When you switch jobs, what do you do with all of your old business cards?
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.
TBVSC (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.
Bicester Village outside of Oxford is the second most-visited destination in England by Chinese tourists (the first is Buckingham Palace). Guests can purchase using Alipay, train signs and announcements include Arabic and Mandarin, and the average international visitor spends over £1,000.
If you’re involved in this space (luxury, omnichannel, retail, international), I’d love to hear from you!
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.
WHERE WE’VE BEEN
Ten years ago, I wrote the post coining the term “social business” to describe a growth opportunity for brands beyond social media strategies at that time. Dion Hinchcliffe and I eventually wrote a book to unpack the concepts, illustrated in this graphic:
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.
- Online sharing has become commonplace and some people have made a living out of the practice. Ask kids today what they want to be when they grow up and many will answer, “a YouTuber.” Social media isn’t just for sharing consumer service frustrations and conference updates; it’s how the world gets its breaking political, economic, and entertainment news.
- 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.
- Not-so-special deliveries.
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.
- Sorry, some things haven’t changed, thank you.
One element of stereotypical British culture is its politeness and a recent study claims Britons say thank you more than anyone in the world. After spending a week driving 2,394 miles through nine different European countries, I absolutely noticed the difference in interactions when returning across the channel.
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.
- Personal data
- 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.
UPDATE: This post was originally written in January 2018 and GDS hired a new CEO in November 2018. She responds to my experience in the comments below and describes actions that she has taken in response as of June 2019.
Are you planning to attend a GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit in North America or Europe this March? If so, you won’t see me there. However, GDS sales people are informing prospective sponsors and attendees that I will be attending and looking to network and hire service partners. Nope.
Multiple prospects have asked me about this and it’s just not true. Here’s a screenshot from a sales webinar, showing proof of the lie. No surprise, they messed up the logo.
GDS, stop with the fake news. I have contacted your sales people about this blatant misrepresentation and they refuse to acknowledge the situation. Not surprising, as it appears that this is business as usual.
If you are considering sponsoring or attending this event, it might be worth your time and budget. But if you expect to connect with a specific attendee, it’s worth the effort to check references before committing. A simple search and inquiry on LinkedIn will give you plenty of information.
For anyone who’s been lied to by GDS and wants to hear about my digital agenda for 2018, here are some initiatives my team is working on:
- Continuing to expand the features and functionality of LEGO Life, our child-friendly social building app
- Inspiring parents of preschoolers and toddlers with content that helps make playtime more fun
- Bringing more adult fan creations to life, like our soon-to-be-released Ship in a Bottle
- Growing the world’s most subscribed YouTube brand channel
- Delivering the best consumer service in the galaxy
- And a lot of other stuff that I would never share publicly
If you’re visiting Austin this March, enjoy. If it’s your first visit, here are some things you might want to know.
For twenty years, I wore the same mix of what most white-collar workers wear to work: “business casual” on most days and a suit once in a while, depending on the day’s meetings. Maybe even “casual casual” when going into the office on a weekend, when few people would be around and the air conditioning turned off.
In 2014, I moved to Korea and started working for Samsung Group, which has a rigid corporate culture (by Western standards) and dress code to match. I started off wearing grey, navy, and black suits five days a week in the middle of monsoon season, the kind of weather that leaves you dripping sweat down the insides of your suit sleeves and dress slacks. Most people would look forward the office air conditioning at this point, but Samsung adheres to government energy guidelines and its office buildings will not be cooled lower than 26c (79f). Moreover, every day feels like I’m getting dressed for a wedding or a funeral, which is a weird mindset to carry into work. I’m not Big Shaq. Man was hot.
The weather got to me, along with my dry cleaning bill. When the seasons turned, I had to plan ahead for the next round of summer sauna. Well, Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the same outfit every day. I read about Obama and Zuckerberg doing the same. So I decided to simplify things and when I returned to the U.S. for the holidays, I bought five white shirts, five blue shirts, and five pairs of jeans. Two colors of shirt? They look the same to my dogs, good enough for me.
Starting in January 2015, I started wearing the same thing to work (and work functions) every day. Pictures or it didn’t happen?
March 2015, the seventh year in a row and last time I spoke at SXSW in Austin
May 2015, work dinner in Dubai
June 2015, on stage at Cannes Lions
June 2015, at the Samsung seeing eye dog school outside of Seoul
September 2015, Global Network Team photo at Cheil
March 2016, SXSW
October 2016, at LEGO in London
May 2017, spark.me in Montenegro
June 2017, internal digital conference in Billund, using Google Tilt Brush
Any lessons learned?
- Like other people who’ve done this, I can tell you that it keeps everything simple. Fewer decisions to make; it’s easier to get out the door in the morning or pack for business trips.
- The same clothes don’t fit so well if you put on weight — I don’t need a scale to tell me that I should eat fewer bagels.
- I do try to wear a different pair of shoes every day. I once met a podiatrist who told me that shoes need a day to regain their cushioning. So I’ve rotated every day ever since.
- If people care about what I wear to work, no one’s saying anything about it. I haven’t heard a word about this for three years and counting!
Expat living in London is easy. Almost everyone speaks English, you can watch Westworld on Sky Atlantic, and Ocado brings groceries right to your front door. However, this isn’t enough for some people. In which case Starbucks inhabits every other corner of the city and NFL GamePass allows you to watch “American” football teams like the New England Patriots, live every Sunday evening. The incessant spread of capitalism has created a commercial monoculture in which an expat can find the comforts of home, until realising that the sameness is terribly boring.
Of course, not everything in the UK is the same as the US, beyond the typically cited differences: driving on the left instead of right side of the road, replacing many z’s with s’s, Boris Johnson’s hair vs. Donald Trump’s hair, et al. If you haven’t lived in the UK, you might not know that:
- You often pay for consumer service calls.
I needed to change the mailing address on my British Airways Executive Club membership from New York to London. This wasn’t possible online due to technical difficulties on BA’s side. After exhausting all free options, I called the service center. About £15 later, my account address was finally changed. “Business rate numbers” can cost you 6p to 51p.
- You can usually withdraw money from any ATM without a fee.
On a more consumer-friendly note, when you have a UK bank account you can withdraw money from almost any UK ATM without paying additional bank fees. This is unlike the US where you might go to a bank’s ATM advertising “free” withdrawals, only to have your own bank charge you a $1 or $2 service charge. I was surprised to find that even the ATMs at Heathrow Airport — which seems like a place ripe for price-gouging — were indeed free of service fees.
- The tax year starts on 6 April.
The current tax year runs from 6 April 2016 to 5 April 2017. Not the calendar year. It’s been this way since 1800.
- You need an annual £145.50 ($180) TV license.
You can check whether you need one, but basically if you intend on watching a moving picture on any screen, you need to pay £145.50 every year to the government. While this may seem odd to Americans who are used to watching PBS for free (and taking this for granted), the visibility of this fee seems to make many UK residents defensive and proud of the diverse programming the BBC offers.
- Mobile phone pricing is competitive.
I pay £60 ($75) per month for a wireless data/text/minutes plan for four iPhones that cost $160 from AT&T for similar service levels. The UK and US have roughly the same number of large carriers, but regulation seems to have reduced prices more in the UK consumer’s favor.
- Transferwise is the best option for normal people to transfer money across borders.
Despite the number of Britons who live and work abroad, banks still charge hefty fees on foreign currency transfers. Some of these are transparent (e.g. “wire fee”), but there are absolutely hidden costs buried in unfavorable exchange rates. I’ve found that Transferwise is the best option for getting rates close to public quotes, wth clearly outlined fees.
- Contactless payments are a thing.
In the U.S., it appears that chip-based credit card transactions have finally caught on. However, some retailers I visited over the holidays had handmade signs over their chip readers indicating that cards could only be swiped. But just when the US seems to be catching up, the UK is already far ahead as chip-and-PIN payments are ubiquitous and contactless is accepted almost everywhere you’d need it — the Underground and fast food outlets, in particular.
Life as an expat is full of looking for similarities and appreciating differences; for Americans, life in the UK can lull one into a false sense of familiarity, which is when frustration or something a pleasant surprise usually finds you in situations like these.
In mid-2014, I left Austin to work and live as an expat in Seoul. In late 2015, I repatriated to New York. Now, it’s time to start a new chapter of the minority report, this time across the Atlantic Ocean in London.
I’m taking on a new role at LEGO, leading digital consumer engagement. I grew up with LEGO and everyone I meet has positive impressions of the brand. Starting today, I’ll be leading our global team to help connect with individuals and build the brand across digital channels.
So we Brenter in the midst of Brexit, trading pennies for pence, AT&T for BT, Chelsea for Chelsea, and so on. Let Chapter 3 commence.