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Managing Marketing: When customer experience, technology and data go bad

Ben Sharp
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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Ben Sharp is a Commercial Business Leader and Mentor, Investor and Non-Executive Director, and Chairman. Ben chats with Darren on how he became a LinkedIn Viral Sensation when the BPme app failed and he posted the implications on LinkedIn, which had more than 300,000 views in less than ten days. He also shares the response from BP and the lessons to be learned by marketers everywhere.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’m talking with Ben Sharp who is a commercial business leader and mentor, investor and non-executive director chairman and now we can add to that list a LinkedIn viral sensation. Welcome, Ben.

Ben:

Thanks, Darren; it’s quite hilarious to be referenced as a LinkedIn or viral sensation. It was definitely not the intention when I started writing this content about two weeks ago.

Darren:

Well, that’s the reason I wanted to sit down and have a chat because I was flicking through my LinkedIn feed and suddenly I see this letter from the NSW police. And I love the first line of your post which is ‘I am not a criminal’.

Ben:

That’s right. We might get into it about what is it in a social media post that causes it to go viral, but I tell you any marketing message needs to have a hook. You need to engage people right at the start.

That was not the intention when I wrote this initial piece of content two weeks ago. I published it 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. How many people are actually active on LinkedIn at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon?

Darren:

You would be surprised. Countdown to the weekend—they’re probably sitting there whiling time away. But before we get into that the other interesting thing is looking through your professional history because it’s not like you’re just an average Joe on the street although I’m sure you’d say that.

But you’ve had a very extensive career in marketing, technology, and in digital data so let’s just talk about that a bit. I noticed that you started off in recruitment at Robert Walters.

Ben:

Yep, awesome experience, 98, 99, 2000—Robert Walters in the U.K. I was a 25, 26-year old Aussie that turned up in London and went ‘I’m just going to get a job doing something’ and I fell into working recruitment as many Aussies do.

It was awesome, a lot of fun. We were recruiting sales and marketing teams for startup.coms in 98, 99, 2000 so you can imagine the buzz and the excitement that existed in the market there and it was a sales role. It was a lot of fun and probably the only thing I could equate it to was working on Wall St in the 80s (which I obviously never had the opportunity to do).

Darren:

But you’ve seen the Wolf of Wall St so that’s what it was like.

Ben:

It probably wasn’t quite that bad.

Darren:

But a young Aussie in London having a lot of fun.

Ben:

Absolutely.

Darren:

And was it Yahoo that brought you back to Australia or was that something you’d already come back and landed?

Ben:

No, I came back to Australia with my then girlfriend at the time who is now my wife and we went travelling.

Darren:

Oh, you had a lot of fun then in London?

Ben:

Yes, absolutely, I brought home a life-sized souvenir. We came back, we went travelling, and then in 2001 I had to get a job. What was that job going to be—recruitment in Australia or something else?

Luckily I had a number of people that I knew inside Yahoo in Australia here and got a chance to meet Tony Four, Louis Joyce, Craig Galvin and a whole bunch of other people who had been at Yahoo for some time.

And I saw a great opportunity to work in the sales team at Yahoo. And I think they saw something great in my sales ability at the time to help that business further grow.

Darren:

It was also a real boom time for Yahoo wasn’t it?

Ben:

It was amazing. It was probably the first time personally I had an opportunity to work in an environment where the business had a real purpose. They engaged people culturally. It was drilled into us as Yahoos that you bled purple, you lived the brand. It was obviously an environment where there was massive interest in internet advertising at a very embryonic stage.

And the time at Yahoo, especially the first couple of years, preceded the establishment of the IAB. So, there was no universal ad package, no use of data, the ad formats that we were selling were very basic (text links and very small banners).

There was a degree of targeting in terms of how those ads appeared on the site. But it was do you want to appear on the front page of Yahoo? Yes, you get it for the whole day or do you want to try and engage a male potential customer? Let’s put your ad in finance or sport.

Darren:

It borrowed a lot from traditional media selling strategies.

Ben:

Absolutely. That was exactly what it was. It just happened to distribute content and the ad experience online in a very static environment, which is obviously very different to how internet advertising operates now.

Darren:

Well not a big leap then to go to Allure Media and then Conversant Media is it from Yahoo?

Ben:

Absolutely.

Darren:

What was the difference for you?

Ben:

I spent 6 years at Yahoo—I absolutely loved it. I very much loved the early stages of Yahoo when it was very entrepreneurial, and we felt like we were making a real difference in the market.

And when I left Yahoo I had these desires to go and start my own business. I didn’t exactly know what that new business was going to be, but I had some ideas on what the construct could look like.

The Allure Media business came about through a conversation between myself and a group of investors at Netus at the time, who are currently Airtree, and Chris Jans. They had an idea on a very similar publishing model to what I had been speaking to them about—probably didn’t have a good view on how to monetize it but they had a good idea on how to establish a brand and content and product in the market.

The idea behind Allure Media was to create a local publishing platform with U.S content that we would own the local media asset and blend the U.S content from sites like Gizmodo, Business Insider, Pop Sugar and others with locally generated content.

What we did with Allure was really drive innovation in the market in a couple of ways. The first was a disruptive publishing model where we encouraged our journalists to write a large amount of quality content. So, they were incentivised on the amount of content they wrote and the page views that were generated off the back of that.

In 2007 no editor was thinking in terms of a risk strategy, in terms of how they could be compensated. We had a different way of getting them to work which was great.

Darren:

But that was a good thing wasn’t it, that you could try these things out?

Ben:

Absolutely.

Darren:

I also like it because I see the 2000s (before we had the global financial crisis recession) and there was still a sense of it was interactive media rather than this big lump of what’s called digital media. The things like page views and content were still thought of as a way of interacting and engaging an audience rather than just bombarding millions of people.

Ben:

Absolutely. Allure was a niche publisher (targeted content) maybe learnt somewhat from the magazine publishing model but really innovated the content strategy and also the commercial strategy.

When we developed the business, we went let’s go to market and not just sell banners and buttons; let’s sell better ways of clients wanting to engage their audience. We were the first publisher in Australia to offer a form of native content. Native content, the first couple of times, was ridiculous looking back on it. It was republishing a press release with some ads around it.

But we evolved. We got the editors to get more strategic in terms of what that looked like and how it blended with the site. But the other things we did; we were the first publisher to re-skin the page for an advertiser, but we also gave some advertisers 100% share of voice of a page or section and blog pages.

As many other websites can be really deep so they go a long way below the fold—we stripped off all ads except for one. And we fixed that ad in view above the fold for 100% of the time that a user was on that page. We were able to charge a premium and we were also able to say to an advertiser you get 100% share of voice.

Darren:

So as the user scrolls…

Ben:

The ad was always there. So, there was a premium attached to the ad and the effectiveness of that ad was significantly higher than an ad that disappeared or was one of five or six ads on a particular page.

Darren:

Not as much viewability issue there?

Ben:

There was no issue around viewability because every asset served. I sat on one of the industry boards at the time through the Audit Bureau of Australia with Paul Davis and others. And that was around the time that many sites were reporting traffic based just on page views and not on unique audience, and page views were being artificially inflated through auto-refresh.

And it was something we did not do; there was no need to. We felt we had a credible way of publishing and reporting on our traffic.

Darren:

And you were chair of the IAB Technology Council—that would have been interesting.

Ben:

It was awesome. That was with Alice Manners about 3 or 4 years ago where the IAB recognised that their member base and board composition was very one dimensional and there was a need to embrace the technology businesses that were emerging at that stage; DSPs, retargeting platforms, RTPs. The establishment of ad-tech, which 4 years ago some existed. Obviously, more exist now than they did 4 years ago.

It was an opportunity for the ad-tech community in Australia to really influence best process; how you would use data, educate the market around ad-tech, and also ensure that some of the issues we’re now seeing (fraud, viewability, things like that) would be minimised.

Darren:

Sometimes when you read the trade media it’s all the advertisers pointing the finger but in actual fact most of the publishers and ad-tech companies actually also want to have a very clear, clean, transparent ecosystem supply chain don’t they? It’s only really the criminals and the con men that really benefit from this.

Ben:

Absolutely. Any discussion around transparency, viewability, ad fraud—any problems there cause issues for everyone in the ecosystem, the publishers and the ad-tech people in the middle. As an ad-tech platform you want to be able to deliver 100% viewable inventory that people want to engage with on the right device at the right time, but you rely very much on your own technology and your supply partners as well.

The ad-tech players, they’re doing the right thing, most of them are, to be honest. Most of them do have the right methodology and ways of wanting to work.

Darren:

I don’t think anyone goes into business to work out how to rip off all their customers do they?

Ben:

You would hope that’s the case.

Darren:

You’d have to be pretty dodgy. Do you think it’s fair to say that most people would know you because you had a very big job with running AdRoll in Australia?

Ben:

Absolutely. We launched AdRoll at the end of 2013/ beginning of 2014. The purpose for AdRoll at the time was to educate the market about our technology, to recruit fantastic staff, and skill them up in a very different way than otherwise they would have been with existing players, and to really inform the market on the benefits of data-driven marketing.

AdRoll does this as a retargeting platform as well as some of the other products that it delivers, and regional roles; Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South East Asia, we very much informed and influenced the market in a positive way on the benefits of using data to drive your advertising and marketing strategy.

And we did a lot of market activity outside of just selling to people; it was white papers, speaking at events.

Darren:

It was a very high-profile business because you did a lot of content marketing, public relations. I remember there were very few industry events where AdRoll wasn’t represented. I think kudos to the marketing of that. The way it was positioned it was really quite effective.

Ben:

Absolutely. My goal in setting that up was to run the sales and the marketing businesses or teams together. They were a joint force. And we considered the goals between sales and marketing to be exactly the same, so it was pointless for marketing to go off in one direction and not be supported by sales and vice versa.

Darren:

Interesting how legacy businesses really struggle with that and yet when you’ve got a company that could basically be called a start-up from the day it started you’re able to structure that and put the performance metrics in place to build that alignment very quickly, you get the benefits from it.

Ben:

Absolutely. What does any business need to do? They need to identify a segment of customers they want to go and sell to. They need to attract them into their sales funnel. They need to somehow convert them and then somehow retain and grow those customers over time.

Darren:

And also have awareness so that people are already predisposed because they feel that they know your business, so you don’t spend the first half hour of your sales pitch telling people who you are.

Ben:

That’s right and that’s where there is a blended responsibility between the sales and marketing team to work tighter because a sales person can do lots of phone calls to try and generate a prospect.

It’s probably a very inefficient way of doing things whereas if you can identify yourself, warm people up at the start of the funnel, then bring sales people in and support your sales funnel with ongoing education and content it actually increases the chances of conversion.

And it also then increases the chances that your clients will want to stay with you because you’re constantly talking to them and educating them, not just about your own product but about the wider industry and other marketing challenges that they’ll have.

Darren:

It drives me crazy the way a lot of B2B businesses think that marketing is just a support to sales. And yet when you get the two working hand in glove you get such a powerful result. Any marketer that thinks they can create brand without working with sales is wrong because if you’ve got a sales team that’s going to be the brand for your customer.

Likewise, you’ve got sales people that don’t understand the longer term opportunities of building a brand because that’s where next quarter or next year sales are going to come from. It seems logical when you say it, but we see company after company struggle with it because we’ve got one trying to make quarterly numbers and the other one trying to build long-term results.

Ben:

If you think about the culture of an organisation, a culture is going to be influenced partly by the purpose or vision of that business and very much influenced by the executive or management team. Now, if the management team are short-term in their thinking and they’re going ‘oh god, I’ve got to hit this month’s quota, we’ve got to report to the board’.

Darren:

Short-termism.

Ben:

It’s on 3-monthly results. What does the sales and marketing team do? They focus on the short term so they’re constantly chasing their tail whereas if you have a much broader view on your ideal customer segment and how you want to communicate with them, yes, short-term goals are important, but they need to be balanced with a longer term view.

Darren:

Growing market share, dominate particular segments.

Ben:

That’s right. And on a micro level, and this was probably not through design at the time, but there was a period at AdRoll where we actually ramped down our brand activity and invested more into leads driving activity though our marketing budget. And we noticed that the cost per acquisition went up.

Darren:

You have to work harder.

Ben:

That’s exactly right. There is a balance between how much you spend on brand and how much you spend on lead driving activity and you have to do both.

Darren:

Exactly. Now you’ve got your own entity, Edge Consulting, where you do consulting, investments and all sorts. It sounds fascinating because you’re the chair of the board and an investor in Audience Republic and you’re also (I love this) entrepreneur in residence at Queensland University of technology.

Ben:

I love the title as well.

Darren:

What’s this mean for you today?

Ben:

I’ve had my own consultancy business on the side for 6 years. Through that
I’ve invested in a number of businesses. Conversant Media was one of them I invested in and did some work with from about 2012 onwards. And I’ve also done consultancy work and investments with a range of other businesses; Audience Republic is one of them.

And what I typically focus on through that consultancy is early stage, high-growth businesses in the technology and media space.

Darren:

That’s what you know.

Ben:

Absolutely. That need to grow through the setup of the right type of sales and marketing teams. Most people that I work with engage me because they say ‘I’ve got one salesperson, but I think I need more. What’s the best way of doing it?’

My approach with them is to actually look at who you’re trying to sell to, segment it down, apply the right messages, structure your team accordingly, and give the team the right processes and tools to work with so that they can be successful both short and long term.

Darren:

So, would it be fair to say that as an investor you bring both capital and intellectual capital to the party?

Ben:

Absolutely. Any business that I’ve invested into (financial investment) I only invest into businesses where I can see that I can add some form of strategic value otherwise, if you are throwing money at an idea, I wouldn’t even call it an educated gamble; it’s a gamble and you might as well bet on crypto currency or something.

Darren:

Come on number 6.

Ben:

That’s right and anything that you go into financially you want to make sure you understand the business, the founding team and that you can add some value.

Darren:

There’s a great quote; never invest in anything you don’t understand.

Ben:

Absolutely. Never work in anything you don’t understand.

Darren:

And the person who reminded me recently of that said if more marketers did that digital media wouldn’t have grown so quickly.

Ben:

What’s so funny is that in 2013 (I think) when I was looking for my next job and before I started AdRoll and I went and spent time with lots of technology related businesses and I just didn’t get what most of them were talking about. I didn’t understand their product, approach to market, who they were competing with or they were just lots of clones of each other.

Darren:

But they were unique from their perspective because they had this idea, but they hadn’t actually checked the marketplace. I went through the same thing especially around 2005. Lots of people who were getting into ad-tech, mar-tech would come to me and go ‘you know the market’ and I kept asking ‘so, what’s the business model again?’ And they’d go ‘oh we’ll just do advertising’.

Ben:

Anyone that creates a business needs to have a customer view on what they’re doing. They need to understand who it is they’re selling to, the problem they’re trying to solve.

Darren:

What’s the opportunity?

Ben:

Yes. And there’s no problem in your business iterating on existing players in market. It’s very rare to find an entirely new business idea that’s never been done in any way by anyone else in the past so there are always going to be degrees of iteration.

However, not being able to explain what you do in a very cohesive or coherent form is a problem and almost being the same as everyone else is not all that helpful.

Anyone that starts a business or even just works in a business of any size needs to very clearly articulate this is why I have created my business. This is my passion for it and this is the problem we’re trying to solve for this customer segment.

Darren:

Sort of the elevator pitch isn’t it?

Ben:

That’s right and an elevator pitch should be very short and sharp.

Darren:

And the value that you’re creating.

Ben:

And whether you’re speaking to your mate in the pub, your supplier, internal staff or your business partners it needs to be the same message. But everyone needs to understand what it is you do.

Darren:

Now Ben, you’re clearly a technology curious person.

Ben:

Yes.

Darren:

Think back to the day you downloaded the BPme app. Did you have any inkling how that action was one day going to turn you into a LinkedIn viral sensation?

Ben:

No, not at all. I’ll start off by saying I have a personal passion for new and emerging technology. When I find new technology tools to use that will in some way either benefit what I do personally on a day to day basis or how you can operate your business, I want to try lots of different things.

So, when I saw the BPme app I thought this is awesome. You mean I can just rock up to the service station, not have to walk into the shop and stand in a queue; I can fill up and then drive away. And I also don’t need to worry about taking my credit card with me everywhere I go. I’m trying to rationalise the number of things I carry around with me; it’s all in my phone.

I thought this is an awesome piece of technology, an awesome app, I’m going to give it a go.

Darren:

Well it’s probably you don’t even have to pay for it that got you into trouble.

Ben:

I had, and as I always do, have full intentions of paying for any product or service that I use.

Darren:

Of course. How many people viewed your LinkedIn post about what happened with the BPme app—was it 200,000?

Ben:

It’s actually continuing to grow; it’s up over 350,000 as of this morning.

Darren:

For those people listening to us who aren’t in that 350,000 can you give a view of what happened?

Ben:

I’d been using the BPme app for a couple of months and I thought it was really convenient. I went away on holiday and came home and got in the mail and there was a letter from the police—that’s a bit unusual.

The letter basically said, ‘you filled up with petrol on this day at this service station you apparently tried to use the BPme app, but it didn’t work—you owe the service station $79.50, please get in contact with me and we strongly suggest that you go back to the service station and pay the outstanding amount otherwise we’ll be taking it further.’

Darren:

That is really an overreaction, from my perspective. They clearly knew the app had failed and yet they haven’t come to you, they’ve gone to the NSW Police.

Ben:

It is, and it still astounds me that that is what’s happened.

Darren:

That’s the response.

Ben:

It’s hilarious.

Darren:

I remember when you sign up for the app…

Ben:

You put all your details in there.

Darren:

They know exactly who I am and how to contact me; why didn’t someone from the petrol station just phone up and go ‘you haven’t paid can you come back and pay?’

Ben:

Well the craziest thing about this was when I received the letter I emailed the police officer whose name was attached to the email. I also looked in my transaction history on the BPme app and I did pay for the fuel. But the transaction did not happen immediately as it should have. The transaction happened two days later.

Darren:

So, it was clearly a technology issue.

Ben:

A technology and process issue, which I can get to in a second as well. I sent a screen grab of my transaction history to the police officer and said, ‘I am offended to receive this mail because I have paid for the fuel’ and he did respond to me and said ‘yeah, we were ultimately advised by BP that you did pay and you’re not the first person this has happened to.’

I sensed in the police officer’s tone that they’re a bit frustrated that they’ve become debt collectors for BP because of a business process like this.

I thought this is interesting. I’m fairly active on LinkedIn with a large connection base and I put a lot of business related content on there and I thought this’ll create some interesting content for social media.

Darren:

I have to say when I saw it, it didn’t strike me like you were just having an angry rant you actually did present it really well almost like a case study of where technology, process, and customer experience has gone horribly wrong.

Ben:

Absolutely. And if I had wanted it to be a social media rant I would have put it on Facebook. But I didn’t because this is a really good example of how you blend customer data and customer experience together. So, I published it at 4 o’clock Friday afternoon when I thought it would be a fairly quiet time. I didn’t expect much of it—just another piece of content that I’ve published.

I’ve had a look at my recent posts and my posts get something like 500 to 1500 views. This has had 350,000 views so this is crazy.

Darren:

It’s gone nuts.

Ben:

Absolutely. The next highest piece of content I’ve ever published on LinkedIn had about 25,000 views so this is 12, 13 times higher again.

Darren:

You are a viral sensation.

Ben:

I don’t know whether it’s me personally or a combination of the topic, the experience, the frustration that people may have with fuel companies, maybe the way in which I framed the content (starting it I’m no criminal).

Darren:

You’re right. As a copywriter myself the ‘I’m no criminal’ is a great hook because it’s like ‘what, let me get into this’ because I want to know why you could be considered a criminal. And then the visual was the photo of the letter with the NSW Police clearly emblazoned there.

Ben:

Probably there were multiple factors combining at the same time to drive not only awareness but interest in this particular story. A lot of people resent the fuel companies because most of us feel that in some way we’re being gouged when we fill up with fuel and the pricing is irrational because today the price of petrol is 20 cents higher than it was yesterday. We all resent having to buy fuel.

Darren:

We feel manipulated.

Ben:

Absolutely. That’s one factor. The second factor is that in Australia we love the underdog don’t we? The David/Goliath factor, individual takes on corporate, putting them under pressure; I think there is an element of that.

When I noticed page views starting to increase the majority of people who were sharing or commenting tended to be marketers or people in customer experience roles who were sharing amongst their peer group and using it as a case study.

I could see lots of these consumer brands and imagine teams of marketers sitting around on a Monday morning going ‘we’re about to launch something. Let’s just stop for a sec and let’s go back and test every potential variable before we send it live because we don’t want the same thing to happen’.

Darren:

It’s almost like you could read between the lines in that case; thank God this is not us or how do we make sure this isn’t us?

Ben:

That’s exactly right. It’s being used as a case study by lots of marketers especially business to consumer marketers.

Darren:

We’ve even done a blog post that includes it because we saw it as the most recent example of many examples of where customer data and customer experience have just gone horribly wrong because people have not thought through the implications of the processes they’ve put in place.

Ben:

We all as customers give away so much of our data in our day to day digital lives, the way in which we engage with the world through technology. Whether it’s the computer in your office, at home or your mobile every time you turn it on you are sharing some data about yourself with someone else out there.

If you’re using Facebook the amount of data that you’re sharing about yourself is immense. I don’t think any of us really understand how much and what that’s actually being used for but most of us are probably comfortable with what we’re sharing there.

But when you do business with a corporate, a private business which is publicly listed, whose focus is to drive returns for shareholders, you’re giving away a lot of your data for in some cases very questionable purposes. And if you give your data away to a corporate you certainly hope that the experience they deliver back to you is positive, constructive, and you see some value off the back of it.

In this particular situation, considering that BP has a lot of data of mine (as well as anyone else that uses the BPme app) to suddenly defer to calling in the cops on someone who has been a loyal, registered and engaged customer is a crazy business process and obviously a flaw in their operating model for putting this together.

It was actually really interesting to see the backlash against that particular brand.

Darren:

I use the BPme app. I’m also a Velocity frequent flyer and I got a promotion that said I could get 5 points per litre if I went and filled up before this date (3 or 4 days’ time). It had all the good things about an offer; it was a good offer, it had a time limit and all I had to do was fill up the tank.

It was Sunday morning, which was the last day of the offer and I was out driving, I was low on fuel, so I put into the BPme app where’s my nearest petrol station? I drove to it—it was closed. Now the app didn’t tell me that, so I drove to the next nearest—it was closed. I put it in again and went to the next one—and it was closed.

Ben:

Let me guess it was probably the last time you used the BPme app?

Darren:

So, I went and filled up at Caltex, but the other thing was you cannot redeem your Velocity offer through the BPme app. So, I’m just wondering did they rush this to market without thinking it through? Have you had any feedback from BP?

Ben:

I didn’t actually realise that you don’t earn points on your credit card when you do app transactions. You actually have to take your credit card into the store and use the actual card itself to earn the points. So that’s another learning experience for me. To be honest points acquisition is probably less of a focus for me personally when I go shopping.

Darren:

I just like upgrades that’s all.

Ben:

We all do don’t we? The response from BP was interesting but I have to give them a fair bit of credit for how they handled this particular episode through their crisis management. Published on the Friday. Saturday I could see it was going crazy (50,000 views in the first 18 hours or something like that) and I was laughing. This is ridiculous. How’s this happening?

Then I started wondering if anyone from BP would recognise this and then I noticed people I’m connected with starting to share this with people from BP and so it was only a matter of time before someone from BP gets in touch.

Darren:

Imagine, a Saturday, you work for BP and one of your connections tags you in it and you go ‘oh god’.

Ben:

I think that’s exactly what happened because I was contacted by someone from BP on the Sunday morning via LinkedIn and they did say ‘we’ve seen your post, we immediately want to say we’re sorry. We have a team working on this at the moment. Can I get your contact details because someone will be in touch with you on Monday?’

I thought great, I’m more than happy to share with you my email address and phone number so that you can come back to me.

Darren:

How is that lifetime supply of fuel going?

Ben:

Some of the comments were, ‘Sharpie you need to go and ask for a year’s worth of free fuel’. My interest in this was less about the personal financial return. I got to the point where I was thinking I’m actually more interested now in partly how big this post goes because I’m personally fascinated by that, but secondly I’m also fascinated to see how BP handle this from a crisis management perspective.

I have to give BP a lot of credit. They communicated back to me very clearly and gave me clear timelines on what they were doing and when they would respond to me. And they delivered against those deadlines in every particular case. I did have a couple of conversations with someone very senior in communications at BP in Australia and the conversation was great.

They explained the situation and why it happened and then also explained some of the work that they’re doing to solve that and ensure it doesn’t happen again and gave me an opportunity to ask a whole bunch of questions as well.

I actually said to the person at BP my interest at this point is to see the business process from a crisis management perspective. And I said I’d also love to be able to close the social media loop on this by saying that despite a shitty situation at the start.

Darren:

Which you have done? You’ve written a post on LinkedIn that gives credit where credit’s due for their ability to deal with it.

Ben:

That’s right.

Darren:

Mind you, I think most brands would prefer not to be very good at crisis management and actually minimise the risk in the first place.

Ben:

Absolutely but if you think about strategy and risk for any business, risk is something that presents in numerous ways. When it comes to PR risk there always needs to be a process put in place so that you can defer to something and be able to work with issues when they pop up.

I interpreted from the outside that BP had a risk mitigation strategy and a process to cover PR issues like this and it was escalated to a very senior person within the BP marketing team to handle because it was obviously something that had become very high profile very quickly.

Darren:

What would you say from your experience with BP, without revealing anything confidential, would be the three insights that a corporation could take away from this?

Ben:

The first thing I would say is that technology is very exciting, and you have to use technology not just to deliver a good customer experience but to run your business. But when you are opening your technology up to the outside world, especially the mass market consumer, you need to ensure that the process you’ve put in place and how your consumers are going to interact with you is absolutely locked down.

And when you launch any product you need to road test all of these different versions. You need to test, test, test again, every potential variable and you need to ensure that the QA process is locked down before you put something into market. Don’t rush it to market. So that’s the first thing.

Through the testing process it’s going to identify some potential areas of failure, which is fine because you’ve got some things to work on. But there needs to be an approach taken to say I’ve got a potential point of failure here, when this happens we need to have a very quick process to respond and patch or solve the issue.

The other thing which I think is very very important (and this is very much so in this episode with BP) is that staff training is required so that they understand how to operate the technology in the first place.

Now, the issue in this particular case was part human and part technology. The way in which the BPme app works, from my understanding is; you turn up at the service station, select the service station you’re at, it validates that you’re there and your credit card’s attached and then tells you to start filling up with fuel.

Up to that point not much happens inside the service station until you actually finish filling up and put the nozzle back into the bowser. Now at that point the service station attendant should be notified through their technology that there’s an app transaction that has happened on a particular pump and they need to close it off.

They have to press a button to close it off so that the charge can be pushed through to the app and credit card attached. In this particular situation that technology piece somewhat failed but the service station attendant, as well, was not trained to handle that type of failure.

The attendant went this is a problem; I think someone has driven off with the fuel. I’m going to look through the camera. That’s who it is; notify the cops. Whereas they should have gone it looks like there is a technology issue; it’s app related. We know their details. There needs to be a slightly different approach taken to recover the money or ensure that the transaction happens. So, the staff training piece is essential.

Darren:

It can be the weakest link.

Ben:

That’s exactly right.

Darren:

Human beings–always the weakest link.

Ben:

Yes, but technology can also be the weakest link. And technology when it’s built is hopefully designed to succeed but technology breaks all the time and it’s how your human interacts with the technology at that point that is the thing that can deliver either a good or bad experience.

Darren:

Exactly. Anyone that talks about AI being the future of all of these processes just has to go back and watch 2001 A Space Odyssey. I’m not sure Hal was exactly the right AI to be launched into space.

Ben:

AI is a very interesting topic and we’ve been talking about AI and machine learning for a couple of years now. Most people probably don’t get a good sense of what it really means or how you can actually use AI.

Darren:

We’ve been talking about it in the marketing and commercial world—artificial intelligence has been a topic since the 1950s. When they started talking about the concept of computers they were already thinking about what would it take to be able to have a computer outthink a human being.

Ben:

Didn’t Watson the IBM computer beat the chess champion multiple times?

Darren:

Yep.

Ben:

But the computer is trained to operate in a certain type of way. I’m sure there are ways of breaking that.

Darren:

If you test it on a very narrow basis but the human mind still has a very broad palette of operations that it can undertake but eventually technology will get to that point. But that’s probably for another podcast, right?

Ben:

I think that’s a whole other topic and it’s fascinating.

Darren:

I really appreciate your coming in and sharing that story. I have to tell you that at least for a while you’re going to be known as the BPme app guy. You certainly disrupted my Friday afternoon. I think I saw it about 19 minutes after you posted it. I was just sitting there flicking through and it got my attention.

It would be great if you could distil what it takes to become a viral sensation because lots of agencies and brands try that and fail miserably but thanks a lot, Ben.

Ben:

No worries. Thanks, Darren.

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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