When everything is tech, what is tech?

This opens up an interesting debate - “when everything is tech, what is tech?” A florist app is an app when it’s the first of its kind, but it rapidly becomes ‘just’ a florist when all florists are florist apps.


What does 2017 hold for travel?

What does 2017 hold for travel?

For 2017 - and line with my new role at Ten Group - I return to my year ahead views of the travel industry. In this issue, I ask the big questions facing travel as a sector for the 12 months ahead. How will technology shape the industry, who are the big players to watch, where are the key areas to invest, what will shape the customer experience, and how will the business look different as we end the year?

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Craig Le Grice joins Ten Group as Chief Product Officer

Craig Le Grice joins Ten Group as Chief Product Officer

Ten Group is delighted to welcome Craig Le Grice to the business as Managing Director (Product & Digital) as of 1st September 2016. Craig will expand on the company’s rapid digital progress to date and lead the transformation of the product portfolio to become fully technology-centric.

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Acquiring users - at almost any cost?

Acquiring users - at almost any cost?

I've had more than £400 in freebies from Karhoo, as part of its user acquisition marketing in London. But what has that achieved, for Karhoo? Has it, in me, acquired a loyal and valuable customer? Or has it simply taught me that it will subsidise my usage, devaluing its proposition entirely?

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Award: BIMA 100

I'm very honoured to announce I've been listed in BIMA (the British Interactive Media Association)'s #BIMA100 list for the fourth year running. Compiled annually, BIMA 100 highlights the 100 most influential digital leaders in the UK, and beyond.

The BIMA 100 were chosen from public nominations by a selection panel of industry experts chaired by Lawrence Weber, Managing Partner Innovation at Karmarama and member of the BIMA Executive board with special responsibility for the Hot 100 initiative.

The BIMA 100 will be honoured at an exclusive invitation-only celebration at Ham Yard Hotel in central London on the evening of 10 May. The full list of Hot 100 members will be published on the evening in hard copy and digital.


Is your board digital-ready?


I’ve been talking about how important it is for boards and management teams to be digitally literate for a number of years now. I first delivered a keynote titled “are you ready for tech to turn your business upside down?” in 2005. (To an admittedly somewhat bemused audience). Fast forward a decade and it’s clear to see that I'm not the only one examining the digital capability of companies - every analyst of every listed company answers that question with buy / hold / sell recommendations every day. The fact that ‘digital-ness’ is affecting share price is one reason it’s getting so much attention, certainly.

Through my client projects, in London and internationally, I work with many leaders who - through circumstance - haven’t yet prepared for digital transformation. No company or sector is immune from the disruption that can be caused by the creation of a new technology powered business model.

Uber is one of the case studies I talk about most, with its meteoric rise to a $50bn valuation, but digital disruption is everywhere you look. From mobile-only banking platforms like M-Pesa in Africa, to the Just Eat / Deliveroo shake up of take away food, and the Spotify / Netflix / Apple Music battle to banish all physical media from the home.


MIT, Harvard Business School and INSEAD have all recently released research on executives’ preparedness for the next wave of digital disruption. And the results are grim. From a third of future revenues being at risk from new market entrants to 9-in-10 CEOs confiding that they don’t feel they have enough digitally-native talent at the top table, enterprise is simply not ready. If you analyse the FTSE 250 and Fortune 500, less than 20 - yes, just TWENTY - companies have a clear digital and strategic lead on the board.


There are quite a few ways to plug the gaping voids companies are now finding themselves with. A combination of expert counsel from consultancies like ours, Non-Executive Directors, special advisors and the adding of senior digital and commercial operators to boards - nickname ‘unicorn’ hires because of their rarity - all helps.

But it starts much deeper than that - companies have to believe.

For the past decade I have stood in front of audiences of every type, sector, seniority, etc. The message has been clear - disruption is coming (and you’re not going to like it). For the most part, people believed me - but usually questioned the rapidity of change. In recent years we’ve seen major moments provide proof-points of the effects of disruption to accompany the anecdotes, predictions and hypotheses. We needed these - because they turned doubt in to belief. And, helpfully, use a little fear to gain traction.

After all, if you thought $1bn for Instagram was a high price for Facebook in 2012, you probably accepted it more readily after the $19bn purchase of WhatsApp just two years later.


I get asked a lot “what is the DNA of digital transformation?” and “how do we do it?” The answer, of course, is not a simple one. But there are clear characteristics of true disrupters that any company can (and most companies should) be trying to embed in their teams: size - small enough to be nimble, big enough to scale; speed - fast enough to stay one step ahead, patient enough to get the product right; and agility - with the ability to pivot an entire company on the spot, immediately, to react to the world around it.


Replacing half of your executive team with hires out of Google, Airbnb and PayPal might very well give you the jumpstart your business needs in order to disrupt the competition. But true disruption requires a top-down, then bottom-up, cohesion. One of the issues many of my clients face is the stark reality that the board has lagged behind digital to the point it can’t brief its management team - who, in turn, can’t lead the troops on the ground.

Even just 20 years ago, the thought of a graduate analyst knowing more about the market a company is operating in than the CEO was both rare and amusing. Now it’s increasingly common - and understandably scary.

Some of this feels to be to do with tangible skills - few CEOs can code, would understand how to write a digital platform strategy, or could properly assess a CTO candidate etc. But, in reality, that’s not the most important thing. The C-suite never understands every single detail of every single role. That’s, indeed, why there is a hierarchy of command-and-control.

But it’s a serious concern that the very language used in today’s disruptively led changing market is alien to many leaders. The decreasing ability to communicate with one ‘common language’ has made it harder to talk about how to push forward digital agendas, how to topple new technology competitors, and how to lead the digital-first teams of tomorrow.

It’s the resulting confidence gap that I spend much of my time coaching leaders on.

The year ahead - predictions for 2016


It feels like we've waited a long time since we last had a "Year of the X". Which is probably a good thing, because every time we claimed Year Y to be Year of the Z, we were wrong. Nobody called the year of mobile correctly, it took longer than we expected for the year of social to embed, and our year of video predictions were out too.

Which makes it slightly risky for me to now predict that next year will be the year of the new.

My 10 predictions for 2016 are mostly about new uses for technology that has emerged in the last year or two:

  1. VR will find its commercial tipping point - helped by Oculus' launch
  2. Crowdfunding will overtake VC, officially
  3. Facebook's core platform MAUs will be dwarfed by its investments in Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp
  4. Unicorn growth will slow
  5. Half of the top 10 new apps will come from existing creators - with "instant hits" being rarer
  6. Barclays (UK) will cave and join the Apple Pay program
  7. Apple will have a slow Q2 (and be savaged by Wall Street), but rebound for a killer Q4
  8. The music streaming space will see a new entrant to challenge Apple Music and Spotify - perhaps from an existing parallel like music journalism, ticketing, or fan content
  9. Tesla's much-rumoured launch of its mass-market-priced model will redefine the electric- / hybrid- automotive sector
  10. We'll see new future icons make headway in the burgeoning AI, robotics, and drone spaces

As a bonus 11th prediction: BlackBerry will finally restructure its floundering operations globally under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.

As always, I look forward to looking back at the end of the year and see how correct / wildly out I am!

2016: where is travel going?

My view for 2016 and the travel industry is conflicted. At one end of the market we have airlines squeezing extra rows on to old aircraft. At the other we have ultra-luxe concepts for revolutions of First (and Business) Class. Some hotels clamber to compete with Airbnb. Others ramp up the luxuries, extras, and service. Who'll win? Is there profit in equal measure at both ends of the spectrum? What does the middle ground look like? IT's all here in my 2016 Future of Travel report...

I sell these reports to my consulting clients at the time of publication. As 2016 has now (almost!) passed, you may request a complimentary copy of this report. Please click here to contact me.

My agenda for ad:tech 2015

Sharing my agenda for ad:tech 2015 at Olympia (13-14 October) where I'll Chair the keynote speeches and panel discussions in Conference Room 1. Come and join me... Get your tickets here: http://ad-techlondon.co.uk/register

Day one - Tuesday 13 October
0930 ad:tech opens
0955 Chair's opening remarks
Craig Le Grice, Founder, Hub & Lab
1000-1040 Innovation, ecommerce and digital leadership: Transforming Nestle
Pete Blackshaw, Global Head of Digital & Social, Nestle
1045-1110 AI, computer vision and the future of the brand experience
Jonathan Barrowman, Chief Commercial Officer, blippar
1110-1135 Break
1135-1200 Re-wiring Sharp: using digital to drive brand, product and business transformation
Paddy Griffith, Co-CEO, Workclub Paul Molyneux, President & CEO, Sharp Electronics
1205-1220 The future of programmatic: orchestrated dialogues
Kfir Hod Moyal, CEO, AdClarity and GeoSurf
1225-1250 Staying relevant: Connecting tech, culture and communities
Steve Hatch, Director - EMEA, Facebook
1255-1310 From Paper and Paste to Data and Digital: How Ad Tech is Transforming the OOH sector
Shaun Gregory, CEO, Exterion Media
1315-1340 Connecting data and content in marketing strategy
Donna Orman, Head of Customer Loyalty, MailNewspapers
Roland Agambar, CMO, MailOnline, The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday
1340 -1425 Lunch
1425-1500 How can CEOs support marketing transformation?
John Roberts, CEO, ao.com
1500-1520 Break
1520-1550 China: 5 things you need to know about marketing to a digital nation
Bessie Lee, CEO, WPP China
1555-1610 Live in the moment, advertise in the moment: Discover how moment marketing is helping brands to personalise their campaigns in real-time
Antoine De Kermel, Managing Director EMEA, TVTY
1615-1700 Agency leaders debate: How is disruption shaping the future complexion of the agency?
Steve Parker, Co-CEO, Starcom
Paul Frampton, CEO, Havas
Nick Baughan, CEO, Maxus
1705-1745 Brands, ethics and Silicon Valley culture: Exploring the dark side of the digital economy
Andrew Keen, Author & critic

Day two - Wednesday 14 October
1015-1100 How are marketing and consumer trends conspiring to rewire the agency-client relationship?
Helen McRae, CEO, Mindshare
Thomas Malleschitz, CMO, Three
1105-1135 Data + Content, Brand + Performance, Sales + Marketing : Why talent is critical
Paul Frampton, CEO, Havas Media
Simon Lloyd, Global Digital Director, AXA
1135-1150 Deep social insight – the secret of mining text and visual social media data for valuable business intelligence
Roy Jacques, UK MD, Sysomos
1150-1215 Break
1215-12.45 Driving consumer experience and value beyond core products
Nina Bibby, Marketing Director, O2
1245-1300 Dead at 24 minutes! The art of disposable content
Stephen Wise, Co-Founder, Triggerbuzz
1300-1330 Investing in the future of the industry
Richard Fearn, Director at the Friday Club London & Early Stage Tech Investor
Trevor Hope, Chief Investment Officer, Beringea
Sam Taylor, Brand Marketing Director, Direct Line
Frank Kelcz, Partner, collider
1330-1425 Lunch
1425-1510 Marketing people in a multichannel world
Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever
1530-1630 The Next Big Thing - Pitches
1630-1700 Driving innovation on a global scale: embracing new tech and rewiring partnership
Dean Aragon, CEO, Shell Brands
Nigel Robinson, Managing Partner, MEDIACOM
1700-1710 The Next Big Thing - Winner

What is innovation, anyway?


A few years ago, the word innovation would receive an eye roll in the world of advertising and marketing agencies. Mostly because it was usually used in relation to startups – some that were threatening seats of power, some that were being started up by talent leaving agencies, and some that had valuations that eclipsed even the biggest agencies within just a year.

Fast forward to 2015 and the situation has very much changed. There are still threats attached to the word – there isn’t an agency in town that isn’t aware of the encroaching management consultancies wrapping words like ‘innovation’ and ‘transformation’ together to pose a real risk to the consultative ambitions of the best agency names – but on the whole, agencies are warming because clients have warmed.


To me, innovation should be something that lives and breathes throughout the organisation, led by the senior leadership team, prioritised by the management teams, and focused on growth. Growing culture requires innovation to enable your people to make a difference. Growing your bottom line requires a differential edge in your product or service offering – and how you deliver it. Growing your brand requires a way of thinking that demonstrates why you stand out.

The best innovations can feel a little like the obvious inventions that you could’ve invented, would’ve made millions with, but didn’t do. Which is possibly where another element of contempt for the subject has come from before.

Many people assume innovation always ends up with something being ‘built’, which is why digital agencies have led the charge to date. But true innovation can come in many shapes.

A knowledge ecosystem based on people and software can help a company harness knowledge management, directly impact how talent integrates, and lead to tangible growth through both efficiencies and leveragability. Similarly, a data dashboard that combines proprietary, volunteered and available commercial data into one predictive modelling tool can easily demonstrate a return on investment by increasing competitive advantage.

But innovation can also centre on education. Coaching a company’s top layer of leadership, for example, can embed managers who know the business inside out in the alternative cultures of technology startups, venture capital firms, business media and next-generation educational organisations etc in order to embed innovation-first thinking.

The secret to getting innovation right is quite simple, yet can feel impossible at times. It’s about the right talent, in the right environment. The best partner and the right plan are vital. As is a clear brief and freedom to explore. So is being prepared to fail (smartly) along the way. But, crucially, good innovation comes from combining all of these things, in the right way, at the right time.


More of the same, ironically. Where companies, boards and leaders were turning to innovation to help fill revenue and profitability gaps a few years ago, the same nod is now focused on growth beyond the baseline. Using an innovation partner is a new priority for boards if it brings new thinking, new products, new services, new talent and – most importantly – new bottom line results.

Getting ready for iPhone 6 (one year on...)


One year ago I wrote an article for the UK technology media that reviewed Apple's launch of iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch, and Apple Pay. I identified five reasons the announcements were game changing for Apple... Was I right?


It shows that Apple is listening to what users want

The iPhone 6 Plus is a departure that reacts to global trends, not just North American ones. The iPhone 6 will be a top seller in the West and the iPhone 6 Plus will be a top seller in the East. That’s a humility balanced with commerciality that makes Apple special.


Apple Pay is fantastic, using Apple’s biggest asset – trust

800m people trust Apple with their credit cards and it has used that to pivot a platform that creates a win-win-win for consumers, merchants and card issuers.


Once again, Apple waited to be late to market

It was always clear that NFC wasn’t ready. Touch ID was the missing link – creating a secure environment that will help reinforce consumer faith in the platform. Apple’s strategy to shareholders has always been watch a technology arise, perfect its vision for it, then launch. That gives the long-termism that shareholders rarely see but stocks historically thrive on.


Whilst it was clearly the PR line they wanted to land, Apple Watch is really the most personal product the company has ever built.

It takes a space littered by confused product launches (none of the mobile watch creators have yet been able to say why customers should buy them) and shows clear direction. It also does it in a way that Apple does well – at a premium. It is expensive, it is the best, it is unapologetically within Apple’s ecosystem.


That ecosystem is getting stronger and stronger

Once bought in – with a Mac, an iPhone, an iPad, maybe an Apple TV, perhaps an Apple Watch and using Apple Pay, consumers will find it tough to leave. And not just in the ‘trapped’ way – but because when everything works together, why change it? Health, music, fashion, photography, video, identity, payments… They all come together to create a compelling offer.

Boring data, scary privacy?

Stifle the yawns; we’re all data businesses now and the related issues confronting us are arresting, exciting and a little bit frightening.

It’s difficult for ‘data’ to shake off its dull image as a series of zeros and ones, decipherable only to geeks and specialist tech heads. But like it or not; data has become part of the news agenda as daily life increasingly generates data touch points with the organisations and brands we interact with.

"Casual, soft abuse of data is just as bad as lost data. Giving reward vouchers to buy beef when you’re a vegetarian is reckless and negligent."

Whether it is a large corporate leaking customer details or the US National Security Agency accessing search engine data hubs, data courts strong opinions from diverse sources. For organisations there are obvious and subtle risks, but there are also opportunities. It’s actually far from dull, as Craig Le Grice, Blue Rubicon’s Chief Innovation Officer, explained when he answered questions from clients at a recent seminar.

Originally published on Blue Rubicon's 'Thinking' in May 2014. Click here to read in full.

Trust and collaboration

As a strategist, I work with senior clients on a daily basis. Whenever I'm asked to advise on the one priority to get right when encouraging collaborative DNA, I invariably always say trust. A small word with big meaning.

Trust is the most important thing a board can invest in.

More than incentives, people skills, platforms, roles, mission or the corporate structure, it’s trust that matters most. Like in the non-commercial world, collaboration will always happen without trust but it doesn't last or deliver results without it.

Request a copy.

The future of HNW and high value travel

For 2015, I'm focusing my "year ahead for travel and tech" on high net worth and high value segments. I'll (as always) ask the big questions facing travel as a sector. How will technology shape the industry, who are the big players to watch, where are the key areas to invest, and what will shape the customer experience for the coming 12 months. But I'll also focus specifically on the divide between each end of the sector - ultra luxe vs. ultra economy.

I sell these reports to my consulting clients at the time of publication. As 2015 has now passed, you may request a complimentary copy of this report. Please click here to contact me.

How to blow £250k by not trusting your instinct

I've been examining cost models a lot recently - the swathe of statistics, pivot tables and macros that help me decide if I should spend X on Y for Z reason. In most cases, I'll defer to a spreadsheet when I'm making major financial commitments. (Both professionally and personally - I know, I need to get out more). But one thing I tend to rely on most is instinct and experience. Because time and time again that's proven to deliver.

Take a major project I worked on in a previous role. We were building a major piece of software. I'd created the vision, the roadmap and - crucially - the budget. When I presented it to the rest of the board (who were all quite nervous given how much of a departure this type of project was from the firm's 'norm'), the first, and loudest, question was "how do you know it'll cost £ and take n weeks to deliver?"

My answer was simple: "because that's how much it will cost and that's how much time we have."

I was immediately asked to get comparable quotes.

So I did. And this is where the lesson, for me, reads greatest.

I had stipulated a budget of £380k and a timescale of 35 weeks. Why? Because that's what felt right. There's no simpler answer. My Excel wizardry confirmed I was about right, subject to the decisions I'd made. But I had three other entities quote the exact same brief. And what they came back with was:

1. One company suggested we'd need to allocate £550k and the process would take up to 50 weeks. 2. The second told us the same, basically. We would spend £600k and we'd be done in a year. 3. The third told us the 35 weeks was fine, if we'd allocate a £750k budget.

The average is £633k and 46 weeks. That's £253k and 11 weeks longer than I had predicted and, instinctively, gauged (guessed).

At this stage, most corporate structures would've encouraged (forced) me to revise (increase) my budget.

But I didn't.

And I delivered the project at +1.1% against my initial budget and -1.8% against my initial timeline.


Because that's what we had. And that's what we wanted to do. Similar to Google's revered 'moonshot' thinking, we could've played safe, we could've given ourselves a cushion. But we'd have then played safe. And we'd have spent the cushion. Instead, we had two aggressive targets - which pushed us to create aggressively innovative solutions to the challenges we faced on the way.

My new role at Global Blue

I'm delighted to announce that in October 2014, I will be joining Global Blue as Chief Customer Officer, responsible for product leadership across marketing services, loyalty, business intelligence and corporate marketing globally. Global Blue is the go-to expert on foreign travellers’ shopping and spending. The company makes retail transactions between merchants and their foreign customers, easier and more rewarding for everyone - working with more than 270,000 merchants and 100,000 travellers every single day, in 43 countries.

Having introduced the concept of tax free shopping over 30 years ago, Global Blue now offers a wide range of services that help consumers shop and spend wisely when they are in foreign countries, and merchants and banks increase their revenues from the lucrative traveller market.

The company’s ambition is to become the beacon for international shopping and spending across the globe.

I'm extremely excited to be joining the company at such an important point in its life.

A round-up of 2014 awards

I'm extremely proud to share that 2014 brought four awards / accolades:

  • In May, I was awarded a place in the BIMA 'Hot 100' for the second year in a row.
  • In June, I took the stage at the Sabre Awards' In2 Innovation Summit, with two of my colleagues at Blue Rubicon, to accept our 'Most Innovative Agency, EMEA' award.
  • In August, I was delighted to learn that I'd been shortlisted for the 'PR, Advertising and Marketing' section of the Hospital Club's annual h.club 100 awards, celebrating creativity.
  • In September, I had the great honour of being named in The Drum's 'Digerati' shortlist, being named in the top 100 in October.

A big thank you goes to each of the awarding bodies and everyone who judged / voted for me.

12 essential traits for successful agencies

"All agencies operate in a competitive landscape, where despite key strengths and differentiation points, everyone broadly does the same job. We offer similar services to clients, we have common skillsets, etc - so what makes an agency successful? We asked The Agency Collective to speak to 12 agency owners, founders and directors about what essential traits an agency must have in order to be successful and build long and mutually beneficial relationships with their clients..." Published 10 September 2014 by Kevin Gibbons on Econsultancy.

Why Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and Apple Pay bring apple back

"Five reasons why the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and mobile wallet bring Apple back... Craig Le Grice, Chief Innovation Officer at Blue Rubicon, has told us the launch of the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and a new mobile wallet "brings Apple back, undoubtedly". Here, he offers five reasons why..." Published 10 September 2014 on The Drum.