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April 2018

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Is Loyalty Enough?

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At a time when consumers are exposed to more price-cuts, offers and opportunities each and every day, loyalty is increasingly hard to come by.

Supermarkets in particular find themselves locked into constant battle to win over consumers, and with shoppers so spoilt for choice all over the country, how much is a loyalty scheme still worth?

To understand loyalty, we first need to understand what drives us in-store in the first place. This used to be simple in the UK market, where the difference between up-scale, budget and convenience stores was clear. However, with the rise of discounters like Aldi and Lidl stealing market share across the board, the ‘big four’ and other supermarkets need to continue to explore ways in which they can incentivise customers to spend with them.

In any case, with the recent announcement that Sainsbury’s is due to merge with Asda, the highly competitive ‘big four’ looks like it’ll become a ‘big three’. The merger will mean that nearly £1 in every £3 will be spent at the giant, and, with chief executive Mike Coupe promising no store closures, it’ll take the total to 2,800, closing in on Tesco’s 3,400, but tipping market share to 31.4% (v. Tesco’s 27.6%).

With the newly merged mega-supermarket vowing to cut costs too, soon, value will no longer be a big enough hook to keep consumers loyal.

The value challenge is also compounded by the familiarity and expectation challenge. In a recent Nielsen study, 89% of Britons admitted to being members of a loyalty scheme. Yet in spite of this, only 51% of those surveyed said they would choose a retailer with such a scheme over one without. Consumers expect more from retailers and brands, and supermarkets are no exception.

For Tesco, the main reason for updating the Clubcard was to modernise the consumer experience, introducing contactless and pay+. This has been cited as one of the reasons it has seen an improvement in overall NPS score.
Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, has taken a different tack. It has not only modernised its scheme but also changed the way customers are rewarded, no longer focusing purely on spend but incorporating frequency of shop as well.

Between these scheme changes and the merger, the priority for supermarkets is to maintain interest among customers – us Brits over-index by 20% when it comes to being recognised as a valued customer. But with competition on the high street being so high, and with digital retailers existing in every pocket, questions remain over whether loyalty will ever overcome value.

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Can Facebook Regain Trust?

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Facebook has had a difficult few months, and with its escalating affiliation with fake news and data breaches, the digital giant has tried to reform to put a stop to user migration and brand safety concerns. But is it enough?

Following the electoral shocks of Trump and Brexit, eyes turned on Facebook for allowing the proliferation of ‘Fake News’ on the platform. Some even alleged that social media was becoming a direct threat to democracy, which seemed justified when Zuckerberg was hauled in front of the US Congress for allowing the personal data of 87 million people to be improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica and used to influence voters.

The company’s CEO called what happened a “huge mistake” and hurriedly changed the way apps and third-party data providers such as Axciom and Experian could extract user information from the platform. Facebook even went as far as to launch a print campaign assuring people that under the new GDPR regulations the data they hold would be better protected.

However, the universal feeling seems to be that this is too little, too late, and how Facebook can act like it deserves a big pat on the back for simply obeying the new EU data protection laws seems slightly baffling. Facebook knew of Cambridge Analytica’s activities in 2015 and refused to act. With the news this week that Martin Lewis is suing them for allowing improper use of his image by fraudulent companies, it really drives home the main point that the company has to take more responsibility as a publisher.

After watching what happened to YouTube and the Daily Mail with the Stop Funding Hate Campaign, Facebook has reason to be worried. Advertisers, (particularly in digital) feel strongly averse to any risk of appearing in potentially offensive, inappropriate or even ethically-questionable environments.

Wetherspoons recently took the controversial step to abandon its social media channels and distribute content only through its website and magazine. This triggered quite a large debate, ironically on social media, with many calling the move madness. But Wetherspoons’ logic was ‘why bother with it?’ On average, the company’s tweets this year got six retweets and four likes; given that it sells three million pints a week, it clearly isn’t an effective way of communicating with customers.

This however is a view on the organic use of social media platforms by brands; for paid media, meanwhile, Facebook remains almost unparalleled in terms of reach and cost efficiency.

At the height of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, 93% of Brits were aware of the story and yet only 6% planned on deleting their accounts.

It remains a key platform to communicate with the public. They do, however, need to take their role as content moderators and publishers far more seriously – or they risk losing this status.

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Against the Stream: Can Spotify Rival the Digital Giants?

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Having listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Spotify this month introduced a raft of changes on its platform – including the launch of new hardware, a redesign of its user interface, and a move into the video space with a Hulu partnership, as well as developing new ad opportunities.

But, despite all these new developments, will Spotify ever be seen as a true rival to other digital media giants?
Launching in 2008, Spotify got in early, carving out its position and becoming established as a new home for music libraries around the world. But, ten years on, it remains just that.

While the user base has exploded exponentially, Spotify’s offering is still largely based on the same singular purpose: music streaming. Meanwhile, the tech behemoths of Amazon, Apple and Google have barged into this space, all the while maintaining their stronghold in e-commerce, hardware and beyond.

Whatever Spotify’s services lack in terms of quality or user-friendliness, is compensated for by the fact that they are deemed a necessity by the customers in their universe. This is something Apple has been doing for years. For those who own Apple devices, life is made out to be easier if all your devices are Apple-made, from headphones, chargers and laptops to TVs and even the most recent addition of the Apple HomePod – which comes pre-installed with Siri and cunningly works best in tandem with Apple Music rather than Spotify.

In Amazon’s case, getting a Prime membership also allows you access to the Amazon Music Unlimited (AMU) service. Likewise, when you buy an Alexa, she comes with AMU installed, meaning you actually have to tamper with the default settings to change the music provider to Spotify – and to do that you also need to really care about Spotify as a brand.

As these competing tech companies take on larger roles in our day-to-day lives, the services we use become increasingly homogenised as they become more convenient for us as consumers. In turn, this diminishes the role of players that don’t quite fit in so snugly i.e. Spotify.

With this in mind, Spotify’s scramble to become more than a streaming service is not just an attempt to expand, it’s a bid to remain relevant.

Spotify must branch out before the use of its service becomes too great an inconvenience for consumers, or worst if Apple or Amazon outspend them into oblivion – something they can achieve with ease. Indeed, Apple Music’s massive push for subscribers is already beginning to bear fruit, with predictions that they are set to overtake Spotify in the US later this year.

It can’t be denied that streaming has become a behavioural norm, and Spotify currently holds an enviable audience of passionate music consumers in the UK and beyond – central to success in an ad market where scale is all-important. The additions to Spotify’s ad offering means that brands are increasingly being spoilt for choice, and they have been vocal in holding the cards to MOAT’S HAVOC (delivered impressions to humans that are viewable and audible upon completion).

However, as the digital ad giants have all made steps to woo advertisers back by improving their brand safety offering by far the biggest challenge for Spotify will be in maintaining the ad revenue gains they have inevitably made in the wake of fallout from recent scandals surrounding YouTube and Facebook.

Longer term, Spotify will look to maintain its audience share against streaming competitors. For the large part, however, it’s more about what the company has done already. For so many people, their music libraries are so inextricably linked to Spotify that changing services and starting all over again is just not an option (or at least a hugely inconvenient one).

Similarly, as one of the first streaming providers, Spotify have had the most time to optimise its service – the interface is smooth and user-friendly where Amazon’s feels clunky and relentlessly glitchy. In addition, the playlisting culture Spotify has built is un-paralleled, with playlists updated and re-curated on a weekly basis in contrast to some Apple playlists, which are left gathering dust for months on end.

Spotify’s music discovery technology is leaps and bounds ahead of – and far more accurate than –  its competitors, but how long this will continue to be its winning hand remains to be seen.

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PAMCo: a Game-Changer for Publishers?

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It’s the biggest news story of the month. No, not the Royal Baby or Kanye’s tweets, but the launch of PAMCo. But why is it here? And why does it sound like it could be confused for having something to do with Japanese video games in the 80s?

PAMCo is, in fact, the new JIC (Joint Industry Currency) for published media, which produces de-duplicated brand reach. It allows those in the industry to carry out reach and frequency planning to better commercialise audiences across all platforms – and it is the first of its kind.

It uses new and “approved world-leading methodology” to help both the buy and sell sides navigate the tricky question of how much reach each publisher can deliver across their owned and operated channels – all with the hope of revitalising publishers’ sales revenue. Equally, PAMCo aims to bolster audience sizes at a time when traditional print titles face challenges maintaining perceived coverage as audiences migrate to digital.

As for the name, PAMCo was originally to be named AMP, standing for Audience Measurement for Publishers. However, as fate turned out, Accelerated Mobile Pages from Google launched in 2015, putting an end to yet another three-letter media acronym. And so the standout name of PAMCo came into being (although its full, official title remains PAMCo – Audience Measurement for Publishers).

It comes at a time when, as a traditional channel, ‘print’ titles may have been suffering from advertisers seeing their reach figures in isolation, referring exclusively to their printed circulation as opposed to considering newsbrands as a broader-reaching cross-media platform.

This fact was recognised over three years ago when the idea to produce a cross-channel currency finally became a commitment. It had the ambition of replacing the National Readership Survey (NRS) as the long-standing currency for print trading. Having served a siloed purpose for print readership since 1956, it was certainly time to address the shift to digital consumption for quality journalism to help publishers better monetise their content across channels. At least, that was the aim.

The development of PAMCo offers new opportunities in terms of planning and buying strategies, with greater levels of accountability compared to previously loose estimations without a trusted method for everyone to adopt. A host of new sales strategies and fresh communications to fight for the prized media budgets with new sales patter will no doubt ensue too, which we will be excited to be a part of.

Significantly, the first sets of available data from PAMCo show that 24.6m people read news brands every day and 41.3m weekly – far higher than would have been seen with the old-school NRS figures.
What will be interesting to see is who comes out on top with new revenue developments, and how future trading opportunities open up more effective campaigns for advertisers – all assuming the sales houses can deliver on the promise the currency offers.

As we’re surrounded by stories of fake news, brand safety concerns and privacy issues from some of the largest reaching digital platforms, it’s potentially the perfect remedy to place our cherished publishers back in the hearts and minds of those seeking audience reach at huge scale in a trusted and premium environment.

Lightbox Loves

Lightbox Loves: Consumer reviews, can you trust them?

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Consumer reviews are a pivotal aid for anyone looking to make a purchase online and there are a number of reasons for their utility;  worries about Airbnb bookings for flats that don’t exist, dodgy sellers on eBay, an increasing number of websites for brands that consumers have never heard of, the list goes on… Used by 3 in 4 UK adults (source: CIM), the Competition & Markets Authority claim such reviews influence over £23b of UK spending every year.

Whilst the genuine nature of most reviews is undoubtable, the ease of posting fraudulent reviews has left half of those that use them believing they have seen fakes. Retailers have tried to make a stand though; Amazon introduced a range of measures to prohibit incentivised reviews in 2016, and online review community brands like Trustpilot have become a gold standard for retailers looking to reassure consumers with specialist software that automatically identifies and removes fake posts. Trustpilot claim the problem is minor, claiming to remove 20,000 posts a month from millions of submissions but doubt remains.

A recent BBC Radio 5 live news story has once again put the legitimacy of online reviews in the limelight. They were able to purchase a 5-star review on Trustpilot and unearthed online forums where Amazon sellers offer full refunds to purchasers in return for a 5-star review. This isn’t the first time either, Oobah Butler, a journalist for Vice, was able to make his shed the highest rated restaurant in London by using fake reviews. The surprise here isn’t that these activities still occur, more their rifeness and ease, with Radio 5 live reporting that they started to receive offers within minutes of joining a false review forum. Despite aforementioned measures, Radio 5 live were able to purchase a word-for-word 5-star review on Trustpilot and were approached by a number of Amazon sellers offering full refunds in exchange for a positive review.

Another blow to companies like Trustpilot is the news that sincere negative consumer reviews flagged as suspicious by the companies being reviewed took several days to reappear after the reviewer proved their identity, by which time the review is buried by more recent, positive responses. Trustpilot have looked to reassure consumers that they do everything they can to prevent businesses harvesting negative reviews like this by keeping tabs on how frequently they raise suspicions about posts that turn out to be real.

This news is sure to knock customer confidence not only in the usefulness of reviews but also the companies associated. It’s hard to see what companies can do in the immediate future to increase defences against fake reviews, but this latest shock is sure to see a response. The £23billion pound question is though; how much will this affect online retail sales in the next few weeks and months?

Lightbox Loves

Lightbox Loves: A weekend to celebrate

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Last weekend, we congratulated the Queen on her 92nd birthday,  sung the praises of the heroes of the London Marathon, celebrated St George’s Day and enjoyed a surprising April heatwave, but which key event got us talking most on social?

In fourth place was St George’s Day (gaining around 8,000 mentions), third was the Queen’s special day (earning approximately 18,000 mentions)  and in second place was the heatwave (gaining 20,000 mentions). Quite fittingly, the Marathon was the winner with over 150,000 tweets, and around 2.2 billion hashtag impressions earned. (Crimson Hexagon, 2018)

Many brands tapped into this renowned event to ensure they were top of mind in the amidst of Marathon induced adrenaline and excitement. Particularly on track, @NikeUK’s #RundownInLondonTown campaign filmed comedian Michael Dapaah running on a treadmill, mimicking Mo Farah, to update followers on Farah’s marathon milestone moments in real time. The videos shared on Twitter and Instagram showcased Nike’s sense of humour in what can be a gruelling occasion for the 40,000 London marathon runners.

On a much smaller scale, @JamiesItalianUK, @DrBeckmannUK and @guidedogs also stood out on social to celebrate the running heroes this weekend.

Cultural moments can offer brands a real opportunity to produce engaging social campaigns, and with the Royal Wedding and key sporting events around the corner, how can brands make the most of the social buzz these will undoubtedly bring?

Week of the Stars

We’re changing our name. Introducing #the9stars ???

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Today, and for one day only, in honour of the #CampaignSchoolReport, we’re changing our name. Introducing #the9stars ???

We are delighted to have been awarded 9/9 in the annual Campaign School Report – the only media agency to be awarded the top mark

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Lightbox Loves: YouTube helps eliminate Coachella FOMO

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Our Instagram feeds are soon to be bombarded with flower headbands and glitter (and wellies if we’re thinking about the UK), which can only mean that festival season is upon us, and it was kicked off this weekend with perhaps the biggest of them all – the first weekend of Coachella.

Despite few of us Brits being able to pop to California and be in attendance (unless you had thousands of pounds to spare) we were still excited for and and talking about the first Coachella weekend – over 20,000 tweets were generated between 12th-15th April on the topic (Crimson Hexagon, 2018).

Not only were we talking about it, thanks to YouTube’s live festival stream we could watch it in real-time too (Coachella.com, 2018). This is the eighth year that the platform had the rights to exclusively stream a range of performances from the festival, meaning you’d be hard pushed to find it anywhere else.

On the Coachella YouTube channel users could watch one of four different feeds and/or create a personalised viewing schedule. This exciting feature enabled users to pick their own line up of live acts they wanted to watch, and the stream automatically switched to these when they were happening (Billboard, 2018).

All content was accessible on mobiles, computers and TVs, meaning that no matter where you were you could watch as much Coachella as you wanted, eliminating as much FOMO as possible.

So, if you felt like you were missing out this year try to remember it for next, as the feature won’t be available for the second weekend of the festival (20th-22nd of April).