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Contains three case study analytic pieces and four reports on course-related literature
By Maxim Peskin
Hult International Business School San Francisco, USA
Introduction to Digital Marketing – E-Consultancy case studies analyses
1. Measuring advertising performance: should Facebook defy conventional parameters? http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/10401-is-ctr-an-irrelevant-metric-for-facebook-ads This post on Econsultancy blog deals with the highly controversial problem of online ad effectiveness measurement. The globally accepted practice is to use Click-Through Rates (CTR) parameter. However, following the recent disclosure of Q2 financial results of Facebook and the common understanding that negative bottomline is a direct consequence of poor advertising revenue due to weak CTR figures, a few dissenting voices have emerged claiming that CTR is fundamentally irrelevant in the particular case of social network ad placements. While some of those voices, according to Econsultancy blog, were Facebook executives and therefore meant chiefly to defend their company’s stance in the eyes of investment community, others were more sincerely concerned with whether the metrics used in online advertising world actually make sense. From a theoretical point of view, the assumption that usage scenarios affect click-through rates is quite reasonable: Google ads should be expected to and indeed do have higher CTR exactly because the user is more likely to already be looking for something when shown a related ad. This logic also explains why the only factor to make a significant difference in terms of ads CTR on Facebook is changing the very nature of ads, from banner ads that active web users have learned to ignore completely by now to engaging story-telling content-rich ads that are just too interesting for the user to ignore out of hand. In fact, this is very much in line with the core marketing idea of the past two decades: the death of interruption advertising and the subsequent emergence of more sophisticated marketing communications that integrate brand messages seamlessly with the content currently consumed by the user. On one hand, this concept was first envisioned years before social network services appeared in their present glory (e.g., Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology, first published in 2008, reads extremely dated now). On the other hand, the concept itself is correct. Contextual advertising championed by Google is just the tip of the iceberg; story-telling ads in social networks and other social services (first and foremost Youtube) are the next step. But if some people claim CTR is plainly inapplicable to social network ads while others point out that there are some ways to increase CTR, essentially by making ads more interactive and social, where does the truth lie and what are the possible implications for telecoms industry? It would seem that CTR shows precisely what it was designed to but its values must be taken with a grain of salt. Impressions matter and even consciously ignored ads could be imprinted in users’ memory (which is what Facebook people claim). At the same time, a more productive approach would be to construct more engaging advertising and then tailor the effectiveness metrics to the specific campaign: after all, if the target, the message and the vehicle are unique, why should measurement be a template solution? Telecoms are among the lucky few industries where businesses have data allowing them to create very engaging and at the same time very targeted user-centred advertising. (Suppose they find a legally acceptable way to utilise the data.) Then the challenge would be to design ads that not only tell an amusing story but also connect strongly to the actual experience of this particular user, both in terms of his or her past interactions with the brand and current patterns of behaviour on the social network. In a nutshell, the key success factor in the age of convergence is the ability to deliver content that is perceived as valuable by the user.
2. Making telecoms online stores work http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/10382-eight-conversion-essentials-for-telecom-e-shops This article published by Econsultancy blog lists a number of tactical measures which are essential to building an effective and efficient online store in the telecoms industry. It mainly focuses on B2C telecom services providers such as mobile network operators but the general ideas can be applied to a wide range of other markets and sectors of the industry as well. The key tactics for optimising the online store performance, as outlined in the article, are: Making sure unique value propositions are immediately visible on the front page: this is necessary to break through the perception of telecom services and devices as commodities Providing meaningful category pages with such navigation tools as filters, sort options, priority settings, etc.: this helps facilitate consumer choice and enhance the overall experience Delivering rich product-related content such as videos and interactive demonstrations: this serves to build confidence in the client, reassure the customer that the choice was correct and therefore lead him or her smoothly to making the purchase Creating a step-by-step selling process: a crucial technique to simplify and structure the customer’s choices as well as to increase revenues, since clients can be prompted to buy addons or features they might have overlooked or rejected if left to their own devices Enhancing suggestion engines: it would be beneficial from both financial and strategic perspectives to eliminate unnecessary attempts at cross-selling, because overwhelming choice typically frustrates the user, hence decreasing the chances of him or her buying anything
There seem to be two core implicit points underlying all of these marketing suggestions. The first one is to simplify the navigation while improving the value it adds to the website, a notion closely matching the most passionate message of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. However a few ideas can be added on top of what both writers put forward: for instance, they seem to neglect the potential use of tags as a navigation tool. Ordinary navigation that does not use tags is inherently hierarchical; it is only through adopting a new parallel hierarchy that an additional dimension can be introduced. Technically, it is a complex process of implanting new buttons and levers that is long, expensive and increasingly painful for all website stakeholders. Tags, in contrast, easily create an infinite number of groups, or arrays, of elements without imposing any hierarchical components and are much easier to maintain. The second principle underlying the suggested marketing tactics is to follow (or better yet, predict) the customer choice and purchase process with relevant website features and gizmos. This is probably even more crucial for telecoms industry since some websites fail to sell completely while others are too assertive and literally try to force the user to purchase “the latest offer”. Both approaches disregard the customer process; the former assumes the customer is smart enough to find everything he or she needs without any help whereas the latter regards the customer as passive and suggestible; naturally, neither approach is nearly as effective as the one based on respect and trust. (Note that tags are also relevant here, since there is evident logical preference for hierarchy-reflecting navigation and search elements at every step of the purchasing process. Tags are of little use at the initial browsing stage but become increasingly helpful during the choice selection, confirmation and/or revision stages.) The list of tactical website improvements given in the article allows for immediate direct application. The tactical nature of the suggestions guarantees they would be suitable for telecom businesses pursuing a wide range of strategies. Furthermore, if applied all together, these tactical ideas generate a powerful synergetic effect, transforming the website in the spirit of the two “founding principles”.
3. Personalisation on the web: general guidelines and measurement caveats http://econsultancy.com/us/reports/quarterly-digital-intelligence-briefing-personalisation-trustand-roi The fifth instalment of Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing produced by Econsultancy and sponsored by Adobe focuses on website personalisation: the core issues covered and supported by a survey of over 400 client-side and agency-employed marketers are the strategic dimension of personalisation, actual implementation techniques, potential impact on performance and means to measure this impact. The report begins on a rather positive note since about half the respondents agree the ability to personalise content is fundamental to their online strategy; however only about 40% claim they have a strategic commitment and not just a vague intent and slightly over 30% say they currently possess the instruments to make it work. But perhaps the most worrying number is the one reflecting attitude to testing: only 33% of respondents are positive that they run tests to gauge the effectiveness of personalisation and less that 30% run focused comparative tests to choose the best type of personalised content, despite the sizeable costs of getting it wrong. Without personalised content (or with content personalised incorrectly), according to the marketers surveyed, the user experience would unavoidably be “unintelligent”, “baseline” and “completely generic”; furthermore, irrelevant offers would naturally cause lower customer engagement thus negatively affecting sales, profits and brand image. In short, content personalisation is generally accepted as a necessary aspect of strategic web presence management. This raises the question of data gathering, as there are many sources to choose from and personalisation can only be meaningful if it relies on accurate information about the user. The report states personal user data as the most popular source (used by 34% of the respondents), followed by explicit user preferences and browser history; social data, on the other hand, gained a measly 6% of the vote. It would seem to suggest there is more potential to using social data than most marketers have tapped into yet – a suspicion proven by ROI and engagement impact figures for different data sources. By and large, there is a noticeable inverse correlation between the popularity and the productivity of data sources: personal data has the lowest impact in both categories while social data is the absolute leader. Strangely enough, personal data has a much higher impact on engagement than ROI; it might be explained by the fact that in order to obtain data from this source the company has to invest substantially in building trust and/or generating “thought leadership” content that can be exchanged for the personal data that users are typically very reluctant to disclose. Even more strikingly, browser history has very weak impact on engagement compared to other data sources. In other words, “we know where you’ve been” message clearly based on tracking cookies could only help irritate the user. The report concludes that social data is the next big thing in personalisation initiatives even despite considerable privacy concerns, citing early examples such as KLM Meet&Seat programme that allows customers to contact their flight mates in advance. The implications for the telecoms industry are also stupefying. Telecom companies usually have access to enormous arrays of data on user behaviour and preferences; combined with social data, this insight can be used for real-time personalisation of their web presences – not only content-wise but also in terms of layout and functionality – so as to target and engage the customer with absolute precision. It is a dramatic paradigm shift for product design as well: cross-analysing these data will allow telecom companies to instantly adapt their offer (the only real limiting factor being the computational capability!), generating solutions that are both pre-packaged and tailored – or choosing to entertain the user extensively if it seems to suit the profile more – or perhaps taking him/her straight to the “assembly shop” to play with knobs and dials that a user from a different segment would hardly be interested in and therefore would not even be shown, and so on.
Introduction to Digital Marketing – Reading assignment 1
The purpose of this short essay is to discuss two ideas of my choice from the “42 Rules for a Web Presence that Wins” book by Philippa Gamse. The ideas – those that had struck me as the most powerful – are appointing a web ambassador (rule 2) and creating user personas (rule 18). The key purpose of appointing a web ambassador is to create and communicate a sense of strategic importance behind all online activities of the business and to foster alignment between general strategy and web presence and activities of the company. This ambassador figure – most definitely a high-ranking executive – will have both clearly defined responsibilities and organisational capacity to achieve these objectives, as well as the experience and informal leadership to make sure he is not simply ignored by corporate officers. He or she will serve as the communicator between IT development and top management of the company – an arrangement that can bring multiple benefits to both parties. First and foremost, this effectively prevents the silo perspective and corresponding detached attitude to websites that can emerge within poorly connected departments: the web ambassador ensures that the website is not perceived as the sole domain of IT people but is a company-wide asset with every department holding a stake. Secondly, web projects get a strong champion who is capable of securing and allocating necessary resources effectively, at the same time being sufficiently remote from the departmental politics and impartial in his or her judgement. Furthermore, one of the core functions of the web ambassador is analysing the trends and patterns demonstrated by the web presence of the company from the strategic point of view – i.e. focusing on the mutual relationships between the online activities, on one hand, and offline communications, brands, strategies and visions, on the other. This effectively means that the web ambassador is partly a brand manager and a strategist. It is a balancing role, since he or she ensures the dominance of general business strategy over web initiatives; yet at the same time the web ambassador provides strategic-level insight into what the web has to offer. The list is potentially endless, but, as every good idea, appointing a web ambassador is probably an advice that must be used in moderation. For companies with strategically aligned, efficient web presence, wider distribution of responsibilities might prove a more appropriate solution than creating a single power centre (which would perhaps be a return to the past structure). It is also possible that, instead of strengthening communication throughout the organisation, an inexperienced web ambassador can end up creating yet another silo – together with cementing the feeling that the website is “just this guy’s business”. This serves to prove that although creating the web ambassador position is a good solution to some problems faced by the company, it is a rather complex process – far from being a cure for each and every ailment.
Website development is one of the responsibilities of the web ambassador, but how does one know a website is good? A simple question that has no easy answer; however the second idea from the book – creating user personas – offers an intriguing approach to this problem. One of the crucial issues in website development – both when a website is developed from scratch and when an existing one is being redesigned or enhanced – is the elusiveness of perspective, that is, the viewpoint from which the questions like ‘what should the website be?’, ‘what should it do?’, etc. are answered. The perspective that truly matters is the users’ but it is the developers’ own perspective that tends to dominate dangerously throughout the development process. User personas are a relatively simple solution with immense potential. The idea is quite straightforward: you generate a list of user groups for your website using typical market segmentation techniques (note that socio-demographic factors may be less important than psychographic and/or behavioural) and then design the possible usage scenarios for every segment identified, building action sequence trees with “inputs” and “choice moments” and other elements. This relies on behavioural analysis and essentially is as much a creative exercise as it is an analytical effort. There is no single correct way to arrive at a user group profile; what is substantial is the relevance of the description. In other words, an actionable user persona has to portray user behaviour in meaningful detail, yielding specific suggestions for website designers. Those hints can address all kinds of problems, from visual design to website structure to copy language to logical sequence of the purchase process. Just as with the user profile generation, it is not the content that is crucial to implementing this idea but the context, the general approach. In a world where every business claims to be customer oriented, surprisingly few companies actually employ this method to aid their website construction: from my personal experience it seems like maybe one or two out of a thousand do, and a dozen more are only beginning to test the ground. There can be no justification for overlooking this opportunity anymore. A strategically aligned web presence must demonstrate strong user engagement (note this is not necessarily dull “user friendliness” since teasing and taunting a client – sometimes called retromarketing – is proving to be an increasingly effective strategy) which implies, among other things, predicting the user reactions in order to build a captivating online experience. The popular way to realise this is to pile heap after heap of add-ons to the website, adapting it to real user behaviour scenarios at the cost of technical efficiency. By contrast, the logical way would be to analyse these behaviour patterns in advance and utilise the insights straight in the website building phase: exactly what the user personas are there for. User personas have to do with the tactics of creating a winning web presence; appointing a web ambassador is a strategic action pursuing the same goal. It is essential that the strategic and tactical decisions related to the online activities of the company are coordinated – just as the web strategy is aligned with the general corporate strategy and specific tactical initiatives on the web are aligned with corresponding tactical moves.
Introduction to Digital Marketing – Reading assignment 2
The purpose of this short essay is to discuss three ideas of my choice from the “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” book by Steve Krug. The ideas – those that had struck me as the most powerful and relevant to the assigned industry of financial services and insurance – are creating prominent taglines and welcome blurbs, eliminating happy talk and finally providing clearly visible structural hierarchy for the website content. The tagline is a short, simple and direct description of what the website is; it is typically placed next to the site logo and answers one of the “four initial questions” identified by Krug – that is, “What is this website?” A welcome blurb usually accompanies it, providing a paragraph of text delineating the website’s offering. Its purpose is to support the tagline, which underscores the importance of alignment and logical connection between tagline and welcome blurb, and also to provide some primary answers to the remaining three “initial questions”: “What do they offer here?”, “What can I do here?” and most prominently “Why should I stay here and go elsewhere?” The latter, in marketing terms, corresponds to portraying your unique value proposition to the client – catching the “so what?” moment, to use a term suggested by Prof. Ronan Gruenbaum during the Information Technology Management course read in London. In short, a tagline gives the user a sense of elementary knowledge whereas a welcome blurb introduces him/her to the website’s value proposition; both serve to create a conceptual location idea in the user’s mind, a place for this particular website in the inner map of the internet. This yields two crucial requirements: using familiar or at least self-evident terms and being very clear and sharp about what you have to offer. How does this apply to the world of financial services? First and foremost, this industry is characterised by increasingly similar, if not convergent product offerings; the differences are either minute and negligible or very specific to the past customer history (i.e. driven primarily by switching costs). Strategically, this implies constant search for new points of differentiation, new business models and new core competencies to use as sources of competitive advantage. It is essential for a website to reflect the unique positioning of the company: since the tagline and the welcome blurb are most likely the first elements seen by the website user, they share the heaviest burden in that respect. Secondly, stating who and what the company is may not be enough (even assuming that the positioning is sufficiently unique and its translation into customer language is succinct and effective). Competitive pressure in what has been historically a vastly rational, fact-based industry appears to prompt smart businesses to opt for more emotions- or experience-driven strategies. Strong brands, in other words, cannot rely on dry facts anymore: it simply does not work. For the tagline and welcome blurb, however, this means the necessity to initiate this emotional contact with the user, perhaps assure him/her that he/she is in safe hands now, invite him/her to a journey or tease and excite him/her slightly.
Getting rid of what Krug refers to as happy talk is one of the most helpful techniques one can use to ensure that the tagline and the welcome blurb are truly effective – which means, among other numerous components, sound, meaningful, clear and helpful to the user. Financial websites – from news and analytics portals to banks’ websites to investment companies’ intranet sites – are festering with happy talk. Given the present fierceness of the competition it stands to plain reason that the less happy talk the better: it hardly adds any substantial value to inform the website user – a prospective or current client – about the company striving or pursuing or aspiring anywhere, since it can be assumed that this is not what makes the business unique. What is required instead is a demonstration of openness and candour, directness and trustworthiness, and last but not least intelligent understanding of why this user is here – which is connected logically to being able to offer the best solutions. For the sake of all of these criteria, it might be even more effective to get rid of the tagline and welcome blurb altogether, as largest banks’ and insurance companies’ websites appear to have done a long time ago! The third idea – creating a clear and visible hierarchy for website content, both in terms of any given page and the website in whole – stands apart from the previous two as it deals with structure and not content itself (note that this distinction is entirely arbitrary and, in our present McLuhanesque world, increasingly nonsensical). Krug maintains that visibility of the website structure is crucial to user’s answering two of the “initial questions” – i.e. “What do they offer here?” and “What can I do here?” Visible hierarchy provides a detailed and comprehensible picture, ensuring that the user is “locked in”. At the same time, clear content structure on any given page can add significant value to this content simply by meeting the expectations engraved in the user’s mind by years of cognitive practice – or destroy content value completely in case the structure makes content absolutely incomprehensible. The latter element is perhaps self-evident, but website structure can be a potential problem for financial websites. They naturally reveal the enormous complexity of the industry and, apart from navigation (which is an entirely different topic), the main issue is making sure that the structure follows the user’s logic. In other words, technical visibility of the structure – providing an honest account of what is where – must go hand in hand with pragmatic clarity – ensuring that things are where the user would expect them to be. This might seem annoying or even offensive to finance professionals but one of the functions of the website structure is to explain what groups or areas products and services belong to, and so on. Simplifying the complex is indeed the leitmotif of Steve Krug’s book. Visible, powerful and enticing taglines and welcome blurbs, meaningful copy or information instead of “happy talk” and last but not least clear and sensible structure are among the key elements that any business must have on their website, regardless of the industry; this essay has shown the value of these for financial services’ websites but it is probable that a business website in some other industry may benefit even more if these ideas are applied properly. There always is room for improvement and enhancement – caveat procurator, though, since the primary guiding principle and measure should always be user value.
Introduction to Digital Marketing – Reading Assignment 3
The purpose of this short essay is to discuss two ideas of my choice from the “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” book by David Meerman Scott. These ideas – those that had struck me as not only the most powerful but also the most relevant to the assigned industry of telecoms – are the notion that both marketing and PR are affected heavily by the advent of the modern web, up to the point of these two disciplines effectively merging into one when the web presence of a business is concerned and, secondly, the concept of thought leadership as a core element of modern online PR activities. The author describes old-fashioned, pre-internet era marketing as governed by such techniques as interruption advertising (he even goes so far as to note bitterly that marketing used to be synonymous with advertising: a fact of business life that has been lamented by a number of eminent marketing theorists, such as Philip Kotler, Roger Best or Jack Trout), one-way approach to communication and dominant product focus. A distinctively separate entity, PR essentially served as a contact between the company and the media – hence a very technical, insider-style approach to news disclosure and release writing. According to Scott, this approach to marketing and PR, as well as the overall divergence between “communications with people” and “communications with media”, had only been justified by the mass market paradigm. The web, however, has opened the “long tail” markets to businesses – that is, a multitude of small niches further and further away from the mainstream. At the same time, the web has inverted the information funnel: customers no longer expect to be distracted by advertising – on the contrary, they are proactive seekers of information, and when they arrive at the website they seem to have a pretty good grasp of why they are there and what it is that they are looking for. This necessitates an entirely different style of marketing and PR: integrated, authentic, participative and first and foremost engaging. Naturally, the metaphor most frequently used by Scott is that of friendly conversation between brand and consumer. Scott maintains that this kind of relationship must begin with assuring the prospective customer that his/her needs and problems are understood – not pushing the “solution” down his/her throat as traditional marketing approach might have suggested. This underlies the absolute importance of communicative content in Scott’s model of new marketing: content is what drives the conversation, content is what effectively sells, content is what makes the difference between an amicable chat and impertinent self-praise. For telecommunications companies, the implications are immense. To begin with, they are the very backbone of the digital revolution: they own, operate or at least hold a substantial stake in the web- and mobile-based media that have been changing marketing (and business in general) for the past decades. Telecoms companies deal with content all the time; consequently, they possess enormous potential leverage over the development of standards and conventions that define what content is and therefore what users may possibly expect to see. On the other hand, telecoms companies are affected by the changes as much as any other business and this
potential leverage is only rarely realised. For instance, just as any other large company, a mobile network operator (MNO) would probably struggle with the novel concept of consumeroriented news releases, although actual experience suggests that some MNOs (e.g. in Russia) are getting increasingly good in this specific aspect of PR. How so? Modern mobile technologies have become so complex that there is virtually no sense in publishing press releases laden with technical terms. So what the MNOs do – what truly pays for both the media and the end-user audiences – is explaining the benefits and the possibilities of new services in plain language. Still, saying that web users seem to expect entertaining and inciting and twit-worthy content is a dull platitude at best. The key question is: what particular variety of content would work best in this particular website? What would be most effective in terms of real business goals and objectives? The general answer Scott gives is that it depends primarily on the target segment and specific user personas identified. Nevertheless, he names one crucial way to make a difference through a company web presence that might be beneficial for a very broad range of conditions: providing content that would establish thought leadership. The concept of thought leadership is nothing short of a complete overhaul of the entire communication idea for the web presence: instead of selling the product or service, its new core function becomes helping the customer solve his/her problems. As mentioned earlier, the digital revolution brought forward a change of mentality, and thought leadership is the next logical step after listening to the consumer. There are numerous methods that a company can use – that is, numerous types of content that can showcase thought leadership: white papers and reports, webinars and virtual events, wikis and blogs, infographics and multimedia, and so on. The choice is a matter of tactics although, as Scott notes on a different subject, it would not hurt to have overlapping content in various formats – so it is not an either-or choice. Scott further underscores authenticity: meaningful thought leadership relies on stories that connect tangibly to the user experience and provide valuable, helpful insights. In the end, a brand that achieves thought leadership is seen as smart and trustworthy. For telecoms businesses, even the slight image transition from “tech geeks” to “smart hipsters” could be very desirable indeed and establishing thought leadership might be a strong move in that respect. For providers of complex tailormade B2B telecom solutions, publishing analytic reports is a must as it proves their experience. Finally, investors in global MNOs would be very happy to see detailed infographics explaining the technologies, geographies and products of the company. The web offers incredible opportunities to businesses in all industries across the globe; yet utilising the inherent advantages of being on the web to the fullest requires a dramatic shift in marketing and PR perceptions. The web is all about interaction, dialogue and mutuality: marketers must learn to listen first and prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they know what they are talking about second. Trust is not won easily, but being widely regarded as a thought leader is the ultimate position of power in today’s business world. And in fact, being an undoubted thought leader within a niche market in the “long tail” should be much more coveted than simply having a good presence and brand awareness all around.
Introduction to Digital Marketing – Reading Assignment 4
The purpose of this short essay is to discuss two ideas of my choice from the “Groundswell” book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The ideas I have selected because of their theoretical importance and pragmatic potential, as well as for relevance and value in application to the assigned industry of telecoms, are the POST strategic methodology proposed by the authors and the Groundswell technology test they put forward. The acronym POST stands for People, Objectives, Strategy and finally Technology, which describes the sequence of stages in the process of planning for web activities. (The authors almost exclusively use the proprietary term “groundswell” that apparently means exactly the same as “Web 2.0”.) The planning must always begin with the question “What are customers currently ready for?” because patterns of their web behaviour may suggest the most potentially effective means of engagement. The next stage deals with goal setting: according to Li and Bernoff, the company should clearly define what it aims to achieve with its web 2.0 activities; most popular primary objectives admittedly correspond to five core business processes – namely market research, marketing communications, sales, after-sales services and research and development. Once the targets are set, strategies can be laid down which requires not only careful planning but also ensuring sufficient support and buy-in throughout the organisation. Finally, technology choices are made basing on the “boundary conditions” set by fundamental decisions on people, objectives and strategies. As strategic methodologies go, POST is highly unusual since “people” typically appear somewhere at the close of the list – or are not even mentioned explicitly at all. For instance, the principal methodology for top-down strategy development and deployment is MOST (Mission, Objectives, Strategies, Tactics): “people” are assumed within the scheme and are invisibly present but they never appear in the limelight. A related approach is OGSM (Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Measures): double meaning of the word “measure” is key here (the methodology speaks of initiatives and metrics as inseparable aspects of strategy implementation) and it is explicitly suggested that everything depends on empowered and aligned staff; however apart from that people are missing. Most importantly, strategic methodologies tend to start from leaders’ visions whereas POST is remarkably down-to-earth by comparison. On the other hand, putting people before objectives also raises a few strategic questions. Why are the goals the company sets for its web presence defined by current customers? How does the company deal with the inevitable trade-off between retaining old clients and gaining ground in new markets? Why does POST methodology defy strategies that aim at shaping the future not adapting to the present? Finally, how do very generic “suggested objectives” coexist with the directly stated requirement to study customers’ web behaviour? In a nutshell, I am not immediately convinced that POST methodology describes an effective and sustainable real-life decision-making process. Yet putting this scepticism aside I see essential value of POST in placing technology at the fourth and final stage of web presence
planning. Technology decisions are intrinsically tactical: the pace of technology development is staggering and accelerating, which creates an explosive divergence of possible solutions – most of them will fall out of fashion before any meaningful action can be taken by the company, turning promising investments into barren sunk costs. In this garden of forking paths the wisest approach would be to focus on customer benefits and profound transformations of the business model yet many organisations are carried away by what technologies seem to offer. It is therefore crucial to scrutinise emergent technologies, verifying the claims and ensuring a match between what business strategy requires and what a given technology has to offer. Li and Bernoff propose a technology test that not only addresses these issues but also predicts the rate of technology adoption. It is based on the core principle that is reflected in POST methodology: relationships come first, technology second. Consequently, the core parameter defining the rate of adoption and overall success of any new technology is its impact on interpersonal relationships: the more valuable the enhancement provided, the sooner the technology becomes ubiquitous. There is more to the test that this simplistic linear regularity. According to the authors, when evaluating the prospects of any technology, one should of course ask whether it improves the content of communication, increases its frequency or enables new forms or means or patterns of connection. Other factors to consider include ease of setting up, signing up and usage (a factor that includes cost as well as the degree of interface familiarity or instant recognition), influence on power structures (it might sound somewhat cryptic but Li and Bernoff assert that technologies must actively shift the balance of power away from “institutions” towards people in order to be successful), lack of inherent obstacles for user-generated content creation and last but not least interface and engine openness for external application developers. This questionnaire serves to separate promising technologies from the chaff and those poised for a quick rise to stardom from those that require a longer ripening. The two techniques combined suggest that very few technologies are in fact patently worthless: what matters is how effectively and efficiently a technology fits business strategy and customer needs. For telecom companies, this implies a substantial paradigm shift. Although client-focused and heavily dependent on their customer know-how to survive in an extremely competitive global market, telecoms largely remain technology-driven as regards their web presence. As a consequence, they tend to follow the big trends in web 2.0 without considering what meaningful value they would be able to provide to their customers through these channels, if any. Finding out what their subscribers – or rather market segments and micro-segments – actually prefer to do on the web and how they could be effectively engaged might lead to dramatic changes in the company’s web profile. For larger telecom businesses, this would necessarily mean a communication style transition towards a more transparent and sincere dialogue; for smaller ones, perhaps a narrower focus on most relevant technologies.
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