Dashboard it!

First published on LinkedIn in July 2018

Today we dashboard everything, democratizing data that was once only intelligible to those with hardwired statistical brains.  Data is empowering and dashboards, particularly those that present real-time data have enabled business leaders to react quickly and make immediate decisions – brilliant if your organisation is agile, frustrating if it is still locked in the legacy of annual plans and budgets. And it is not just work that has benefited from digitalization and dashboards, how we shop and play are getting the same treatment; Our banks dashboard our statements, just in case we didn’t know we were not living within our means, and our various activity trackers will tell us when we are not going into the red too.

In my #50_5zero challenge my performance data has been coming from; #Garmin, #MyFitnessPal, #Strava and #JustGiving; calorie counting and daily weigh-ins on my Garmin Smart Scale, KM and Kudos on the road or #WattBike, HRV, FTP and VO2 Max, all focused on my breaking the 5 hour barrier for 100m/160km on a bicycle and then there is 50% improvement in fundraising target. My relationship with dashboards has highlighted the positives and negatives of the transparency they bring, I now check my performance stats more often than social media and it’s not always good.


How many of you checked out a dashboard as soon as you arrived at work this morning?

I am sure that the most brilliant leaders will find smarts ways to inspire their organisations as real-time data fueled dashboards remove the need for reporting; monthly, weekly or daily. Of course, the CEO who is being measured by the financial community on their value delivery every quarter will be able to see the issues and opportunities almost instantly, the challenges of long-term strategy and short-term objectives will not go away, but might get easier to balance. My concern is with the managers, particularly those that manage, in their hands a dashboard is a dangerous tool and far from empowering. How dashboards will impact mental health in the workplace is a question we will be asking soon.

This week I am posting as part of my 50_5zero challenge, drawing learnings from that experience in the hope that I might inspire some of the people that have read this far to click here and find about more about my challenge.


Back to Blog, Back to Reality

My blog has not been touched for almost two years, easy when you are very busy and I have been. It’s not that I forget it or stopped having ideas, it’s just that I didn’t have time and at those moments when I might have had time, I did not have the energy.

A little over two years ago, I switched roles, saying goodbye to agency leadership to become a client, a Chief Marketing Officer. It was a big role and I was poacher turned gamekeeper, I had to learn about a new industry and navigate their legacy in B2B marketing. It was exhausting, but I’ve learned more than I ever imagined.  But my new reality has come with the perspective gained in taking some proper time off.

It’s been 25 years since I last did that, and it has been wonderful. This has not required anything radical, I’ve not been on a search to find myself or found faith; that would be a true miracle given today’s new world order. I’ve just been living target free. Business is driven by targets; those that we achieve and those that don’t, as well as those we carry on our backs. The real-time nature of business today and data transparency makes that constant pressure and living without targets has been my great cleansing or at least that is what I thought. The reality was that I enjoyed not having a target imposed on me, but I was very quick to set myself new targets, both personal and those that meant competition with others.

We all now understand that our mental health is as important as physical health and I have been lucky to afford the luxury of giving focus to both. I’ve heard ‘luxury’ defined as something you cannot afford and there is some truth in that here, but I have learned enough about the real me to view it as an investment. If you ever get that opportunity take it.

All I want for Christmas is a virtual twin

Is anyone happy to predict what might be coming in 2017?  I suspect not. 2016 was full of unexpected surprises and is best epitomized by the new Toblerone, it still has peaks, but the gaps between them are bigger and more divisive, just like our politicians.

The nation is split over which retailer has made the best Christmas TV spot, M&S or Aldi, but it has not stopped shoppers from shopping. John Lewis might not have made the best TV ad for the festive season, but it did have the biggest ever week in its trading history this Black Friday. And the only prediction I can safely make for 2017 is that the retail event will be back next year. Black Friday has usurped the traditional ‘must have toys’ list and is fast becoming the official start of the festive shopping season spree. Next year we will see greater competition for shoppers and greater focus on their three budgets; time, money and frustration.

For the first time this year I received digital calendar invites for Black Friday events. Intrusive yes, but an indication of how far retailers will go to cut through the promotional clutter to get time with the WIGIG conscious shopper.

This Black Friday also saw a 12% rise in online spending according to retail analysts IMRG. Shoppers will always want value, but that is no longer simply price x quality. They want simplicity and convenience and at the moment that is being delivered (literally) by going online.

Of course, there are many retailers who still understand the vital role of physical stores as environments where shoppers can touch, feel and experience their product assortment and many more that will complain that their stores have simply become showrooms. But the online world is changing, today all the talk might be of the ‘internet of things’ but it is rapidly becoming about experience. The Internet of Experience.

VR and AR are two technologies that people are predicting will transform the shopping experience and we have seen many retailers experiment with solutions in 2016. John Lewis is bringing its Christmas TV story to life in store right now with VR, whilst DS Automobiles showcased a solution at the 2016 Geneva Auto Show which could have a more everyday application in the car buying process. I have no doubt that this will continue to evolve and the virtual showroom will become a permanent fixture both online and in-store for many retailers.

img_0057But perhaps the most interesting application of VR for retailers is not in enriching customer experience, but in helping them in their internal process. There are more and more retailers and brand owners that have VR cave solutions to help packaging design and merchandising programs to deliver the perfect shelf and perfect shop. The next generation of technology will mean this no longer has to be a linear process based on an idealised store layout, instead key stakeholders will be able to come together and collaborate around a virtual twin of an actual store and do that in real time by connecting it to digital shelf labels in a physical store, as is possible with the 3DEXPERIENCE Twin. I’m not going to make any predictions for 2017, but if I was a retailer, a virtual twin would be at the top of my list for Father Christmas.

I’m not going to make any predictions for 2017, but if I was a retailer, a virtual twin would be at the top of my list for Father Christmas.

Why Buster the Boxer is not a winner

This article was first published by Retail Week on 11th November 2016

John Lewis’ festive ads have become a national institution and yesterday’s reveal of the new #BusterTheBoxer commercial heralded the start of the Christmas retail frenzy. These campaigns have also had a significant influence on the John Lewis brand and business, something you’re reminded of each time you watch somebody from John Lewis in a presentation or on a speaker platform.


The success of the advertising has been achieved largely by sticking to a safe formula. And this approach is present again in the new two-minute film that depicts the triangular relationship between a little girl, Bridget, her family dog Buster, and a trampoline.


So, yes, we have the classic song, this time Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away re-created by English electronica band Vaults, and a cast of cute animals just begging to be turned into a neat range of merchandise.


It’s all very comforting, sweet, and vanilla and is unlikely to ignite the emotions in the way  last year’s ‘The Man on the Moon’ did. This is a deliberate attempt to make people smile after a difficult year, but, given the hype around every John Lewis ad, this one doesn’t quite live up to expectation.


This is the same old safe stuff, calculated not to upset anybody. But then the narrative doesn’t really fit the buoyant tone of the ad. The dog, Buster, appears to steal the girl’s present at the end of the film, conjuring headlines like  “Dog trumps little girl on Christmas Day”. Hardly the stuff of happy endings.


The big add on this time around is the virtual reality experience (building on a toe-in-the-water attempt with 2014’s ‘Monty the Penguin’). Shoppers at John Lewis’ flagship London store can slip on the Oculus Rift headset and experience what it’s like to jump around on the trampoline with the animals in the TV ad.


This is where I’d start to question the basis of the advertising. Has the need to use technology and do something new with VR driven the creativity in the ad? It would certainly explain why we’re faced with a bunch of furry creatures bouncing around on the trampoline. And it’s also a story that seems to be jerry-built around the need to flog themed cuddly toys. Go to the website and you are encouraged to “Shop Buster and friends”. The dog, Sid the Squirrel, Betsy the Badger, and Olivia the Fox can be yours for £12 each.


Beyond the attempt at virtual reality in stores, perhaps the most interesting thing about the campaign is the casting. To continue to be successful and drive growth John Lewis must broaden their demographic appeal and shake off any last remnants of perception that it is a store for the established wealthy middle classes. In my view they do that well here, with a happy family in a comfortable house that’s, nonetheless, a far remove from the sprawling mansions of the Home Counties.


John Lewis successfully uses the ad to get this message across but, at a time when the UK’s Christmas ads provide a showcase of creativity that’s close to our equivalent of the US  SuperBowl, #BusterTheBoxer isn’t an out and out winner.


The secret of retail tech innovation? Never forget the customer

First published by Retail Week on 4th August 2016

While I spend most of my working life looking to the future, I’m not afraid to take inspiration from the past.

I still occasionally dance around to my 1980s alternative singles and remain fond of classic movies such as The Belly of an Architect.

The return of a 1990s phenomenon in the format of Pokémon Go illustrates the point nicely, showing the power of brand affinity, of past associations, to engage a vast audience.

More importantly for retailers, the craze demonstrates that it’s possible to drive engagement very quickly if you get it right with mobile innovation.


French retailer BUT has already used the popularity of Pokémon Go to drive store Traffic and offer discounts to shoppers.

While the rise of the game is set to benefit retailers greatly, through sponsored locations, promotions and merchandising, what it says more broadly is that consumers crave fantastic and entertaining experiences alongside a sense of community and adventure.

AdTech AdThis was heavily in evidence at the recent Cannes Lions advertising and marketing festival. Many winning campaigns in categories such as mobile provided examples of innovation that deliver a human and interactive customer experience.
They included Burger King’s activity in Argentina, where it created an interactive Snapchat game, Snapking, using an entertainment experience to drive a voucher-based mechanic for participants.

Perhaps the best use of innovation applicable to retail was the Sydney Opera House’s #comeonin, using social platforms and location data to create and then invite people to a personalised experience.

Retailers that understand the need to build human connections into their technology innovation have a greater chance of success.

However, when Cheil spoke recently to more than 150 senior global retailers we revealed a disconnection between the focus of their technology innovation and the delivery of better customer experience.

It is very clear that consumers want innovation in technology to be rooted in delivering customer benefits. Yet the conversations with retailers highlight that innovation budgets are not primarily focused on meeting unfulfilled consumer need.

A majority are confident that they have a world-class innovation culture. And, in many cases, this is driven by new technology. That sounds encouraging.

The issue that emerges, though, is that technology displaces meeting unfulfilled consumer need as the driving factor in innovation.

Meeting consumer need was identified by just 18% of retailers as the main reason for innovation, indicating a danger that retailers are losing sight of the consumer.

Consumer research shows that this is an issue for customers. Amazon emerges as the most innovative retailer because it uses technology to make it quicker to find, pay for and receive products.

Where Amazon is identified as less strong is in providing a ‘human service’, but it has maintained customer perceptions in this area at acceptable levels while more traditional offline rivals struggle to deliver against even this hygiene factor.

Retailers could gain greater competitive advantage by using technology in ways that improve perceptions of human service, with a big opportunity in focusing on the greater personalisation of the shopping experience.

This is where they can learn from the success of experiences such as Pokémon Go and brands that use mobile not only to bombard people with messages and offers but to entertain and delight.

In doing this, retailers shouldn’t lose sight of the need to improve the customer experience by using technology to simplify and accelerate the retail experience.

This should be the main focus of retail innovation budgets, rather than investing in mobile and other tech merely for its own sake.

Why shoppers are demanding fresh thinking from retailers

Click here!First published in Retail Week 12th May 2016
Chewing the fat with retail leaders is usually a fascinating experience, but a chat with the people who shop in their stores can prove equally illuminating.

That’s why Cheil spoke to 150 leaders in the top global retailers and also to a representative group of shoppers. The aim? To test our belief that retail success is increasingly linked to a strong internal culture and a focus on innovation.

And by innovation I don’t just mean the bells and whistles, the phones and the drones, that are coming to play a key role in the business, but also in terms of adopting a progressive approach to all elements of the business, especially the customer.

What’s startling is that the results, especially from the consumer angle, suggest innovation is not only essential for retail success but also for survival. But first, a bit more about the findings. While the retail leaders identify Apple as the most innovative retailer in the world, consumers don’t agree. They select Amazon, for very clear reasons to do with innovation around providing shopper benefit.

In the eyes of retailers, Apple leads the way in terms of consumer and shopper innovation. Amazon is placed second, with Google third, followed by Walmart. The other companies, completing a top 10 dominated by tech brands, are Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung and eBay.

Regional variations

Some striking regional variations emerge from the research. While Apple’s reputation for consumer and shopper innovation is consistently high across the world, there is some good news for those at the more established end of retail, because US retailers consider Walmart to be the gold standard. This most likely reflects a rounded view of innovation that considers Walmart’s attempts to try new things in areas such as community engagement.

But what do shoppers think? Well, they agree with retailers that the more traditional store-owners are lagging behind tech-driven companies in providing innovation. With shoppers, though, it’s Amazon, not Apple, which wins the plaudits. Globally, 23% of shoppers identify Amazon as providing the best retail experience, followed by eBay on 5%.

Several traditional retailers, offering a combination of online and offline experience, have made the top 10 from a shoppers’ perspective. These include Target, John Lewis and Walmart. Overall, though, they lag far behind retail brands that have evolved out of the online space in terms of providing the best experiences for shoppers.This is supported by the UK-specific findings, which show Amazon is identified by 29% of shoppers as offering the best retail experience, well ahead of John Lewis on 14% and our biggest grocer, which is at the bottom of the list, just below some well known high-street names.

Generally, these findings support the idea that customer expectations of retail experience are being reset by digital-first retailers (such as Amazon and eBay) and the legacy retailers, particularly the grocers, have much work to do to bring innovation to their stores.

Shoppers identified Amazon as providing the best retail experience

When it comes to providing an innovative shopper experience, it’s clear that consumers crave, above all, technological innovation that delivers convenience, personalisation and simplicity of service. This supports my own belief that where retail innovation does involve technology it must be driven by customer need above all else.

Brands, such as the aforementioned Amazon and eBay, are seen to understand this, while others have much to learn at the same time as falling down on basic hygiene factors, such as providing a human service and being helpful. What’s emerged from our conversations with retailers and shoppers is that delivering innovation that truly benefits the consumer provides a clearer path to retail success than any other.

Will a cashless retail vision work in the wider world?

The future of the cashless shopping experience creeps ever closer. Adobe recently announced a new prototype of the retail store featuring RFID chip-enabled bags that enable shoppers to automatically buy items by placing them on the checkout counter. In Adobe’s prototype store in Las Vegas, there’s no cash, no card, no mobile payment. Just a step towards a retail world connected through the Internet of Things.

This innovation, providing a truly cashless store, inspired me to use a recent visit to the United States to test something I’d wondered for sometime. With the rise of retail technology and new payment models such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, how possible is it to live and travel without any cash at all?

The cashless, week-long work visit started well on arrival in Chicago and the easy journey with Uber to the hotel. Initially, it was easy to exist with just a credit card.

The first problem arose the following morning when the time came to catch the free hotel shuttle bus to the airport. It soon became clear that tipping would be a big issue in the cashless society. A surly bag attendant, expecting his five bucks for shifting my luggage, wasn’t pleased with a half-whispered explanation about trialling society’s future of electronic monetisation.

Smooth progress was resumed quickly. Next came the flight to North West Arkansas and a local taxi to a business meeting. This was only a small firm but it was easy to pay by card. Then, after the meeting, I took another Uber (apparently in plentiful supply in Arkansas) to Starbucks, where the coffee retailer’s app delivered a much-needed shot of caffeine.

International boundaries

Next came the Bentonville Square Walmart where, at the self-service till, I was about to pay by credit card before being offered another cashless solution in the shape of the Walmart Pay App.

This was all set to be another seamless cashless situation before an issue arose in the shape of international boundaries. Convenient as the Wal-Mart app option looked, it was a no-go as the US app wouldn’t work with my version of Google Play Apps. Uber has managed to solve this compatibility across borders issue, which is an important one for retailers to address if they’re to grab a share of payments revenue. You can be sure Apple and Samsung Pay are moving towards this cross-border functionality as contactless payments gain traction, with transactions expected to reach 148 million this year.

Musing on this, it was time to travel from Arkansas to New York City for the final leg of my trip. And an experience that highlighted the current limits of cashless society.

Tipping crisis

Talking to a friend at the shopper marketing event we were attending in New York, it soon became clear she thought I wouldn’t get far in the city without cash. She insistently forced a dollar into my hand to at least get me somewhere when tipping. And she was right. In several situations in hotels and other places it was hard to get very far without tipping with cash. Too embarrassed to offer one measly bill, I managed to hold onto my dollar but received more than a few frosty looks and not much in the way of good service. Sure, in bars and restaurants it’s easy to tip electronically but it gets tricky when you go further into the service economy. An economy that soon merges into the grey economy and, eventually, into the black economy.

There are serious consequences of a cashless society that will require everybody to have a bank account to exist and where every transaction is traceable and accountable. Let’s face it, beyond the equality issues at play here, there are a whole lot of things people will want to pay for and yet not have a record of.

It won’t be long until Adobe’s connected vision becomes the reality for millions of shoppers but my US trip clearly showed me that society is moving towards a largely cashless environment built around straightforward use of mobile apps to pay for almost everything. It’s not going to be difficult in places like London and US towns and cities. But what about the “grey” areas of the world, where are the solutions for the difficult deals in the service economy?

This is a perplexing problem for society and for those in some parts of the service economy, if not for mainstream retailers. There’s a short-term solution at least because, for the foreseeable future, I’ll travel with a bunch of dollar bills to pacify combustible luggage attendants.