Friday, December 12, 2014

New Ofcom Research Reports are out

Ofcom is an incredible resource for marketers and those working in any kind of media. They keep track of what UK customers are up to in terms of media and telecoms consumption. And not only that, they are now looking across Europe. And all this is free.

So if you fancy some light reading over the weekend, or need something for that train or plane journey home for Christmas, then you could do worse than download these latest Ofcom reports.

Ofcom’s International Communications Market Report (ICMR) 2014 examines take-up, availability, price and use of communications services across the world's major countries.

Some highlights

The UK is leading in many aspects of communication. The UK’s internet economy is one of the strongest in the world, driven by record online advertising, spending and entertainment consumption, new figures from Ofcom reveal. The country also leads the EU’s five biggest economies for broadband take-up, usage and superfast broadband coverage.

Ofcom finds that the UK has the highest e-commerce spending among the major nations surveyed in today’s research, with consumers paying almost £2,000 on average online for goods each year. This was significantly higher than the next-highest valued market of Australia (£1,356 per head).

Two-fifths (40%) of advertising spending in the UK is online - more than any of the other countries analysed. And the spend has doubled on mobile advertising.

The UK also has the highest coverage of superfast broadband among Europe’s five leading economies (the ‘EU5’ - France, Germany, Italy Spain and the UK). Nearly eight in 10 UK homes are now able to access superfast broadband, which provides connection speeds of 30 Mbit/s or above. (Note to self – I must upgrade my service!)

Interestingly, social networking usage has declined. I’ve certainly noticed that myself amongst my own contacts, particularly the younger ones. I expect they’re connecting via Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram rather than Facebook and Twitter.

The proportion of online adults in this country accessing social networks each week fell from 65% in September 2013 to 56% in October 2014. This was the steepest fall of any of the countries surveyed. That is quite a drop. And I wonder if it’s a blip or if it’s the beginning of the end of the social network as we know it?

Social network use also fell in the USA, Japan and China. However, it is still increasing in some other countries - including Italy, which is now the leading country for social networking, with three quarters of Italians using such sites at least once a week.

Source: http://media.ofcom.org.uk/news/2014/icmr-2014/

The other report that was published is the European Broadband Scorecard, which compares internet coverage, take-up, usage and choice between EU states. The reports underline the importance of the internet and broadband to UK consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

It’s good to have reminders like this from time to time.

Thank you Stephen Sutton.

The future of communications

A random email popped into my inbox this morning asking me my thoughts on the future of communications based on the questions below. I thought my answers might warrant a blog post as I’m interested in your thoughts too, dear reader, so please feel free to comment.

I thought I’d start the post with a little video from 1999 or thereabouts, from Motorola. It was their vision of the future of mobile communications. It’s easy for us to criticise the bits that are missing from the video, but at the same time, there are aspects of it that are spot on.

The future of mobile communications as predicted by Motorola back in ~1999.

And now for the questions posed…

1. What do you predict will happen/change in the communication sector in 2015?

I think my answer to this depends in how you define the communication sector. We are seeing a further decline in SMS and voice calls and I expect that to continue. At the same time, we are using our phones more and more to connect on social media and messaging apps – be that Twitter, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WeChat and many more.



Email is also not going away any time soon. Despite the fact that many of us are drowning in email, it is still an effective communication channel. The major change here is that we are accessing our email on a mobile device first.

Companies and organisations need to respond by being flexible in how they communicate with their audience and customers. That means email has to be mobile friendly – with links going to mobile pages, with email content including words and not just pictures and for it to be quick to download and access. There is also an additional need to allow easy options to unsubscribe with one click or one reply of an email.

On the social media side, companies have to adapt their communications strategies for dealing with customers. And it’s not easy when you’re dealing with multiple channels and many people demanding your attention much of the time. Keeping track of conversations with the same person over multiple channels is not easy. But more and more, customers are expecting this level of continuity.

2. How do you think people's behaviour will change in 2015?

I am currently seeing more people saying they’re uninstalling Facebook Messenger or other messaging apps or social media channels and telling people to contact them via a specific channel such as email, voice or SMS, or whichever their preferred method is.

It has always been true that people have different preferred communication channels – in the old days it was face to face vs telephone vs letter. It has got a whole lot more complicated now when you add in the plethora of messaging apps, social media and more. If you’re on the other side, it’s hard to always remember your friends’ preferences – the ones who never do Facebook, or don’t read their email, and even harder to always accommodate them. Add in the scale of any kind of business and their audience and their individual preferences and it gets a whole lot more difficult. Nevertheless, there are benefits in understanding these nuances and acting accordingly. There’s no point forcing someone to talk on the phone if they don’t like voice communication. Equally, there’s little use in getting frustrated when someone hasn’t responded to your email. For all you know, they may never have seen it in the first place. It could be one of  200 emails received that morning, or it could be languishing in their spam folder.

I’m also seeing a rise in protecting privacy and an increased level of understanding (and misunderstanding) of what personal data you’re giving away in return for using all these services. There have been attempts by the likes of Ello to hand back the power to the consumer but with limited success. At the moment utility still outweighs everything else, but not for everyone.
And video is on the increase. There have been many attempts at video-based messaging, but services like Vine seem to be a real hit. I think we’ll see more of this in the next year or two.

3. How will communication platforms respond to these changes?

I think companies running these communication services will respond more to the privacy issues, or at least, I hope they will. I’d like to see better explanation of what data is used, where it goes and why it’s needed. I’d like to see more companies working harder to protect the security of consumer data – even if that means we have to pay for the privilege.

From a marketing perspective, I think it’s likely we’ll see more types of advertising creeping in. After all, these services have to make their money somehow and if it’s not through premium or paid-for services, the only other model that I can see is advertising. I hope we see some innovative solutions here that work for both customer and advertiser and that we can get beyond the banner ad.

4. What excites you in the communication industry?

It’s dynamic. I’ve been working in mobile marketing and advertising since 2000 and back then, we had voice, SMS, voicemail and WAP on our phones. On our laptops or desktops, we had email and Instant Messenger. It’s amazing to think of how many more ways to communicate we have now. And I’m sure there are more to come. It taps into a basic human need to share and connect.

5. And which companies or apps do you think will be doing exciting things in 2015?



I really like what Swiftkey is doing to speed up mobile communication. The way it learns how you write, the words and syntax you use, is impressive. Their recent project with Professor Stephen Hawking is also impressive and shows that these tools can improve life and productivity for those with accessibility issues too. Something we often overlook in tech circles.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Farewell Mobile Entertainment Magazine

And out of the blue, ME announced it was closing this week. And not only that, they’ve taken down all their content.

I have fond memories of Tim Green and Stuart Dredge’s great work at the magazine. I was quoted a fair few times and was honoured to feature in their Top Women in Mobile List several times. It was a good read about apps, games, videos and the like. And their awards ceremonies were fun!

Even though they’ve taken their website down completely, you can still view the archive on Feedly. I don’t know how long Feedly holds on to the content, but it’s working at the moment if you want to take a look.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A fitness band update–Fitbit Flex vs Sony Smartband

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I am a lucky girl, really I am. I was given a Fitbit Flex to try to compare with the Sony Smartband I’ve been using. They both essentially do the same thing – measure sleep patterns, record steps and have some software to help you keep track of it all. They’re both around the same price. You can get the Sony Smartband here and the Fitbit Flex here.

Style and comfort

There’s not a lot in it, they are both lightweight and they both have rubber wrist straps and a similar fastening. The Fitbit Flex wins out in comfort – it’s slightly smaller, you can wear it in the shower without worrying about it and it buzzes to tell you when you’ve hit your 10,000 step goal without having to synch to the app.

Usability

They both have a battery life of about 5 days. Charging the Sony Smartband is easy – it takes the same kind of connector as any smartphone so it works with any phone charger. The Fitbit Flex, in order to keep it waterproof I guess, has a special casing to put it in to then plug into your computer or a plug. That adaptor will be very easy to lose as it’s small and a bit fiddly. I did buy an additional adaptor to keep at my Mum’s house so that I can keep the one at home, at home and in the same place all the time.

The strap clasp on the Fitbit Flex is more fiddly than the Sony Smartband. That means it’s not going to come off easily, but it also means if you lack manual dexterity, you will struggle to get it on and off. That rules it out for elderly people. Equally, having to place the Flex device into the special charging adaptor is also a bit fiddly if you’re not as good with your hands as you used to be.

The Sony Smartband can be set up to do other things with your device, but I didn’t set it up that way. I would never remember what you’d have to do to use it. And it’s not a big deal to get my phone or tablet out to move to the next track on my MP3 player, for example.

The Fitbit Flex has a very nice feature where you can tap the light bar to see how near (or not) you are to reaching your step goal. I found that useful. Even more useful would be a watch and/or timer but I guess that’s coming with the next iteration.

Step counting

I wore both bands for a couple of weeks to see how closely (or not) they matched on step count. I wore them on the same wrist so that they were registering the same movements with that arm. They came out differently. The Sony Smartband routinely came out at a significantly higher step count than the Flex – like a 15 to 20% difference. That’s quite a lot. My conclusion is that neither is probably recording terribly accurately so to use the step count as a guide rather than a fact. And the fact that the Fitbit comes in at a lower count means you have to move a bit more to reach the goal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Annoyingly on both devices, neither registers a step count when you’re cycling on a fixed cycle in the gym. And on the treadmill, you need to be using it with your hands moving rather than on the rail, otherwise your steps won’t be counted. The steps are more based on arm movement than they are on leg movement. This also means you can up your step count by moving your arms around from your arm chair. And I admit, I have done this to get to my 10,000 when I was close to it! Dancing and marching or running on the spot also works for step count as long as you move your arms.

Software

The Fitbit Flex has the edge for me on the software now because I can link the app to MyFitnessPal which is where I’m recording what I eat. I am sort of interested in the calorie counting, but what I like most about MyFitnessPal is the nutritional value. This is of much more interest – it helps me see if I’m lacking in iron or a particular vitamin, or if I’m over my carbohydrate goal for the day. I find that much more useful than calories per se. The Fitbit Flex does have its own food diary element, but I much prefer MyFitnessPal and connecting that up to the app.

I haven’t yet explored the online community for Fitbit Flex. There are all kinds of challenges, tips for exercise and more. Right now, I’m happy with how I’m using it and I think delving more into the online stuff would be a distraction until I am set in my new patterns.

Sleep Patterns

Neither is perfect on this. With the Sony Smartband, you set the time you typically go to bed and the time you want the alarm to go off and it calculates your sleep quality based on those times – even if they weren’t the times you actually went to bed. I never quite got the hang of turning it from day to night mode.

With the Fitness Flex, you tell the app when you went to sleep and when you woke up and it makes the analysis from that. I’m not sure it’s giving me more insight, but at least there’s a record there.

Synching

Neither is perfect. And because of that, I can’t say one is better than the other. They’re both flawed.

The Sony Smartband allegedly uses NFC or bluetooth to synchronise. Except, I couldn’t get the NFC element to work consistently. I also had to download two other apps to get the smartband synching properly and that seems excessive. The bluetooth synching did work, but not consistently. It took too long to synch most of the time, and in retrospect, that was a waste of my time.

The Fitbit Flex uses bluetooth to synch and when it works, it works really well. The trouble is, the Fitbit system is very often down for maintenance. Also, your back data isn’t stored locally so you can’t see it offline. That seems a bit daft to me.

Other

One of the things that made a difference to me in terms of my own health and fitness was the ‘add your friends’ feature on Fitbit Flex. This means I can see how a couple of my close friends are doing in their weekly step challenge. I didn’t want to be shown up, so it did get me moving to keep up with them. And that has been a very good thing. If you’d said to me that the competitive element would be attractive to me, I’d have said no, not at all. But I’ve actually found it useful and relevant. It’s about giving me a benchmark to work from and to see others like me and what they’re achieving.

The other impact this process has had is that I’m paying much more attention to my diet, I’m paying much more attention to how much I’m moving and I’ve rejoined the gym. I don’t suppose I’m ever going to have six pack, but if I can stave off future ill-health by working on my fitness now, then that’s great. A friend turned me on to the Julia Buckley book ‘The Fat Burn Revolution’. I’m not one for fitness books, but I’m enjoying this one and it has helped me rethink how I structure my exercise regime and what it’s actually doing for me. It’s very readable, the exercises are doable and Julia has a very down to earth approach which appeals to me.

So, if I had to choose one over the other, it would be the Fitbit Flex.

Will I still be using this device in three month’s time? Honestly, I have no idea. But I think maybe I will.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

A short history of proximity marketing

A couple of months back, I took part in Mobile Marketing Magazine’s Making Sense of Proximity Marketing event. Some of you reading this will know that I first got into mobile marketing by way of joining a start-up called ZagMe back in 2000, with Russell Buckley, where we sent promotional text messages to shoppers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls (two of the largest malls in Europe at the time). In this video interview, I explain how ZagMe worked and what I learnt in the process and how it applies to our current world of proximity marketing.

If you’re interested to know more about ZagMe, what worked, what didn’t and best practice recommendations, download Russell’s free white paper here. It was written 10 years ago, but it’s still relevant.

There are also more videos from the event from some of the other speakers which include some useful case studies if you’re looking at implementing beacons, indoor GPS, local couponing or other location based initiatives, these videos may prove useful.