Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation

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3 important takeaways from LeWeb 2013

LeWeb is a fantastic conference.

All year I get invites to attend conference after conference, but LeWeb is the only one that really interests me. Why? Simply because it has a broader outlook, better speakers, and a more philosophical approach than other events (it even had a session on meditation!)

Where some events focus on the ‘doing’, LeWeb looks at the ‘why’. As a result the content is fresh and invigorating; it actually makes you think.

In London this June, the focus was on Sharing Economies (which I wrote about for Forbes). This time around, in Paris, it was looking at the Next Ten Years. The interesting thing about a conference like this is not in what the individual speakers say, although they are very interesting, but in the feeling that you get from the conference. There’s a sense of it being one giant ‘meta-presentation’, with trends leaking out and pervading the atmosphere around you, and speaker after speaker adding to the big picture. So, in light of this, here are three trends that have emerged from LeWeb 2013 that I want to share with you.

Trend 1: Human experiences, not technology, will rule the next ten years

Just to be clear, technology is still underpinning everything – in fact I can’t think of a more exciting industry to be working in at the moment – but the face of this technology will be human. Technology will be applied to create human experiences and meet human needs, it will not be a goal in itself.

Forrester CEO, George Colony, described the next ten years as ‘The Age of the Customer’ – an age in which enterprises will need to reinvent themselves in order to be successful. This age will require completely frictionless customer experiences to be created, based around the maturing technologies of mobile, sensors, location, social, and data. Products will be highly personalised and anticipatory in nature – knowing what you need based on where you are and what you are doing. Robert Scoble’s ‘Age of Context‘.

Colony, quite fittingly, gave the example of a taking a trip to a conference. In this example the products and services were completely transparent: when entering the airport you would be directed to your gate automatically, your seat would indicate itself when you came near, and when you got to your hotel the lift would take you to the right floor by communicating with your phone, with your door unlocking  itself when you arrived at your room.

The companies that can create these experiences will be the ones that thrive.

Trend 2: You are your product

It’s easy to think of a product as something separate from you, but actually it’s more than this. The best innovations come from the heart, and are linked tightly to things you care about solving. In this respect, you are your product. If the product is central to your purpose, if it isn’t your passion, then the chances of succeeding are much lower. Being able to stay on the path, to believe on your idea, and to have the courage to see it through are the outstanding characteristics that will build the successful products of the future. Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? What drives you to act? It was no coincidence that the majority of successful entrepreneurs speaking at LeWeb had started their businesses based on a very personal experience. This was exemplified by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Uber was founded at LeWeb in 2008, when Travis was unable to get a taxi to the conference. That frustration, and his sweaty appearance onstage, gave birth to the idea that would disrupt the taxi and ride-sharing industry. It’s a personal crusade for Uber, one that has led to bigger ideas in its wake. Expect big things from the $3.5 billion-valued ‘Urban Logistics’ company over the next few years

Trend 3: In future, all companies will be software companies

This is a trend that is very close to my heart, and very close to my purpose. Products are evolving, customers are evolving. In the next ten years, it will be the company that adds value to its products, be it smoke detectors or tyres, that has the competitive advantage. As a result, all companies will be come software companies, as this will be the primary medium through which companies add value to their products. For example, Nest are disrupting the home safety market through building smoke detectors that communicate with you proactively, that give you warnings that are useful to you. What if a tyre company could produce tyres that told you when they ended to be changed, or informed you – or your car – how to drive more appropriately for the current conditions. the possibilities are endless, and it touches every industry, every product.

What next?

I’m really excited about the possibilities for technology in creating a better user experience for us all, actually, a better life experience for us all. It’s going to be great to watch develop, even better to be a part of. The ability to create new businesses and disrupt existing industries has never been more accessible. Even if some of the predictions don’t turn out to be right, there’s no doubt that things will be a lot different in ten years time.

See you at LeWeb 2014!


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Unbounce – 8 Small Business Landing Pages Critiqued for Conversion

Unbounce - LogoMy latest article for Unbounce - 8 Small Business Landing Pages Critiqued for Conversion – is now online at the Unbounce blog.

As always, you can read the article at Unbounce, but here’s an extract:

In the United States small business accounts for 44% of GDP and employs 60 million people. In the United Kingdom, small businesses are responsible for 60% of private sector jobs.

That’s a lot of money and a lot of jobs. It’s also a big market place. In this article we’ll be looking at landing pages that are focused on selling to small businesses and asking one thing: do they cut the mustard?

Despite their importance to the economies of the US and UK and their combined buying power, selling to small businesses requires a particular approach: one based around value, not scale, and focused on ease-of-use, not enterprise features. Lined up below are eight landing pages from big and small organizations; let’s see how they get on.

 


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Book Review: Content is Currency by Jon Wuebben

Content is Currency by Jon Wuebben - CoverMost book reviews start by telling you about the author and content, and end with telling you whether you should read it. This time I’m going to start by telling you why should you read this book; it’s important.

The reason why you should read this book?

Content Marketing is the hot topic of the moment, and Jon Wuebben’s book is about as comprehensive a guide as you’re going to get currently. Whether you’re a content marketing novice or a have already dabbled, Content is Currency has something for you.

Having said that, we can now get back into the usual swing of things.

Jon Wuebben is CEO of Content Launch and a content strategist. Content is Currency is the follow-up to his 2008 book, Content Rich: Writing Your Way to Wealth on the Web, and in it he takes an in-depth look at the hows and whys of creating content for the web – both desktop and mobile (and about time – things have changed massively since 2008!)

The ability to create engaging content is becoming increasingly important in today’s digital landscape. The prevalence and power of search and the virality of social, means that content is a powerful medium for organisations to spread their messages. Being able to make the most of these channels is good for both your brand and your bottom line.

Content is Currency is set out into three parts:

  1. What is Content Marketing? – in this part Wuebben looks at the basics of content marketing, including analysing your current presence, performing keyword analysis and competitive research, and optimising your content.
  2. Content for the Web – here Wuebben delves into the different sorts of content (from articles to press releases and beyond) and how you can create content that has impact.
  3. Content for Community and Mobile – in this part, which will be the one that I suspect most people will be drawn to initially, Wuebben details best practice around the use of blogging, email, video and audio, including how to make this content work on mobile devices.

Within each part, the subject is broken into a number of chapters, each dealing with a different element of content marketing. The progression through the chapters is logical and they are filled with good examples to help highlight the tips and techniques within, making it easy to absorb. There are also Case Studies at the end of each chapter that reinforce the approach. Although unavoidable, some of these examples and Case Studies will date, especially where screenshots are included, but this is a minor point, and doesn’t significantly detract from the longevity of the book’s use – as I said, it’s impossible not to have this issue where you are using real-life examples

Content is Currency is a book that you could read from cover to cover, if you so wished, but it is equally as useful as a coffee-table style dip-in guide. And although some of the content may date, it is still a comprehensive guide that provides real value to marketers and agencies alike. In a fast moving ever-changing environment like the web, making our content work across multiple channels and devices is so important – the lessons in Content is Currency will help you to make this a reality.

Have you read Content is Currency? What did you think? Have you changed your thinking on content marketing, or implemented changes since reading the book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a proof copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Jon Wuebben or Content Launch. I have not received any monetary incentives or payments. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.


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Book Review: Building a Blog for Readers: How to Blog In A Way That Matters by Nick Thacker

Building a Blog For Readers - Front CoverStarting as blog isn’t easy. You fret about whether you’ll be able to write, whether people will want to read it; after a few posts and only a few hits you start to wonder if it was all worth it. But get through the doubts and before long it all changes. For me, it’s been a really positive experience that has opened up doors to speaking opportunities, made me a little extra cash through freelance work, and even helped me get a new job.

Luckily for those of you who are just starting on this road, you can get a jump start thanks to Nick Thacker’s ‘Building a Blog for Readers: How to Blog In A Way That Matters’. Thacker is the prolific blogger and writer behind LiveHacked, a website aimed at aspiring authors who want to make a living out of writing. I was already familiar with LiveHacked, having used the site’s The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Writing Fiction content to help me with my writing, so when Nick asked me to review the book, I was happy to do so.

Building a Blog for Readers is set out less as book and more as a guide for the new or nascent blogger (Thacker himself terms it a manifesto). Formatted into 101 questions across seven topics, you can read through or dip in as required. It’s clear and accessible, and if you don’t think a section is valid for you, it’s easy to move on. However, Thacker’s goal for the book is that you work your way through each one, answering them as you go, so that you have the confidence to begin writing (or maybe not) when you get to the end. It’s not about giving you advice; it’s about helping you to understand what you want.

The seven topics are:

  1. Vision – these questions are focussed on getting out what you want to achieve through writing, your personal goals for the project.
  2. Purpose – this is about understanding your goals for the blog itself: will it help people, make you famous, what is it that makes you suitable to write about a subject, what makes you hungry?
  3. Strategy – creating a strategy for your blog. Define your readers and their requirements.
  4. Tactical – this are the smaller blocks of activity that put your strategy into action.
  5. Structure – the topics on which you’ll write and the USP of your blog. Also, the platform your blog will run on.
  6. Personal / Lifestyle – creating a writing schedule, outlining your commitment to write and discovering how best to approach writing.
  7. Inspiration – finally, other writers provide inspiration through sharing their experiences

Read in order, the book makes sense and holds your hand through most of the big questions you need to ask when setting up a blog (and looking to make money from it). One thing to note though: this won’t tell you how to write and it won’t make you a better writer. It will focus your mind and help you to structure your approach to writing – but if you’re hungry, passionate and knowledgeable on a subject, hopefully the writing quality will come with time and practice.

Personally I didn’t take as much from the Inspiration section as others have done, but the other questions that Thacker poses are well defined and thought-provoking. If you’re looking to start a blog this is worth reading; you’ll find you start off running – or at least jogging – rather than walking. And for the small price of £2.62, it’s not a massive investment either.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a proof copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Nick Thacker or LiveHacked. I have not received any monetary incentives or payments. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.

Have you read Building a Blog for Readers: How to Blog In A Way That Matters? What did you think? Has it given you the confidence to start writing? I’d be interested in your comments.


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Unbounce – 15 Landing Pages That Couldn’t Sell Honey to a Honey Badger

Honey Badger Gets What Honey Badger Wants!Just a quick post to say that my latest article for Unbounce - 15 Landing Pages That Couldn’t Sell Honey to a Honey Badger - is now online at the Unbounce blog.

It seems I have a reputation for telling it as it is, hence the eponymous Honey Badger of the title and the Tweets that went out today to promote the article:

And the editor’s intro:

With that, I’ll hand you over to James Gardner (no relation), who’ll walk you through 15 pages, an overview of their customers and what’s good and bad about them, some might get a little bloody, but there’s gold in there too, he makes a lot of sense and has some great advice, so pay attention.

I’m really quite pleasant in person, but I guess you can be who you want to be on the internet! I guess #iamthehoneybadger isn’t a bad reputation to have. Thanks Oli!

Here’s an extract, you can read the rest at Unbounce.

If there’s one thing a business wants from its landing pages, it’s conversions.

In this article we’ll look at 15 landing pages and critique them for conversion; looking at the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The key to driving a high conversion rate lies in understanding your audience, which is why I’ll dig into the types of customers they’re serving. If you do that, then at least you’ve given yourself the best possible chance. So who’s up first? Oh look! Adobe…


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Content is more important than design – do we need any more proof?

In April I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine entitled ‘Designing for the Future Web‘. In it I laid out my thoughts and opinions on how our experience of the web would change over the next few years, and how we would need to adapt our thinking around design and content. The main points of the article were:

  1. The number of devices connected to the internet would grow
  2. We would not be able to predict with any certainty where or how our sites would be seen
  3. To maintain a seamless customer experience, users should be able to have the same core experience regardless of the device, and switching from one to the other should present no challenge.
  4. To design for this we would need to concentrate on content structure first and visual design second, creating richer experiences for more capable devices.

Unsurprisingly, considering the general audience demographic of Smashing Magazine, this didn’t go down well with some of the readers. My favourite comments being:

i feel you my friend, as far from i know design is dead and designer swept away by the multitude of the wave. im thinking doing some admin/ Logistic work rather than be a creative. suck my balls corporate people – YR

And:

…. that’s Fking RETARDED, please get better authors on here…. – Nick

Yes, I have taken that last comment slightly out of context, but it tickled me, what can you do? (He was actually talking about my views on keeping JavaScript off of first generation mobile phones).

Well, I’ll ready myself for more of the same, because, without a doubt, content is more important than design.

Go on then, tell us why

The internet has always been a joined up medium. HTML was designed to link together documents to create a ‘web’ of content that could be searched and explored.

Since the days of CERN, the amount of content that has been created has grown in unspeakably large volumes, to the point where no human could ever possibly know where to find the content they need. So we developed search engines to help us with this. They crawled and indexed on our behalf so that we could bring information to us when we needed it. And this is the crux of it: the right information when we need it.

We’ve now reached a point where the ability to access information is driving changes in the products and services that are being developed, and in our own behaviour.

Product evolution

In iOS5, Safari has finally gained the same ‘Reader’ functionality that is available on the Mac OSX version. Pressing the ‘Reader’ button will strip all design from the page and publish only the content, resized and restyled. No fancy fonts, just Georgia. It’s like you’re reading a page from a paperback. If you like it, but don’t have the time to finish it, just save it for later.

Why have they introduced this? Because Apple understands that you go to sites to consume information. That content is valuable as a traffic driver, and in turn, a revenue generator. So the experience of reading that content on a mobile devices must be as clear and simple as possible.

Service evolution

The concept that information is always available, wherever we are, is defining a new set of services. Companies like FourSquare could not have existed a few years ago, but the broad availability of hardware-specific functionality such as geo-location has changed the game. Their partnership with Groupon to provide localised real-time deals starts to hit the mark, despite the issues with the Groupon IPO. These service are not about design, they are about content. Targeted content.

Behaviour change

The evolutions in products and services are in turn driving a behaviour change. Our ability to access information wherever we are is funnelling into the purchase process. We check prices and specification in-store at the point of purchase, we may even be swayed from one brand to another, or one shop to another, by the targeted offers we receive.  Targeted location-aware, identity-aware content is turning us into savvy consumers.

The result…

We’re finally able to make good on the marketer’s dream: the ability to deliver the right  content to the right person at the right time, driving sales and adding value to the purchasing process.

It’s clear, design is the enabler not the driver; users don’t need design, they need information that benefits them in a clear and tangible way.

So, sorry designers, but content is more important than design.


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“So Sony, but that’s not allowed” said Apple

Machiavelli ponders his next move...

Apple - sorry, Machiavelli - ponders the next move... (Image credit to Crashworks)

Today, Apple confirmed that it had blocked a Sony eReader app from being released onto the App store. Nothing much that’s newsworthy there; if it wasn’t for one thing. The reason it was blocked was not that it was a poorly written or low quality app – although one more eBook reader isn’t exactly anything to get excited about – but that it allowed for direct purchases from the Sony store in app. Again, nothing new here, you can purchase ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle app too. But, there is a distinction.

In Amazon’s Kindle app you are thrown out of the app into the browser to make your purchase, whereas in the Sony app, as far as anyone knows, the experience is completely enclosed within the app itself.

Why’s that important?

The reason behind this is, unsurprisingly, money.

The in-app purchase model is extremely important for future revenue growth. Initially, revenues were fueled by the intense activity around the store generated from hardware purchases, as new iPhone and iPod owners bought and installed apps. Figures show that, on average, each iOS device contains 60 apps. At first these apps would have been paid apps, but as with all software, it wasn’t long before someone else came along offering a similar app at a lower price, pushing down prices until they eventually reached zero. Now, for every paid app there are many free variants of varying quality. So, even though there is natural growth within the marketplace, caused by the growing user-base of devices, the revenue generated per device is falling.

Step forward in-app purchases.

In-app purchases are the logical next step. If the means for app distribution has become stale, but the app itself remains vigorous, then you start to charge users for content – or in this case, additional content. This model has already been well-explored in the games industry, through the medium of DLC (DownLoadable Content) and in-game purchases. Platforms like Steam, created by Valve, have proved the worth of this model.  Zynga’s Cityville, one of the most popular games on Facebook, also uses this idea, allowing users to buy additional credits to use in game to build their city.

The company that controls the process of in-app purchases stands to make a lot of money, hence today’s decision. Apple wants to make sure that all purchases go through the app store so that it can make a percentage from every sale. It’s as simple and as Machiavellian as that. Direct purchases from other sites, ones out of its sphere of influence, are directly competitive. The only reason it hasn’t stopped the Kindle app is simply that it would be accused, not wrongly, of making decision on our behalf about which sites we visit. And at this point I think this would be a draconian step too far.

Apple isn’t only company looking at this. Facebook announced last week that Facebook Credits were going to become mandatory for apps on its platform, with an exchange rate being set for virtual currency transactions. This is exactly the same move being played out.

I may be wrong, as always I am open to your thoughts and criticisms, but after all, this is money we’re talking about.


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What is Quora? And what does it mean for B2B marketers?

Quora logoJudging Quora is going to require some distance and objectivity, as we’re in the middle of a huge amount of hype right now which is liable to distort the arguments around it. Given that, here’s my take.

Why has Quora been successful?

Quora’s initial audience was very closely related, coming from a small set of industry verticals centred on tech start-ups and the tech industry in the US. At the same time, the tech journalists who follow start-ups also came on board and were able to get access to a group of very influential Silicon Valley VC investors and start-up CEO’s. So, the questions being asked were getting answered by the key people in a position to answer them.

Great, so it’s the new Twitter then?

Well, no, what remains to be seen is if the site can remain relevant with a much larger and more defocussed audience. If the majority of questions remain unanswered, or if the answers supplied become less authoritative, the site will suffer as a result. This is their biggest challenge.

So, what is it then?

Quora is indicative of a new approach to information search and retrieval on the web. Users are looking for more defined pieces of information that are authoritative, short and to the point, and crucially, that come from people that they trust and are within their social circle. In this respect it is a next generation approach to the old ‘Q&A’ sites, such as Yahoo Answers, hooking into the fact that we weight our opinions based on those around us.

Qwiki takes the same approach to information creating short visual wiki presentations.

And that means what for B2B?

Should it take off and continue its massive two-month growth, then it will become part of the social media landscape for most B2B companies. Monitoring the topics and questions that are being asked online, ready to step in and provide information openly and quickly. It also provides the opportunity for thought-leadership.

Okay. But what if I don’t like it…

No problem; for a more light-hearted view on Quora, you can always go to Cwora (http://www.cwora.com). Enjoy!


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Whitepaper anyone?

Following on from my previous blog about the future of the internet not being mobile, it seems fitting to stay on a related subject: content. Why related? Simply because as we change the way we interact with the internet, so we also change the way we interact with content.

In the past, B2B marketing has leant heavily on the crutch of the whitepaper – or something very similar – as an incentive to engage with an audience. In return for your data you get a big impenetrable chunk of copy in PDF format. As a consumer it takes time and effort to sit down and consume, and you’re probably lucky if 25% of the information is completely relevant. That’s if you can read it; have you tried reading a designed-for-print PDF on a mobile device? It just doesn’t stack up any more.

We’re now more sophisticated in our approach to information gathering; we consume information in highly relevant, but smaller chunks. We want access only to the key information and we then build outwards from there to find the supporting information that is right for our business. And what is this information? Opinion pieces, articles, news items, blogs entries, tweets: all from different sources. Rather than accept a single viewpoint we create a mesh of information ‘chunks’.

There are a couple of good examples of this approach to information gathering that are coming online: QWiki creates short illustrated presentations from multiple sources of information and plays them back to the user. It’s definitely worth checking out – if you can get an invite to the alpha. Quora is a user-created bank of questions and answers that are short and straight to the point. It’s already being seen as an essential tool for journalists in the technology arena, but will surely make the jump to a broader audience based on its initial success.

So, as B2B marketers, what do we do to create great digital content?

I believe it’s important to have a clear content strategy, based on three principles:

1. Present information in a format that is designed for screen, not print.
You wouldn’t dream of putting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel on a postage stamp and expecting people to engage with it. Digital data should be presented in its natural form: text-based, searchable and linkable. ‘Chunking’ data makes sense for information consumption, information display and information linking. By breaking down our whitepapers into small easily-digested elements, we can increase relevancy and display it more clearly on a wider range of devices.

2. Use multiple channels to reinforce your message.

The internet has freed users from the shackles of a single opinion. Take advantage of the fact by making sure that you are spreading your message across multiple communication channels. This should include user-generated content, ‘official’ content and journalistic content for a blend of opinions. If it is done right, this builds trust in the message through weight of – hopefully – positive opinion.

3. Create your own mesh of information for the user.

Don’t let your content live alone. Let your consumers explore your content at their own pace and in their own order. Make sure you include external content in the information web you build so as to reinforce your own messaging, and don’t be afraid of what you don’t control.

Creating content will always be a challenge, but we now have the opportunity to provide a much richer and more convincing experience for our consumers and clients. No more whitepapers for me…


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The future of the internet isn’t mobile…

But surely it must be? With 230,000 iOS devices and 200,000 Android devices activated every day how can it be anything else? Even Facebook is building a phone.

The near-future of the internet is mobile, but as B2B marketers we must be aware of how internet usage is changing in the long-term, and what this means for our campaigns and communications. Thinking in terms of individual channels and devices will only limit our ability to fully deliver for our clients in the future.

So how is the internet changing?

1. Our ability to access the internet is becoming ubiquitous
The most amazing thing about the internet is arguably not the content, but the creation of the infrastructure that carries it. Millions of interconnected computers, millions of miles of cable to carry data between them, and all the protocols and hardware that direct traffic from one place to another. This process hasn’t stopped yet, and being ‘online’ is becoming a more and more ubiquitous experience. The data on the internet is available through many channels and in many locations.

2. We are increasingly using web-based services, not web-based content
More and more we are basing our internet usage around key services and applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Spotify. Users are blending these services together to create their own online experience: Facebook for social life, LinkedIn for professional life, Delicious for bookmarks, Remember the Milk for tasks, Spotify for music. These services feed information to us, rather than us having to seek it out, which makes our online life more integrated with our offline life.

Some of these services are tied to a single device, but the majority are available wherever you are, and it is this portability that makes them so useful. For example, Netflix allows you to watch movies online, but not just through your PC, you can access them on your Xbox, PS3, Wii, iPad and internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray player as well.

3. The content available on the web is changing
In 1990, most traffic on the web was based around FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which took up 57% of the available bandwidth, but twenty years later video owns 51% of this bandwidth. Standard web-based traffic such as web pages and other downloads is now only 23%, down from approximately 55% in 2000. Video is the big growth area and the available content is growing rapidly. The ability to access this video-based content is also growing, with users no longer restricted to their PC. Cisco’s latest forecasts see 66% of mobile data usage being video-based by 2014 (see Figure 2 here)

What do these changes mean for those of us in the business of creating content?
It’s important that we aren’t overly rigid in our approach to creating content; we mustn’t think in terms of devices. Today we are producing mobile apps and web-based sites to deliver our services, but in a few years’ time we may be looking at a completely different landscape where it is impossible to know exactly where and how our content is being viewed. Some of these changes – Internet TV for example – may be game-changing as the distinction between online and broadcast blurs even further.

In some cases, we may well be faced with the decision to concentrate on particular devices and channels at the expense of audience numbers, or to take a more general and less tailored approach that can be viewed across the widest spectrum.

Regardless of which route we take, the ability to deliver a consistent experience across all channels is paramount, and our ability as an industry to understand the options and deliver this consistency will be crucial.