Tech purchases increasingly influenced by consumer-generated media, new H&K study

27 January 2009

In an age where credibility and reputation count for so much, the impact and influence of the digital channel, and consumer-generated media in particular, as a source of 3rd party information is now virtually comparable to that of traditional media and industry analysts. This is just one of the findings of H&K’s fourth annual survey of technology decision makers (TDMs) released earlier today.

You can read the full release here, and check out the findings here.

Not surprisingly, superior products and services and superior customer service and support were identified as critical drivers of purchasing decisions, particularly at the final stages of the buying cycle. More surprising, however, is that even in today’s increasingly price-sensitive market, corporate reputation has not fallen by the wayside. Rather, the survey findings only serve to reinforce the importance of corporate reputation and the factors that are increasingly influencing reputation in the early stages of the sales process, in particular, the power of word of mouth (WOM) to affect TDMs decisions.

As digital tools accelerate and enhance the reach and visibility of these newly-empowered influencers, so too does the power of word of mouth to influence buying decisions also increase. And yet this has really only made the job of the communications and marketing departments that much harder, and forced us all to be more strategic and integrated.

As the study shows, where once TDMs relied predominantly on a few select sources, today they are influenced by a wide mix of sources ranging from the more traditional, such as technology and business publications and industry analysts, to the new WOM enablers, including blogs, social networks, discussion forums and other digital channels. Consider:

  • 44% of respondents in Canada say industry blogs have a very strong influence on their perceptions of a technology company, its products or services
  • Approximately one-third of Canadian respondents either always (4%) or frequently (27%) turned to blogs when making purchasing decisions

What this means is that vendors must ensure these sources (and the appropriate strategies to reach them) are fully integrated into their communications programs – and yet included in ways that are both credible and transparent. As vendors increasingly share control of their brands with this growing community of influencers, so too must they become adept at two-way stakeholder communications, and be able to identify those influencers who are viewed most credibly in the eyes of decision makers.

“Behavioural Targeting” – good strategy or invasion of privacy?

30 April 2008

By: Emilija Businskas

 

In a recent New York Times article, Adam Cohen refers to a 1993 New Yorker cartoon where a dog, sitting in front of his PC tells another dog “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

 

As we all know, the Internet doesn’t actually provide you with anonymity.  In fact, each one of us has our own “online personality” complete with a detailed history of what websites we’ve visited, ads we’ve clicked on and the items we’ve googled.

 

For years technology companies have been tracking these items by using “cookies”, tracking software on your computer that tells them about your online habits.  Now we’re seeing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) compiling this type of information as well.

 

So what are they doing with this information?  Recently there is a growing trend towards “behavioral targeting” when it comes to online advertising.  Basically, websites can charge a premium for ads if they can guarantee that they will appear before a specific target audience.  They monitor usage habits to determine the demographic of the audience by tracking information like age group, gender or geography – the possibilities are endless.  Once they have the information they compile it, determine the exact characteristics of the audience, and provide this information to advertisers looking to reach a specific group.

 

At first glance this seems like an effective strategy for selling ads, but is it also an invasion of privacy?  Is it ok for websites to sell our personal online history for profit?  Should they be able to report on all of our online habits or is some information off limits?  If so, where do you draw the line? 

 

Emilija Businskas is a Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto

 

Congratulations on your graduation – now what?

28 April 2008

By: Monta Johnson

It’s getting to be that time of year. Exams are underway and, for many, there’s the added stress of finding a job after graduation – particularly with a recession looming. If you’re thinking about a career in communications but are unsure about what direction to head next, here are some tips that might help.

1. Research, read and absorb. Learn as much as you can about different aspects of communications: agency, corporate, not-for-profit, government and so on, and figure out which area appeals to you the most. In my case, I started out in technology because there were jobs available and, during a recession, that was very appealing. I’ve stayed in tech for 15 years because I found out that I truly enjoy it. Which leads to my next point….

2. Keep an open mind. Right now, for example, you might think that not-for-profit is the way to go because you want to do something that will make a difference in the world. Fair enough. But you may also want to consider a job in philanthropy at a large company, where you can be involved in making strategic decisions regarding corporate donations to charities. Consider all your options.

3. Ask around. Talk to everyone you know (or know of) in the field. Don’t be shy about it – most people are happy to spend some time with up-and-coming young professionals.

4. But be respectful. Once, while I was working at boutique PR firm, I interviewed a young woman who asked me if I had ever worked at a “real” PR agency. She didn’t get the job. 

5. Volunteer. Not only is volunteering a great way to give back to the community, but it’s also your best opportunity to acquire hands-on skills and figure out what you like and dislike about your chosen profession. Many organizations need help with event planning, fundraising, media relations and writing. Pick a group or a cause that is important to you, and ask them how you can help.

6. Remember that you are not going to start at the top. It takes time, often many years, to work your way up. And that’s okay. You will learn a lot, make good friends, build a network of connections, and probably change your mind about what you want to do with your life as you go along.

Monta Johnson is a VP in the Technology Communications Practice at Hill & Knowlton Toronto.

Agency life and our culture

06 March 2008

By: Ian Barr 

I recently presented to a group of people who were interested in learning about agency life and potentially working for H&K Toronto, something that I love discussing. I’ve been speaking at these information sessions once a month for a few years now, and I never get tired of engaging conversations about H&K’s culture. Here are just a few things I’ve come to appreciate over the 7+ years I’ve worked here:

The people: We’re like a giant family that values each others’ opinion and challenges each other to grow. Junior staff have open door access to the most senior execs in the organization, and their insights are highly respected. Not a day goes by when you don’t learn something new – we  have access to the brightest minds in the business on everything from Technology and Marketing Communications to Crisis, Digital and even Aboriginal affairs. Our international colleagues are just a call or email away.

Best teams: We have a philosophy that the best people for the job get to work on projects regardless of the specialty group you work in. Our ability to expand outside of our core expertise for additional insights brings our clients the best thinking in the industry and also exposes you to new growth opportunities.

Educational opportunities: There’s an abundance of learning opportunities within our office. Language classe, conferences, personal development plans, lunch and learns from peers, external speakers and others within the global network. A few years ago the company sent me to our London, UK office on a two-week educational trip. It was one of the best growth opportunities I’ve experienced.

You’re treated like an adult: If you have a medical appointment in the afternoon, you can leave the office and take it without sacrificing vacation time. If you have time in your schedule and want to go to the gym, you’re free to do so. Imagine that – people who understand! When you’re treated like an adult, there’s a certain sense of responsibility to your colleagues and employer. People value the flexibility and work hard to preserve it by not taking advantage of the generosity.This leads me to my next point…

Unlimited sick days: If you’re sick, you stay home. If you’re sick for a week, you stay home for a week. If it sounds like an oversell, you’d be amazed at how many companies make you use personal vacation once you’ve reached your max number of sick days. Some even make you use vacation for bereavement. Despite this policy, people take an average of 3 days sick leave per year here. Why? Because we’re happy and have found a good work/life balance.

Beer cart: Our beer cart has been featured in many media outlets, including the Globe and Mail. Friday beer cart is a tradition here.

It’s with great pride that I tell people we’ve been named one of the top 100 employers in Canada and were the first agency to be added to such a prestigious honor. Our senior leaders have worked hard to create a collaborative and rewarding environment, and it’s obviously paying off.

Agency vs. Client: The big question

20 February 2008

By: Mary Warner

It is the big question that most practitioners ask themselves before getting into the PR business: should I go client side or agency side? Obviously it is a personal choice but I feel that I have something to add to the conversation having done both. Take my opinion for what it’s worth and I would love for this blog to start a conversation about other’s experiences with this same question so please, comment away!

I had worked in non-profit for several years, dabbling in communications and I finally decided that PR was what I wanted to do. I went back to school for 8 months to study the craft and came out ready to work. Initially I decided I wanted to go client side. I had heard some nightmare stories about agency life and it didn’t seem like a fit for me.

On the client side, I worked alone. I was the only person working on communications in the company. It gave me the chance to do a lot of things my peers from school weren’t able to work on yet. I was designing the campaigns, writing the releases, contacting the media and providing on-site media support. I was also doing the other work such as media monitoring, reporting and admin. But I was having a lot of fun and learning so much along the way. So why did I leave?

It came down to a campaign that was not working for me. I had followed all the typical avenues and was getting no coverage and serious pressure from above. I just didn’t know what to do and had no one to learn from. It made me realize that maybe I needed to be with experts and people who can teach and guide me. The switch to agency has definitely been worth it. There is so much to learn and, now that I am at H&K, I feel that agency is the natural next step out of a PR program. It is the best place to apply and continue the knowledge from school.

And most of those nightmare stories are exaggerations, sure there are sometimes late nights but there are a lot of amazing perks, including training and education opportunities, client trips all over the country and sometimes all over the world, working in teams where you can bounce ideas of each other, being surrounded by a wealth of experience and, in general, working with really fun people.

This has been my experience and I would love to hear yours.

Mary Warner is a Consultant in the technology practice at H&K Toronto.

 

 

Do you leverage the brand or does the brand leverage you?

05 February 2008

By: Lena Beyer

One of the most interesting brand building campaigns to come along in a while has to be Mark Lives In Ikea. In case you haven’t heard of it yet, New York-based comedian Mark Malkoff decided to move into Ikea while his apartment was being fumigated. Yes, that’s right…live in Ikea.

For one week Mark moved into a New Jersey Ikea, making friends with employees and filming his escapades, which included shopping cart races with the night security man Jarvis, conducting tours of his “apartment” and hosting an impromptu performance by Lisa Loeb.

While most people may ask if this was initiated by Ikea, in fact, it is a brain child of Mark who, as one blog noted, used the Ikea brand to promote himself and in turn ended up promoting Ikea. His website, www.marklivesinikea.com, features videos of Mark’s stay in the Swedish retailer and his hilarious interactions with both customers and employees in Ikea.

It appears as if Ikea was hands-off in this campaign, allowing Mark to run amok, but it is this approach which exemplifies the marketing shift that has taken place in the last few years.

While there have been examples of companies developing campaigns which appeared to be initiated by the “Average Joe”, here is an example of why the “Average Joe” approach actually works. Both Mark and Ikea were featured on ABC’s World News Tonight, and in publications including the Washington Post, the National Post and the Toronto Star. All of this in addition to the traffic driven to the website itself and postings on YouTube.com.

While I admit that their perfectly outfitted model rooms have made me jealous that I could only afford the KARLSTAD cushion and not the entire sofa series, actually moving into Ikea hasn’t yet crossed this house hunter’s mind.

However, Mark and Ikea have entered into that elusive marketing gold that happens when a simple, innovative idea catches spark.

Lena Beyer is a consultant with the technology practice of H&K Toronto.

CES 2008 – You say you want an “Evolution”?

01 February 2008

By: Carly Suppa

Despite the ritual fanfare and steady rumour-mill gossip leading up to the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, the “big-wows” of yesteryear were curiously silent on the CE industry’s loudest stage. 

CES, arguably the largest consumer trade show in North America, has traditionally been the launch pad for the consumer technology industry’s most fantastical toys (think Wii, Zoon and 100-plus inches of LCD and Plasma heaven), and its stage has played host to industry icons such as Bill Gates, Carly Fiorina, Michael Dell, not to mention A-list celebs like Tom Hanks, Gwen Stefani and Matt Damon. Annually, the show attracts vendors, partners, buyers and press from every corner of the world resulting in a mass of close to 150,000 bodies traversing the Las Vegas Convention Center’s miles (and miles) of show floor. It’s no small wonder Sin City salivates at the strike of the New Year.

The expectations for CES ’08 are set by the reporting communities: new “wow” products, an expected series of major announcements by Microsoft CEO and opening night keynoter Bill Gates and the equivalent of six football fields-worth of gadgetry.

Yet despite the heightened anticipation each January brings, CES 2008 presented less of the over-the-top fanfare and parade of nifty gear dreamed up by a series of wild creative tech engineers, and more of a reserved maturity, focusing on evolution and not revolution.

While in years past, the emergence of really innovative, novel new products was almost a mandatory expectation for a CES showing, CES 2008 offered a series of product enhancements:

  • The thinnification of LCD TV panels from several vendors – 1.5-inch thin to cooler-looking, colourful, feature-packed cell phones 
  • enhancements of networked TVs that can connect to PCs in the home upgrades to home servers and storage devices
  • the growing trend in ultra-portable mobile computers – the “tween” devices so coined because they fit somewhere in between a PDA and a notebook. 
     

Of course no Vegas visit is complete without a good old-fashioned, gloves-off fight. This year’s battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD caught much attention after Blu-ray appeared to have won the North American title after a huge endorsement by Warner Brothers. Blu-ray presence was felt in nearly every corner of the convention centre. Unfortunately the same could not be said for HD-DVD.

The Green theme was also pervasive amongst vendor booths – HP* for example, had carpeting made from corn and biodegradable product displays.

At first glance, it can be perceived that vendors have hit the limit in terms of the uber-wow product or service, opting instead to invest in enhancements to existing products that held the uber-wow crowns in years past. On the flip side, the less cynical would look at CES 2008 as a year the vendors let the consumer play catch up, if only slightly. The infrastructure for the utopian idea of the digital lifestyle exists and has been there for a while. But it’s been piecemeal, ad hoc, made up of disparate systems built to be smart, but smart unto themselves. What we are seeing is the coming together of these smart systems and the ability to connect them all and the vendors that can do that the best will win the hearts of the consumer electronics buyer.

Several reports have discounted CES 2008 as a disappointment, but consider this: what is exciting as we look forward this year is not only the prospect of new items to put on our technology wish lists but the realization that we, as consumers may actually be able to buy them and connect them easily and moreover, do it affordably!

Carly Suppa is a Senior Consultant with the Technology Practice at H&K Toronto 

*client

 

One Vote For Technology

30 January 2008

By: Lindsay Noronha

In 1902 with the intro of the first air conditioner by Willis Haviland Carrier, the landscape of the developed world changed dramatically. Before air conditioning was made available for home use, the view outside your kitchen window was very different. You would see families congregating on their front porches and the lawns of friends while pitchers of lemonade were passed around. Kids would run through the sprinklers and the sound of laughter was contagious. 

In his paper, Abandoned Communities: The Malignant Social Consequences of Modern Technology on Communities, Melvin W. Barber, Ph.D., describes how the wide use of air conditioners in communities damaged these relationships that were built on front lawns and porches. With comfortable temperatures in the home, there was no longer the need to gather outside, which according to Barber, meant that families were now cut off from community life, and coupled with the effects of the introduction of the automobile; the community was doomed to disappear. 

Barber paints a gloomy picture but with the sophistication of the technology available on the market today, can it still be said that it is technology that is driving communities apart or is the flip side now true; is technology working to bring people together?

When Dr Martin Cooper, a former general manager for the systems division at Motorola the inventor of the first portable handset made the first call on a portable cell phone in April 1973, he opened the door to a type of communication that wasn’t previously available. People were no longer slaves to their desk or home phones but were now able to reach out to someone that they may not have bothered connecting with otherwise as it wasn’t convenient. In essence, the cell phone extends our involvement with the community as opposed to disconnecting us from it.

The gaining popularity of blogs and other social network activities such as Facebook are further examples of how technology is expanding our universe not just in terms of access to information, which was the major benefit we saw with the initial roll out of the Internet in 1983 but also in terms of expanding our ability to connect with other people; in text and emoticons if not in flesh. Although the argument can be made that access to the Internet can cause introverts to revert farther into their homes as opposed to out into the sunshine, technology can’t take all the blame for all social behaviour.

For every argument that positions the continued introduction of new technologies as beneficial, there can be just as strong an argument that relying on technology is a mistake. To understand which side of the dispute you favour; think about where you work, what you do in your spare time and how you stay connected to your friends and family, now think about how you would participate in these activities without technology. I, personally, would vote for technology eight days a week

Lindsay Noronha is a Senior Consultant in the Technology Practice at H&K Toronto

 

Harry Lamin’s War

18 January 2008

By: Monta Johnson

Ninety years ago, Private Harry Lamin was an English soldier on active duty in Europe in World War One. He wrote often to his family back in England, sharing small details of life on the front lines. Many of those letters, especially those written to his brother Jack and sister Kate, survived. Now, thanks to a blog created by Pte Lamin’s grandson, Bill Lamin, readers all over the world are getting a chance to experience Harry Lamin’s war. To see it for yourself, visit here and be prepared – it’s compelling reading.

Each letter is being posted to the blog exactly 90 years to the day from which it was written, leaving readers to wonder about Harry’s fate. Harry’s is a moving story, made all the more so because of the almost matter-of-fact style of his writing. After the harrowing battle at Messines Ridge in June 1917, for instance, he wrote to his sister (these are his words and punctuation, left as-is for the sake of authenticity): “We have had some very rough times up here lately especially the last time we were in the trenches you see we had to go over the top. its a rotten time waiting for the order. we had to go over at three in the morning. the bombardment was awful lucky to get out but I’m very pleased to say I am alright and hope to remain so. There was a parcel waiting for me from Ethel and Annie when I came out, it was nice to have some cake and tea.”

It is fascinating to read and an amazing way to learn about the history of WWI, from the perspective of a soldier. It is also an innovative approach to blogging. Over the past year, blogs have moved squarely into the mainstream with large media organizations beginning to recognize their importance and many smaller, niche blogs attracting a respectable following.

But Bill Lamin’s tribute to his grandfather may very well launch a whole new genre of blogging – one that goes beyond news, updates, journal entries and opinions, and moves into the territory of storytelling. It’s not going unnoticed: news organizations from around the world are picking up the story and a lot of people are hooked – at last count, 200,000 readers were reportedly waiting and worrying about Harry. A tale – and a trend – worth watching.

Monta Johnson is a VP in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.  

 

You, Them, All of Us

14 January 2008

By: Mary Keating

 

It’s been a year since Time declared YOU as person of the year for 2006 for founding a digital democracy with Web 2.0.  James Poniewozik came back in December with a retrospective column on that decision called The Year of Them.   Seems professionals and corporations became as excited about Web 2.0 in 2007 as YOU have been for years.  

 

YOU haven’t gone away, but the profit seekers and wannabe opinion shapers are making their way to the party in record numbers.  While purists might see that as cause for alarm, I welcome the influx of new voices, choices and content that makes the experience continually more diverse and fun. What makes it work is that everyone needs to play by the rules of this quasi-socialist realm and commercial newcomers are working to fit into a world that isn’t familiar and not always comfortable.  This makes the content more real and creative.  When it’s not, no one pays attention.  Or worse, offenders are singled out as examples of how not to behave.   

 

We’ve created a place where everyone, including the powerful, are prepared to be judged and sometimes rejected.  It’s what makes our job in communications so interesting.   By sharing the power of Web 2.0, we all make for an exciting digital future.

 

Welcome to 2008!

 

Mary Keating is Sr. VP and Director of H&K Canada’s Technology Communications practice.