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Digital Strategy - Ready Steady Go.....then Revisit and Refine

Stef Elliott - Friday, January 11, 2013

As part of the recent activity we have been doing for Royal Bank of Scotland  I was asked the question by one of the delegates (a Banking Advisor who's portfolio includes 60-80 businesses) "What are the main metrics you should be measuring as a businesses".

MI Decisions

It came back to mind when I read 10 Google Analytics Resolutions for 2013 by Mike Loban. Like all resolutions the probability of success depends upon some key factors.

  1. Do you really have SMART Objectives - It's vital to know where you want to go and when. These need to be defined for each business  
  2. Do you have the capability to understand progress against targets - either historic performance or expectations, at a sensible level of detail. By this I mean enough not too much!
  3. Do you a structured process to review and refine performance - Turning the SWOT analysis into SO WHAT?
Sounds simple so what can you do ?

The great thing about Digital data is that you have lots of data, BUT the worst thing is that you have lots of data - As Albert Einstein highlighted "Not everything you can count, counts". 

Whilst on line products such as Google Analytics have provided greater visibility unless you actually define what you want to see, how and when, you risk falling into "Analysis Paralysis" - Reviewing unimportant or vanity metrics on an adhoc basis rather than focussing consistently on the important metrics. 

They are called Key Performance Indicators for a reason!  If you want to have a chance of achieving your Digital New Year's resolutions in 2013 for your business, answer these questions honestly: 

  • Do we have a Dashboard report?  - If No get one . If Yes Print it out on one sheet of paper
  • Can I read it? If No then you have too much info
  • Can I see quickly what’s happened and the potential impact on performance moving forward ? Does it show historic and future estimated performance
  • Is the produced on a regular (monthly) basis in a consistent format ? Compare the last three versions
  • Does it show the most important information aligned to Business Goals? 
  • Does it enable and drive business decisions to be taken ?

If you can answer yes to all the questions the next key activity is to make sure there a formal mechanism that determines and records the SO WHAT? You only really have three options or decisions to take - Do nothing / Investigate / Adjust something.

Call it a monthly board meeting, performance review, weigh in etc, the name is irrelevant. Unless you schedule the time to review and refine your activity you will be stuck in the "Do nothing camp" by default, hoping to disprove Einstein's observation that "The Definition of Madness is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result!"

Where do you start ? 
  1. Review what you have and how you use it. 
  2. If it does not do the job - change it
  3. Remember your Management Information should be judged on if it works not how it looks! 

QR Codes - Not One Size Fitz Hall

Stef Elliott - Thursday, January 19, 2012

I have been meaning to write a blog post on QR codes and how to use them since I saw this poster advert whilst waiting for the Tube in London.

QR (or Quick Response) codes are increasingly being used by marketers to link the offline world to online content. Other applications such as Blippar exist that are aimed to facilitate the use of Mobile phones and tablets.

The idea behind placing the QR code on the advert is to enable me to scan it with my mobile device and to navigate me to a suitable website landing page 

However in the rush to embrace new technology it is worthwhile recalling that "Whilst the roads Marketers are getting people to travel are changing, the people travelling them (and their needs)  are not".

In the example vital aspects do not appear to have been taken into account when setting out the activity i.e.    

  1. The location of QR Code on Poster, (Bottom Left) means part of it cannot be seen or scanned 
  2. The complexity & granularity of the QR code - From a distance of 10 yards my iphone (other mobiles are available)had no chance of picking up the complex QR code.
  3. I'm on the underground and can get no mobile connection so even if I can scan the code I have no ability to accessthe designated content.

Other examples of poorly planned activity are found in this post  eConsultancy Post - 11 Dubious uses of  QR Codes

So before falling down a similar trap if you are considering running a QR initiative 3 things you should consider

  1. Plan the customer journey - try it out and see if the roads you want people to follow are clear and well lit 
  2. Include tracking code - link it in with your destination tracking e.g. Google Analytics. Include a specific source codeor medium. 
  3. Simplify the resolution - The more data you include the more complex the image. Use a URL shortened QR link

For Example both the QR codes below lead to the same destination but highlight

1- QR does not stand for QPR code
QR Code to Fitz Hall  
2- The Use of simplifies & enables tracking 
QR Code through Bitly to Fitz Hall
Experience is the name we give to our mistakes so don't be afriad to fail but by putting in a Do, Review, Refine mechanism you get some learnings from a campaign if nothing else.  Don't forget One Size does not Fit All.

Cookies Six Month Solve by date

Stef Elliott - Thursday, November 24, 2011

With Six months to go until the Information Commissioner's (ICO) own moratorium on enforcing the revised Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) - "The cookie law" UK businesses are awaiting further guidance from the ICO of how the law will be enforced and the potential impact. 

Cookie Monster Alarm Clock

Following the statement that "from May 2012 onwards the Commissioner will follow the approach to enforcement set out in his Data Protection Regulatory Action Policy" it is hoped that a "Half Term Report"  will soon provide greater clarity. 

However as the clock ticks down towards the May 2012 deadline the ability for companies to pro actively manage the situation continues to reduce. 

This post is aimed at providing a quick summary of the current situation and recommends what we believe website owners should be doing as a minimum.

Look at some of our earlier posts e.g. Waiting to see how the cookie crumbles is not enough? or Do a quick Cookie Audit if you fear the Cookie monster ? for more background 

Quick recap ?

Cookies are currently the focus of the discussion and the current target for enhanced awareness. However the real purpose of the legislation and hence any activity should really be around what data is captured, stored and how this is then used.

Cookies are one type of Locally Shared Object and the best way to consider them is more as a Fortune Cookie with a raffle ticket inside it rather than as a Biscuit (It's a Dinner Jacket not a Tuxedo anyway!). This concept is more practical because when you access a webpage each of the web servers serving content can set cookies onto and read the cookies they have set on your machine. 

Increasingly web pages are made up of various content from a variety of content providers. When you (The Second party) access a destination website (the First Party) they may enable content to be served from other servers (Third parties) - Hence the distinction between cookie types.  

Previously websites were effectively brochures and you accessed set content and cookies may have been used to store information in isolation on your machine. Nowadays websites operate supported via database functionality and cookies can provide the link between the database, your machine and ultimately you.

For example I visit a site and on the database my raffle ticket number is stored against when I visited, what I looked at, to record my preference e.g. type of colour preferred for screen resolution etc. As an anonymous visitor this may not be considered an issue but if I then provide personal information the database can store this along with my raffle ticket number. This then provides the ability to retrospectively link any previous data with my personal data.

If the cookie is treated as a Personal Unique Identification Number (Purn) the questions to address to ensure compliance with any legislation is 

  • What data is stored ?
  • Why and where it is stored ?
  • What is it used for and by whom ?
  • Does this correspond with what the consumer (the 2nd Party) agreed to or could reasonably expect ?

Solutions ?

There are various initiatives attempting to respond to the cookies law that each provide different methods of attempting to comply. (I say attempting to comply as what compliance is has yet been set). These range from 

1. Behavioural advertising icons 

The Internet Advertising Board's European Initiative focusses through its Your Online Choices site upon information being provided after the capturing of data i.e. the ability to withdraw permission for unspecified data relating to digital activity once it has been captured, analysed and used and once you become aware of it!  

2. Reliance on the main browsers manufacturers to solve the issue.

As recently reported by The Register whilst plans for a Do Not Track Standard are being drawn up this focusses predominantly on 3rd party and this "Cavalry" looks very unlikely to arrive by May 2012.

Even if they did this will only address cookies (Locally stored Objects) set through web browsing (what about emails, Smartphone Apps etc ?) and only when the general population catch up with the latest release of the browsers


3. Use of Pop Ups - e.g. the ICO website

The ICO website site uses a pop up requesting permission to set cookies to enable tracking which does not preclude people using the site but until opted in stops analytic tracking cookies being set 

This could prove a solution for businesses where they have only a few simple cookies being set - The ICO is a public body and therefore does not allow third party advertising etc. and so such a solution may become very clunky for some sites

However even the ICO's approach is currently flawed as it makes no allowance for the 4th Data Protection principle regarding accuracy and maintaining up to date data because it ignores individuals own capability to adjust cookies and thereby presumably permission.

After opting in to tracking by ticking the box a ICOCookiesAccepted cookie is set to "true" enabling Google analytics cookies to be set 

However if you (the user) manually alter the cookie (It’s just a text file) to "False" this has no impact to turn tracking off

Despite a clearly stated (revised) preference the ICO keep tracking my activity after I make a change
as highlighted by the Google tracking cookie continuing to operate after the change.

You will see from above I first noticed this in June 2011 and informed the ICO hoping that they would resolve it -  Checking again today it appears it is still a glitch as the value of False set in September is still being ignored.    

So what should you do ?

Whilst any immediate legal risk was temporarily removed, in May 2011 the ICO has stated they urge all UK businesses and organisations to read their advice and start working out how they will meet the requirements of this new law. They also warn that those who choose to do nothing will have their lack of action taken into account when they begin formal enforcement of the rules. 

With regard to cookies laws like all changes in legislation it provides three main areas of risks for all business owners that need to be assessed and appropriate actions taken to mitigate against them.  

1. Legal Risks 

The immediate risk of censure from law enforcement and any associated penalty - The ICO have highlighted verbally that initial focus will be on education and specifically targeted against those who have done nothing to mange the situation.

2. Commercial Risks

Business can incur costs or lose revenue by making poor decisions. The ICO's own site made an adjustment in May 2011 (to be seen to be doing something) but this meant that they lost the capability to track and understand 90% of their web traffic. 

It is not clear what the actual impact was on visitor numbers or user engagement with content due to the presence of a rather unattractive opt in box. Usability and design professionals would suggest  that the opt in box would have a detrimental effect rather than a positive effect

An additional commercial risk is that  non compliance or unawareness will highlight poor data protection practices and could result in data held for marketing in other areas being deemed non compliant and therefore not usable.  

3. Reputational Risk

People do business with people they trust – Sony recently suffered from losing subscribers information and are more concerned with the loss of brand value as consumer trust diminishes than any fine they may receive.

Mitigating any loss of Trust is the area companies need to focus on particularly as consumers awareness is enhanced. Recent Department of Culture Media and Sport research highlights over 80% of people were unaware of the changes but once aware 70% believed it is very important they know why cookies are being set and how to delete them. 

Next Steps ?

Until the legislation is clear companies should be adopt a Ready, Aim, Fire approach, i.e. Get Ready by understanding what cookies you are responsible for setting (1st & 3rd Party) and why you set them. This then enables you to be in a position to move when things become clearer i.e. where to aim and what to do ? 

If you are unclear on what to do refer to the Information Commisioners website or Contact us to discuss ?

Digital Strategy, No need to burn your boats!

Stef Elliott - Sunday, November 13, 2011

In 1519 Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico with 600 men, 16 horses and 11 ships, looking to conquer the Aztecs and seize their riches for Spain.

According to legend Cortes knew that he had a number of disadvantages. He was in a foreign land, massively outnumbered and his well organised enemy the Aztecs had survived & flourished for almost six centuries. The night prior to the initial battles Cortes allegedly sent a few men to burn all their boats.

Burning Boats - Cortes conquers Mexico  

His men awoke with their ships on fire and Cortes explained to his men “If we are going home, we are going home in their ships.” With their no means of escape, or fall back position, Cortes and his men had a simple choice "Succeed or die". They went on to conquer the Aztecs! and are attributed with the phrases "To burn ones boats or bridges"

After seeing Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia speak this week in London and it made me review two specific conflicting things that business leaders need to focus upon

  • Decision making can be regarded as the mental processes (cognitive process) resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios.
  • Procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time

Any decision is based upon the quality of the information available and what is considered but sometimes too much focus is spent upon collating information before making a decision! Apparently 72% of all statistics are made up (that one is!) and any figures quoted need to be sense checked against who is providing them – and why. If you are involved in business today then you will be trying to understand & evaluate how you can benefit from Digital media channels e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Before burning your boats and jumping into a Digital Strategy based upon "gut feeling" or that is easy to start, its worth ensuring that you focus your time & resource upon the areas that your customers use rather than the tools "evangelists" promote.  We've extracted some data from three recent information sources that we hope help you in your decisioning.

So what are UK consumers using for communications ? 

Ofcom Report - Devices used in UK

So how are UK consumers doing on Social Media ? 

Whilst the blogosphere may suggest everyone is using social media for everything recent research conducted by Exact Target suggests that consumers are not necessarily engaging with brands in the same way as US consumers.  

How are UK Businesses using Social Media and how well ? 

Econsultancy & LoudMouth Media's report the State of social highlights how UK companies are embracing social and how well they believe they are doing it .

So what does this mean for you?

Feel like Cortes ? In a foreign land, with a vast array of options and against an increasing number of competitors at a time when consumers are becoming more familiar with the range of communication channels and with rising expectations.

Strategy is ensuring you do the right things - Operations are doing things right! However the correct strategy for your business depend upon a number of factors unique to you. To guide you digital strategy we recommend focussing upon the Who and What questions

  1. Who you are wanting to communicate with
  2. Why and What you want them to do

This can then drive the How, Where and When of how you implement your strategy.

 You could choose to burn your boats and dive into social media or you can choose to do nothing although bear in mind that when you have to make a choice and don't make it - that is in itself a choice ! Tell us what you think ?

Ofcom 8th annual Communications Market Report & Ofcom - Facts

  1. Exact Target – Subscribers Fans and Followers
  2. eConsultancy -

Ofcom 8th annual Communications Market Report & Ofcom - Facts

  1. Exact Target – Subscribers Fans and Followers
  2. eConsultancy -

Do a quick Cookie Audit if you fear the Cookie monster ?

Stef Elliott - Thursday, April 14, 2011

In a previous post UK website owners responsibilities regarding new legislation was highlighted with four key actions

1)      Understand the websites you are responsible for ?

2)      Understand the cookies that are set (find out how)

3)      Determine why and when they are set – Good housekeeping is to get rid of superfluous coding.

4)      Ensure you privacy policy reflects what you do / want to do ?

With the 25th May 2011 deadline fast approaching the requirement to be at least aware of what cookies you ebnable through your web site is growing. To conduct an audit you have various options e.g. contact your IT department and request information or use 3rd party audit tools etc. However fisrt step may be to do a quick sense check i.e. review sites by hand to see how big an issue is it?


All About cookies provides instructions on browser setting for the main browsers and their various versions i.e

1)      Internet Explorer

2)      Mozilla Firefox

3)      Google Chrome

4)      Apple Safari

5)      Opera

Ranked in popularity based on Gfk NOP Web Browser stats


However this post is aimed at demonstrating what you can do to conduct a quick sense check.


Just to set expectations - Don’t be disappointed when all you get is a string of characters because that is all cookies are – a string of text that doesn’t tell me anything obvious.


However this is the crux as all cookies provide a recognition key - It is not necessarily the cookie but if any & what data is stored. As this subsequently is used to enable functionality on the website or captured on the databases of the companies setting the cookies & this raises the issues relating to privacy and storing PID (personal identifiable data).     


As a working example the UK Information Commissioner’s Office website has been used using Internet Explorer (IE9) here (other browsers are available)

Open up the website page you want to review then click > Tools menu > F12 Developers tools 
Scren shoot of seeing cookies

This will open a second screen - The Developer Screen which has a 2nd menu - Click on Cache > View Cookie information.
Screen image of seeing cookies
 A new browser window will open detailing the cookies set for the page

Now you have an overview in a position to understand what is set and use this as a basis for understanding why and how this happens. If you don’t understand the purpose and rationale behind the cookies your site is setting can you really comply with the 8 Data protection principles?


Unfortunately you may need you technical team to determine the source of how cookies are set & your legal team to ensure cookies being set by 3rd parties are appropriate - but you have a basis of knowing where to start from.

If you want to find out more regarding other browsers or complete web site audits contact us

Waiting to see how the cookie crumbles is not enough?

Stef Elliott - Thursday, March 31, 2011

GingerBread Cookies  "Disable my cookies ? - Well I've bitten the legs off a gingerbread man !"

At the recent Information Commissioners Data protection officers conference and the UK DMA Data Protection event the Information commissioner Christopher Graham highlighted the impact that changes to the privacy and electronic communication regulations would make for organisations.

The changes come into effect on MAY 25th 2011 and result from the implementation of European Union Directive 29 that include focus upon how to gain website users consent for storing cookies. For more background see 

Overview on cookies -

Legal overview - or

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills - Implementing the revised EU Electronic Communications Framework - Approach and consultation information

It appears that opinion on what to do is still in consultation & observers have different perspectives on how and when the law will be implemented e.g. Financial Times overview or a recent BBC article that Government’s are not ready.

The rules will allow for the use of cookies on an opt-out basis (i.e. not having to inform web users) in certain circumstances. This will mean website owners will not need consent from the user to place cookies on their computers where the use of the cookies is strictly necessary for a service provided by the website owner at the request of the user - this will cover the use of cookies in shopping baskets on e-commerce websites  for example.

Whilst the legislators determine what sanctions will apply to companies that fail to adequately comply with the legislation it does throw up the question - So what should companies do?

Given web design and setting of cookie's has traditionally been the remit of web design and technical resources many businesses need to undertake a quick review i.e.

  1. Establish the web sites and microsites for which you have responsibility.
  2. Understand the cookies that are currently set - Try using browser development tools from Mozilla or Chrome.
  3. Establish what cookies you want / need to be set and why.

Simultaneously review the privacy policies you have published and see how they equate with actual practice.  Whilst most organisations have published policies, in reality they often have multiple versions, rarely maintained, that  do not reflect what they do in practice.

Whilst there is a large education process for consumers to understand cookies and the implications the best way to help your clients and web visitors unsure of what this means is to be transparent and ensure you do as you say you do !

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Latest Blog Posts
  1. The cleansing of SEO Lauren Bernard 27-Mar-2014
  2. Digital Strategy - Ready Steady Go.....then Revisit and Refine Stef Elliott 11-Jan-2013
  3. QR Codes - Not One Size Fitz Hall Stef Elliott 19-Jan-2012
  4. Cookies Six Month Solve by date Stef Elliott 24-Nov-2011
  5. Digital Strategy, No need to burn your boats! Stef Elliott 13-Nov-2011
  6. Do a quick Cookie Audit if you fear the Cookie monster ? Stef Elliott 14-Apr-2011
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