Receiving my award from host Robin Bailey
If someone had told me when I started out in my career, back in 1999, that I would be presented with a GOLD award at the BFI, Southbank I wouldn't have believed them.

Having been unable to attend the Hertfordshire Digital Awards last September (where I won for this blog) I was offered another chance following the announcement of the inaugural Digital Awards Champions. This was to be a public vote for all the gold winners from the various regional awards to determine the 'best of the best'.

With my sights set on bringing home this ultimate award I began the six week task of canvasing my readers/subscribers for nominations. All that then remained was to book the tickets and wait for 9th February 2017 to discover the results at the BFI.

So, last Thursday my wife, my youngest child (he's only 5 months old) and I headed down to London. I had arranged to network with a few agencies in advance and we then had time for a glass of fizz in the blue room before sitting down in the NFT3.

As the other winners were announced I was impressed with how eloquent they were when interviewed. This must have been a sign that they'd been forewarned of their success and thus had been asked to prepare? There's no way I'd won - was there?!
During my stage interview I was careful to acknowledge the work that goes into writing and maintaining a blog. Everyone in the room was also a digital expert so surely had a similar amount of insight to share. The only difference with me is that I manage to keep motivated to write a new post every fortnight.

This ability to keep motivated is essential for a career in digital marketing. It's easy to get ground down by the constant need to innovate or by the 24/7 nature of social media. Why carry on? What's the point? How easy would it be to sell everything and attempt to make a living as a children's book illustrator...

The truth is this happens to everyone at some point. The trick is to not lose hope but try to focus on what attracted you to this industry in the first place by mixing up your work ethic:

Get moving - To be successful in digital marketing you only need a laptop, WiFi and a cup of tea. By visiting another office or changing your environment you may find somewhere much more productive or pleasant.

Get planning - Breaking a mammoth campaign down into tasks, and then sub-tasks, to be worked at little and often makes it more achievable. Feeling like you’re making progress, even if it’s a little each day, can keep your motivation topped up until you hit your goal. Using Trello has helped me with this.

Get networking - People who don't know me that well refer to me as a 'technical guru'. I've lost count of how many times I've been asked to calibrate a projector for someone. This is why attending events and taking up speaking opportunities are great excuses to meet like-minded people. There is no better form of therapy than getting that knowing nod from someone when discussing the hardships of getting buy-in from senior management.

I'm very thankful that I've been favoured to win an award a year (since 2014) for this blog. Having my wife by my side (and a very well behaved baby) this time made it all the more special. These events (and the fact that she's my long suffering sub-editor) are great to educate her on what I actually do all day!

I'd also like to thank all the individuals who voted for me. After posting my win on LinkedIn I've been overwhelmed with the positive likes and comments. My greatest professional achievement in my 18 years of work has got to be this fantastic network of supportive colleagues. The fact that so many of you find these ramblings useful will definitely help keep me motivated!

It's clear that whatever I write here is not going to live up to that awful pun of a title...

We're now deep into the research stage of our latest campaign and it's been great to take a deep dive into some of the latest technologies. Whilst I ensure that I am always reading up on the latest developments in digital - nothing beats seeing them. Unless you are given the remit to innovate and experiment it's easy to get bogged down with business as usual. I've been meeting with various agencies and thought leaders to immerse myself in what is on the horizon and have a long list of possibilities which gives us the opportunity to now position ourselves as innovators.

Proximity beacons have existed in a variety of forms for a while (i.e. as iBeacons, or Esimote nearables) but the only practical use I've seen is to run promotions based on checking into an airport (i.e. receiving a text outline some duty free bargains as you enter the shopping area). Yet, beacons are now being touted as the basic building blocks of the internet of things with potential uses in restaurants, events, education, child safety and construction. Beacons are small Bluetooth transmitters monitoring your whereabouts through your mobile device.

Apple's Airpods - look! No wires!
In the past, users couldn't be relied on to have their Bluetooth enabled. But, with the advent of Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth 5 (which is faster and uses less battery power) reaching the user is much more likely. Samsung and Apple have also decided to remove their headphone jacks on their phones meaning this is the preferred way to listen to your podcasts. Android users will also be able to enable contextual discovery which allows beacons to display messages in the 'nearby' section of Google settings.

Where they become particularly powerful is when the data collected by the beacon (i.e. accurate monitoring of your exact location both in and outside) is combined with other data sources. Again, using the example of an airport, they can use the ticket details already in your mobile device to offer a full concierge service. This can guide you through to boarding your flight telling you the time to your gate, where best to find a seat and suggestions of possible purchases based on your interests.

Eon beacons using mesh protocol to talk to each other
Beacons can also mesh and talk to each other within a range of 50 metres. This means they can pass information to a central control hub and tailor the messaging the user gets based on where they have already been. There are even examples of people being used as beacons through wearing a connected wristband. This allows for event organisers to track their delegates and contact/account for them if they are late or guide them to a venue.

So how are we looking to use beacons? There are lots of possible uses beyond marketing, they are inexpensive and audiences can be engaged with different experiences on each visit. Therefore, we plan to pilot their use for our forthcoming campaign by pushing a variety of information to people when in proximity to one of our sites. This will require us to produce localised and targeted content specific to the requirements of each venue - the hard bit!

Of course, we need to start small to measure the initial usage and any potential technology barrier. They could be rather Google centric as only Android 4.1+ devices automatically trigger instant apps as we integrate with Google nearby.

With beacons being just one new technology with which we're experimenting it's exciting times in the Kier marketing team. Being such a powerful engagement tool I'm sure many other companies will be looking to add this functionality to their offering. The uses are many with Uber creating their own version in order to prevent car mixups. It's a good job I 'saved my beacon' by bagging the only decent bacon pun first for this blog title...!
As digital marketers there is a constant need to stay up to date with the latest trends in technology. This is the primary reason why I think this blog has managed to find a following (it can't be for my poor use of analogies and dad jokes). Of course, the temptation for people working in in-house digital teams is to collect a theoretical knowledge of some key techniques which comprises their 'box of tricks'. With these they then are able to deliver some key projects and impress the less digitally savvy colleagues. Yet, eventually they use up all their tricks or their knowledge goes out of date. They're then left with no other choice but to apply for a new job and start the process all over again.

This is why it is essential that you are given the opportunities to practically try new things. If you don't roll up your sleeves yourself you're limiting your shelf life at a company. It also keeps work interesting and exciting as you trial new platforms, streamline your messaging and learn new ways of achieving your end goals.

This may be easier for digital experts working at agencies but for the in-house team there's a danger that you stray into becoming the maintainer and not the strategist. After all, by building intranets, websites and apps we are constructing managed services which need to be maintained. If we're then the people doing all the maintenance we're bound to get rusty!

A new plan for the new year
I've written before about the importance of selling digital capabilities internally. Without any buy-in from senior management you won't be given the resources to try new things. We're now deep into the planning stage of reviewing our priorities for the year ahead and I'm relishing the chance to be more strategic in our thinking. A key part of our three main priorities for 2017 are visiting senior staff to get them brought in to what we hope to achieve.

By communicating our strategy and then setting clear objectives we can acquire the freedom we need  to try something truly different. This communication is two-way as we'll need to fully understand the business to succeed so eventually everybody wins!

It's not just about adding new weapons to your arsenal but also ditching those that no longer work for you. For example, QR codes were jettisoned long ago from our marketing mix and we use apps as sparingly as possible - i.e. only when the native features of the device they're running on are utilised.

So what new things are we looking at? Well, time will tell but in the last few weeks we've sat in on some impressive demos showing augmented/virtual reality, proximity beacons, new social platforms, messaging apps and video. I'm currently plugging these in to our upcoming campaign plan from which we have high hopes in introducing something different to the industry.

Something else completely new for me this year is that I have increased my exercise regime! This all stemmed from the team looking for something we could do to raise money for our new charity partner The Alzheimers Society. I went away for Christmas, ate may own body weight in mince pies and stollen and thought no more of it. I returned to find I'm signed up as part of the team! I suppose I owe it to myself to take part in one last hurrah before my fortieth birthday later this year...

Of course, I've not been able to ignore the lure of technology and am working my way through the excellent 5K runner mobile app. This, combined with my regular kickboxing class and a grueling weekly regiment fitness team session, should have me ready to compete in the Bootneck Challenge on 18th February. I just hope I don't pick up an injury in the meantime running against the sleet on a Monday night.

We'd appreciate it if you could sponsor us - it's for a great cause!
As this blog enters it's fifth year it's important to assess any progress made in 2016. I'm pleased to say that I'm still always learning and, after a great Christmas break, now feel fully recharged to build upon the foundations which we have laid.

In particular the work we have been doing to sure up our brand is vital in continuing to emphasise a consistent look and feel with our messaging. Our brand is much more than a logo or colour scheme. The brand is our organisation's personality and should shine through in everything we do.

Now that this is clearly defined for the business to follow the most important job is ensuring it meshes with who we really are and what we really do. This is a mammoth undertaking as some of the channels in which we represent our brand are in need of a refresh (i.e our website). this is mainly due to a natural evolution which occurs in all companies in both our offering and the way we are structured internally.  It is essential that this is communicated in a customer-centric way.

By definition, brand strategy is a long-term plan for the development of a successful brand in order to achieve specific goals. There are many contributing elements to this, so engaging the entire business and mapping out how they overlap is essential. One large consideration is that of the Employee Value proposition (EVP). By working with our colleagues in HR we can then align the messaging around the unique set of benefits which an employee receives in return for the skills, capabilities and experience they bring to our company.

With this is mind, we have been streamlining a process to undertake a full review on our offering. By doing this any new channels/publications we launch are clear from the outset on how they are structured, the tone of voice and the prominence of each business unit. Of course this is the most important part and hopefully reduces the internal wrangling over the importance of one department over another!

As we begin to deep dive into this work there are some key components for us to consider:
  1. Purpose - For most organisations this is to win work/acquire customers and to make money. However, whilst this is important for a brand, marketing must not solely focus on productivity. It should be about giving people what they want and need. We need to show how we can affect and challenge real world issues by adding value to the community or leading on industry-wide issues.
  2. Consistency - Everything we communicate, online and otherwise, should enhance and relate to our brand. People's first touchpoint with you could be one of many mediums (including face to face) and our messaging needs to align across the board. Our existing style guide is there to define this but needs to be more than a guide to the colours and language used as your brand values are played out simultaneously.
  3. Emotion - People have an innate desire to build relationships. This could be by opting to work for a company who they believe can progress then and morally fits with their outlook. By making their life easier or giving them piece of mind you can stand out from the crowd as people remember how you make them feel - not what you want them to hear.
  4. Flexibility - Our old tactics are definitely in need of a refresh. This is where we can use a variety of channels to engage differently with different audiences. For example, we may be targeting younger school leavers for our apprenticeship programmes. By highlighting services and attributes which have never been highlighted we can connect with new customers and remind our old ones why they love us.  
  5. Employee involvement - This is essential and should be mapped in at the beginning of the process. Whilst the marketing team may have clearly defined goals and views the only way to get a realistic view is to interview a wide variety of colleagues. This coupled with feedback from our customers, supply chain and joint venture partners. Of course, there's also the trusty old digital analytics to flesh this out yet further. We then have a much better understanding of how we are/should be perceived with evidence to educate colleagues on how to represent us.
  6. Competitor analysis - I am a firm believer in looking outside the industry for best practice - otherwise you are destined to only ever be a follower and not a leader. However, a great benchmark for any progress we make is by constantly monitoring our competition. By reviewing our social media monitoring platform and keeping up with their brand strategies we can further the work to make our offering unique.
I have no doubt that 2017 is going to be the year that sees me take on some of my biggest projects yet. If done right though then we can make a big splash in the markets in which we operate (and hopefully beyond). I'm up for the challenge and have just heard the bell ring for round one...
This week we were asked to present at our annual Marketing and Communications away day. We decided to frame it around the big events of 2016 and end it with a 2017 message. Therefore, I've abridged this for this bumper final blog post of the year!

A lot has been written recently around the social media bubble and how that we are in fact completely insular in our connections. The hypothesis goes that it is human nature to seek out opinions which reinforce our own. This just makes our news feeds an echo chamber of people high-fiving each other for having the same opinions.

Similarly, all the online new aggregators are sculpting what we see online. The algorithms are prioritising content which we are most likely to interact with. Whilst this is in some way an effort to be helpful it is also intended to get us clicking more and these interactions increase our usage of their platforms. By ensuring that certain keywords are given extra heft it also means that interaction is maximised. For example, if you post that you're 'engaged' or 'congratulate' someone you're much more likely to appear on the timelines of your connections. The knock on effect of this can be partly showed in the result of the American election earlier this year:


So, are these systems using us or are we using them? By switching off these algorithms we can at least be more in control of what we see. Having an unfiltered news feed is a step in the right direction of democratising what we see but we must also be able to subject ourselves sometimes to opinions that differ from those of our self created hive mind.

I would certainly rank it as one of the chief issues for a brighter and fairer future. It certainly cannot be a positive thing if we are so insular as to never be subjected to someone with a difference of opinion. The art of debate is essential if we are to progress as a human race and to challenge our own beliefs.

Whilst the media like to paint an entirely negative picture of these constantly evolving forms of communication it's also important to remember that technology can also solve problems. There are some great examples of this out there and of course our business has seen some great success this year.

We have clear objectives which we are exceeding and one of these is to get the right balance of corporate and human news. One thing we are careful of is to not lose credibility as a brand with tenuous links to popular news topics. By being comfortable with who we are we avoid tenuous attempts to be ‘engaging’ and ‘current’ which culminate in brands being laughed at.


But of course, we now need to think about our plans for 2017. Our strategy has served us well but only by putting together some top level predictions we can ensure we are as prepared as possible:

Rise of the chatbots

With many examples already in major use (i.e Siri and Google Assistant) these act as automated messaging services. They can be used to answer common questions and therefore free up the customer service professionals to answer more in depth queries.

Personalisation

The more personal the message the greater it resonates. This has long been utilised in email communications and helps win limited attention in a busy space.

Live streaming video

Facebook and YouTube have made recent inroads in this area and video shows very high levels of engagement. This has a lot of potential to be used for live events or to showcase certain sites or facilities.

Employee advocacy

By using employees as beacons for the brand, getting them to share our content and being passionate social advocates we can really extend our reach.

Expiring content

Platforms such as Snapchat popularised this and are taking it one step further in 2017 with the launch of their 'spectacles'. Other platforms have emulated this feature such as Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook and by making content time relevant it creates that extra demand.

More vicarious experiences

2017 is going to be less about 'tell' and more about 'show'. Photos are being shared as a way on conversing where previously they were primarily a way to record and document a time in history.

Virtual reality and 360 video

As this becomes more convenient and cheaper to use it will be an excellent way to immerse users into the scope of a building project or  service.

Survival of the fittest platforms

Finally, I foresee brands tackling fewer platforms in 2017 with a focus on those that work for their audiences. By narrowing the focus and refining we can ensure good content and engagement where it works best.

It's been quite the year with me and I'm definitely more exhausted than ever! See you in 2017...
I'll begin by holding my begging bowl in my hand! As this blog won Gold at the Hertfordshire Digital Awards in September I have now been automatically entered for the the next stage. This is the inaugural Digital Awards Champions which is a public-voted event. I will be pitted against the best from all six of our Digital Awards schemes in 2016 in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Milton Keynes and Surrey. So, if you're reading this I'd really appreciate you taking 10 seconds of your time to vote for me. Just click on the the link below and select 'Deep Phat Digital' and I'll find out if I'm crowned winner in February at the ceremony at the BFI Southbank. Thank you!


Now, back down to business! This week has seen me both attending and assisting at events. The former was in our attendance at the 'Construction Marketing Awards' where we were shortlisted for team of the year. We didn't win but had an interesting time among the suppliers and agencies going for glory in the twenty-two categories.
The latter involved me putting my skills to the test in curating the communications for our annual client drinks reception. Historically this has been held at Lincolns Inn but this year building work necessitated a change of venue. The titular Banqueting House in Whitehall was chosen and the team set to work on the many arrangements to make the night go without a hitch. My role was to collate and send out over 3,000 invites and manage all pre and post-event communications. It sounds easy but required many skills which should be standard practice for all event marketing managers:
An excellent venue with some really rich history
  1. Design - The change of venue meant we needed a new design for the email invitations. It was important to conceptualise the right look and feel to appeal to the event’s target demographic. This also needed to be consistent across all collateral.
  2. Copy - In our multi-channel world different writing styles for each audience and medium is an increasingly important skill. We also were careful to correctly signpost any calls to action.
  3. Figures - Once invited there was constant monitoring of acceptances, declines and individual responses. Thankfully, we have a capable marketing placement student who I bought up to speed on producing the many reports required for the steering group. These needed cutting in many different ways and constant monitoring and refinement to ensure we didn't exceed the venue's capacity.
  4. Automation - This was essential to ensure smooth communication and to reduce manual work. We use Dotmailer and setup various programs meaning different communications were automatically sent to each defined segment. These included acceptances, declines, non-opens and various reminders.
    Meeting our actors portraying Charles I and Inigo Jones
  5. Organisation - We needed regular meetings outlining campaign dates, event roles, meeting planning and database building. Also, we needed to understand the use of our customer relationship management system (CRM) to keep detailed records of all our attendees for future event invitations.
  6. Teamwork - As with any small team we needed to be adept at working with colleagues across the business. On the night we pulled people from far and wide to help out. These skills extended to working with our suppliers (actors, florists, AV equipment) to make it appear seamless to the guests. We needed to be happy to assist wherever needed - even if this meant a quick run to Ryman to buy more name badge holders!
  7. Feedback - Once the event was over the post event communications needed to be sent out. This included separate surveys both to hosts and to guests. Collating the responses of these allows us to then learn what we can do better in the future. It also highlights the different priorities of each audience.
As with any marketing role the ability to switch between a variety of skills is essential. But in such a fast paced environment the most important traits to see you through are energy and passion. Despite my not having had a full nights sleep for the last eight weeks I managed two late nights in a row which was almost my biggest achievement of all. I haven't even needed to crack open my emergency Berocca which were given to us when we visited LinkedIn's London HQ in November for our team meeting!
As we're now deep into November it can be difficult to find a location for a Saturday outing with the kids. So after a recommendation from a friend we decided to try the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge. This also afforded us the opportunity for the excitement of a train ride from Hitchin and with the weather on our side, we set off on the 30min ride (and mile long walk) to see what it had on offer.

We were pleasantly surprised with what we found with every significant console from 1977 onwards plugged in and ready to play. The working Big Track and Oculus were big favourites too. The hands on nature of the museum definitely meant we had plenty to keep us occupied as I lost three rounds of Street Fighter 2 Turbo against my daughter!

I was particularly struck with how these old machines were all still in perfect working order. Some of them were around forty years old yet were in perfect working order. they certainly don't make them like they used to!

The importance of building something with the focus being on longevity also struck me when I visited the Mersey Gateway project last week. The marketing team there rolled out the red carpet for me. I even went up the forty or so stories to get a view from the pylon (not recommended for those with a fear of heights!) The work being carried out there is awe inspiring and the team and I managed to share some good practice as well.

So, how does all this relate to the world of digital marketing? Well, the message for me is that when designing new web services longevity is key. Too often companies design a website and leave it to rot only to completely redevelop it and to then start the cycle again.

This is not a sustainable work ethic as it means having to continually budget for a large scale revamp. More importantly it means the website is not allowed to develop based on the behaviours of the users. It's not 'future-proof'.

With this in mind we need to look beyond simple, fixed scope projects and instead focus on continual testing and iteration. This method is the ethos of all big B2C companies where they look to evolve their web services rather than to redesign them.

Lean UX explained which aims
for the delivery of the product first
Generally the ethos there is to begin with a Minimum Viable Product. Essentially starting small with few features then relying on gathering insights to advocate/prioritise features. This is particularly useful in campaigns where starting small and learning in stages ensures the best hit rate and value for money. These basic principles are the basis of an excellent new book entitled 'Lean UX' which contains various case studies as an alternative to agile project management.

Of course, the hard bit is selling this approach into senior management. if you're unveiling a new website then they expect to see it with all the bells and whistles attached. By educating them that delivering a staged approach is due to be more cost effective with the developments dictated by users you can reference other agile approaches. For example, we use this method for our social media content planning. Our three month content calendar contains all our important milestones but otherwise a lot of our content is penciled in.

This means we can then reassess and priortise content which is likely to achieve a greater level of engagement. This works in a similar way to an ongoing snagging list when buying a new build home. Our colleagues at Kier Living have this part of the process written in their contracts- without them they would be walking away from their commitments. No-one gets it right first time.

In digital marketing the most important thing will always be the ability to test and learn. This can also relate back to the retro-gaming experience offered at the Computing Centre in Cambridge. If you lose one round of Street Fighter 2 to your seven year old daughter then there's always the chance to learn for your mistakes for round two...!
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