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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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