Why the big four banks win

A couple of weeks ago, wearing my magazine editor’s hat, I attended a meeting at which I was asked for some input into a project one of the big four banks will run in the second half of 2011.
Yep that’s right … at least eight months from now.

These guys are thinking long term about their customer acquisition and retention strategies.

I mention this because, in the last few weeks, we’ve been thinking of refinancing our mortgage.

As part of my research for a new financial institution, as one does these days, I hit Google and searched for “credit unions Sydney”. The results were poor. Most of the credit unions had confusing websites. Contact details were hard to find and call centres did not operate out of business hours. Email seemed not be a medium with which credit unions were familiar.

This all left me thinking that, for all their faults, the big four are at least pretty good at communicating with prospects and customers. Even if they screw us once we’ve signed up.

Two more things have since told me more about why we stick with the big four.

One was a full-page ad placed in the SMH by the Credit Unions, pointing out that they represent a financial services alternative. The ad had no call to action and no contact details, which is pathetic.

The second was ongoing analysis of the deals on offer across several financial institutions. Long story short, we’ve found that bundling products, going for credit cards with points schemes (and always paying on time) then using points for things like shopping vouchers saves quite a bit each year. A little more, in fact, than moving to another financial institution.

So the big four have the littl’uns outmuscled on marketing and products.

No wonder there’s no-one at Credit Union HQ sharp enough to notice the missing call to action.


Post 23, 3009 Even if … (my climate change syllogism)

Even if the climate change denialists are right and humans and the fossil fuels we rely on are not the cause of climate change, continued reliance on fossil fuels is not likely to reverse the way the climate is heading, so it’s a good idea to move to low-carbon alternatives.

Even if fossil fuels are a more abundant resource than we think, they are still finite, so it is a good idea to move to renewable alternatives.

Even if fossil fuels are more abundant than we think, they are nasty polluters responsible for lessening the air quality of our planet. People around the world suffer respiratory complaints galore because of pollution from fossil fuels, making it a good idea to find an alternative.

Even if fossil fuels can be made less polluting, they remain a finite resource.

Even if fossil fuels can be made cheap and clean, their concentration in a small number of nations is a constant source of geo-political tension that the world can do without.

Post 14, 2009: Reviewing the Cuddlee

Sometime last year, Jo White (aka @mediamum) wrote a series of tweets describing an object called a Snuggie.

If you are disinclined to follow the link it’s a fleecy blanket … with arms. And it has a “so bad, it’s good” advertorial I’ve embedded below.

There’s also a parody video.

Now you would think that after watching the parody, I’d think the Snuggie is a stupid, ugly thing. But no … ever since @Mediamum’s tweets I had been oddly intrigued by the Snuggie.

So when catchoftheday offered a local alternative/clone, the “Cuddlee”, at a price of less than $20 , including postage, I bought one.

It arrived with this …
… which gives you a fair idea of what is on offer.

But I felt like I should go further and describe it in more detail. So here goes.

The Cuddlee is made of thin polar fleece. Thin as in you can see through it. Perhaps thin as in “spare blanket from a $40/night
truckstop” is a more accurate description.

The garment, if that is the word, has at least been finished with a blanket stitch. But it is quite rough cut and there are some small tears around the outside.

The sleeves are enormous. You’ll start to remember really off jokes from Borat when you wear it.

It certainly warms up the front of you, but as soon as you put it on, your back feels cold. This could be solved with some kind of fastening mechanism, but I doubt the thin fabric could cope with that. The lack of fastener means the Cuddlee drapes awkwardly and is not easy to wear while walking. Nor is does it make any accommodation for the human neck and chin, and its rectangular shape means you have to somehow shunt bits of it out of the way so it does not cover your face. The resulting folds have nowhere to go and drape in a silly way.

As I have been warned, it makes a lot of static electricity. My daughter has walked away from it with her hair in considerable dissaray!

Having said that, I have found it quite useful when sitting down in front of my computer. The back of my chair keeps my back warm and the Cuddlee takes care of everything else, other than the rear of my calves.

The Cuddlee is, if anything, too large. I’m 190cm tall and heavily built and the garment covers me very comfortably when reclining on a pile of pillows. 20090515_0311

Overall, the Cuddlee has some utility. It does keep you warm. But it is hideous, with its only aesthetic redeemer being the fact it makes you look a bit like the Avout from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

If  someone gave you a Cuddlee in, say, 1985, as a freebie when you flew business class on an airline owned by a developing nation’s government, you’d think it was pretty cool.

In 2009, it’s just tat. But it’s my tat and it’s quite warm and I think I will be able to hang onto it for one season before I feel like I’ve gotten $20 worth of fun out of it.

Post 72:08 Green IT is a dead meme

Throughout the year, I have been pitched countless stories about green IT.

And a couple of weeks back, when I attended a PR training session, it was the ace in many PRs’ hands.

I didn’t fall for the bluff because in my opinion greent IT is a dead meme. Or at least a dormant meme.

I say this because most of the “green” IT I have seen this year has involved technologies that lower power consumption. But non have done so to a startling degree. Most have hit somewhere between 5% and 20%. With the price of power to rise dramatically and device proliferation continuining, that’s a small achievement. It also ignores the other ways in which IT consumes resources all the way along the supply chain, from the mine where raw materials come from upwards.

The other reason it is a dead meme is that everyone is now proclaiming their green-ness, meaning that being green becomes a bit like being secure. A vendor would never bring an insescure product to market. As of any second now, it will also be unthinkable to create technologies that cannot include some claim to green-ness in their feature list.

But hang on … I also said it could be a dormant meme. That’s because, I hope, there are big green innovations out there tat can differentiate a product. I hope I get to write about those in 2009. I expect to instead repel dozens more pitches about incremental power savings.

Post 52:08 More big questions

There’s a very interesting OpEd in today’s SMH, in which the authors describe YouTube as ” home port for lip-syncers, karaoke singers, trainspotters, birdwatchers, skateboarders, hip-hoppers, small-time wrestling federations, educators, third-wave feminists, churches, proud parents, poetry slammers, gamers, human rights activists, hobbyists.”

They go on to say that they see YouTube as having a role similar to zines in the 1970s, when zines offered a medium to present ideas incapable of reaching the mainstream. Communities and movements coagulated around zines, making them a forerunner of social media.

The piece also says that YouTube is now sufficiently adopted to enable it to bring down a government, partly because (and yes, I am making some context-disrespectful jumps): “While most people can read, very few publish in print. Hence active contribution to science, journalism and even fictional storytelling has been restricted to expert elites, while most of the general population makes do with ready-made entertainment.”

This all gets me wondering. I like ready-made entertainment. It is elaborate and rich in ways that sail beyond anything I have ever seen on YouTube. There is no YouTube Sopranos equivalent, for example.

And I disagree that active contribution to these other fields is somehow crimped today. Sure, there are rules before one can be published in a scientific journal, but those rules help to produce rigourous work. And I’m sure we’ve all encountered crackpots with odd theories. Let’s not even get started on climate change denial here!

I also wonder what the heck it is that the collective us will do on YouTube that will make a difference and bring down a government?

Perhaps we will all be so inspired by some content on YouTube that a social movment will coalesce around it.

I’m not so sure. I believe apathy is not only rampant, but encouraged. I remember watching political rallies in the 1970s. Today, PRs prevent such things from even happening, lest they be hijacked by someone off-message.

In any case, politicians may not see any benefit to social media interaction. Stilgherrian’s tweets from today suggest they are disinclined and under-resourced to deal with what is already coming their way.

I suspect that to take YouTube and other social networks from amusing curiosities to world-changers, new lines will need to emerge.

These things are called “social” tools for a reason, because people use them in their social lives. The web apps we use to organise our social lives are therefore designed to help us do that. Sure, they are good tools to link us with like minded people. And email etc means we now have tools that make it far, far easier to let our elected representatives know what is on our collective minds.

I suspec that “political networking tools” cannot be far off, that will aggregate opinion to enact change. At the moment we are 20 million lone voices, who sometimes get a lot more attention than was possible before YouTube. Once we can network ourselves more effectivley than GetUp rounding up money to make ads, things might just get to the transcendent place the OpEd hints at.

Post 49:08 A modest musical proposal

Did you watch Insight last week on SBS? It was about music downloads. The recurring theme from the Internet industry was that the music industry needs to innovate to make sure it has a future in the digital world.

Here’s how I would do it if I were them.

First up, the music industry should create a service for new musicians that lets them upload their music into a well-promoted, single source of new music that streams music for free and has a Radiohead style pay what you want model if you want to download. All download revenues, minus a service fee, go to the band.

I reckon this is a good idea because without aggregation, new musicians have to promote their stuff themselves. Yes, the Net is supposed to make it possible for independent artists to promote themselves. But in reality, I cannot think of a band that has broken this way (and that includes the Arctic Monkeys, whose ‘discovered on MySpace’ story is a crock). With the cost of recording a decent demo now very low thanks to GarageBand etc, I reckon it is fair to ask musos to spend a little promoting themselves.

This new service should have an upfront fee, to cover operation costs and also to ensure that all uploads are listened to by a professional who applies a taxonomy to the music so that all users can find it more easily. This professional can also be a frontline A&R scout for the record labels.

The record industry should then track the wazoo out of users on this site so it can figure out who is listening to what. Users should submit a nice, fat profile of themselves so that the tracking helps record labels to understand who listens to what.

If an artist’s download hit a certain threshold, the record labels participating in this service would then get to play in an auction to sign this band.

Punters get free or very cheap music. Record labels get better research. Bands get a mechanism to publish their stuff in an environment that lets them make money, even if they do not get a record deal.


Post 45:08 My $0.05 on Bill Henson

Every so often, society gets its knickers in a twist and indulges in an orgy of moral panic.

Hence the current Bill Henson mess.

Here’s what I reckon we should do.

If you have ever taken photos of kids in the bath or on the beach, shot a snap of your kids innocently vamping it up in an age-inappropriate costume or watched Blue Water High without wondering why the national broadcaster has made a show about buff teenagers in bikinis, take yourself to the nearest police station and demand to be charged with whatever it is one can be charged with for putting kids in a context where it might be possible for someone to imagine that you were potentially contemplating sex.

I suggest you turn yourself in because if you have done any of these things you are, quite obviously, a step away from the kind of depravity that our child protection laws are actually designed to prevent.

So turn yourself in and let’s see what happens when the courts have a few hundred of these absurd cases to deal with.

Maybe that will make the point that edgy, disturbing, art is nowhere near as dangerous as closed minds.

Post 34:08 The difference between boys and girls

My three year old daughter, who is in pre-school, amazed me this morning.

I was eating toast and she paused her usual doodling and said “Daddy, I have spelled toast.”

And indeed she had: “ToST,” which is pretty damn good for someone her age.

When she showed this to her mother later in the morning, my six year old son interjected thusly:

“I can burp from one to ten, Daddy.” He proceeded to do so.

The funny thing is, the burping is perhaps the more precocious act. My daughter is a year or two ahead of schedule. The idea of counting while burping didn’t hit me until I was about 15!

Post 25:08 Signing my life away

I’ve signed some scary documents lately.

One, which I signed last night, declared that as I am now a Volunteer Under 7 Soccer Team Manager I have not ever been convicted of a child sex offense. If I have lied about this and am found to be a sex offender who comes within a mile of a kids soccer team, I get thrown in jail.

I have also signed, when becoming a member of Cycling NSW, a document that says whoever it is that runs drug tests can come and drug test me any time they want. Now I take a fair bit of pseudo-ephedrine, as I am especially prone to colds for all sorts of dull reasons.

So if I suddenly disappear, you now have a fair idea why!