – yet he had heard from people elsewhere that they were doing it differently, but he was not being exposed to that experience because “that’s not how it is done where I work.”

Where is this all going?

  • Universities are changing so it’s important that you base any remarks and opinions on the modern, contemporary University and not the mid-range 20th century white tower you may remember.
  • Apprenticeships, especially in the digital domain, have yet to be proven so they cannot be a panacea
  • More needs to be done at 16 – 18 so that people understand what they should be going to University for and there are plenty of people who should not be going to University.
  • Companies pick their apprentices – whereas students choose their University. That has an impact on outcomes.
  • In all cases, the raw material (the apprentice or student) is the most significant factor in the equation. There are students who just aren’t that good – and it’s no reflection on what University experience they’ve had – but they can wing it for 3 or 4 years. A duff apprentice won’t last long in a firm so you’ll only ever see the innately good ones succeed. I get judged on the raw material whether I like it or not.

What’s clear is that there is a massive sea change in education. Unfortunately it will be at some young people’s expense either way.

NEXT TIME – the difference between education and training

Some Thoughts on the 4Ps and Customer Centricity

A cracking debate on the relevance of the traditional Marketing 4Ps in contemporary digital marketing has broken out in several places on the Internet. The pro-4P lobby believe that in the rush to get online, many organisations are forgetting some standard rules and good practice, citing the 4Ps as an element of the marketer’s armoury that should be introduced and taken on board. Writers such as Dave Chaffey and Paul Smith have long (in Internet Time) promoted an evolved model with changes to the meaning and number of Ps in the equation.

The anti-4P lobby claim that the evolution of social media means that the 4P model (and its descendants) are increasingly irrelevant because they are centred around the marketer and the product and not around the customer and their world (I won’t use the word “needs” because that is a contentious point). This lobby believe that in a social media world, companies need spend less time selling their product and more time working out what customers would like them to do, and that focussing on how the business broadcasts, and decides what it’s offering is, is an outdated and irrelevant concept.

It’s essentially a worldview difference between “This is what we do” versus “What can I do for you?” The first view will tell you all about brand value and product attributes. The second view relies on customers deciding what those values and attributes should be.

With this in mind it’s interesting to look at the use of Twitter by two organisations competing in the same marketplace – Northern Rail (Northern) and Trans Pennine Express (TPE). Northern (often nicknamed #northernfail is plagued by ancient rolling stock which is slow and unglamorous. There are often problems. TPE has new, fast express trains, but it too suffers from delays, cancellations, overcrowding and so on.

Casual observation of the two Twitter streams shows a marked difference in the use of the medium. TPE clearly have the 4Ps in their sights and use their stream to communicate promotions. Dialogue is clearly between winners and entrants to competitions. Nothing wrong with that (textbook you might say), but I would argue that the vast majority of customers might prefer the Twitter stream to engage with them on their use and valuing of the product. But it is all about “The Sell”.

Northern clearly use the channel to engage with people who complain or who have problems with their train journey. Indeed they’re clearly monitoring the channel for key hashtags and phrases where their customer base congregates. Dialogue is (sadly) apologetic but it clearly engages with audience in the points where they want. TPE are much slower to respond (if at all) and I would argue they are not monitoring the channel in the same way as their rivals.

A perfect (if such a thing exists) take on this is the T-shirt company Last Exit to Nowhere (LETN). With occasional tweets about product, LETN spend a lot of time engaging with their audience in non-promotional ways. Tweets are often about film trivia (or extreme film nerdery). Facebook updates often follow the same structure. Very rarely is a promotional matter with regard to product dealt with, although it does happen – and this often around new product often based on engagement with the community on the product’s development.

What LETN shows is there is a small space for the 4Ps, but it certainly takes a back seat. Concentrating on customer centricity is what drives their traffic rather than a sales drive. Because LETN have a strong empathy with their customers (as opposed to the customers supposedly having any kind of strong affinity with the LETN brand), customers clearly engage because it’s about what they’re interested in, not what LETN are interested in selling.

#Fail BT and a Failure of Customer Care

Bit of an epic this one – but if you persevere, you see a lesson for customer care. The lesson is train for consistency.

As many of you know, Mrs EB runs a successful online retail enterprise New Rooms Online (http://www.newroomsonline.co.uk). It’s her day job, it’s how she makes a living and she has many thousands of customers all over the world. If you haven’t bought a surprising little luxury from there yet, you should.

We recently moved house, wanting to take our phone number with us – we ‘ve actually moved closer to the BT exchange that covers our district (imagine the line speeds we’ll get – although more about that later) so under BT’s normal terms, that’s not a problem. I’m sure you can think of compelling reasons not to stay with BT, but to maintain the number through a house move, it SHOULD be the simplest option. Attached to that though is Mrs EB’s number for her business – an ancient product from a time gone by called BT Call Sign. When Mrs EB first started the online business, she asked BT what the easiest and cheapest solution would be – and they advised all those years ago that a Call Sign number would be best. Call Sign is basically a second phone number that comes in on your existing phone line – you know the second number is being dialled into by the a caller because it rings differently. Originally designed for families with teenagers who had friends ringing in all the time, it was quickly re-purposed and sold as a cheap second line for people who have businesses from their homes. Many business folk still use it. Even BT’s own page recommends it as a way of separating business and personal calls here and here.

In addition, I did not want to take BT’s broadband at the new property as O2 have a special deal for their mobile customers, reviews of service (especially customer service) are good and there’s a significant line speed offering.

In very simple terms (I have spoken to BT 4 times and have exchanged 10 emails with them. Here’s roughly how the story goes:

Mrs EB makes the first phone call request moving the phone line and Call Sign but dropping the broadband. The salesman wants to discuss options but she say I am the man with the answers and says they need to talk to me.

The second phone call requests moving the phone line and the Call Sign but dropping the broadband. Put through to second person. The salesman wants to discuss options. I describe the O2 offer. Salesman agrees it’s too good to miss but says I need to speak to home moves.

Speak to home moves. They say I need to cancel Broadband before I move phone line. Get put through. Broadband cancellation person asks why, I explain the above. They say I will need to pay a broadband termination fee of £25 “for administration and the removal of equipment from the exchange.” I am surprised and can find no obvious policy about this online (http://www.productsandservices.bt.com/consumerProducts/dynamicmodules/pagecontentfooter/pageContentFooterPopup.jsp?pagecontentfooter_popupid=26746&s_cid=con_FURL_termcharges) as we have cancelled well outside the minimum period. BT have yet to show me the information publicly about the £25 fee. I have no choice but to agree. The man presses buttons and I ask to be sent back to home moves…..

…Who then say I have to wait 24 hours before putting a home move order in because you can only have one order on your account at any time – and I have one cancelling Broadband.

I ring the next day asking to move our phone number and the Call Sign. I seem to speak to several people including an officious lady called Linda. She says in no uncertain terms that a Call Sign number cannot be moved as they are generated randomly by the Exchange (don’t ask). At this point, I feel it’s becoming personal. I tweet @BTCare with frustration (http://twitter.com/groovegenerator/status/15328631100)

@BTCare write back and ask me to send them an email – they say they can fix it, but hours later they let me down with this email:

Thank you for your e-mail.

I am sorry that you have had problems with my colleagues and trying to get the order placed to move your landline service to your new address.

I can confirm as advised by some of my colleagues that you cannot carry your call sign number over to your new address as this is just an add on to your landline number. The reason that you are being charged £25 to remove the broadband service from your line is because you do not wish to continue with the service and once a request is placed to cancel broadband we as an isp are charged to remove the service from the line and we therefore have to pass the charge on to you as the customer, the charge is to remove the BT equipment as the new owner may not want to have BT and this is why it has to be removed and if it is not it causes problems ordering broadband with BT or any other isp.

When an order is placed on an account to cancel or modify a service may not be then possible to place another order until the original order closes as this may cause either or both orders to fail. I can therefore confirm if you do move premises we cannot provide you with the call sign number at your new premises.

But whilst that email is being sent, Linda (our lady from earlier) leaves this message on 1571 (even though we don’t live at the house any more) : have a listen to this gem: @BTCare Caller

So two conflicting stories from @BTCare.

I email @BTCare and send them the audio from the phone call. This is the reply:

Thank you for your email dated the 08/06/2010 including the sound clip from BT. I tried contacting you by telephone however I have been unable to reach you so I left a voicemail informing you that I had called.

First off all Mr Edmundson Bird I want to begin by saying how sorry I am for any incorrect information you may have been given in the past.

I can confirm that if you do choose to continue your telephone service with BT when you move property that you will be able to carry your existing telephone number and call sign number with you.

As there is currently an order on the system to cease your broadband service on the 16/06/2010, you will need to wait until after this date to place your homemove order. I am very sorry that we are unable to place your homemove order at the moment however the broadband order will need to complete first of all.

After the 16/06/2010 please do not hesitate to contact me back and I will be happy to arrange the homemove order for you.

So – good news but I have to wait a week before they can move the phone number. I think we’re moving in a direction of sorts. I decide to go on holiday for a week seeing as there won’t be much in the way of movement. When I come back, I send an email to @BTCare asking them to move the two numbers. Here’s the reply:

I can confirm that I have placed an order to move your line. Order reference VOL011-34793031384. Your line will close on 25/06/10 at 1, Greenway, Fulwood, Preston, PR2 9TJ and it will activate at 16, Victoria Road, Fulwood, Preston, PR2 8ND on 28/06/10. All of your calling features will also activate on this day. I have checked the call sign part of your order and I can confirm that I can not guarantee that this number will activate at your new property. I can appreciate that we have given you conflicting information on this matter and I am very sorry for any confusion. However your order does include the number for call sign at your old address but does not have this information on the new address part of your order and this alarms me, as I am unable to allocate your call sign number to the new address. Our records state that this order is only possible on a home move to the same exchange and I can appreciate that you are staying in the same exchange. Please be advised that I will do all that I can so that you can so that you can retain your call sign number.

There are some alarming words in there aren’t there – words like “I am unable to allocate your call sign number” and “I will do all I can”? And on the 28th of June, our normal phone number is live but there’s no line for the business number. I drop BT a tentative email just in case it’s delayed or something. Here’s what come back:

I have checked the order that was placed by my colleague to move your services over to your new address and can confirm that the order has now fully closed off. Unfortunately having now checked the account it appears that when your services were moved to your new address a new number has been allocated to the call sign number. As my colleague advised we would do our best to retain your number however it has unfortunately not been possible to do in this case and i am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Not really what we were hoping for. I write back, reminding them that they had committed to keeping the number on several occasions. I mention I’m not happy and feel that I need to engage with their formal complaints process – I’m not getting anywhere with the frontliners. This is what come back:

I appreciate that there was conflicting information given in relation to you being able to keep the call sign number and I can see that Paul advised you that it would be possible, however the last e-mail you received by my colleague that placed the order clearly advised you that it may not be possible to keep the number as in his e-mail he stated “I can confirm that I can not guarantee that this number will activate at your new property” .

The situation at this time is that we cannot provide you with the number that you previously had at your old address and the choice that is currently available is that you continue to use the call sign service with a new number or you can cancel the service of your account. There is nobody in BT that can get this number back as the department i work in has the best facilities to deal with enquires and resolve issues but it is not physically possible for us or anybody else to get the number for you. We do not guarantee any numbers or orders as all orders are subject to survey and availability as our services are used for residential use only as outlined in our terms and conditions it is breach of policy to use residential services for business purposes.

I have raised a complaint on your account in relation to your unhappiness that you could not keep your call sign number but as advised as it is not possible to get the number back there is nothing we can do to get it back.

That’s it. Note the corporate buck-pass with “….services are used for residential use only as outlined in our terms and conditions it is breach of policy to use residential services for business purposes.” More alarmingly, what happened to Rodney and Linda’s guarantees that I would be able to keep the number. And the finality THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO GET IT BACK.

It’s disappointing that simple customer care on a simple everyday matter for a telecomms business proves too difficult for @BTCare. The lack of attention to detail and the conflicts in understanding by the customer care team suggest very poor training – and BT should have no excuse given that they charge significant sums of money for their still relatively monopolistic position in the residential market.

Customer care are the frontline marketing force for a business, and when they don’t know what’s marketable, they present a risk to the rest of the organisation. With the rise of social media and organisations like BT taking on (allegedly) the social network view of customer care, things are going to have to change – especially as the opening up (unbundling) of the comms marketplace continues.

In other news – I can’t get broadband yet – but @BTCare’s David assures me I’ll be able to choose from a plethora of providers in 48 hours.

Nestle PR Anti-Social Fail Whale

Nestle haven’t had a good day today. They launched a Facebook page in an attempt to break into the social media sphere. They must be badly advised, because they assumed that a Facebook page was something you could control like a walled garden. Unfortunately, it’s not really gone their way.

One of the risks of a social media intervention is that you cannot control or account for people’s fickle behaviour. Nestle has had a checkered history in PR and must employ an army of PR professionals globally. So today’s fiasco smacks of sheer amateurism when there are plenty of professionals who could have forecast in advance the outcomes of this little venture.

Attempting to control the conversation is futile. Facebook, despite being behind a wall, is still very much an open game for consumers. A Fan Page is designed to attract everyone, but Nestle’s fatal mistake was for them to build it themselves rather than have it built by evangelists. And Nestle is a not a fan brand, unlike Coca Cola which, despite its bad press around the world, has a significant fan base. Coca Cola is a lifestyle choice. Nestle is a corporation and I doubt whether it has many fans (although KitKats and Smarties do have fans) beyond its institutional shareholders. Unlike Coke which has nearly 5 million fans on Facebook.

Thanks to @MichelleDigital I was reminded that the Coke Page was set up by actual fans who latterly received money for the page to become more “pro”. Coke’s happy to leave it as a grassroots outfit – for now – and it seems to only garner fanboyisms.

Nestle’s visible bullyboy tactics by the Page admins (click on the thumbnails for more details) served only to inflame the already incensed palm oil campaigners. Aggressive and control-freaky, this wasn’t how PR professionals are supposed to operate. There was a lot of moderating and cutting of posts along with expelling members of the group and a lot of aggressive, almost flame-trolling language. It’s poor, it’s anti-social media and it’s unprofessional. I suspect a serious bollocking will occur somewhere in the higher echelons of the Nestle Corporation.

Lesson of the day? Don’t think you can control the conversation. Don’t abuse people in the conversation. Get your fanboys to drive your brand in Facebook not your PR person.

Hastings Direct loses out to the Invisible Community

Should one write about personal experiences? Heck yes – especially as it describes how the power of the consumer dramatically overtakes that of the supplier.

Hastings Direct (bizarre name as they are an intermediary, or as we used to call them a “brokerso not ‘direct‘ after all) provide insurance which is underwritten by other companies. In fact they provide insurance from 5 other insurance businesses. You’ll have seen the advert along with the slightly irritating yet highly memorable “0800 double -oh 1066” tune. They are an MBO business as of this month, so this might be an interesting time for them to take stock.

I had been insured by/through Hastings Direct for 2 years, having been insured by Admiral (Parrot/Admiral advert) previously. They offered the best price at the time.

I’ve just moved house so I let Hastings know this – and I had moved from an area which would be regarded as substantially risky to one which is regarded as much less risky by insurers if you believe the tables they use (from an E which is pretty risky to a C which is about average) plus the car is to be housed on a drive instead of on the street this time.

The actuarial amongst you would assume this would make the remaining period of insurance cheaper – I should get a refund you might think.

But no – according the Hastings’ underwriters this was a riskier area to move to. And they wanted £53 for the remaining 2 months.

So no-risk-no-accidents-safe-car-no-speeding-fines-moves-to-nice-area-7-years-no-claims-40-something David gets told his annual fee for covering his car is now £500+

I tell them there’s a mistake. “Nothing I can do sir.”

“It’s got to be an error.”

“Computer says it’s not.”

I tell them I’ll have to have a think about it.

10 minute later and some nice times on confused.com gives me an annual quote of £225 which includes adding my beloved (and her previous claims) to the policy. I ring Hastings and let them know that I have to let them go (it’s like a relationship isn’t it?)

There’s even that special call centre button, “If you’re thinking of leaving us please press 2,” but the man at the end of it almost sounds resigned to the fact I’m off – even when I tell him how it’s half the price: he doesn’t event want to negotiate.

So – today’s lesson. The infomediary is dead. Long live the comparison infomediary. Informed customers are immensely powerful. Uninformed, non-learning organisations can survive this trip at all.

And I haven’t even mentioned anything about meerkats.

How Can You Get This So Wrong?

This is really annoying me. No – I’m not decrying Dell’s socially responsible contribution to the whole [RED] campaign. That’s laudable. No – what gets me is how they really, really don’t get their (email) marketing right.

dellhell

Come on Dell – you and I have been doing business for at least 10 years now – I really think you should know quite a lot about me. I mean, you know my details (I registered), you know my marketing preferences (no junk please). You know my browsing behaviour (from my registration). You know my buying behaviour (I buy a computer from you every 3 or 4 years). OK – you know I bought my first laptop from you nearly 8 years ago. You know I bought a desktop from you 5 years ago. You know I bought another laptop from you 16 months ago.

So why oh why do you send me something two or three times a month trying to persuade me to buy another one of your computers. PCs and laptops aren’t as expensive as cars but they are more expensive as CDs and DVDs. They are more expensive than iPods.

I am not going to buy a new one every month so why do you insist on sending me stuff. You know the one you sold me last time is going to at least last another year or two depending on how tight I’m feeling the pinch.

(You should know that I bought a MacBook by the way guys, Mind you – they’re as bad – why would I want to buy another now?)

I just get annoyed now. It makes me not want to buy your stuff.

ocadohell

It annoys me as much as Ocado. I’ve never bought anything there. I registered (just so I could have a look at what was on offer) and ever since you haven’t got the message that I’m not going to buy anything.

Honestly guys. You’ve been sending me this £15 voucher nearly every week for a year and I haven’t done a thing with it. Take a hint? Please do because I think you’re hurting your reputation as a firm that knows what it’s doing.

Long Time No Digi

Has it suddenly become unimportant or is something else afoot?

I’ve wondered about why there hasn’t been anything inspirational to write about the world of digital and social marketing recently. Sure – new this and that  – but nothing truly ground-breaking. iPhone 3Gs still work, a series of copycat devices have turned up, Google is still the most popular search engine, Facebook’s potential is yet to be seen, people are still turning more and more to digital approaches.

A colleague from a firm in town remarked last week that they had never been busier. Despite a looming recession (which by all accounts seems to be affecting only certain kinds of business), the world of digital marketing seems to be moving in a completely different direction. Many “digital creative” firms are struggling to recruit new staff because they are being hoovered up as soon as they become available.

In Manchester, there is some estimation of the size of the problem. I will try and find the actual data, but some analysts put a figure of there being between 10,000 and 17,000 potential job vacancies in the digital sector over the next 5 years (this excludes the traditional IT sector). This figure comes from the idea that the BBC’s move to Media City will also create a bow wave that means supporting firms will also move up/develop/expand to be able to deal with the inevitable work/hubbub that the BBC will create.

That’s a lot of jobs to fill. I’m sure that the figure will be revised downwards in line with recessional effects, but some significant work in the area has to take place to be able to meet demand for employees with the right skills.

A New Hope

A new term is about to start here at The University of Fun, and I notice that recruitment onto the BA in Digital Marketing Communications programme currently sits at 4 students. On top of that, I also notice that a number of students are opting to transfer in the second year of their degree programme from the Digital Marketing degree to a more traditional marketing and advertising programme that I also teach on.

Why might this be? Why aren’t people flocking to do the Digital programme (unlike the Masters programme of the same name which is pretty much “full”)? It’s difficult to understand why, when there are clear signs of a continued business leaning towards digital away from traditional. In these enlightened and recessional times, we keep seeing a path away from unmeasurable offline mechanisms towards more quantifiable digital communication levers.

Standing on my soapbox – I blame the teachers and careers officers in schools who have to kept up with the state of the industry. I blame the candidates for not researching the industry themselves and thinking that it’ll just be one long carry on into media. I blame the industry for not marketing itself to potential new recruits.

And I blame myself for not getting to enough careers fairs, schools and open days. But there are only 24 hours in a day.

You folks out there are going to have to help me out here and start pushing this industry not just to your potential customers but to your future workforce, because at the moment they don’t seem like they’re convinced.

The Death of Marketing (Digital or Otherwise)

As an academic working in the field of digital marketing practice, it is my duty to inform you OF THE DEATH OF MARKETING.

Working for the man is now officially OVER.

So when did marketing die? Well it’s important to look at the causes to understand the actual moment of death. If you’re cynical (is cynical different to skeptical?), you’ll be convinced that the marketing of goods and services is purely for peddling of wares in pursuit of consumerism and conspicuous consumption. Goods are produced not because they are needed by people, but because goods need to be produced to make companies (and individuals within them) rich and fat. Marketing fulfills a role here by convincing people that they do need goods, often goods which they don’t need. In many cases, solutions are offered for problems which people do not even know they have. In some cases, people are provided with a solution to their lifestyle aspirations, and they can only know about this lifestyle if they are exposed to it through marketing.

I won’t bore you with the textbook explanations of marketing, or any of those that you might find in an inspirational book about marketing on the shelves of a bookshop in an airport – perhaps one that mentions a colour in its title or has been conceived by a “marketing guru” from the USA. You’ll aready be aware of these and may have taken many of the ideas on board in your practice.

Anyway – the death of marketing has come about because of fear. People are worried about their money. People who wash their cars and live on housing estates in the suburbs. People whose cars are quite new and being paid for. People who have very large mortgages. People with expensive plasma screen TVs. People who have to take the kids to pony club on Tuesday nights.

You can see these people in places where you might not have seen them before: Lidl, Aldi even Netto sometimes. You also see these people buying things they haven’t bought for a long time, stuff that hasn’t been marketed to them for ages. I’m thinking of food that might not be organic. Or ingredients for dinners that haven’t yet been woven into complete meals. It’s amazing how much time you can suddenly find on your hands when you’re feeling the pinch. Price sensitivity suddenly has a amazing effect. People are afraid that they are going to run out of money.

So marketing (digital or otherwise) is suddenly fighting for its life. People are no longer “browser-explorers” (“What’s out there? Tempt me?”), as this is the behaviour of people with disposable cash to spend. Search engine behaviour is going to demonstrate that people are much more like “researcher-hunters” (“I’m defining my requirements and assessing your ability to supply me as a marketplace”) and “finisher-trackers” (“I’m selecting a supplier with a view to purchase”). People are likely to reduce their level of opportunistic purchasing and focus on finding “what they need.”

So that fat days of marketing are over. The view that we should take now is that it’s time to look at how firms meet people’s needs. It falls to digital marketing to do this comprehensively. In the field of SEO, key-phrase identification will clearly have to move away from any notion of black-hattism – that will be a waste of time. More than ever will key-phrases have to be carefully honed so as to match the key-phrases used by researcher-hunters and finisher-trackers.

Interactive banner ads and Google ads will need to be injected into networks which speak to researcher-hunters and finisher-trackers. We’ll know they work if click-through rates increase. And what about social networks? Well that’ a tricky one. If a social network develops because of a need rather than some kind of whim, then it could become a winner for needs-based advertising.

Of course, this is great, but the whole thing will really go to pot if we get our heads around the whole “make do and mend” mentality. The days of FMCG marketing might really be dead then.

The Importance of Net Neutrality for Marketers

I’m off for a few weeks – but before I go….

You may or may not be up-to-speed on net neutrality, but if you aren’t it’s fairly simple. If you are a marketer and you’re not in cahoots with certain providers of Internet access, you may find your ads and your sites don’t quite make it through in the same way to your (potential) customers as those of your competitors who do actually pay the access providers. A neutral net doesn’t discriminate.

Is it a problem? Well – yes, because it will inevitably cost money and that cost will inevaitably be passed onto end-users as the cost of digital marketing increases. Your (potential) customers already pay a tax to providers of Internet access (this is called the monthly fee), so this is a second tax: Internet access is being paid for twice here, and if the second tax is not paid by the marketer (and subsequently passed onto the end user), then the end user will not be able to access the content provided by that marketer. And so a form of discrimination can take place.

There is a way to see if this is happening on your ISP. If you’re a bit geeky/techie, you can download this tool provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation which will let you know if your own ISP is running this approach to deciding what content is allowed down your pipe. I suspect that in time, we’ll see this happening. As a marketer, you might think that Phorm is a good idea, but when you mix it up with a non-neutral net, it could be problem for you and your (potential) customers.