Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Conversational Capital: Book Review

Article first published as Book Review: Conversational Capital by Bertrand Cesvet on Blogcritics.

By now, many would've heard of buzz and viral marketing, experiential marketing, and the art of conversational marketing. Many would have also learned about three key marketing ideas: creating a Purple Cow, pushing an idea over the Tipping Point, and the almost religious need to use social media in marketing.

What's the newest trick in the marketing bag? Enter Conversational Capital, a book written by Bertrand Cesvet, Tony Babinski, and Eric Alper from experiential brand collective SID LEE.

According to the authors, Conversational Capital can be seen in many leading "talkable" brands like Cirque du Soleil, Apple, adidas, Red Bull, IKEA, and the Volkswagen Beetle.  It is about designing and creating products and services that are so meaningful and engaging that one's consumers feel personally invested in sharing stories about the brand.

At its core, the concept is embedded in the eight engines of Conversational Capital:

1) Rituals - These are behaviours or rites that one engages in to mark an "exalted" experience. Examples include the clowns interacting with audiences prior to each Cirque du Soleil show and the squeezing of a fresh lime into a Corona beer bottle.

A special category - Initiation - may even involve some degree of work (think of the first time you went swimming). Resonant rituals help to enrich experiences. 

2) Exclusive Product Offering (EPO) -  This occurs when a consumer experience is specially customised and individualised such that it appears to be tailored just for you.; When it is created in such a personal fashion, it helps to strengthen the salience of the brand. Examples include having monogrammed napkins with one's name for first time diners at the Regent Hotel in Hong Kong, and Starbucks allowing you to order coffee anyway you like it.

Over-delivery is what happens when a brand goes out of the way to strengthen customer engagement. It includes features, services or benefits that "Wow" customers and create talkability.

3) Myth - Yes, urban brand legends are always good for storytelling. As an engine of Conversational Capital, myth is about creating a strong brand story that captures the attention and imagination beyond just product features and benefits. Examples include how Steve Jobs founded Apple, and the "secret ingredient" in Coke.

4) Relevant Sensory Oddity (RSO) - Here, Conversational Capital meets experience design. As much as possible, one should surprise one's consumers by stimulating his/her range of senses: sight, sound, taste, scent, touch and feel.  This should however be relevant and resonant in a meaninful way. Examples are Herman Miller's uniquely designed (and expensive) Aeron Chair, Abercrombie & Fitch (famous for the buzzworthy nude male torso in Singapore) for their anti-retail store environment, and Innocent Drinks with healthy juices in six ounce bottles.

5) Icons - These have strong symbolic value and can be anything that is rich in association and evocative power: places, buildings, people, logos, product designs, packaging, labels, and more. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are icons, and so is the Red Bull can.

6) Tribalism - Tribes are about forming customer communities and drawing like-minded folks together through brand stories that form and affirm their identities.  Customer Capital happens when companies help to facilitate the formation of groups and communities based on their tastes, preferences and principles.  The Build-a-Bear retail workshop forms tribes amongst lovers of customised cuddlies, and Harley Davidson riders themselves have formed strong tribes (most notably the Harley Owners Group or HOGs).

7) Endorsement - Here, endorsement is about getting your consumers to freely and independently advocate your brand without any solicitation or endorsement.  In other words, if you build the experience compelling enough, "the magic will happen".  It is not about paying celebrities or dignitaries to speak up for you.  Endorsers are "converts". 

8) Continuity - The final engine of Conversational Capital is about ensuring that you walk the talk, say what you mean, and mean what you say.  It is about coherence, integrity, and consistency across every step of the way, as shown in this figure below from the book:

Source: Conversational Capital

To bring the eight engines roaring into life, the book provides tips on designing and implementing a solution. On design, one is told to know oneself and one's story, know what people want, assemble a multidisciplinary and culturally diverse team, multipl one's cultural referenes, dare to be different, think like an entrepreneur and to use the 8 engines above. Implementation, on the other hand, is about packaging one's ideas, building a prototype, monitoring progress, rolling out one's experience and improving one's work along the way.

While the ideas aren't entirely new - many of the concepts appear to be old wine in new wineskins - I like how the authors attempt to piece various marketing ideas into a coherent whole. As a trigger for action, Conversational Capital does set one thinking about how experiences can be better designed, looking at one's consumer pathways while emphasising unique and salient features.

If you're looking for some ideas on how you can generate more word-of-mouth in your business, this may be a good place to start. However, be warned that it isn't a comprehensive self-help book. Ultimately, the success of brands like IKEA, Cirque du Soleil or Schwartz's (a much loved smoked meat restaurant in Montreal) may be equal parts accident and equal parts design.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

SPF's First Facebook Arrest - Crowdsleuthing in Action

Congratulations to our boys and girls in blue for making the first Facebook arrest!

According to the Singapore Police Force's (SPF) media release, this development came on 11 Nov 2011 (an auspicious 11/11/11!) when a "public-spirited person called 999 and informed that he could identify a loanshark suspect from a photo posted on the Police Facebook Page since July 2009. The action led to the arrest of two 19 year old suspects for involvement in loanshark harassment activities in the Bukit Merah area.

Established since 2009, SPF's Facebook Page has garnered almost 190,000 "Likes". The page has helped to raise awareness not only of ongoing criminal cases but enhanced public education on law and safety. Apparently, this has worked as a complementary channel to traditional media in soliciting clues and appeals for help from the population.

While SPF's arrest of "crowdsleuthing" is the first such case in Singapore, the impact of social media and mobile channels in crime solving has been quite significant all over the world. Here are some more recent examples:

- In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has used its Facebook Page to garner clues which resulted in recovering the body of a missing 34 year old mother Melissa Ann Best in Illinois. The tips from Facebook helped police to locate the lost van in which her body was found.

- Facebook and Twitter has helped to increase tips to the Missoula County Sheriff's Department in Montana, USA by more than 50%. This is remarkable even with just a modest 585 "Likes" on the Sheriff's Facebook page.

- Closer to home in China, police has used their equivalent of Facebook called Sina Weibo (新浪微博) to crack a kidnapping ring involving 15 children from Zunyi, Guizhou, who were sold them to places in Henan, Shaanxi, and Hebei. Over 1,500 tips and clues were submitted to their social network page for the case.

While the home security authorities in these countries and municipalities have embraced social media in the fight against crime, citizens have also embraced social tools to empower themselves.

An example of such a network is Crimestoppers International, a globally based platform which sprung from the UK which has made waves in highlighting prominent cases. In a similar fashion, citizens in the US have also organised themselves to fight crime using social media through online initiatives like Crimeseen.

Both platforms allow reports and tip offs to be made through confidential channels (phone or email), allowing informants to remain anonymous while ensuring that some degree of verification is made (to prevent bogus reports).

Over in Latin America, crime maps have also been used to chart the occurrence of crimes in different regions.  Examples include WikiCrimes in Brazil and Victeams in Venezuela. These are useful in helping police departments to zoom in on "problem" areas and study trends.

As the war against crime hots up - many of which are ironically committed through social media and mobile channels themselves - it makes sense for security forces to engage citizens online. The increasing ubiquity of smartphones and "always-on" connectivity of social networks make it increasingly easy for citizens to play their part in making the world a safer place to live in. Conversely security forces could increasingly tap on the collective observation powers and "social antennae" of the public in sussing out clues, tip offs and suspects.

The next time you see your local police officer "just surfing the web", he or she may actually be investigating a case as opposed to just goofing off!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Imagine Wearing Your Customer's Shoes

Shopping Centres in Bangkok
Consider what your customers will look, smell, touch and feel - from the start to end of your experience

Let's try this thought exercise for a few minutes.

Imagine that you're a customer of your own company's business. This could be anything of course, depending on what your company do. During this time, you should don the hat of your prospective customer, be he or she a swinging single, working parent, active ager, awkward teen, or urban professional.

First, what would make you attracted to "that company's" products and services? How do you find information on those goods or services? What would the chance be like for you to encounter information on that product or service in your reading/watching/listening habits?

OK, the advertisement/editorial write up/website managed to stir your interest. Now what is the next step? Should you call, fax, email, or travel to the premises offering that product? How about calling a friend or family member to get their opinion? Perhaps you want to "google" the company to see what others think.

After some hesitation - or perhaps none at all - you proceed to the place of transaction. Now imagine what factors you'll consider as a consumer: When should I go down to purchase that product? How much time should or can I spend doing so? How much is my budget for this? Would I do this on its own (eg a day at the zoo), or would I bundle other associated activities together (eg shopping for groceries)?

Now, you're at the shop/attraction/restaurant. What is the first thing that you would consider? Do you expect to be greeted enthusiastically or do I prefer to be left alone? How would you navigate your way around - visual icons, signages, staff directing me or other cues? Would you mind waiting for 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes?

As you walk through the aisles/tables/exhibits, think about the sensory encounters that you would experience. What are the sounds that you hope to hear? Are there any scents that envelop your nostrils (hopefully pleasant)? How about the textures on the wall, or the shapes/colours/patterns that you see? Do these augment or agitate your experience?

Finally, you arrive at where the product is placed/service is provided. What would you first do? Will you look at the price tags or price lists? Maybe you'll scrutinise the box, check out its ingredients, or study the packaging. Or perhaps the shape and ergonomics of the product, enthusiasm of the service staff, and ease of use (ala Apple products)?

After you have decided to buy the product or consume the service, what would you next do? Walk to the cashier and make your payment perhaps? How is the payment experience like - fast and fuss-free (or slow and painful)? Do you expect to receive anything after the purchase - like a card, an email, or even an SMS to "thank you for shopping with us" with an offer attached?

As you make your way home on the bus/train/car/plane, consider what your thoughts would be. Would you rush to tell all your family and friends about it via SMS, Facebook, Twitter or face-to-face? Maybe you prefer to just keep quiet.

And so on and so forth...

Now if you write down what you expect to experience every step of the way, and be as meticulous as you can, you would have the makings of a customer experience pathway. Design it in the most ideal manner possible - subject to costs and available resources - and you probably have the start of an ideal marketing plan.

The trick is to take the vantage point of your customer, rather than your company.  Its not what you want to market or sell to them.  Its what they would respond to and be attracted by.

Only by doing so would your firm truly be able to call itself a customer centric business.

[Article first published as Imagine Wearing Your Customer's Shoes on Technorati.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Insights from GovCamp Singapore

Should one protect privacy but ban anonymity on the web? Are citizens able to "DIY" to form their own self helping communities? Do we have adequate access to data that can improve our lives?

These are the sort of questions which arose from the recent GovCamp Singapore, organised by Microsoft with the support of various institutions like IDA, NUS and ISS. As I look back at the various sessions I've attended, here are some lessons that I've learnt.

Key Policy Issues

Prof Jane Fountain proposed that in considering online engagement with citizens, governments around the world have to think about the following:

1) Allowing equitable and affordable access to information and services on the web

2) The readiness of civil service to embrace Gov 2.0 ideals

3) Encouraging citizen co-production of information and services

4) The levels of citizen engagement wanted and needed

5) Stimulating communal problem solving as opposed to opening yet another complaint box

6) Understanding the constituents of digital citizens - who are they and who do they represent?

From Government to Citizen

She next shared how the Obama Administration in the US developed various social networking platforms to engage US citizens - from Apps.Gov, Idea Factory, Business.Gov to Defense Solutions. Of course, Obama himself rose to presidential fame partly due to the effectiveness of his efforts in social media engagement. These Gov 2.0 ideas are further mirrored by countries like Malta, a population of 408,373 looking to position itself as an ICT hub, and the UK which has an active programme of citizen engagement online.

From Citizen/NGOs to Citizen

Beyond the more top-down approach, examples from several countries have shown how the public could rally together using citizen sourced solutions. For example, Ushahidi - an open source and crowdsourced project - has allowed citizens to use fairly primitive mobile technologies (like SMS) to report on issues. Citizens in Sudan could also report voting right abuses while those in Haiti could use the platform to sound the alert on emergencies.

Another worthwhile case to note is Wildlife Trackers, which encourages folks to track the status of endangered wildlife species using a combination of crowdsourcing and visualisation tools. Other examples include Samasource, Crowd Flower, and Many Hands.

Politics 2.0

Perhaps the most prominent examples came from the space of using social media to incite revolutions and causes. Everybody would have now heard of the Arab Spring, beginning from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and possibly spreading to Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and more. Closer to home, the "Occupy" movement has shown some traction around the world, although with mixed success.

In Latin America, the "Pink Tide" is an example of radical populism where social media is used by Venvezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to villainise western corporate greed.

When the State Muscles In

In extreme cases where the State takes control of social media channels, information on the web may be filtered and propaganda is channeled - sometimes rather surreptitiously - on the social networks. An example is China's "Fifty Cent Party" where citizens were paid to vote on issues. Another issue is that of IT firms allowing "backdoor" access to citizen data for government surveillance purposes.

Active Citizenship and Public Engagement

In a rowsing discussion on the issue of citizen engagement, James Kang of IDA Singapore highlighted the government's e-government masterplan termed "Collaborative Government" that hinged on the pillars of co-creating for better value, connecting for better participations, and catalysing whole-of-government transformation.  Citizen participation is key to any Gov 2.0 initiative, and it is important for the public to step forward to play their part in shaping what they want.  He then cited the possibility of introducing personal data management so that citizens can share data when they want it with whomever they wish if there is merit.

Prof Ashish Lall raised a somewhat controversial idea that one can have the right to privacy but not anonymity on the Internet. This helps to ensure greater transparency and openness in dialogue while protecting individuals from predatory marketing practices. He added that access to technology alone isn't enough as there must be a reason for citizen activism, citing how the more positive stories seem to arise from poor countries with less developed technology infrastructure.

Caveat Emptor!

While there are many rich possibilities in leveraging on social and mobile technologies, several caveats exist in this space:

1) The challenge of balancing transparency and accountability with the loss of confidential data. Eg Julian Assange of Wikileaks and his war on secrecy.

2) The insatiable appetite for scandal and crisis all over the world on social media. Singapore certainly isn't a stranger to this!

3) The trade-offs between data privacy and efficiency. In the US, major companies like Amazon has such a finely tuned consumer intelligence system that they can track behaviours, transactions, locations down to a science. In this light, citizens need to consider the balance between surrendering individual data with convenience. Eg filling multiple forms at government departments versus having a single data capture mechanism.

4) The danger of movements and causes degenerating into examples mob rules which may sometimes be misdirected and unsustainable beyond the initial uprisings.

PS - Continue your discussions here at the official GovCamp Singapore Wiki.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dinosaurs Live! at Singapore Science Centre

Tina and Ethan posing next to an animatronic Apatosaurus

"Roar, Growl, Hiss, Grr, Screech and Scream!"

Welcome to the world of the fabulous dinosaurs (also known as the "terrible lizards") at Dinosaurs-Live!, a recently opened exhibition at the Singapore Science Centre.  Happening from now til 26 Feb 2012, the exhibition showcases almost 50 life-sized dinosaurs, reptiles and other prehistoric creatures brought realistically back to life by awesome animatronics.

Ever since I was a kid, I loved these thundering, colossal, and monumental monsters. I'd pore over every single detail in the precious encyclopedias which I got my grubby hands on, and practically memorised their names.  This latest exhibition of bellowing Behemoths and lumbering Leviathans by the Science Centre is certainly right up my alley!

Join my family and I as we tread through the treacherous terrain of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous forests with these close encounters of the terrifying kind.


Everything screamed dinosauria at this scientific showcase of staggering sauropods and titanic therapods.

Product sponsor LG got into the act with this 3D TV showcase of National Geographic documentaries.  The three dimensional effect was surprisingly clear and good.

A previous crowd favourite, a replica of Stan the Tyrannosaurus Rex greeted visitors at the lobby of the Annexe building.

Ethan posing with a replica of a Triceratops.  You'll notice later that we have a thing for this horny beast.

An eerie green covered this huge Deinosuchus, an ancient 15 m long crocodile which ate  dinosaurs for breakfast!

Despite being shrouded in gloom, Ethan managed to get his dino "chops" on a souvenir education booklet.

Dimetrodon was a terrible lizard with a huge sail on its back... wait there's more...

Apparently, it was more closely related to mammals than to dinosaurs. Hmmm.... grandma what big teeth you have!

Fans of the Jurassic Park movies would recognise Spinosaurus, the huge-ass spine-backed carnivore which thrashed a T-Rex in a fight to the finish.

The body of a huge Sauropod (I think its an Apatosaurus) gave us a perspective of how little we are compared to these giants.

Ethan and Tina studying the characteristics of these feathery Sinosauropterys with a duck-billed Maiasaura (also called hadrosaurs) in the background. Incidentally, many scientists believe that dinosaurs were more closely related to birds than reptiles.

A huge carnivorous bird (Titanis walleri) which looked like a Dodo but was a lot more vicious!

A Dilophosaurus with two duck-billed Parasauropholuses in the background.

A family of three Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaurs with menacing killer jaws.

The roaring T-Rex was a fierce match indeed for my fearsome wife Tina! :)

These cute feathery dinosaurs were the real Velociraptors. Looks like Michael Crichton got his facts a little wrong in the Jurassic Park series!

On the contrary, it was likely that the larger Utahraptors (up to 7 m long) were the real protagonists in Crichton's fictitious fable.

A long-necked Diplodocus with two soaring Pteranodons hovering ahead.  In case you do not know, the future Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will showcase three of these sauropod skeletons.  Yippee!

In case you do not know, China was famous for many wonderful dinosaur discoveries.  Yes, they are giants in more ways than one.

This one, called the Omeisaurus, was another towering fellow named after a famous sacred mountain.

Here's Ethan getting into some handicraft action once again.  He made a clay dinosaur cast.

The next two dinosaurs need no introduction.  This is the walnut-sized brained Stegosaurus (which incidentally had a larger "brain" nearer its hind quarters).

And here in bathed in blue light is the famous Triceratops.  Once again we wasted no chance in getting a photo op for Ethan here.

I believe this second T-Rex skeleton replica is Sue, the other fine specimen flown all the way from the USA.

Our third Triceratops of the day, this time with just its bones intact.

Toddlers wasted no time getting dirty while uncovering "fossils" with their spades and pails.

As for Ethan, he preferred a more sedate colouring activity, joined by Tina.

Finally, the biggest money gobbling "monster" of them all - the gift shop! Fortunately, we managed to sway Ethan's opinion to purchase something a little more enduring (and less plasticky) at the gift shop of the main foyer of Science Centre.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Who Should You Really Target

Courtesy of Lost & Found Online Marketing

One of the most important chapters in the book of marketing is customer segmentation and targeting. You need to know who you're reaching and how you're making your product or service relevant to their needs, wants or desires. Without a keen understanding of your target segment, everything else may fall apart.

The challenge however is this. How do you know who they really are?

In an interesting post on targeting customers, Randall Beard shared that we should follow what direct marketers do and look at what customers do rather than who we think they should be. Look at who is buying your product and find out what their backgrounds and motivations are.

For household products, Beard suggests that you could ask questions such as these:
- What do these households look like?
- Are they truly women aged 25-34?
- What do these households watch?
- How did their media consumption differ from the original plan?

Once you've got updated information on who your precise customers are, modify your marcoms strategies - from messaging, creative, media channels, to partners - in order to best meet the needs of these segments. Adapt, modify and refine your promotions and dig deeper into understanding why segment A rather than segment B (whom you originally intended the product for) is buying from you.

Similarly, service or experience based businesses like museums, amusement arcades and theme parks should adopt more precise methods in customer analytics. Rather than assume most of your visitors are families, conduct surveys and eyeball observations to see who they really are. Find out what catches their fancy - a new ride, a particular product in a retail store, or an interactive feature - and jot down what they do.

The best way to do this?  Begin by developing a solid Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy (not the IT system mind you), supported by the relevant technology and applications. See if there is a way to link your cash registers to your customer databases, so that you can track useful information such as purchase histories, volumes, product preferences, and values.

By enriching your customer data capture methods, you are able to better understand who they truly are, and to develop marketing strategies that are more precise, relevant and attractive. Knowing the action on the ground on a daily basis is far better than all the fancy audience research, consumer data, and future trends that money can buy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Play Your Part at Singapore's 2nd GovCamp

Its time once again for GovCamp Singapore, our island's only "unconference" focusing on how citizens and government can work together to improve our lives using technology as an enabler.

The second event this year - I moderated one of the sessions in the first in on 19 January - GovCamp looks at positioning government as a platform to engage key stakeholders in a country (namely everyone of us!) in a spirit of open collaboration, ideation, networking, and joint problem solving.

With the theme “Connecting People, Data and Ideas”, the second GovCamp will have the twin pillars of "Engagement" and "Open Data as a platform for Co-Creation". Do show your support at their wiki page and feel free to propose a new topic if you have a burning issue to get off your chest!

Other than the open session, distinguished academics like Professor Jane Fountain from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Professor Ashish Lall from the LKY School of Public Policy, and Professor Pallab Saha from the Institute of Systems Science will share their collective wisdom and insights.

Generously sponsored - and organised - by the good folks from Microsoft Singapore with the support of IDA Singapore and NUS, GovCamp Singapore looks at making our community truly open and transparent for anybody who wishes to participate.  Do your part to contribute by signing up and attending the event, providing your inputs, or better yet, presenting a topic for discussion.

The best thing about this is that admission if FREE (so hurry and sign up if you want a place).

Singapore GovCamp
18 November 2011 (Friday)
The Rock Auditorium, Suntec City
3 pm to 10 pm
Registration details here.
Follow them on Twitter (#GovCampSG), like their Facebook page, or collaborate on their Wiki page.

NB - If you'd like to understand a little more about the principles of Government 2.0, you could check out my previous blog post on the topic here

Saturday, November 12, 2011

20 Things I Loved About London

As part of my recent work trip to London, I spent many hours visiting numerous museums and art galleries in the city, topped by a full day meeting with the Tate Group. The institutions I visited include the Tate Modern, National Gallery London, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A Museum, and the British Museum. While the trip was exhausting - we've put together a comprehensive report on its outcomes - there were many learning points that we have gleaned from some of the world's leading cultural institutions.

Here are 20 highlights of my trip, in no particular order. Note that this list is quite museum-centric as that's where I spent most of my time.  Each highlight is accompanied by a photograph.

20 Things About London
An eye catching installation at the entrance of the V&A Museum.

20 Things About London
The lobby of the V&A with a hanging Chihuli crystal - one of the most beautiful I've seen amongst museums.

20 Things About London
Regal replicas of the statues of Medieval European kings and queens at the V&A.

20 Things About London
Scurrying human-sized "cockroaches" roaming through the Science Museum.

20 Things About London
A luminous and futuristic model of the planet Earth in the Science Museum.

20 Things About London
This wonderful dinosaur toy store at the Natural History Museum.

20 Things About London
The giant cross section of a Sequoia tree - the world's largest living thing - at the Natural History Museum.

20 Things About London
Another superlative organism: a life-sized replica of a 100 feet blue whale at the Natural History Museum surrounded by other large mammals.

20 Things About London
A sombre portrait of Queen Elizabeth I at the National Portrait Gallery

20 Things About London
Living art of plants at the wall hoardings outside the National Gallery London.

20 Things About London
The bustling and happening Covent Garden Market at night.

20 Things About London
Big Ben (with the London Eye in the distance), along with the adjoining Westminster Palace.

20 Things About London
A strike in progress amongst disgruntled unionists (Ok, this was really for the novelty effect lah).

20 Things About London
Westminster Abbey, the church where Prince William and Catherine Middleton recently got married in.

20 Things About London
A night shot of St Paul's Cathedral, another monumental religious building.

20 Things About London
Tacita Dean's installation "Film" at the ultra chic Tate Modern across the Thames River.

20 Things About London
The controversial Elgin/Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum.

20 Things About London
Another national treasure - the world famous Rosetta Stone - at the British Museum.

20 Things About London
An innovative transmedia storytelling tie-up between manga artist Hoshino Yukinobu and the British Museum.

20 Things About London
And of course, Harrod's Food Hall, probably one of the finest places for gourmet groceries and foods in the world!