November 2016 round up


This month was dominated by starting the new job. In the first half of the month, it was all about wrapping up various matters, saying good-byes, and the emptying the office at the previous job. Then, the second half, was about settling in at the new place.

Amid all these changes, there were the following highlights.



No data collection this month. Instead, a real struggle with the analysis of some survey data. Seriously, I am pulling my hair!

Other than that, I have been reading about issues affecting the production and sharing of user generated content and, indirectly, its quality.



The paper that I mentioned last month, looking at the impact of digitalisation on the marketing discipline and the marketing profession, is available here (paid access, only – I will share an open access version of the paper here, as soon as possible).



And, great news, another paper has been accepted. This one is about the strategic positioning that leads companies to adopt attitudes and behaviours that support digitalisation.


To counter-balance these good news, I have made very little progress on another paper that I really, really need to finish. Partly, this was because of disruption caused by moving jobs. Partly, this was because the last time I worked on this paper, I did not make proper notes about what to do next. I usually give myself good pointers about where I am on the paper, and what I need to do next and how. However, this time, I did not do it and, as a result, I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the paper, in order to find my train of thought, again.



I ran a session for a colleague, on the use of social media to secure a job in marketing. Slides here. In addition, I continued involved in the MBA module on Services Marketing. This included doing some podcast recordings, planning discussion topics, and marking.

Now, it is time to turn my attention to the module that I will be teaching next semester: Database and Customer Relationship Marketing.



Two interesting learning opportunities this month. The first, when I attended Professor Andrew Stephen’s inaugural lecture at Said Business School. He talked about his view on the impact of technology in marketing, and argued that marketers should think more like engineers.


The second opportunity was when I joined a session on the implications of Brexit for Higher Education. The session covered a broad range of issues – legal, social, etc… – and looked at both the threats and the opportunities. I found this session particularly interesting because, even though I am a glass-half-full type of person, so far, I have been mostly consumed by the problems caused by Brexit. Mind you, the opportunities are quite vague and depend on the cooperation of entities that have their own agendas. But, at least, I can now see some!


Over to you – what have you been up, in November?

Post-it website, a great example of focusing on value not product features


Right! I am bookmarking the official website for Post-it® under ‘great marketing examples – focusing on value not product features’.


Companies make products. But consumers do not buy products; they buy solutions to problems – functional problems, or emotional ones. That is why marketing communications that focus on product features (e.g., the quality of the graphics of a games console) may fail to convince the consumer to buy the product. Or, at least, they fail to convince the customer to pay a lot for it.


Conversely, communications that focus on what the product does for the consumer (e.g. entertain, educate, exercise), get their attention. They help us justify the value paid, or even find new uses for the product.


That is exactly what Post-it® does so, so well on their website.


Go to the home page, and there is no product information in sight – it is all about the benefits that we get from using this product. About how it solves problems that we had… and those that I did not know that I had.

post it.png

When I went to their website to quickly check the reference of some page tabs I ran out of, I was completely drawn into their ‘feature articles’ section. Ten or fifteen minutes later, I was feeling inspired to try out various of their ideas for the classroom and for productivity. And, of course, this weekend I made a detour to the stationery store, to stock up on some post-it products I had not even noticed before.


Loved it!


Have you seen any great examples, lately?

Day in the Life of an Academic #6: new job

This is quite an unusual ‘day in the life of an academic’ blogpost, as it focuses on the first day at my new job and, admittedly, changing jobs is not something that I do frequently.


This is what I got up to last Wednesday, November 16th.


brunel-readerI got up at 6am, as usual. Though, this time, it wasn’t to do some writing in the early morning. Instead, it was to get myself and the household organised so that I could leave to London, for my first day at Brunel University. I joined Brunel as a Reader in Marketing (somewhere between an associate professor and a full professor, in the North American system).


I want to try different commuting options and, today, I opted for public transport. I am planning to use public transport for a few weeks, to see if it works. The plan is to do some work on the way in, and then relax with a podcast on the way back. This means that I may need to add a few podcasts to my list. Do you have any good suggestions?


First, I took a bus. The journey wasn’t too bad, but as I don’t cope well with reading on the bus, instead I thought about possible projects for a research funding call that I came across, and made some notes for it.


After the bus, I got the tube and, from there, I walked. It was pleasant, but it did mean that, overall, I spent close to two hours getting there, which is completely unsustainable. I need to look into other options.


My first stop was the Human Resources department. While I was waiting for my induction to officially start, I sent off some e-mails related to the idea for the research project that I mulled over during the bus journey. I also read a paper about information sharing on different social media platforms, and how the volume and type of content shared varies with the size of the network. Quite interesting – I must blog and snapchat about it.


By half past three induction was over and I was, finally, settling down in my office. I went around the floor introducing myself to my new colleagues. One of my new colleagues gave me a couple of plants for my office -how nice was that?!


I also realised that I had completely forgotten about lunch. So, I went outside to get some food. Though, at time of the day, there weren’t many appetizing options. So, I ended up having some yoghurt and muesli. After that, I went back to my office and did some more reading for a paper that I am working on.


Then, at about 6ish, I headed to London for another unusual twist on my already unusual day: a reception at the Embassy of Portugal, with the Portuguese ambassador and the President of Republic.



So, that was my big day. I am looking forward to reading your podcast recommendations.


How social media can assist your job search


A colleague asked me to a run a session for her students, about how they could use social media to assist with their job search. Here are the slides.


We started by talking about the decision to hire someone, and how complex it is… a bit like their decision to buy a skiing holiday.


Then, we turned our attention to understanding what information the employer is looking for.


Finally, we looked at how different platforms might help them showcase their strengths, motivation, and cultural fit. First, what they must do to stand a chance – check what their current online presence is telling prospective employers, and build their LinkedIn profiles. Then, what they can do to enhance their profile.


Marketers should think more like engineers, says @AndrewTStephen


stephen-01At his inaugural lecture at Said Business School, Professor Andrew Stephen talked about the shiny new toy syndrome in marketing – whereby marketers rush after a new technology, or platform, or trend, in the hope that it will generate new business, or solve their marketing challenges.


We saw this with Pokemon Go, last summer, for instance. Many businesses scrambled to get a PokeStop near their stores, launched products related to the craze, or just generally joined the hype with their communications and advertising.


In his talk, Stephen argued that marketers would do well to follow the approach of other professionals who deal with innovations day in, day out: engineers. Specifically, he said that, when considering the adoption of an innovation, marketers should borrow the following three principles from an engineer’s approach to work:

  1. Focus on problem solving – Is there a problem that needs fixing? What is the cause of that problem? How does this innovation address that cause and help solve the problem?
  2. Adopt complex systems thinking – Which direct and indirect reactions will result from this action (of adopting the innovation)? What are the spill over effects of doing this?
  3. Understand the impact – What is, ultimately, the result of implementing this innovation? What are the positive and the negative outcomes of our actions?


I quite like this approach because it takes technology as a tool to enhance the company’s value proposition, rather than an end in itself. In a way, it reminded me of Mark Ritson’s views on marketing vs. digital marketing.


However, I can see two big challenges in applying the ‘engineering approach’ to marketing.


The first challenge is that many marketers do not have a technological background and, so, they may struggle to understand the potential and limitations of a new technology. This capabilities gap is famously discussed by George S. Day here; while Lee Quinn, Sally Dibb, Lyndon Simkin, myself and Mathew Analogbe have looked at it here. The point is that, without a good understanding of how a technology works, what it does and what it enables, we struggle to assess how it can solve a problem, or how it fits within the wider system.


The second challenge is that while engineers need to think, primarily, in terms of systems of ‘things’ (roads, buildings, and so on), marketers deal with systems of people. Some of our behaviours are influenced by expected utility and, hence, are relatively easy to model and influence. However, most are shaped by group norms, habits, beliefs and so on. This makes the analysis and, therefore, the tracing and measurement of direct and indirect impacts of innovation in marketing, much more complex than in engineering.


Still, it is a valuable suggestion, I think. And I shall encourage the marketers asking me about developing an app, using influencer marketing or, yes, doing something PokemonGo-related, to think more like engineers.


How do you guard yourself and/or your company against the shiny new toy syndrome?


From Facebook likes and Internet of Things, to insurance premiums


first-car-quiteLast week, the news broke that Admiral car insurance planned to launch a new product aimed at new drivers, firstcarquote, whereby policy holders could get rebates on their annual premium, based on their social media activity.


The Guardian reported that:

Admiral Insurance will analyse the Facebook accounts of first-time car owners to look for personality traits that are linked to safe driving. For example, individuals who are identified as conscientious and well-organised will score well. The insurer will examine posts and likes by the Facebook user, although not photos, looking for habits that research shows are linked to these traits. These include writing in short concrete sentences, using lists, and arranging to meet friends at a set time and place, rather than just “tonight”.

In contrast, evidence that the Facebook user might be overconfident – such as the use of exclamation marks and the frequent use of “always” or “never” rather than “maybe” – will count against them.


The scheme is based around algorithms that have been developed by Admiral. The technology uses social data to make a personality assessment and then, judging against real claims data, analyse the risk of insuring the driver.


The news attracted considerable press and social media attention. The move was labelled as intrusive, and a threat to consumers’ privacy, forcing the company to clarify that they were not (yet) using Facebook data to set prices:



And, it seems that they will not be able to do it in the future, either, because Facebook has moved in to block their plans, stating that it contravened point 3.15 of their policy for platform developers*:



But the underlying question in this story was: Can the automated analysis of our words and actions, online, be a good predictor of our psychological traits and of our behaviours?


Well, it turns out, that yes, they do. Very well, in fact.


A study by Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell and Thore Graepel had already showed that computer analysis of our Facebook likes can predict our personality traits (as well as other very sensitive things like sexual orientation, political views, or the use of addictive substances).


But another study by Wu Youyou, Michal Kosinski, and David Stillwell went further and showed that, by analysing our Facebook likes, computers are able to predict our personality and behaviours better than our friends and close relatives.


Image source


Digital footprints are excellent predictors of our personality because, essentially, there are a lot of data points available to be processed – all of them, time and location stamped, and linked (or linkable) to a single person.


So, the answer to the question above is a clear, resounding yes.


But that does not mean that companies should do it, of course. As discussed in our book, The Dark Side of CRM**, we do not like when other people (and firms) know things about us that we feel should not be common knowledge. We feel that our personal space has been invaded, and instinctively pull away from that person / company / relationship. We also like to think of ourselves as unique, independent individuals; and resist the idea that we are easily pigeonholed, and predictable. These are deeply ingrained feelings and reactions, so it is not a good idea for marketers to go against them.


An alternative (and, in my view much better) approach is that followed by MAPFRE Malta.


Like Admiral, MAPFRE developed a product specifically for new drivers, Motormax. And like Admiral, MAPFRE wanted to reward careful and sensible young drivers. But, unlike Admiral, MAPFRE focused on monitoring actual driving behaviour. How?


With permission from the driver, MAPFRE installs a small*** Internet of Things device on the car, which monitors driving behaviour. Those drivers that:

  1. Drive within the speed limit (this is monitored on an area by area basis);
  2. Do not drive between the hours of midnight and 5 am;
  3. Drive less than a certain distance and/or amount of time per month

receive a rebate up to 40% on their premium.


In both cases, there is surveillance and monitoring. But, in my view, MAPFRE’s approach is superior because there is a direct link between the behaviour being monitored and the desired outcome and, so, it is easier for consumers to accept it. Also, very importantly, there is less room for unintended and unanticipated consequences of data misuse.


What was your reaction to the Admiral news?


* A move that attracted the praise of privacy-protection groups (a first for Facebook)!

**  First chapter available here, free

*** About the size of half of thumb

October 2016 round-up


I felt a lot more in control, and less agitated, during October, than I had felt in September or even August, bizarrely. There were a couple of lows, but also quite a few highs – so, I am mentally filing October in the ‘good months’ category.


Here are the highlights.



Most of my attention was focused on researching segmentation, targeting and positioning in the tourism industry, because of a project that I was working on. I was particularly interested in the potential and limitations of technology (social media, mobile apps, …) to gather consumer insight and facilitate targeted interactions. My literature search led me to some interesting examples, such as this one, about the use of big data to augment tourism statistics, in the Netherlands.



I also met the lovely Stephan Dahl, over coffee, and came back with a couple of ideas for research projects. Hooray for face to face meetings, specially over good coffee.



I worked on a paper related to the research project on the digitalisation of SMEs, together with some colleagues. It is such a different paper (and a bit risky), that, at the moment, it is being a bit difficult to find a good fit for it. But we will persevere.


On a more positive note, the paper looking at the factors that determine sustained use of health and fitness wearables (vs. adoption) has been published (here). Hooray.


And another paper, looking at the impact of the digital revolution on the marketing discipline and the marketing profession has been accepted. News on that, soon.




The MBA module on Services Marketing has started, though it is delivered online. I had finished producing the content last month (video, audio, discussions, materials, …). So, this month was more about supporting online discussions, answering queries, the odd Skype call, etc…


I also ran a session on sentiment analysis for our undergraduate students, and another one on segmentation for our MBA group.


Other teaching-related activities this month were the marking of dissertations (lots of them), and various meeting with PhD students, as two of them are progressing towards registration, and another one is approaching submission of his final draft.




My main learning opportunity, this month, came in the form of the Open Academia workshop that took place at Goldsmiths College, on October 29th. The workshop aimed to inspire and help researchers to open their research, which is something that I am passionate about. The videos of the talks are now available here.


In the morning, there were various talks focused on ‘how to’ aspects, such as:

  • Sharing your data
  • Sharing the research process
  • Engaging the public throughout the research process, and
  • Making your writing accessible


But there were also some sessions forcing us to think about broader issues, such as:

  • Creativity vs innovation
  • How social media impacts on the nature of academic work
  • Power issues


The afternoon was hands-on, in the form of a ‘hackathon’ focused on making aspects of our own work open.


Platforms and tools that I learned about, at the workshop, and which I want to explore further include:




What were your highlights this month?