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Going with the Flow

September 25, 2018

beesWhen I first found out about this incredible piece of innovation about three and a half years ago, I knew immediately that it was perfect for me. I was one of the first to sign up for a Flow Hive when the crowdfunding campaign went live in February 2015, and we added a second hive the following year.

It’s been a steep learning curve, especially when you have to deal with your first swarm! And, like this recent CNET article attests, you can’t be hands off with your Flow Hive.

However, the experience has been amazing. We are producing the beautiful, complex and delicious honey, we’ve got two healthy bee colonies, we’ve caught and supplied new swarms for other beekeepers in the area, and the fruit trees and vegetables in our garden have never been as productive.

In response to the controversies about commercial egg production, we’ve had our own chickens for years, so we know exactly where our eggs are coming from and how our chooks are being treated. Chickens are also a fantastic way to reduce food waste and produce fertiliser for the garden.

explore_honeyNow, we are seeing similar problems with bees and the honey industry. There’s a dangerous decline in the bee population worldwide, which is having a devastating effect on the environment and especially food security. And, partly as a consequence, we’ve just had a “fake” honey scandal erupt involving adulterated samples from some of the big commercial producers.

I was thrilled to be asked by the team at Flow recently to become a Flow Ambassador. My role is to be a local point of contact for people in my region (the Southern Highlands of NSW) who are interested in finding out more about beekeeping and Flow Hive products. It also means that people have access to my referral program, which gives you a discount on Flow products: https://mbsy.co/honeyflow/maungle.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone with a backyard had their own chooks producing eggs and their own bees producing honey?

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more about keeping bees, or if you’d like to come and have a look at our hives.

 

Which country will win the World Cup?

June 14, 2018

socceroosOn that question, the understatement of the year has to go to CNBC: “Predicting the winner of a soccer World Cup isn’t an exact science” (UBS uses stock-picking tech to predict the winner of the 2018 soccer World Cup).

After reading about Goldman Sachs in the AFR using artificial intelligence to predict the World Cup winner, I wondered how many other people were using data analytics and modelling to pick the winner this year – and also how much store we should put on big data as a way to accurately forecast future outcomes.

It turns out there are a lot of pundits out there applying different technology approaches to the challenge, and willing to back themselves publicly with their predictions.

South African data analytics firm Principa is using “analytics and machine learning” to predict the results for every single 2018 FIFA World Cup match, but is clever enough to only commit to predictions round by round. Principa’s first round results are here.

A number of the big banks have applied “artificial intelligence, statistical modeling, portfolio theory, and economic analysis” to pick their winner (What country will win the 2018 World Cup? Here are big banks’ predictions).

Lloyds of London based its prediction on the Insurable value of the players, and experts from Germany’s Commerzbank analysed historical sports data over years, including home bias and the number of goals scored in previous World Cups, world rankings, and track record at previous tournaments, running 10,000 simulations on each game. Not surprisingly, Germany came out on top.

According to data company Gracenote, Brazil is the statistical favourite to win the World Cup in Russia, while Alteryx applied its analytics model to the 2014 World Cup to validate its 2018 predictions: “We took the 16-team 2014 round data and applied our model to it – we actually only got two results wrong” (Germany to win and England bow out to Brazil: Analytics firm predicts every single result in the World Cup 2018). They are much braver than Principa!

The Democracy Institute’s econometric soccer rankings “signal that Brazil, France, Spain, and Argentina are poised to under-achieve” while Uruguay, Switzerland, England, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Morocco, and Australia are likely “to exceed expectations.” (The freedom to win: World Cup 2018 economic predictor)

Team Twelve’s “Alpha Ball” system uses data derived from recent matches in 20 categories such as average attack success rates and attack and defence patterns, and EA Sports EA Sports used simulation created with the data from FIFA 18 to predict France as this year’s winner.

According to Sky News, bookmakers are backing Brazil while scientists using new machine learning (ML) techniques, including a method called the “random-forest approach”, have picked Germany. (How scientists are attempting to predict the World Cup 2018 winner)

Some other academics can’t split Brazil and Germany.

“Soccerbot”, developed by an applied mathematician who wrote Soccermatics, sounded promising, but I was put off finding out more when Australia (pictured above from a recent game in Canberra) was given odds of 500-1 to win, and I had to click through to a sports betting site to get more information. And weirdly, UK’s Telegraph wants us to apply our own rating of the key data factors – and to login to Facebook to “play”. I’m not prepared to do that.

While there are so many different analytical models out there that can be applied, what was interesting was that there were only four countries predicted to win across all the pundits reviewed: Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

So I thought, why not use the work already done to make my own prediction? (‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ and all that.)

I tabulated the predictions, and made some weighting decisions. All the banks had a weighting of ‘one’ each (can we really trust them?); as an insurance company, Lloyds is probably more careful with its data analysis (and had the impressive-sounding Centre for Economics and Business Research helping with the analysis as well as predicting the outcome of the 2014 World Cup), so scored a ‘two’; and Gracenote and Alteryx as generalist data firms were also given a ‘one’ each.

Although the Democracy Institute expects Australia to do well in the tournament and impressively “draws upon the data provided in the Heritage Foundation’s “2018 Index of Economic Freedom”, the vagueness of its prediction scored it a ‘one’.

I included data from the official FIFA world rankings, giving this a ‘two’ weighting; and EA Sports also gets a ‘two’, for past history, successfully predicting the World Cup winners of 2010 and 2014. Team Twelve also got a ‘two’ as a specialist sports data firm.

Weightings of ‘three’ were reserved for the bookmakers – who have the most to lose by getting it wrong – and “scientists” and “statisticians” who, as academics, are perhaps the most objective in the whole thing.

So what were my findings?

Applying the weighting, it’s Brazil to win the 2018 World Cup (34%) ahead of Germany (30%), with France and Spain equal in third place (18%).

Here’s the table of predictions.

Predicting Entity Winning Team Weighting
Principa Not brave enough to predict N/A
UBS Germany 1
Goldman Sachs Brazil 1
ING Spain 1
Nomura France/Spain 1
Lloyds of London France 2
“Bookmakers” Brazil 3
“Scientists” Spain 3
Democracy Institute Germany 1
Gracenote Brazil 1
FIFA Germany 2
Alteryx Germany 1
EA Sports France 2
Commerzbank Germany 1
Team Twelve Brazil 2
Soccerbot I’m not going to a betting site N/A
“Statisticians” Brazil/Germany 3
Weighting Total   25

 

Although I’ve predicted Brazil to win, you can’t count out Germany. Former England striker Gary Lineker might be right: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”

To be honest, I think the most accurate prediction will be a democratic one. More than 500,000 people worldwide have already predicted the winner in the FIFA World Cup Bracket Challenge. Hopefully they’ll announce the people’s choice before the World Cup starts tonight!

Whatever happens, the next month will be amazing.

 

You’ve got to be in it to win it

May 4, 2018

16488394468_dbfbf630cf_zGreat news overnight, with one of Explore Communications’ clients winning an Australian CRN Impact Award.

While winning is no certainty, industry awards and formal recognition are a fantastic boost to the business in so many different ways. There is of course the exposure and networking opportunities of the awards event itself, the broader publicity that comes from it, the third-party validation that you are doing something that is at the top of your industry, and the great feeling of having an accolade that is yours to promote until next year’s awards come around. And, if there is an individual or team recognised from your business with the award, it has a fantastic positive effect on staff morale and culture.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that winning an award like this doesn’t just happen. If the award program requires a detailed submission to go to a judging panel (which most do), having the best piece of technology, the best project or the best business performance isn’t going to be enough on its own. Judges might be wading through hundreds of submissions, so the ones that stand out are those which demonstrate that a lot of thought, effort and time has gone into completing it.

To stand up and sing for the judges, the story behind the submission needs to be compelling, it needs to be well-written and well-researched, it needs to represent the voices of the various parties and stakeholders involved, and it has to convey how the company has smashed it out of the park in relation to the subject of the award itself.

It’s true that you have to be in it to win it, but if the awards program is run with any form of rigour and impartiality (which most are) , there’s no point just dashing off your submission the night before deadline.

Instead, take your time. Normally, awards are announced a couple of months out from submission deadlines, so work out which categories you can enter, and if you think you have a good chance if winning, then give yourself at least a month to get the submission right.

And even if you don’t win, the work you have put into the submission won’t have gone to waste. It can be used in a whole lot of other ways afterwards: for case studies, press releases, marketing materials, client communications, newsletters, new website or intranet content, blog posts, annual reports or to update your corporate profile.

(Pictured top: “2015 Stevie Awards 0214” by mikeg44311. Reused under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence. And, yes, Explore Communications has also helped a client win a Stevie Award in the past!)

 

Vegemite: Original vs Blend 17

March 15, 2018

VegemiteBusinesses are constantly looking for that next growth opportunity or new revenue stream, and coming up with marketing strategies to deliver on that goal. That’s an easy thing to achieve if you are a start-up, but not so simple if you are an established brand with a deeply entrenched product or service.

Take Vegemite as an example. “A thick, black Australian food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract” (from Wikipedia), Vegemite has been an institution here for the best part of a century (and a mystery as to why we like it so much for people from other countries). In 2009, a  new version of Vegemite was released, mixed with cream cheese. It made news for being a massive branding failure (“iSnack 2.0“) but it was pretty clear to see it was an attempt to make people use more of the product. You see, most people spread Vegemite very thinly. In my house, the amount I put on my toast is considered excessive (see above), which should give you an idea.

With its intensity diluted by the cream cheese, what was ultimately called Vegemite Cheesybite seemed to be all about increasing the spread amount and therefore consumption volume.

If your target market doesn’t perceive that you are adding value, they will see your strategy for what it ultimately is – an attempt to influence overall consumption levels for revenue and profit growth.

Which brings us to Blend 17. Hot on the heels of the return of Vegemite to Australian hands (by Bega Cheese last year), this new boutique variety was launched, retailing for more than double the price of the ordinary Vegemite.

So, instead of a strategy that increases consumption volumes, this one is about convincing people to pay more for the same quantity. Does that strategy work? Only if the consumer perceives they are getting added value.

With Blend 17 finally on sale for the same per weight price as normal Vegemite, I bought a jar.

The verdict?

Maybe a slightly smoother, more intense flavour, but only marginally better than the original and certainly not worth paying double for it. Which probably explains why it was 50% off when I bought it.

So what’s the answer? How can you generate more revenue and profit from one of your flagship brands? Keep innovating, but whatever you do don’t jeopardise the brand equity and consumer loyalty built up in your core product (think BBQ Shapes).

Come up with new packaging and bundling ideas using the original product. Look for new markets – Vegemite managed to win over Australians, so why not the Dutch? They like salted liquorice, after all.

Out of this World

February 7, 2018

We are witnessing what is possibly the greatest promotional stunt ever.

Wouldn’t we all like an unlimited marketing budget to pull off something like that? It also helps when you have space exploration as a sideline business to share the costs. Still, it’s a great example of what you can achieve with blue sky thinking – and light-years ahead of that bizarre flamethrower stunt he pulled recently.

Passing the Buck, and its Impact on Brand Reputation

December 1, 2017

Heron Island WreckAnother recent ‘bumpy’ travel experience gave me an opportunity to reflect further on brand experience. This one relates more to the way brands should respond to negative feedback. The irony is that if I had received an adequate response to my complaints, I wouldn’t be airing the experience in public now.

To give context, I need to refer to the companies involved and, unfortunately, Qantas is once again in the mix.

Earlier this year, we made a snap decision to visit a friend in Gladstone, Queensland and used the opportunity to book two nights on Heron Island while we were in the area. The whole travel experience – from the booking process to the Heron Island stay – was poor, and I followed up both with the booking provider (Qantas Hotels) and the resort operator (Delaware North) taking them through the whole debacle.

I wasn’t asking for any sort of refund. My email concluded simply with a request that “I expect a full and considered response to the complaints raised.”

  1. A timely first response

The first expectation you have as a disgruntled customer is a timely response to your complaint, especially when that expectation is set by the automated email response. This is what I received from Qantas (via Hooroo):

“Thank you for contacting Qantas Group Hotels,

We have received your email and will be in touch within 48 hours.”

It only magnifies the issue when you have to follow up on your email when you don’t get the promised response.

  1. Follow through on your promise

Your second expectation is that when a promise is made in response to a complaint, that promise is followed up:

After chasing Qantas, I received an email from the general manager of Heron Island Resort:

“I am very concerned that your experience was so disappointing and am currently reviewing your complaint with my management team.

I will revert back to you shortly when I have explored fully exactly why we failed to meet your expectations.”

That was the last I heard from them.

  1. Take ownership: don’t pass the buck

If you are providing a service under your brand, take complete ownership for that service. As a customer, there is nothing worse than a brand passing the blame onto another provider. This happened twice during this experience.

First, Qantas put the whole thing on to the resort operator, even though the original booking problem should have been acknowledged as their issue. If you are providing the booking service, as a customer I expect the service provider to take ownership of the problem, not blame someone at the back end:

“With regards to handling your hotel accommodations, we do apologise for the confusions specifically in the room type. Please be advised that whatever informations provided to you before came from the hotel since they were the ones who has the actual inventories of their rooms.”

Second, Delaware North apparently shifted the responsibility onto the new owner of Heron Island Resort, Aldesta Hotel Group. I say “apparently” because I had this quoted to me via Qantas from an email received by them:

“Heron Island Resort was purchased in January, 2017 by the Aldesta Group and while the Aldesta Group were establishing their business and management team within Australia, Delaware North retained management of the property. From the 1st of December, 2017 Heron Island Resort will be 100% owned and operated by the Aldesta Group with our management and team committed to providing the best experience possible for guests.”

  1. Ensure open (and working) communication channels

If you are advertising ‘contact us’ information, make sure that you are actively managing it, setting response times and following up on each channel you are using. To this date, I still haven’t received any response to my original email to Delaware North. The escalation only came when I tweeted about it. I’m assuming that the general email (travel@delawarenorth.com) is not being properly monitored.

After finding out that Aldesta Hotel Group now owns Heron Island Resort. All I could find was an info@aldestahotels.com address on its website. So I emailed this:

“Just to let you know, there is some serious buck-passing happening with regards to my complaint about our travel experience on Heron Island, and it’s not making me any happier.”

And the response?

“Your message couldn’t be delivered to info@aldestahotels.com because the remote server is misconfigured. See technical details below for more information.”

At least I found out that the email didn’t get through to anyone …

The upshot? Reputational damage and loss of business

Despite numerous follow ups with resort management, to date I still have had no response. So I sent this email today:

“This is very poor. Still no response to my complaint. I’ll be letting everyone know about the experience, and suggesting they travel to other locations if they are looking for an island holiday.”

I sent a similarly-worded email to Qantas (Hooroo):

“Just to let you know, that owing to the continued poor response from all concerned, I have just chosen to fly to LA return next month with Virgin.”

And I just did both.

 

Consistency and the Corporate Brand

August 8, 2017

Most of the domestic AustralianQantas Ticket flights I’ve caught in the past have been short ones, so until now I hadn’t really taken much notice of the inconsistency of the on-board experience.

A couple of longer-haul trips to Darwin in the last month – three legs with Qantas and one with Jetstar – made me sit up and take notice. On one flight, I couldn’t help but do that – my seat wouldn’t recline.

The key thing as a customer is that you want to know what to expect. On Jetstar, you know you’ll get the bare minimum. However, on Qantas you pay a little extra with the expectation of a premium service.

While most service businesses make a big thing about consistent customer experience, lately there’s been very little of that on Qantas planes. I’ve had a different user experience each time I’ve flown.

On the Sydney to Melbourne route there is barely time for food service, but four and a half hours to Darwin can really drag on – especially in a no frills Jetstar cabin. You crave the food service and in-flight entertainment on offer to provide the distraction needed to make the trip go faster.

On each Qantas flight, I’ve had three different entertainment configurations – an individual screen on the back of the seat, a seat pocket iPad on the second flight, and then BYOED (bring-your-own-entertainment-device) and download the Qantas Entertainment app.

Then you have food and beverage service. I had complementary drinks for one of the legs, but on the other two they were selling beverages for $6 each. Is it really worth Qantas’ while to charge $6 a drink? Surely serving the first drink for free with your meal is going to generate far more goodwill and less bother than completing a hundred separate cash transactions as the flight attendants make their way down the aisle.

I like to be all set with what I’ll need in my seat before I get on the plane – book, headphones, etc. – so I can put my bag up in the overhead locker and hopefully not have to touch it again until we land. Knowing what to expect from the on-board experience before the flight would be very useful.

Ultimately this inconsistency is a corporate brand issue. If the customer experience doesn’t consistently meet up to the expectations set by the organisation’s brand “promise” or values, it has a damaging effect.