It's been the most eventful of weeks for me. On a personal level we have welcomed our fourth child in the most eventful of manners - with me delivering him! That's a skill to add to my LinkedIn profile. I might crowbar the experience into a later blog post but needless to say I'm currently writing this through a fog of tiredness...

On a professional level Thursday was due to be a big one. I had a 5.15am start to make it up to Manchester to present at the Digital Engagement Conference. Then the long journey home to follow the Hertfordshire Digital Awards on Twitter. To be shortlisted again after taking home silver last year was great. Yet, there was no way I was making it home on time to attend the ceremony with a heavily pregnant wife!

So, after consuming a hearty breakfast on the train, I arrived at the Place Aparthotel for a day of networking and presentations. There was an impressive roster of speakers and the venue was excellent. I got chatting to a wide variety of digital professionals across different sectors (including charities, banks and agencies) and learned something new from each one of them.

In my role I quite often am asked to explain technical processes in simple language. My concern was that I'd be so used to this approach that to present to a room of my peers would be a challenge. However, I found that the presentations I enjoyed the most were the least technical - Kerry Foods and Greater Manchester Police. This was because they didn't contain exhaustive slides of statistics/graphs but concentrated on telling a story.
My presentation was up last allowing me the opportunity to make lots of cringe-worthy graveyard shift/headline act jokes. I felt it was extremely well received with lots of great feedback and enjoyed being on stage to an appreciative audience. Hopefully I'll be given the opportunity to further showcase the excellent work of the team in the future...
During the long journey home I followed the build up to the Hertfordshire Digital Awards via a flaky 4G connection on Periscope. This year it was held at the University of Hertfordshire and looked to be an excellently run event. I was warmly welcomed home by my wife who had thankfully not yet gone into labour - that was to be a further 36 hours away. We then sat refreshing Twitter to watch the ceremony from afar. It was hard not being there as the coverage was excellent with the photos due to appear in the Hertfordshire Mercury.

Then, at about 10pm the Blog category was up - and I won a GOLD! That means that this Blog has won an award a year since 2014. Now that has already gone onto my LinkedIn profile:
With this great news and I'll now be spending much of my paternity leave awaiting the postman with the delivery of my plaque. The list of winners showed a further improvement on the quality of work throughout the county. Keeping up to date with digital can be a never ending and exhaustive task. Some weeks I sit down to write with my usually high energy levels at a low but awards like these give me the boost I need to keep writing and enjoying every minute of my job.

To be awarded as the best blog in the county is a real honour and I'll leave the last words of this post to the organisers who decided to lay down the gauntlet for 2017:
Anyone who knows me will know that I enjoy giving presentations. As someone who enjoys social interaction I relish the opportunity of passing on knowledge and getting live feedback. I even enjoy the process of putting slides together as I try to make each one a work of art. I've learnt that the tip here is to actually include more slides and up the tempo. If a slide is on the screen for more than a minute then you've lost your audience's waning attention spans!

This week I've been busy crafting my presentation for next Thursday's Digital Engagement Conference. Having spoken at my fair share of industry events I'm always focused on improving my presentation style and delivery. Early on I listened back to a recording which revealed that I overuse the term 'et cetera'!
I'm sure that we have all been at our fare share of mind-numbingly boring presentations. What a lot of these lack is that they don't tell a story. It's a known fact that people remember stories much more than they remember facts. So it's important to add that personal touch to your presentation. Perhaps even add a 'story arc' or a 'callback'? Start by painting a picture of the pain points that the audience are experiencing. Then, be the hero that shows them how to alleviate the problem. A good guide when planning is to keep it simple by following the classic three-act structure.

Freestyle flow!
It's also important to be 100% confident and excited about your content. If this means injecting some humour then all the better. The best tip I was ever given was to over prepare and then freestyle whilst giving the presentation itself. If you know your subject well enough it will seem a lot more natural and you'll always have your slides to fall back on.

The imagery used on these slides is also important. Looking at blurry images on your desktop is annoying. Blow them up on a screen that’s 100x bigger and the images are downright unbearable. Take the time to scout out visually stimulating, high-quality images for your marketing presentation. I'm a big fan of Shutterstock for this (Unsplash and Gratisography are great free alternatives).

When I first started presenting at industry events I found it difficult that everyone seemed to be looking at their phones. I thought they weren't interested and missed the encouragement from their smiling, nodding faces. But I soon realised that at digital marketing events the majority of people are simultaneously tweeting. This proved a great way to get immediate feedback on the points the audience found most useful. This shows people who didn’t attend your session that they missed out on something special. As a result, they’re more likely to download your slides after the event or attend your session the next time around. Now I positively encourage this by including my Twitter details on every slide.

It's worth remembering that unless you’re a super-inspirational thought leader, people aren’t attending your session because they want to know how you feel about the topic. Instead, they want to hear what you’ve concluded based on hard facts and data that you’ve collected. Share case studies and examples to back up all your points.

Ultimately, hard marketing data is way more powerful than simple generalisations. It's always better to share than to give a vague overview that makes your audience feel they've missed the meat of the meal.

Finally, the first thought that crosses my mind after presenting at a conference is, “I can’t believe I spent weeks slaving over this deck and the whole presentation is over after 20 minutes!” So, I’ve made it my mission to glean as much traction as I can out of each and every marketing deck. To extend a presentation’s visibility to people who didn’t attend it, I create a long-form blog post covering my presentation content, which is loosely based on the script I wrote for the event itself. If it was a lengthy presentation, sometimes I can even turn it into a series of posts.

Coming soon...
I know that for many people presentations are something which they dread most in the workplace. In an old job I was always surprised that teachers who spent everyday controlling a class of 30 teenagers completely went to pot when asked to present to their peers.

The thing to remember is to over prepare, over prepare. People are a lot more forgiving if they can see the effort you have put in. In a weeks time I'll see how all my hard work is received as I step up to the stage in Manchester...
It's almost time for the summer holidays to draw to a close. The weather has been brilliant this year - making it much easier to keep our progeny entertained. Despite being about as landlocked as you can get, Hertfordshire has some great places for days out. Whether it be Wrest Park, Standalone Farm, Shuttleworth or Stockwood Park there are no shortage of places to give the children a run out.

The dodos at the Natural History Museum, Tring
One popular place to visit if the weather is not as reliable is the Natural History Museum in Tring. My wife took my children there last week and they enjoyed it as always. The free to visit collection is marvellously Victorian and comprises of over 4,000 stuffed animals. One of my favourite exhibits at the museum are the stuffed dodos. These are probably the most famous extinct animals - fabled to be so easy to catch, and so tasty to eat that they stood little chance. Of course, being extinct the taxidermists have taken educated guesses on the appearance of these ill-fated birds. In fact, one of them on display is white which is a species never confirmed to have existed!

How many of us working in digital marketing over the years have created our own Tring dodos? We have known that we want to put a new platform at the heart of our plans but are are not entirely confident on what to do with it.

Over the years I have worked for businesses that thought they should advertise in the cinema or create 360° videos of client offices. There was then a rush to build branded landing pages that few people visited and videos which few people watched. We once even spent some considerable time building an entire virtual student library in Second Life.

Trying to find an optimal use for Periscope, Snapchat or Yubl can actually be really difficult. Of course, these apps are current and popular but I've only fleetingly experienced them in the wild. It would be easy to create an account and stuff them full of marketing content but this is no form of strategy. Instead it would be a transparent attempt to try to increase brand reach and not a good use of my time.

Within our team we have also been interviewing for a digital marketing apprentice this week. It occurred to me that the successful candidate would be a good person to lead on new platforms and trends to reach younger audiences. But, brand marketing on new channels is a risky business. The majority of young people migrate from existing channels to escape being marketed to.

I'm not at this stage just yet
Within my social media training I like to mention that the average Facebook user is 40.5 years old. My analogy here is that Facebook was once a trendy nightclub where young people would go to be with their peers. Over time though their parents turned up, closely followed by the advertisers, and the young people went elsewhere which began the rise of Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat

We may also find that these digital natives, whilst possessing great technical skills, are not familiar with the strategy and commercial engagement side of marketing. Using the tools is one thing, but using them to create a coherent and strategic campaign with measurable outcome is another.

Therefore, if you want to put a stuffed dodo on display you need the experience of someone who is familiar with them first hand combined with skilled taxidermists.

As all successful teams comprise a mix of personality types the same is true of cross-generational expertise. My previous team comprised a team of people in every decade of working life (20s, 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's). Integrating youthful understanding of new platforms with the marketing wisdom of more mature heads can be a real asset.

By embracing collaboration across a spectrum of age and experience it's a great way to ensure that the more experienced team members are correctly utilised rather than made prematurely extinct as with our old friend the dodo.
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...
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