Among esteemed company at last year's HDA15
In the last two years I've been spending less time writing awards submissions. Part of this is due to a change in focus of my role. My remit is now to be focused on providing leadership and training to the wider business. This means our priority is not external campaigns and lead generation, but instead improving the value and reach of the brand and assisting the bid teams to win work. My team also has an increased emphasis on managing the brand - which is our biggest asset.

I have also seen a marked change in the awards judging. We were very proud to be highly commended at the Construction Marketing Awards last December but were conspicuous in that we were the only in house team not flanked by an agency. Being such a large company we do not have the luxury of emerging start-ups. They can easily implement a 'digital first' mentality with lean processes across relatively flat structures.

Last year a personal highlight was winning a silver at the Hertfordshire Digital Awards for this blog. Rather than having to write an in depth submission the criteria for entering these awards are much less arduous and time consuming. Instead, it relies on the work to speak for itself. This is why I'm very proud to be shortlisted again in the same category. I'm looking forward to the outcome at the University of Hertfordshire on 22nd September.  I'm yet to decide if I can attend given that it's five days before the due date of my fourth child and I'm also due in Manchester that day!


With award submissions, I always like to ensure that I am as honest as possible with the positive and negative aspects of any campaign or project. For example, I often find that digital acts as a catalyst to uncover a whole host of problems that have plagued business for a long time: organisational silos, legacy technology, inconsistent leadership and strategy, stifled innovation, the list goes on...

With my award submissions, I like to present a view of a company that has digital transformation at the heart. We are working to solve these complex problems. However, as we try to promote a customer-centric vision with increased innovation and profitability it needs to be remembered that businesses are made up of, and managed by, people. Getting these people to work together strategically will ensure that more is achieved than by just introducing some new piece of technology.

Modern day David Vs. Goliath
Within Marketing, it's easy to prove that we are progressing and implementing business transformation. The hard part is instilling radical digital changes to the entire culture and people. Digital transformation needs to take place from the board down. Simply showing how one or two departments (e.g. Marketing and IT) are transforming our working practices is not enough. Functions such as Finance and HR need to understand the need for investment into new digital products and that they are capable of recruiting for new, specific, technical roles.

We need to prove that we are different from many large companies and show the high level of support on offer to manage change as an ongoing investment. Without this there will be no evidence of individual incentives to support change. People are in jobs they've worked up to and are comfortable with. Why would they take a risk on new things and put their current position in danger of being superfluous?

This is the commitment which we need to showcase both internally and externally. It's a scary proposition but a lot less so than a gradual slow decline! In fact, to further prove that I like to keep developing a better way of working by utilising digital tools this is my first post written using 'Hemingway App'. This is an excellent online resource to help assist and simplify your writing style. Even at 38 years old it's never too late to adopt some new behaviours!

This week, myself and a colleague were asked to submit a 5,000 word 'future technologies' paper. Our department invests quite heavily in digital technologies and we are constantly striving to ensure we are getting the best value for money. Are we investing in the right thing? If we have good content then does the platform of communication even matter? The marketing industry is always striving to make use of any technological advancement so surely the only way forward is for that to continue?

Messaging apps are the
most used worldwide
One area that we see a lot of development in internally is that of apps. Our in-house team have a two year road map and as such these are being developed by most departments (we're just as guilty as anyone else). But are apps actually going to still be in vogue in 2018? The current industry trend is that it's only instant messaging apps seeing any significant growth. I am a champion of building responsive websites wherever possible as the only apps which can be fully justified are those which use the native features of the device (i.e. camera or GPS).

With Apple and Google embracing apps over 8 years ago, they soon became one of the fastest-growing software markets ever. Since then over 100 billion apps have been downloaded, generating billions in revenues for developers and billions more in subscriptions and other fees. This has paved the way for the latest trend of ‘chatbots’. These are text-based services which let users complete tasks such as checking news, organising meetings, ordering food or booking a flight by sending short messages. Bots are usually powered by artificial intelligence (hence the name, as in “robot”) but may also rely on humans.

With this growth in the amount of apps being produced the process in building and promoting them is becoming more costly. Users’ enthusiasm is waning, as they find downloading apps and navigating between them a hassle. A quarter of all downloaded apps are abandoned after a single use. Much like web pages, bots live on servers, not a user’s device, meaning they are easier to create and update. This is likely to make them attractive to businesses which have shied away from developing their own apps, such as restaurants and shops.

Many teenagers now spend more time on smartphones sending instant messages than perusing social networks. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service. The ongoing popularity of messaging apps suggests people will happily talk to chatbots.

Some examples of this are already trading and styling themselves as ‘intelligent avatars’. The website Etermime says that it ‘preserves your most important thoughts, stories and memories for eternity’. To do this it essentially distils all the digital content produced by one individual (photos, texts, emails and social media posts) to build a ‘robot’ version of them. This can then converse as if it was the real person by using their phraseology and history.


This gives a frightening insight into human nature where people try their best to cheat their inevitable demise. In fact, many people who spend their time in creative pursuits (such as painting, music or even writing a blog such as this) could be accused of having an 'immortality complex'. Where digital has before been seen as transitory and disposable it is now promising to be an eternal place of storage.

The smartphone predicted in 1930
Whilst chatbots may be the future the immediate future trend looks like it will be for ‘super-apps’ which encompass all the user does on their phone in one place (i.e. Instant messaging, booking travel, gaming and checking the news). This at least combats the issue of every department or company requiring you to download a separate app to use their service.

Of course, it's hard to predict the future but the appetite for all things digital has meant we're advancing faster than ever before. I hope our 'future predictions' don't come into fruition too soon or we'll have to write another one before the year is out!
Having been at Kier for nearly two years I'm now into a bit of a rhythm with the seasonal working calendar and have found it to go something like this: Keeping our heads down in the winter and spring to really embed some working practices and to introduce some new tools into the business, then in summer and Autumn we get out and about as much as possible to share what we've been doing and to take advantage of the lighter evenings and (mostly) nicer weather.

I'm now the master of packing an overnight bag
Being in the central team it is our responsibility to remain at the forefront of marketing and to offer guidance and support where we can. We also get involved in all group-wide initiatives and share our findings on how we can continue to reinforce the brand nationally. This is not to say that we know it all, in fact part of the benefit of travelling around is that we get ideas on feedback on how we can better service the business. With four divisions there is definitely the need to tailor what we are doing to specific audiences to avoid some of the issues in the past where there was very little guidance from the centre on how things should be done. With the launch of our Marketing Hub and brand library we've managed to turn this on its head and to really embed best practice via our marketing professionals far and wide.

I've always quite enjoyed travelling but at my stage of life I'm now never that keen to stay away from my family for any length of time (despite it meaning an uninterrupted nights sleep!) Sometimes a webinar or conference call just won't do so for the last five weeks I've been away from home for one night a week. This has meant a pretty unhealthy lifestyle with buffet lunches, a lot of snacking on beige food and me missing my Wednesday night kickboxing class (I'll never get that blue belt at this rate!) but as long as you manage the time well nothing can beat face to face contact. Here's my travelogue:

Number seventeen in my series of Kier office photos
Newcastle - Marketing Roadshow:
This was a long journey but definitely worth it. We met with the business development managers to explain some updates to the brand and get an idea of how the Construction division is run in the North East. I'm always surprised at the emphasis put on a regional approach primarily by our clients.

The team in the tunnels
London - Crossrail visit:
This was without doubt my favourite trip of them all. Kier Construction are currently building the new Elizabeth Line from Farringdon to the Barbican and we had the opportunity to go down into the tunnels to see the progress. The sheer scale of the work was breathtaking.

Our impressive stand for which we won an award
Manchester - Charted Institute of Housing:
This is the big trade show for our Living and HM offerings at Manchester Central where I oversaw the graphics and interactive video content on our stand. This was truly a team effort and was a great opportunity to show we are a leading player in this market despite any uncertainty caused by Brexit.

Market analysts touring the facilities at our local depot
Basingstoke - Analyst seminar:
This day took place on the back of our trading update as a presentation to analysts from the City on our corporate position. I was required to manage the recording of a webcast and then to ensure it was accessible on our website alongside the presentation. Afterwards our highways depot gave a very impressive tour.

The Western and Wales marketing team 
Exeter - Marketing Roadshow:
Book ending my travels with another series of presentations to our construction colleagues, we had a packed programme in which we covered brand, marketing literature, social media, microsites and apps and our forthcoming brand audit. I was impressed with the levels of enthusiasm from all.

All of this flying around has meant quite a few extra hours so I'm really looking forward to my summer holiday in a few weeks time. However, I've still found time to self-publish a book version of the first 100 posts of this blog which I'm really happy with. By my calculations it'll be sometime in 2020 before I'm ready to publish volume two - I will have probably racked up quite a mileage by then!
David and Goliath
Traditional wisdom states that big companies – complex and encumbered by shareholders, legacy IT systems, and outdated processes - are slow moving and not very innovative. Meanwhile, start ups and smaller competitors are nimble and able to outpace their sluggish rivals. That version of reality is, in many ways, borne out by recent corporate history with examples such as Blockbuster losing out to Netflix, or Apple’s iPhone swallowing up any demand for Blackberries.

Indeed, most large companies follow the basic laws of physics when it comes to innovation: the more mass an object has the greater its momentum. In other words, if you are a a giant oil tanker the harder it is to turn around from the direction you’re already headed.

In heading up Kier's digital strategy I've been careful not to use the above as an excuse to avoid attempting to get the buy-in required for us to be innovative. In fact, (and as I'm a 'glass half full' person') I've been careful to actually sell the size of our company as advantageous when it comes to innovation. With 24,000 colleagues there is no doubt a vast array of stories which we can surface to use in our marketing efforts - our job is just to surface them. No doubt the diverse range of services we offer, and industries in which we work means there should be no shortage of compelling content - small startup companies would give their left arm for that amount of potential content!

"Listen up! We have content!"
Alongside this big companies have more cash, human capital and customers than smaller companies making it comparatively easier to launch new products and businesses. But where big companies can really come into our own is by not actually looking for the latest technology wave to ride but instead looking at what we are currently doing and then assessing how we can streamline it for maximum impact.

I have recently been putting together a strategy paper for senior management which looks at these very issues. Working at a large company means that not only is there a challenge in pulling out the good content to promote externally but also in communicating effectively to people internally. With the increasing expectation from users that useful content will find them it is especially important that we invest in systems to reach the masses, cleanse our data-sets and refine our targeting. You won't need any technology to reach a room of 5 people but you'll need a lot of amplification to address a hall of 5,000. The bigger the company the bigger the audience and the bigger the noise you have to cut through. Only by being truly innovative will you stand out from the crowd.
In order to continue to improve our social sentiment and brand reach we are increasingly playing our part in nationally supported campaigns - the latest of these being 'National Women In Engineering Day' (#NWED2016) on 23rd June. Due to the scope of our offering we were confident that we could pull together some engaging content for this and engaged the business to pull out some case studies for our blog and social media. The effort the team put in increased the traffic to the blog by 480% on the average amount of daily activity.

Partaking in this also gave us some excellent learning points for future campaigns (such as implementing more robust event tracking in job applications, linking to contributors' social accounts for authenticity and tying in our company values).

Only by implementing many small, but significant, changes can we ensure the entire business is engaged in turning around the super-tanker but if we all pull in the right direction then nothing will stand in our way...
Father's Day is now over for another year and I very much enjoyed being centre of attention again! It's a great feeling to still be at that stage of life where my children run to the door every day when I get home from work - my daughter is seven and my sons are five and three. It's also particularly rewarding being able to relive my youth vicariously and we've recently dug out all of my old Transformers toys for them to play with. Although watching these thirty year old bits of plastic fall apart in their hands has been quite traumatic!

Another big bonus of having young children is that they all still think I'm cool. I know that the time will soon come when my gorgeous children will morph overnight into terrifying, wised-up, mini-adults. I reckon I’ve got three years, tops. Sometimes I look at the boys (and even the girl) and I can see the cynical teenager in the post.

I can see how it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking they will always see me as someone to look up to but, just because they have treated me as such for a number of years, simply being a Dad is not enough to qualify eternally for this accolade. The only cool Dad's are cool adults already - really, the words 'Dad' and 'Cool' should never be used together.



This got me thinking about the world of digital marketing and how it is still currently perceived as the profession of young and progressive thinkers. However, it may be becoming less so as the older generation (in trying to stay relevant) continue to fully embrace the world of Netflix, wireless printers and smartphones they are being usurped with a rising generation who subvert these advancements and deliberately embrace retro-chic technologies such as record players, vintage clothes and Nokia 3210's. It's clearly not cool to want to be like your parents!

What does the future hold?
With jobs such as 'Head of Digital', 'App Designer' and 'Social Media Manager' not existing ten years ago it's easy to think that by working in these roles you are quite cutting edge but as the majority of companies properly assimilate these into their working practices there will come a time when they will no longer be seen as 'disruptive'. These jobs will be indistinguishable from any other role and will be seen as no different to any other corporate function.

At the moment it's hard to see a time when this might happen as the world of digital is moving so fast. I constantly feel as if I am having to run to keep up, with the speed of developments accelerating rapidly. However, there will come a time when I will peak and become that member of staff, who we all know, who sees no benefit in staying relevant and prints out their emails to read at the weekend or who hasn't yet grasped the concept of a 'Shared drive'. This may be quite hard for some to take - especially for someone like myself who discounted the idea of going into teaching through the fear I'd be spending more time trying to persuade the pupils I was cool rather than teaching them!

My childhood in ruins...
As far as I see it the only option I have with my children is to continue to act like a parent and not a friend. It may be harder to be tough and responsible than to be matey but that is really what children want from their parents. No-one wants to hear about their parent's exploits when they were younger and as a Dad I'm there to be respected, not liked. If I set out to be respected, I might be liked, but if I set out only to be liked, I will never be respected. The age to be 'friends' with my children is when they are 38, not 12.

By mixing a bit of the new with the old this will help in ensuring we all stay happy and don't cross over into each others comfort zones by risking becoming a 'helicopter' parent - and anyway, no-one wants to see a thirty-eight year old man playing with Transformers toys!
With 'content marketing' being the phrase of the moment the digital marketing industry is focusing all of it's efforts on creating 'great content' - we tried our hand at this ourselves with our #KierHeroes campaign. The majority of big brands are using this as something to aspire to and the main reason for this may actually be that it's the type of content that wins awards and generates lots of social media comments and likes.

However, the big question is does it actually sell? With all this emphasis on the next exciting campaign idea one of the best ways to differentiate and exploit may actually be what is seen as 'boring content'. The reason no-one discusses this is because brands are ashamed of content which doesn't seem to be exciting and innovative but in many cases it is a neglected resource. At Kier, many of our fellow FTSE 250 companies may well be businesses many people have never heard of but yet they all turn over millions of pounds a year. They certainly aren't known for great content but they clearly have content strategies in place. Below are a few examples of some work which we've done on our 'boring content':

Company values:

At Kier, there has been a big internal push on our values of Enthusiastic, Collaborative and Forward Thinking. There are reward schemes for colleagues who demonstrate these attributes and they are displayed on the walls of all of our offices and sites for us to abide by when carrying out business.

We also have a section outlining these values on our intranet, induction portal and website. The question is does your company have values so important and clear that you'd carve them into the office walls?!

Company locations:

Adding a list of locations to a website is typically one of those steps that just gets done at the end, but if your business has many locations and activities it can be really important that prospective customers know what you do and where.

This is why we continue to maintain and develop our locations map to help show what our 80+ offices do across the UK and internationally. It’s a quick way for our prospects to learn a lot about us.

Company achievements:

The work of some businesses are technical by their very nature and there really is no other way to sell them. By presenting a clear road map if what has been achieved to date and the plans for the future you can demonstrate how what you have learned to date will influence your future strategy.

At Kier, we have done this for our continued Scape Minor Works Framework in the form of some concise statistics. No amount of YouTube videos or Pinterest pages will convince you more than this simple infographic.

Customer care:

Ensuring your customers and stakeholders get a good service is more essential for any brand than before. We have been doing a lot of work to streamline our customer care form to ensure that enquires are directly piped to the relevant departments.

Not only does this ensure much faster response times but it also reduces the amount of manual intervention required in forwarding comments to the correct business contact or in reporting.

Annual report:

This is a requirement for all businesses of our size and potentially could just be produced as part of a box ticking exercise. Shareholders rarely see engaging content that is designed specifically for them.

Given that they either fund the business (shareholders) or are critical to its running (employees) they need content as well. If anything the content created for them should have at least the same effort as that for customers. This is why we have made the effort to present the highlights in a more easily digestible format and not rely on the reader to have to download a weighty PDF document!

Conclusion

It's clear that none of this content is going to win any awards or be heavily shared on social media. It exists to both convert and educate and is important in building a brand story that is not just about the exciting and photogenic parts. Without it there's a real danger that we are presenting an impression of no real substance and that isn't there to aid conversions - Ultimately that's what we ask from every piece of content we create whether it's boring or great.
With a 'to do' list as long as my desk there is the danger that in a bad week I can barely look up from my computer, let alone leave my desk. Obviously this is not a good situation to be in and means I am neither connected with the business nor living a particularly healthy lifestyle.

Being responsible for digital at a company with 24,000 employees means I'll never be able to fully grasp the diversity of every role and department but, having visited over 20 Kier offices and sites, I've definitely been giving it a go in order to understand how the central digital team can best support them.

To continue this trend, the marketing team took some time away from our desks this week to travel to Barnsley to visit our housing maintenance teams. Kier have a five year contract with Barnsley Council to assist all of their council house residents, and maintain their properties, and we were to join them for a ride along. Whilst half the team were off filming two of us then spent the day on a variety of call outs with Gary (plumber) in the morning and Melvyn (electrician) in the afternoon.

Us suited and booted and ready for action
Interestingly, our first chaperone, Gary, was from a coal mining background and told us that after the closing of the pits he found it hard to adjust to the job of a plumber. The difficulty for him was not the practical side of the jobs (he said he was offered adequate training to carry out all of the repair work) but the social aspect. Some council tenants were just happy to have someone to talk to after a week alone in their house but Gary's experience had just been talking to fellow male miners in the pits. He felt where this job had allowed him to progress the most was in his ability to converse with the tenants whom he had been sent to help.

This got me thinking about  the importance of these same skills in a digital context (or any office environment) and how all digital marketing roles could benefit from a culture that emphasises a combination of skills and duties. It also demonstrated that it may not be the skill which you think you need or have that make you successful in a job.

It's clear that the technology landscape has completely changed our ideas of certain company roles meaning many professionals have also had to venture outside their comfort zones as roles shift along with trends. A great example of this is the traditional customer service department. In the past, customer service representatives communicated with customers over the phone, and later on through online reviews. But nowadays, the roles of social media specialists and customer service professionals are pretty blurred.

This trend has forced social media experts to develop some customer relations skills and vice versa. It also creates a need for these two departments to develop some common goals, best practices, and a consistent voice. The combined effect of the daily work carried out by Kier employees in the field (housing maintenance, highways operatives and construction workers) can have a massive effect on how the brand is perceived across the country. We are concentrating a lot of time and effort on effectively governing the brand but one bad customer experience could undo this work in a second.

The machines are taking over
Also, as more job roles become increasingly automated specialised technical skills may not be the way to compete in an increasingly difficult economy - to really get ahead, what a worker needs are the aforementioned social skills. In the future, the jobs that are least likely to be automated are those that demand lots of interaction with co-workers or clients, not just the performance of rote analytical tasks. These jobs also call for the ability to perform innately human exercises—like pondering another person’s point of view. These nuances of human interaction are the one area in which machines are really struggling to compete with us and are where we can really thrive and differentiate.

The lesson for me was also that  having good technical skills is just a tiny part of success in the workplace. The team in Barnsley do an amazing job of completing their work and keeping the residents happy and their acquired social skills are essential for anyone in order to both enhance the reputation of a company and succeed in a career.
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