Monthly Archives: May 2008

Brand Tags

A colleague sent me a link to brand tags ( a project by a guy called Noah Brier. You can read about Noah at his website and he has some really interesting ideas. The idea behind Brand Tags is that you are presented with a brand logo and asked to record a single word or short phrase that first comes to mind. You are then presented with further brands and asked to do the same. Noah uses a tag cloud to present the summary information and it is a perfect use of technology. He has also created a similar model using celebrity photos (

I recommend you visit Noah’s site and read his findings from the research. Although it is still in progress there are already interesting things coming out of it not least the take up. Noah reports that since putting it up under a week ago he has had 77,000 tags and the interest is incredible.

Noah has taken the decision to cut out the spam but there is still a potential for fraud. Even though this is a project with no commercial interest (well little) he has already experienced people tagging the same term multiple times. Were this a brand tracking system used by millions what else might happen? Could brand perception be seeded? Clearly the idea is you input before you find out what others think and so it should not make a difference other than in conversations (off or online) outside of the project.

Noah has enabled a function that allows you to search for brands that are referred to by a specific tag. For example putting in “good” you get Google at the top of the list. Put in Evil and Wal Mart appears first (Google interestingly come third). I have theory that Google are at the beginning of a decline and will monitor the tag cloud to see whether there is any correlation. I have a similar theory about Facebook and they appear 5 under the Evil tag. They come second for the tag “annoying”. Watch this space (well that space).

Mobile VOIP launches in the UK 13th May 08

To coincide with my wedding anniversary (kind of them) Nimbuzz launched in the UK. According to their Chief Marketing Officer Tariq Dag Steinberg Khan, Nimbuzz goes beyond Skype and offers “free calls, chat and more.” On the face of it this is true. In addition to mobile VOIP calling it also offers conference calling, instant messaging, chat, photo and file sending across multiple IM communities including Skype, MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo! and Social networking sites likes Facebook and Myspace.

The application is free to download and once the user has registered the contacts from their selected IM communities are aggregated in to a single contacts list with icons that show real time status – online or offline. Apparently Nimbus already works with more than 500 handsets and VOIP works in 90 handsets worldwide. If they can integrate geo-location somehow that would be even more interesting.

Although the calls are free the costs of data are still charged for by the carriers and so the recent announcement by Vodafone in the UK of the first all-you-can-eat data package is even more significant. A year ago flat rate data plans didn’t exist in Europe and the launch of this type of technology would not have generated the excitement it no doubt will.

Nimbuzz claim to have subscribers numbering 500,000 from 176 countries and that their launch is driving data take up on mobile devices. I mentioned Trutap in a recent blog and like it, Nimbuzz is another example of technology the uses the specific attributes of mobile devices. It is still the carriers with their control of data rates that will control the effectiveness and adoption of these new technologies.

Mobile metrics: Carriers are witholding

An interesting example of the flawed mobile business model surfaced this week. According to Matthew Feldman, president and CEO of Versaly Entertainment “Anyone in the mobile industry will say reporting is probably one of the weakest segments of the mobile industry”. Jack Hallahan, VP of advertising and brand partnerships at MobiTV Inc., which has almost 4 million subscribers said the company also has the problem. “MobiTV knows what device type is watching at any time, but it still doesn’t know who that user is”, he said. The problem is that whilst they know the device the content is being viewed on they don’t have any detailed demographic information. “We don’t have a data point of exactly what’s happening on the last mile,” Hallahan added.

The information is held by the carriers but they are not sharing it. Not only are they not sharing data they are also taking a large share of the revenues for providing the pipe for distribution of digital media like video – typically 35%. The combination of these two factors is reducing investment and stifling innovation. Until the business model changes mobile will suffer. Interestingly, in the US data revenues fell for the first time ever in the second half of 2007. Will it take an economic collapse of the scale seen in the music business caused by innovative consumers to force the change or will carriers wake up and smell the Begonias?

The challenges faced by multi-channel organisations NOW.

Organisations are trying to catch up with the market having finally realised that customer experience will be a major differentiator for them, and would be today, if they had invested in it 5 years ago. Most are attempting to establish a framework for delivering a consistent and differentiated multi-channel customer experience. Their biggest single challenge is that the consumer has already moved on and as a result the bar they are trying to reach has already been raised.

For sure there is a world of trouble getting from where they are now to even a catch-up situation. Most are organised wrongly so that silos exist and employees in one channel have little to do with the others. Even if they do, they are not rewarded in a way that encourages customer centric behaviour. People issues are always tough but can be overcome with senior management buy-in, better structure and appropriate rewards.

Equally systems issues exist with multiple views of customer data, inefficient supply chains and lack of employee access. At Foviance we regularly see organisations that have 20,000 employees and only 5% of them have systems access. To compound this most organisations have not recovered from the foiled multi-million dollar investment in CRM systems from organisations like Seibel (now Oracle), that have never delivered the value that was promised.

The reason organisations find themselves in this situation is the same reason they will most likely fail again. They did not look outwardly and plan for the way consumers would want to interact with them in the changing world. They were not, and are not ready for this changed world and with recession looming the next few years is likely to see most senior execs once again focusing internally. As Foviance and RXP‘s recent research illustrated, in the retail sector only organisations with a multi-channel history are performing well and this is not the majority. Even if organisations catch-up with their peers this will not be enough. Most will benchmark against their competitors and count themselves successful if they are on level terms. For the consumer this is not sufficient.

Consumers do not make allowances for different sectors and industries. Their expectations are set by the universe of experiences they have. The supply chain differences between white goods and fast moving consumables have no bearing on how well the experience should be delivered in their view. Organisations that win the multi-channel experience war will be those that reach the bar set by their consumers, not by their peers.

NMA 01.05.08: Letter to editor

This weeks NMA included an editorial by Justin Pearse about how UK Digital Agencies tend to be “domestic and tactically focused”. This, suggests Ian James, head of digital for, is raising the concern that “clients’ needs are outrunning their agencies capabilities”. Perhaps this is true of digital design and build agencies but it is certainly not true of digital customer experience agencies. Our engagements have covered areas from global customer research to international websites, prototypes, mobile technology and even the tablet PC.

Foviance carried out it’s first international project back in 2001 working with grocery retailer Otto through their partner major FMCG brand owner Proctor and Gamble. Since then we have worked with a variety of major brands including Microsoft, Sony, Nokia, and Dell, and some less well known ones (such as Victor Chandler) on international consultancy engagements from Madrid to Macau.

In many cases, due to both time constraints and local market expertise, major brands are using local agencies for design and build; and so we work closely with these companies to help them to ensure they have the hard facts needed to create a consistent brand experience across multiple markets. We are frequently the only constant in a global project beyond the brand employees and link with our own ‘Foviance alliance partners’ to bring in these large, international engagements. Foviance is not alone in being a customer experience agency that works internationally; many of our competitors also do – either through formal partnerships or relationships built on practical experience.

There are fundamental differences with the way users interact between countries and continents, with variations caused by cultural, social, economic as well as obvious language differences (such as there being no word for “Lucky Dip” in Asia). While it maybe ideal for clients to have a single international digital agency, without the support of traditional advertising or media networks there is no way that UK agencies can develop this expertise without a process of trial and error. International growth is dependent on expertise and experience – and is yet another reason why independent, expert research and consultancy partners will have a major role to play in the continued growth and expansion of the UK’s digital industry.

Mobile experience: voicemail charges

Like many I suppose, I am trying to get my head around how the operators charge their customers. In many ways they seem to have no idea about how to deliver a consistent brand experience (or even a consistent user experience) and at every point where there is an opportunity to disappoint they take it with willing hands. This post deals with the way voice mail charges are dealt with and in particular when roaming round Europe.

Link to how much? image

The main issue here is that users (customers really but being treated like users) have no idea about the charges they incur until they have incurred them. Sometimes they are not necessarily unfair, it is simply the lack of knowledge in the hands of the customer that creates such a lousy user experience. Also there is significant inconsistency between the network operators so if you move from one to another the acquired wisdom does not transfer.

Lets take the first example of someone making a trip abroad, taking the mobile with them but not making any calls. On their return home they receive a bill for £9.50 for “usage outside the EU”. Further investigation reveals that the bill has a number of identical call pairs. One of these is to the phone owners number and the other to Voicemail. This was a T-mobile example and it turned out that if anyone called the mobile while it wasn’t in the country incurs two charges. One for letting the caller leave the voicemail and the other to let the owner know they have a voicemail.

These charges are perfectly legitimate but to the average user they may well seem to be crazy. They will no doubt incur a call centre service charge when the phone owner calls in to complain and also leave a nasty taste in the mouth, which in these days of switching is probably the last thing the operators want.

Some costs can be incurred by poor usability or device design. For example some devices make it very easy to press the browser button without knowing it (whilst in a pocket for example). I had a Sony Ericsson that did just this and came with the side button configured to launch the browser app. I quickly changed it but other, less savvy users would perhaps be unable to do so easily and would become frustrated.

Another example with O2. They say that you will also be charged for callers leaving you voicemails – even if the  phone is switched off. They recommend that you turn off the voicemail service entirely before going abroad to avoid any unexpected charges. They said that as soon as the phone was picked up roaming in France the voicemailbox was moved to France and therefore you had to pay callers who were calling from the UK and leaving messages. Helpfully the O2 website suggests that you set up a “divert all” command for all voicemail calls and this will do the trick.

Some countries are better regulated. For example in Italy it is a legal requirement that a user is notified when they are about to be charged. This is a great idea in principle as it would appear to improve the user experience by providing an additional confirmation step before a user went online even if a button was pressed by mistake. However research showed it is very off putting for users and made them more nervous.

There is a technical explanation for all this but it is way to complicated fr me and involves Home Location Register (HLR) and Visitor Location Register (VLR). You can read more about this at I found this white paper on their site that explains mobile networking quite clearly.

All our research shows (ours being my company Foviance) that users have not a clue about the way they are charged for mobile internet and for most it is a barrier to entry. The all you can eat packages that include data charges are changing this (and will need to for iDTV also if the red button is to be pressed more than it is) but far too slowly as operators try and maximise revenues rather than focus on building loyalty through delivering a better user experience.

BBC TV License fee: BBC Internet License fee

BBC Logo

I contacted the TV Licensing authority recently to try and establish beyond doubt what the licence fee covered and whether it was future proof. It convinced me once and for all that the BBC will have to at some point operate without a licence fee and that no doubt means advertising revenue. Here is the reply I received to my enquiry:

Dear Sir

Thank you for contacting us.

A television licence is required if you use television receiving equipment to record and/or receive television programme services. Television receiving equipment could be a television, video recorder, DVD recorder/player, PCTV (computer with facility to receive television programmes), or a television card for a computer. If your lap top computer is capable of receiving live broadcasts, whether on-line, or through an aerial or satellite dish, then it is classed as television receiving equipment. This means a licence is needed to receive BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, digital television, other terrestrial services, satellite television and cable television.

If you receive programme services (as defined above), live via the Internet, BBC Online for example (Newsnight is one such broadcast), then a television licence is required. If you are using the Internet to browse archived programme services websites, then a television licence is not required.

If your equipment is not used to receive or record television programmes, please let me know your address. I will then make sure our records are changed to show you do not need a television licence.

I hope this information is helpful.

Yours faithfully

name not included to protect the innocent
Customer Services

How a DVD player can be considered television “receiving equipment” is beyond me but that is beside the point really.

The implications of this are that the license fee is actually an internet license fee. Does that also mean it is a mobile license fee? If I subscribe to Sky mobile TV I am potentially in breach of the licensing law because I will be receiving live, streamed video to my phone. I don’t need to own a TV, have a Sky subscription or meet any other criteria to sign up for this. If I travel abroad what happens then?

It seems to me there will have to be a major shake up of the BBC license fee if it is to keep up with the multi-channel world we are increasingly living in.