Uber sneaky: The dirty side of the sharing economy

If press reports are to be believed, ridesharing company Uber has been playing a grown-up version of Knock Down Ginger (Ding Dong Ditch to US readers). Lyft, a competitor to Uber, claims that Uber employees have ordered and cancelled more than 5,000 rides since last October. That’s a huge drain on resources, effectively taking drivers off the road and potentially sending customers to Uber.

Where the rides aren’t cancelled, Uber employees take short journeys for the explicit purpose of recruiting the driver for themselves.

Lyft claims 177 Uber employees (likely temps on commission) around the US have participated in this activity suggesting this is a coordinated marketing effort from Uber. The Verge even has internal communications from Uber apparently supporting the campaign (codenamed SLOG),

I don’t necessarily have a problem with a company trying to recruit “employees (drivers)” from a competitor, but the practice of purposely wasting competitor resource for your own gain seems morally dubious from a marketing perspective.

Regardless, it was a hugely risky decision:

  • Regulatory lobbying: Ride-sharing companies are continually battling city regulators. In the US, taxi companies have used their local and state level leverage to protect the status-quo and restrict the operation of ride-share operators; or at least ensure they are regulated in the same way as a traditional taxi service. Uber has recently hired lobbyists to fight its case, but it’s an up-hill battle and negative publicity surrounding business practices will do nothing to make the process any easier.
  • Awareness for Lyft: Outside of the [US] West Coast the Lyft brand was relatively unknown until last week. The PR surrounding SLOG has raised awareness of a competitor. This is never a desirable outcome.
  • Negative brand perception: Uber has been riding the wave of the sharing economy. This movement has inherently become virtuous in its nature. Unethical marketing tactics put the Uber brand on the back-foot and risk diluting the virtuous elements of its brand. For many consumers this publicity will be their first exposure to the brand…and first impressions count.
  • Valuation & funding: Uber is one of the fastest growing tech companies to come out of Silicon Valley since Facebook. In June this year it raised a further $1.2bn, helping to value the company at over $18bn. There’s a serious group of investors behind Uber – from Fidelity Investments to BlackRock Inc. Those are names that won’t want to see their multi-million dollar investments put at risk by negative press commentary and consequent.



Don’t blame new technology for the age-old problem of poor parenting

Stuart Dredge has become something of an authority on the role of technology and children. I’ve often followed his recommendations for educational apps and have even had my eight-year old experimenting with coding through apps such as Tynker. Needless to say, I’m very much aligned to Stuart’s mindset; today’s youngsters will grow into a world where the skills needed to succeed professionally are light years away from those that I needed to master during the 70’s.

Of course, there are some constants; social skills for example. But how today’s children master problem solving and language have almost certainly benefited from the digital revolution. I say benefited with absolute conviction because I’ve seen first-hand how my own children learn through digital tools and the gamification of subjects such as mathematics.

And yet any suggestion of the benefits delivered to children from digital technologies still draws such vitriolic attacks.

Stuart’s recent piece in The Guardian (online) listed 25 of the best apps for children when travelling this summer. It was a sensible piece, comprising apps for entertainment, creativity, problem solving and education. And yet the comments section quickly filled with vitriol.

  • “What a stupid article highlighting more useless drivel to hinder their childs [sic] development. How about not relying on electronic devices to keep children occupied. Old fashioned parental interaction with the child should be norm.”
  • “Why bother when you can abandon parental responsibilities and give them a device that will impede their mental development? This is grotesque and is symptomatic of everything wrong with modern life. indicative of why the future will be worse than the present.”
  • “Prefer to keep my kids off stupid apps, thank you.”
  • “This article is nauseating.”

You get the point.

comments miss the point?


The arguments are strange, but expected. I imagine the same arguments being presented when the first computers were introduced into schools. People seem hard-wired to resist change, perhaps it’s the feeling of uncertainty or a loss of control?

The arguments assume a lack of parental control. The astringent commentators seem unable to comprehend that technology plays a role in balanced education. Instead the myopic assumption is that technology is used as a replacement for traditional learning or as distraction to keep children occupied.

I don’t doubt that there are some parents who use technology as a baby-sitter. But I also don’t doubt that many of these commentators grew-up in a generation where the television, radio or VCR was used in much the same way. We’ve all done it at some point.

But to assume that this is the sole purpose of apps is blindly ignorant. The same parental skills are needed. Managing screen time and vetting apps is just another skill to be mastered by today’s parents.

My daughters are both under eight. They each have a tablet and as a sensible parent I chose the technology based on my ability to control it. My youngest has a Kindle Fire HD and I applaud Amazon’s responsible approach; it allows me to set educational targets requiring my daughter to read for an hour before it allows her access to an entertainment app. I can block certain apps or ensure it can’t be switched on after 7pm. I am in control.

For my eldest daughter, technology is completely integrated with her learning. I’ve seen her spend hours on her tablet researching the solar system, then pick up a pen and paper and write a thoughtful poem about the planets. Sure she enjoys curling into her beanbag to watch something on Netflix, but no more so than she enjoys swimming, riding or any other physical exercise.

It’s about balance. It always has been. Don’t blame new technology for the age-old problem of poor parenting.

What do you think?


Churn & Customer Value Management in Telecoms

I’ll be speaking this month in Prague, chairing the Churn & Customer Value Management in Telecoms conference.

Some great speakers have been lined up (O2 UK, Tele2, 3UK, TTNET, Vodafone etc).

I’ll be keeping a live blog / Twitter stream throughout the event. If you are planning to attend, feel free to connect with me in advance.

More information at www.churnandcvmintelecoms.com

Why PR’s big-data, geek-laden rhetoric makes me cringe

Dear PR Industry.

It’s ok, we get it. Times are changing and PR needs to change too. But, please, for the love of god, stop with the “Future of PR rests with Geeks and Big Data” angle.

It smacks of desperation, misunderstanding and a genetic desire to associate yourself with the latest zeitgeist.

In your imagination you think that bringing someone to a pitch with a “data analyst” title is going to impress me. The reality is that it’s like listening to my five-year old daughter trying to be grown-up by using words she’s heard adults use, but that she doesn’t quite understand.

You throw the world “geek” around like a badge of honour, applying it to anyone with a Twitter account and an iPhone. And if one more agency pitches me with Big Data credentials, only to explain that what they really mean is that they have an intern that can use Excel I might very well implode.

I’ve just read this and it made me feel sorry for you. I know you are relevant, but throwing buzz words at the problems is not the answer. Heck, this post even tells PR professionals to develop their big data skills by taking a course in Excel.

Excel? Really?

Yes, we need a different skillset in the industry. Measurement is vital and the ability to extract a story from data correlation is hugely advantageous, but it doesn’t make people geeks, it makes them effective workers who have skilled themselves for the 21st Century.  The ability to craft a “countif” statement in Excel is not big data and it doesn’t make you a geek. It just makes you employable.

NB – PR industry, I say this because I love you.



This guy was mediocre, what he did to increase his popularity will blow your mind!

You clicked. I knew you would.

But is it fair? Have you clicked because you value my commentary or because the headline delivered an emotional promise? Do you consider this click-bait or will this post actually deliver something?

If you are a B2B marketer I hope this will be of interest, because I want to understand whether the “Upworthy-Style” of headline writing has any place in B2B marketing.

The Upworthy headline has infiltrated almost every corner of the internet and anyone who’s spent time on Facebook will recognise the style. There is no room for debate in the proposition they present. Loaded with hyperbole and superlatives, your emotional reaction to the content is being primed as you read the headline. The post promises that “Your faith in humanity will be restored”, or that it will “Blow your mind”.

Of course, the reality is that you are unlikely to be shocked by what you read. The content probably won’t “blow your mind” and your faith in humanity is more than likely to still be in tatters. But that doesn’t matter because it still works. Upworthy is now the third-most-shared publisher on the Internet and the average Upworthy post attracts 43,446 Facebook shares.

It’s a divisive approach. Personally it annoys me. I don’t like to be told how I should react to a piece of content before I’ve even opened it. However, I acknowledge that this is a very personal opinion and the [Upworthy] traffic statistics speak for themselves. I also acknowledge that what’s going on here is more than just click-baiting. After all, click-bait only gets you to click; the content needs to stack up if it’s to be shared.

Upworthy knows this, it hires staff full time to scour the internet for the most compelling content before applying the Upworthy headline formula to it (a simple mash-up of outrage, mood and mystery).

The Upworthy style isn’t inherently new. It’s classical storytelling. It’s “conflict and resolution”. If we want to understand how the conflict was resolved we must click.

The real question, regardless of your personal opinion is whether this approach is something B2B brands could (or should) be using in their content marketing. Is it time to the classical, descriptive headline?

After all, the conflict and resolution structure of an Upworthy headline translates well into what B2B marketers try to achieve; present the challenge (conflict) and present the solution (resolution). Would a subtle shift in the way the content is packaged positively impact a response rate?

Upworthy’s own data claims that a headline can vary traffic to a piece of content by as much as 500%. It’s not uncommon for them to test dozens of headlines before going live. If you’re not convinced by the power of a headline in generating shares, take the case study of Zach Sobiech.

Diagnosed with a form of bone cancer when he was 17, Sobiech was given a year to live. During that time he recorded a song about how he was dealing with illness and was the subject of a short documentary called “My Last Fays: Meet Zach Sobiech”. In total his story was viewed by less than a 100,000 people globally. That is, until Upworthy repackaged the content after Sobiech’s death in 2013.

Posted under the headline This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular”, the story went viral and went on to be viewed several million times (at the time of writing the video has been viewed over 12m times).

Sobiech’s song went on to become No.1 on the Apple iTunes download chart and more than $300,000 was raised for cancer research through a link Upworthy added to the content.

Remember, the content hadn’t changed. Upworthy was simply tuning how it was packaged.

Upworthy’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the more traditional publishers. Some have even tried to replicate the style; with mixed results. In January, CNN tweeted a story synopsis, employing the Upworthy style of headline writing.


The reaction was caustic. The was a story about the murder of a child and the obvious click-baiting lent an air of levity to a tragic event.


So, while I’m [personally] keen to experiment with the Upworthy-style with some simple A/B testing on some of our future campaigns, CNN’s experience offers some warnings.

Positive stories only: The enigmatic prose of an Upworthy headlines works best with positive news stories. Like CNN, don’t apply levity to a serious issue that involves human tragedy.

Conflict and Resolution: Remember; the Upworthy style relies on a very basic storytelling principle. Present a challenge (conflict) and deliver a solution (resolution). Don’t explain how you get from the conflict to the resolution in the headline. This is the “curiosity gap” and it’s this that will make targets click. Let’s take an example.

Traditional Style: AcmeTelecom uses sensor technology from the medical industry to improve network performance.

Upworthy style: When customers demanded more speed, AcmeTel found the answer in an unlikely place.

Brand alignment: Not every brand can make this work. Established news outlets (CNN, BBC etc) are unlikely to be able to replicate this style without its audience calling them out for “dumbing down”. Likewise, the Upworthy style is designed to appeal to the masses, so luxury brands, or those with a very small, niche target should avoid such prose.

Good content: A good headline is no substitute for good content. Click-bait headlines that drive targets to misleading or poor content will have a negative impact in the long-term. Brand engagement will reduce and unsubscribes will increase.

Forget viral: Upworthy wants its content to go viral. Its business model relies on advertising and sponsored content. It’s untargeted so achieving the greatest number of shares across a wide consumer base is the priority. In a B2B context, while a viral piece of content is certainly beneficial, it shouldn’t be top-of-mind when packaging a campaign. The same rules of marketing apply; understand and target your audience. With this in mind, the priority for this style of headline is click / engagement rate.

Above all, remember to measure the right thing: I’m not suggesting that the Upworthy style is right for every B2B campaign, but as marketers it’s our job to test, finesse and figure out what works best for our audience. Sometimes we can get wrapped-up tracking things that don’t matter to our organization’s goals. An increased click rate is meaningless if it doesn’t create a sales uplift. Make sure you can track the engagement and that your metrics are aligned to the financial goals of the business.

I’d be fascinated to learn of any B2B case studies that have looked at this style of headline writing. Again, I’m not advocating this as an approach for everyone; but given Upworthy’s traffic stats, it must be worth some exploration. I’d also be fascinated to see if my own Upworthy headline will indeed increse my popularity (traffic stats)!

“Microsoft tech-support virus scam”

One downside to home-working (I’m in my home office three days a week), is that you realise just how often your home phone rings during the day.

I try to ignore it, knowing that it’s very likely to be a cold caller, but there’s always a concern it’s actually important; perhaps the kids’ school, a delivery I’ve been waiting on, or a family member.

I’m usually quick to filter out the cold callers and simply hang-up. However yesterday’s call caught my attention. It was from Microsoft and they were kindly calling to inform me that my PC had a virus.

Of course, I knew it was a scam. I’ve read the stories about this practice; “We are Windows tech-support, you have a virus, let me show you, Now I’ll have an engineer fix the issue, but it’ll cost £200 for the anti-virus software”. 

But I was intrigued. This scam has been going on for years, so it’s obvioulsy “profitable” for someone. As a form of social engineering I wanted to see how they did it; and so I played a long for a couple of minutes.

Here’s the audio. I missed the start of the call, and if you want to read the full process these scammer go through (including remote-control of your PC and Paypal access) then read this.



Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping has become an important exercise for mobile operators looking to improve the customer experience. Here are some best practice guidelines for anyone thinking of running a journey mapping project.

The customer journey (how your customer progress through your business from acquisition and beyond) is typically “owned” by several functional groups within a business. This makes customer journey mapping is a worthwhile exercise. It focuses the organization around a common goal where the outcome is improved Customer Lifetime Value (profitability & retention) and not just P&L improvements within individual functional areas of a business.

However, conducting a customer journey mapping exercise can be complex and it must have a purpose.

The first stage is to clearly define the existing (and desired) customer journey, highlighting the touchpoints and the “moments of truth” that form it. Typical touchpoints may include a retail store, channel stores, bill, web, social channels, the contact center and even the device and network themselves.

These touchpoints (and particular the moments of truth) are influential in setting customer behaviour; how they use a product or service, how they discover new services, seek support etc – and therefore a customer’s retention and spend. In many cases NPS/CSAT surveys are already deployed at these touchpoints which gives a great baseline of their individual performance. However, it’s still important to conduct VoC surveys to supplement NPS – ie: if someone is a detractor, why? An NPS score on its own is meaningless if you want to build business cases around the journey map.

The next stage is to actually use the map to direct investment and resource and build business cases.

Building business cases

Remember, each touchpoint and moment of truth will be owned by a function / department within your business. Where NPS is poor the key exercise is to root-cause why. For example, is it a problem downstream with a failure in another area? Think about a new smartphone customer and how the processes employed by product marketing for the out-of-box experience might negatively impact support traffic if the correct set-up information is not included.

These disconnects are typically the result of one of four things:

  1. Misaligned KPIs: One functional group may be incentivized to work in a way that damages another. Perhaps the contact center is measured by Average Handle Time only, or the retail operation by volume of devices sold rather than monitoring the percentage of devices returned within 30 days.
  2. Bad Processes: Outdated process that cause delays.
  3. Poor Knowledge Flow: Does the engineering, marketing or retail operation have visibility of the problems hitting your contact center? Could they benefit from understanding the problems facing customers at the coal-face?
  4. Poor Technology: Outdated systems or siloed systems that make it impossible to create a common view of the customer.

By getting all functional owners in the steering group they can see how misalignment and deficiencies in these areas can cause downstream cost. Be careful, it can be a caustic discussion if not managed correctly; no one wants to take the blame for another person’s misfortune.

Once you’ve mapped the journey, you can then look at the touchpoints / moments of truth that have the greatest impact on retention (those with poor NPS / VoC results) and prioritise efforts in those areas. Solutions can then be built around the problem areas – it might be as simple as a process change, a change in pre-launch device testing or it might be as large as deploying technology in the network or in the contact center.

One point to consider is that the influence you have over touchpoints (and your ability to improve them) will vary:

  • Owned touchpoints: Your own operations. These are the simplest to monitor and improve.
  • Partner touchpoints: Those owned by outsourcing partners (contact center outsourcers for example) or retail channel partners. A degree of influence and change can be applied, although beware;legacy  outsourcing agreements are often driven by cost savings and contractual relationships may need renegotiating.
  • Thirdparty touchpoints: Some things you just can’t control; a good example is the postal service.

In summary

The key is that you can connect any CEM investments back to a tangible “desired” customer journey and an NPS fault-point. Finally, because you’ve engaged with multiple functions you also instil a sense of ownership; that they’ve personally had a hand in defining the customer journey.

Whatever customer experience management investment you are looking to make, customer journey mapping is your due-diligence.








Third party

Amazon can be a real tease

Amazon can be a right tease sometimes.

I signed up for a free 30-day Prime membership over Christmas and decided to keep it. Free next day delivery (I concluded) was absolutely worth paying for so long as I used Amazon for more of my shopping.

However, it can be rather a tease. Have a look at these screengrabs I took.


I’ve just purchased a CD. It’s a gift and I really need it for tomorrow. Amazon [Prime] tells me that if I order in the next hour I’ll have it by tomorrow. Perfect.

I use one-click buy and am immediately presented with a delivery estimate the day after tomorrow.

How does that work then?

I’m not an unreasonable person. I don’t expect everything here and now – but I want the facts before I order, especially when I’m buying to a deadline.

Amazon has set my expectation. It’s told me I’ll have it – then as soon as I’ve transacted decided to change it’s mind. OK, so there’s obviously a disconnect in the system somehere but I can’t help but feel slightly duped.

2014 non-trends: 3D printing

Marketing Week’s “Marketing Trends for 2014” includes an entry for 3D printing becoming mainstream and gaining wider adoption within marketing campaigns as brands begin “using it at scale”.

Let me be the first of the year to call B.S on that one. I cannot conceive of any scalable marketing campaign that could be executed more cost effectively using 3D printing in the next 12 months.

I’m not dismissing 3D printing; some of the potential applications are inspiring and it’s an established technology. But will it bring about a third industrial revolution anytime soon? I’m not so sure. As we ride the upward trajectory of the hype cycle, the media are making it difficult to separate spin from reality.

The technology here isn’t new. It’s an 80’s technology used for prototyping. What’s happening is a rapid drop in the price point making desktop 3D printers accessible to a wider audience. But technology isn’t the only factor to accessibility.

In their current form, 3D printers are still prototyping machines for small scale production (so suggesting wider adoption as brands begin “using it at scale” seems something of an oxymoron).

But even then, in the land of hobbyists and prototypers, most folks aren’t designers, nor do they have the skills required to complete complex CAD-enabled 3D designs. I won’t even get started on the complexity of mechanical engineering. People train for years to understand how to create functional, working products.

So, that leaves us with downloading 3D printing pattern and printing the product at home.

Ever wondered why most of the available patterns are simple chess pieces, smartphone covers, fantasy figurines etc? Simply, in their current form 3D printers use a single material. It’s hugely limiting when you consider that most objects use multiple materials.

Want to home-print a circuit board? Forget it; at least while you remain limited to a single non-conductive plastic material.

Want to home-print a spare part for your car? I wouldn’t trust my life on it.

I’m not saying that advancements won’t come. Of course they will.  But can we get the hype cycle into perspective. Anyone suggesting mainstream adoption of 3D printing in the coming 2-3 years is getting carried away.

Let’s not forget that desktop CNC machines have been around for several years at comparable prices. They certainly haven’t sparked a new wave of garage manufacturing or marketing innovation for the same reasons, despite being able to work with a far wider array of materials. They remain – like 3D printing – prototyping machines.

We are at least 10 years away from the promises we read in the media. Not one of the current methods for home 3D printing (thermal fusing of plastic filaments, UV light to cut polymer resin, glue to bind resin powder etc) comes close to reaching the standards of a professionally-tooled factory, nor does the material used. Indeed, while the price falls for home 3D printers they are still a far cry from those used by engineering firms to fulfil “just in time manufacturing” of components – many of those use titanium powder in their production, and are priced not in the thousands, but millions.

The Marketing Week trends piece was contributed by a brand marketing director at a UK mobile operator, so when he claims we’ll see “bigger, more significant 3D campaigns and projects next year”, I’m going to take a wild guess and say he’s thinking about personalised smartphone cases.

3D printing is cool. Of course it is. But let me save you some embarrassment (should you be thinking about smartphone cases). The technology has been there for more than a decade, but the economics remain unchanged; the minute you start scaling into the thousands, your money is better spend tooling a factory line and adding personalised digital printing if required.

When content integrity fails at the hand of SEO

I’ve always been rather uneasy about the relationship between SEO practices and journalistic integrity. Given the importance of both, they remain rather uncomfortable bed-fellows.

I’ve seen it happen too many times; an author hands over the promotion of a carefully crafted and researched piece of content to the web team and suddenly the headline and extract has been edited; crafted for SEO at the expense of journalistic integrity.

SEO has its place, but the clue is in the name “Optimization”. When optimization becomes blatant link-baiting we’ve failed our readers / followers, content authors and our brands.

Here’s a great example spotted over the Christmas break, from ITV (the largest commercial television network in the UK).

Several Facebook friends posted this over the course of 48 hours. It’s the sort of timely content designed to be shared, commented-on and liked. “Met Office confirm it will be a white christmas” the headline tells us. “The Met Office have confirmed that this year will be a white Christmas in our region with snow possible everywhere…”










SEO goldust. Share…share…share.

But click through and read the original story.

Where the Facebook post tells me that the Met office confirms it will be a white christmas; the original article is headlined “Met Office say it may be a white christmas”.

And the original extract reads of a “chance” of a white christmas….not confirmation with snow everywhere. 










Content has always been designed to drive readership / eyeballs. But I’m sorry, this isn’t even subtle. It’s pure link-baiting. It’s deceptive and designed to drive traffic to ITV’s website. 

Brands such as ITV really should know better and it raises a wider issue; that while editorial content goes through many stages of approval (editorial, legal, regulatory etc), SEO remains something of a wild-west.

Marketers, take note. . without better governance we risk the integrity of our content and the trust of our followers.