New ways in a new(ish) normal

Ashton x Ashton is not branching out into temperature testing because of the COVID-19 situation, let me confirm that immediately. We are however, as most people in the marketing communications industry are, reassessing how we go about our business. Currently still in a semi-lockdown situation in the United Arab Emirates (contact us for more details on how things are working here with regard to project delivery and performance) there are many aspects of this particular period of time that we appreciate. Whilst we don’t want to crudely “thank” the global pandemic as some entities have recently, it has allowed for more introspection and focus.

One refreshing silver lining in this otherwise cloudy and generally shitty 2020 is the renewed respect most people seem to have picked up for media outlets. Respectable ones that actually invest in journalism, at least. The ones that fight to provide accurate unbiased news stories from around the world. Also the ones who, like our beloved BBC, have brought communities hamstrung by social distancing together with local community media services and radio stations. Do not slash the license fee just yet, folks, your Facebook and your Google cannot quite be trusted to altruistically deliver such virtuous services without a pound of flesh.

What has struck us at AxA most recently has been the need for clients of all sizes to deliver agile and relevant content to maintain dialogue with their customers and audiences. This is not about selling, this is about being present and useful so that when the recovery begins, yours is the brand they remember. Not for spamming emails of care, not for spinning out the same hackneyed cliche messages as were so coldly called out in this video compilation, but for authentic and compassionate actions.

 

 

Thinking Inside The Box: the podcast that needs your contribution

Well here it is: https://anchor.fm/jonathan-hirasawa-ashton
More than ten years after my first podcasting experience whilst living in London, here we are back again now that podcasts are the “it” place to be. Niche audiences, mobile devices looking for on-demand audio content, podcasts are growing in popularity indeed.
A recent research into the growing phenomenon by markettiers, focused on my home market of the United Arab Emirates, and highlights several key reasons why this is where brands should be, based on a few key highlights as follows:

  • Podcast listeners spend 25% more on food and drink than non podcast listeners
  • Podcast listeners spend 25% more on entertainment and travel than non podcast listeners
  • 93% of people who listen to a podcast, finish it

That last insight is particularly relevant in this day of constantly fighting for the attention of your target audience. But what has this got to do with launching my own podcast? And, if you listen to it, you will realise that it isn’t particularly thrilling, compelling or useful. Yet.
But it will be. If just one of my lovely contacts from my global network and I find the time to drill into the creative challenges faced in the marketing communications arena. The point is, the podcast was inspired by the generally overused phrase “thinking outside the box” and how communicators define their competitive advantage or otherwise on their own terms, i.e. what does their box look like.
To date, I have hosted two colleagues in my audio space. But it more will follow, this will snowball into success, it will happen. And when it does, I sincerely hope it will prove useful to my audience. That’s where you come in. Spread the word, get in touch, come and play with the Anchor mobile app with me, it is straightforward and could be the beginning of a new career for you.
Just in case you missed the link at the top: https://anchor.fm/jonathan-hirasawa-ashton

 

 

Influencing Marketers

Yesterday’s inaugural #ITPLiveSummit event here in Dubai tackled one of the core reasons why ITP Live has come to exist – influencer marketing. The business unit was borne from the longstanding ITP Media Group, until the end of 2016 known as ITP Publishing Group, in order to capitalise on perceived digital growth areas of video content creation, digital sales representation, ecommerce, live events and training, and also launching the region’s largest social media influencers’ agency.

ITP already publishes 85 titles, or brands as the official communication now refers to them, and the Live element is intended to augment these and also usher in a richer experience through enhanced content and data. I have yet to examine the set-up properly but, at risk of already sounding like an old dog faced with the new tricks of objective editorial and branded marketing content from the same entity, have to assume that commercial gain trumps ethics once more.

I “attended” the ITP Influencer Marketing Summit via Twitter, following and engaging with the hashtag as unfortunately could not easily find a live stream of the keynotes and panel discussions. One of the reasons I still adore Twitter as a media platform is its immediacy and transparency, where I was able to engage with various attendees and swap ideas and opinions from the comfort of my home office. I also managed to grow my network a little, too, with likeminded Twitterati from the UAE and beyond.

The main topics that seemed to crop up throughout were measurement, transparency and branding, areas that crop up in all marketing discussions where ROI and efficacy are important. We all know how easy it can be to grow a social media account with empty followers, ensuring massive reach on every post, but if no-one engages or buys the end product what is the point? I imagine the intention of yesterday’s summit was to announce the new kings of organised influencing but as far as I am concerned it is still Wild West Country crying out for a standard measurement of influence as opposed to a shiny socialite with a smart phone and a rate card.

Print PR for years has had Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE, sometimes AEV or similar), where we have the standard value of the column inches of an article mentioning our client and the price we migh thave been charged by the outlet if we put the same size advert. This, most PR practitioners agree, is an utterly outdated measure today but has provided something of a benchmark to work from. Digital and social channels cannot be measured the same way and the speed and importance of new media shouldn’t have but it seems to have caught us out, allowing various players to shout about their proprietary measurement as the best:

  1. Social Media Channels – with nearly 2 billion users on his channel, whatever Mr Zuckerberg decides will have a huge impact invariably will. Facebook adjusted algorithms to organically promote video content across Facebook in recent years and encouraged advertisers to produce moving images to take advantage of this, claiming incredible engagement figures that were exposed as lies in 2016. In an ongoing battle with YouTube, it brought up a valid discussion: what is classed as a view? According to Facebook and Instagram it was 3 seconds, YouTube around 30 seconds and Twitter was when the user clicked on the video to play it… further discussion on the confusion here, albeit from 2015. This debacle rolled on into 2016 and incurred Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP’s wrath. Still not 100% fixed, but Facebook are now focusing more on Live Video and Fake News… Don’t misunderstand me, channel-specific analytics do have their purpose but cannot be held up as an objective metric of influence alone.
  2. Klout – announced as the measure of your online influence in the Early Noughties, but riddled with issues ranging from the blackbox secret algorithms to privacy concerns over aggregating all your social media accounts into one place, Klout never quite made it as outlined in this article from 2014. My Klout profile is still active, however, and to this day I say anyone working in marketing or communications with a score under 30 needs to make more effort (I’m currently at 59, at one point Justin Bieber was more popular than Barack Obama, to give you some context). Not being considered anymore as a measurement tool, but at least they tried.
  3. Sysomos – a power player across social media managment, reputation assessment and almost every area of digital interaction, I used this tool on a daily basis whislt at Edelman Dubai. They offer their own take on influencer power and provide an unquantified authority ranking from 1 to 10 based on frequency of posting on keywords and other metrics. Unexplained, reliable, expensive solution not open to all. What about the likes of Meltwater and other monitoring tools? What standards can you offer up? And they are unlikely to be free for all to access, so why would you bother? Clients and brands switch platforms every few years so this solution might not be workable either.
  4. Agencies – whether PR, marketing, creative or media, we all need to justify our spend to clients. Long gone are the days when success of a Facebook brand page was gauged by follower numbers alone. Well, 6 years ago feels like an eon, doesn’t it? Who will pick up this mighty gauntlet and save the day? Media agencies tend to hold the bigger client budgets so their interest is clear in terms of reporting ROI, but influencer relations in my opinion sits firmly with PR agencies. In which case, is there a standard measurement for influencers already in place, produced by the likes of MEPRA or the PRCA?

An agency’s ability to manage and work effectively with the right influencer for your brand should be how you judge and select your communications partner. A PR agency unable to cover this only-slightly-broader-remit-than-before, when the work was predominantly media relations, is possibly not the right agency for your brand in the current communications landscape. I’m not talking about Instagrammers who attend launch parties, but authorities who will shift your products and offer a real rate of return. Choose wisely.

Featured image of striking a match in the darkness kindly taken by Jamie Street and taken from http://www.stocksnap.io

Without Wanting To Get Too Political…

Whenever a sentence begins with a headline like the above, it must set up the reader to expect something political. Like “I’m not racist, but….” or “I’m not a designer, but…” you know you are in for either an awful insult or amateur critique of your professional design work.

So without wanting to get too political on this blog which is essentially supposed to be a blog about all things marketing and communication, is there a place for another Donald Trump mention? I am of the mind that yes, this is so, as the new leader of the free world has taken over conversations that used to fuss over the mundane.

The Guardian have done an excellent wrap-up of the light-hearted response to Week One Of Trump thus far that I wanted to share some of with you below:

The web’s funniest responses to Trump’s grim first week

Seven days into Trump’s presidency, and the response from many of us has been anger and alarm. Fortunately, there were also those who could see the funny side – here is a pick of the best

This week has been a lot.

As 2017 slowly turns into your favourite dystopian fiction, we thought you might appreciate a reminder of those able to draw on humour to get us all through. Like this alternative rendition of Trump’s inauguration:

Or this subversion of an otherwise depressing moment.

hillary-in-the-oval-room

‘It is now illegal to ejaculate, unless it’s for reproduction’ from Twitter’s molly-mae @xnicorn

Then there’s this theory:

sean-spicer-zombie

‘sean spicer looks like the guy in the group of survivors that hides the fact he was bitten by a zombie’ from Twitter’s Eli Terry

This week has been so polarising, people are even arguing with accounts which tweet pictures of dogs:

dogs-get-political

Courtesy of Twitter’s Alan White.

Trump quoting Bane from Batman in his inauguration speech:

Sir Ian McKellen’s sign at the Women’s March, showing Captain Jean Luc Picard in utter dismay:

ian-mckellen-sign

‘The Women’s March in London was the longest I have been on.’

There was the Netherlands welcoming Donald Trump in a style that he might recognise:

And we are sure the list will grow on. Keep looking on the bright side, chaps, things will surely/hopefully correct themselves very soon.

Another Blog Post With Donald Trump In The Title

The purpose of this blog post is not to test the lengths to which a blogger, who works in digital marketing or communications in general, will go to in order to get clicks to his page. Or is it? Whilst getting lost surfing the Internet is all too easy, it has also been noted how many websites have been built up regurgitating news and opinion about this guy, often with no other purpose than to repurpose existing news in the hope that you will read it through their website and they can use your eyeballs to be paid for carrying random advertising.

Something I have never explored, as someone who believes in organic search engine optimisation and the power of blogging for the sake of putting your own message down, and coming from someone who very rarely looks at print adverts never mind clicking on such Google Ads, but what about you?

If you saw such a site (and I found this Donald Trump-related site earlier today, brand new but hoping to reel you in by jumping on what will hopefully not be a 4 year long hot trend) would you even touch it? In an era of fake news and alternative facts, we must continue to search for believable sources of information, something the Internet itself has made it both harder and easier to do at the same time.

Harder by commercialising your attention.

Easier by democratising the very method of finding information.

Ladies and gentlemen, Google and Bing and Yahoo, and the add-on discovery options offered by Facebook, Twitter and their ilk, have skewed everything in their favour, we the consumer merely encouraged to consume.

Perhaps we can simply bypass this, tear it up and start again.

Sunset over Emirates Towers Dubai UAE

Fancy a photo?

Although I have never been one to think of myself as a professional photographer, times are such that, upon receiving an email from an online photography shop that I have occasionally bought from that I can easily set up an online portfolio with a potential to maybe possibly sell a few snaps, I thought “Why not?!”

Zenfolio is the site, as recommended by Photobox, and I have put a few sundries of some incredible travels up there. Not professional by any means, but perhaps you will find something that strikes a chord. But do not enter the Cats About Town album unless you have either a) already met our cats and love them to bits, or b) have an otherwordly obsession with other peoples’ pets and checking out repeated, only slightly different, photos of said pets. You have been warned.

Take a look, tell me what you think, maybe even buy something random from the online shop 🙂

Top Middle East CEOs and their online profiles – chapter 4

When a Google search begins with the search engine giant questionning your spelling you already know there may be some ambiguity around someone’s online profile, intentional or otherwise. Digging down page one as we do, and let’s face it not many people will go beyond that unless they are truly desperate to find something they know is definitely online somewhere if only they could find it, we begin to see a rather solid picture of Mr Khalil Ismail Al Meer forming. Our 4th CEO on the TopCEO list we are using as a starting point for this leadership digital reputational analysis is looking good.

Obligatory screengrab of SERP here:

khalil ismail al meer ceo khaleeji commercial bank ashton and ashton digital reputation analysis google seo

Interestingly Mr Al Meer’s results do not begin with a LinkedIn profile or owned channel, but with 4Traders, a mix of business directory and news portal that manages lots of traffic through clickbait and leadership profiles such as this. I am not sure to this day if this is an approved profile of Mr Al Meer, but, profiel photo and brevity aside, it certainly isn’t doing him any harm.

Next on the list we are served an image selection by Google, showing us how well our subject has been tagged across the Internet in terms of visuals. You can see a full selection of images as the featured image of this post, as usual. It begins well and then descends into a multitude of random people with or without moustaches.

Beyond this we are left with several articles on the Khaleeji Commercial Bank company website, offering slightly more information than 4Traders did earlier, but we are certainly not overwhelmed with details. After some slightly arduous searching on my favourite professional network I did manage to find a clue as to why there was no LinkedIn profile surfacing on Google for our 4th most successful CEO of the Middle East in 2016:

Khalil Ismail Al Meer CEO Khaleeji Commercial Bank Ashton and Ashton Digital Reputation Analysis LinkedIn profile

Need I repeat myself on the importance of a polished and professional profile? Mine is hardly a work of art but has some merits, I hope you’ll agree. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ashton and Ashton should you need any help or advice on boosting your online reputation, sir!