You can now get to the recording of the presentation here: (registration required – my bit starts at 45 minutes).

A little later today I’m going to be taking part in a webinar for the CIM’s The Marketer magazine. The theme of the event (there’s still time to register for it here) is how digital can deliver business goals, and what I’m going to be saying is more or less as follows… (slides available here)

Last week I spent a wonderful week on holiday with my family in the Derbyshire Peak District. Along with some friends, we stayed in a beautiful converted barn, just outside of the town of Chesterfield, set in rolling (if somewhat snowy) hills. You might at this point wonder why I’m telling you about my family holiday… the reason is simple. In that Barn, I experienced a new wave of digital technology for the first time that made a previously conceptual wave of tech hype something valuable and meaningful to me as a customer.

In the hallway of the barn, underneath where the broadband wifi router sat, there was a small box with the words “Do not remove power” emblazoned on the side. It turned out that that box connected the barn’s central heating system to the Internet. This was The Internet of Things brought to life.

From my perspective as a consumer, it was great. It meant that on arrival at the barn, which hadn’t been occupied for over six weeks, and which was surrounded by metre-high snow drifts, we were greeted with a cosy, heated home. Presumably, though, from the owner’s perspective it also meant that he not only was able to provide a welcoming service, but also to manage what must be a significant variable cost in maintaining a holiday home – heating fuel costs – from afar. A win-win situation.

In the context of knowing I was about to do this presentation, this little example really struck me – more than anything because it seems that whilst small businesses and individuals can take quick steps to gain advantage of digital innovations, too often large companies seem lead-footed.

But even more importantly, why are we even using the term “digital” these days? It’s nearly twenty years since Nicholas Negroponte, one of the founders of Wired magazine, director of MIT MediaLab and brains behind the One Laptop Per Child initiative, published his book Being Digital. 18 years later, just about everything is digital:

Given all of that – that we are digital, what do we mean by the term these days?

Well, for me, I think there is a big distinction to be made between being digital and thinking digital. Let me give you an example:

iTunes took the music business into a completely digital realm. But at it’s core, it was merely the digitisation of the traditional music distribution model of people buying singles or albums – iTunes removed the shops and the disks.

Spotify took advantage of thinking digital – in a world where distribution is no longer the big challenge, a subscription model for music becomes possible in ways that were impossible in the physical realm.

So if we want to truly take advantage of the opportunities that digital technologies offer, what do we need to consider? I’d boil it down to three things:

  1. A world of connected devices: as noted before, most of the population now possess Internet-connected devices, and increasingly for many of us we have many devices about our person, just about all of the time. From smartphones up, we are connected today in ways in which we never were before.
  2. Those connected devices utilise Cloud services, often with social elements: the devices themselves really come to life when they are accessing information and services on the Internet – whether Facebook or Twitter or SkyDrive or whatever else.
  3. Technology now is about conversations, not just transactions or broadcasting; the net result of all of the above is that people like never before are able to have interactive conversations with other people, and that in that world trying to shoe-horn old media models leaves consumers cold.

On that last point, the head of uber-agency WPP Martin Sorrell was recently quoted in the Harvard Business Review as saying that Twitter was a “PR medium”. There’s a lot in that from a traditional media viewpoint: if you want proof, then search for any brand name on twitter alongside “#fail”. What you will find in response is consumers shouting about everything that they’ve had wrong with that particular brand.

My gut feel is that because, on social networks, people will only engage with brands when either they have got something bad to say (and they are mostly saying it to their friends and followers, not to the brand), or when they are bribed to do so. Give me enough free iPads, and I can get you as many “likes” on Facebook as you can afford to buy. The dirty truth is that those people don’t actually really like your brand…

The net result of these conversational, personal, cloud services that consumers are using on a day to day basis is that institutions are becoming naked. As the Canadian writer Don Tapscott puts in, in a world where you are naked, you better get  “buff”. And what that means, to me, is making sure that you are equipping yourself and your people to act as intelligent digital citizens in their own right, because it’s increasingly about people talking to other people. And, unlike previous media, if you want to understand how to make this stuff work, you really  need to live it yourself; it’s not like, say, direct marketing where I’ve never met a direct marketer who ever gives permission to be marketed to by others…

To think digital you need to live digital.  And the starting point for that is thinking about what your own personal digital strategy is.

How do you use social and digital services to engage with colleagues, with suppliers and with customers, as well as with your friends and family? Which services do you use to do what? What devices are central to your working and personal lives, and how do they cross over? How are you moving your professional and personal life forward with digital? You can find out more about what I personally do  here.

The tech world has a long tradition of faddy waves of hype; like never before, though, technology has become personal, intimate even. To take advantage of it, you need to start by understanding how you can make it work for yourself, and then think about how you can help your colleagues and customers make it work for them.

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