the tension between brand and digital

Post it sorting at Mozilla with UNICEF UK volunteersThere’s been many debates over the impact of digital on brand and reputation. Only recently, it cropped up in a few different ways during a workshop I was involved with organising. Given this, I thought it was time to pull together some thoughts on the theme.

To give a bit of context; the workshop involved a diverse group of UNICEF UK fundraising volunteers playing around with a new Mozilla product. Appmaker helps almost anyone build a mobile web app. It’s still in an experimental phase but already quite progressed compared to the version I helped shape at mozfest last year.

Brand Vs digital

When this issue crops up its still typically presented as opposites. But like most things I’m not sure its helpful to see this as an argument with ‘sides’. This introduces a sense of competition rather than partnership or evolution.

In the workshop this sense of opposition was clear in most of the concerns raised, for example ‘what about your brand if volunteers are creating apps without your involvement?’.

Here’s a break down of the underlying tensions that crop up regularly and the real world factors as I see them.

Look and feel

What: The sense that anything not created by the brand owner is going to be poor quality or inconsistent and that this will damage the organisation.

My perspective:

Most “average joe’s” spend less time looking at your stuff than you do. Anything more than a minor problem is likely to be spotted quite quickly by today’s savvy consumer so the risks here are contained.

The democratisation of technology also means its easier to support non-designers to create reasonably consistent and good quality material if you put the right toolkit in place. If you don’t proactively put a toolkit out there you have to expect more variation and ‘dodgy design’ as people enthusiastically work out ways to hack it for themselves.

Sometimes a person outside the organisation can be more authentic and creative, and therefore more effective. Rather than spending hours trying to include authentic voices, empowering others means you’ve already done that legwork and created a sustainable model.

Open to abuse or untruths

What: The sense that people will use their new power to create an authentic looking app or other digital material to say or do something that’s not right, either on purpose or accidentally. Common concerns are that users will say something on behalf of a brand that isn’t true or funnel money or data into the wrong place.

My perspective:

This is definitely a risk, but its a risk that has always existed. Anyone could knock on a door and claim to be from a particular organisation by brandishing a printed leaflet. Educating consumers has always been a need. Today’s technology may have magnified the problem in some ways but it can also be a part of the solution.

Digital tools can provide ways to ‘lock-down’ elements of the setup so they can’t be tinkered with. Additionally there might be some sort of notification that gets sent to an organisation when certain actions take place meaning there’s a transparent audit trail.  An example with Appmaker is that UNICEF UK could possibly create a default ‘donate’ component that links directly to UNICEF’s secure payments and database.

There are also ways that digital can help to authenticate individual users are who they say they are. For example with Appmaker we could possibly create an electronic badge system where the unique badge can only be earned by genuine fundraising volunteers who have been in touch.

Finally, if there’s anything suspicious the thing about digital is that the genuine website and contact points for the brand are just a click away. As I said earlier, consumers are savvy, it’s fairly frequent that we get emails and tweets @unicef_uk checking if something is really authentic.

Aligning priorities and messages

What: The sense that you can’t keep control over key messages and timings if you’ve empowered others to act on your behalf and tailor their material/s for their own community.

My perspective:

If any of these concerns gets me the most riled up it’s this one. By consciously losing a little bit of control you gain the ultimate benefit that marketing seeks; you become a more integrated part of people’s lives. By being malleable to the interests of users you become more relevant and interesting to them personally.

Not forgetting that you continue to control the primary digital channels for your brand and can communicate the priorities to anyone who you’ve empowered. You might also reserve a place in your digital toolkit that will automatically update from central messages.

There’s not many (any?) moral ways you can control conversations or minds so this risk has always been an aspect of marketing.

Do you need designers and brand managers?

Don’t get me wrong, all of this doesn’t mean you can do away with designers or brand specialists. They can create the toolkit, focus on the big picture and keep pushing forward with more cutting edge work. They have a powerful role in making an ecosystem of digital empowerment real.

Digital can magnify the impact of designers and brand managers which is why it befuddles me that this topic still comes up in the language of arguments.

the difference of thinking in platforms

Mozfest_10Nov_018A little while ago I was lucky enough to attend my first, but hopefully not last, Mozfest. I didn’t entirely know what to expect apart from lots of ‘open web’ information and ideas. The timetable wasn’t released until the day before and it was live updated through the entire weekend. It was a great mix of structured and unconference.

I got practical tasters of lots of topics including making your first web app, creating your own maps, and hacking a mobile html5 game.

Quite a bit of my time was spent working with a team assembled on the first day on a project to simplify mobile giving. I won’t describe the final output as there’s a great blog post about Pass the App here. What I wanted to share is the striking difference it made by considering the problem from a platform perspective.

Thinking from a platform perspective really focuses you on the purpose and key features you need. A platform isn’t (primarily) a perfectly designed end consumer product in itself – it’s a tool that others can use to build their own version of something. This gives you an objectivity that quite often gets lost in projects where you’re building the finished public facing website or app.

I found focusing on empowering others through a platform is hugely empowering in itself!


As an aside: I also spoke to SourceFabric about why I was at Mozfest from UNICEF UK. Excuse the Ummms.

digital transformation in action

For the last two years I’ve been leading UNICEF UK on a journey to become digital first, something the org committed to in 2010/2011 as part of the 5 year strategic plan.

I’ve spoken and written about our digital transformation journey a few times. I’ve also chatted to a few people from different charities who are considering their own journey. When I’m asked what my top tips are I typically highlight two things:

Don’t underestimate your own preciousness

You need to empower everyone to use digital channels and ways of working, letting some mistakes happen or project timings extend. Letting go can be hard if you’re used to being the direct deliverer with a level of specialism that has taken years to acquire. It can also be hard for an organisation to take a possible hit on quantity and/or quality while the learning curve takes over.

You just have to let go – letting others learn through doing is critical for change to happen.

Be prepared to sacrifice short-term wins for long-term gain

Transformation is a long journey – this is often at odds with the usual character type in digital. We’re enticed by the almost overwhelming industry speed and we tend to see new opportunities and quick wins everywhere. I’m sure I could spend my entire time bringing great results through fixing and activating new things.

You need to focus on getting the long-term infrastructure (tools, skills and behaviours) in place. This isn’t the kind of stuff that shows immediate results and with finite resources you have to make a choice.


Now we’re a couple of years into our journey we’re taking a hard look at how far we’ve gone and what the next phase is. If you have 10 mins please take our survey.

Watch this space …

UNICEF UK mobile and digital talk at Institute of Fundraising convention

I spoke at the IOF National Convention today. If you missed it and are interested – here’s the slides and there’s also a storify one of the audience put together. Note: I’m not responsible for typos in the storify 😉

preparing your website for a high traffic TV event like Soccer Aid

There’s a moment when there’s no turning back, you’ve done as much preparation and contingency planning as possible and the rest is down to whether a celebrity footballer does something that goes ‘mega viral’.

Soccer Aid is a bi-annual TV programme that raises money for UNICEF. It’s a fantastic live TV event when celebrity footballers, and celebrity non-footballers compete. In return for a great afternoon of telly the viewers are asked to spare a moment to make the world a better place for children by donating to UNICEF UK.

So what exactly does this mean if you happen to be the digital team @UNICEF_UK?

Preparations start-up to a year in advance, and are usually coordinated by a Soccer Aid Digital Producer contracted for the project. There are three core digital streams; marketing, social engagement and tech. I’m going to focus on tech to keep this as brief as you can for something that covers around 12 months work!

The architecture

There was one time (I don’t hesitate to say it was before me, even though I’ve been in the situation during my career) when the worst happened. The UNICEF UK website went down during Soccer Aid.

So now we do a whole host of scaling up, streamlining and performance testing to make sure there’s a reliable web presence and donation funnel in the lead up, just after, and most critically- during the TV programme.

This involves optimisation of the main website and creating a flat (non-CMS) microsite for the highest peaks. We fine tune the website application layer and database processes. Plus we increase the number of servers and use CDN for hosting of any image and video.

Last year we also channeled most of the online donations traffic to a BT MyDonate funnel to push the heaviest lifting outside of our environment. This decoupling meant we could still serve some content if the donations funnel went down, or vice versa, still gather donations if the website went down.

Performance testing

Once we had our approach built we carried out our first performance test, this identified more tweaks to be made. There were two other tests throughout our preparations. They not only identified issues that were fixed but also gave us an expectation of what contingency to plan.

To help with this we had one or two team members casually browsing the website during the tests to observe the experience during heavy traffic. This meant we could begin to think what to say to users if it happened for real.

If you’ve never done it before – it’s important to note that performance testing is best when its on your live site so it’ll probably mean a few late nights so you don’t affect your regular users during the day!


Coupled with this preparation we also had a very detailed contingency plan. It mapped out the various possible scenarios and the actions we would take, including who would take key decisions. This was co-created with suppliers who were actively monitoring and on call through the peak moments.

The night itself was a long one. We had one of those moments, a celebrity injury which swelled (couldn’t resist the pun!) the conversation.

Fortunately the tech all went well, hitting our ‘max tweets’ threshold three times is another story…



Quick note: This is a re-post: I created this blog post originally for the Web Managers Group 

practical mobile tips for non-profits and charities

I was one of the keynote speakers at Media Trust’s Go Mobile conference this week, a few people have asked for my slides and notes so here they are…


Mobile is here

You have to think mobile for all of the experiences you are designing. It’s not going away and it’s not ‘on the horizon’, its well and truly here.

But it’s still evolving

Mobile compatibility is still not entirely standardised, it’s a bit like the www in the 90’s. Adoption of different devices is also changing rapidly. For example, in just the last year the UNICEF UK website has seen a big growth in iPad that has caught it up with iPhones, we also saw Google Nexus 7 appear as well as others.

Case: UNICEF UK Mobile Website

To make sure we had a mobile compatible site as quickly as possible we launched an interim mobile website of just a few key pages and the donation funnel. We’re working on optimising the whole of the site. To keep costs lower and give us increased technology flexibility we’re using separate ‘layers of tech’ to do the transformation rather than having a fully responsive site (for now).

Case: UNICEF Sweden website

Our UNICEF Sweden office, on the other hand, have created a fully responsive website. They were on the brink of a full website rebuild so it made sense to invest now and go ‘mobile first’. The site is designed for smartphones first and PC desktops last. They had to make some hard decisions on how to streamline content.

Forget about ‘mobile’

It’s easy to get obsessed about mobile devices, really what this change means is a change of behaviours. Remember behaviour first when you are designing user experiences. People are now using multiple devices, we don’t live in single screen households.

Time of day

This graph demonstrates a clear difference in behaviour that mobile has created. UNICEF UK non-mobile traffic peaks during working hours while traffic from mobile devices is consistent throughout the day, even into the early hours. This pattern is important when you think about how people are interacting with your brand.

Case: UNICEF UK Speak Up for Children

I’ve learnt the behaviour lesson. We (with an amazing group of partners) did a brilliant mobile campaign called Speak Up for Children, it was a great success in the end, but we failed at first. The original concept was to create the biggest voice petition in the world. It seemed to make sense that a mobile campaign should use the voice feature of your mobile phone.

We quickly learned that very few people wanted to interact this way, it was just a bit too intrusive / embarrassing. So we paused the campaign and replaced the petition with a simple email address entry field.

Case: Syria Emergency

We also know that SMS giving is really effective. It enables the immediate emotional response of a supporter who wants to help, it also gets funds for emergencies quickly. We even include the SMS giving number in search adword campaigns. You should be prepared for SMS giving no matter what charity you are.

Apps are hard

Finding a concept that works as an app is hard. UNICEF offices around the world have tried and success has been limited. You need an app that fits with an individual’s life, if you wouldn’t download it – don’t build it.

When I worked at the British Heart Foundation we created a recipe finder app, it worked because it was something people could use repeatedly and it fitted with our brand.

Email is important

Increasingly, email is consumed on mobile. If you have an email marketing programme or email newsletter it should be compatible with mobile now. Even if you have to create plain text emails, it’s better than emails that don’t work on a mobile.

It can be easy (sort of)

If you have very limited resources it can be very difficult to go mobile. But there are lots of platforms which are now mobile compatible which you could design your experience around. For example; using twitter, facebook and justgiving could give you a campaign experience which is mobile compatible without you needing to convert your own website for a bit longer.

And that was it!

15 mins really isn’t very long to talk about mobile. I didn’t even touch on UNICEF use of mobile in the field, there’s a bit about that in this innovation presentation.

what’s in a hashtag?

This week I talked at #gagldn about the UNICEF #sahelNOW campaign we did earlier this year. It was an intense period where we worked hard to ‘do the basics brilliantly’ and break the media quietness around the emerging crisis in West Africa. Here’s the slides. Happy to answer questions, drop me a comment!

p.s. we all agreed you can’t do a campaign just based on a hashtag!

digital stats – integration’s worse enemy

I love digital analytics, but the perceived concreteness can lead to some tricky situations…

Unless you’re only using one channel to showcase your brand (if you are I’m intrigued to hear why!?) your audience is almost certainly seeing you in more than one place. This creates a challenge for Google Analytics and other similar tools. While its easy to generate ‘last-touch’ reporting this doesn’t give you a true sense of why someone responded.

We talk a lot about this at work. We were quite aware during our East Africa emergency activity that integrated channels and messages perform best.

So we’ve been building up our understanding of multi-touch attribution, including using tools like Ignition One. But this doesn’t help if/when you include offline in your media mix. You still can’t fully understand what the impact of the full mix is.

The tricky situation this puts you in is particularly relevant if you’re still trying to build the business case for integrating digital. Individuals can interpret last-touch reporting in terms of ROI (return on investment) on a purely channel by channel basis. This can mean investment is skewed, and integration completely overlooked.

Unless you invest in regular market research studies I’m not sure there’s a real-time answer (until we all get micro-chipped!). So next step for us will probably be considering what ‘closest guess based on historic data’ models we can devise and use.

Where are you with your attribution models? Be great to compare notes!

building a digital team

So, it’s been a little while since I last posted. Don’t worry I’ve still been living all things digital (twitter and instagram prove that) but I’ve been faced with immense writers block. So this is me breaking it quickly and concisely.

Since I last wrote I’ve been to a few digital events, perhaps too many, many are on personal time so that’s one excuse I’ve been using for my lack of blogging. I’ve also spoken a couple of times on the digital transformation work I’m leading at UNICEF UK so here’s the presentation via slideshare.

the challenge of digital in flux

Recently I met a few colleagues from UNICEF offices all around the world to share experiences and build working relationships. The conversations flowed thick and fast so I’m sure I’ll be drawing on them for blog posts over the coming weeks.

One of the most fascinating things for me was how similar the challenges digital specialists are experiencing.

No matter where the person I spoke with came from, digital appeared to be in a state of flux with confused governance. Digital teams being seen as service delivery and often struggling to get a voice in strategy. And where digital channels are delivering ROI already there were more difficulties in influencing strategically unless someone on the Senior team really understood the future potential beyond the current ROI.

What intrigues me is whether this is just the pattern you see with any media change. You could probably replace the subject in most of these sentences and agree the paragraph still applies. So I’ve been trying to think back to the introduction of the printing press…

I think the key differentiator is where the change stems from. Many have already written that the centre of control is now people powered and organisation structures which are traditionally hierarchical are at odds with this.

This doesn’t explain the lack of understanding of the fact that pinning all your digital activity on an immediate ROI means you’re missing the full potential. I almost (almost almost) think the measurability of digital is its own worst enemy. Printed marketing wasn’t measurable from the start and so brands had to take a risk. With digital being more measurable from the start the line was drawn in a different place.

The pace of change in digital is also a challenge to articulating the potential – some organisations must now have around 10 years worth of web stats but they’ll illustrate the change in digital adoption more than any change in the audience relationship with the brand.

With all my pondering I’m not sure that print didn’t go through the same cycle of change. It’s just the fit with organisation structure was better so it didn’t feel so disruptive.

One final thought… Printing has an ‘end product’ but that stage is just the beginning with digital.