Who’s The Boss?

When it comes to decision-making in a traditional family, normally the elderly (parents or grandparents) would have a more impactful say than the youngsters (children). It is no longer the case! Don Tapscott on “Grown Up Digital” witnessed the changing roles right at the heart of his relationship with his below-ten children. Through his own observation of how his kids have master the activities on the Internet and made use of them to strengthen their understanding of this world, he found a greater say of his children in making up decisions concerning not only themselves but also their parents. Strangely, the parents seem to be influenced by their children, or even looking for them for solutions. His book has triggered me to re-look at my relationship with my parents.

When I was preparing an itinerary for my upcoming trip to Japan with my parents, my mom sent me a link through my Facebook Messenger of a site providing tips on travel to Hakone – a tourist spot. To my biggest surprise, it wasn’t in Vietnamese (the only language that my mom knows), nor English. It’s in Japanese. I replied with awe asking her how she understood the site, she said, “Google translated”, as if this was such a common sense, daughter. Until then I knew my mom’s Internet savvy has leaped a great deal. All of my mother’s friends at this age probably depend entirely upon their children or the tour agency for all the arrangement. Unlike others, my mom has been actively joining forums and researching all over the Internet. Once the sites are in foreign languages, of course, Google Translate would be the savior for her (despite its problematic comprehension!). Later on, she should eagerly share with me all the info and then asked me for clarification, verification and final decisions on the plan. There are two points that I realize after this: (1) My mom – a baby boomer – recognizes the significance of the Internet in searching for and collecting information and (2) She trusted me – a millennial – with complete confidence on assessing and organizing these info found on the Internet.

To me, this can be explained by 3 hypotheses:

  1. Losing face: as the penetration of the Internet affects not only young people who always need to catch up with their peers on all the latest technologies or information around them, it had the same effects on the older ones. Seeing their kids becoming experts in the field that they are no one but “newbies” has encouraged them to discover themselves.
  2. Losing power: the Internet no doubts empowers anyone regardless of their age to change and improve their daily lives. The winners would be the ones who master how to search, to use, to arrange, to collect info it provides. Thus, older generations are losing their power to the youngsters by letting deciding on all the matters. Catching up with technologies is the pointer to re-gain their lost dominance.
  3. The mental skills: the kids are growing digitally, almost every of their daily activities are now connected to the Internet; it is their window to the world and their facility of making sense of this world. According to Tapscott, from the early age, children have developed the mental skills to search on the Internet, to navigate, to analyze, to synthesize, to remember, to assess the info, to scan to set apart what’s important from what’s not. All those are acquired through times, not from a single day. Thus, it comes to a point when kids are more advanced than adults in providing the correct information, more comprehensive than those from a single book. Unsurprisingly, the parents trusted the kids on these matters.

Seeing the situation turning upside down brings lots of lessons into marketing and understanding customers more deeply. To me, it would be an interesting scenario when it’s likely that older people would catch up on Internet literacy and all have the same capacity for searching and giving opinions, who would be the boss now?


Monetization of Personalities

I have written some time ago about the establishment of different identities in the online world. In the article, I have argued about how Internet has changed the way people representing themselves in public sphere which social media is regarded as. The need to display one’s true self is gradually overshadowing the perception about SNSs as a tool to subconsciously build of a preferred self. Recently, I’ve got a chance to observe something much clearer and more interesting, the monetization of personal social media accounts, or in other words, your personalities.

Once my internship’s supervisor has told me about when you are meeting a client, it’s not that you are selling tangible products or services, you are actually selling your personalities. The idea stuck me hard and made me think a lot about professional relationships in which likeability can be a real deciding factor of a deal. But what I’d like to mention here is the transformation of this idea into mass commercialisation of online identities. People are trying to make themselves widely known, and the benefits cultivated are beyond personal gratification but financial gains.

The quantification of popularity into measurable level of online engagement (i.e. the number of followers, likes, comments, shares from personal posts) has been conveniently facilitating the phenomenon, making it easier to spot the influencers or opinion leaders. Opinion leaders love to express their views, followers like or even admire what opinion leaders have said and brand managers adore the fact that they can approach and influence influencers. Brands thus are being mentioned into seemingly personal content, some even so sophisticated that some can easily mistaken it as earned media. The best part is that the usual negativity associated with advertising is eliminated to a certain extent.

Nonetheless, from the social point of view, the downside of this is arguably the loss of authentic content which is meant to convey someone’s self. Contradictions coming from the initial impetus for social media to grow profoundly is to connect each others deeply by encouraging self revelation. Yet, personality as a commodity is somehow distorting the types of information exposed by users. Making yourself standing out involves selectively and carefully crafted details rather than speaking-from-my-heart kinds of info. Personal purposes when using social media is now giving way to a more professional motive, consequently, it’s not about expressing oneself but building an image that is appealing and receptive to the mass.

I find it quite funny that while writing those lines, there is a small part in me whining to myself asking whether I should find a way to make myself more popular on social media. Of course, there are some concerns following that thought, (1) do I have something really special to make it happen? (2) am I doing it because of the desire to be known and acknowledged or because of the monetary rewards? (3) will I need to trade off too much of my privacy in order to achieve this goal? And since those haven’t been cleared yet, I chose to continue to observe this digital world then 😉

People & Machine

So it has been a long time since the last time I wrote. It was a tough day today. Working at a technology firm in a marketing role brought me quite a number of thrilling experience, the ones that people most often say about as pressure, some other may call them challenges or learning lessons. For better or for worse, I always believe it will shape me in the way I want it to be.

Surprisingly, even in the IT industry, the challenge that I felt most difficult to handle doesn’t come from the work itself but the people you are collaborating with, be it external or internal partners. It sounds really ironic in the first place but at the end of the day, I guess it makes perfect sense. My best friend always told me about how hard it is to deal with people, not machine. I used to doubt about it, not because I don’t believe it but because with my inexperience, I always wonder how it’s going to be. And now, amid the stress and ongoing projects I am working on, I’ve just realised that what consumes my energy isn’t the numbers I need to look at, neither the system I’m learning on, it’s the people that I need to handle.  I think the core elements of the differences lies within predictability and controllability.

Machine is predictable whereas humans are way too complicated. If someone required me to master a new program/system/numerical analysis in a short period, I guess I can deliver them to a certain extent. It’s not the case when someone asks me to work or to get along with a stranger/business partner/agency. You will never fully, truly, wholeheartedly understand a person’s heart and mind. They both operate and function in unique ways that tell each individual apart from the others. And for each decision they make , it’s the combination of both mental and emotional processing, which can heighten the complex of any situations.

Machine is made by humans so in a way, it is controlled by human, by which I mean it’s a big problem if you want to “control” someone. The word doesn’t limit itself to its “influence” meaning, it can be anything referring to working with people, e.g.: collaboration, liaison, coordination. Understanding the others makes it easier to work with them, however, the more important question is how to understand a person. The obstacle is the same as above, the complexity of an individual, thus, there is no single method applicable to all.

Just some points I want to pour out before other challenges coming soon. So after all, interpersonal relationships are still the headache for anyone in the working world regardless of any industries. Apparently, it’s our job to cope with it.

Rise of the Planet of the Images

I am too lazy to read! Yes, it’s true. I have quite a number of social media accounts and follow various news sites so that’s why whenever I visit any of these sites, scrolling down the screen, what usually caught my attention is not lengthy text-based posts/tweets/shares/updates but catchy images with intriguing captions. A picture is worth a thousand words, in the online world, it is in the attention earned and shares generated or even buzz created that go beyond the worthiness of the content conveyed.

Image, image, and image

Visual consumption is no doubt on the rise with lots of SNSs dedicated to image sharing such as Instagram (more than 200 millions Instagrammers1) or Pinterest (70 millions users2). While the former is famous for its filter functions for personal photos, the latter is more focusing on lifestyles and creatives categorized into boards and pins. Imagery crafted exclusively to share on social media are being consumed and enjoyed by Internet users around the world.

The two giants of social media, Twitter and Facebook have been always the favorite place for visually descriptive content. Twitter gained its popularity in the first place thanks to the unique 140-word microblogging format that is believed to provide users with enough details among the already overwhelming information landscape. The company has made an announcement recently to include inline image preview, allowing users to see full images in stream without clicking on them3. Likewise, Facebook has been improving its functions to make photo-sharing more enjoyable, such as allowing face-recognition4 and album collaboration5. With a great deal of info pushed to users everyday, short and succinct updates will triumph in the race for attention seeking. Yet, how to make these small pieces of info dominant in the small screens of mobile phones or narrow interfaces of SNSs is a more valid question. Interesting photos with clear expressions are always of interests to majority of netizens, consequently, it is common that users are now passing on the messages by picking a relevant image relating to a particular story.

The ubiquitousness of mobile phones and other digital gadgets have further facilitated the increased favor towards online visualization, making oneself the publisher and photojournalist of their own content. However, businesswise, being able to curate the images is not enough to become successful publishers,

The fun factor

$50 million recently raised is the latest success from Buzzfeed, the infamous entertainment and news site is now valued at $850 million with 150 million monthly visitors6. BuzzFeed’s core business is leveraging on the power of social media to exclusively create content to be consumed and shared on social networks. Its uniqueness lies in the use of hilarious, exaggerating, celebrity-inspired and gossip-prone GIF images, with which we are pretty much familiar through those titles such as “19 things that happen to girls with boys’ names” or  “23 celebs who prove that short guys are super hot too.” The creativity and fun factors have been going viral tremendously since its inception, helping the company to grow rapidly with new hires and more innovatively catchy content.

A younger newcomer in this trend of visual consumption is 9Gag, which has proven its success by a 78 million global unique visitors and more than 1 billion page views per month7. Unlike Buzzfeed, 9Gag is a platform to create and share amusing user-generated images, videos, GIFs, known as memes, creating a subculture of casual jokes spreading through social networks.

These are just two examples of successful company which has built their own kingdoms of millions visitors around the world with unique cultures and disruptive online content, challenging the way traditional online papers produced their news. The common element between these two sites and many other platforms is the fun factor, which is increasingly favored by Internet users as main sources of entertainment. Consequently, the heightened inclination towards casual, hilarious and creative content manufactured through videos and imagery are attracting attention from many marketers to alter the formats of their social communications and publishers to catch up with the trend.


1. http://blog.instagram.com/post/80721172292/200m
2. http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pinterest-stats/#.VABB6TKSyDo
3. http://www.fastcompany.com/3025417/work-smart/10-big-recent-changes-to-twitter-facebook-and-linkedin-you-should-know-about
4. http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/09/facebook-colocation-and-business-recognition
5. http://www.engadget.com/2013/08/26/facebook-adds-shared-photo-albums-for-collaborative-memory-maki
6. http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/08/11/buzzfeed_raises_50_million_jonah_peretti_is_building_a_viral_media_empire.html
7. http://aws.amazon.com/solutions/case-studies/9gag

We are all on the go

Aged 59 and 56 respectively, my dad and mom are by no means Internet savvy as compared to the young generations, yet, they are undeniably considered receptive to this new concept of online communications, which is itself such fascinating news to me.  It may sound a little odd at first but if looking in the context of a developing country, this definitely brings a whole new meaning to the Internet in Vietnam. Not until both of them owned smartphones and tablets, did I recognize their activeness on the Internet. Previously, my mom only knows how to call me via Skype and chat with me through Facebook Messenger, but now she brings her iPad with her everywhere to take photos, uploading them onto her wall and to keep in touch with me. On the other hand, my dad hardly contacted me through any types of online platforms except for calling me directly, now he is using Viber to call and message me (not to mention putting up his travelling photos on Facebook). Both are using their smartphones and iPads to read newspapers (and playing games!!!). My parents could be classified as “Baby Boomers” according to the consumer groups marketers were trying to label and categorize based on the years and environments they were brought up. Unsurprisingly, descriptions about those baby boomers are centered around pessimism and skepticism over media and institutions as a result of economic struggles, thus adoption of new technologies are quite often lagged behind1. To me, it was quite true but only until the technological booming of the 21st century, particularly with the introduction of Internet and smartphones. The convenience from smart devices have swept away all the initial cynicism, created more densely populated nodes of networked society with even old generation catching up with the Generation Alpha.

It has been predicted that 4.55 billion out of 7.1 billion world population will use mobile phone in 2014 with 1.75 million smartphone users, surpassing the 1 billion mark in 2012. By the end of the forecast period, smartphone penetration will reach somewhere near 50% of all the mobile phone users2. Together with the increased affordability of mobile broadband (3G/4G), these figures opened a new era of proactively targeting customers almost anytime and anywhere. The fact that mobile phones or other tablet devices have become increasingly inseparable to customers’ daily activities is perhaps the latest trend that any organizations can leverage on for their e-marketing mix.

The good news for many businesses is that mobiles and tablets have become favorite purchasing platforms for customers. Nielsen found out 87% of mobile owners use their devices to shop with both men and women equally active3. Thus, targeting customers on these preferred platforms is one of the strategic moves to fulfill marketing objectives, which often refer to specific increase in acquisitions/installations/sign-ups. M-commerce today accounts for a lion share in mobile markets and is expected to rise significantly.

Website adjustments and apps

The very first thing for mobile marketing is to make sure that the companies’ websites are compatible with smart gadgets. Technically, majority of websites should have mobile versions that can work well will all operating systems and clean interfaces that can support small screens. These mobile-friendly sites are necessary for businesses to facilitate access from users and clearly communicate their products or services. Users are on the go so catching their attention is way more difficult as compared to the already challenging desktop content. In addition, Internet speed is generally slower on mobile than on desktop so fast loading and neat interface are the most basic steps in building website for mobile marketing.

A survey in 2013 pointed out that 80% of mobile time was spent on apps4. Not just a mobile version but an app is a pivotal strategy that any companies should adopt in order to catch up with the changes in consumers’ behaviors. Now the doors to many businesses are shortened to just clicks away on users’ mobile screens. What’s more? Majority of users’ data, purchasing behaviors, unfinished purchases and so on can be captured and analyzed to create complete consumer profiles.

Mobile advertising

The skyrocketing growth in mobile content consumption has been an attractive signal for advertisers to spend more money on mobile advertising. Social networking and content sites are constantly adapted to boost its capacity of online space for ads with minimum interference into users’ experience.

BBC World News study showed that mobile ads are twice as effective as desktop among general population and four times more effective among affluent customers5. Likewise, in another research, consumers showed positive reactions with 80% downloading an app, 67% visiting the website, 52% visiting the store, 45% locating the advertiser on the map, 37% calling after seeing mobile ads. The results imply an increased acceptance towards mobile ads and an untapped opportunity for many advertisers6. In 2013, revenue from mobile ads went up by 105%, accounting for $18 billion in sales and it is predicted to continue growing, up 75% to $31.5 billion by the end of 2014. During the same period, marketers also increase more shares for mobile ads, expecting to make up one quarter of expanding total digital spend7.

With all the programming modified and sites restructured to accommodate more ad space, plus digital spend loosened, advertisers will undoubtedly enter the race for customers’ attention on mobiles and tablets, leaving many businesses with the question of “left behind.”

Mobile Messaging

“95 out of 100 of your customers who have opted into your text messaging program OPEN and READ your mobile messages within 3 mins,” shared James Citron, CEO of Mogreet, on Forbes8. Considering the intimacy associated with mobile phone, text messaging is one of the fastest way to promote new products to customers, ensuring high opening rates for many marketing campaigns. The ubiquity of smartphones promises a diversity of messages that go beyond 160 characters, incorporating rich-media texts or many different marketing activities into the strategies.

The tactics mentioned above  are definitely limited with regards to the unlimited possibilities of mobile marketing. Just like how feature phones have become an important aspect of daily interaction, smart gadgets will turn out to be the must-have items, embracing more types of online activities and communications for not only young people but also old generations. For any marketers, the focus should be always placed on constant changes of consumer behaviors on smart devices as well as continuous technological innovations going along with them.

1. http://www.socialmarketing.org/newsletter/features/generation2.htm
2. http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536
3. http://www.internetretailer.com/2014/02/20/consumer-internet-use-shifts-pcs-smartphones
4,6. http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/infographic-2013-mobile-growth-statistics/
5. http://www.thedrum.com/news/2014/02/20/mobile-advertising-more-twice-effective-desktop-bbc-world-news-study-shows
7. http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/19/global-mobile-ad-spend-jumped-105-in-2013-on-track-for-31-5b-in-2014-led-by-google/
8. http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2013/03/04/pulling-back-the-curtain-on-text-message-mobile-marketing/

Dare you not respond me quickly?

For any marketing practitioners, Internet opens an era of real-time tracking and reaching out to potential customers, which, in users’ dictionary, is the ability to approach their brands anywhere and anytime to solve their problems or simply to inquire about the services and products.  With the blossoms of platforms that organizations are using to maintain their online presence, the pools of prospects can be hit at high volume and frequency, and at the same time, it poses quite a number of new challenges for marketers.

My sister booked separate online flight tickets with AirAsia months ago for a trip with my mom. Since one of the flights was canceled, she needed to rearrange the schedule for her way back. What surprised her most was that she couldn’t change it online, she unavoidably must go through steps of contacting the airline to change the itineraries of both people, which was much more time-consuming and tedious than she had thought. To her biggest disappointment, the airline didn’t have a phone line to support her case so submitting an e-form is what she did initially, but it took at least 5 business working days to get a response. At the fifth day, she couldn’t wait so she used the second method called Live Chat. And in order to get through to the customer service representative (CSR), you would be placed in a virtual waiting room for about 30-45 minutes with around 100 people. After talking to the CSR, she received a call from the airline on the same date, they changed her flight, but unluckily they didn’t change my mother’s flight even though the case was always explained clearly every time it was explained to a CSR.  So after queuing two more times, filling a feedback form and not hearing anything from the airliner, now she decided to push it further, it was when she was writing a long and harsh comment on its Fanpage on Facebook, they sent my mom’s new itinerary in time before she hit the comment button.

Gone with the days when visiting the companies’ offices was the only way to get your problems solved. Now we are living in the digital age which implies a high demand of everything digital. My sister’s story reveals not only the increasing expectation of instantaneity and optimization of process when dealing with customers.

The most influenced by this changing customer behaviors are probably customer service and marketing. Different customers are accessing the companies in different ways and through different platforms, as such, customer service department must always address to the complexity by building access points throughout the purchasing process. Some are innovating their sales support line by incorporating new methods of serving customers such as online chat or automatic answering system. It seems that everything they are doing is right, yet, only one thing wrong here, they doesn’t take into account the capability to attend customers in the fastest way possible. Users are getting used to the fact that everything they want or desire will be at their finger tips with new technologies and any organizations doesn’t adjust their businesses to cater to these needs will be drowned in the sea of almost similar services. For the AirAsia case, they are building multiple platforms, but it doesn’t prove their well-preparedness to truly transform customers’ experience. So my thought is simply if we can’t do it, then go with the old-school way until we master the notion of speed among new generations of customers.

Similar the customer support, marketing departments must also be aware of the gratification gained from instantaneity. Developing multiple online profiles are one of the easiest ways to update customers immediately about any breaking news or daily offers but this convenience doesn’t come at no costs. Today customers are empowered with the ability to share and to feedback on companies’ products and services on various social platforms (the fact that I am sitting here and writing about my sister’s experience has been one of it!). The danger of SNSs is the possible epidemic arisen from any intentional or unintentional posts. People love to be updated and love to be shared so that’s how it works in this networked world and until now, you probably figure it out how negative the companies’ images may be viewed by their prospects. The damage may go far beyond what you imagine about things that could possibly happen in the first place.

Technology is undoubtedly everything impactful, but simultaneously a double-edged sword for any businesses who wish to enter this digital marathon for customers’ satisfaction resulting from instant gratification.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch

Recently, a friend told me that he’s so annoyed about the way Youtube works. He understands that as a free platform for users, it needs to generate revenue to sustain itself in the long run, but in some cases, these TVCs are shown not only before each video but now even during the video itself and it is obviously something really distracting for him. So what did he do? He simply logged out of his Youtube account and continued watching as normal. This way, he cannot benefit from the superior features of suggestions or history access, but he seemingly took the burden to watch a video continually rather than getting irritated. His story intrigues me in two aspects, how many of us are truly aware of the costs we need to pay to use these platforms, and even if we are aware of them, how can we react?

We come to use these online products such as emails, SNSs, search engines, video platforms, news, and so on naturally as our desire to be connected and updated in this world. Sometimes it is simply because we realize the useful and amazing features associated with these services that truly transform our ways of working and entertaining in a more effective and less time-consuming fashion. From a business perspective, there is always something that these companies will utilize to generate profits for its continued growth. The answer is clear for many of us, users’ information for advertising purpose. The bigger pools of active users they can build, the more attractive these platforms become for advertisers.

According to IAB, in 2013, the total revenues for Internet advertising reached an all-time high of 42.8 million dollars in the US alone, surpassing other traditional media such as broadcasting, cable TV, newspaper, magazine or radio1. It was also predicted 121 billion US dollars will be accumulated for total online ad spend worldwide this year, 2014, or almost one quarter of the total ad spend2. The promising outlook of online advertising is no doubts thanks to the increasing number of Internet users, which leads to the shift of enterprises’ strategies towards digital marketing. As expected, multiple changes are being made in the programming as well as the interface of sites in order to improve its ability to display ads without interfering users’ browsing experience, but more importantly, to mine users’ data at a more sophisticated level. Information is collected, analyzed, measured and leveraged on to help advertisers reach their prospects with high accuracy, promising to deliver targeted ROIs.

From a user perspective, accessibility and connectedness are enjoyed at the expense of selling their own personal data. They know and they should know before clicking on the “Accept” button to set up an online account, I just wonder how many of us really read that part of “Terms and Conditions” of how our data will be used. For self-conscious users, at this point of realization, they keep looking for “Opt-out” button but maybe to their disappointment, it is non-existent. So what probably can we do? For majority of us, including me, I guess we will continue to use these services. And just like how we accept that our data may be exploited by third parties, we internalize the ads appearing in front of our eyes as a matter of fact, an inseparable experience with our online activities. With more and more online space deployed for advertising, users train themselves to become more tolerant, similarly to how we are now expecting a TVC every 15 minutes of our favorite TV shows. The only difference here is traditional media do not know and basically cannot control viewers’ data, on the contrary, online advertising taps on the supreme capacity of programming algorithms to track customers on everything they do and everywhere they go on the Internet. The convenience of the Internet has outweighed its downsides in ways that users today take it for granted and endure the inconvenience without any questions asked.

My friend’s reaction is maybe just an extreme example of users’ disapproval, I guess for many of us, “ads and too much ads” is still not the serious case right now. But for me, it doesn’t mean these acceptance and tolerance should be abused by tech companies as at the end of the day, providing seamless and positive experience to users is the long-term way to go. On our side, as Internet users, we should get ourself educated and be aware of this phenomenon, for every of our online actions, it will be recorded to serve advertisers’ operations. For now, the question isn’t revolving around whether we know or we do not know, but how receptive we are to personal data usage and to which extent those organizations can make advantage of our info for business purposes.