Aaron Paxton Kahlow : The Man Would Wants To Teach The Web To The Whole World


imageIn November 2013, a very important event, named Web2connect is about to take place in Paris, France. Web2connect, as the name goes, is the place to be for all start-ups and Internet professionals in France who want to hook up together, network, and exchange tips and tricks. As part of the organisation of the web2connect event, I have been able to interview Aaron Paxton Kahlow, the founder of the online marketing Institute, who will be one of the speakers next week. Aaron has 13 years of experience in web matters, he is therefore an online veteran, so to speak. He started his career by founding a web agency with his brother, “in the back of a dentist office” and this is now a thriving business employing more than 100 people, in San Diego, California.

He then decided to move on to create the Online marketing summit. This event has been a real success and has been instrumental in spreading the word about digital around the world but Aaron, after a while, has wanted to change pace and decided to sell the online marketing Summit in order to set up a new company called the online marketing Institute. “It was impossible for us to teach the world using traditional techniques” he said and so he decided to “use this thing called the Internet to teach digital to the world”. He then proceeded to record hundreds of presentations which are turned into online courses and the result is a real success, both in the United States and the rest of the world. This new venture called the online marketing Institute will soon be opening in France, which Aaron sees as being one of the top tier countries for digital practice in the world. The online lectures hosted by the online marketing Institute are very varied and cover various subjects such as social media, content marketing, mobile web or even how to work together and even big data. Here is my interview of Aaron, which I recorded a couple days ago over the telephone:

Content marketing in UK and Europe: mind the Gap!

There has been questions in certain European countries with regard to how widespread the adoption of contact marketing on the continent could have been (cf. this piece on my French blog, translated into English by the Google robot). Although undeniable progress has been made in the past few years over here in that respect, and though we may even consider content marketing to be a staple of marketing and especially B2B marketing, it is debatable that the adoption of content marketing in certain European countries is ubiquitous and fully understood.

Considering that, in France for instance, 70% of small businesses websites are never updated (source: Marketing PME’s Serge Henri Saint Michel), we can surmise that there is definitely room for improvement.

I found the following survey from the content marketing Institute which shows the huge gap between what we witness in Europe and what is happening in the United Kingdom. The vast majority of UK B2B companies, either large or small, have all embraced content marketing (95% of the B2B companies having responded to the survey have, even though the sample is very small but varied).

Mind the Gap!

Let us make that point clear: the sample is very small, and we have to remain cautious; but at least one feels that there is a major trend and one more European divide in the making. Whereas, on the continent, I am still battling with certain people about the fact that white papers, for instance, are useful devices (I still hear stuff like “White papers serve no purpose!”), in the United Kingdom, this kind of tactics has been embraced fully and totally incorporated within marketing thinking.

Besides, it is only subcontracted by 55% of the sample. There is one more caveat beyond the size of that survey sample though, and it’s that most interviewees are not always satisfied with the results: approximately half of them rate the results of content marketing as average. One assumption would be that competition on content marketing is very harsh in Britain, and the English-speaking world in general, and that doing things differently in English is a lot more exacting than with other, less represented languages on the Internet.

Obviously, in order to stand out from the crowd, A lot of thinking has to be put into your content beforehand . There is a paradox that the areas where people think that whitepapers aren’t any good, are in fact those where it is a lot easier to produce and promote them than it is in Britain, where adoption is broad but competition is fierce. I can predict that a lot will happen in the B2B arena in the near future, at least on the continental side of the Channel.

Passwords: This Necessary Evil [infographics]

computer-large-newPasswords are ubiquitous. We all use them and despite the fact that we keep grumbling that they aren’t good enough, we still rely on them in order to protect our most precious information like bank account details, personal and electronic commerce details and such like. What I learned today while looking at Ken Peterson’s infographics is that passwords, as it were, aren’t a new invention. They were created with WWII for cyphers and were adapted in 1972 to become the classic passwords as we know them. Yet, however important, passwords are still misused by users who use the same passwords for multiple sites (73%), use the same passwords for all their sites (33%), or even use the word “passwords” and other niceties as a secret code. all sources for stats are quoted at the end of the picture.

A Free Yet Legal Copy of Microsoft Office on Your Tablet With Cloudon

Let’s make the most of the summer with a bit of light reading and what I would call the application of the week: cloudon. I have selected a number of applications which I find particularly good or changed my way of working, or of entertaining myself, unless it’s both. This week, I will dwell on the cloud on iPad application, which I find really extraordinary, and I really wonder whether these guys are making money out of this and how. Is this the latest mystery of the new economy?

We will start with a visit to the application website in order to confirm that the application is available both for android and iOS. The application is available for both iPhones and iPads, and I will focus on the iPad version here in this blog post.

Step number 1: once the location has been installed, fire it up. First and foremost you will have to fine-tune the settings so they have access to your online cloud discs: four spaces are available with cloud on, which you can use concurrently. As far as I’m concerned, I have set up Google drive and Skydrive (by Microsoft’s, by far my preferred, because I was one of the first users, so that I have access to 25 GB free of charge). I left dropbox and box on the side for the moment by can you back to it later and at them to my final if I so wish. All that is needed to complete this setup is to let cloud on access your online disc by clicking the button “authorise”.

Step number 2: once your online disc has been selected (here I chose Skydrive), the folder structure of your disk is then displayed to you, and you can choose the list or icon formats from the top menu.

Step number 3: Once I’ve changed the display to icon mode which I find more convenient, I can then select the folder in which I have stored all the draft pieces for my blog. I call it “blog posts”.

Step number 4: I then select the relevant blog piece in word format. I can see on the screen but it was last changed on 24 June at 7:39 AM.

Step number 5: once you’ve clicked on the right file, it is then downloaded from the Internet. It is subsequently displayed, see the following screen grab, directly on my tablet into a Microsoft word window, more or less identical to the one I have on my PC (in fact it is a simplified version of Microsoft Word 2010, similar to the one you can find Skydrive itself). The greatest weaknesses that I spot in this application, is in my minde the relative slowness of download of the file (even more so if the file is really big like the entirety of our forthcoming book typescript for instance). My hunch is that we will see performance improving significantly within the next few months if this kind of applications remain in the future. As a matter of fact, what we are witnessing here is more than just another application but the implementation of something which I have described many times on this blog, which is called “ubiquitous computing” and was invented, I mean the concept, by the late Mark Weiser in the late 1980s. The missing link though is connectivity, as always, even though enormous headway has been made in the past few years. My guess is that it will take another 2 to 3 years, maybe 5, before we enjoy seamless connectivity coverage, with the kind of comfort that I experience while sitting behind my PC, connected via Ethernet on my 100 Mbs fibre access.

Step number 6: I can then write directly into the file which is editable in real time ; in order to prove this I have underlined a word by clicking at length on it, which triggered the contextual Microsoft menu which everybody knows. This the tablet equivalent to the right click of the mouse on a computer

Step number 7: then click the icon on the top bar which represents a compass on the top right-hand side of the screen, and this will open the menu which will make it possible for you to create a new file: either a spreadsheet (maybe not the most convenient type of file for tablets), a wordprocessing Word document, or a PowerPoint presentation. I decide to choose the latter…

Step number 8:  I then rename this new file which will be saved directly  in the original folder.

Step number 9:  an empty PowerPoint file will then be opened , which I will be able to populate exactly as if I were on my computer,  with a simplified version of PowerPoint 2010. This is a simplified version,  but yet, it is very usable, and it caters for basic Microsoft templates for instance. in order to create a presentation with a personalised template, I recommend that you use a presentation which you have created beforehand (with no content preferably ) in order to make the most of all the available screen layouts. This will save you a lot of time and will make it unnecessary for you to spend hours twiddling page templates on the tablet which is not very convenient.  You can then focus on adding text but also clipart, images, video etc. It is in fact very easy for you to modify an existing PowerPoint presentation and even create one directly from the tablet, and then synchronise the file directly on your computer , or vice versa.  I remind you that, with Skydrive, you do not need to own a local version of Microsoft PowerPoint, because it is available online too. Personally, being a teacher and benefiting from the special teacher/student price for Microsoft Office, I still think that owning a local Microsoft license is preferable.

Beyond the fact that this application is nice and convenient and mostly free of charge, one may ask oneself a few questions. On the one hand, what will be the business model of Microsoft in the next few years ? I could actually bet on the fact that access to software will be increasingly “cloudified”, namely from the moment that connectivity is really improved and made seamless and ubiquitous. from then on, I really wonder whether software which you either install or download is a model which will survive for very long .  This, however , is the model on which Microsoft thrived for so many years. Besides,  I really have a few questions about the business model of cloudon itself; I mean beyond its potential acquisition by Microsoft one day.

I also found it very strange that cloudon has had little coverage on the Web since 2012 , even though a great number of downloads have already been  performed  by users . I would be surprised if the Palo Alto company decided to remain silent , and maybe one day , what Geoffrey Moore calls the early majority will catch up with the “visionaries , dreamers and doers”. Wired pointed out  rightfully  that  the application’s limits came from the fact that the data was stored on the cloud, which rendered the display a little blurry but usable anyhow. this is a valid remark, but I couldn’t find that problem with PowerPoint, which I found to be the most useful application of the three.

There are a few limits with regard to the use of this application in presentation mode, but in our case I would recommend a more specialised application which I will describe in a forthcoming blog post.  As Wired pointed out, it is still very difficult to use such applications in order to create a presentation from scratch and the use of cloud on is , probably for today, limited to minor edits.

My hunch is that the self-proclaimed “visionaries” of Palo Alto shall not be deterred.

Time will tell…

Retail: Marketforce Set to Improve European Shopping Experience … Beyond Big Data Dashboards

ideoshoppingcartMystery shoppers aren’t anything new; this marketing technique dates back from the 1940s. It was then used even before the term “marketing” had been coined. Yet, MarketForce, a US company with offices in Britain, and more recently in France and Spain, have begun to revolutionise the way mystery shopping surveys are carried out, thanks to crowdsourcing techniques and the extensive use of digital marketing.

MarketForce offers a piece of software in a software as a service model on which customers can actually build and look at their marketing data in real time. That in itself is very much in sync with what we can be seen with other companies doing big data and is not extremely innovative. But there is one area in which MarketForce is certainly going further than all the companies trying to improve big data usage, it is the way that they collect the data itself. As a matter of fact, much of the quality of the output of big data boils down to the way the information is collected originally. As the old IT adage points out: “garbage in, garbage out”.

Besides, There is something a little bit naive in all the big data craze at the moment, in believing that software alone could actually solve all the marketing issues that companies have regarding mostly CRM, and other subjects, just by the touch of a button. First and foremost, data quality and a clear objective are required. This is definitely what Marketforce have done by integrating the whole chain from data collection to data delivery. As a matter of fact, Marketforce is as much a research company a market research company as it is a big data company, and that is what makes it standout from the crowd in what can almost be described as a blue Ocean strategy.

Janet Eden Harris and Simon Boydell who answered our questions in Paris

Above all, they are using extensively digital marketing techniques (marketing automation, affiliates marketing, etc) to recruit genuine customers who help them carry out the research. As they set up shop in France and in the rest of Europe, where customer service is traditionally bad not to say appalling, MarketForce have provided a business case about French petrol stations (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean)  which shows the level of satisfaction even for such a straightforward kind of service. As they say, “okay is just not enough” and hopefully, this piece of research, and the service that MarketForce provides is a great assets for European companies to change their ways about how they keep customers satisfied which, in turn, will help them get through the crisis that we’re experiencing at the moment.

Let us develop this story, with Simon Boydell and Janet Eden Harris from MarketForce, whom I was able to interview in Paris a few weeks ago*.

mysteryshopper copy

cartoon by antimuseum.com

with Janet Eden Harris, CMO & SVP Strategy at Market Force Information  and Simon Boydell, Global Marketing Manager at Market Force Information

What is market force about?

Janet: we have a solution which provides the ability for big retailers to improve their business by focusing on customer satisfaction and the experience they have when they walk in the store.

Simon: we focus on retailers, leisure and hospitality providers, any business that has B2C contact with customers and that can be across all channels, so it’s not just in-store, it could be online, using the call centres, we will be collecting customer experience feedback across all those different channels.

A SaaS model: the knowledge force platform

Simon: our customer intelligence platform knowledge force is the central point for all clients. After login each client has individual tailored user access to the site so that they can access their results live and in real time so they can see exactly how the customers are feeling about the business. It does look like it’s built like a SaaS model but itis something which is very different from the other sorts of CRM systems that are out there. All information is produced and made available across all different devices; you can login and you see those dashboards, it’s not just a predetermined set of dashboards, we also have a series of reports that users can go in and use and create their own individual reports, so they can cut and analyse the data in their own way and at their own leisure.

Data collection: from mystery visits to social media

Simon: we have 600,000 genuine customers now, while going out and completing mystery visits for us and providing feedback on experiences they receive, we also operate customer satisfaction surveys which go out to any customer that the business has and it can feed the information straight back into our system and our customers get to see the results as they are happening, so they can always keep their finger on the pulse of the customer.

Janets: we can also pull out things such as social media data and we can tie in this data potentially with other data that is collected from other vendors and even our customers’ own financial data so that they can match them all together.

Ensuring consistency

Janet: how we do it boils down to the location level so that if I am a manager of that location I can look at the customer satisfaction data for that particular location as well as my mystery shoppers and any social media commentary so that I can take action. I can understand where we’re doing well, and I can also understand where we have to improve.

Recruiting genuine consumers

Simon: there are challenges, but a lot of it comes from the way we optimise our website for search in search engines; we have a variety of initiatives in a number of websites so get a lot of people involved too, looking to experience new and different things so that these people want to get paid to get to the places they enjoy going to already.

It’s a very small amount that there own but they do get reimbursed towards any products that their purchase, so you could say that this is almost a free night out, like going out for a meal out at a restaurant.

UK, France and Spain

Simon: we’ve have been based in the UK since 2003 and we have opened an office in Paris, and we also have one in Madrid and the decision has come by opportunity. We think we have to support businesses in France to get a better understanding of their customers, because in today’s economic climate, customer loyalty is of absolute importance, and we feel the insight we can provide and the data we can collect will really help businesses understand how they can drive that loyalty and where they should look to improve specifically in the business, that will drive future sales.

Business case on French petrol stations : “okay is not good enough!” (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean)

Simon: we have recently run a piece of research on a panel to get feedback on people’s experience of petrol stations in France and we are sharing this on the web right now. This highlights which stations people find to be the favourites, not only that, but also the reasons which drive them into these petrol stations, and what are the decisions they are making in those stations and what the opportunities for those retailers to understand whether the service is okay or not. The research highlights that “okay is not good enough!”. 3


Customer experience in Europe? In the words of my old maths teacher … “could do better!” (excerpt from the Petrol Station research)

This piece of research was carried out with 1,500 consumers across France, evenly spread across ages, sex and the geography; yet our programs will vary depending on the sector.

What insights

Simon: the impact satisfaction can have on consumers on the likelihood to recommend is one of the areas of importance: if you score something like a 4/5, there is a big difference, the research highlights, with 5/5 satisfaction.

Customer experience

Price and convenience are always going to be important, that’s fairly natural but, it’s also about the service they receive in the stations, friendly and efficient service will always go along way in; whilst people might not especially expect it, when they receive it, it will make a very big difference to the customer’s experience.

About the company: a blue Ocean strategy

Our ambition is to help French businesses improve the service they give to their customers. We certainly intend to grow the business; we think we have a very exciting offer for the retailers, leisure and hospitality businesses, they are going to find that very exciting.

In terms of our competitors, we don’t have one single direct competitor, we have several competitors across the various disciplines and methodologies that we use.

We certainly intend to grow and invest into the business here in France, we intend to grow our team rapidly here and I think we’ll see a continuation of the success we’ve had in other countries, here.

Marketforce has 450 employees worldwide. In Europe, we have 156, is growing rapidly.

Janet: our revenues are about $60 million right now.

*note: this interview survived the theft all my belongings in July 2, including my notebook with all his notes. I reconstructed this interview from memory and using the sound bite which I recorded on condition

Sinek and the Golden Circle of innovation

Today’s selection…

Is this motivational video by Simon Sinek, a master in the Art of captivating the audience while only teaching a single thing and demonstrating it several times in the course of the same recording session. I find the video as impressive in terms of presentation skills as of the contents. Sinek is the inventor of the Golden Circle of innovationconcept:

The Golden Circle of innovation is something very simple, and very often, simple things are the most effective. Yet, simplicity in this particular example boils down very much to the presentation skills of a top-class orator. What Sinek shows here is an explanation of how leadership, and innovation work, and the reason why true leaders manage to innovate and cross Geoffrey Moore’s chasm (see figure per below), in order to convince the early and late majorities.This is applicable, not just for one form of innovation in particular, but whatever field of innovation is concerned. Sinek quotes three very different examples:

  1. Jobs at Apple (“because everybody can understand that particular example” he says, in essence),
  2. Martin Luther King (“who shared a dream with us and not plan”),
  3. The Wright brothers (who managed to fly an aeroplane whereas they had no money and not even education and no other reasons to succeed).

Crossing the Chasm by Tom Fishburne

La vidéo de Simon Sinek

What’s the trick? It’s very simple, at least on the surface of it: it suffices to focus on one single question “why?” and everything else will follow suite. Whereas we (marketeers) tend to focus on the “what?” and the “how?” of the things that we make and sell: we spend all our time on the features even though they are more or less uninteresting – most of the time not interesting at all – of our products, whereas we forget one essential thing: why we make them, with what philosophy, with what vision.

Like all simple things, it’s all very complicated to implement: on the one hand, having a vision doesn’t mean that your products must have no features (Jobs, and Ives, was obsessed with product features and quality but he was doing this with a vision); besides, this doesn’t mean that you will be able to have a vision (most of the time, most people are obsessed with details and have no capacity for abstraction); lastly, not all visions are good (there are tonnes of visionary men or women who aren’t leaders, and are considered lunatics and will keep on preaching in the desert; not all visions have the same value).

Forming a vision, the ability to inspire, innovate and lead cannot be taught, and it takes more than a recipe for innovation; it’s a state of mind, a way of life. Besides, being a true innovator means that you should not be afraid to be despised.

innovation : what new really means? the data center robotics example

eye-large_thumb.gifWe’ve already asked this question many times. What is innovation? What does it mean to build/sell/buy something “new”. And inevitably, as we ask this question, we leave a door open to interpretation. “innovation is in the eye of the beholder” I sometimes add. What seems obvious with consumer products however, is also true of technological products for businesses ; sometimes, “new” means “only better/faster” and it doesn’t have to be bad … this should make you think next time you shrug you shoulders while hearing “incremental innovation”.

What prompted this blog post is a piece found at datacenterknowledge.com which describes the data center of tomorrow. Or rather, it was some of the comments underneath (sometimes rather harsh) about whether that was or wasn’t new. The bone of contention was the following: while the author contends that future datacenters will be fully automated, the illustration of the Google data center he chose was dismissed by one of the readers as not being that new. True enough, I delved into Youtube and found quite a few old videos describing fully automated storage robots like this one:

And fully automated data centers aren’t to be seen in the future, they are already up and running as in Amazon glacier’s example. In this instance, backup and retrieval is performed by Amazon using a robotic tape library: “when you make a retrieval request, a robotic arm grabs the tape with your data in, slots the tape into a drive, and then your data will be transferred to a hard drive ready for you to access”. All is done in a 3-5 hour window and the principle is that you pay for data retrieval, while data storage is dirt cheap.

Yet, what Bill Kleyman describes is something entirely different. Instead of small robotised data storage room, he believes that whole data centers could be robotised on a massive scale, therefore making it possible for vertical as opposed to horizontal expansion. This is a new revolution I believe. Well… maybe. I first visited Whirlpool’s washing machine automated vertical storage warehouse in … 1986! Robots were moving up and down the alleys at breakneck speed and were able to store products and parts anywhere and very fast indeed. Whether you can apply this to a data center makes no doubt to me, and is certainly a step forward in better and faster data center management. Once again, innovation isn’t always about disruption, it is often about making things better.

innovation in the data center: how robotics is changing the game

The Robot-Driven Data Center of Tomorrow Tape libraries, like this one at Google, provide an example of the use of robotics to manage data centers. Robotic arms (visible at the end of the aisle) can load and unload tapes. (Photo: Connie Zhou for Google) There is an evolution happening within the modern data center. Huge data center operators like Google and Amazon are quietly redefining the future of the data center. This includes the integration of robotics to create a lights-out, fully automated data center environment. Let’s draw some parallels. There’s a lot of similarity between the modern warehouse center and a state-of-the-art data center. There is an organized structure, a lot of automation, and the entire floor plan is built to be as efficient as possible. Large organizations like Amazon are already using highly advanced control technologies – which include robotics – to automate and control their warehouses.

via The Robot-Driven Data Center of Tomorrow.