Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Opinions worth investing in

Further evidence of the power of opinion online today. The influential French-based venture capitalists, Banexi Ventures Partners, have today announced an investment in Reevoo, the online publishers of genuine customer reviews.

What's significant is that Banexi successfully backed Kelkoo, the price comparison site, that subsequently sold to Yahoo for nearly 500m Euros a few years ago. In the announcement of the investment, out this morning, Banexi have said the following:

“Online promotional strategies need to engage with what the customer is
thinking and wanting. Other promotional mechanics, such as price comparison,
have been damaged by a very mixed quality of execution. The strength of
Reevoo is that the published customer opinions are always real and unvarnished,
which means that the model is untarnished. This creates a win/win/win ecosystem: shoppers want clarity about the products they’re thinking of buying, retailers are more credible for hosting real opinions and product manufacturers are looking for direct and meaningful feedback from consumers.”

To me, this is further evidence that the web is becoming an increasingly qualitative medium - it's opinions as opposed to quanitiative measures that have the most powerful impact on user behaviour. There's no better evidence than Reevoo's feedback from their retail partners, that include a host of UK household names. Retailers report that conversion rates for products are 80-100% higher when they sit adjacent to genuine customer reviews from Revoo.

It's almost as though customers have been put in charge of the stores - now there's an idea.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The power of the network

So, the BBC is radically reshaping the way in which it manages news. News operations will now be organised on cross-platform lines, via an integrated newsroom. Correspondents will be tasked with delivering content across all BBC platforms, including television, radio and online. There are likely to be fewer stories covered, though the ones that are will be covered in greater depth and will reach a wider viewership / readership / listenership / surfership. For any organisation keen on generating publicity, the ability to build professional relationships with correspondents will become even more important.

Similarly, the Telegraph is no longer a newspaper; it is a multimedia organisation, delivering content through the paper, the website, Telegraph TV and podcasts. Correspondents are confronting the reality of an “enhanced” set of deadlines as the organisation’s audience look to it for guidance on news throughout the day. The correspondent is key, and the relationship with the correspondent is key.

Against the backdrop of this escalating pressure, how does a news organisation or a correspondent deal with the challenge of combing through the vast array of information that crosses his / her desk each day? The network becomes increasingly important, but the old ways of managing relationships – meetings, lunches, phone calls, events, press conferences – are all getting squeezed out (most journalists these days would easily pass the liver function test) as the correspondent is increasingly tied to his/her desk. The journalist’s network used to be the contact book, consulted with relative languor, but this is not as efficient as it was. Relationships, vital as they are to journalists and PRs, need to manifest themselves in a different way. More people will be chasing fewer journalists.

I think that social networking is part of the answer. Facebook isn’t a flash in the pan – it reflects a fundamental shift in the way that we connect. Many businesses and professionals are already using Facebook as means to engage in what I call ambient networking – displaying their activities, ideas and thought processes to colleagues and contacts in a way that keeps them, if not front of mind, then at the very least within easy access of valued contacts. It can keep the contact fresh without the ill-afforded luxury of other relationship management techniques.

An increasing number of my key contacts are “Facebook friends” and my page provides a glimpse into what I’m working on on behalf of my clients. I’m sure it works, because many of those contacts that are within my network are in touch with me on a more regular basis than those that aren’t. I don’t abuse the connections, but I’m there if they need to speak, I’ll intermittently nudge someone, and I use my status update occasionally to give people a sense of what I’m up to that day if I think it has wider interest. Of course all the other contact methods apply, but I think Facebook adds a helpful dimension in many, if not all, cases.

The same changes are applying elsewhere, as organisations – and seemingly life itself – demand more of us in less time. The social networking model is gaining momentum as a business management tool. Huddle (, for example, enables users to create collaborative workspaces with friends, colleagues and business partners, with a few clicks of a mouse. Huddle has just launched a Facebook application that enables friends within the Facebook community to set up collaborative groups. The same conditions of access and efficiency apply.

The old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, is probably in need of some refinement in every walk of life. For today’s networker, it’s more likely to read “It’s what you know, it’s who you know, and it’s how you stay close”.

Memory lane #2 (well, I'd buy one!)

Monday, 3 March 2008

Network contagion

So much is written about social networking these days that you really need to be a hermit to keep on top of it.

Wading through it all, I spotted two stories this week that I found interesting:

The first, in today’s Telegraph, reports a TNS study that shows that British businesses are missing a trick by not investing enough time in taking advantage of the power (for good and for bad) of these networks.

It quotes Jim Nail of TNS as saying: "It is surprising to see that the UK is lagging so far behind other major nations in terms of recognising the business potential for social media. We are already seeing the damage done to brands who ignore negative publicity on networking sights(sic)."

Tsk, tsk.

The second, here, makes the case that it isn’t just fashions in the likes of shoes or music that spread through social networks - emotions, such as happiness, loneliness and altruism - or conditions such as anorexia or obesity - can potentially spread as well. This idea of "network contagion" is compellingly expressed.

If the author, Nicholas Christakis, is right, it opens up a vipers' nest of ethical issues - and a gold rush as a new wave of experts emerge to help businesses exploit social networking's commercial potential.

Esrever ni gnilletyrots

I recently met up with an old friend who I haven’t seen for a while. He’d been in that deep hibernation phase of early parenthood: the patch when any trip away from the house with his son feels as complex as leaving the Apollo lunar lander to have a stroll around the moon.

Time has moved on, his son is now walking, the contents of shelves have been moved higher, and the kid is no longer responding positively to perfectly reasonable requests.

I asked him whether he had yet used his “reverse psychology” day. He looked at me puzzled and I explained what most battle scarred parents know: that there is a one-day window when you can use reverse instructions to get your child to do something and give yourself a break from the drudgery of asking, asking, asking to no effect.

“DON’T eat that broccoli,” you insist. “Do NOT turn off the telly,” “I’m sorry but there’s NO WAY you are having a bath tonight.”

The response from the kid is predictably rebellious, thereby achieving the parent’s Machiavellian ends. Sadly, the tactic works for no more than 24 hours, as the kid wises up, generally at the point that he/she takes a mouthful of swede.

There are many different contexts in which the same principle of counter-intuition can work in a more enduring fashion, though the difference is that the deliverer and the recipient are co-conspirators. The world of PR and media relations, for example. What makes news, any journalist will tell us, is not “dog bites man”, it’s “man bites dog”.

When I was in-house as director of media relations for a large retailer, I developed a bit of a reputation for being the “grim reaper” in my sector, killing off a range of technologies, from the VCR, through the 35mm camera to the floppy disk and most recently the analogue television.

Many of my colleagues used to ask me why I was bothering to do something that was so patently anti-what the business was trying to do, ie, sell more kit.

The answer, of course, is that a press release headed “Company A sells flat screen tellies” is unlikely to make the Six O’Clock news or the front page or the leader column of the Guardian, the Times or the Sun.

On the other hand, an announcement that creates the conditions for nostalgic reflection (“RIP, XYZ”) has a much better chance of generating many pages of newsprint and hours of broadcast during which there are plentiful opportunities to wax lyrical about what you ARE selling.

Much of the art of successful PR, in my opinion, is about running in the opposite direction from the one that the audience expects. After all, whichever way you run, as long as you’re running in a straight line, you’ll end up in the same place. It’s just that one route is more interesting than the other.

Incidentally, I got a call from my friend a couple of days after I’d seen him. He said that he’d had a great Sunday with the reverse psychology trick up until lunchtime when his son, clearly thirsty, had unknowingly poured himself a neat glass of undiluted orange cordial. Spotting what he’d done, milliseconds before the glass arrived at his lips, my friend shouted across the kitchen, “Don’t drink that.”

Memory lane

In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream

I worked with Reevoo recently, the business that publishes genuine customer reviews on retailers’ websites, on a study that looked at the influence of opinion on buying behaviour online. The results surprised me. I knew that medium like the web was likely to elevate the importance of the opinions of others in the choices that we make, but what I didn’t expect was the massive impact that opinion has versus advertising. Opinions have five times the impact.

The YouGov study for Reevoo found that six out of ten people (60%) said online opinions written by consumers who have already bought a product would affect their choice of what to buy. In contrast, just 12% said they would be swayed by online advertising.

The study also found that shoppers are beginning to wake up to the possibility of fake reviews and won’t believe everything they read online. While eight out of ten (79%) are influenced by impartial ratings from shoppers who have definitely bought a product, only 14% would trust review programmes that are directly managed by retailers. More than a third (36%) of consumers are worried about the authenticity of retailer-managed customer review programmes.

This is, of course, an invaluable insight for all online retailers, but there are lessons in this for everyone in the communications trade, especially in the context of online communications. Informed, interested views matter much more than blatant plugs. Sure, banner ads, search engine optimisation, price comparison and all the other tools play their part, but when you strip at all away, it is views and opinions that are more likely to sway sentiment in favour of a business, its products and services.

You’ll find more on Reevoo here and you’ll find their logo and customer reviews peppered throughout the UK’s virtual high street. If the Consumers’ Association was to start all over, I suspect it would look a bit like Reevoo does today.

Twelve Thirty Eight puts RoadTour on the map

A selection of coverage generated by Twelve Thirty Eight for the launch of RoadTour, the World's first satellite navigation audio tour guide.

BBC One O'Clock News

Click here to view

The Guardian

Click here to view

Guardian Unlimited

Click here to view

The Times

Click here to view

BBC South East News

Click here to view


Click here to view

Which? magazine

Click here to view

"Today's newspapers are tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper", says the CEO. We think not", say City analysts.

Here's a link to a piece of research that we did last year amongst senior City analysts. It explored the role of positive media coverage in foming their opinions and ascribing value to the companies that they track. What interested us most was the following:

1. The evident disconnect between the value that analysts ascribe to press coverage and the value that many CEOs ascribe to it

2. The clear importance of quality press coverage in the front of the paper (ie, not just the business pages) to analysts in formulating their views

3. One senior analyst went so far as to say that good consumer PR could add a point or two to the PE ratio of a business

Many directors of communications that we speak to privately moan about their CEO / MD's reluctance to engage with the media. We hope that this research is a useful and persuasive tool in making the case for CEOs to think and behave differently.

Old PR formula: X + Y = maybe. Our formula: X + Y = likely.

I recently set up a PR and reputation consultancy, following twenty years in-house as a director comms for a range of retail, technology and professional services businesses.

I've taken the view that the worlds of media, PR and business are all changing at such a dramatic pace that it is time to tackle the way that businesses communicate with the media, and through it their customers, in a new and more effective way.

All our senior are either former in-house communicators or former national journalists, from broadcast and print. We're well connected and our reputation and effectiveness rest on our ability to place interesting, brand-enhancing stories under the gaze of millions of eyeballs.

So far, so good. Every one of our clients is the regular recipient of substantial levels of national press and broadcast coverage - and our reputation is growing, both as a source of great stories and as expert counsel to our clients.

A senior editor at the BBC recently described to me the emergence of "ambient news", supplied by fewer journalists, challenged to deliver their content across multiple media. An editor at the Daily Telegraph recently told me that he no longer sees the Telegraph as a newspaper - today it is a multimedia organisation.

The old methodologies that were used by businesses and PR advisors - what some would describe as old-fashioned warfare - lobbing a press release out of your trench and hoping for the best - no longer apply. If the media is changing, so too must the PR advisor. For us, relationships are everything, and judging by the reaction to date, we may be on to something....