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DIT_logocol2013_webThis week I had the pleasure to be an external examiner on  DIT's (the Dublin Institute of Technology) Postgrad Dip in Advertising & Digital Communications. A strong digitally focused part-time course now in its 5th year,  its USP is the close relationship it has with industry - the course was developed by DIT and IAPI (the Industry of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland), and 75% of its lecturers are currently working in advertising in one form or another.

Needless to say this is right up my street - after all, our own MSc Digital Marketing was similarly developed with industry to teach the digital marketing skills employers need, and we too have strong links with practitioners (including guest lecturers, a mentorship programme with DigitasLBi, live client projects, and more).

DIT invited me to be an external examiner late last year, after finding me using Google then checking me out on LinkedIn - Personal Branding (and on-page SEO) FTW!

How to teach digital courses - DIT and RGU

My conviction (and I'm quite obsessed with this) is that you can't teach digital courses from books. I do not use any books in my teaching and instead constantly research and read reputable industry blogs from which I upgrade and refresh my knowledge in real-time, directly putting it into professional practice (both in my teaching as well as when doing digital marketing for this site or side projects / clients).

CC image courtesy of ChowKaiDeng on Flickr

Professional practice is also central to DIT's course (most of the lecturers are practitioners). I was very impressed by their pioneering approach, and it's clearly been a success both for them and industry (employers recruit directly from the course).  And DIT have been doing it for 5 years! Wow!

I observed a fulsome and well-rounded, practice-focused teaching and learning experience when examining the course outputs.

The student course work and types of assessments were wide-ranging - from beautiful creative playbooks to media diaries where students note down all advertising they saw in a week, analysing its perceived effectiveness.

In another assignment (a group work), students worked as an 'agency' creating a real live advertising campaign proposal and pitch focusing on current (and highly relevant) communications issues (NSA / online surveillance and privacy; childhood obesity; PMMA (a highly toxic MDMA-like drug)).

How different is the DIT course from RGU's MSc Digital Marketing?

It's rare that I would recommend a postgraduate digital marketing or communications course other than ours - however the DIT's course is probably one of the best - if not THE best, for anyone looking for professional development in digital advertising on a part-time basis (it is taught evenings with the very occasional weekend).

digital advertising
CC image courtesy of Will Lion on Flickr

The course is also distinct and different enough from RGU's MSc Digital Marketing - we're not really going after the same target audience. The DIT course largely focuses on Advertising, and is aimed at professionals wishing to upskill in this area in a digital context. There is a creative and an executive stream - the exec stream deals with client liaison, media planning / buying and so on, and generally the course content covers the knowledge and skills you need to work agency-side.

In contrast, we only look at advertising (paid media) in a few sessions - our approach is all-encompassing and we teach strategy, organic digital marketing, digital content creation, measurement and evaluation, digital PR / content marketing, etc.  And our aim isn't specifically to produce graduates to work agency-side or indeed in Advertising (though this is an option for them - we do have a lot of 'soft skill' training and they work on live client projects and have agency guest speakers and workshops).

Finally, unlike DIT's course, our MSc Digital Marketing so far has largely attracted business / social science / creative graduates who want to know (and learn!) how to get into digital marketing. Our students are at the start of their careers and we haven't really had any  professionals wishing to transition into digital yet  (though we do offer a part-time study option).

Final words

In conclusion, then, my visit this week has only served to confirm that what we at RGU are doing is absolutely the right approach to teaching digital courses at University.

digital transformation
CC image courtesy of Bryan Mathers on Flickr

Industry engagement and a focus on practice are extremely important to ensure our graduates are equipped  to work in the real world when they leave.

However the academic environment is crucial - our role is to provide quality control, and to teach strong strategic and critical thinking (alongside the more practical 'tools of the trade' and real-life scenarios). After all, data analysis, measurement and evaluation are academia's bread and butter!

An approach to teaching digital that combines strategic critical thinking with the 'tools of the trade' and stuff that matters in the real world (client liaison! soft skills! self-education! How To Google It! GTD!) will ensure that University courses in digital marketing, advertising and communications remain highly relevant to the needs of employers and the marketplace.

Rather quietly, it seems, scot domain registration opened up to the general public almost 2 months ago (23rd September).

.scot domain from Easyspace
.scot domain from Easyspace

I had been aware that it was coming, but it was more a fuzzy background awareness. I had no need to buy any domains (quite happy with  😉 ) and generally find gTLDs (such as *.biz, *.info and what not) neither attractive nor all that trustworthy.

Then something happened. A strategy and plan of action that I'd been working on for a good few months unexpectedly hit a dead end, through external circumstances over which I had no control. The sort of stuff that happens all the time!

Anyway. I LOVE difficulties, obstacles and failure, as it gives me something to conquer, and it keeps the old brain agile. The solution to the above problem was to find a new digital space that I could fully control. And out of nowhere, I remembered about the new scot domain registration process.

What is a scot domain?

.scot, also called dot scot, is a new TLD (top level domain) that was agreed in January this year and officially launched on 15 July 2014. When it opened for public registration on 23 September, over 4,000 businesses registered a domain within an hour!

How to register .scot

Check for a list of approved registrars. The site has more info on the evolution of .scot.

 Why register a scot domain?

Mainly, because you can still get the name that you want! It's first come, first serve, and therefore plenty of opportunity to secure that exact match domain (EMD) that you've always wanted but had no chance of ever getting, because someone registered your ideal business name 10 years ago. It's cheap too (I paid around £60 for mine, I think).

Google logo
CC image courtesy of keso s on Flickr

Secondly, the Scottish Government fully support .scot - for example, they're just now developing a central digital place for public services, at (currently in alpha).

Thirdly, for SEO reasons. I might be wrong here, but my hunch is that Google will probably rank a regional TLD (such as .scot) over other generic TLDs (e.g. .biz, .info) for the same exact match domain (EMD). And yes, I am aware of the discussion around whether or not EMD is still a good SEO tactic.

I for one am happy to take a punt. Who knows, in future versions of its never-disclosed algorithm, Google may well decide to rank .scot higher in Scotland over e.g. or .com.

After all, Google's mission is to

organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Hence, if the site content on the .scot domain is not just high quality but also geographically more relevant and therefore more useful to the searcher, it would make perfect sense for the algorithm to reward it with a high(er) rank.

Should I buy a .scot domain?

While some of the above is speculative - there may not be any SEO benefit, and scot domains may never find widespread adoption - there could nevertheless be an advantage for early adopters.

Domain names
CC image courtesy of Widjaya Ivan on Flickr

The risk is small (the domains are cheap!), and the benefit, especially for businesses with a physical location or service specific to Scotland, could be considerable.

My recommendation is this: Don't rush and get a .scot domain if you've got a site that is well established and has good search engine visibility. And definitely don't do it if your customers are global and you want to be found globally.

However, if you're just starting out, don't have a website yet, AND your business is mainly regional to Scotland - i.e. your customers largely live in Scotland - then absolutely do think about registering a scot domain.

And that's because could give your business a greater chance at getting found online (due to the SEO value of EMDs combined with the regional extension). Moreover, you'd be able to get the name in the URL that you've always wanted -  and a brandable domain name, in my opinion, is surely worth investing in.

Getting a dot scot might just be the smartest thing you could do!



Your digital marketing strategy should start with your website. You need to understand if / how your site currently performs towards your business objective, and following this audit, optimise and improve your site with your target customers in mind.

website marketing tips - SEO
CC image courtesy of Hong Xing on Flickr

When you start out in digital marketing, especially as a small business with little experience, it's easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of information and conflicting advice about what digital marketing channel (e.g. website, social media, etc.) you should focus on!

That's why I've compiled a few website marketing tips, because I really believe you should look at your existing website as the first and highest priority:  Your website is your primary and most important piece of owned media.

Think of it as your digital real estate.  You can control it, measure it and improve it - and it's owned by you, not a third party site (such as Facebook).

Your Website ~ Your 'store front' online

A good way to think of your website is to imagine it was a physical store. My view is that the fundamentals of marketing haven't really changed - the trick is to approach your website in the same way you would a store or presence in the real world (= digital real estate) . Believe it or not, it's mostly common sense! And it starts with the customer and her or his needs, and satisfying them profitably. It's not about selling them your products or services - that's sales.

Website Marketing Tips

CC image courtesy of Dave Wilson on Flickr

In what follows, I'll be outlining 7  key marketing considerations or objectives for a physical store, and then suggest what the equivalent factors could be your website. I hope these tips will help you start thinking about your website strategy, and demonstrate why effective website marketing should be the central pillar to your digital marketing strategy.

My starting point is a standard marketing framework for a business. I'll look at seven typical consideration or objectives and how they affect a physical store, followed by the digital equivalent (i.e. your website). Caveat: This list is by no means complete - it's just a collection of website marketing tips that I think are important consider - especially for small businesses. Last but not least, these are factors that you can influence and action on your own site, and they don't cost anything (other than time, self-education, and effort).

1. Objective: Awareness (Visibility)

Why? Be seen by your target customers

Real world (physical store)

  • Location of physical store (e.g. select high footfall areas or areas your target audience lives or shops in)

Digital (website)

  • On-page SEO (be findable – match search demand for your target audience’s key search terms)
  •  Local SEO (optimise for local search queries; get on Google Maps if your business has a physical location – see Google My Business for more info)
  •  Technical SEO
  • (Inbound Marketing / Link earning)

2. Objective: Branding

Why? Generate positive associations with your brand (excitement, happiness) - the ultimate goal is 'brand love'

Real world (physical store)

  • Look and Design of physical store (window dressing, furnishings, displays etc. - the 'Physical Evidence' P in Marketing speak)

Digital (website)

  • Web design (this includes visuals, images, 'look and feel')

3. Objective: Customer / User experience (UX)


  • Provide smooth customer journey – remove obstacles
  •  Make it easy and pleasurable to buy / convert now and in the future
  •  Generate trust

Real world (physical store)

  • Store layout, arrangement of products, easy to navigate, well-placed support facilities (such as toilets)
  • Efficient payment check-out (length of queues, operators)
  • Friendly sales staff

Digital (website)

  • Site navigation, Load times, page errors, mobile optimised, relevant, useful, and fast
  • Easy to find key information
  • Addresses and matches the site visitor’s needs

4. Objective: Customer service and support


  • Nourish and retain customer relationships (retention) - increase life time value
  • Generate positive WOM and Advocacy

Real world (physical store)

  • Customer service desk
  • Easy to change / return items
  • after-sales care

Digital (website)

  • Easy to find support / contact function, FAQs, HowTos, etc.
  • If ecommerce,  good change / returns policy
  • Relevant social media channels (priority for big brands; for SMEs only if able to resource otherwise little ROI)

5. Objective: Measuring success - Quantity

Why? To answer the question: How many customers did I attract?

Real world (physical store)

  • Physical footfall

Digital (website)

  • Digital footfall - Google Analytics data (e.g. sessions, page views)

6. Objective: Measuring success - Quality

Why? To answer the question: Did I attract the right customers? (This is REALLY important!)

Quality measures of success could also be reputational / PR

Real world (physical store)

  • Time spent in store, no. of items browsed, facilities used (does anyone actually measure this in a physical store?)
  • Demographics of customers
  • No. of items returned
  • PR: Positive media and / or social media coverage

Digital (website)

  • Page views / time on page for key landing pages
  • Bounce rates (careful with benchmarks – always consider context)
  • PR: High-quality referrals (i.e. links to your site); Positive media and / or social media coverage

7. Objective: Measuring success - Conversions

Why? To answer the question: Is my business presence able to generate leads and sales? Does it make me money?

Real world (physical store)

  • Sales (volume / value)
  • Conversion rates (does anyone actually measure this in a physical store?)

Digital (website)

For website marketing, how you measure conversions can vary hugely and depends on what you consider a conversion for your website, i.e. the action you’d like your site visitors to take. Very difficult to have a 'one size fits all' answer, but this may be a contact enquiry, booking, PDF download, etc. etc.

  • Sales
  • Enquiries / Leads
  • Goal completions
  • Conversion rate
  • etc.


There you have it! My 7 tips to help you get started on your website marketing. Just start with your most important objectives, and then use the framework above to optimise your digital real estate.

This won't just get your business in front of the right customers, but crucially, will make it easy and pleasurable for them to buy from you, again and again!

This is not a rant about retargeting ads. Actually, the idea for the post was inspired by my questioning the effectiveness of retargeting ads (due to high cost / potential for reputational damage vs. return).

You see, for a while now, because I visit certain media / publishing sites quite regularly, and other sites (typically ecommerce) only when researching products, what I often get is retargeting ads from the ecommerce site on the publisher sites ( news/ media sites etc.).

What is retargeting?

I'm sure you've all experienced retargeting (also called remarketing)  - it's when ads 'follow you around' the web.  People can feel creeped out by it because they don't understand how it works and they may even feel stalked.

The technology behind it is based on Javascript - a cookie is set whenever you visit e.g. an ecommerce site, and this allows the ecommerce brand to follow you as you browse the web and target you with its ads on other sites that you visit. Retargeting ads can even feature the actual product that you looked at on the ecommerce site (but didn't buy).

A detailed explanation of how it works is provided by ReTargeter : place a small, unobtrusive piece of code on your website (this code is sometimes referred to as a pixel). The code, or pixel, is unnoticeable to your site visitors and won’t affect your site’s performance. Every time a new visitor comes to your site, the code drops an anonymous browser cookie. Later, when your cookied visitors browse the Web, the cookie will let your retargeting provider know when to serve ads, ensuring that your ads are served to only to people who have previously visited your site.

They've even got an excellent image that illustrate the technology:

what is retargeting
Image copyright Click for original source.

The point of retargeting, according to the literature,  is that it can 'catch you' and remind you to complete whatever purchase you didn't make when first visiting the site. So for instance, if you've looked at certain products on an ecommerce site, it can show you exactly those products thus keeping it top of mind, and linking straight back (to the product page) in the hope you will complete the purchase.

One of the problems with this idea is that it doesn't take into account the numerous other channels that are typically part of the path to purchase nowadays (both offline and online). I'll show you what I mean with an example - detailing the steps and channels in a recent purchase of a shirt for work, where retargeting ads were an (ineffective) part of the mix.


Example: My journey to purchase a new shirt

(1) Overall goal

Objective: Buy the same white shirt that I've previously bought (from Marks and Spencer). I'm a repeat customer.

Strategy: Order / pay online and pick up in store (click and collect)

Channels: Online, Store

--> Sounds straightforward, doesn't it.

(2) Purchase journey starts

Step 1

Objective:  Purchase / Conversion


  • Pinterest: I had pinned the previously bought shirt to a board as an easy bookmark for future purchase, and clicked on the product link.
  • M&S website: When clicking on the link to the M&S website, I got an error message [they launched their new site back in February and my initial thoughts were that they'd simply failed to put the right redirects in place]

Result: Objective not achieved. Despite brief search unable to conclusively verify whether or not shirt still available.

Step 2

Objective: Information / Research: find out if M&S still sell the shirt.


  • Store (Aberdeen). Both physically searched store and used digital 'browse and order hub' in store.

Result: Objective achieved. Shirt no longer for sale.

At this stage I took a break and no longer considered buying a new work shirt.

(3) 2 weeks later: Purchase journey continues

Step 3

Objective: Information/ Consideration: find out if M&S sell shirts similar to the one I wanted originally, to consider alternatives

Channels: Website

Result:  decided on two shirts and browsed a number of similar ones

Step 4

Objective: Purchase

Channels: Store (Edinburgh)

Result: purchased 2x shirts in the Edinburgh store (offline - no click & collect)

(4) Purchase completed

I had successfully completed my purchase (offline). But then....

(5) Retargeting Ads start appearing (after purchase)

It looks like in step 3, when I revisited the M&S website to do more in-depth research on shirts, the cookie was set, and since then the ad below has been following me around in one way or other (it's been going on for over a week now). If the idea is to bring me back to the site and complete the purchase, that's obviously not going to happen, since I already have, offline. And that's why it's bordering on the annoying and feels like being nagged by M&S, or at least misunderstood.

Retargeting ads - MS example

You could of course argue that continuing to show the ad for the same shirts (that I've already bought) will burn them into my mind, so that I'll be loyal and only ever buy those or similar shirts from M&S in the future.

That decision however wouldn't be down to retargeting ads - it would be down to the quality of the product, and my happiness with it.

I hope my recent purchase journey has illustrated why retargeting ads don't work for me. I would be interested in seeing some data that supports or contradicts what is admittedly a highly personal view. Are there any good studies on the effectiveness of remarketing? How well does it work to its stated goal of coaxing visitors back to your site to complete a conversion / purchase? Does this happen, and if so, what's the ROI?

Perhaps the answer isn't that simple. But I still think it's a worthwhile question to ask!







It's an open secret that I'm passionate about digital marketing education (it's one of the reasons I moved from industry to becoming a lecturer) and there is much work still to do. The digital skills and talent gap - we talk about it in more detail in this Drum post - impedes the growth of the digital economy in a number of ways:

Digital Marketing Education
CC image courtesy of Scott McLeod on Flickr

(1)  It leaves many SMEs /third sector and other organisations vulnerable to spending money unnecessarily, and sees them invest time and resource in the wrong digital channels, following advice from gurus that hinders rather than helps their business.

Real example: One of my industry contacts had to scrap and restart a social / digital strategy for a client, after they had followed wrong advice from a 'consultant' who led them down the wrong (ineffective, not aligned with business objectives, overall wasteful and pointless) path.

(2) The other side of the coin is that recruiters really struggle to find digital talent:  where can they find graduates with a practice-based digital marketing education - e.g. a degree that incorporates digital skills training alongside conceptual theories of Marketing? Nowhere.

Real example: Only this week I was asked if I knew a graduate for a digital marketing executive role. Generally, the challenge of recruitment comes up often when talking with industry contacts.

What's wrong with Digital Marketing Education?

The main issue as I see it is that Universities overall are fairly ill-equipped to provide a modern digital marketing education. Partly, it's the nature of the beast: The industry changes so fast so that Unis would always be playing catch-up.

Example: I spend at least a day per week just keeping up-to-date with what's happening, and run my own site as well as do some work for others to keep my skill set fresh. Much of that I do in my own time / weekends and I take it very seriously indeed.

Digital Education
CC image courtesy of Scott McLeod on Flickr

Regular Marketing lecturers don't do that - they are rarely involved in actual marketing practice, let alone digital marketing. The existing marketing curriculum is largely theoretical and conceptual, and frankly isn't of much use in the real world of digital marketing.

This does pose some interesting questions regarding how to teach Marketing in Higher Education. Questions surrounding academia's relevance to the real world aren't being asked about this subject alone - there were rumbles last year about whether current teaching of Economics is fit for purpose.

In terms of  Marketing, in the US and Canada at least, academics have discussed the need for reforming the curriculum in the light of the digital economy and changing practice:

The rapidly emerging digital economy is challenging the relevance of existing marketing practices, and a radical redesign of the marketing curriculum consistent with the emerging student and business needs of the 21st century is required. To remain relevant to our students and to the ultimate consumers of our output, businesses, the marketing curriculum must evolve with both the changing technological environment and the way marketing is perceived by its own academic architects.

Digital Marketing: The Time for a New “Academic Major” Has Arrived (2011)

RGU_logoI haven't seen much of this happening in the UK yet, unfortunately. In Scotland, for example, only my University (RGU Aberdeen) currently offer a skills-based Masters in Digital Marketing that was devised in close consultation with industry. No other University is currently doing this in Scotland - where there is a digital element, it's actually a bolt on of a few (largely conceptual / theoretical) modules to a traditional MSc Marketing, and I really don't believe that's the right approach. Digital Marketing education isn't about reading books!

And the feedback and data (both qualitative and quantitative) we have so far for our own practice-based MSc Digital Marketing proves we're on the right track. Not only have we received significant interest in our course from students and plenty of applications. Almost equally as important, we have consistently received positive feedback, enthusiasm and nothing but strong support and engagement from the digital industry across Scotland.

Further reading

If you're an academic interested in the discussion surrounding the Marketing curriculum, the two links below are a good starting point:

The Future of Marketing Education: A Practitioner's Perspective (2012)

Innovating the Marketing Curriculum: Establishing an Academic Major in Internet Marketing (2014)



customer complaints department
CC image courtesy of Gordon Ednie on Flickr

I'm a sucker for good social media customer service. By that I mean a brand who doesn't (just) use social to 'engage' (why, I don't need engaging about your latest product thank you very much - I just need it to WORK!). I'm talking about a brand who actually cares about and responds to customer feedback and queries initiated via social, and does so in a way that makes sense.

Making sense = Focused around actual customer needs, making my life easier, removing (not creating) obstacles.

Too often it's (still) the case that the person who handles Twitter doesn't know what the team dealing with email is doing, let alone the team handling the phones (I've recently had a rather disjointed experience when trying to pay council tax in Aberdeen).

customer service twitter
CC image courtesy of on Flickr

As an ex- Social Media Manager / Head of Social, I've explored the use of social media for customer service and lead on a strategy that hooked social into an existing telephone and email customer support team, exactly to avoid the above situation. The key to social media customer service is a seamless experience for your customers, no matter what channel they contact your business on (or what device, for that matter).

The system I set up allowed the company to have a scalable, cross-team approach to  providing customer service on social media (Facebook and Twitter), as well as extracting qualitative feedback reports and evaluating community content to feed into different business areas (e.g. marketing, customer service, corporate communications). Yes, we still had people on the phone - but the phone agents were also the social customer service agents, dealing with questions coming in from this channel (but still tied back to the original customer service team and their KPIs).

Social Media Customer Service - Best Practice Example

A company that seems to understand this is Scottish Hydro, and I thought I share this example to illustrate my points. I got in touch with them the other day via Twitter, as their website didn't appear to have registered my meter readings (and they kept sending me email reminders despite my having entered them).

Scottish Hydro Tweet

Rather than going through the cumbersome process of following each other on Twitter and sending DMs (140 char limit!), they directed me to this brilliant webform:

Social Media Customer Service - Form


Simple but effective! They just collect all initial queries and channel them through to the right department.

Social Media Contact Form

You can even choose what communication channel you'd like them to use for their response (email, in my case. Always good to have things in writing hehe).

Social Media Form Scottish Hydro


Another advantage is that the simple form allows them to keep a record and measure the number and type of queries and channels used. This means they can set benchmarks and measure and improve effectiveness (and ROI) over time.

Most importantly, however, this is social customer service focused on actual customer need: fast, useful, and  a service that makes my life easier.

The first rule of social, after all, is that it needs to be either entertaining or useful (for your customer, not for you), and if you're neither, you're doing something wrong.





Inspired by the recent YouTube hit Teens react to 90s Internet, I've come up with my own list of 90s technologies and gadgets that I used back in the days. Older readers may recognise some of these 90s tech dinosaurs...

(1) USRobotics 56k modem (1997)

US Robotics 56k modemIf you wanted to 'get on the Internet' for much of the 90s, you had to dial in via your phone line (using a dial-up modem). Since the modem plugged into your phone line, your telephone landline was engaged whenever you were on the WWW (yes, that's the WWW, not the Internet, though the latter term has become synonymous with the former). It also meant that typically, you would connect only for a specific reason - e.g. to download your email (using Netscape Messenger, part of Netscape Navigator). You'd then read and reply to emails offline and briefly re-connect to send them, before disconnecting again. I eventually upgraded to ISDN (with Deutsche Telekom) which meant that you could both be online and still receive phone calls.

(2) Windows 3.1x (1992-94)

windows31My first computer, a second hand Intel 486, originally ran Windows 3.1. (I didn't get my hands on the revolutionary Windows 95 until a bit later. It was all very, very expensive in those days, and I was a poor student). 3.1 had a graphical user interface, rather than being text-based and is generally considered one of the first operating systems for multimedia PCs* (i.e. away from text only to also support video playback and sound). Windows 3.1 even allowed you to drag and drop icons, which hadn't previously been possible! It's hard to imagine what it was like - but if you consider that the OS only took up 10-15MB on your hard drive (compared to Windows 7, which takes up 16-20GB - an increase of over 136,000%), you'll get an idea of how basic and slow it all was. Really basic, and really slow.

*yes, I used Macs at Uni in the 90s, but PCs were cheaper so I settled on them.

(3) Pine Email client (1996-99)

Pine EmailPine was a text-based email client originally developed for UNIX in 1989, by the University of Washington. If you were at University in the 90s and geeky enough to be interested in the newfangled technology of the Internet, chances are you'll have encountered old-skool UNIX terminals running Pine. I used it as a student both at Cologne Uni and Uni of North London (now London Met). They even kept the UNIX terminals for a good few years after introducing Windows PCs. There was an IT lab with shiny new PCs in the front room, and in the back room a few rows of UNIX terminals mainly for the purpose of sending emails via Pine. I can't for the life of me imagine what exactly I would have emailed about - few people I knew actually had an email address. It was more like sending letters, only in electronic form. Nothing like email today. Regardless, I used it all the time (for philosophical, lengthy 'electronic letters' to my friends, and for communicating with some boys I fancied), and it got me hooked on digital communications and technology in general. I knew then that this was going to be my destiny (and got a cyborg tattoo around this time, as I truly felt machinic).

(4) Siemens S2 Mobile (1997)

Siemens-s6eMy first mobile, or 'Handy', as they are called in Germany, was a Siemens S6.  I still lived in Germany in 1997 and this was the mobile I bought. It had a really, really shrill ringtone, and the battery lasted about 5 seconds. Mobile phones weren't as ubiquitous as they are today and you wouldn't really see many people with one. Having a mobile was more of a status symbol than anything else - you didn't use your mobile anywhere as much as you do nowadays. For me, it was more like an 'emergency phone' you had with you just in case, though I'm sure professionals did use their mobiles more frequently for work and such (I was still a student so had not much reason to call anyone while out and about. I had the landline to talk with friends etc.- actually making a call on your mobile was prohibitively expensive).

(5) Psion 5 (1997)

90s technologies - Psion 5I got this PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) in 1997 or 98, off ebay. It's an ancient forerunner of the modern smartphone - it had apps for word processing, spreadsheets, contacts, calendar, etc., but that was pretty much it. It wasn't actually internet-enabled (this was in the dark ages, no DSL etc.) but it had an infrared port so you could connect to a friend's Psion and swap / transfer files. The Psion 5 was of very little practical use to me - in reality, you couldn't do proper work on it (despite the keyboard) and I think I eventually sold it. Come to think of it, I don't really know why I bought it in the first place - I think I liked its look and I just had a passion for digital technology and gadgets and I suppose was what you could call an 'early adopter'.


Conclusion: Five 90s Technologies Revisited

The common thread running through most of my 90s geekery is that much of the technology was pretty much new and pioneering. These things had never existed before and it was truly a whole new world, and that had a profound effect on me.

It reminds me of the only other similarly large-scale technology shift prior to the Internet - the arrival of moving image, starting with early cinema in the late 19th century. In 1895, when watching a 50 seconds film of a train arriving at a station for the first time, audiences were scared and shocked upon seeing the train 'racing towards them'. People didn't understand that this train was on a screen, and simply a moving image - it just didn't compute, because a moving image of the world had never been seen before. Consequently people felt physically involved, reacting physically and emotionally.

In a similar vein, to this day, I remember how touched I was the first time someone paid me a compliment in IRC chat approx. 1996. It felt very bizarre to feel emotionally connected to someone through plain text, via a machine. I knew then that this stuff and the Internet was going to be HUGE, and I wanted to be part of it - and have been ever since!

Bonus: The Lumière Brothers, Arrival of the Train (1895)



Digital is dead?

CC image courtesy of David Hawkins-Weeks on Flickr

The death of digital marketing has been mooted in the last few months, most recently in a chapter called Post-digital marketing (part of WARC's toolkit 2014). Reviewed on The Guardian in a post provocatively titled Dinosaurs, rejoice! the theme was also pondered elsewhere (Ashley Friedlein has given the many deaths of Digital Marketing his treatment on the econsultancy blog).

The key argument of digital's death appears to be that digital is not a separate function anymore because it's everywhere anyway - and that what holds it all together, is branding.

Nice in theory! But let's look at what goes on IRL (in Real Life). Here, digital is nowhere near dead! (though I agree - and have previously explained - why Brand Identity is the key to digital success).

That aside, here are my 3 top reasons why digital is not dead.

Reason 1: Poor Digital Education

The way in which Marketing is taught is about 5 years behind. Books and articles use terms such as  web 2.0 which I haven't heard in ages, especially not in the industry!

Here's some news: You should have stopped using the term web 2.0 in around 2010 (thanks, Google Trends.

web 2.0 search in Google Trends

Reminds me of the Information Superhighway (which, I'm sure you agree, we all laugh at now 😛 ).

information superhighway google trends

And how about virtual reality?

virtual reality google trends

The reason why these terms have fallen out of use is that 'it' is no longer it - or 'the Other'. Digital isn't something separate, 'out there', that can be taught theoretically. You have to be in it to teach it - and students have to learn by doing.

Instead of dry old Marketing theory, we need to make sure they understand the difference between medium and source in Google Analytics, deep dive into Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird, and show them how to use psychology on the web to convert to action.

Reason 2: No / undeveloped Digital Mindset

A lot of people's minds are still stuck in the pre-digital age. By that I don't mean that they're old (nothing to do with age) - but they don't have the mindset required (agile, real-time, two-way, Move Fast and Break Things attitude). So, you'll still get Marketers who use digital as a broadcast channel (for their boring campaigns), instead of as an inbound channel.

Yes, you CAN use it for acquisition (that's what AdWords are for!), but apart from that think of it as good branding and inbound channel. And if you've got the money, like Procter and Gamble's global brand building officer, then yes, do use TV by all means (though I'm unlikely to see your ad there).

Much of it comes down to education (~ reason 1). And the added problem is that some people are simply unwilling to learn, to be open. Or it may be - and let's not underestimate this factor - that hierarchies outwith their control dictate to do Marketing in a certain way - the way it's always been done. The way it must be right.

Reason 3: The Future is Digital

Like it or not - your future customer will be on multiple digital interconnected devices. Yes, s/he will also be walking around town and interact with the real world, but s/he will be digital (and mobile) first.

Digital Skills
CC image courtesy of Official AVG on Flickr

And have I mentioned? There is a significant digital skills shortage predicted for the near future - the US alone will lack 1.5 million digital managers and analysts by 2018.

Instead of proclaiming that digital is dead, then, why not adopt a digital first approach within a wider philosophy of modern marketing?

As long as there are still businesses who do not have the skills required in the digital age -  and, let's face it, this affects SMEs disproportionally higher than large brands with tons of money - there will continue to be a dire need for practical digital skills, and knowledge, for the foreseeable future.




Remember the days when social media was considered free marketing? Fair enough, it never was free exactly, seeing it costs a LOT of time and resource if done right.

In 2014 however I think it'll become even more difficult to achieve cut-through using free methods. But before I explain why, here's an overview over what I mean by free marketing.

Free Marketing - what is it?

'Free' marketing usually refers to either using free sites (typically social media channels), or 'free' strategies i.e. owned or earned media (as opposed to paid media AKA advertising). The most widely used non-paid-for social channels are of course Facebook and Twitter, followed by YouTube.

An example of free marketing would be creating a Facebook brand page to start a community surrounding your brand, and / or to use it as a free customer service platform. Essentially, utilising Facebook as a free space to connect your brand or firm directly with you current and prospective customers.

Three chords
Sideburns fanzine, 1976

Another example is using organic search optimisation to improve your visibility in Google results. Your website can achieve higher ranking in the SERPs (search engine results pages) through smart on-page SEO and / or optimising for local (depending on the nature of your business) - completely free of charge.

Yes, other strategies have become more important in recent years, but depending on your niche and the competition, on-page can still pack a punch. For instance, a couple of months ago, I got from zero to 3rd position for a keyword in the organic SERPs for a niche German site I look after - through on-page optimisation alone.

I've always loved that about digital marketing - that you don't necessarily need big bucks to make an impact. It was possible to successfully market and grow your business through the free stuff alone!

It seemed fair that in theory, all you needed is knowledge (available for free on the internet!), passion, and the willingness to get your hands dirty. It's been very much a DIY approach reminiscent of the punk movement (the three chords illustration above, from the Sideburns fanzine, pretty much sums up the DIY ethic behind both digital and punk cultures).

That's why I was slightly disconcerted with a couple of recent observations that, I fear, may signal the beginning of the end of free marketing, starting this year (2014).

The end of free marketing? Two observations for 2014

I've read a few predictions for digital marketing trends for 2014, as thought leaders have all been busy writing theirs over the last few weeks (I tried my own too, on Digital Marketing Trends 2014).

CC image courtesy of artisrams on Flickr

My fear for the end of free marketing was prompted by two articles in particular -  Rand's 2014 prediction posts at Moz, and a post by econsultancy outlining what the recent changes in Facebook's algorithm means for brands.

Both of these, while superficially different, have one thing in common - they imply that it may become much more difficult, particularly for SMEs and new businesses / start-ups with little cash, to compete on the internet. Here is why:

Reason 1: Google reducing visibility of organic search results

There has been a gradual trend over the last couple of years or so whereby Google has been reducing the availability of real estate in the SERPs for organic search results. Paid ads, knowledge graph results, etc. all have been contributing to pushing organic listings further and further down the results page.

And now Rand at Moz comes out with this prediction for 2014:

As Google continues to get more and more aggressive with things like knowledge graph, visual ads, and instant answers, I suspect we'll see some of the first result sets that have no traditional, external-pointing, organic links whatsoever.

OK. That's hard to swallow, but I wouldn't put it past Google. They haven't been a straightforward 'neutral' search engine for a while now. Instant answers and especially knowledge graph also aim to keep users on the SERPs rather than clicking away - with Google perhaps wanting to be a destination rather than a starting point, for search (unless you pay!) -  see the example query below.

Knowledge Graph - Michael Jackson


It looks like its strategy is working somewhat. Wikipedia for instance has seen a 21% decline in page views (!) for its English language pages over the last year (Dec 12 - Dec 13), which will have had a knock-on effect on donations etc. too.

It might be naive and too early to attribute Wikipedia's decline to Knowledge Graph - but it does seem logical to assume that, where people would previously have clicked on high-ranking Wikipedia results, they may now get the answer they need from within the SERPs - either via instant answers or a knowledge graph result.

Will the day come, then, where you have to PAY to appear on the first page of the SERPs? Where, no matter how awesome your organic ('free') SEO, you stand no chance to be visible in Google?

I don't know the answer, but I for one will be watching. Closely.

Reason 2: Facebook annihilating organic reach for brand pages

The first rule of social media: Don't rely on Facebook.

The second rule of social media: Don't rely on Facebook.

We used to run social brand campaigns on MySpace (yes, really! This was 2007) and I clearly recall when suddenly it was all about Facebook. First there were only groups, but in 2007 brand pages arrived - a game changer, and very exciting at the time, with a lot of experimentation and trial and error.

Some brands even started using their Facebook page URL as their campaign landing page and / or considered it their priority B2C platform (even over their own website!). Quite a few tried their hands at f-commerce, creating store fronts on Facebook and selling to people, without much success.

Free Marketing - Facebook
CC image courtesy of mkhmarketing on Flickr

So brands and businesses have been putting a lot of effort, time and money into their Facebook pages for up to 6 years, building up their audiences and communities. For SMEs, charities and others with little or no budget, it's been a very cost-effective way to reach their customers and many have come to rely or even depend on Facebook as their primary marketing channel.

And just at this point in time, Facebook appears to be tweaking its news feed algorithm, thus pulling the plug on free, organic reach!

Chris Ratcliff sums it up on the econsultancy blog:

In a recent tweak to the news feed algorithm, Facebook has begun to prioritise content from the people that user's engage with the most, ensuring content from a ‘liked’ company’s Facebook page will become a negligible presence.

Read the full article for more info, but essentially it means that, unless users are constantly and regularly engaged with your brand page (as if it were a friend), they probably won't see it in their news feed any more. Unless you pay to push it back in.

This latest move by Facebook is not completely unexpected, and it's been on the horizon for a while. Similar to Google slowly decreasing the share of organic ('free') results in the SERPs, Facebook has been slowly decreasing the share of organic ('free') reach via tweaks in its algorithm over the last few years.

Conclusion - What to do?

If you've managed to read till the end, here are my 2 suggestions on how to combat the end of free marketing in 2014 and beyond:

(1) Make your owned media (especially your website) the BEST digital destination for your brand

Optimise you owned media

2014 may be the time to pay full attention to your owned digital channels, especially the website, but also, your enewsletter. Make sure both provide an excellent customer experience and are optimised for mobile.
owned media meme

Prioritise own customer acquisition (e.g. to your enewsletter) over social acquisitions.

Why? If your enewsletter opening rate and thus the visibility of your content declines, you can do something about it, totally free of charge.

If Facebook changes its algorithm and the visibility of your content declines, you can do nothing about it, other than PAY. Imagine building 7m Likes, and they're for nothing.

You don't have an enewsletter and a customer database? 2014 is the year to start one.

By the way, I'm not advising you to STOP using social brand channels. Yes, continue to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. - but not at the expense of or the detriment to your owned digital channels.

(2) Diversify your digital brand ecosystem

Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't just rely on SEO as dictated by Google, and do consider other social channels beyond Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Yes, it's hard work (and not free in terms of resource / time) to run multiple social channels. But it's risky to rely on Facebook alone as your social strategy, and be at its mercy.

If you're cheeky and brave, you could alternatively simply reduce your content investment into Facebook and run your page as a Customer Service channel only. I.e. don't bother about creating engaging and exciting content, nurturing a community, or any of those softer awareness things. After all, the majority of your 'audience' won't see it anyway thanks to Facebook's algo update!

So, keep the page but stop running any paid ads and abandon it otherwise (other than answering customer questions). See how Facebook likes it if suddenly brands stop investing in their pages, stop creating engaging, exciting content, and only use it as another customer service / contact channel.

I bet they'd hate that 😛







I've decided to post what I think will be the Digital Marketing Trends 2014 - and I've intentionally NOT done a huge amount of research on what the experts think!

Giant Spider, Louise Bourgeois
Giant Spider, Louise Bourgeois - CC image courtesy of Pierre Metivier on Flickr

Quite the opposite - I've been taking a wee break from Digital over the holiday period to get some fresh thoughts going. To that extent, I have been reading dark and brutal crime novels, watched Hellraiser and Hellbound - Hellraiser 2, re-watched The Bridge (series 1), and went to see the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (which incidentally gives me a reason to post the awesome picture on the right!)

Having removed myself from the thick of what I do professionally every day, I present to you the perhaps least scientific and most subjective key digital marketing trends for the new year (disclaimer: as I see them).

Digital Marketing Trends 2014

Trend 1: Brands will consolidate their social brand accounts

It used to be the case that for every brand, sub brand, by country, by business area, by campaign, etc, firms immediately created individual Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Facebook Likes memeI've noticed this especially for films (I've worked on social for some) but also FMCG, and I've fought a few battles with clients who wanted a social media account for every single campaign, country, blah blah.

So they launch these pages, run non-integrated social acquisition campaigns, and then broadcast top down dull messages that don't get any traction and that no one is interested in. If they're using a dodgy agency, they may also buy cheap Facebook Likes.

Typically, they will fail to actually appoint some new content people / social media staff to do the considerable work required to build an engaged community of brand advocates on the 25 new accounts they've asked their agency to set up. Because, like, social media is EASY as all you do is sit on Facebook all day!! No skill required AT ALL!

I think in 2014 we'll see more consolidation of companies' social accounts as they realise that this 'social media strategy' is completely pointless and that those cheap likes and followers have no value since they'll never ever buy from you. Just chuck money out the window instead - same thing.

In 2014, then, smart brands will consolidate their social pages and might even close some of them (as they've no one to maintain them all).

Why, they may even start using social in a strategic way and start with their business objective first, before setting up yet another social account!

Trend 2: Video will RISE AND RISE due to mobile first consumption

We know that mobile has, or will shortly be, overtaking desktop access.

And what is the ideal, platform-agnostic media form for seamless multichannel consumption? Yes, it's VIDEO. I bet that nowadays YouTube is viewed more on mobile / tablet devices than on desktops. Who doesn't like funny videos? Such as this classic and awkward video of people posing for what they think is a still camera, when it's in fact a video recording 😀 !


This gem (and many others) were shown to me or viewed by me on a smartphone. It's just the ideal device for short videos - even the screen size of modern phones is just about perfect for the format. And yes, when I get stuck on some video game or other I grab my tablet and fire up YouTube 😀

Throw in the fact that YouTube is owned by Google, and with Google aiming for world domination, you can bet that video will be one of THE digital marketing trends 2014 - and a surefire way to strengthen your digital brand and your search engine visibility - not least because YouTube will be a key focus for Google in their quest to get a big slice of mobile ad revenue.

I recognised the increasing importance of video / YouTube back in 2011 while working as VisitScotland's Social Media Manager. Together with my awesome ex-colleague Leanne, we managed to persuade YouTube to assign the channel name /visitscotland over to us, which some random person had registered but had never used. This sort of thing isn't normally possible, at all - you can't just get someone else's account!

But I wanted the exact brand URL and nothing else would do. Nothing. Else. Not /visitscotlandTV, /visitscotlandmedia, or whatever other substitute. No. We just wouldn't let go and moved heaven and earth, pulling out all the tricks in the book (nothing dodgy mind you!).

And YES, we finally managed to do it, and as a result the channel /visitscotland was fully aligned with the overall VisitScotland brand ecosystem, and now has nearly 1.5 million views 🙂

Trend 3: All the overhyped, useless digital 'innovations' will GO AWAY.

Rant alert! My final prediction is that anything pointless that supposedly is the next big thing, but that consumers are simply not interested in, will go away.

Maybe it's just me secretly hoping that these non-starters will leave me alone and I don't have to see or hear from them ever again.

Candidates include:

  • NFC
  • QR codes
  • Augmented reality (anyone remember 'virtual reality headsets'? Similarly pointless but forever hyped to be the next big thing)
  • Devices that require me to talk to them (Xbox One anyone? Their commercial makes me cringe so bad that I have to cover my face with a sofa cushion!). Again it's probably personal preference and not on trend but hey - I LIKE touching things and I LIKE physical stuff. There's nothing like grabbing your controller, feel it in your hands, and push or hammer the buttons and occasionally shout at the TV if you lose the boss fight for the 5th time 😛 . Plus, why does one always have to speak with one's most perfect English accent? It ain't gonna work! BONUS: Remember that mock Scottish iPhone commercial for Siri? A true classic and embedded here for a quick chuckle  - and it nicely illustrates my point.


And with that I conclude my totally non-scientific, purely subjective and rather random predictions for Digital Marketing in 2014.

I'm certainly excited and can't wait to see what actually is going to happen! Digital is always fresh, ever-changing, often unpredictable, and we'll be in for another GREAT ride this year 🙂