Do humans prefer to talk to machines?

What does the future of communication hold for brands and companies in a world of super-sonic automation, innovation, hyper-personalised products and services, content marketing, a ton of competition and algorithms?

We investigate the feasibility of all things bot coms and the pros and cons of automating customer engagement. We were awed and inspired by a recent interview where our Founder Ross Drakes hosted longtime buddy, Nick Argyros Co-Founder and Director of INJOZI Digital Design, Audio Militia and GotBot AI Solutions in a Podcast discussion. In our blog, we feature some do’s and don’ts, practical examples and look into the future.

Let’s talk about Chatbots, machine learning and AI.

Put simply, chatbots are conversation automation tools for brands, staff and consumers used in various scenarios to facilitate uninterrupted customer service. A bot comprises of artificial intelligence (AI) software designed to simulate conversations in a natural language through messaging applications, websites, mobile apps. If you think about it, it is an expression of the interaction between humans and machines. Some cite it as promising, exciting others as frightening potential.

Not only do bots enable seamless interaction between services and humans, but the customer engagement process is also improved by operational efficiency. This provides companies with an opportunity for a reduction in customer service costs.

Interestingly, to be successful a chatbot solution should be able to perform engagement efficiencies and cost reduction tasks. Importantly, human support still plays a key role regardless of the company’s approach and platform used.

We have learnt that there are different approaches and tools that you can use to develop and use a chatbot. It depends on the use case that requires addressing which determines the chatbot technology along with the combination of different AI forms.

A perfect example is GotBot.

It is a fancy and super smart conversation bot that can stream a whole host of conversations into one console. Brands can start tracking conversation transcripts of what people are saying and questions they are asking across multiple platforms (from various web apps).
Gotbot then starts to build responses to clients without code. VERY COOL. From a marketing perspective, you can also analyse how customers connect and engage with the brand, their sentiment and preferences and analyse behaviour and various other data – a strategists’ dream.

There is some sexy automated functionality like sales funnels and applications built into this little machine to automate some mundane administration which enables companies to respond to customer transaction needs, queries, questions and info requirements at warp speed. Voila, everyone is happy, almost. There are the 40 percenters who still favour a human engagement, like some of our dads who would prefer to drive to the company to have a face-to-face conversation over a cup of filter coffee (even if it was stale). Admittedly, some generation Xers still like the phone and emails and don’t trust the bots so much. But the world is changing.

In an interview with Forbes, Bot expert Simon Hudson – CEO and bot expert from Brndstr shared his view that chatbots are the future. He believes bots will be everywhere just like automated phone menus and that it is up to brands to stay up-to-date with the latest technology to stay connected to consumers.

For us, we see Bots as a fast, simple and clever way to deliver convenience to your customers. Think of it as an always-on army of slaves doing your bidding and adding value while you sleep in your luxurious silk sheets.

We have come a long way since 1770! One thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that Bots are only as good as the logic you teach them, that is where a company like Nicework can help you. We are not at the point of replacing people yet but you are able to use them to create less friction in the services that you offer. Now that you stand at the beginning of this exciting journey into the future, we have compiled a few tips on how to and how not to use Bots in your communication.

When should a brand use a Chatbot?

  1. If your business has online sales, it simply makes sense to have a chatbot to automate the sales process. It is called conversational commerce (which apparently is a thing) and the most cost-effective way for businesses to connect with customers to build a brand relationship while being able to use analytics.
  2. Another use case for a bot is for those companies that have interactions with online users other than transactional ones. Chatbots can help improve the experience of the person interacting with your brand by facilitating information with much greater sophistication, which means the user finds the information he or she wants faster, uninterrupted and feels acknowledged by the organisation.
  3. If your organisation needs to handle large volumes of administrative calls through customer engagement, bots are great tools to handle the mundane tasks while enabling your humans to engage more meaningfully on complex conversations, this also creates operational efficiencies and saves costs.

Where should a brand not use a Chatbot?

  1. Do not use a chatbot where there is no need or demand for it, just because its cool or seems to be something to do. If your organisation does not require it and there is no use case – do not use it. It could deter from your brand experience instead of aiding it and you could lose customers.
  2. Do not use automated communication in situations where there is a lot of emotion involved, you need to connect to a real human for a human touch. You cannot step away from a crisis situation or emotional situation with a robot to manage a person on the other side, it risks massive reputational damage.
    We feel that it is usually in these situations when solving unhappy problems efficiently and transparently by people offers a great opportunity for a company to live its values and increase brand loyalty one human to another.
  3. Keep it simple – trying too many things at once may confuse tasks and your customers. Prioritise the use cases in order to offer users the best brand experience without clutter or confusion by too many bells and whistles if they are not required.

A case study of where using a Chatbot was super successful:

A great coffee spot in Melrose Arch – by a rad entrepreneur who invented what we call “coffee in a cone” (it is amazing) needed some help to manage orders that were hitting him from various web and social platforms and streaming into his phone. There was some panic because he could not respond to all the orders flooding in. “DUDE! I need to get back to people!”

The GotBot AI Solutions team looked at how the process could be automated and went about learning natural language processing and machine learning and with all of these components they ended up building a process system for our coffee entrepreneur. The system could load his coffee menu and customers could type into it and order whatever they wanted. It would then post an invoice back to the customer and could pay for it all through messaging.

The mundane administrative and important communication processes were automated and Boom! Brand success for our coffee entrepreneur through seamless consumer engagement.

This is the point at which the GotBot AI team started to build the messaging automation system. It took them over six months due to the nature of their client demands and market dynamics.

They soon realised that though many companies faced similar challenges – each company had its own identity and culture and use cases which affects the brand communication and engagement side of things. They decided to build a system that would be able to customize automation based on client requirements.

What does the future of communication look like?

From our perspective, we agree with Simon Hudson that in next two to three years we are going to see an increase in the automated communication space, which is an opportunity for brands. Whether helping in customer service, booking experience, or general information, we have entered a new decade of tech, which includes the world of bots.

You will find many articles on the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s exponential pace and realise it is not only disrupting nearly every industry globally but also transforming entire systems of production, management, governance and consumer engagement.

According to some, we are living in a world where technology is evolving faster than we are and cannot predict the long-term societal impact of these advancements. As with every leap forward, it does not negate the best practice of the world before. Human connection matters, story matters and most of all empathy matters. We can use this tech to increase augment how we deliver on these in a robust and scalable way. Please remember that just using a bot for a bot’s sake is not going to replace the need for genuine communication.

Over and above the tech explosion, we need to consider the social justice movement by new generations (listen to our podcast with Dion Chang) and the expectation of brands to do good and do right by their value chains, consumers and society (listen to our podcast with Sizakele Marutlulle)

Consumers have taken on their right to choose and will engage brands who are getting real and respect their right of choice and personalisation.

What this means for companies is a change of tone, the way that they engage with consumers and frequency, while being available and accessible. Brand communication is also expected to be more transparent, honest and helpful with as little friction as possible.

Nicework has been facilitating Brand Purpose workshops for companies to understand what sits at their core, in order to offer and communicate their value to their consumers, which in part is brought to life by digital campaigns and bots.

What about the rise of the machines?

People are afraid of the Terminator coming to get them… When singularity does happen and the machines rise up and destroy us all, Ross asked Nick how much of a part he thinks GotBot would have played in teaching robots, what we want, what our needs and desires are and how to hurt us in the fastest and the most brutal kind of way. Great.

According to Nick, they are saying we will simulate the human brain by 2028, now that is a thought. For now, the human brain does many, many things that computers just can’t. “One of the biggest things is EQ, sentiment, touch and feel”.

Remember Tay which was that bot by Microsoft – it basically became a fascist Hitler – because that’s what it was fed on Twitter. Microsoft claimed it was attacked by a people that wanted to exploit the vulnerability of Tay. The bot had not been taught what was appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and posted over 96 000 Tweets, in 16 hours. Microsoft shut down its Twitter account because it basically wanted to kill you.

We are reminded that bots are only as smart as what they are hooked up to, they are algorithms that pick up on certain things and then have a call and response. But the moral dilemma is real and with the exponential advancement of technology, we need to keep an eye on those big corporations that run many, many algorithms while collecting data.

Most of all remember that these are just tools, just really really smart ones. We need to be clear on what we are teaching them and how we are using them. It all comes down to intention just ask Simone Giertz.

Coffee On us!

If you want to know more about brand and bot communications, get in touch with us. Ross loves human and tech engagements and can engage multiple channels seamlessly, his favourite though, is having a great coffee with smart humans.


The intersection between brand, business and citizenship

How do you shift the culture of a brand to an authentic position of care and a place of relevance in society, while building relationships with consumers, that matter and adds to the bottom line?

Ross Drakes, our fearless founder, explores not just doing good, but what being good is all about with Sizakele Marutlulle, CEO and founder of Marutlulle & Co, a Pan African strategy and ideas lab, in a recent conversation at the recording of One More Question, a podcast by the people of Nicework. They unpack how this purpose-driven work could add to your company’s profits while getting real about a few things. It can also make you feel pretty good too (If you want to be selfish and do good at the same time). This is a no judgment zone.

In a three-part blog series, we explore a few compelling considerations around Pan African expansion, conscious consumerism and intersectional branding, the sustainability conversation, small agencies and using all the crayons in your box!

Part #1: Let’s Talk Pan Africa, Some Advice For Businesses

How many strategy documents have you seen out there, that have the words “expand into Africa” in them? The data looks good, the economic growth rate of the market of entry looks good. Then there is the question of local partnerships to help with the expansion, but often these expansion discussions lack real consideration or thoughtful weight, other than a desire for expansion as part of the race for Africa and 10Xing the business. I mean we are even in the process of doing some work in Kenya…

Being deliberate about your expansion is important, often companies lunge into new countries boldly with zero sensitivity for the people who live there and their way of doing things. This can easily lead to brand engagement being inauthentic and sometimes even coming off as arrogant. Irrespective of how much you believe in your product and service, people will not engage if you do not live their culture, understand what is important to them or speak their language.

Sizakele shares a moment she had at a big advertising agency that claimed to be Pan African – you know those 36 dots on the map, on the website, saying you are all over this continent. Essentially, it meant that there was a guy with a briefcase who arrived and gave you a presentation deck, with “tools” who then left again and did not even reside there.

We get all hot and bothered by brands that get real and engaging with their consumers in an authentic way, from our perspective it is important to consider a few points:

You need to be clear about what you are bringing to the market. You need to understand your market from a point of resonance. It is about knowing your company purpose and what you are looking to give the new markets you are entering into and how it fits with market values.

You need to get out of your comfort zone and learn from these markets and really respect the rules of the village you enter. It is important to spend time and immerse yourself in the countries you are going to expand into and test your assumptions. The challenge for South Africans is that for the most part we have been so Westernised that when a cab arrives late we are like “Oh my goodness this is Africa, it’s a banana republic or whatever fruit salad names we use” remarks Sizakele. It is fairly simple… don’t be a dick and you will be welcomed.

You need to be curious, you need to understand – how your brand can affect a positive and lasting change on the consumers who use your it as well as the society within which your brand functions.

There is this thing that multinationals have when they enter “Africa”. A very important, but often overlooked reality check: We are not a country, we are in fact a continent – a very, very rich and diverse continent. Just because you succeeded in one country and market segment does not mean that you can use the same formula in another African country, or market segment. The dynamics are different, the sociology is different and values are different – your brand engagement and product offerings need to adapt. Why are we still having this conversation, it is 2019 after all?

Balancing Pan Africa as Brand Partners

For us, as practitioners, the challenge is an ongoing desire to move beyond comfort zones, because getting comfortable is a dangerous thing says Sizakele. As Ross puts it – it is about forcing yourself into space where you know you are going to have to grow and you are going to have to open your eyes, otherwise you are not going to thrive and be able to continue to add the necessary value to clients or consumers.

The great thing about technology and co-working spaces is the mobility factor and working in ecosystems which allows companies like Nicework and Marutlulle and Co to seamlessly work across the continent and globally.

Being flexible in structuring our relationships, enable us to contract with clients who love to have us on site and those who are comfortable with us coming in on the days in which we’ve committed to delivering, or workshopping in our space across the continent.

We believe in immersing ourselves in our clients’ brands and the ecosystems in which those brands function to understand the brand philosophy, company culture and consumer values. It is about creating relevant brands that your consumers can engage with and trust over a long period of time, because when you know what your purpose is and the value that you offer the market that fits, you can build relationships that last beyond “one hit wonder” products.
To do this effectively we have an ecosystem of partners locally and internationally who support the complete value chain journey of moving from purpose and identity to a website or billboard, think “the Band of Niceguys” so to speak.

Working from a global co-working space gives us the freedom to expand internationally while offering our clients and partners space for brainstorms, design sprints and fresh perspective by having access to our team of creatives and partners to solve important communication and service problems. We even have amazing coffee or a range of herbal teas if that is more your speed.

We agree with Sizakele that the magic comes from collaborating in an ecosystem and recognise the value of partnerships so that we can focus on the things we are exceptional at, that means that we do not “leak value” and pass that onto you, because we know what makes us unique and seek out partners who are experts in their fields, so we can focus on what we do. Our Moms even say we are really good at it.

And then there are the Nice-snacks. Yep, we love good snacks and love sharing them, especially if the snack involves a brand we love working on like, BGR (best easy burger and fries). We also take time to develop new skills and gather insights through online learning, attending local and international conferences and encourage curiosity and personal projects. Being intentional about developing our team makes everyone happy!

Coffee on us!

If you are a specialist in your craft in the brand, marketing, communications and service design world, have international reach and would like to explore strategic partnerships, chats to us. Ross loves a great cup of coffee and moorish conversations.

Stay tuned for Part #2: The Rise Of Conscious Consumerism And Intersectional Brand Building.


A deeper dive into the Cesspit of Brand Communication

We have been scratching at this topic for a while now as we poke the complex state of current affairs from our context and the issues brands have to face in the new era of the 21st century. We dive into the conversation between Ross Drakes our founder and Dion Chang, about major trends disrupting the business as usual of traditional brand communications.  Read part one here.

Identity Politics, Troll Tsunamis and Backlash…

According to Dion Chang, for brand communication in 2019, a big theme is the complicated world of Identity Politics. As a marketer, even if you are sure you are going to push out a good message in line with inclusivity, you will most likely get a backlash. So back it up and be prepared.

The best that you can assume when communicating is that the trolls are going to come out because they will. What this means for you as a marketer or CEO, is to do your best to steer the ship as solidly as possible.

An extreme example of this is an incident where drag queens were being called out of lip-sinking to gay anthems being sung by Divas of colour and were labelled as misappropriation. This is stretching the spread really thin says Dion.

From a communications perspective, it is not just about understanding Identity Politics, it is about understanding that as a brand, companies have to stick their necks out, as uncomfortable as it is.

Brands need to get over being in the uncomfortable place of the fear of losing clients, it is a given and it’s okay to do that. It will feel terrible in the beginning but we believe the investment is worth it in the long run. Also, know that your competition will be too scared to take the leap. History remembers the first one to jump in the pool at the party, we always forget who jumped second…

Just get real…

From the Nicework team’s side of things, it is important for a company to understand its ultimate purpose. According to Ross “When you know that and operate from a place of authenticity, you communicate from a place of authenticity and when the backlash comes, it is much easier to shrug it off.”

We have all seen that organisations that have gotten some bloody noses are the ones who have given important issues merely lip service, they get uncovered very quickly, get roasted over the coals and have little to say to the truth of the matter to back their statements up with substance. No one wants to be the pink Bic!

Dion says that even if you get your ducks in a row and you get the troll tsunami – let’s call it – it is an element of social media. Even if it is a rather big storm, it is still a storm in a tea-cup and it does blow over.

In these situations, it is how you react and manage communications, that matters. Don’t make things worse by letting your CEO put their foot in it by not responding or denying the issues.

What you need to do is apologise and don’t just apologise, companies need to explain how they are going to make it right. It is about going further and saying “sorry we did wrong, this is what we are going to do to make it right” and move out of the storm really quickly.

Who Should Lead Authentic Communications?

We have experienced that the challenge is that generally, the team who lead in these communication situations are not necessarily the ones that should be leading it.

This is the chance for brand and marketing teams to step up and occupy a strategically important role for the company. They are the people on the front line communicating and putting the brand out there and yes feel the heat and backlash. I mean no one ever got a reward for doing the easy task, now did they?  But the most important thing is that they need to be able to communicate back into the business and get them to change behaviour, for the messages to be backed up with something substantial and authentic.

The reality is that culture and ecosystems need to change otherwise companies are just window dressing the exterior. You can’t do a logo change and make the font a little curvier and put a shadow behind it and say “We have re-invented!” It really has to come from fundamental change.

All the changes and pivots require a company’s skill sets and ecosystems to change if you are going to communicate authentically in a new world with new technology and new consumers that call for new products, services and business models. The companies who are not able to embrace this new reality will fail. This is not an easy task but there are partners out there who are well versed in leading you through a process like this one. (Hint hint it is Nicework)

What do we need to track?

Dion frames innovation as part of the company culture and that it is not a piece of tech or an app that you develop. It is actually the business model that needs to change and that is what innovation really is.

The irony is that we are not tracking relevant things, we have attached value to false indicators. It is not as simple as ticking a traditional box. In this era, nothing fits into boxes anymore so companies need to change their measurements. Considering all the world systems that are changing from politics to skills and education there are a lot of growing pains the world is going through. We are literally about to get into driverless cars. Helsinki and Phoenix Arizona are launching their commercial vehicles this year.

Let’s explore this analogy, Dion explained it well: If we are a business getting into a driverless car, but still trying to operate it using a shift-gear stick to operate the car – well, it’s not going to work because the technologies are different. Yet, we still use the 20th-century corporate models in a new 21st-century era of remote working, diversity, innovation, culture, values and real impact.

So we need to be tracking a whole bunch of new things that are more relevant to growth and impact indicators. We need to track beyond the old business model indicators of the bottom line and investor returns. Also, we will be in a driverless car by this point so all the traffic stress will have melted away.

Who is influencing the Dark Side of Social?

Now there is an interesting concept of Dark Social rearing it’s head. The internet describes “Dark Social” as a term used to describe digital traffic which doesn’t seem to have a specific source. Naturally, this creates big challenges for marketers wanting to track and monitor web referrals and social media activity. Currently, a lot of PR is still being tracked by influencers which is quite a narrow lense.

Everyone is caught up with which influencers they are working within their communication strategies, yes it can be effective but the measures need to change.

The reality is that so many people are sharing so much content on messaging apps and this gets lost in cyberspace. You cannot track and measure it – but the brand or something associated with it is being talked about. The challenge is that clients want proof of that kind of return on investment and the reality is that it is going to become more difficult with the emergence of Super Apps.

What is a Super App?

Yes, you heard it. Super Apps. This is something which has emerged out of China, it is the convergence of many applications into one platform. You never leave the app – everything you need is on it. There is a general debate on whether this level of convergence will succeed in the West. Say if FaceBook wanted to integrate Instagram, and Messenger they would get a lot of resistance but these are the seeds of super apps. Deciding what to measure in terms of return on content investment may become more complex. We are just hoping that the government does not get the idea to make a Super App for everything we need in South Africa.

We are progressing from a time and place in communications where for a long time things couldn’t be measured, you didn’t know the type of engagement, its rate, with whom and how many to gauge how effective your communications campaign was, to the golden age where everything was trackable. Everything was easy. Now it’s getting to be a little bit more complicated. Consumers are shifting around on platforms and platforms are being moved. So we are almost back to the old paradigm, which is part of the new paradigm.

So basically it is like a big pendulum swing from extreme reality to the other extreme reality and by the time the pendulum balances in the middle – we have a whole new reality. There is always that new lens to look through, even when going back to basics.

Can you afford not to speak the truth?

With influencers, for example, we have moved to an inauthentic space according to Dion, people are picking up on it quickly. They are calling BS and not engaging. It all started from an authentic place and then moved into this free for all wild west where the best bidder wins.

Coming back to being open, honest and authentic as a brand. Companies find themselves in a tough place, where there is a new generation expecting different things, looking for different things and they are influencing all the other generations. We see the risk of being honest completely outweighing the risk of not.

The world pendulum of change is swinging into a new era of the 21st century which means traditional corporate models are not as effective anymore, measuring the bottom line and shouting out investor returns is becoming increasingly distasteful.

From a communications perspective, you cannot communicate and track superficial messages while expecting brand loyalty or consumer engagement from a new generation, with a ton of influence, who care about purpose. It all comes back down to the core – are you communicating from a place of truth and operating on the basis of real values? Well, ask yourself…are you?

Want to talk about this more? Ross loves a cup of coffee.

Listen to the full conversation on One More Question. A fearless podcast by the people of Nicework. Join Ross Drakes our founder and Dion Chang, founder of Flux Trends, as they explore the cesspit that is brand communications. Listen here.

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Listen to the conversation on your favourite podcast app!


The Cesspit of Brand Communication

So what is causing things to move from being discombobulated to  “it’s really very complicated” in the world of brand communications?

We recorded a conversation recently that opened Pandora’s box for us. We are now in a dive into the complex state of affairs and the various issues brands have to face in the new era of the 21st century. We explore deeper from the conversation between Ross Drakes founder of Nicework, about the various trends disrupting the business as usual of traditional brand communications with Dion Chang founder of Flux Trends, one of South Africa’s most respected trends experts. Come on a journey with us.

Let’s talk about “do good” brands and the huge influence of Generation Z

A major theme emerging in the world of business is Impact beyond the Bottom Line and Corporate Responsibility.

According to a Prosumer report by Havas a few years back, 80% of the respondents globally said that it is no longer up to governments to push for positive change, big business has that responsibility too.

It’s also not in the traditional context of ticking the box of CSI, sustainable reporting and other legislative compliance. Nope, there is a whole breed of new humans, with spending power and influence who will be holding brands accountable. According to Dion Chang, these guys’ “social justice barometer is through the roof”. Generation Z, is on the rise and are coming of age.

This generation is emerging into the workforce and becoming your consumers. They are not going to give you any kind brand loyalty if you are not clear and outspoken about where your brand values sit. They sure as hell are not going to work for you if you don’t know why you exist, your impact on the world and what your values are. This is amplified in a South African context where we have an urbanising youth who are getting access to freedom, cash on a level we have never seen before.

Members of Generation Z are generally born from 1995 to 2010, they are true digital natives, that means that from their earliest youth they have been exposed to the internet, social networks and mobile systems. They are very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information. That also means that they can integrate virtual and offline experiences seamlessly.

According to a recent Mc Kinsey report “True Gen: Generation Z and its implications for companies” for this generation, the main spur to consumption is the search for truth personally and in a community, augmented by the search for authenticity.

So from a business and brand perspective, this is a very uncomfortable space to be in. The old way of doing things is to keep your shareholders happy and drive bottom-line performance.  For this generation specifically “bottom line business is a distasteful thing”

– Dion Chang.

So why should you care? If you scour the internet for stats and information on Generation Z, you will see that this generation has more influence than generations before it and in the US alone they already make up 25% of the population. From an African perspective, Gen Z-ers already make up 20% of the population according to a report by Liquid Telecom, The University of Cape Town’s Business School’s report cites that they already make up a third of South Africa’s population, that is 33.3% – Wow, that is significant. So Gen Z is a very real phenomenon and on the rise, take note everybody!

South Africa Gen Z already makes up a third of our population and in Brazil, they make up 20% of the population.

What does this mean for businesses? Well, you need to rethink how you deliver value – weigh mass production up against personalisation and practice what you preach authentically and have a proverbial leg to stand on. We see it a simple problem to solve. Ask yourself what are we actually doing for our consumers, our community and the world at large? Hint it does not mean you need to rush out there and save the dolphins and hug trees. It requires an understanding that you need to make intentional choices about the way you do business and interact with the world.

“We’ve seen brands wanting to do good and crafting good messages they thought were going to be good, thoughtful and meaningful and then it just explodes back into their faces” The response of gen Z to this is, “hey well you should be doing good anyway…” – Dion Chang

So what is a B-Corporation Listing?

Something interesting that Flux Trends has noted on their radar in South Africa is the concept of the B-Corporation Listing. This is a formal way to be audited in terms of transparency and impact. They assess your company on your social and environmental impact on the world.

Listed companies include Patagonia, Denon, Ben and Jerry’s, Unilever Dannon, to name a few global brands. These are all companies who have said – come and audit us, we are completely open to that assessment and we are going to try to be completely transparent. It’s not just about shareholders, it is workforce related, societal and environmental. That is a huge paradigm shift.

“We have to move out of the social economy and more into an impact economy, it is becoming more and more important for a company to define what its impact is” – Ross Drakes

With 12 years of experience in working with a diverse range of brands and their communities, Ross agrees that a key challenge for brands is to move out of the social economy and into the impact economy. McKinsey’s take on the impact economy is that a mature impact economy features a market clearing quantity of solutions to social and environmental challenges, in which consumers are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of businesses and prefer buying goods and services that help make a positive impact.

The Nicework team has learnt that as a brand by understanding your purpose, you can define your impact. For many big brands, the truth behind why they really exist is obscured by the drive for sales, market exposure and bottom line growth…doing good is something the CSI department takes care of. Tick…!

Even if you are an accounting firm or a bank where your service does not necessarily affect positive change on the environment, how do you define your impact and how do you make that work? What keeps us heading in this direction is the potential outcome. If we get this right, you get to have a positive impact with your clients, your staff and their family and the country. The side effects of that and the consumer loyalty that comes with it will be market exposure and bottom line growth. Now, who doesn’t want to be adored and wealthy?

What does Employee Wellness have to do with things?

One of the key aspects of corporate responsibility is inward facing, this includes the holistic wellbeing of the workforce and the Flux Trends team found that the free fruit bowl you have been putting in the staff room doesn’t cut it anymore either. Sorry.

Many of you are saying “But we like our free fruit bowls”… Ja, but you have to do more than that according to Dion Chang.

Looking after your workforce holistically means looking at elements which include career wellbeing (mentoring and a growth path), social and community wellbeing and another pillar which has recently been added is financial wellbeing.

If you consider the fact that 1% of the population is financially fine, the bottom of the pyramid is not fine and the middle class is really worried, globally, but especially in South Africa – looking at brand productivity inwardly, you can also make a correlation between mental health, financial pressure the wellness of your workforce and productivity.

It is important to think about brand communications to your internal audience. What we are referring to here in terms of brand comms is not just the performance of a brand outwardly toward customers; it is to make sure your culture is aligned to that promise internally. It means that as an organisation you need to make sure that the entire ecosystem of your company culture is up to speed with what you are projecting externally.

Back to employee wellness. The team at Flux Trends started investigating mental health and wellbeing. They discovered people were at work but not present. So they started to drill down between the concepts of being absent, absenteeism and presenteeism.

As an example, looping back to financial wellness, presenteeism is when you are at work but so stressed out about personal financial affairs that you might as well not be at work. Something Flux Trends advocated was for companies to give staff members a day off or to bring a financial advisor into work with employees on company time to structure their finances to make sure they feel at ease in terms of their financial well being, which means they perform better and the whole company performs better. When the whole company then performs better it influences client relations and communications.

So, it is important to walk the talk of corporate responsibility and employee wellness. The knock on effect is the idea that you are building an army of brand ambassadors from within who have drunk the brand Kool-aid and are running around out there spreading the gospel. We always ask will this be cheaper and have a bigger impact than buying your big billboard on the N1 highway? The return will be way-way bigger.

That means that companies need to start looking beyond keeping shareholder happiness as a singular focus and that homogeneous boards need to become more diverse to gain a more inclusive way of thinking. This is a thing that is stifling a lot of companies.

Listen to the rest of the conversation on One More Question. A fearless podcast by the people of Nicework. Ross Drakes explores the cesspit of brand communications with Dion Chang where they unpack Dark Social, Identity Politics and the Troll Tsunami. Subscribe and listen on your favourite podcast app or click here.

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Music by: @dcuttermusic / http://www.davidcuttermusic.com

The intersection between brand, business and citizenship

Part #2: The Rise Of Conscious Consumerism And Intersectional Brand Building

In part #2 of our blog series, The Intersection Between Brand, Business and Citizenship, we offer some insights to what is at the core of building a brand worthy of consumer loyalty and loop back to the sustainability conversation. Inspired by this podcast.

We are moving into a world where consumers are poking companies and brands to define what space it is that they want to occupy. Ross believes that companies need to draw that line in the sand and say: This is our space. This is what we’re doing this is how we look after it. This is how we treat the people in our organization. This is how we speak. This is the value we offer the world and importantly, this is what we are doing for the world and the ecosystem that we are all intrinsically part of.

More and more consumers want to know about the values that govern brands and the way they do business, from how you treat your suppliers to who your partners are. We said it in the first part but it bears repeating, don’t be a dick.

“Conscious consumption” is on the rise, that means that consumers want to know where their stuff comes from and if you, as a big brand, have been good to the people making the T-shirt they are considering to buy. The days of lip service are falling behind us.

Then on the other side, there is the rise of what Sizakele calls intersectional brand building. Okay, so what is that? It answers the question of how we as practitioners attend to your commercial challenge as a business and apply our creativity to it in a way that uplifts or contribute positively to culture.

Besides helping companies to sell more T-shirts – how are we helping the people who are making the T-shirts and what are we doing in the community? Yes really. This is no longer just a CSI thing or a Procurement thing – it is really becoming a whole thing.

For Citizenship to become pervasive throughout corporates, so that it just doesn’t sit with the CSI people, it has to be an everyday thing according to Sizakele. If it is not in the culture of the organization, then you see it because you and I know brands that fake care and after a while, we leave them alone and chose differently.

Many people are choosing the alternative, which is going to the local Saturday market to buy most of what they need, fresh produce is organically grown and their rand is going directly to the person they are buying from.

Ross agrees brands dilute value when “care” is outsourced and not augmented in purpose or worse still, commercialised. We have designed a specific lab that helps you and your team to define the brand or company’s impact and deliver on it. It all starts with knowing what your company’s purpose is all about and building a culture aligned to its values and connecting products and services on a deeper level as a brand.

From A Brand Strategy Perspective…

Right, so now as one of the clever switched on people in the marketing/branding team, you have generated a great strategy. One calling for a change in the culture of the organization and a change in behaviour, so that you can go off and solve an important problem, communicate about it and build the brand. But, your mandate doesn’t extend beyond the forward facing portion of the company. So now what.

How do you have the necessary conversations with the HR and Operations teams? For many businesses, the brand team is almost like a side unit that works with agencies to build the brand and “never shall the two worlds meet” remarks Ross. Luckily you are a communicator. You have all the skills in your arsenal to change people to shift their perception.

Some insights to support the shift:

It may sound obvious but you start by reminding people that the brand is the business.

The mistake that many people make is to think that growing the brand is the responsibility of the marketing team. It is not, says Sizakele because everything communicates, something that our team is particularly aware of when we do onsite immersions in our clients’ worlds.

The reality is the brand is built with a million tiny engagements, from how your team answers the phone, to how your team engages with customers or how receptionists welcome people and even how your debtor’s department follows up with people. All this communicates whether or not you can put its money where its mouth is to deliver on your brand promise. Most importantly, how the C-suite manages the company is the root of all things.

An example is when the new UBER CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi took the predecessor and co-founder of Uber – Travis Kalanick – to task in Davos at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January, for leading the company astray. In a conversation with CNBC, he stated that the “moral compass of the company” was not pointing in the right direction under Kalanick and that there was a lot that happened in the past that wasn’t right. Dara said that the CEO of a company has to take responsibility.

Uber’s London operation’s operating licence was revoked due to “public security and safety implications”. The public complained that the company was failing to properly screen the backgrounds of its drivers. The company also faced accusations of a culture of sexism and sexual harassment, contentious personnel departures, high-profile lawsuits, revelations about a fake app designed to fool government regulators and a profanity-laced argument with an Uber driver caught on video. The brand inside had lost its north and was bleeding out into its ecosystem.

This leads us into the second thought which is that your brand truly has to care about what’s going on in society and take responsibility for how your company behaves in it. Where the superficiality emerges is when you live in a world where the only reason the company exists, is to make shareholder profits or only care about the things that are in your value chain.

It’s about identifying the pain points in society and understanding the social and regulatory dynamics of the market that you are playing in and using your position as a leader or a person in brand and marketing to get your brand into that space of relevance and showing a real level of care and responsibility. Really and truly.

We need to connect companies to the fact that caring does actually have an impact on the bottom line. For Nicework building the brand and consumer relationship is the value of getting a bigger spend, a more loyal customer and more of their mindshare. Then you’re able to offer a wider range of products and services which they will not hesitate to buy. After all who does not want to buy from a person they like?

Linking Back To Sustainability

One of the most notorious companies for kick-starting and leading the pack on the sustainability conversation is Unilever. Sizakele recalls that everybody, particularly cynics, rolled their eyes asking, “Are we hugging trees now? Are we going to save all the children in Africa?”

Some of the cynics came back a decade later and say “I wish I had listened when you were ready to talk to us about this sort of stuff”

Unilever’s growth and sustainable success are due to the brands that they choose to use to drive their sustainability conversation, along with their deep understanding of what purpose is. They understood that making the sustainable development goals core to their business is good for growth, the planet and society. They were very deliberate about moving the needle and all in and that is where their success is coming from.

In an interesting report by Ernest and Young (EY) companies can harness the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to drive growth, address risk, attract capital and focus on purpose.

According to the report by contributing to the SDGs companies can create shared value for everyone because businesses are a driving force to galvanise stakeholders around a common and shared outcome.

When companies focus on a purpose that is rooted in creating value for others, improving the world we live in and inspiring the organization at all levels, they will increase their ability to drive profits and create sustainable and shared value. In history, no one has ever begrudged a company for making decent profits and making the world a better place at the same time. This is the Impact Economy.

“Playing the long game is about the care that is not fashionable to talk about, care that’s not trendy. It’s about the care that has nothing to do with how many likes you get on Twitter. It’s just about a substantive contribution to society… in ways that benefit everyone who is in your value chain.” says Sizakele.

The more brand work Nicework does with large and small businesses, the more we see how significant understanding the relevance of shared value is and that consumers are starting to expect and demand it. For entrepreneurs impact investing has become a major theme while investors look for start-ups and high growth businesses that are solving social and environmental problems in a meaningful way – while making profits. It is not about charity and it is no longer cute social entrepreneurship – it is serious business.
The EY report affirms that SDGs can focus a company’s purpose on challenges that act as a catalyst for innovation, engage and motivate employees, open up new markets and opportunities, and may future-proof the company against a wide range of risks.

We agree with Sizakele that if we don’t have people who are deep in their reflection about where they are and where they want to take the world then CEOs are always going to be number crunchers, as opposed to figuring out how to use their roles to effect lasting changes in society.

When you have leaders that care and are all into creating sustainable value they attract people who care. So their company culture as a consequence naturally becomes progressive and focused on positive interests. The quality of work improves, the moral of the team improves and staff turn over becomes less. It seems really obvious when we put it down we challenge you to go out there and implement it.

Coffee on us!

If you would like to explore how you can shift your brand into a space of relevance with a dose of unfashionable care, but the kind that is relevant and builds lasting relationships with your consumers, chat to us.

Bringing Easter to life

For the last few months, we have been working on a great campaign with the team from Ogilvy for Cadbury. Cadburys has launched a new range of chocolates (they are delicious) just for Easter. We were challenged with crafting and telling a multi-part story about the theft of this new range. An agile improv based process ensued. Toilets, post-it and many late nights later you can see the end results yourself. Better yet go an test out the merchandise. See the whole campaign here.

Our lead on this project was David Hillier who got married on Saturday (he just made it). He was involved in the story, script, illustration, animation, sound design and directing.

Thanks to the team who made it all possible. (We love you Naledi)

Stay tuned for episode 4…

One More Question: An offer no-one can refuse

We are super excited to launch the first episode of our podcast One More Question. Featuring a conversation with Loic Potjes, Managing Director from Disruptive Leap and Ross Drakes our founder, offering some practical insights in turning a business around or preparing for scale and exponential growth, in a world where speed to market separates legacy constrained businesses from profitable agile businesses, on an offer no-one can refuse. Tune in every two weeks to hear us ask more interesting questions with other interesting people we have encountered over the last 12 years.

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Music by: @dcuttermusic / http://www.davidcuttermusic.com

To achieve “crazy growth” – Loic Potjes – with real value, there are eight key considerations to explore on the pivot or growth journey:

1. Challenge the status quo

Is your perspective anchored in a linear old paradigm of 10% to 15% growth year on year for the next century? Are you sure your business secure for the next ten years? Are you looking at opportunities with an open mind to grow fast before the next decade is out? Do you have the appetite to challenge the status quo and can you shift your mindset to secure a profitable future? Many companies today are having to answer some tough questions.

2. Define a new space and new territory

To shift into a new paradigm and compete in an accelerated pace of change with pressure to deliver products or services with increasing efficiencies – you need to define a new space. How? By looking at your core competencies and what you have become exceptionally good at as a consequence of your core business. Then define your territory, it needs to be specific enough to frame clearly, but large enough to offer scope for various solutions. Define who you are and what the vision is. For example, Amazon examined if they should continue to publish books or be the platform in the middle that owns the last mile.

3. A clear brand positioning message

From a brand perspective you need to answer questions around what differentiates you, makes you really special, what your core values. Can your savvy marketing team clearly articulate your territory in a simple way?

4. The offer no-one can refuse

Can you create an offer that no-one can refuse? This means offering eighty percen value at twenty percent of the bucks. If you can solve eighty percent of the market’s problem at twenty percent of the cost – you have hit the sweet spot. This means you need to understand where you can apply the concept of efficiencies to save cost and increase margins. This leads to really smart use of technology as enabling platforms which accelerate access.

5. Setting crazy growth goals

Now begs the question – what are the next steps to scale?

Say you are a security company, traditional thinking will lead us to hire 10 or 50 sales people who are going to go door knocking, then we will hire 100 and then 500… and in about a century we will be on a million homes and 10000 people. Happy days! Every year we will be able to show 10 percent or 15 or even 20 percent more than last year. But you know what, getting there in a century sounds pretty terrible.

So, you need to set a completely crazy growth goal like getting to a million homes in 18 months. Then you say, OK. Is that crazy? Yes, it ticks the box of crazy, good! The next step is how do you make that half crazy possible. Now, you could reverse think. What levers do we have to pull to respond to a lot of markets, with an offer no-one can refuse, very efficiently?

6. Scaling Levers

To hit scale you don’t necessarily have to scale your team and you don’t need thousands of feet. You can achieve a lot with a lean and agile team. If you can define your space well enough and you define what your core competencies are, then you can leverage efficiencies optimally.

7. Speed to market

So speed is extraordinarily important and it talks to becoming more of a puzzle maker or the analogy of the ecosystem. So Amazon is an ecosystem, they harness international manufacturing capability to offer personalised service to millions of people. Traditionally we think “in house” resources is the way to go, but to build that kind of capability takes a long time and creates unnecessary inefficiencies and overheads. To provide customers access to the “offer you can’t refuse” you need to harness and leverage external capabilities. You need to be at the centre of the puzzle to respond to the market with agility and speed.

8. Stickiness

True protection for your new business is speed because if you get to be the largest in the markets and everyone has downloaded your app and using your services, you’ve got stickiness. Stickiness is moving from a first offer no one can refuse to what Loic would call a flowing organization. The first offer you can’t refuse allows you to start a journey and it starts shaping your organization and ecosystem while leveraging efficiencies and harnassing external capabilities. It is like learning to drive, the first new service line or driving productivity is a little bit cumbersome. The second time it is a bit easier. The tenth time you are just flowing. So the value is not in the physical product but the value in what you have created in access to an “offer you can’t refuse” and being able to create new or more value along the way by adding convenience at each new piece of the puzzle…and convenience becomes exponential.

RadEO with Conor Neill

In this episode of RadEO, our CEO Ross talks to Conor Neill, the president of Vistage Spain. They talk about how you are a vehicle for a project and one should realise your own potential and purpose. Finding meaning in suffering can help in not losing sight of your full strength. Conor gives his 3 top ways to communicating effectively and understanding others around you by asking them what fulfilment looks like. We are all encouraged by enthusiasm, and Conor suggests putting enthusiasm into everything we do.

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Design Students: No one cares about you…

Are you looking for a new job? Are you entering the job market? Our CEO Ross delivered a Keynote at the Open Window Institute to their graduating class. His hope was to prepare and inspired them to take on the job market with a different perspective in mind.

Take what you have learnt and join our team…

Making personalised videos beautiful: Nicework and Infoslips

Infoslips create personalised video for companies, resulting in a higher engagement and learning retention rate for the viewer.
To illustrate the possibilities of these unique videos, Nicework created the fictional brand ‘Veracity’. The story follows a Veracity employee on his unique journey at the company he works for. 

The design allows for many moments of personal information to be highlighted. The video then comes to life with liquid layout creating framing and shape-forming design elements, and the script providing moments of delight and interesting transitions.

Veracity shows a world with the employee at the centre, holding the viewers attention to the end.