Telling stories


Making sense of data: operatives at an IBM 711 card reader and IBM 704 electronic data processing machine in 1957. Image c/o NASA


For several years now, storytelling has been back in vogue as a concept for marketers to explore and exploit. It certainly felt as if it went away, with media strategists and planners viewing the 80s and 90s as a Blipvert-saturated mediaplex of snackable content (yes, I went there). Storytelling is back because we have a more developed, ambient media and campaigns which are able to work across a multitude of channels in a linear narrative. It’s why the term “transmedia” was hot for a while.

The great irony with storytelling is that its neologistic interpretation is often too confined, too restrained. Storytelling predates writing as a form of communication, and yet “storytelling” feels too confined to media: that marketing views telling stories as something done to consumers, rather than an activity which should permeate back throughout the organisation. In other words, storytellers simply aren’t telling enough stories.

So, how should storytellers tell more stories? Let me remind you of two probably-now-very-familiar words: big data. Companies and agencies are now churning out so much information because they can – Les raisons du bricolage – that volume is not keeping up with meaning.

Let’s take an example of web analytics, where we’re still focused on pageviews, CTR and even – and it pains me to say it – “hits”. That’s all good for volume, but is a decontextualized, stripped-of-meaning set of numbers what everyone wants? Of course not. Imagine throwing a birthday party where all of your friends and family are there, and recording in that day’s diary entry: “Birthday party. 35 people turned up.” That’s still how analytics are often perceived: a numbers-and-charts game.

The more that we can tell stories, make meaning, of numbers and charts, the better the outcome for all: for client, for agency, and for the end customer. Can you look at a chart for your project or enterprise and know the chain of events? This is where storytelling is so important: giving a narrative to data. A customer group that goes from one point to another and ends up with the completion of a task is not just a “user flow” or a “customer journey” – they are writing a story. They are giving you a story; it’s your opportunity to understand and interpret it.

I have been pondering this in recent days, while thinking about how IBM markets its offerings. They are grouped into an offer called Big Data & Analytics, and the more that I thought about it, the more that I see it as correct: big data is practically pointless in isolation – its value is its analysis and meaning. It’s something which IBM’s cognitive technology, Watson, might provide further help with in the future: the ability to answer questions such as “Based on this chart, why did customers in the east dump their cart first”, “Tell me the usability struggles which this group had, based on the differences in user duration between pages”, or even “What are the reasons behind this campaign being so successful in driving sales from Twitter. It’s something which the “what if?” planning features from IBM Cognos can start to help with today.

The more we can apply human storytelling to data, the more meaning it has to our lives. While data analysts are rightly in demand, are we not missing an opportunity by giving roles to the other side of the coin – data storytellers? We need programmatic poets, bards of business, narrators of networks. While we’re heading towards a data-driven future, it’s a story-driven future that will mean at least as much to us.

What IBM Studio London will bring to customer experience design

LS-PPT-Front-with-phone-boxAlready into the second month of the New Year and time has gone quickly with our efforts focused on the opening of the new IBM Studio in London this month. It is a thrilling time to be part of the pulsating, creative heart of the IBM Company – the network of Studios opening up around the globe.

So why London and why now–and what will the London Studio bring to customer experience design?

Ever since we made the announcement back in March that IBM is investing a hundred million dollars to open up new collaborative spaces where clients can re-think and enhance their customers’ experience we have held true to our promise and launched four new Studios in Groningen, Melbourne, Mexico City and New York City and three new studios focused on mobile in Dallas, Ehningen and La Gaude.

London is one of the most creative and vibrant cities in the world, with a leading digital economy so it is an inescapable location to place one of our IBM Studios. London was selected, acknowledging its place as a global innovation and digital hub, to be one of the new cities alongside Bangalore, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Together they will join the new IBM Studios launched last year and the existing IBM Studios in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto.

Our clients want to create extraordinary experiences for their customers and they see such experiences as key differentiators for their businesses. Through the IBM Studios, we have created a capability where all the skills and expertise needed to design and create such unique experiences are collocated and where, together with our clients, we enable and accelerate this process.

Panorama Exterior Approach 01What works for our clients also works for our own business and in the IBM Studio London, our marketing and services teams will coexist to bring maximum value not only to our clients, but also to stakeholders within IBM. The London Studio will be the hub of IBM Design in London and house both IBM Interactive Experience, which uses data, technology and design to create transformative experiences fusing the physical and digital worlds, and the IBM Marketing Innovation Group, which enables digital discovery, digital marketing and builds new engagement models at scale, together to serve our clients and our Company.

Consequently, the IBM Studio London will host marketing experts, product design specialists, technologists and IBM clients. Applying the principles of IBM Design Thinking and using our IBM Design Language the cross-disciplinary teams will come together to collaborate on user experience design, mobile development and digital strategy and marketing projects – working along ‘Agile’ methods, breaking down product development into short ‘sprints’ of work, to solve specific client and IBM Company requests for innovation and products.

There are already a number of multi-skilled teams who are starting to deploy in the London Studio but there will be constant additions to their capabilities and it is exciting to see how the projects and services will evolve. There is a lot to look forward to and a lot to be getting on with.

The IBM Studio London opens on 19 February at IBM South Bank location beside the River Thames.

IBM Interactive Experience Studio Director, Christos Boinis and Marketing Innovation Group Leader Scott Stockwell introduce the IBM Studio London.

Matt Candy: Trends and predictions in CX

As the end of 2014 rapidly approaches, I find myself reflecting on the last year and thinking about the biggest trends, how these have impacted on the companies we work with. In 2014 we have seen successful organisations move from providing customer centric experiences to human centric experiences.  All of these organisations have recognised that in order to respond to their customers’ constantly evolving expectations they need to provide experiences that go beyond channels, to experiences driven by insight. Experiences that exploit the convergence of the physical and digital and that are always ‘on’. Experiences that their customers love.

Companies are moving from the old idea of being customer-centric towards becoming more customer activated. In doing so they are realising that this requires profound change, change in everything from mind-set and culture to strategy and operations. In a recent IBM study 60% of CEOs told us that customers have a significant level of influence on every aspect of their business, not just products and services, but on their strategy as well.

So that’s good news. It means we are now seeing more companies placing the customer at the heart of their strategy and rethinking their models of engagement. They are reviving their brands across all of their interaction points, looking beyond multi-channel to omni-channel, looking to converge their digital experiences with physical experiences and finally using insight into their customer’s behaviour to develop a personalised meaningful relationship.

The other change I have seen is a growing understanding that the right data combined with a properly immersive experience, enables fruitful engagement. Experience alone will not guarantee that a customer remains engaged with a brand. In the same way a focus on data alone won’t deliver the promise. It’s not about housing huge warehouses of data, collected across various touchpoints, used to provide some superficial personalisation. It is more personal than that. It is about getting to the behavioural and attitudinal data that reveals the human being and using this to provide an experience that enables engagement. No-one says it easy but the additional value delivered to customers is significant.

Successful organisations understand that the front-end experience any individual has with their brands, products or services is the point of entry to the relationships that will generate the most valuable information any enterprise can ever possess — information on individual preferences.  Brilliant engagement creates new data and starts the cycle of even deeper understanding.

In 2015, I think employees will be a major focus. Companies need to ensure that the customer is at the heart of their business strategy such that they can enable valuable human-to-human experiences – and that means engaging their employees in understanding and contributing in a positive way, to that experience. There will be a focus on creating environments where employees are empowered and motivated to create these experiences. It won’t be about command and control – it will be about creating environments for brilliance – at scale.

Just to develop that theme – I think organisations need to create a culture where employees are empowered to have a conversation and develop a relationship with their customers, not just deal with their queries in the shortest time possible.  It will also mean companies will have to address the challenge of how to unlock expertise into their organisations and scale the collective intelligence of the enterprise down to the level of single individuals.

There will also be more focus on the “consumerisation” of the business experience, enabling employees to engage within the enterprise in much the same way they do as consumers, freeing them up to engage in more meaningful, informed ways with their customers.  There are estimates that show more than half (60 percent) of mobile devices in business are doing nothing beyond email and calendaring, clearly demonstrating that the potential of mobility is not being exploited to its fullest extent.

One final prediction – I think that companies will place a lot of focus on innovating how they approach experience design and management.  We will see companies look to change how they go about designing experiences for their customers, they will start to break down traditional organisation silos to enable employees to collectively design meaningful experiences for their customers.  This will see the adoption of new methods and ways of working such as agile and the formation of design labs that are made up of cross functional experts from marketing, services, design, IT, and agencies who will collectively design new models of engagement for customers.

So, in summary, I think 2015 will be all about that critical customer experience, driven by engaged employees focused on design, innovation and moments that matter.

Interested in this topic? Why not take a look at IBM’s C-Suite Study.

This post was first published on

How to avoid having your social media team become a “social switchboard”

Andrew Grill is a Global Partner in IBM Interactive Experience, responsible for social business. He is also the former CEO of influencer platform Kred, and author of

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t called a switchboard for

Some of the millennial readers of this blog may not even know what a switchboard is.

A quick primer: when telephone networks were first introduced, you couldn’t directly call a number, so you had to have your call manually connected by an “operator” who would literally patch your call from one phone to another, via the switchboard.

In business, the switchboard for a long time became the focal point of the company, and to reach anyone, you had to call a central number, then be transferred to the right “extension” by the switchboard operator.

I am sure that companies still maintain the switchboard function, but on pretty much every business card and email signature I come across these days, there is a direct desk number and a mobile number – even fax numbers seem to be disappearing [read what a fax machine is here].

Which brings me to the point of this post.

After many years, the telephone switchboard is becoming less useful, however in the social media space, it seems like many companies are developing a social media switchboard.

I believe the switchboard analogy is fair, as if you tweet a company’s @name, then in most instances, a person on the “social media team” picks this up, and then they have to decide the most appropriate person or department to respond to the tweet. In some cases the tweet is copied into an email (yes really!) and sent onto another department for action.

Now I am sure that some people reading this will by now be screaming at the screen saying “you are so wrong, we answer all the tweets ourselves”. Continue reading

The importance of starting with “Why?”

By Julie Schwartz, Jon Wiita, and Adam Shatzkamer

IBM Interactive Experience’s Strategy Team was recently enlisted by a US insurer to help advance its customer experience strategy for the retail channel. The client has been the global leader in providing insurance and protection plan services, but is facing stiff competition from a start-up.

One interesting lesson we learned was the importance of starting with “why?” Just as Simon Sinek suggests in his popular TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action,” in a typical customer experience strategy engagement, we help the client develop the answer, which provides the impetus for serving the customer in the manner that we co-create.

One phase of the project was split into two workstreams – web chat and IVR. In one, we began the requirements analysis process with a visioning workshop to help the client define the “why” of what they wanted to deliver to their customers in that channel as summarized in a vision statement and enabling objectives for the channel. In the other, we proceeded in a more traditional manner, gathering and documenting requirements based on the current state, desired end state, unmet needs, and leading practices.

In both workstreams, the client constantly asked “why?”: Why are we doing something in a certain way? Why are we recommending a particular expenditure? and so on. When we pointed to answers such as leading practices, cost reductions, and gains in efficiency, our answers would be received well but always required explanation and in some instances the development of business cases. But when we were able to point to our co-created vision statement, we were always met with client executives signaling their understanding, quickly agreeing with the recommendation, and moving on to the next bullet point.

Related: Digital convergence: Are you ready for mobile?

 Follow IBM Interactive Experience on Twitter to keep up with our updates – @IBMInteractive

IBM Interactive Experience ranked as a leading firm in Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Agencies Report for 2014

Recently, Econsultancy announced that IBM Interactive Experience was ranked as the 2nd largest digital agency in the UK in their Top 100 Digital Agencies Report – 2014. IBM Interactive Experience was ranked #2 in their lists for the overall largest agencies and the largest marketing agencies.

First launched in 2002, for this year’s report, Econsultancy noted that “agencies are profiting from the skills, knowledge and experience they have built up over the past years as brands look to invest more heavily in the face of continuous customer change and digital disruption.”

Econsultancy highlights how digital has created a demand for agencies with the scale and expertise to help envision experiences for the world’s largest brands – demonstrated by big players taking the lead over small, nimble firms. The firm notes that this is especially evidenced by the growing presence of large consulting companies with agency capabilities in the digital space, highlighting IBM Interactive Experience.

The report found that the most common market sectors targeted by digital agencies in the UK are financial services and retail – both with 77 percent of surveyed companies saying they target this space. Other key sectors were travel and leisure, and consumer goods both at 75 percent.

Following the release of the report, we checked in with Econsultancy senior research analyst Andrew Warren-Payne, who said, “the Top 100 Digital Agencies Report, established 12 years ago and keenly read by brands and suppliers alike, is a Who’s Who of the most successful agencies in the UK and an important barometer for the health of the digital sector as a whole. According to financial data collected for this year’s report, the 100 largest UK digital agencies have increased their annual fee income by 23% to £1.48bn. We are delighted to see established agencies continuing to thrive, as well as newcomers establishing themselves near the top of the pecking order.”

This continues strong momentum for the practice following the news earlier this year that Advertising Age (AdAge) named IBM Interactive Experience the largest digital agency worldwide in its Agency Report for 2014, an evaluation of more than 900 advertising, media and marketing services agencies. Additionally, in April, IBM Interactive Experience’s work with Jaguar Land Rover was recognized as the 2014 Innovation Project of the Year by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), the representative body for management consultancy firms in the UK.

For banks, it’s the user experience which must now differentiate and dominate

Richard Berkman is an Associate Partner with IBM Interactive Experience

Significant user experience innovation in financial services is happening outside of banks. Mint, Venmo, Square, LevelUp, Google Wallet, and other services are heavily shaping customers’ expectations of the user experience surrounding their finances. It largely doesn’t matter where the users of these services bank; banks are quickly being relegated to mere infrastructure to support these more innovative user experiences—developed by businesses free of the complex and rigid regulatory requirements to which banks are subject. None of these entities are banks and it is unlikely that Google will become a bank in the near future. However, as even consumer-to-consumer transactions are becoming cashless and more digital, these companies are playing a much larger role in the financial user experience landscape. In order to compete, banks need to better position themselves through nimble, interdisciplinary teams in order to deliver in rapid release cycles.
Most banking products haven’t changed much in recent history. Accounts, mortgages, and other banking products have become commodities where little innovation is happening in the product itself.

We’ve learned from other industries that once products or services reach this commodity state where they sufficiently fulfill user needs, it is the user experience that differentiates and dominates.
The closer a layer of the solution is to the customer, the shorter the release cycle needs to be and the more agile the product team or development team should be. In order to achieve a shorter time to market, it is critical to decouple the UX layer from back-end core banking systems and services that require elements of a solution to be subject to regulatory requirements, complex integration, and the requirements of legacy systems. Speed and agility have to become priorities in order to compete with smaller, more nimble businesses looking to take part of the financial services business.
For more on this subject, read the new IBM whitepaper: Integrated teams: Delivering ninety-day user experience evolution for financial services 

Importance of Brand Insight in Digital Execution

Brett Wachter leads the Chicago Lab for IBM Interactive Experience

Global and diversified brands have a significant challenge in their ability to maintain authenticity and meaning across customer touchpoints.  The complex nature of a brand’s relationship with its customers often drives chaos when a brand seeks to execute marketing communications, commerce, and relationship marketing within digital channels and through additional touch points with their enterprise.  This is often due to the fractured nature of their organizational model and divisional responsibilities for executing their customer experience.  All too often, in these cases, brand becomes a term for visual consistency in communications rather than the ethos and tenets by which an enterprise differentiates itself in the customer experience.

In a cohesive digital ecosystem, brand drives much of the relationship and interactions across media and throughout the sales funnel.  As a customer interacts with a company through his or her touchpoints with the brand, the minimum ask is consistency in styling, nature, and tone of interactions.  The consistency component needs to meet customer’s needs to anticipate and recognize the brand and feel comfortable that they are doing business with one entity.  This is the table-stakes type of communication and consistency that is often difficult to maintain in a global enterprise with multiple business lines contributing content and creating aspects of the customer experience.

More importantly, specific moments of customer interaction that further solidify the brand’s promise must be conceptualized and enabled through the features and functionality in the experience.  These moments are the point at which a brand’s strength goes beyond table-stakes.  Recognizing across the enterprise that brand does not drive only visual styles and content creation, but also features functionality and wholly interactive aspects of the customer experience that are in alignment with the brand’s promise is key to fostering customer activated enterprise with a rich system of engagement.

To create engagement impact on this scale, strong organizational governance and customer centric frameworks are important for the brand to drive creation of key elements of the organization’s interactions with customers.  As this must occur in any aspect of customer experience planning and execution, often brands seek external help from their digital agency of record relationships to ensure digital media such as online advertising, mobile and on-site experiences and Rich Internet Applications, all power and further the brand relationship.  Today’s most advanced agencies, with strength in organizational design and operations, are now furthering that penetration into not only more traditional marketing channels, but also call center, fulfillment and other touchpoints that wield influence over the brand promise.

Some examples of brands realizing their full strength in their customer relationships above and beyond their visual styling include Zappos and Sallie Mae.

Zappos as a brand is based on being easy to deal with as a company . As an online retailer of products (shoes) that can be a challenge to ensure the right fit and feel, they must have an entire system of engagement in place that is driven by that brand promise.  If a shoe doesn’t fit or is not right for the customer for any reason whatsoever, the customer must have the most simple and unimpeded experience in returns, exchanges, etc – regardless of channel they engage through.  The entirety of this experience at the core of Zappos brand promise is often facilitated without a customer extensively being exposed to the visual styling of the brand.  In fact, the real heavy lifting is in Zappos’ order management and fulfillment processes.

Another example case is Sallie Mae.  In 2010, Sallie Mae suffered from both customer and regulatory scrutiny of its lending practices and shifted its customer engagement model to one of collaboration with student lenders, rather than relying on students without the wherewithal or desire to ensure they had the right portfolio of education financing to pursue their college education.  One key aspect of this shift to collaboration was for Sallie Mae to create the “Education Investment Planner”.  The Education Investment Planner is a relationship marketing model based on rich internet applications that help students and parents model their education financing expectations and needs.  It served as the foundation of a longitudinal marketing program designed to build business relationships with students and parents around the concept of a plan for education financing.  By providing a common understanding of the customer’s plan for education, the right products and services could be aligned to support the planned objectives and ensure that the customer’s education financing is done in as responsible a manner as possible.  This effort from Sallie Mae was highlighted during Forrester’s customer experience forum as a leading means of engaging customers through experiences.

These two examples demonstrate that operations and functionality can and do drive an enterprise’s brand, above and beyond the look, feel, logos, and content styles.  This principle that brand engagement is built on interactions is often lost on less mature brands.  It is a fundamental aspect of a brand’s customer experience that brands must strive to get right and drive action across their large, distributed enterprises.

Taking Back the Customer Relationship

Brett Wachter leads the Chicago Lab for IBM Interactive Experience

The Need for Rich Systems of Engagement

Parent brands within the consumer products industry, and across industries in general, have a significant brand challenge in the digital age. Historically, their customer relationships have been facilitated by their individual child brands – the product brands that the consumer is purchasing. The challenge is that the isolated engagement and customer information backbones underlying these child brand relationships provide little visibility across the parent brand’s portfolio of businesses. Without that shared customer information and an underlying system of engagement to foster it, parent brands cannot anticipate when a customer’s needs will evolve from one brand to the next – and help the existing customers they’ve worked so hard to win graduate into new product or service relationships.

That opportunity left on the table is doubly magnified as child brands deploy competing marketing resources to the same customers – customers who are increasingly informed and aware of parent brand identities. This is forcing parent brands to take back their customer relationships by creating digital systems of engagement to deliver value to customers above and beyond the transactional product and service relationships, while capturing information to deepen customer relationships.

As brands invest in these systems of engagement, they drive increases in overall customer lifetime value and efficiencies in their marketing spend. IBM’s Center for Applied Insights 2013 Global Marketing Survey found that, as a group, business armed with forward-thinking engagement platforms have three-year revenue CAGR that is more than 40% higher than that of other companies, and their gross profit is growing at a rate double that of their peers. These top performers lead with marketing platforms founded in giving customers information they need beyond the product and service, and doing so on modern technology platforms that deliver contextually aware content and messages to customers across channels such as social media and mobile.

State of Marketing 2013_

For example:

  • The retailer consolidation trend caused downward pressure on P&G’s pricing and profitability. In response, P&G consolidated many of its brands’ marketing spend into their “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign – leveraging not only their scale, but a common communications platform and positioning to help drive consumer choice for P&G brands in jumbo-retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.
  •  Frequent customer switching opportunity has driven one of P&G’s mega-brands, Pampers, to establish itself as the authority on “Baby Stages of Development” to keep moms engaged throughout their child’s lifecycle with Swaddlers, Cruisers, Easy Ups and Feel ‘n’ Learn products. This platform has helped Pampers further deepen relationships with moms in an industry with frequent and ample switching opportunities as a child grows from one diaper line to the next
  • Untapped customer information resulted in Coca Cola elevating data and insight into individual customers as a key priority. In partnership with IBM Interactive, Coca Cola is leveraging its My Coke Rewards program to develop one-on-one experiences deepening the relationship with consumers, including its popular “Share a Coke” program that lets customers have their own name in Coke’s iconic script on their Coke cans and bottles.
  • Self-cannibalization thrust Hilton into focusing its marketing investment on its parent and HHonors brand to help avoid competing marketing spend in the same brand portfolio targeting the same customer. Hilton is now working more collaboratively across its nine individual hotel brands in a more consolidated messaging and contact strategy.

 Reclaiming Relationships

So how does a parent brand find its way amidst such a confusing landscape of not just marketplace and customer imperatives, but also complex technology required to ensure a consistent and contextually aware brand relationship with its customers? The start is to formalize senior executive sponsorship and evangelism with participation across child brands. By prioritizing senior-level dialog of how one brand’s customer relationships can further strengthen the others, any silos existing within the organization can be brought together under common purpose.

The next key is to ensure that a hybrid marketing and technology partnership is driving the initiative – marketers without a hands-on perspective of how the enabling technology works will be unable to create a programmatic means of engaging customers across channels. On the flip side, nor will technologists with objectives and measures that don’t include developing the length and breadth of customer relationships. Should that cross-disciplinary insight be unavailable in the organization, tapping a partner strong in both omni-channel marketing strategy and integrated technology implementations can help ensure alignment of technology solutions to the customer engagement vision.

Create a nexus of hybrid marketers and technologists with an understanding that it’s not a technology platform or a marketing platform, but the symbiotic relationship between the two that will power the next generation of systems of customer engagement for parent brands.



Establish user experience transformation as a continuous evolution

by Richard Berkman & Marvin Klein

 We do not consider a user experience—whether a mobile application, a website, or a multichannel solution—a completed product, but rather a constant cycle of capturing information, gaining insight, and optimizing user interactions. Through the accelerating proliferation of a variety of devices and customer touch points, any detailed multi-year transformation strategy is completely out of touch with reality without continuous adaptation to external forces. Consider that Apple’s iPhone did not exist merely six years ago. For financial services firms, the not-so-long-ago battle cry was “We need to get an app out to market.” Then it was: “We need remote deposit capture” and “We need to connect to Twitter, don’t we?” and “We need to actively listen to our customers across all our channels” “We need to incorporate social media.”

Many enterprises have committed to and invested in large digital transformations; they now need to understand that these transformations are merely the first iteration of a continuous cycle. The most successful enterprises recognize that digital initiatives are never complete—they evolve.

The dictionary defines evolution as “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.” The key to digital evolution is a constant adaptation and innovative approach to delivering value to customers in releases with incremental features, not through the monolithic approaches that lead to scarce big-bang releases.

Establishing a foundation for continuous UX improvement with an end-to-end governance process and structure across an entire enterprise is critical. A key step in the process is to start with the right team and the right mix of skills that help establish a program to drive the success of an enterprise’s digital transformation. Our recommended approach to drive this model and the resulting evolutionary development typically involve visioning workshops across the business and IT communities where an overall vision can be determined and articulated, often depicted in the form of a journey map based on prioritized user profiles.

For more on this subject, read the new IBM whitepaper: Integrated teams: Delivering ninety-day user experience evolution for financial services Banking