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!
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