So… what are we waiting for?

I’ve just had breakfast with a very interesting businessman. Great proposition, which he’s refined over the last couple of years and which offers material business help specifically to third sector, charities and educational organisations. Help that can be felt in the bottom line. What’s not to like?

He freely admits his brochure is a couple of year’s behind the intellectual curve of his thinking and that his website has not progressed beyond a holding page.

I took him to task – obviously.

But on the way back to  my office I started to think… what gives me the right?

Yes, I’m a wash with experience about how to use digital to change your business but my blog is looking distinctly out of date. I’ve been so busy, you see and my thinking has been evolving at a rate of knots as I work with different clients in different ways.

So… what am I waiting for?

My website is not only my business card and a source of reassurance for those people who have already come across me but it’s also my playground. My blog, in particular, should be where I think out loud.

I recently heard Nancy Kline speak at a conference about thinking for ourselves and resolved to reflect more on how I think and how the way I articulate those thoughts is so often framed by external influences and codes. (Influences and codes which also inhibit organisational thinking.) While ‘speaking my mind’ might be tricky sometimes, ‘thinking my mind’ should be something I allow myself to do more often.

So sorry G, I had no right to take you to task when I should be using iterative, adaptable, powerful and accessible digital media more often. What are any of us waiting for?


Cookie Law – how’s that going for you?

The Cookie Law changes came in effect on May 26, 2012 and doesn’t time fly when you’re having governance fun? As I review how the changes are being implemented I’m most struck by the breadth of interpretation by organisations.

Plus, see the 5 things you should be doing right now at the foot of this post.

The EU Regulations have been flexed for UK consumption (we’ve already been given an extra year to get ready) but from my perspective this just puts British companies on the back foot when it comes to enforcement.

Traditionally the law got its clout from precedent (testing it in the courts and coming up with case law that could be cited to both prosecute and defend).

But in this digital age regulations themselves are often subject to revised interpretation and evolving advice and are policed in such a way that only a few bits (eg the government’s High Court battle with ISPs over the Digital Economy Act) get as far as the courts.

Cookies – the breakdown

Okay, back to cookies. As small bits of code that sit on users computers, cookies are useful in helping us understand what users want by monitoring their computer interactivity with a website.

The aim  of the new regulations is to give users more control over what organisations can find out and the opportunity to decline or remove cookies from their machines. Fair enough. If somebody from Marks & Spencer started following me about the store with a clipboard and writing notes about where I went or how long I spent there I would take exception, particularly if they didn’t desist when asked.


From a governance perspective I’m looking for robust ways to demonstrate that ‘implied consent’ has been given by users. Organisations have to give users enough easy to understand and obvious to find information about cookies to make it reasonable to assume users have implied consent, because they continue to move around a website without taking any other action – such as removing cookies. Sorry, that was a bit of a mouthful.

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), implied consent means your organisation needs to be satisfied (another woolly word) that your users understand that their actions will result in cookies being set and also:

  • in some circumstances, for example, where you are collecting sensitive personal data such as health information, you might feel that explicit consent is more appropriate.

Updating your privacy policy so that it is easy to understand and positioning links to it somewhere obvious to find is a step in the right direction.

I was involved in taking this approach on the Make it and Mend it website, pictured on the left. The Make it and Mend it Privacy and Cookie policy



Some organisations are more in your face about it. Such as the Financial Times pictured on the right.




And even though I’m not a limited company I’ve included advice about the approach I’ve personally taken in the In The Content Lab PRIACY/COOKIES on this site.

But how are you going to evidence how you decided (not assumed) the approach you took was the right one for you and your users? How are you monitoring effectiveness and aptness (alongside any changes in the interpretation of the underpinning regulation) on an ongoing basis.

Informed consent

If you’re going to understand implied consent it’s useful to understand informed consent. I like National Health Service definitions for this stuff. Implied consent is okay for some things and covers when someone doesn’t give written or express consent but does do something, for example, submits a completed questionnaire.

When it comes to more serious stuff you need informed consent, for example, giving someone full information about what a specific medical treatment involves, including the benefits and risks and then getting their consent in writing. Turning up for an appointment is not enough. I also looked at Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) and the difference between Express (or Explicit) and Implied permission. Implied permission is what basically sits behind the current soft opt-in rule for email communication in the UK.

This left me with other questions. How ‘serious’ is the cookie issue? Is this fundamental to personal privacy even though the data isn’t personal as such? Is implied consent enough? How has my organisation satisfied itself on the implied consent question (or has it simply relied on the ICO or other bodies). How is my organisation demonstrating overall respect for user privacy in the way  it handles their data (identifiable or not)?

More unanswered questions

But there are more unanswered questions. For example, what about the real time auctioning of ad space? How can you tell users what cookies to expect in your privacy policy if the future ad space hasn’t been sold yet? Is it enough to tell users that this might be the case?

When legal firm Pannone looked at Cookie Law in early July it found a number of sites that were not compliant, including some global names and at least on UK government department. The full list is due to be published by The Drum on July 20, 2012. (An earlier KPMG survey was equally damning.)

And the picture is further complicated by the fact that some European countries are not complying – at all. In June it was revealed that the European Commission has filed a lawsuit against five EU nations about this.

The Latvian position

At the other end of the scale Latvia has apparently implemented a draconian version of the Cookie Law where users have to approve every cookie. My personal jury is still out on where the various country interpretations of the Cookie Law leaves organisations who operate across European geographic boundaries. Is it different if you have offices or subsidiaries in those countries? Does it matter where your website is physically based, servers etc? I’m not convinced the current advice on this is considered enough. These are just some of the things that keep me awake at night.

So, why should you bother and how should you bother?

At a top level let’s not lose sight of the pecuniary implications for getting it wrong. Site owners can be fined up to £500,000 for non-compliance. The ICO has said that its preference is for sending out notices rather than fining organisations, so long as they are making efforts towards compliance. Two words here – audit trail. Ooh and another one – evidence.

For those of you quietly humming “Catch me if you can” beware. Increasingly individuals are using online tools to take organisations to task for non-compliance in all sorts of areas. You only have to read the Advertising Standards Authority’s weekly adjudications to realise that. And although the ICO’s cookie concerns reporting tool is breathtakingly awful,  there are still people out there who will and are using it.

Secondly, doing the right and legal thing underpins your brand. Why should I trust the integrity of your product or service if you’re willing to cut corners elsewhere?

When it comes to the ‘how’, the first question you need to answer is: What types of cookies are used on your site? If you don’t what the cookie load is how can you decide how best to inform your users about them? Cookies basically fall into 4 types:

  • Session cookies – that last for a browser session and might include things like shopping basket contents.
  • Persistent cookies – which allow things like member preferences to be stored over the longer term. They may also be used to target advertising.
  • 1st party cookies – set by the website displayed in the URL window (that’d be you then).
  • 3rd party cookies – set by a domain other than the one being visited by the user. This would include Google cookies for analytics.

Then there is the question of how you inform. Obvious placement of your cookie and privacy policy links, as mentioned before, is one relatively straightforward option to apply. A lot of sites are using pop ups and and I have issues around the intrusive nature of this interface. Is this helpful or just interruptive? Is my organisation’s implied consent coming at the expense of irritated customers?

I’m also concerned that if users constantly have their browsing interrupted by variously worded cookie pop ups they may seek easier solutions. One option is the Do Not Track feature increasingly being offered by browsers. According to a Mozilla (Firefox) survey of 10,000+ Firefox users in 140 countries, 49% believed their privacy was respected more when Do Not Track was enabled. The survey also found users’ trust increased for browsers, publishers and advertisers who supported Do Not Track.

There is some question as to whether Microsoft’s IE 10 will ship with the “Do Not Track” turned on, as in the original spec – or off, which may reflect external pressure (some might argue).

5 things you should be doing right now…

  1. What are you currently doing?
  2. If the answer is ‘Nothing’ – get your act together.
  3. What’s the feedback, so far, on your current approach? (Assuming you didn’t answer ‘Nothing’ to 2.)
    • Any changes to page views etc?
    • Have you asked users what they think of your approach? This could be as simple as a 4Q survey.
    • And for goodness do some competitor and comparator work.
  4. Based on your answers to 3. should you make changes to your approach now?
    • These changes might affect how you ask for permission, or what you currently use cookies for.
    • If you answer ‘No’ to 4. – what are are you waiting for, exactly? The digital world is constantly evolving. If you’re not evolving with it, you’re a dinosaur.
  5. How much do you value the information you get from tracking with cookies? Gathering the data for data gathering sake is not enough.





Don't be afraid to tinker with your From line

I happen to belong to something call Groupon, an online, email driven business that harnesses the power of collective purchasing to offer money-saving coupons on anything from fish pedicures (no time to explain) to car valeting and even holidays. Groupon is a play on words – well word actually: “coupon.” Geddit?

But a puff for Groupon is not the point of this quick post. I was clearing out old Groupon emails from my inbox and noticed how they have progressed the From line in their emails over time – I’ve been a member for about 6,8 months.

Take a look below. The top line on both images shows the most recent email. The bottom line, the oldest.

Obviously this isn’t all the emails I received from them in that time period shown. But I hadn’t spotted how they had slowly modified their From line from:

  • being benefit led and explanatory – “MyCityDeal – Groupon” (bottom)
  • to leading with the brand name but supporting with the benefit – “Groupon – MyCityDeal” (middle)
  • to simply – Groupon (top/most recent).

The brand has grown enormously in this time and you’d have to live in outer space to have not heard of them. Every time I look the value being placed on the company and the list of prospective buyers seems to increase. Way to go coupon people!

But the point of this post is – don’t be afraid to fiddle with your From line in emails.

We allk now that people delete emails faster and faster and that the From line is very important when deciding what to open. We all angst over Subject lines. Let’s start angsting that From line progression. If it’s good enough for a business most recently valued at $15 billion, it’s good enough for me.

Is it time to go viral?

Viral campaigns have been front of mind for me recently. I’ve suddenly been struck by how a great idea isn’t always the right idea. There may be a profound difference between what works as a viral campaign and what works for you as a brand / business / organisation – ie the audience that is most likely to engage with a viral and, most importantly, pass it on, aren’t necessarily the ones who are going buy what you sell. And… under those circumstances, is a viral still worth doing and why?

Take the 2001 ‘Proof’ campaign starring Kylie Minogue and which was considered too raunchy for the cinema audiences for whom it was conceived. It’s had more that 350 million hits on YouTube since then.

While conceived as a cinema ad it has proved itself extraordinarily viral. The question is – how many people who’ve watched this on YouTube (and it has now been named the best celebrity viral ad of the decade by online content distributor GoViral) are now wearing Agent Provocateur undies?

I understand that a lot of chaps may have rushed out and bought undies for the women in their lives (one or two may have bought velvet upholstered bucking broncos as well) but is that good enough, given how much a viral campaign of this type costs to create?

Remember, I’m just asking questions at this stage. I’m hoping you’ll have at least some of the answers. The most I’m going to offer up later in this article is opinions.

Okay, now let’s take a look at one of my personal favourites…

These sheep crack me up. There is no day of chaos in the office that cannot be improved by spending a few moments rewatching this one. But the truth is that no matter how many times I look at it I do not feel moved to go out and buy a Samsung LED TV.

According to its creators, the:viral:factory, it has featured on Sky, ITV, ABC, The Sun newspaper and The New York Times… But while demand for LED TVs is set to grow to around 90 million units by 2013 (39% of the total market), Sharp seem to be taking the high ground – in the UK at least. They’re on track to sell around 2 million LED TVs in 2009 and predict a massive 10 million sales in 2010. » Source

With no electric sheep in sight, Sharp are selling successfully. But that doesn’t mean they’re sitting back with their feet up.

As early as July 2008 Sharp  was encouraging younger Hong Kong office workers to send viral messages to their friends through a mini site, ‘Where’s my pixie’, promoting its Aquos TV range. They’d targeted this segment (25-35) because they were predisposed to go online and research prior to making a purchase. The characters in the viral were designed to demonstrate picture quality. And as far back as September 2007 Bob Scaglione, Sharp Consumer Electronics Marketing Group senior VP, announced the launch of its “most aggressive advertising and brand campaign in our history”. Earlier this year Sharp launched (and aggressively advertised) an new generation of Aquos TVs, replacing more expensive models.

Here comes the opinion…

Virals are like diets. Every now and again one comes along that catches the public’s attention and seems to get results. But the fact is that the only true way to lose weight is to burn more calories and consume less calories. A stonking good diet, when it forms part of an overall health and fitness regime (squeezing off that extra 5lbs before Christmas, say), may well make a difference. Used on its own… chances are any benefits will be transitory.

So, what should you ask yourself before getting stuck into a viral campaign?

1. Is it enough to create on simply ‘get the word out’?

2. What succes criteria should you / can you attach to it?

3. Where is the budget coming from (are you paying Peter with Paul’s stash and are other marketing initiatives likely to suffer)?

4. And where does you viral sit both practically and strategically when you look across your entire marketing landscape? (This can include blogging about the viral – so make sure everybody’s out of their silos.)

If the strategic and brand accord is that there’s room in the mix for a good viral – you don’t need Kylie writhing on plum plush to be successful.

A viral can be a picture (including a discount voucher), a simple game, an email, or even a phone message.

Irish internet and phone company Perlico created a ‘quack’ viral. If you rang the company you were given this amongst your options: “Press three to hear a duck quack.” Through word-of-mouth and email, the company received 70,000 extra calls in the campaign’s first three days and added what the company described as “a significant number of new customers”.

Don’t park your brain

It’s all very exciting, but the most important thing at this stage is sanity checking your creative juices using people who are outside the campaign team. I suspect this didn’t happen with the » Burger King Angry-gram

You also need to decide if the target for the viral is the direct target for your business or if the aim some form of ripple influence where the viral recipient influences your ultimate customer group? An example of that approach is »L’Oreal’s ‘Every mum is worth it campaign’ from March this year

You need to be prepared for a number of things, including the viral element becoming dissociated from you and your brand and taking on a life of its own. If you (or your CEO) find loss of control unacceptable – maybe viral isn’t for you.

The other thing you really have to understand is why people share things and accept things from people they don’t necessarily know that well – and not just as this applies to the internet (quaint word, but I still love it).

People do things because they make sense at the time. Online is also disinhibiting, so people will share (and accept) things, including links to raunchy Kylie videos, which they might baulk at sharing face-to-face. So the reason to share a viral must be clear. Its humour must be instant and universal and any essential usefulness immediately obvious.

And Christmas is a great time of year for a viral. Which reminds of the music channel that created a viral of a boy unwrapping a Christmas present. It was a light sabre which he wielded with gay abandon – until he cut grandma’s head off. Ho, ho, ho – or no. no, no? You decide.

Content is King (sort of)

Here’s a question – if content is king, how come it hasn’t got a seat on the board? Or a top of the range company car? How come content doesn’t sit in on senior management team meetings? Hm?

At best most organisations treat content rather like a middle manager that everybody believes has been promoted beyond their competence. Nobody disrespects them to their face but neither do they give them any real power. And they certainly don’t need to keep content in the loop.

I know what you’re thinking. The Lab Rats have got a bee in their bonnet and are blowing it up out of all proportion. (Can you blow up a bee? Isn’t that apian cruelty? Ed.)

Okay, the title ‘Content Manager’ is a fairly common one, but Content Managers are very rarely – if ever – at the top of the management food chain. And what about Content Directors? Visit one of the big jobs’ websites, put Content Director in the search engine and see what comes up. See what I mean?

Yet everybody pays lip service to the fact that content is critical. Content is what allows us to engage with and shape the experiences of our customers, prospects and users. Content is what we use to create conversations online. It’s what we use to create usefulness – ‘this is how to buy in our online shop’, ‘this is where you download the form you need’, ‘here’s how this website / email /digital message will enable you to do what it is you want to do’.

But we still treat content as something that just needs to be sliced and spliced. Content is something we control – not something that exerts control in its own right. We ‘chunk it’, ‘cut it’, ‘edit it. We approach content with mental scissors (or buy in scissor expertise to keep content under control).

(The sound you can now hear is a million Content Managers, and one or two Content Directors, hammering at the lab door and baying for my blood. A few of them are waving scissors. This could turn nasty.)

So I need to state here and now that if I ruled the world content would be supreme commander and Grand Poobah in every organisation. When the CEO played golf on Saturday he’d invite content to tee off with him. Content would have dinner with Alan Sugar and Barack Obama regularly. I rate content, okay? Put the scissors down.

Why Content needs a seat on the board

Content and its keepers must be elevated is we are  to truly exert its power to communicate and influence. Those who control it within organisations need to conduct peer to peer conversations at the higest level; not just about its use but its governance, budgets, its strategy and the wider social responsibilities that come with publishing and broadcasting. Particularly when the platform is as powerful as the internet.

The larger and more influential the organisation the more critical that its key content personnel are recruited and deployed at the most senior level. (This should be so for all organisations, not just the farsighted ones.) This is especially pertinent for public sector, goverment and quasi govermental organisations whose brands are also trustmarks for people seeking advice or reassurance. To ensure content is relevant, accurate, up to date (or suitably archived); to ensure is is adequately budgeted for and considered at a strategic level, it needs its own big cheese.

I’ve just joined a Google Group on Content Strategy. At the moment I’m just observing from the corners of the room but I’ve been struck but some of the arguments (and who’s doing the arguing). Serious hitters, every one. For example, Rahel Anne Bailie, Content Strategist / CM Consultant,  Intentional Design Inc, who observes how the customer value proposition may suffer if those developing the content are taken outside their knowledge base and not supported into new skills and knoweldge sets (which is, I think,  increasingly likely to happen as we harness a growing range of socio-adaptive, potentially vetuperative, user-centric platforms).

We need to bring on our content keepers, so that they are mixing on a daily basis with higher management and boardroom echelons. This is the level at which serious strategic skillsets are traded and mashed. Get content into that arena and we are creating (for the future) more rounded senior people who understand content as well as they do a balance sheet. Your current CEO may well have previously been a Director of Finance. Might your future CEO once have been the Director of Content?

Content and what happened with HR

I’m tempted to draw some parallels between Content now and  the position of Human Resources / Human Capital some years back. HR has a much higher profile these days. It reflects the fact that organisations became increasingly aware of both the potential and potential risk that was encapsulated in people. And not just senior people, but the employee driving a van or working the post room. It’s the same with content. It’s very easy to get excited about the content for the ‘big, new website launch’ or the ‘bumper annual report’, while that PDF languishing at the back end of some deserted, 4th level down, sub-page heirarchy, (out of date and poorly worded), still has the ability to bite you on the corporate bum and shame your brand.

So, I’m wondering, could you interpret an organisation’s content maturity, in part, from the seniority of its content keepers? (See my visual musing below: 7 ages of content maturity within orgnisations, with apologies to William Shakespeare.)

The maturation of HR function wasn’t just about watching out for the bad stuff that could happen – unfair dismissal claims, workplace bullying and the like – but also about providing the structure and support that enabled an organisation’s human capital to be the best it could be. HR maturity (and increasingingly senior titles for HR players) brought with it huge leaps forward in terms of equality and diversity, mentoring, workplace learning… Oh the wonder if content was treated and respected in the same way.

7 stages to organisational content maturity

Seamus Walsh of Vazt, also part of the Content Strategy Google Group, sent out the rallying cry ‘Has the time come for a Chief Content Officer?’ at the end of April this year. It was his clarion that prompted me to join the group (that and the very bossy co-founder of CDA). As Walsh put it: “Enterprise content is a corporate asset, yet it is  one of the only assets that is not represented on the executive leader team.    I firmly believe that an ‘enterprise content strategy’, with gap  analysis can help a company be more effective and efficient.  Frankly, I think removing IA role out of IT and moving in into the business in  an executive capacity will do the trick.’

So far there are about 33 messages triggered by Walsh – not all gung ho by a long chalk. One concern is that as debates about roles can quickly become political. The implication being that the thoughtful conversations about content and its management will be dismissed as talk designed to facilitate greasy pole climbing.

Another message that caught my eye was someone saying that they wouldn’t want to go into a job as a Chief Content Officer if the organization didn’t already have high content values. Just appointing someone senior with a fancy title doesn’t change orgnisational structure or culture. What we’re talking about here (well, what I’m talking about here) goes deeper than simply a title.

I believe that senior content appointments could have a profound influence on our industry. After all, it is acknowledged that leadership plays a major role in organisational change. Why shouldn’t content leadership have as important an influence?

Me? I’m holding out for the title of Grand Poobah.

With due credit to the big hitters and the Content Strategy Goggle Group

>> Content Strategy – Google Groups

>> Rahel Anne Bailie, Intentional Design Inc

>> Seamus Walsh, Vazt