7 insights for startups & small businesses in the latest Meeker Internet Report

Every year, Mary Meeker publishes her annual Internet Report.

A Silicon Valley analyst with VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, she updates the world on what’s next for the Internet, based on increasing trends from the last year.  KPCB has raised US$10 billion and invested in over 850 companies in the last 45 years, including some of the world’s most familiar and most successful, so this report definitely has its finger on the pulse.

But out of 294 pages, which insights apply to startups and small-to-medium businesses (SMB)?

We looked at the report from a shared perspective. Like most SMBs, we too are focused on making a difference to our customers by understanding what they want, helping them remove pain from business decisions, and giving them the insights they need to make better and faster decisions, based on data.

Here’s a seven-point summary of the Meeker Report to help your startup or SMB achieve success in the reality of today’s – and tomorrow’s – Internet world:

  • It starts with data
  • Your customers are online
  • It’s not just business, it’s personal
  • It’s not just personal, it’s mobile
  • Scrutiny and regulation are set to increase
  • Chat is exploding
  • Search is more diverse & closer to purchase

It starts with data

We’ve always shared this mantra at Digivizer. According to Meeker, customer satisfaction increases when the organization has more information about the customers. Growth in the way consumers search for information about things important to them has surged in the past three years:

Organizations of any size can get closer to consumers the moment they ask a search engine for information about something they want or need.

The challenge is knowing how to extract the information, how to interpret and understand it, and what to do with it once you have it. Today’s Internet behemoths have become as large as they have by being very good at using these data. But every SMB can enjoy the same success: the only thing that changes is scale.

Your customers are online (and spending a lot of time there)

Half the world’s population is on the Internet.

An online presence is the fastest way to engage with the largest number of customers actively seeking the products or services you have to offer.

And more of us are moving online and doing more there. Your suppliers, employees and partners (and your competitors) are all going digital. According to the report, in the US, e-commerce sales accounted for 13% of all retail sales, and that’s accelerating. Total US e-commerce sales grew 16%, up 14% year on year.

It’s not just business: it’s personal

Every day, there’s more things you can do online: buy, sell, pay, search, research, relax, learn, share… and when we’re online, we make choices about what we look at. This drives the algorithms used by social media and search engines to make recommendations back to us.

Each of us has a unique view of the Internet and the information contained there. We are all constantly fine-tuning our experiences, from our professional experiences to important personal matters such as healthcare, insurance, home purchases and relationships. And don’t forget customer service, delivery tracking, and finding suppliers.

For organizations seeking to create new experiences with customers, start with knowing each individual as individuals. Everyone’s online experience is different; everyone’s online experience is theirs alone.

It’s not just personal: it’s mobile

It’s become so instinctive to seek out a local wifi network and go online that it’s easy to forget how rapidly entrenched these networks have become. According to Meeker, the number of wifi networks globally has risen four times in just four years, to around 450 million.

Cost of access drops as the number of wifi access points increases. That makes it easier than ever for your customers to reach out to you wherever they are – work, home, out socializing, travelling halfway around the world, or anywhere in between. It’s more important than ever to think about your company’s mobile digital presence.

Scrutiny and regulation are set to increase

Consumers are increasingly aware of how valuable their personal data are – including their preferences for products and services. As they learn their digital rights, more and more they’re only turning to those they trust for information, products and services.

We were all inundated with GDPR notification emails when the regulations went live on 25 May… and we bet you noticed which companies didn’t email you, or which ones slid in late.

At the core of trust sits data. Businesses need to know who to engage with, what matters to them, when and how. Regulations will change the rules of engagement for everyone. Let’s be honest, though – the rules of the game may change, but the principle of finding ways to deliver value in a way acceptable to your customer remains.

Organizations that have the data, and use it ethically, professionally, with care and with the consumer’s permission, will have the edge. How else can you seek permission except by knowing who to ask?

Chat is exploding

Want to connect with prospects? Sell to them while they’re there? Keep them as customers? Engage with them using chat. Globally, customer conversations using real-time tools is set to hit the 500 million mark this year, from basically zero just five years ago.

*MAU = Monthly active user

Consumers are increasingly becoming accustomed to interacting with chatbots. The global chatbot market was valued at US$190 million in 2016 and that’s only grown – and advances in AI mean chatbots will increasingly be nearly indistinguishable from human service. Be where the customers are, when they need you, and use all the tools available to you on the way. Let them choose when they need to be served in person, by a person.

Search is becoming more diverse – and closer to purchase

Consumers use more tools to do more searches, and buy more often, and sooner – and they’re using more than Google.

In the US, here’s where those surveyed searched for information about brands, products & services:

  • Facebook (78%)
  • Instagram and Pinterest (59% each)
  • Twitter (34%)
  • Snapchat (22%)

Perhaps most enlightening is the connection to purchases: 55% bought after search using social, with 11% doing so immediately.

For small and medium businesses, there are two ways to view the Internet future: opportunity or onslaught.

With the right tools, opportunity beckons. The right tools can help you know who you are trying to reach, understand who they follow. The right tools can support the creation of original and relevant content, track real engagement, and measure all these results in real-time. Remember, even Amazon and Facebook were SMBs once.

This article is also published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-insights-startups-small-businesses-latest-meeker-internet-smith/ and at https://digivizer.com/meeker-report-insights/.

(Data sources: all charts based on originals produced in The Internet Report 2018 by Mary Meeker and published by Kleiner Perkins. See the Meeker Report for notes and qualifications on data.)

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Forget everything you’ve ever learned about recruitment: new dimensions needed

I’ve been party to, and read, a number of conversations in recent days about recruitment, culture, skills and equipping the workforce of tomorrow with the skills of tomorrow. (My CEO at Digivizer Emma Lo Russo touches on this – and more – in her latest article here).

Anyone who frames conversations about skills, experience and “the future” in narrow terms defined by age, longevity, breadth of market expertise (narrow or broad) or academic qualifications need to reframe their conversations anew. Aptitude and attitude, an ability and preparedness to learn, and evidence of risk taking, are as important. At Digivizer we now apply these dimensions to our recruitment ahead of solely considering qualifications. Evidence of success, evidence of being able to interpret the needs of customers and clients, and evidence of being apply to create and deliver value, count for more (and see how we define these attributes in Emma’s article).

And let’s simply discard the a-g-e word right now. Those with experience under our belts need to let go of our allegiance to the good old days and focus instead on guiding those yet to acquire similar experience, acting as mentors and trainers as well as experts. Those early in our careers need to let go of any assumption that those who weren’t born in the last 20 years don’t understand change, technology or how to channel both.

(For the record, I fall into the first of these two categories, I’m working really hard not to talk about the past, I work with a great team who challenge me every day, and yes, I have been party to some of the greatest technology changes, announcing many of them!)

The conversations also need to move away from reference to workplace structures and set-ups that, perhaps, have had their day: don’t discuss (or consider) joining organizations described in easy-to-understand terms. Consider those more-difficult to pin down, that seemingly have multiple revenue streams, that create business opportunities designed to delight customers, that deliver on this brand promise, creating value and generating revenue.

Organizations with cultures that embrace skills, change, support, expertise and smarts will do more than survive: they will win. But – please change the story.

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Data: Decide, Act, Test, Amend

Successful digital and social marketing programmes are built on interconnected modules, all needed to deliver the best possible results for customers, at the best possible returns on investment in resources and budgets for the organization running the programmes.

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The thread that connects these modules, like DNA, is data, driving every aspect of a successful marketing programme. Here’s how.

Strategy defines the intent, direction and objectives for the programme: what you need to achieve, including targets for revenue, sales, market share, profitability, or some combination of these, the reasons for those objectives, the consequences of meeting or missing them, how success is to be measured and what success looks like – in short, what you need to do to win. Data clearly influences strategy at the start – market size, product and service scope and scale, audience insights, customer service, and more. But data also allows you to track progress against strategy, and to test strategy when new opportunities appear. Without data, strategy is strategy-lite.

Creative and content define what you actually say, across multiple social and digital platforms, including alignment with audiences, content planning, and measurement. Data provides the detail needed to get this content right: its format, length, frequency, messages, and delivery – and most importantly of all, consuming insights. What do your audiences expect and prefer? How best can you engage with your audiences and in which channels?

Influencer engagement invokes your external ambassadors: data defines who they might be, their motivations, influence and expectations. True (meaningful) influencer engagement requires a win-win-win: for the brand, the influencer, and their audience. Data also gives you the must-have insights into who really has influence, and shines the light needed to track influence engagement, and to support them as trusted partners. After all, as my colleague Emma Lo Russo has pointed out, consumers trust influencers before brands.

Community and customer service – the process of directly engaging with customers using social media and digital channels. Use data to connect the front-end engagement and advocacy management with the back-end customer delivery and product logistics systems, so that you can track how the promise of service, and the reality, mesh.

Optimization of budget spend and performance: without data you can’t optimize, and without data you don’t know what’s working, what isn’t, and what you need to do either to change or accelerate. True optimization needs to look at social media and digital channels in a way that presents a complete picture, in real-time. And optimization applies to every part of this data-driven marketing DNA chain.

Analytics means the science of understanding the meaning behind results, audiences’ activity, activations, engagement and sentiment. Using real-time data, across platforms, brings sharper analysis to bear. And once you’ve analysed the reasons for success and failure, repeat.

Without DNA, it’s impossible to crack genomes. Without data, it’s difficult to manage real-time marketing programmes, and provide customer value, improved customer experiences – and, ultimately, sales.

Time to use data – to Decide, Act, Test and Amend.

(This article is also published on LinkedIn.)

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Fact will beat fake in the end

I enjoyed Paul Smith’s interview with Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes in Monday’s Australian Financial Review. In particular, I noted Cannon-Brooke’s calling out of the misstatement of the facts, as he saw it, about (in this case) energy policy.

Closer to home, I’m witnessing a fascinating public relations campaign from a local residents’ association objecting to a new transport system proposed by the NSW State Government. (Declaration: I have no part to play in either side of the campaign, but I am a fan of the proposed new system and it will run through the suburb I live in.)

As I’ve noted elsewhere, effective communications always includes two elements: facts and emotion. Emotion arguably carries the day. Certainly in politics, emotional arguments are to the fore, as they are in my local campaign against the introduction of new, high-speed buses. Interestingly, though, a recent leaflet from the objectors had, in its small print, a declaration that nothing it stated in the leaflet should be construed as fact, and that they were in no way liable for any claims made or advice offered. Needless to say, the equivalent State Government leaflet did not carry any analogous claim: in any case, as an elected body, it presumably is to be held accountable for any claims its makes, if only at the next election.

So the objectors can raise the possibilities of disruption and destruction, which of course might happen, and certainly could happen, without any facts to support that either will, necessarily, happen.

And, of course, there’s Donald Trump’s active campaign against media outlets (and others) he feels are peddling fake news as he sees it, and climate change in which science (always the victim) is discarded in favour of vested interest.

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Across all of these, emotional arguments tap emotional predispositions. It’s a great public relations strategy: after all, it takes real effort to consider the facts, even more to change one’s point of view.

And yet: this current cycle of so-called fake news is only, after all, 16 months or so old. The possible repercussions, once audiences realize that facts have indeed been ignored or denied, have yet to be felt. That will indeed be new territory, especially if livelihoods have been directly affected.

Call me naive, but I suspect that eventually facts will prevail.

For PR professionals, striking the balance between playing to the emotions of an audience, and plying the facts of the case, remains as important as ever. If facts alone were enough, we’d never have started smoking in our teens. If emotions were all that were needed, we’d all be bankrupt by now, having bet our life savings on any number of can’t-lose financial offers.

And, after all, most PR professional are acutely aware of the consequences of fudging or faking, whether by being called to account by our professional bodies, journalists or regulators, or by our individual ethical compasses. Most of us know what it feels like when the spotlight is turned on us, even when we’ve done nothing wrong.

We know that to mess with the facts is a no-win option.

Watch this space.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

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Know where to go, know what to do: plug into data and act on those inputs to maximize your marketing effort

I used to take flying lessons, many years ago. Although I never got my private pilot’s licence, learning how to master a light aircraft was some of the best fun I’ve ever had – and the concentration (for me, at any rate) was so intense that, during lessons, I forget everything else, leaving me with a brain cleansed of clutter.

Whether taking your first flight in a light aircraft, or your last after a career as a senior training captain with one of the world’s airlines, data are central to flying: you rely on the instruments around you to feed you with the data you need to make your next decision. Aircraft, after all, have always impressed with their dashboards. Sure, you can fly solely by the seat of your pants (even, in extremis, in an airliner): it’s just that you wouldn’t want to, given the option.

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It’s obvious when flying that you need to know where you’re going. That starts with filing a flight plan and then, once airborne, looking out of the window (as one of my instructors once forcibly reminded me).

But you also need to know how much fuel you have left, whether or not the headwind is too strong to make your destination, whether your engine is icing up, what your alternative diversion airports might be as a consequence, whether storms are a risk (even if they weren’t when you started your journey) – and more. All this applies when learning, and applies big-time when you’re the captain of a Boeing or an Airbus with hundreds of passengers sitting behind you enjoying their in-flight catering.

The same applies in today’s marketing: no marketer today would follow the simplistic approach of filing a flight plan, taking off, and flying by looking out of the window. Yet many “land safely” without actually knowing that they would when they took off, and many fail to rely on the data they now have to hand to fine-tune their marketing, consider alternative destinations, or even pause until more data are available about what to do next.

Consider a recent example of one of our clients here at Digivizer: the client is a technology startup with a unique product offering in an otherwise established market sector that our client now seeks to disrupt.  Being a startup, budget was tight, and quite literally every dollar had to count. The target audience was the general public, the messaging centred on creating new experiences, and the pricing proposition was compelling. Acting on our client’s behalf, we used our social media and digital analytics and tracking technology to see how the programme performed as it happened. We could analyse the performance of the web site, the social media outreach programmes, how individual pieces of content performed (or didn’t), the returns on paid campaigns in registrations, purchases and content viewing, and whether or not the programme should continue as originally planned. All viewed through a single set of data presented using our dashboard, to get the complete picture of how the journey was going. (When flying, you never want to switch between different instruments – that’s why modern jet aircraft present everything on single screens.)

Tapping the aviation analogy again, a storm hit, and we landed as a precaution, we reset our flight plan, and took off on a different route with (as it were) a tank full of fuel and a new set of coordinates.

Bringing this back to the marketing world, we understood, through data, the impacts of influencer advocacy, paid media advertising, content performance, and sentiment. By using the data to make decisions, we reduced touch-points to purchase by customers by 90%. We added new elements to the campaign, tested them in real-time, and confirmed how we could target prospects, who now responded because the content was now relevant because it was built on inputs from data. Sales grew 200% month-on-month, and that rate more than doubled to 500% in the last month.

The result was that the client’s business objectives, on sales, costs and deadlines, were met.

Marketing, like flying, takes skill, training, determination and experience. Real-time data makes it faster, safer, more effective, more accountable, and more affordable.

Time to switch on those instruments.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

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The power of brands (and public relations)

A week ago (on 5 September 2017) the LEGO Group announced its first decline in half-year revenues in ten years, a drop in profit, and 1,400 job redundancies.

My eventual reaction was surprise and interest – I am after all a LEGO watcher in a professional (marketing) capacity, but also an adult fan of LEGO.

My immediate reaction, though, was almost one of sorrow. I was upset for the company, not at the company.

Such is the power of a brand that knows what it’s doing.

I noted Chairman Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s tone in the media release, expressing sorrow at having to make 1,400 employees redundant, all of whom had made contributions to the company’s success, and acknowledging the pain this will cause those affected.

Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s narrative went further: he was candid about his part in the dip, and equally candid about not being able to guarantee growth for a couple of years. The tone of the media release was calm and clear. It was language unusual to me in such a scenario – and I’ve written, and been part of, many similar announcements in my career.

The reaction around social and mainstream media has been equally measured. The LEGO Group has built a reputation for being open and authentic.

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A brand connection 50 years in the nurturing: a LEGO motor, new in 1966, from the author’s collection

In my own case, I also realized that my brand connection has been built over 50 years. I still have LEGO I had when young (a common experience). There are few brands that can maintain that strong a connection over that length of time, ride the highs and lows with its community and come through intact, and create a genuine reservoir of goodwill with its audience on which to draw in harder times (a tenet of great public relations).

The last time the LEGO Group faced financial uncertainty was back in 2003. Last week’s announcement is nowhere near that serious – but it will be interesting to follow the company’s declared changes, observe (and be part of) these changes, and see how it communications them – all the while maintaining its brand values.

The company took the lead in communicating the news, creating and establishing a position it could defend, and making what appears to be business decisions very quickly. This is a company with steel beneath the smile on the minifig’s face.

Interesting times.

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