Monday, August 29, 2016

The Trouble With Big Cities

Although I live in London, I spend a lot of time with my Mum in the city where I grew up. I say city, but Worcester is actually very small when it comes to town and city sizes. And it's a long way from anywhere. It's quicker for me to fly to Barcelona than it is to visit my Mum. Worcester suffers on the GWR Hereford to London line as part of the route is single track through the Cotswolds. I read somewhere that the train journey takes longer now than it did in the days of steam trains. There are local buses, but you really need to understand the timetables as most services are not very frequent and don't run every day and don't have services after 5pm. How you are supposed to use those buses to get to or from work, I really don't know! And let's not talk about the local motorway traffic which seems to get more congested year on year.

As a city, Worcester seems to be suffering from lack of job and career prospects, especially for young people, despite being home to a large university. It's a nice enough place to live with beautiful countryside nearby, a river running through it, a sizeable Marks & Spencer in the High Street and some lovely places to eat and drink. But that's the trouble, the new job opportunities in the city are all hinged on retail and catering jobs. Gone are the days of the big employers like Kays Catalogue, Dents Gloves, Cinderella Shoes, Worcester Royal Porcelain and Metalbox. Maybe, it was like this back in the 1980s when I left school. The majority of my generation left Worcester at the earliest opportunity. A few stayed, but they could be counted on the fingers of one hand. A lot of us left for London. I certainly did and I wasn't alone.

I'd love to see an innovation space in Worcester - in the city centre - showcasing young retail and creative talent and giving them the opportunity to try out their ideas in the city and providing a business hub. I've always thought the old Corn Exchange would make a great space for that. It has been lying empty for so long with a string of failed restaurants behind it, yet it's in a central  location in an interesting and historical building. Or failing that, the Angel restaurant could be reverted back to a market hall but focused on new retailers and have a mix of small office and retail units. I'm heartened to find out that there is an organisation who have similar desires called The Kiln. I'm interested to see what they come up with and wish them every success.

I mentioned all this in passing in a conversation I had with friend and retail expert, Eva Pascoe, and she was telling me that the network effect of new technology was boosting cities and was keeping smaller towns and cities down. It's not something I'd really heard before but it made sense. This article, 'The problem with London Guilt' explains how that works in more detail and why London has become so dominant over other British cities over the years.

I'm not sure where that leaves places like Worcester but it makes for interesting reading to understand the dynamics we're living in right now and why the focus is on 'smart cities' rather than 'smart towns' or 'smart villages'.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on the topic.

Revisiting proximity marketing

I cut my teeth in mobile marketing in location-based services, or proximity marketing as it's now known, way back in 2000. I was Head of Customer Experience for a new outfit called ZagMe (now long gone) where we sent SMS text messages to customers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls while they were out shopping. We were not only pioneers of mobile advertising, we were also pioneers of location based mobile advertising, and we were way ahead of our time.

Fast forward 16 years and proximity marketing is making the headlines again. Retailers are experimenting with geo-fencing, location based targeted advertising online and beacon-enabled apps. It has been a couple of years since I last took a good look at the sector. You can see the video here of the interview I did with David Murphy from Mobile Marketing Magazine talking about the history of location based services.

If you have an interest in this technology and its practical application, you my be interested at this upcoming Mediatel event, sponsored by Proxama, that I'm participating in on the morning of Monday 12th September in London. I'm looking forward to hearing about up to date case studies and I'm hoping brands and agencies have learned the lessons from the past. We'll see... 

And if you'd like a history lesson in how mobile proximity marketing began, here are a couple of videos from BBC News and Channel 5 explaining how ZagMe worked. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

#TBT From the Archives - On this day in 2006

On this day in 2006, I wrote about Coca Cola embracing mobile marketing in Japan. That's 10 years ago! The gist of the service was that they could pay for Coca Cola in vending machines using an app that was NFC enabled or by using a personal QR code. They would then earn loyalty points for each purchase. To think we're only just seeing mobile payments here in the UK...

You can read the original post here.

Off hours mobile usage is covered in this short post from 10 years ago prompted by the Puzzler Media project Tom Hume was working on at the time. That is, usage of mobile devices at home in the wee hours of the morning rather than the received wisdom at the time of mobile being used mainly 'on the go'.

And the final one I'll share from the archives today is this one about Carling and a campaign they were running 10 years ago. There's a text in call to action and you get a wap link back (we are talking the days of Nokia N95 handsets and their ilk). Then there's a bar finder and a mobile game you can download and play. As a campaign mechanic, it's probably not that different from a lot of the campaigns we see today. The main difference is the call to action. Then it was SMS to WAP and now it's more likely to be a banner ad or social media triggering the download.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

To Adblock or not to Adblock, that is the Question(naire)

Well, it's one of the questions that crosses my mind as 2016 seems to be the year of the Adblock Wars. I'm busy collating a bunch of resources and thinking around the topic and I will write about it here in due course.

However, having worked in mobile advertising and media for 16 years, I am more than a little interested in what's happening in the sector. I've been heard to lament the lack of innovation in mobile advertising many times and I am still frustrated that, as an industry, we are so focussed on the banner ad but maybe the times are a-changing with the debate around adblockers, click fraud, 'sponsored' or 'branded' content.

So indulge me if you will, and please complete my short questionnaire about your usage (or non-usage) of ad-blockers and mobile advertising. I'm not judging you! I just want to get a picture of what's going on in the sector which will confirm or deny some of my hunches.

I will compile the results and try and make some sense out of them. I have no idea what insight may result, but let's see what happens. If nothing else, the answers will help me formulate my next series of events. Please also share it with colleagues, friends and family. It shouldn't take you more than a few minutes to complete as it's mostly tick boxes.

If you can't easily access the form below to complete, you can follow this link instead. And if you'd like to share the survey with friends and colleagues, please feel free to copy/paste this link

Monday, August 22, 2016

Picking up the Pace Again

I haven't been paying enough attention to my personal blog of late (this last few days excepted) so I'm giving myself a challenge to pick up the pace again and write something 5 times a week (i.e. week days). I may not publish each time I write, but if I write that frequently, then there's half a chance that I'll write some articles I think are worth publishing and therefore, will increase my output over the coming weeks and months. It's all too easy to publish on Facebook and Twitter and then you can lose the things you've been talking about. If I can collate everything there, then it can act as my searchable archive.

If you've found this post, then you know my blog is here at . There's a box in the side bar where you can add your email address and that means you'll get an email for each day that I publish a new article. On days I don't write anything, you won't receive anything. It's completely free. If you prefer to hang out on Facebook, you can follow me there at and I'm going to do my best to cross post each article there too.  And if Twitter is more your thing, I'm there too under the moniker @technokitten. You'll also find me on Google+ and LinkedIn and you can follow me there. If you would like to add me as a connection on LinkedIn, please personalise the request so that I can see how we know each other.

I mostly write about mobile technology, but not exclusively. I'm also interested in digital apps and services in general (and how that impacts on our lives), the ethics and usage of Artificial Intelligence, the future of media (especially news), mobile marketing and advertising (well, I've been working in the sector for over 15 years), wearable devices and the Internet of Things (that's gadgets we wear and gadgets that talk to each other). I come to these topics as a pragmatist or analyst rather than an evangelist. I'm not a programmer so although I may lurch into technical speak from time to time, it shouldn't be beyond the understanding of a non-techie. I also share links to what I'm reading if I think it's worth wider thought or discussion or I'm searching for opinions.

And yes, I also use my blog to promote the events and initiatives I produce and support.

(I'm also relatively close to a milestone number of blog posts published over the years so that's another incentive for me to keep writing.)

Thanks in advance for your support.

Things that make you go hmmm about advertising & journalism

I'm cooking up both a longer blog post and a discussion event about ad blocking, future of advertising (which is also the future of journalism in some ways), business models to support both/either etc. I'm hoping to be able to hold the event in September. Watch this space.
In the meantime, here's some food for thought on journalism, advertising and business models
TLDR : Mother Jones', a US title, published a groundbreaking story on prisons that contributed to a change in government policy. It cost $350,000 and generated $5,000 in online ad revenue and is now looking at a donation business model.

(The irony isn't lost on me that I read the article while using an ad-blocker.)

(via rather good weekly newsletter)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On the Relentless Pursuit of a Meaningful Life

Screenshot of page one of an image search 21 August 2016

I don’t know if your Facebook feed is anything like mine, but mine is chock full of friends, contacts and brands sharing motivational quotes, affirmations, tips on meditation and mindfulness, yoga poses, and useful articles to hack your life, reach your goals, follow your dreams and be the best version of you that you can be. I know you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about. In theory, these are all things to help us live a happier and more fulfilled life, about finding our purpose and to improve.

I’m not immune to this stuff either. I’ve shared a lot of this stuff on social media myself. I’ve done the Tony Robbins thing twice (albeit more than 10 years ago now) and found it very beneficial both times I went. The first time I went, I can remember coming away thinking I must have a big purpose in me, but ten years later and I’m still none the wiser as to what that is. I’ve also read my fair share of self-help books. Well, I’ve read a few of them cover to cover, others I’ve just dipped in and out of. Some remain firmly unread.

Here is one such article I was reading on Saturday morning by Umair Haque, ‘Three Rules for a Meaningful Life’ which prompted this thinking. It’s not bad advice per se – it’s about finding meaning and the genius within for a happy life. And it’s written from the heart, I’m sure.

But what if there is no meaning, or at least no particular meaning for you? What if you haven’t found that life’s purpose that gets you leaping out of bed in the morning? What if financial or familial responsibilities and circumstance dictate living your life in a different way than one of pursuing your dreams? What if you never had a dream in the first place?

Not everyone is born knowing they want to be an accountant, doctor, mechanic or entrepreneur. I daresay there are few who actually know what they want to do when they grow up but I’m sure it’s not universal. I’ve always felt that people who have always known what they want and are able to pursue that are incredibly lucky. They don’t face years of indecision and worry about whether or not they’re making the right choices in life. That frees them up to, you know, pursue their dream.

I shared this on Facebook on Saturday – you can read and comment on the thread here as it’s public. I couldn’t find the original article I was reading about it being ok to NOT have meaning in your life and to muddle through. I remember when I read it feeling more than a little relief. Not having an over-arching ‘purpose’ has made me feel like I’m missing out or not contributing enough or something and that it was something I should have but don’t and on reading this article, I realised that it’s ok to not have a purpose too or to have great meaning in your life.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. How do you deal with this stuff? Do you have your purpose and meaning sorted out and live your life by it? Is it possible to feel fulfilled and engaged with life without a ‘purpose’? Does it matter?

In lieu of the specific article, I have found some other articles of interest and others have shared theirs and I’ve listed the links below for further reading on the topic.

Online articles (all free to read and in no particular order)

Mark Manson, 7 Strange Questions That Help you Find your Life Purpose.

The Meanings of Life by Professor Roy F Baumeister

The Jam Study Strikes Back. This is fascinating. The gist here is that too much choice of jam on the supermarket shelf results in fewer sales. We only have so much capacity for decision making and when there’s too much choice we become demotivated and end up choosing nothing. I think there’s a lot in this that could relate to our digital lives too. It’s something I’ll have to come back to.

Iona Goulder: Why Trying to Be Happy Makes us Anxious

A History of Happiness – William James

Kali Holloway, The Salon, Wellness is Making us Sick. How Corporate America’s Mantra Leaves us All Feeling Inadequate.

James Clear, Why having no goals in life can make you happier and more successful. TLDR Systems are better than goals.

Kyle Eschenroeder, 5 Reasons why you should stop thinking about purpose in your life. TLDR  ‘those of us who don't have a clearly defined purpose shouldn't let it bother us’.

Anke Holst, A Lesson On Indiscriminate Change (the topic is tackled about half way and continued in the comments)

Book recommendations

The Art of Choosing. The decisions we make everyday of our lives and what they say about us and how we can improve them by Sheena Iyengar

The Tyranny of Choice by Renata Salecl

Friday, August 19, 2016

Move over PokemonGo, You're PokemonGone with FreeBetHunt on the loose

The recent frenzy around the augmented reality PokemonGo mobile game can’t have escaped most of you. Whether it was you, your friends, your colleagues or your children who were hooked, there’s no doubt that PokemenGo had an immediate impact with some crazy scenes of mass PokemonGo players from across the globe. In case you missed the frenzy, my friend George did a little video about it to help explain the overnight sensation that was 20 years in the making.

I must admit, I did succumb, briefly, to see what all the fuss was about. It was kinda fun to play in Central London and it was kinda fun to compare which Pokemon you had with friends. But outside of that, not so much fun when you’re outside a big city due to lack of Pokestops and lack of Pokemon to actually catch that weren’t Rattatas, Spearows or Pidgeys. It also slowed down my walking when I’m actively trying to increase both my step count and the effort I put into my steps.

When PokemonGo first hit the market, you could see people playing locally where I live as it turned them into Pokemon zombies wandering aimlessly near Pokestops searching for rare virtual creatures. But that’s all but stopped now from what I can tell as the novelty has worn off. I deleted the app from my phone last week. The vibe was over.

It seems, however, that I was wrong. Brands are now getting in on the act and coming up with their own PokemonGo inspired geo-targeted treasure hunts.

The first is a game from betting company, 888Sport, imaginatively entitled 'Free Bet Hunt'. Instead of hunting Pokemon, you can hunt free bets around football stadiums.

FreeBetHunt is not quite as pretty as Pikachu's virtual playground. However, that may not matter. I’m not exactly the target market for this as I neither bet nor have any interest in football despite my surname being the same as a famous footballer of the late 20th Century. So, is this a winning strategy to get football fans betting more? I don’t know. How interested are 21st Century football fans with virtual treasure hunts? I guess time will tell. I welcome your comments on that score. I do applaud 888Sport on their speed to market though and their willingness to experiment with new technologies.

More info on how to play here (you need to be over 18 and have an 888Sport account and have deposited actual money in it in order to qualify).

Friday Tidbits

I’ve been neglecting my blog in favour of Facebook and I think it’s time to get back to my blog and give it some tlc. I’m going to start with an easy post listing some things I’ve been reading and thinking about lately. So here goes...

Jakob Nielsen talks sense about UX in the corporate world. The older readers among you will no doubt remember Mr Nielsen from the early days of the web and his seminal book Designing Web Usability – The Practice of Simplicity. Well, he’s still around and still dishing out sound advice such as in this podcast and interview about how to tackle usability in the corporate world.

Male exec gets it completely wrong on diversity within the ad industry and has to resign his very senior and very well paid role within global ad agency. Read all about it here.

Brexit – A story in maps. This article is fascinating whichever way you did or didn’t vote. It’s not nearly as clear cut as we might have thought and the picture is more complex than London, Northern Ireland and Scotland are in and the rest of the UK voted out. It depends on which way you cut and interpret the data for a much more nuanced view. I don’t envy Theresa May and the job she has on her hands right now.

A great read on burnout here – a modern day and very real affliction. “Burnout is not simply a symptom of working too hard. It is also the body and mind crying out for an essential human need: a space free from the incessant demands and expectations of the world. In the consulting room, there are no targets to be hit, no achievements to be crossed off. The amelioration of burnout begins in finding your own pool of tranquility where you can cool off’.”