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Choosing your channel carefully - when the audience isn't ready for the technology



When I graduated from University in 1999, I was lucky enough to land a place on the graduate scheme at then telecoms giant Cable & Wireless (C&W). Fresh faced, I was welcomed into the fold with presentations from the then CEO about how the business would be ‘no match for silicon valley companies’ and how we were joining the ‘digital revolution.’ At the time, the country was in the throes of its dot com boom, with businesses like 'Lastminute' popping up to disrupt travel, 'Amazon' into books and other companies like 'pets' into animal care.

They gave me more training than I knew what to do with and we were presented with more technology than an entire series of Tomorrow’s World. On one afternoon in April 2000, a business came in and presented an alternative view of customer services. Nineteen years ago, we were offered a virtual, avatar shop assistant. A hologram of a young woman, nice looking and articulate, was beamed across to a room full of people as something we could potentially sell to our retail customers. Fresh faced but not eager to please, I asked, ‘Do you think that people are ready for this?’


I just want to let that question settle for a minute.


In the year 2000, internet usage was only just starting to take off. My email address was a combination of letters and numbers, Friends Reunited didn’t even exist let alone Twitter, My Space, Facebook. People still went into the supermarket to socialise and it was impossible to get groceries online. Contact centres had only just started to move out to India and the world was a very different place than it is today. People were definitely not ready for a holographic shop assistant, and to be completely honest, I’m not sure we’re ready for them now.


At C&W, we were always about innovation; about taking risks, doing things quickly, being brave, speaking up and being one step ahead. It ultimately led in the company’s collapse. Why? Because people were not ready for this – for any of it. They weren’t ready for the internet boom until much more recently. We didn’t have the logistical or technological infrastructure in place to deliver goods, books, food, travel, service in the click of a button. More importantly, we still wanted to speak to people face to face. We didn’t progress emotionally at the same speed as technology wanted us to.


Innovation is sometimes about not looking to push technology but to go backwards. Waterstones and Barnes and Noble survived the Amazon global takeover by creating spaces that were welcoming and friendly for their customers. We’ve seen banks reintroduce branches in a lounge format, and every retailer I have come across appreciates the value of a physical space for consumers to use.


With comms, we always want to invest in social media, digital marketing, chat bots, geotargeting, analytics, influencer marketing but it’s important to sometimes take a step back. We have to remember that it’s our customers who pay our bills. Without them, we’re nothing. We don’t always need to invest in avatars. Sometimes, all our customers want is an old fashioned conversation.


When I started a recent role, the team I joined shared with me the business targets for digital PR coverage. We were working with influencers, with digital national media but our target audience wasn’t anywhere near these outlets. Strategically, this made no sense. Our target segment was a little bit older, had a strong desire for trust, loyalty and a dislike for change. Their values were based around hard work and commitment. Seriously, asking a 23 year old vlogger to share news about your products is not going to work for them.


Just like C&W, there are customers that just aren’t ready for this. They’ll still take their free local newspaper into the bathroom with them and will get these newspapers in the post. Go back to basics for customers like these. Being innovative is sometimes about bucking the trend. Take those values of being brave and bold but use them to question and do the right thing. Because sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.