Sunday, 16 November 2014

Digital - A Coming of Age

141316083 toddler tablet

Within any generation there is always someone who is a link between the old order of things and the new.

We’ve just commemorated 100 years since the First World War started, and for me it feels remote, but real.  I didn’t know anyone who served, but my grandparents did who I knew, so I feel a connection.  With the Second World War, things are different.  When I was 10, I remember celebrating at school 40 years since the end of the war.  At 10 that seemed a long way past, but my grandparents served in it and could bring it to life with stories and artefacts.  For my kids though, all of this is a fading memory - stories we tell, but it may as well be like the Battle of Waterloo.

This connection between the old order and the new is explored in a book I’m currently reading called The End of Absence by Michael Harris.  In it, he discusses the time we’re in now and how anyone born after 1985 is essentially a digital native - someone who has never experienced a world without the internet; a world without always on connectivity.  For us others - those born before this time - we’re essentially digital immigrants.  Describing this group, Harris says:-

“For those of us who have lived both with and without the vast, crowded connectivity the Internet provides, these are the few days when we can still notice the difference between Before and After […] there’s a single difference that we feel most keenly; and it’s also the difference that future generations find hardest to grasp.  That is the end of absence - the loss of lack.  The day dreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished."

This is thought provoking stuff.  Realising that my kids (and a lot of those I now work with), just simply think differently.  They’ve never experienced a time when there was genuinely nothing there.  No kids telly on, nothing on demand, no chat, no connectedness.  When I tell my son to get off his computer, I turn around to see him on his phone.  Kick him off his phone and he’s flicked the telly on.  It takes real effort to switch everything off so he’ll actually consider walking out the door to call for friends… and then they sit around their house playing Xbox.  I tried.

So this got me thinking about the implication of this within the working environment.

For many of us, we work in companies established pre-1985 or staffed with management from before this time.  We have computers, tablets and smartphones; intranets, instant messaging and email.  We even have social networks for staff, with “friends” and wall posts and “status updates”. We’re thoroughly modern and fill every piece of time, every empty space within some activity.  Responding to a ping on the phone, an email arrived - we sit in meetings only half listening as we type on our laptops and then check our phones.  This is a state Harris references and one that writer Linda Stone referred to back in 1998 as “continuous partial attention”.

Yet despite this, we’re not as modern as we like to think.  

Many companies still have a Digital department of some kind or a Head of Digital role - as if all things digital is somehow separate to what we do.  It’s as if we’re in both the Before and the After - one part of the company in the pre-1985, pre-digital age and the other ring-fenced in the digital age.  This does some ludicrous and you can’t imagine a company such as Facebook or Google having a Head of Digital role - they are simply digital companies (although strangely they do).  The point is, the world has changed, people have changed, but the way we do business seems to still be a mismatch of old and new.

This point was brought to life in an article I was reading about airlines entitled Passengers Become Data Mines as Ryanair to Emirates Hone Offers.  In it, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary is quoted as saying:-

"I used to say that my ideal customer had a pulse and a credit card, but I’ve revised that view radically. […] In the next five years, with each of my 90 million customers, I’ll know when you’re traveling, where you’re traveling, and I can send you a direct offer.”

This shocked me.  

We’re in 2014, this is a relatively new airline (setup in the 1980’s) and yet it seemed a surprise to them that there may be value in the data they hold and process for 90m customers.  This is though also understandable because companies still aren’t digital natives - they still have their digital marketing and data analysis functions somehow separate to their older, more established traditional sales and marketing functions.  They’re an add on or an extension rather just being one single company.

If we go back to Marketing 101 and the 4Ps of the marketing mix we have Product, Place, Price and Promotion - this was something created in the 1960s by marketer Edmund Jerome McCarthy - a set of marketing tools based on the age but which is still taught today.  

A company like Ryanair has really focused on these 4P’s - it’s “Price” has been refined by pairing back its “Product".  By choosing carefully the airports it uses to get the best rate for a given destination even if it’s not quite the best airport in terms of distance, it has truly honed “Place”.  Promotion you could argue has been a mixed affair, but there probably isn’t a person alive in the UK who doesn’t know the airline, it’s CEO and the kind of message he had long stood for (such as removing toilets from planes).

But within this 4Ps mix, there is nothing about the customer.  It’s the old world order of making a product people want, at a price they are willing to pay - and then shouting about it loudly in the right places.  It’s all push.

Take a look at the new world however through a different lens.

Freemium models support many of the latests products/services, with apps (and some products) giving away their product in the knowledge that they can monetise customers either through targeted advertising or in-app purchases - and this is where data comes into play as a key part of the marketing mix.  Even airlines have a form of this with their ancillary services - the basic service is paired right back and then customers are encouraged to top this up with ancillary services as they need - a kind of pick and mix of products.  This is all pull.  

Speaking of this, CEO O’Leary is quoted as saying:-

"Ryanair’s data will let the carrier know how often travelers head to particular destinations, whether they travel alone or as a couple or group, if they routinely book insurance or car rental, and be able to customize its offers accordingly and target the passengers with special offers […] We know who you are [and] the clever airlines are going to make a fortune in the next 10 years”

This thing which will make a fortune is the missing piece - it’s the digital native addition to the marketing mix.  It’s the bit about the customer, about what they do and about what they want.  

It’s personalisation and it is truly the 5th “P” of the marketing mix.  I’m not the first to point this out, but it really is the difference between the Before and the After.  The increased connectivity and the computing power, scale and flexibility this has afforded, as well as the increased expectation of a customer base in “continuous partial attention” mode means that personalisation is critical to success.

As we transition from companies and people born of this pre-digital age to the next generation of digital natives, there will be change, there will be new ways of doing things.  We cannot stop it but for many of us, and for many of the companies we work for, we’ve yet to embrace it.  In the book End of Absence, Harris says of this:-

“Technology is neither good nor evil.  The most we can say about it is this: It has come. […] We can only judge, only really profit from judging, the decisions we each make in our interactions with those technologies.  How shall we live now?  How will you?"

Friday, 3 October 2014

The rise of the alternative (loyalty) currency


You can’t have failed in recent months to see the rise of alternative currencies like Bitcoin.

With SIBOS, one of the worlds premier financial services events dedicating a whole day to Bitcoin discussions and Paypal enabling Bitcoin support amongst it’s digital merchants, there is no doubt that this crypto-currency is heading mainstream.

Whilst there is a lot of focus on the fluctuating price of Bitcoin and the how the currency itself comes into existence, there really isn’t that much difference between it and a more traditional currency like Sterling.  In both cases, there is essentially a digital ledger that manages payments and deposits.  Within a traditional system, these ledgers are managed by a trusted 3rd party such as the users bank and these in turn are typically managed through some form of central bank such as the Bank of England.  The money itself is held as a digital record and we simply place trust in the centralised 3rd parties that this will be managed accurately.  With Bitcoin, this ledger is decentralised and essentially owned by all users (know as the block chain).  Trust is managed through sophisticated cryptography to ensure that changes are accurately represented and can be trusted.

As with any currency then, whether centralised or de-centralised, it really just comes down to whether the users of the currency place a value on it as a medium of exchange, a trust in it as a store of value over time and a unit of account that can be used to measure any particular transaction.

In this sense, you could argue that loyalty points are a currency.  They are a closed loop currency and you work to attain it by doing specific behaviours with the value issued directly in relation to your “effort”, be this purchase behaviour, frequency or other interactions such as social activity.  This makes it a medium of exchange which is normally measured based on the corresponding value to the issuer such as the retailer.  

The problem with this currency however is that in many cases, it's simply not that good.

It has relatively low liquidity - I can have lots of loyalty currency, points or miles from lots of programmes, but essentially they are all siloed.  I can’t move them, share them or aggregate them easily.  I can of course convert them to other assets such as rewards, gift vouchers or other loyalty program currencies, however the transaction costs for this can vary, making the exchange in many cases less attractive.

I’m also constrained by how much I can earn/attain based on other behaviours.  As these other behaviours are related to share of wallet activities like grocery shopping, it’s harder to increase my earning velocity past what I naturally need - so a change in pricing for example would not necessarily result in a significant change in demand and hence loyal behaviours recognised.  Sure I can centre my purchases with one retailer and possibly up-sell to higher value products - but there is essentially a ceiling to how much I can spend and hence earn.  Coalition programmes like Nectar help this to some degree by widening the opportunities to earn, but it’s still limited based on the amount I can actually spend.

It’s interesting however to look at a loyalty currency as an actually currency - a retailer issued, closed loop monetary supply.

As a retailer currency, why can’t I purchase currency upfront?  Why can’t I exchange the currency with friends?

Sure there are good reasons when you look at it as a reward mechanism.  

If it’s too portable, then does it lose it’s stickiness?  If I can simply give my points to someone else, am I less likely to try to build a balance?  If my points can be shared with others will this increase breakage and mean that high numbers of points will ultimately be redeemed?

The answer is likely yes to many of these questions.

However, if people can “pay” each other in loyalty points, will this increase the attractiveness of the currency (and hence the retailer)?  If customers could convert real money into a retailers closed currency upfront, how much is this “potential purchase value" worth? 1% discount? 5% discount?  If other, complementary retailers can issue the loyalty currency, does this increase the liquidity of the currency and create more customers and more purchases?

It has been reported that Starbucks now see 30% of their purchases being made with their loyalty currency, Starbucks Stars.  Of course, Starbucks could have just reduced their prices, but in doing this, the customer saving would have been in the most liquid asset - cash - and the chances of Starbucks seeing that cash being spent back with them would have been low.  However, with their loyalty currency, they’ve managed to both discount their product whilst keeping the value within their own closed loop currency.

Now at this point, that currency is no different to any other loyalty program we’ve been doing for the last 80 years, whether physical stamps or a digital record.

However, what if Starbucks allows the currency to be exchanged between people - what if they increased it’s liquidity?

Could I pay for a taxi ride with Stars?  Could I pay for a haircut with Stars?  Could the barber issue my change in Stars?

How much is a Star worth to me if I have all the coffee I need - would I trade it for less than it’s value at Starbucks to someone who values it more?

This may sound a little farfetched, but it’s happening today.  The Economist reported last year that in many markets in Africa, mobile airtime is becoming a defacto currency, with retailers issuing small amounts of change in mobile airtime rather than cash.  People are settling personal debts through the transfer of airtime and with the ability to move airtime credit globally, it’s not just a local phenomenon, it crosses borders and continents.

It’s even more interesting when you look at this through the lense of the new crypto-currencies like Bitcoin.

Rather than being “earned” based on behaviours, these crypto-currencies are typically mined - in a virtual sense.  Based on a complex algorithm which takes (ever increasing) computer power to work through, the algorithm rewards the computer user with coins every so often.  For a currency like Bitcoin, there is a finite number of coins to be found and as more are found, the remaining ones get even harder to find, taking longer and taking more processing power.  In this way, the Bitcoin market is essentially constrained, making a Bitcoin value flexible depending on what the market will pay.

Back in 2011, Stan Stalnaker, founding member of the Ven currency wrote an article entitled Bitcoin, Ven and the End of Currency built on this theme saying:-

“To be traded, [a digital currency] must be assigned a value.  And if it can be assigned a value, it can be interchanged with anything else of assigned value.  The Internet is enabling exchange of all types of value, and helps us to measure and publish these values. [..] How many Likes is a Facebook Credit worth? How many Credits make a Ven? How many Ven make a lasagna at the Olive Garden? How much do you have to Like the Olive Garden to get a lasagna? We’ll know soon."

As alternative currencies rise in popularity, we’re going to see more examples of people exchanging products, services, time, attention and share of voice for something other than the national currency.  I think loyalty currencies have a positive role to play in this new and emerging economy and it will be interesting to see how they change and are transformed to become more flexible and possibly decentralised.


Image credit

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Challenge for CPG: Focus on the basket, not the trolley


I have to admit I love Shreddies.

Little woven parcels of wholegrain goodness which, if you listen to the marketing blurb from Nestle, are lovingly hand knitted by a nana called Pearl and her friends.  They have their own Facebook page and Twitter account.  Part of British life since 1953, over 3m people in the UK seem to agree that its a tasty start to the day.

When we go shopping, I ask the kids to go grab a box of Shreddies and they quickly grab it and drop it into the trolley.

The problem is, they didn’t grab a box of Shreddies.

Instead, they grabbed a box of Harvest Morn Malted Wheaties because I’m shopping in Aldi, now just about the 6th largest grocery chain in the UK.  In fact, Alid and Lidl between them have attracted over 50% of households to shop with them - thats 13m people.  With sales for Aldi up 30 percent on the previous period and an aim to double UK stores by 2021, it’s a trend that doesn’t look like it’s set to stop any time soon.

You only need to look at Germany, the heartland of the so called hard discounters to see the effect this could have where they dominate with 44% of the market.

The reason is obvious - consumers are saving a tonne of cash!

For example, I get around 625g of Malted Wheaties for 1/3 the price of 500g of Shreddies.  The price today for 500g of Shreddies is £2.49 (49.8p/100g), for Aldi Malted Wheaties its 99p (15.8p/100g).  Overall, these types of savings have translated to pretty much a 50% cut in my household food bill.  Great for me, not so great for Tesco who used to have my loyalty and my purchases.

However, whilst we hear a lot about the woes of Tesco et al., we don’t hear too much in the press about the packaged goods brands and the impact it’s having on them.  I buy Malted Wheaties not just because they are cheap, but also because thats the only choice I have - almost everything in Aldi is own-label which means the more market share they get, the less market share the consumer brands will have.

This isn’t something that might happen in the future - it’s happening now.  

A recent report from IRi showed that the UK saw the biggest decline in grocery sales since the second world war.  Compared to the first half of 2013, there was a decline in sales of CPG products across all UK supermarkets by 1.2% in value and 3.2% in volume.  This at a time when brand promotions themselves are at an all time high.

A report by McKinsey back in 2010 entitled "Trends that will shape consumer goods industry" forewarned of this when it highlighted one of the top 5 trends to be that of “The shift to value”, with consumers looking for ways to save money and to trade down.  The report suggested that CPG brands were looking to address the issue head on with more competitive pricing through the use of scale, product sizing and finding ways to work with or displace private label products.

The problem with fighting on price alone though is that this simply erodes category value over the long-term.  

Speaking about this issue last year, P&G UK Managing Director Irwin Lee indicated that 5 years ago, brands excluding P&G sold about two-thirds of their volume at an average of 33% off - this had now risen to 80% of volume with an average deal size of over 40%.  To address this, Lee set out the P&G strategy, saying:-

“Our focus is on value creation to complement, if not offset, the over-reliance on unsustainable value give away. There is nothing proprietary in price promotions. We believe promotions win quarters, but true innovation wins decades.”

As Lee points out, consumers need more reasons to buy the product than price alone. Innovation is part of the equation, however all products can be copied as private label shows and with the emergence of the hard discounter “private label only” stores such as Aldi, this battle just got harder.  Brands are no longer fighting for premium shelf space but instead are fighting for customer head space.  

Consumers are now shopping in both hard discounters and traditional stores - buying the bulk of their weekly shop at a low price and the little extras at the one of the big 4.   Those little extras are also increasingly being done via an online trip from established e-commerce brands like Amazon or dedicated online grocers like Peapod or Ocado.  Some brands are even experimenting with their own dedicated online solutions such as P&G with its P&G e-store.

This is leading to the relationship between the brand and the consumer to become more fragmented.  No longer able to simply pay for in-store promotions and positioning to reach consumers, brands now need to look to build direct relationships with consumers.

The challenge for brands then is not how to get into the trolley - thats where the discounters win - but how to get into the basket; how to convince customers to make that extra trip just for them.  This is heart vs mind; emotion vs rational.

There are many tactics to achieve this such as advertising, digital couponing, receipt scanning or on-pack codes, but what is really needed is a co-ordinated and long-term customer relationship strategy.  Some might call this loyalty marketing - I’d call it the future of CPG marketing.