Not even TED can compete with digital

Recently, I witnessed a really curious behaviour. It’s two modern trends in one: ‘I share therefore I am‘ meets ‘digital distraction’.

It happened at the TEDxTeen event, in London, on 11th October 2014. It was, by all accounts, a great event – inspirational stories, and great speakers and performances.


Some in the audience were, mostly, experiencing the event through their screens. They recorded key moments and promptly shared them with the world outside, via social media. A clear example of the ‘I share therefore I am’ phenomenon, described by Sherry Turkle here.

In turn, others were, occasionally, distracted by the world outside. Even the great speakers and the fantastic content in that room could not compete with the constant stimulation and validation of the digital world. Digital distraction is not new, of course – for instance, it has been documented in classrooms.

But these kids, here, managed to do both: the kid on the right is recording the moment (look at the top right hand corner), yet his attention is completely absorbed by what is happening on the screen of the kid next to him (look at the bottom left part of the picture).


There was so much going on in that stage and, yet, for these kids it was all about the screens.

I wonder what will happen when this generation gets to university.

When I was in college, the only thing I might share from a class was the handout, if the teacher provided one. And the only outside distractions were those happening immediately outside of the window. This generation, though, experiences the world, and acquires information, in a completely different way. If I am still in academia by the time they reach university, I will need to dramatically change how I communicate with them. Tips???

The writing group

It’s the ultimate irony: as an academic, you need to write to get promoted (or to even keep your job). Yet, doing the job leaves you no time for writing. So, you just agonise in silence, thinking that everybody else is managing this whole thing better than you.

An effective counter-measure to these feelings and the associated lack of productivity is, according to Wendy Laura Belcher, to ‘make writing social’ (see her book here – no affiliated link).

And so we did.

A small number of colleagues decided to get together and sit down for around two hours to simply do that. Just write. We did not check e-mails, answer the phone or even go to the toilet.

And… it was brilliant.

First, it felt great to have those two hours of peace and quiet, in between meetings and teaching. I tend to write at home with my noise cancelling headphones on. So, it was great to see that I could work in an environment that I traditionally associate with being super busy.

Second, hearing my colleagues type away was really… comforting! Yes, it was inspiring, and it was motivating. But I was expecting that. What was rather unexpected, and brilliant, was to feel part of this group – all with the same goal, all going through the same process, and no one adding to the other person’s workload.

Third, because I knew that we were meeting, I prepared for it. I thought about what I might be working on, and I made decisions about what to prioritise. Then, I blocked the time and, as a bonus, I even spent less time (30 minutes, as opposed to the usual 1 hour) at a meeting because I had this commitment.

writing group
I suspect that this type of arrangement would be relevant for other contexts, too. Maybe finding time to write a bid, to develop a business plan, to review progress… Not just the time, but also the mental space to engage with a task, deeply and creatively. Time and mental space to work on those activities that really matter in the long run, but that get squeezed out of your diary by the ‘busyness’ of everyday life. Loved it.

How do you create time in your busy life for the very important but not urgent creative tasks?

A marketing take on payment technologies

Last month, the Bank of England published a very interesting article about payment technologies and, in particular, the evolution of digital currencies like Bitcoin. You can access it here, and I warmly recommend that you read it: it’s an easy read, it provides a useful overview of the evolution of payment systems, and is a really great introduction to the principles and mechanics of digital currency. There is also an associated video here.

As I was reading this report, I couldn’t help visualising payment systems as a market where the various products on offer could be compared and contrasted along a number of dimensions. And, which, because of this, appealed to different customer segments. Just like sun lotion.

Sun lotion solves a problem: allowing us to be outdoors protected from harmful sun rays. There are various products on offer in this market, which may be classified along a number of dimensions such as the extent to which it blocks harmful sun rays. Buyers in this market opt for one product or the other depending on a number of factors such as the benefit sought (e.g., maximum protection vs. convenience) or attitudes (e.g., whether they like to stay in the sun or in the shade).

sun lotion

With regards to payment systems, the problem is the ability to acquire goods (e.g., medicines) and services (e.g., an appointment with a medical expert). Just like sun lotion, these systems can be classified along a number of dimensions. For instance:

  1. The medium of exchange
  2. The existence of intermediaries

Medium of exchange

At one end of the spectrum, the system may rely on the exchange of a physical token, such as cotton, salt, gold, coins or notes.

At the other end, no physical tokens are exchanged, only records – for instance, on paper (such as record of debits and credits on an account), or electronic.


Existence of intermediaries

On the one hand, users may carry the medium of exchange with them and make payments, directly – e.g., someone carrying gold coins in a purse, which they give to another person in exchange for a good.

Alternatively, they use an intermediary to make that payment – be it depositing money in a bank, which will be withdrawn by the other person, or paying with a debit or credit card.


If we juxtapose these two dimensions we get the following positioning map for the market of payment systems:


My interpretation of the Bank of England’s report is that digital and mobile technologies have impacted this market in two ways:

  • They created new types of intermediaries (top-left quadrant) which are in competition with banks to mediate payments
  • They opened a new strategic window by allowing users to exchange ‘electronic’ money directly (bottom left quadrant), without the need for a central intermediary.

Just like sun lotions, buyers in this market prefer some solutions to others; and some manufacturers will perform better than others along each of these dimensions. But, overall, I think that we are seeing a change in the market of ‘payment systems’ similar to that witnessed in the publishing industry or, more recently, manufacturing (because of 3D printing).

What do you think of this interpretation? Does it make sense to you? How can it be improved?

The old phone

FullSizeRenderThe 7yo found this phone in the bottom of a drawer. He has been playing with it for a few days and, today, he asked:

But how did you write in it?

I explained about clicking on a key once to get the first letter, twice to get the second one, etc…

He insisted:

No, but how did you write in it? There isn’t much place here for your fingers, he said, pointing to the screen.

Oh, you didn’t write on the screen. I explained. You pressed on this button, here. Then a menu appeared, and you scrolled up and down the menu using this button here… Like the mouse in your laptop, really.

He looked at the handset, again, for a while.

And how did you get the Internet? Or your apps?

And, suddenly, I feel very old.

September round-up

I like months that start on Monday. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s one of those quirky things that don’t require an explanation.

With September starting on a Monday, and no-doubt fuelled by the amazing weather, I was filled with optimism and wrote this in my journal: “September is going to be good”.


So, was it?

There were some highs. And there were some lows. But, overall, yes, September was a good month! These are some of the highlights.


This month, Sarah Quinton, Thom Oliver and I started the first stage of data collection for our project on Digital Citizenship. In this first stage we are interviewing managers at two local councils, looking at priorities, value added, monitoring and challenges. It’s all very exciting, and very interesting. Stay tuned.


I am particularly proud that I manage to submit a journal as well as a conference paper, amid all the preparations for the new semester and dealing with some significant personal issues. *pats self on back*


IMG_5990September brought the start of a new semester, plus a new co-hort of MSc Marketing students. This semester I will be teaching a module on market and customer insight, together with my colleague Steve Chen. And I will also be doing a number of ad-hoc sessions on other modules.



With the kids being back to school and a new group of students coming in, I am really inspired to learn new skills, too. So, I am learning how to code in Python, and this time I actually have a (very simple) project in mind.


What were September’s highlights for you?

Sentiment analysis in less than 500 words

I am working on a paper and a presentation on sentiment analysis, and decided to put together this very short overview for you (procrastination, anyone?)

Sentiment analysis is one of those topics permeating every area of a marketers’ life. The other day, a colleague even mentioned that he was doing some sentiment analysis of social media conversations for a court case on competition!

I hope this short overview will help you understand what on earth sentiment analysis is, and decide whether you need to learn more about how it’s done so that you can use it in your own work.

Why study sentiment?

How and what we feel impacts every aspect of consumption: from information retrieval, processing and retention, to decision-making, behaviour and even the assessment of consumption experiences. I think we can all relate to being less patient and tolerant of delays or mistakes on, say, a Monday morning than, say, on a lazy Saturday afternoon ;-)

Image: The Guardian

What are we talking about when we talk about sentiment analysis?

Sentiment analysis consists of a number of techniques – and, increasingly, technology – to identify and categorise feelings.

Typically, we want to find out:

  • Whether consumers expressed positive or negative emotions
  • How strong that sentiment is

Here is an example relating to the airline industry in India:

Image: MXM

In some cases, we also want to find out the exact type of sentiment, as that will influence how people behave and/or what they will value the most. For instance, does the text reveal a broad, passive sentiment like “sadness”, or a targeted, active one like “anger”?

Image: Wikipedia

How can we identify and analyse emotions?

Traditionally, this has been done via experiments – think about psychology’s many mood induction and manipulation studies, mostly featuring undergraduate university students. It can also be done with interviews or surveys about previous emotionally charged events. Recently, social media emerged as a promising source of input for sentiment analysis, as we share so much information in these platforms about ourselves, what we do and what we think.

If using social media data, the first step is to collect the data (e.g., tweets or blog posts) from the relevant platforms using content scrapping software, into which you enter your search parameters, such as selected keywords.

Next, we typically look for sentiment polarity – i.e., whether the overall feeling is positive or negative (or, indeed, neutral). This is done by looking for particular expressions that reflect the state of mind of the person that wrote or said something.

In some cases, we also want to identify the specific emotion experienced. Again, this is done by scanning the text and picking up expressions or phrases that denote a particular sentiment.

The techniques for picking up those expressions are based on semantic analysis and language processing. It is a fascinating field, and a rapidly evolving one (e.g. relating to imagery) of which, unfortunately, I (still) know very little.

What tips and resources for beginners would you add to this overview?