My avatar is my digital face

Throughout my digital career (in both amateur and professional status), I’ve used a multitude of personalised avatars.

I’ve pasted ten of the more prominent (in my mind, if not in digital footprint) examples below.


Evolution of avatars

There is a noticeable continuity, as my projected self as evolved. I’d never really wanted my face to be over the internet so after the first iteration and a couple of poor attempts at humour I settled (largely) on popular culture icons. I started with random “cult” characters before progressing to avatars that reflected either my mood, look (when I had bigger hair, there was a resemblance with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) or personality.

And so Columbo is where I am now. Although choices can be frivolous, the icons or avatars that we are use are pretty important. It creates a first impression, and will be the image others associate with you, often even after they’ve met you in person.

I’m fairly consistent in my use of Columbo now – the only place I actively and publicly use that doesn’t have Columbo as my avatar is Linked In, due to their insistence that the avatar has to be of you (so I have the default shaded outline). It could be argued that different sites should have different avatars, since they represent separate parts of a distributed digital personality. But while I don’t side with Mark Zuckerberg in thinking that people that have more than one identity are fraudulent, I do prefer the consistency of recognition across sites and platforms.

The beginning

The reason I’m posting about this is that I’m changing my policy on having my face on the internet. This is partly down to my bylines on Mediatel and Research having a picture, but it also reflects the number of contacts I’ve made over the past few years through blogging and through the research industry (and would like to continue making).

When I started this blog, I was wilfully anonymous. That was partly because I wasn’t sure what my employer at the time (ITV) would think of me writing about video content and marketing in a public forum, but also because of my relatively lowly status. When I set this blog up, I was a 24-year-old fairly junior market researcher. The blogs I enjoyed reading and commenting on were written by far more intelligent and experienced people who were mainly in the marketing and comms industries. I felt (rightly or wrongly, you decide) that being anonymous would allow my thoughts and ideas to stand up for what they were, rather than be coloured by perceptions of my relative inexperience.

Anyway, I eventually started writing under my full name and I put a small bio (I hate bios) up. But going under an avatar means that when I go to public events, people who I interact with online won’t recognise me and so it is my prerogative to seek out them. unfortunately, I’m not the most observant person so I’ve missed several opportunities to meet and greet.

The present and future

So, I’m rectifying this by putting a picture of myself on the blog’s about page.

As you can see, it is not a “corporate” picture. I still think corporate pictures are grotesque – either in their “sexy execs” style cringeworthiness or their overly conscious attempt at kookiness cringeworthiness. Fortunately, I’ve managed to avoid this at Essential (for the time being) by having a Wii Mii avatar. I’m not particularly photogenic but the picture nicely captures two of my interests (music and beer), and so could be considered “authentic”. At least, it is more authentic than me sitting on a stool at a 45 degree angle forcing a smile to guy with a huge flash on his camera)

I’m not planning to use my real face as my avatar, even though I’ve read many blogs and articles saying that this is a barrier to properly “connecting” (I suspect this is slightly more of an issue on the other side of the Atlantic), particularly due to the aging process. The blurry avatar that I use was taken when I was 21, yet I still use it in some places. In the four years I’ve used Twitter (I had my anniversary on Tuesday), I’ve seen some people retain the same image of their face. Surely over four years they’ve changed their hairstyle, or gained a few character lines on their face.

While there may be many benefits to using your real face as an avatar, the main drawback is vanity. 70s era Columbo will live forever, and I will continue to use him as long as his personality is consistent with what I want to project.

sk

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Direct marketing among local restauranters


Leaflets sent to South East London

I get a lot of junk mail through my door. A lot. They span multiple product verticals and initiatives (not to mention religious or political groups), but the majority are food-related. And given that I live in South East London, most of those tend to be fast-food.

So I thought I’d do a little experiment. Rather than immediately throw them away, I’d keep every leaflet or flyer and see if there were any discernible patterns to the madness.

I intended to do this for three months. But I’ve had a rather busy year and by the time I’d managed to put some time in thinking about it, it had been eight months. You can see the results of my hoarding in the picture at the top of this post.

Numbers

I was surprised I hadn’t received more mail than I actually did, but the numbers break down as

  • 71 – pieces of direct mail from food outlets received over a 35 week period
  • 30 – the number of different companies that sent me direct mail
  • 7 – the number of communications I received from the most active
  • 1 – mailshots from a company I’d previously heard of (Domino)
  • 45 – number of leaflets from pizza companies
  • 14 – number of different pizza companies that sent me direct mail
  • 10 – number of different pizza companies that sent multiple mailshots
  • 5 – number of different Indian restaurants that sent me direct mail
  • 0 – number of different Indian restaurants that sent me multiple mail
  • 11 – remaining outlets (5 Chinese, 3 Kebab, 2 Thai, 1 Lebanese)
  • 63 – number of mailshots for outlets in either SE16 or SE1 (the others were E14, SE8, SE10 and SE14) – the two furthest away from me were both Indian restaurants

(Note: I’ve seen plenty of quant presentations where there’d be happy to break down figures for a sample of 71 into percentages – I’ve even seen one presentation breaking down a sample of around 50 into tenths of a percentage – but this is indicative and so numbers are fine)

Observations

Other observations I made include:

  • The only recognised company (Domino) were the only ones not to explicitly mention free delivery. They did, however, specify, that all homes placing an order would be placed on their database, unless they actively opted-out.
  • The minimum size of order for free delivery varied considerably – the highest was the Lebanese restaurant at £15; the lowest was a pizza shop at £6 (though it rose to £8 if you weren’t ordering a pizza)
  • The Indian restaurants tended to specify a radius or a list of postcode sectors that they would deliver to – none of the pizza or kebab places did this
  • All but one pizza outlet mentioned a special offer (in addition to meal deals), but few Chinese and Indian outlets did
  • Special offers would tend to be free side orders or drinks (the kebab places offered non-alcoholic drinks), though a couple of the pizza outlets had BOGOF offers or similar
  • One pizza outlet had a special offer whereby you could win a PS3 with FIFA 10. The leaflet had the official World Cup logo on. As the company is a single outlet in SE London, I doubt this is an official endorsement
  • The pizza outlets mostly mentioned in the small print that any offers had to be explicitly mentioned in the order, though a couple had this information next to the deal itself. No non-pizza outlet said the special offers had to be mentioned
  • Few offers mentioned had closing dates – perhaps because many are continuous or also available in-store. The 5 companies that did have were all pizza companies – Dominos and 4 of the more frequent distributors of flyers
  • None of the Chinese restaurants had a website; only one of the Kebab places did. Conversely, all pizza companies had a web presence.
  • Asian food door drops tended to be slight embellishments on menus, while the other food types tended to highlight the special offers more than the depth of the offering
  • Many of the pizza outlets may have had the same owner, or were part of the same franchise/business network. The designs of their flyers (from A5 to long A4)  and the nature of the special offers (from free muffins to money off) tended to change in line with each other

Rationale

Smith and Taylor (2004) identified six factors fueling growth in direct marketing

  • Market fragmentation
  • Tailor-made technology
  • The list explosion
  • Sophisticated software
  • Hybrid marketing systems
  • The constant search for cost effectiveness

Of these “rational” reasons, I suspect only the first applies here (with the second a factor only so much as it lowers the cost of executing). Clearly, I live in an area saturated with different options for the avoidance of cooking. Word of mouth will be a difficult thing to achieve, particularly if there is little differentiating the outlets. DM is a cheap way of letting people know your name, location and offering. But with the volume, perhaps outlets are engaging in DM just to avoid losing ground, rather than actively gain it.

With this in mind, I wonder if the main reasons for the volume are “irrational” – copying others as it is perceived to be the thing to do. Not wanting to be left out, despite not really appreciating the nuances of what they’re engaging in.

While there is something to be said of the convenience of having a menu to hand if you spontaneously decide to order takeaway, the DM I’ve collected holds little evidence of a quest to understand ROI. Thus, while there should be a constant search for cost effectiveness, it doesn’t appear to be happening. Admittedly, some flyers do specify that offers should be made explicit, and these could be tied to the postcode of the delivery. I wonder if this happens, and whether different campaigns are compared to one another in terms of effectiveness. It would be nice if they were.

Improvements

Having not spoken to any of these outlets, this is entirely conjecture. But since many local restaurants – particularly (it seems) Asian ones are local and family-run, it may be the case that there is a business and marketing knowledge gap that could be recognised. Obviously, things like Business Link exist but that and initiatives such as Ogilvy’s Idea Shop (which is a great concept) should be more active in promoting advice.

The strengths of DM are in its accountability and integration with CRM databases. DM allows business owners to understand their audiences and the effectiveness of offers through things such as

  • Comparing different offers in different areas, along with a control group
  • Including overt calls to action, with closing dates
  • Explicitly tying back revenues changes to marketing spend through different offer codes
  • Combining with in-store surveys for those that pick up the food/eat at the outlet themselves

The more effective DM is, the less wastage. Less wastage means fewer leaflets through my door. Which means fewer irrelevant things I have to throw away. Irrespective of my feelings, it also reduces the environmental footprint of a method of marketing that to be seems extremely ineffective and inefficient.

sk

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Download the award-winning Brandheld presentation

As mentioned in my previous post, I had quite a successful experience at the Media Research Group conference in Malta.

My presentation on Brandheld: Unlocking the potential value* of the mobile internet, which won the IPA/Simon Broadbent award for Best Paper can now be viewed and downloaded on Slideshare. I’ve even included an amended version of my speaker notes, although due to the terms and conditions our research participants agreed to I am unable to show the three (frankly awesome) videos we produced.

The presentation is embedded below (RSS readers might need to click through to see it)

Additionally, most of the other presentations from the conference can be downloaded from the MRG website. It’s definitely worth checking out, though the presentations that were speech accompaniments rather than slides/handouts don’t make a lot of sense without the accompanying notes.

Any feedback or (constructive) criticism would be appreciated. My contact details are on the final slide, or on the “About the blog” page if you don’t want to do so publicly.

sk

* The title occasionally switches between “potential value” and “value potential” – the former comes to me more naturally but the latter is probably better

MRG Malta 2010 Conference

The IPA/Simon Broadbent Award for Best PaperI now have my first conference presentation behind me. And my first (I’m hoping there will be more) conference win.

The event was the Media Research Group 2010 conference, held in Malta.

The presentation was on Brandheld: Unlocking the Potential Value of the Mobile Internet (go here and here for more information on the project).

And the win was the IPA/Simon Broadbent Award for the best conference paper. The award is pictured to the right (photographed under a light – it is actually silver) – I get to parade it around for a couple of days before sending it back to Lynne Robinson at the IPA to have it engraved.

Winning this award was particularly satisfying as it was voted for by the conference delegates. I’m very appreciative of all of the nice comments I’ve received over the past couple of days.

On reflection, I think there were three key reasons behind Brandheld winning:

  1. Flattery – I started my presentation by taking a photo of the audience, and called them beautiful (they were, and still are)
  2. Subconscious Suggestion – I spoke to a fair number of people in a restaurant and bar the night before the voting. Since no-one can really say anything bad to my face, I received a lot of nice compliments. As the night wore on, memories of the conversation, and indeed my presentation, would become fuzzier, with people only remembering that they mentioned that the presentation was good.
  3. A fantastic project – the award is for best paper, not presentation. Brandheld is unquestionably the most interesting, challenging and rewarding project I’ve worked on. As such, it is a team award with Alex, Kat, Daniel, Carolina, Rebecca and Lee-Ann all deserving of recognition for their massive contribution

As for the conference itself, I had a good time and met some really interesting, friendly people – some of whom I knew already, some who I knew “virtually” and some I didn’t.

I’d never been to a foreign conference before. Prior to attending, I was quite against the idea, since the cost makes it more difficult for smaller companies such as Essential to attend. After attending, I’m more ambivalent, if not totally sold on the idea, as there are clearly some advantages to holding the conference abroad

  • Few people had any reason to do any socialising outside of the conference group. Even if the event were held in Cornwall, the Highlands or another far-flung UK location, there would be more excuses to temporarily leave
  • A totally new city/resort encourages exploration and additional socialising among attendees
  • Continental bars are open later than British pubs during the week (and the warm weather means everyone can stand outside)

While I felt I got involved in the networking with vim and gusto, I didn’t make many notes for the sessions I attended. The reasons being

  • Prior to my presentation, I was making last-minute amendments in my head. As much as I tried paying attention to the speakers, I ended up getting distracted
  • Immediately after my presentation, I was primarily relieved but also going through things I should have said, particularly with the Q&A
  • My subconscious suggesting went on for longer than it probably should have done, which meant I missed the early speakers on Friday

Some of the things I did jot down include

  • Nigel Walley from Decipher made some interesting references to issues with the continuing convergence of the web and TV. The first was that device manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung are generally terrible at services, since their business models are based around replacement devices. Without things such as backwards compatibility, their web TVs become obsolete very quickly. And secondly, the fragmentation of innovation in this area is making it hard for media agencies to plan campaigns – for instance, should they go for a platform campaign (all of the different ad formats on Virgin) or a channel campaign (VOD formats on all platforms)
  • Guy Holcroft from GfK NOP (disclosure: a former line manager of mine) said that we are spending roughly half of our waking hours (7 hours and 5 minutes actual but 8 hours 48 minutes when deduplicating simultaneous consumption) per day on media or communications
  • Richard Maryniak from the Conspiracy Group channeled David Ogilvy to say that the pirate is not a thief; she is your girlfriend and that, ultimately, piracy is about sharing
  • James Myring of BDRC Continental drew the distinction between primary (using p2p or streaming sites) pirates and secondary pirates (via mixtapes/shared drives) and said that ethics weren’t really a barrier to people pirating. Instead it is IT issues – concerns over viruses or a lack of knowledge on how to find the relevant materials. It was probably missing because it is too hard to find people who admit to it, but it would have been good to have seen primary pirates split out into uploaders, seeders and downloaders.
  • There was supposed to be a big debate on piracy but sadly, there wasn’t much heated discussion as researchers at media owners were either unwilling to go on the record or unsure of their company’s position with regards to piracy, and so the conversation remained polite
  • Charlie Gordon from TNS Kantar Media said that the most tweeted game of the World Cup was Japan-Denmark, but that he has been unable to rationalise the reason why
  • David Hulbert of Ravensbeck said that researchers shouldn’t look to explain the past but to predict the future. Researchers should seek to redefine the problems businesses face, and position themselves as people able to provide decision-making under uncertainty
  • Paul Goode from Comscore advocated panels over site metrics, since cookie deletion meant that site metrics are too over-inflated. He said site metrics can be fine for single day campaigns, but unfortunately there aren’t many single day campaigns

For more details, go to Robert Bain‘s updates on the Research website

In sum, it was an enjoyable couple of days and it will probably take me an equal amount of time to fully recover. The conference programme ran without a (noticeable) hitch so big congratulations to Stuart McDonald and Neil Mortensen for an event that clearly required a lot of blood, sweat and tears to put on.

Thank you once again to the people who voted for me. And congratulations to the other award winners – MediaCom for Best Media Agency, BSkyB for Best Media Owner, Ipsos MediaCT for Best Research Supplier and The Guardian for best research initiative.

I hope to upload a “Director’s Cut” of the presentation within the next week (without the 20 minute restriction, I can expand on a few areas I had to gloss over, and I should also remove some of my bad jokes).

I’m not yet sure what is happening with the videos of the event, but if they are put online I will link to them.

sk