It’s been a year since I flew on an airplane. Travel has been part of my work life for the past 25 years – and that means I’ve become a pro at playing the frequent flyer game.
When I say “game” I don’t mean that figuratively. Frequent flyer programs operate on “gamification” or game mechanics that keep participants hooked. Let’s break it down:
Collecting points. All programs operate on a premise of collecting points – for miles flown or dollars spent directly or with partners. Some programs have a loss-aversion element, where miles expire after a period of inactivity; others have removed this behavioural tactic choosing instead to devalue never-expiring points.
Earning status. Tiers that encourage achievement. The more points you collect, the more precious your metal or gemstone level. Along with luggage tags to communicate your value to fellow travelers. Tiers also help players set goals and reset to aim higher once achieved.
Value exchanges. Free upgrades and other benefits for achieving higher status levels. Status also confers profile badges and other recognition that cost the airline little while keeping players focused on the game.
Receiving feedback. Acknowledgement of your status when interacting with an airline and well-designed tools to help you track progress up the levels. To keep flyers flying, these tools make clear how close you are to the next tier and elevating your status. They also help flyers keep their next flights in mind – a bit like binge watching Netflix, where the next episode is always ready to run.
Customisation and personalisation. Ability to exchange points for free travel and other rewards, combined with a huge barrier to exit – those points are worthless outside of your favourite airline’s corporate alliance.
Over the past 12 months, airlines have suffered mightily as business meetings have gone online for health & safety reasons. So what happens when the world is widely immunized and we can travel again, without red list countries, travel corridors, and quarantines on arrival?
I’ve logged over two million miles in my travels (1.8 million with SkyTeam, 0.3 million with Star Alliance, and more with OneWorld, JetBlue, Southwest, and others). When travel resumes, I’ll be happy to see foreign colleagues in person again and to see our business operating first-hand. I’ll be delighted to spend time with family and friends, who have for too long been faces in a Zoom gallery. And I can’t wait to look you in the eye face-to-face, instead of looking up your nose on Facetime.
Knowing how the system works and having a long break from participating in it provides space for clarity. How much are points and status really worth? How valuable are the rewards? Is the engagement truly earnest? Upon reflection, it’s easy to get caught up in frequent flying’s gamification. The players must realise the part they play as pawns in the game, while companies treat them like royalty.
I wonder if you’ve taken an extended break from travel and thought about what will be different, if anything, in your future?
If there’s one lesson the world can agree on from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that humans need face-to-face contact. Most people have tolerated lockdowns for the benefit of the greater good, but it’s clear that the world misses in-person interactions. The world has adapted – at least temporarily – to the current state of affairs, watching sports teams in bubbles, ordering gourmet takeaway meals, and attending classes over Zoom. But let’s face it: fans want to be back in the stadium. Diners want to be back in their favorite restaurant. Kids want to be back in school.
Retail and the act of shopping have naturally followed the rest of the world into an online-to-survive state. We’ve seen social distancing inside and outside of physical stores. When stores closed to customers, many shifted to click-and-collect. When even that was regulated as too risky, stores shifted to e-commerce.
Some might say that the shift is permanent, as well-known high street brands like TopShop and Brooks Brothers declared bankruptcy, along with retailers including Neiman Marcus and JCPenney. However, looking closer at the fundamentals provides a more nuanced understanding of the retail picture. Lack of footfall did not cause these bankruptcies; coronavirus complications only accelerated their demise. New entrants with a better understanding of consumer desires had already been gaining market share, offering products on trend and on price, made possible without the overhead of a bland retail experience.
People want to get back to a world of real human interactions as soon as possible. When restrictions are eased, the world will see a return to physical shopping in safe environments. The retailers that haven’t adapted will resume their decline as the government subsidies disappear. The retailers who understand how to deliver experiences that meet consumer needs will lead the way, face-to-face with their consumers.
I accepted a job offer on Wednesday 22 June 2016, which would take me from New York to London. On Thursday 23 June, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Almost three years later, the UK still hasn’t left and I’m still living here as well.
However, I am leaving the toy industry and starting a new role in luxury retail. I’m taking on a new role at The Bicester Village Shopping Collection to define, develop, and deliver a global digital experience and ecosystem.
The Bicester Village Shopping Collection (also known as Value Retail) has delivered 24 consecutive years of annual double-digit sales growth. In 2018, 42 million guests visited 11 properties in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and China.
Most non-EEA professionals work in the United Kingdom under a Tier 2 visa, which is how I immigrated / expatriated from the US in 2016. In 2018 the UK issued over 50,000 Tier 2 general and inter-company transfer visas. It’s similar to the United States H1-B visa and South Korea E-7 visa. The Tier 1 isn’t quite a green card or F-5, but it does allow the holder to work and live in the UK without a corporate sponsor.
The UK makes 2,000 Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent visas available annually across the fields of science, engineering, humanities, medicine, digital technology, the arts, fashion, architecture, and film and television. In 2018, 528 were issued and I estimate about half of those are for digital, split evenly between “talent” (based on what you’ve done — this is what I’ve been granted) and “promise” (based on what you will do in your career).
If you are considering this visa, there are a lot of good write-ups out there regarding people’s experience with the process and Parliament acknowledges that you don’t need to be a potential Nobel Prize winner to apply. UK Visas and Immigration has thankfully made the entire application digital and the user experience is fairly straightforward. The biggest unavoidable drawback are the fees — the NHS may not have co-pays but immigrants must pay a hefty surcharge as a condition of residency. Regardless, I’m happy to continue contributing to the UK economy, even with its 45% income tax and Brexit uncertainty.
Today, “social business” has reverted back to its original meaning within the non-profit/philanthropic community, while social media for business has folded into the broader scope of digital media and marketing. But brands still need help and the current hot term for the changes needed is “digital transformation.”
The key drivers of yesterday’s “social business” underpin today’s
digital transformation, having evolved over the past decade:
Mobile devices are more powerful than ever, but Moore’s law has plateaued and Apple and other manufacturers are seeing upgrade cycles slow down. A decade ago you might have been hanging on to your Blackberry for the full physical keyboard; today you’re hanging on to your iPhone 7 or 8 because new features aren’t enticing.
Broadband connectivity at home is widely available, leading to mass adoption of smart home technology. Searching online for knowledge used to mean opening a web browser on your desktop computer and typing words into a search engine. Now Alexa and Siri are a conversation away from completing your quest for knowledge.
The cost of physical data storage has gotten as close to zero as profitably possible. Conference tchotchke USB drives used to be so awesome, with 4 or even 8 MB of storage. Now you can get 5 GB of free cloud storage along with your mobile device that could land an Apollo spacecraft on the moon.
Millennials have not only entered the workplace; in many cases they’re running the show. The oldest millennials are almost 40 years old and carry expectations for their work and world around them, which may not align with institutions that are grounded in the values and beliefs of a different generation. The result has been cultural change; witness #MeToo and Brexit.
“It’s not information overload…it’s filter failure.” This groundbreaking insight from Clay Shirky in 2008 describes how the internet’s minimal cost for publishing and distribution resulted in too much irrelevant information online. Now we have filter failure of an entirely different sort – our newsfeeds are finely tuned to provide very narrow streams of content that are personalised, monetised, and politicised.
When we thought through social business design in 2008, the world was bottoming out in the Great Recession. Since then, we’ve seen a historic bull market run and collateralised debt obligations have returned. Fewer businesses are operating with a burning platform but those that are – e.g. UK retailers with widespread physical presences – discover that underinvestment in social business design was a mistake, as new market entrants are more closely connected to consumers and winning in the new world.
The open office plan has been exposed for its true purpose: cost-savings. New studies show that productivity and employee dissatisfaction drop in open floor plan offices. Startups didn’t have or want to spend money on the non-essentials, so they went with open space. Enterprises spin the open plan as collaborative and agile, but walk around an open office in New York or London and you’ll see the majority of workers wearing headphones – it’s because open offices kill productivity. Save money on hard costs, lose more on soft costs.
Long live email! Email used to be maligned as the place knowledge goes to die, but lives on due to regulatory requirements, budget constraints, and unwillingness to change. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Kakao, and Discord play an important supporting role, even if not officially supported by the IT department.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
So the world has gotten more wired, consumer and employee expectations have risen, and businesses face increasing pressure from new market entrants that face lower barriers to entry. Many brands now look to digital transformation as the solution, with dreams of quantum computing, self-driving cars, and augmented realities.
But let’s be honest. All executives know their companies could get better at digital, but individual compensation schemes and corporate shareholder expectations aren’t structured to allow for proper time and investment into the hard work and deep cost of a true transformation. It’s easy to say “transformation” but the hard work and political commitment to make investments can take years to become reality.
Thus, we end up with fragmented efforts across departments, whether marketing, product, or operations: a campaign with a great sharable hook, but no CRM; a product with so much potential for connectivity, but no integration; or a system “upgrade” that takes years to implement that nobody wants to use because their consumer experiences are years ahead.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Getting digital transformation correct requires a commitment to change. It requires a holistic approach to people, process, and technology. WHY and HOW it happens depend largely on strategy that’s specific to situation:
How do we create and sustain competitive advantage?
What unique capabilities do we have?
How can we manage financial commitments?
What do we do and not do?
What is our timing?
In the next ten years, no one will be surprised to see hundreds of well-known brands go into administration. Outdated business models obscure the critical changes needed to deliver the contemporary experiences that consumers, customers, and employees expect. The winners will understand how to invest early and judiciously, turn assets into advantage, and harness evolution in work, society, and technology.
I’ve lived in Central London for almost two years. During this time, I’ve experienced plenty of situations to dispel many of the preconceived notions I had about life in the UK. It’s not as if I’d never been here before; I spent a few months studying at a university in the mid-1990’s and have visited on dozens of business trips since then. But it’s one thing to visit — it’s another matter to live somewhere with no intention to leave, which changes your mindset and what matters on a daily basis.
Here’s a tip: tipping may not be expected, but it’s quite common.
When paying by cash in black cabs, the round up to the nearest £1 still applies. But who pays with cash anymore? Card readers are installed in almost all cabs and although I’ve encountered the rare cabbie who claims that his reader is broken, it’s the fastest way to pay. I haven’t seen any studies on whether riders are leaving more tips by using plastic, but it’s been proven in the US.
In restaurants, tipping has taken a more passive-aggressive approach. Many restaurants add an “optional 12.5% discretionary service charge” to the bill without asking. But does that actually go to the staff? Maybe, maybe not. So if you really want to do the right thing, ask for the optional charge to be removed and leave cash instead.
It seems that many of the service workers in Britain aren’t British.
A visitor might stop into a pub — perhaps a Red Lion, Black Horse, or Green Man — and seek to refresh oneself with a proper pint of basement-temperature cask ale. Sure, you’ll find a stout wooden bar and old musty carpet, but the drinks on offer? Most likely a lineup of AB InBev brands. The person serving you? Probably not British either.
According to Ben Judah’s 2016 book This Is London, “at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 percent are living illegally in the shadows.” A related book that dives deep into the world of low wage Britain is James Bloodworth’s Hired, which illuminates much of the tension that exists in pro-Brexit UK.
Inside this box is the biggest LEGO set ever produced — the UCS Millenium Falcon. But why is it wet and ripped? Because the the delivery person opened the outer and inner boxes, removing all of the valuable eBay-able minifigures!
In another lower stakes example, I ordered some socks and they were promised with free two-day delivery. When they weren’t delivered on the expected day, I called the delivery company. They said they I should request a refund from the brand and they’d file a claim against the driver. File a claim? Yes, because the driver was technically a contractor to the delivery company. Speaking of tension in low wage Britain, this issue represents one story of many that reflect the global capital vs. talent crisis that’s well underway.
Has brick-and-mortar retail been impacted? You bet.
Globalisation has made its mark here and any American would be hard pressed to feel homesick in London, with retail therapy available to soothe any sadness of what was left behind. Take a walk down Oxford Street and you’ll find Niketown, Disney, and The Gap, in between Selfridges, John Lewis, and Debenhams.
In smaller towns, you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner but you won’t find a pub on every corner either. Every high street seems to have estate agents, newsagents, a cafe or two, maybe a Tesco Express, some hair salons, and always betting shops. It’s Las Vegas in convenience-store format and the lure is addictive.
However, it’s important to not judge other cultures too quickly as “rude” or “inconsiderate” — rather, it’s more instructive to reflect on one’s personal inclinations and how that perspective shapes expectations of others.
There’s a lot of noise in the marketing world, with industry players from all angles talking about what’s now and what’s next. What that in mind, I have some thoughts on the hottest topics that will be big bets for the near future:
Once the stuff of science fiction, now part of the real world. Lots of commercial potential here, but how can this be best unlocked for consumers (and brands)? Current pathways to market are through tech companies, e.g. Amazon Alexa skills like Duplo stories or a Facebook chatbot. The real fun begins when digital is baked inside — which is a tough decision for companies to make, jumping off of a profitable s-curve into an unknown future. Tesla’s autopilot and Nest’s connected home give us hints, but for now we’ll just need to be satisfied with the A.I. we see in Westworld and hope that’s not what the world will become.
The evolution of human-computer interaction continues, from punch cards to keyboards, from mouse to touchscreen, and now from tactile to audio. The flip side of voice is that the microphones are always on, creating privacy concerns…but will consumers sell out their rights for convenience? Regardless of the outcome, it’s up to brands to do the right thing as this space evolves. Next step? Brain-to-computer connections. Yes, just like The Matrix.
Moore’s law may not hold true like it used to and feature sets within mobile devices certainly seem to be plateauing. However, wireless bandwidth still has plenty of room for improvement (as does last mile connectivity), so video will continue to increase in importance as infrastructure improves. What’s critically important now is content and editorial — with unyielding watch-time algorithms, brands must capture attention as quickly as possible and hold attention like an eight second championship bull ride.
Types of Reality
Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality are all taking shape as affordable hardware finds its way to market. Most content focuses on education and entertainment; once connectivity use cases become more prevalent, we will find ourselves increasingly living and working in a virtual world. Ready player one?
Our operating environment is constantly changing; however, the pace of change seems to be slowing down — at least that’s my perspective from returning to the client-side and seeing opportunities from this side of the table over the past couple of years. Most initiatives that were recently considered innovative, particularly social media marketing, have moved into the mainstream. Today, the foundations are being established for a new wave of enterprise-shifting digital trends that require significant assets to create and capture value.