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.


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...!
You are the Prince of Pay Per click, the Sultan of Social Media and the web Content King. You know the brand back to front and are measuring every activity in the most minute detail. But do you know your product?

Too often Marketing and Communications professionals are stuck behind their desks. They rarely venture out to understand the company's product, how the customers use it every day and the value it delivers to the business. Quite often they ask their favourite sales engineer or product manager to summarise it for them. That way they can continue to just focus on the work they enjoy with easy access to a kettle - such as updating that blog post or new corporate presentation.

Those of us who work in marketing will know that quite often the focus is on them to sell whatever is being offered. They will then often shoulder the blame if sales are below what is expected. It is not always marketing’s fault, but often it is true that a great product is misrepresented by marketing. When this does happen you will find a marketing team that doesn’t know the customer, is struggling to work with the product team, or worse has no idea the extent of what the product actually does.

It is essential that marketers do not avoid the product or ignore the business. Only by engaging from the ground up can you then determine the best strategy to sell each unique service. The best marketing professionals operate from a position of customer and market insight while taking on the responsibility of learning the company’s products and solutions.

Colleagues in action at Wellingborough recycling plant
There is no better learning experience than hands on use. This is why I've been out and about road testing our latest brand audit app. The idea behind this is that colleagues from around the business fill in a series of questions on their designated office, site or depot. Everything is captured from signage and livery to cleanliness and email signatures.

The results are then interrogated to determine which division are the most engaged. We also can see the locations in dire need of an immediate makeover! As our team has led on this project the only way to ensure it is as user friendly as possible is to go and undertake audits ourselves.

The welcome bonus of this has been the opportunity to see various operations in action. Whether it was procurement, housing maintenance or environmental, I have learned something new at each location. I'm particularly looking forward to a visit to Mersey Gateway at the end of the week. that will teach me something new on a grand scale!

Coupled with the work on the brand audits we also held our quarterly marketing council. This comprises 50+ marketing and communications professionals from around the business. Topics of discussion include the latest digital strategy and tools (my slot) and the sharing of best practice. We also invited our suppliers and agencies to meet and discuss future developments with colleagues throughout the business. Many of these colleagues are embedded in the business overseeing various contracts and joint ventures. For me this was another opportunity to understand their individual challenges and to learn how we can guide and support centrally.

The Kier group marketing council in action
This traveling around will also stand me in good stead for a massive new project which is looming on the horizon. It will be a first for me so I'm going to need a bigger understanding of the business than ever before..

Another first for me which I've been alerted to is my being shortlisted at the Digital Awards: Champions. This takes all gold winners from the 2016 events for Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Milton Keynes and Surrey and pits us against one another for overall supremacy. The winners will be decided by public vote from 1st December 2016. This means I'm going to have to call in every favour possible in order to be in with a chance. It's not like there's much else going on in December...!
More big projects on the horizon!
I definitely find driving into work to begin the week much easier when I have a significant project in motion. Recently I've been managing two high profile digital initiatives. These are Kier's disposal of Mouchel Consulting and the publication of our 2016 annual report.

The former has been quite straightforward for me as our marketing teams have had a good working relationship to this point. So, I've been engaged in delivering CMS training, asset library and login transfers and generally ensuring a smooth handover.

Our annual report is a key document for engaging with shareholders and of similar importance. It communicates not only the work we have done but outlines the vision for the coming year. Last year I championed the build of a page on our website which pulled out the key highlights of this report. Before, digital had been an afterthought with the annual report being published online just as a large PDF. Of course, the drawbacks of this were that it was not searchable and it meant anyone engaging with our content would need to download a 10MB+ file.

I'm pleased to say that this year we've gone a step further with a much more integrated and user friendly page. There was some work to do on cherry-picking the correct content, but already the combination of financial results and case studies has seen twice as many unique visitors as last year. This is a case in point of the importance of adapting content depending on the medium. You wouldn't expect a film adaption of a novel to simply project the scanned pages onto the big screen...!

Trying to find a role for digital in everything is essential in proving the ROI of what the team do. With this in mind I've been investigated how we bid for new work and the opportunities for us to add value. Winning new contracts and projects is at the top of the list when it comes to turning an operational profit. We're favoured to be well regarded enough to be approached to bid for work but must then do everything we can in order to win it. Here is how I think digital can help with this process:

Externally seeding content:

Whether this be via social media, our blog or video production we can do a lot to highlight our experience and expertise. For example, if we are bidding for work in a specific geographical area we target relevant content in the form of client testimonials. Planning this in advance means that the potential client is well aware of our reliability and skills both before and after the final pitch.

Selling expertise to clients:

With a professional and well qualified in house digital team we are in many ways more advanced than most of our competitors. In fact, we've just been shortlisted for 'Marketing Team of the Year' at the Construction Marketing Awards to further highlight our credentials. These skills can be leveraged to show where we can add value to a project were it to be awarded to us. This may be in assisting in the build of a microsite, brand strategy or social media communication and training.

Cross selling and the integrated offer:

Finally, we have been leading on a project to educate colleagues before they enter into a bid. In many cases Kier are already working on a contract either with a council or organisation. By building a bespoke app highlighting where current work is taking place it fuels the conversation and cements the impression of a joined-up company ethos. This app also has up to date contact information allowing colleagues to get in touch with each other to ensure full transparency pre-pitch. The client can then be educated on the full benefits of having an integrated workforce who communicate in the same way.

Championing digital as a set of technologies which can both improve and evolve how we do business is essential in to continue to adapt our operational models. People's behaviour is still evolving in the way they interact with technology and we need to ensure we are looking to do all we can to add value and open up new markets.
As my paternity leave comes to an end it's time for me to switch back into 'work mode'. In many ways it will be good to get back to the routine just as I have become a pro at school runs, laying the breakfast table and swimming lessons! Obviously, I'm going to miss the family - especially our new addition! Even though he's our fourth child it doesn't take away the sense of wonder at a new little human being born into the world. Having to handle the delivery myself may have something to do with it but seeing a perfectly formed little boy enter the world is the most amazing thing you can witness.

Having had a quick glance at my emails it's definitely going to take me the best part of a week to get through them. Just sifting through the amount of sales emails promoting their latest 'unique' marketing technology product is a morning's work! I've tweeted before an excellent 'supergraphic' by Scott Brinker which categorises 3,874 different marketing solutions on one slide. This demonstrates just how many potential sales approaches I could get from different companies - an 87% increase on last year! I have even contemplated putting it up on my wall and crossing them off after each approach. Take a look below:

This could make potentially overwhelming reading as to work my way through all these would be a mammoth task in a constantly changing landscape. It also means my work phone is likely to be ringing hotter than ever as more sales people hunt me down via my LinkedIn profile. You can also see that there does not seem to be one platform that does everything that is required. Meaning no two marketing departments are likely to be using the same tools.

Fundamentally, all marketing campaign platforms are all quite similar just with their own small eccentricities or slightly easier to use interface. At Kier, we use Dotmailer which is an excellent platform for our email sends but I've used Pure360 in a previous role and the differences are negligible. The former has a great user friendly interface but the latter has excellent workflow options.

We are currently in the market for a new social media monitoring platform and this problem is showed in the pitches in which I have been present. It seems the platforms either specialise in scheduling and account management or analysis and reporting. Not having a platform that can powerfully achieve both means you have to be clear about your brief.

There's also the danger that I may have become hardened to the capabilities of these platforms. I'm yet to see anything that differentiates or impresses me. The longer I work in digital marketing the more I expect a technology platform to do. In a previous role we worked with an agency who had built a bespoke brand monitoring platform - some of the insight was therefore completely unique. Yet, knowing the capabilities of the platforms I was always challenging them to go one better. Eventually they managed to impress me but it wasn't easy - it's a good job we had such a good working relationship!

I've written before about constantly heightening expectations when it comes to technology. Our internal focus was to try to build a self service platform containing everything for our marketing community. Yet there is a danger here best described in the excellent Cantonese phrase which translates as "Equipped with knives all over, yet none is sharp"(周身刀,無張利). Whilst one company is busy trying to produce an all-round technology platform they will be losing ground on their competitors in one aspect. The ever increasing popularity of digital not only is showed in the amount of platforms but also in the rate they are evolving.

As our jobs get ever more complex we are all destined to become more demanding. I look forward to the day when a new platform or product impresses me in the way something like Google Analytics did over ten years ago. Or maybe, after witnessing the birth of my four children I'm going to be impossible to impress ever again!

PS: If you want the database of the above 'supergraphic' then you can download it here. I find it useful for recording notes on all  the platforms with which I've come into contact.
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!
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