Jun 2006
I have just been compiling an application for a grant for a community project. It is unbelievable that we need to jump through so many hoops nowadays.

OK, I understand it for large financial grants, but we also see such barriers when we try to sign up to anything. I heard recently of a 16 year old child who tried to open a bank account. He was told that the only way he could open a current account was to bring a pay slip in - no possible as a child! So as an alternative, details of his previous bank account - this was his first account, etc, etc. Have you ever tried changing a bank account? I did that about two years ago - and it was not a pleasant experience!

So back to the application I am doing at the moment. I suppose it is far more complex thanks to the fact that I am completing it for 4 sports clubs as a single entity. We do, however, have to complete forms using the same information packaged in a number of different ways. This is all time consuming and liable to lead to confusing, especially if I am not careful enough with the transcribing.

But this is not limited to banks and public funding bodies! In business, I have often had to complete business cases, feasibility studies, risk assessments and white papers for product development that repeat information, one-to-one, or summarised, refocused, etc.

Why is it that no one stands up to this tidal wave of paperwork. We are told that a typical arrest in the 1950 took a policeman off the streets for approximately 30-40 minutes, whist today's paperwork will keep them off the street for anything up to 6 hours! Teachers are also spending more and more time on paperwork, as opposed preparing lessons and marking work. No wonder these two professions are struggling to recruit and retain people.

So whatever happened to the paperless office? Surely, form filling should be automated now, we also have voice recognition software that has improved considerably. In his book - Business at the Speed of Thought - Bill Gates states that he removed many layers of bureaucratic paperwork from Microsoft, simply by asking for each paper report, and questioning why it was needed. Why is it that he can do this, and no one else can challenge the bureaucrats? Just think of the wasted time, trees and nerves caused by this practice!

I live in France for a time, and I know that for anything official, the French State is the most bureaucratic (though I believe the Italian system also takes some beating!), whether it be for a rental property, car registration, or to start working. Having said that, the French identity card seems to cut a number of corners, and yet there is a reluctance to accept ID cards in the UK - possibly because of the cost more than the loss of 'privacy'. Unfortunately, applications for these ID cards will presumably involve even more bureaucracy. So long as we only have to complete the forms once, and not provide the same information in addition to producing the ID card - we all have precious little time to waste on this.
Futuristic Marketing
So how do I come up with these topics? I get inspiration from all over. This title comes from a conference I presented at this week - The CIM Tutors Conference. With presenters such as David Meneer, the Marketing Director of the Eden Project, and Graham Flower, the Head of Customer Management at HSBC presenting.

My presentation focused on Mobile Marketing. Originally, I was asked to focus on mobile phone marketing, but when I look at the future trends, I have difficulty seeing the mobile phones we have today. Smartphones and PDA's, wireless laptops, GPS devices, etc are all merging providing a multiude of product options, and delivery methods.

Have you seen the Googlezon movie. This was developed about two years ago as a prediction of the future of the Internet. If you are unmoved by this video, I would suggest that you haven't grasped the magnitude of the potential problem. Take a look yourself - epic.makingithappen.co.uk/new-masterfs1.html This tracks the story of the rise and merger of Google and Amazon as a world-beating news media organisation. In terms of mobile marketing, however, the final section of the movie is important - in this, the future is full of podcasts - people all over the world providing up to the minute, local news - things like reports of traffic accidents, notification of the opening of a new shop, of just that it is a beautiful day - get outside!

This all adds to the noise of communications that people will be bombarded with. As we get older, this increase probably gets intrusive (leading to the notion of Grumpy Old Men/Women!) and a perception that it cannot last. But the kids are growing up in this world, and adapting to this media landscape. Just think - people who are now 18 years old were born in 1988, so ever since they remember, they have had computers, when they got interested in these products, there has been the Internet, Digital TV, etc. I can remember just having 3 TV channels and being envious of my cousins in Liechtenstein because they got TV from Switzerland, Austria and Germany - a total of 10 stations!

We also had a laugh at the conference remembering the early mobile phones. I remember having the 'car-battery' attached to a phone. Stretched arms, bad backs, etc - all a result of wanting to accessible. Today, of course, products such as Blackberry, wireless PDA's and laptops means that we are not only able to speak to people on the move, but can send and receive emails, browse the internet and organise our lives anyway in the world.

Podcasts are a further extension, as I outlined above, are allowing people to listen to 'magazine articles' on the move. Indeed there is also software out there to translate your emails into voice so that you can listen to them in the car or on the train. I showed an example of a car that some Mac enthusiasts have modified. They have installed a Mac Mini computer with a small LCD touch screen on which they display Radio (digital and analogue), TV/DVD, GPS, music player (in this case - iTunes), Bluetooth mobile phone connection and WiFi access from the computer when the car is parked in a hotspot. Some people have also included some form of engine monitoring.

So image the scenario - you synchronise your email's before you leave the house in the morning. On your way into work, you listen to your emails, a podcast and perhaps part of a radio show. Later you go to visit a client. You listen to more emails, chat a while on the phone (hands-free of course), whilst the GPS uides you to the client. As you arrive you find a hotspot (or use your mobile phone) to access the Internet and check a detail or two about the customer. On the way home, you are stuck in a traffic jam - noone is moving. You write a few emails, a perhaps watch the TV news or a DVD until the traffic starts moving, switching the screen off the distraction.

Now think of the marketing opportunities - a WiFi computer coming in range of say McDonald's and you get a message saying "Why don't you come in for a cool drink, bite to eat, and you can use our WiFi network?" You approach a petrol station transmitting it's prices and telling you that the next petrol station is 45 miles away - perhaps also providing a traffic and weather bulletin.

Do you think you could live in such a world? I think I could, and I also think I could make money in such a world. And all this whilst you are not chained to a desk (though the roads may be less safe ...)
Knowing your customers
I am constantly asked to give businesses advice about their Customer Relationship Marketing systems - either because they want to invest in something, or they have already invested and are now unsure of the benefits the salesman highlighted.

If you are in either of these positions, you are not alone. The latter is more problematic, as you have already invested in something and are, in most cases, unable to write such an investment off and buy a new system. The way round both, however is the same. I undertake an audit of the customers and relational issues - identifying customer drivers and motivators; and the channels of communication that the customers will react to and interact with.

When you understand what makes your customers tick, and how you can build a relationship with them, you will be in a position to identify the information you should be collecting from each customer at each level of interaction. You will also, hopefully, identify the communications methods, content and tone of voice that will stimulate them to take action - remember the AIDA model (Attention - Interest - Desire - ACTION).

As far as the systems go, most do exactly the same, and you need to understand how you and whoever uses the system will work with it, their technological understanding, computing capacity, etc. Many systems now also link into finance packages, allowing you to track through to sales completion - is this important to your business, or do you believe it will be?

Many of the mid-high priced systems offer fairly comprehensive (and at times, complex) predictive behaviour modelling. The best way to explain this is to refer to Amazon - have you noticed the 'People who bought this also bought these products' section once you have made your selection? This is using a predictive modelling algorithm and allows Amazon to cross-sell and up-sell to their customers, increasing their revenue. Amazon also uses previous purchases and browsing habits to build tailored, dynamic pages of products, further stimulating the customer interaction. You too could do this.

A few years ago, I helped design and build a bespoke sales configuration and contact database system for a heavy engineering company. Initially resistance came from the sales staff, as these were the people with the CRM in their heads. This was, however, unsatisfactory as other people were involved in the customer relationship - sales support staff, designers, warehousing, finance, etc. By providing them all with access to a system that tracked and logged all customer contacts, they eliminated errors, sped up the sales and build processes, and most importantly - they understood the profitability of each product and component. This system was quite basic really, they did not use online sales or support and were not involved in direct marketing communications with their customers, but they did build more trust and respect amongst their customers as a result of this.

So should you spend millions on a SAP or Siebel system? Maybe the answer is yes. There are cheaper alternatives, but it could be that a properly installed, supported and operated high-end system is exactly what will make you stand out in your marketplace. Normally we see people operating at the other end of the market. These systems are limited in their overall performance, but if you understand the customers and your requirements, you may be able to find something that suits you perfectly without breaking the bank.
Usability & Accessibility
Accessibility raises it's head again. I have been fortunate enough to have talked to business owners over the last few weeks, getting to understand their motivators.

As I have said before, accessibility shouldn't cost you any more (the cost of redesigning a site has a cost in itself, but no-one should be developing illegal sites). In addition to this, we are talking about two additional benefits. Obviously, you are going to comply with the law, but you are also going to have a website that is accessible and useable to all users, including the automated users - namely the search engine spiders and 'bots. If you are struggling to get your site into the front pages of the search engines, you can spend a lot of money with search engine marketing companies, but if your site is inaccessible - you are wasting your money.

When I teach business owners web design, I recommend they use a book. It is not complex, it is not full of technobabble, and it shows you the commonsense approach to design. This book has the fantastic title - Don't Make Me Think - by Steve Krug. (Please follow this link to Amazon if you want to take a look at it/buy this title). This is a book about usability. It won't actually help you get your site to WAI standards, but will help open the site up to all users by being useable. Some features of usable sites:
  • Content flow to move top-left to bottom-right
    People in the West read from left to right - so the most important information should be top left

  • Make use of page titles and descriptions
    People know what they are looking at - especially if you want the page bookmarked

  • Keep content scannable, concise and readable
    For more information, I would point you to Jakob Nielsen's website

  • Make your site consistent
    Ensure your page design, colours and navigation are consistent to help your visitors

This is not the whole list, I don't want to spoil all the fun of learning web design with me!

Add to these elements, full tagging of your images, careful selection of colours and removal of speciality coding such as JavaScript and you will be well on the way to providing an accessible site.

For more information on accessibility, please look at the previous blog, and check out the relevant brand sites - Jack Marketing Solutions and DDA Audit.