2017: A year of change for ClearScore

Reflections on the biggest achievements and challenges of the year and looks to what’s in store for 2018.

2017 is officially drawing to a close and there’s certainly that end of year feeling in the ClearScore office. “Santa Baby” is gently playing in the background this morning, our Engage team are being noisy and André is wearing his Christmas tree hat. I’m hearing bottle tops being removed, not from beer but from soda water – clearly an attempt to feel better after the night before. Most of the team are away on their well-deserved Christmas break, and as I look at the banks of empty seats and screens all I feel is love for what we have created, the team we are becoming and the mission we are on.

At ClearScore we are good at living the highs and lows of life. Encouraged by my example, we are an emotional lot and are very aware that we need to live the journey by celebrating our successes and learning from our failures – all of which we’ve done in plentitude over 2017.

We’ve had a lot to celebrate this year from moving into a new office in Vauxhall, expanding our team, moving our infrastructure to AWS, and signing up our 5 millionth user – all big milestones for us. We’ve also put ClearScore in front of a whole new set of people, creating an experience for those in the UK without credit files, and also serving nearly 250,000 South Africans after we launched ClearScore in South Africa back in June.

It’s been great to see how the team has pulled together to deliver some really demanding projects. We relaunched our mobile apps, have moved towards creating more personalised customer communications, and in the last quarter of the year made some big strides in really building our commercial pace. Speaking of the team, we’ve also had some classic ClearScore parties, most notably our 2nd anniversary conference in July. New relationships have started, we’ve had marriages and births to celebrate, and we were blessed to have our first female team member head off on maternity leave (go Hannah). We have all learnt a lot this year and have managed to have a lot of fun along the way.

But as ever, the fun has also been intertwined with personal challenges and sadness. Team members have left, projects have gone wrong, some users have got frustrated, and we’ve had our fair share of arguments. Members of the team have lost loved ones, relationships have failed, and many of us have battled physical and mental health challenges. But these trials are easier to bear knowing that the environment here at ClearScore is one of support and love towards each other. This, above all, is the aspect of the company I am most proud of.

Looking to the future

If there is one thing that is certain for the year ahead, it’s that 2018 will be another year of mammoth change at ClearScore and in the industry as a whole.

What we have done in the UK and now in South Africa too, is catalyse this change. Our business has forced larger companies than ours to change their strategy, but more important than that, it has delivered value, to millions, for free, forever. In doing we’ve helped to push personal financial services to become healthier and to work harder for you, the consumer.

Whatever the future holds, each one of us at ClearScore is also a catalyst for this change. Whether that’s through focusing on serving our users with passion and dedication, creating our next feature, embracing open banking, giving our colleagues feedback, or pulling together to answer a business challenge, we are each an agent of change within the company and beyond. Our whole team has always used their smarts, their ability, and their energy to create great work and to try to change the market. Next year, we hope to do this on a bigger, global stage.

Thank you

Lastly, as the final chorus of Santa Baby fades, I have some thank you’s to say. To the ClearScore team – you are amazing and wonderful people and being part of your life journey is a privilege and an honour. I’d also like to thank your families – we are a demanding place to work and I know that sacrifices have to be made. To our board – thank you for all your support and advice through the year. And finally thank you to our users – the most important thing in this whole ClearScore operation. Please keep using ClearScore and sending us your feedback and ideas. Helping you work towards better financial well-being is our ultimate mission and your faith in us keeps us going everyday.

I hope you all have a peaceful and restful Christmas holiday and a wonderful 2018.

Justin Basini,

CEO and Co-founder, ClearScore

Speech from the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner 2017

I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote speech at the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner at the Guildhall in November.

My theme was innovation, disruption and trust building.

You can find the text of the speech following:

Thank you David, for your kind introduction and to the Forum for inviting me to speak here tonight.

The Financial Services Forum has always held a place in my heart since I remember joining in the early years of my career whilst at Deutsche Bank and, of course, I was humbled to win the Marketer of the Year Award in 2008.

I remember being very nervous that night and thinking that I would never win. The chat on my table was excited especially when one of the team came back from a loo break and said that they had overheard someone saying that they had voted for me! Then another person came back from a quick ciggie and she said that she too had found people who had voted for me. So my advice is if you are up for an award tonight, and want to know your chances then I’d hangout in the loo or go for a fag!

Anyone nominated for an award tonight – I wish you the very best of luck.

Tonight I earn my dinner by taking a few minutes of your time to talk about technology and financial services. Finance has been an early adopter of new technology – from the abacus to the mainframe computer and as an industry it has always been critical to our economy. We are blessed that the UK consumer is very open to trying new things. ClearScore, my company, has taken an approach to empowering people with their credit data and we have seen fast adoption, now our product is used by nearly 5.4m users in the UK and 250,000 in South Africa. We have delivered our fair share of disruption. But as I have built my career and operated in our industry I ask myself the question:

What are financial services really for?

Obviously at some level it’s about capital. Looking after money and assets, growing them, making them flow, managing risk. But I also think that at a very deep level, especially in the capitalist democracies in which we live and that are so under fire at the moment, finance is about managing and growing a very different form of capital and that’s social capital or to put it another way trust. In the delicate eco-system that is our economy and our industry, especially in the UK and Europe, trust is in danger of continuing to diminish.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey showed that still less than half of people trusted our industry. Financial services are the least trusted of all the business sectors and that is as true today as it was in 2007 before the financial crisis. You’ll be pleased to hear that in another survey from 2015 58% of people said all of us working in financial services were at best unprofessional and at worst dishonest.

The good news is it’s not just us. Almost every profession from politician, to journalist, to doctor, have seen decreases in trust over the past 20 years. The media is no longer respected, replaced with news of the royal wedding and Trump’s constant tweeting.

This collapse in trust is very significantly problematic for our economy. Every economy that has thrived has had embedded within it a complex mesh of bonds of trust that help to lower transaction costs. Whether it is the stock markets in the UK or US, or chaebol based families in South Korea, or the local SME business groups that are prevalent across Germany, all of these myriad structures help to make capital flow by creating trust between people.

Almost all change in financial services requires our system to work together at very many levels. We need to operate in an environment where the consumer, the regulator and the industry trusts each other. Now, of course, this mustn’t be blind trust but it also must assume a baseline of trustworthiness otherwise the barriers that we put up to working together, and winning the trust of the consumer, will become insurmountable.

Technology can help build both financial and social capital and it can do it fast. Look no further than Bitcoin. Just this week this new currency broke the $10,000 mark for the first time. The learnings from Bitcoin are numerous. The technology is opensource and transparent. The currency solves several major transaction issues for users in major industries. The system relies on multiple entities working together, competing to create coins but collaborating to innovate around use cases. I’m sure there will be lots of debate over your main course about the outlook for cryptocurrencies but what opensource distributed ledger technology has been able to do is build significant amounts of trust in a very short amount of time and captured increasing amounts of financial capital.

In the UK, for many reasons from Brexit to increasing inequality, I believe we are at a turning point for our economy. Historically we have enjoyed a particularly strong base of trust. From social norms, to our class structure and enduring entities from the Bank of England, to our courts, to the local pub, that have served us very well. And banking has contributed significantly to this system.

The profession of banker was always traditionally seen as solid and dependable. Banks were full of people who were part of our communities, working from buildings on every high street, who were known and were trustworthy and trusted. Products and decisions were simpler, and more transparent.

This reputation for trust across financial services didn’t happen by accident – it was hard won over centuries. We gather here today in the Guildhall at the heart of the City of London Corporation. The corporation is the oldest continuous democratic commune in the world – having existed for over 2000 years. From the Roman’s, to William the Conqueror, to the Stuart’s, the City has survived as a bulwark for the advantages of democracy and free trade, thriving through the rule of law and lots of social ties fostered through Freemen, and Councils, Courts, Halls and organisations like the Financial Services Forum, and of course, the very many bars and pubs that we enjoy to this very day.

But despite this history, our reputation has severely compromised. However, I strongly believe that we can use our collective will, our capital, our ingenuity and technology to redress the balance.

Today the Prime Minister, the Newspaper editor, the CEO are rarely very trusted. Much of the collapse in our reputation is connected with this lack of trust in authority. These authority figures have been replaced by “people like me”. Witness the power of TrustPilot or Glassdoor.

Technology can help bridge the divide between all of us and our customers. The social web, chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning fused with real conversations facilitated through video for example allow cost-efficient interactions with a more human feel. Experiences like Cleo which uses AI to chats to me on Facebook about my money every morning, or ClearScore’s financial education chatbots used by more than a million people – these interactions are involving, warm and funny. This can help bring back the human whilst leveraging the efficiency and convenience of a technology enabled bank in your pocket which has often removed human warmth and connection from financial services.

There is no doubt that much of our mind space whether we work for established institutions or small start-ups is dominated by the idea of disruption and disrupters. At one level this is a good thing. The regulator wants more competition, there are still very many under-served consumers, large institutions struggle with new technology, data is opening up all the time, and in many cases markets needs to be made more efficient.

But at another level disruption seem oppositional and aggressive – it creates tension – thoughts of the winners and the losers – it creates sides. And whilst we need to compete fiercely in the market for the good of the customer, dedicating ourselves to delivering better services, at lower cost, more efficiently. We also, if we are to re-establish trust in our industry and rebuild our collective reputation, need to actively support each other and collaborate more.

When I see disrupters attacking banks for over-charging on a foreign exchange transaction, or scandal after scandal from the investment banks, or the government using the regulator through PPI to redistribute money back into an ailing economy, or major financial institutions being reluctant to embrace open banking I wonder whether we are not putting short term commercial gain above longer-term maintenance of the trust that is fundamental to our success. We may win the individual battles, but lose the collective war.

What we create when we attack each other, either through our messaging or our business models, is a confused and untrusting consumer. That consumer is increasingly frustrated with the services with which they are being provided without any real understanding of why they feel this way. All they are left with is a vague sense that they are being ripped off by a system that they don’t understand and is full of bad people doing bad things.

Now whilst there are those in our industry who do the wrong things, most people I know who work for financial services companies are talented, committed people, like you and me, trying to do good things for our customers whilst operating in this sea of mistrust and confusion. Certainly the 160 people who work for ClearScore are some of the most committed and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to know – your teams will be the same.

So, we must continue to execute the obvious functions of our industry well – manage capital, be prudent with risk, help our customers make good financial decisions, create fair and balanced products. But our mission must be to work together to build back the social capital in our industry and our economy.

Tomorrow when we are back at our desks, as we think about our business and brand strategies, or develop our propositions, talk with colleagues and customers, or invent our next new innovation; whether we work for the largest of banks, or the smallest of start-ups, whether we are the disrupted or the disrupters we should take a moment to think back to this evening, to this wonderful room, and the history it represents.  We should dream big about the application of technology to solve real customer problems. But above all everyone of us should dedicate ourselves to continuing to win back the trust of our nation through hard work and our ingenuity collaborating to build a better, more trusted, more trustworthy financial services industry. To achieve this would be a true contribution of which we all can be rightly proud.

Thank you.

The case for connectedness and influence – our view on the European referendum

First published on the ClearScore blog on 1st June 2016

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to publish this blog. It represents my personal view of the upcoming EU Referendum. However, and this is the aspect that gave me pause for thought, it also represents the view of the corporate body that is ClearScore.

I think it is incredibly important that employees and users understand both sides of the argument and have clarity on the views of the people and businesses that they rely on. To this end, the ClearScore position on the EU referendum is that on balance, an exit vote would cause significant cost increases and risk to our business and its future. This mirrors my own personal view.

Free movement of talent

The ClearScore business and team is a great reflection of the advantages of being in Europe with the free movement of talent, lowering of barriers to entry and harmonising of regulation.

Klaus Thorup our CTO is half Danish, Frank Sedivy who works with me to create our product is Czech. Matt our lead designer is a Pole. One of our front end developers is from the south of France. Our marketing executive is Polish, but grew up in Wales. We have a Hungarian tester, and a Spanish devops engineer. We even have a member of the team from Luxembourg.

These Europeans are combined with many talented Brits plus representation from India and New Zealand. And these are just people who weren’t born in Britain. I was born in London but my Mum is from Poland and my Dad was Welsh-Italian. In fact most of the team have some European connection.

The point here is that Britain has always had, and massively benefited from, an attitude that welcomed people from all over the world to contribute to our nation both economically and culturally. I am English, British and European. This connected attitude has created the 4th biggest economy in the world and a place where people of all backgrounds can use their talent and hard work to get on and build a good life. If barriers were established to this free movement of talent then the ClearScore business, our economy and our nation would be damaged.

Access to European markets

We want ClearScore to be a global company and we are looking at how we can serve users across Europe and the world. As we look at the global opportunities the fact that regulation is largely harmonised across Europe results in a significant lowering in the barriers to entry and this means that moving into Europe is cheaper and easier. Out of Europe we would lose these advantages.

That’s not to say that more doesn’t need to be done to improve access to other European markets – it does. The massive advantage US tech companies have is the size of their home market. Technology ideas from start ups across Europe should have easy and free access to the whole of the European Union -and its 500m consumers -as easily as the US.

The fact that this doesn’t exist is a major reason why companies like Facebook or Google did not come out of Europe. However does anyone really think that enabling the next major technology goliath to come out of the UK is better achieved by leaving the European Union?

A global signal

I don’t believe a vote to leave would result in the sky falling in on our heads. We are a resilient nation and resourceful people, immigrants to our country as much as anyone. We would survive but something would die. And that would be the perception of Britain as a nation that is proud of our long and glorious history, of taking our values, people and products into the world and welcoming people from around the world to our country.

Leaving the EU would be a signal, in a troubled and dangerous world, that we are less willing to engage, influence and connect with other nations. Once done this can’t be undone – it will irretrievably damage our global reputation, our economy and our ability to be a significant player in a globally connected world.

Everything going on in the world at the moment, from climate change to conflict and terrorism, to technological developments, require interconnected and multi-country systemic change. This is not a time, despite frustrations and difficulties, to become a nation who signals that unity is the wrong course for the world.

Therefore I will be voting, and I would urge anyone connected to ClearScore, employee or user, to vote on the 23rd June to stay in the European Union.

Unicorns and wizards: #LDNTechWeek

This week has been #LDNTechWeek and London has been buzzing with conferences, talks, events and exhibitions.

The week started with the announcement that London has produced 13 tech unicorns which are Tech companies that have reached a >£1bn valuation. They include Farfetch (clothing marketplace), JustEat (online food ordering), Skrill (payments) and Zoopla (property search). These companies prove that finally we are creating a sustainable and world class technology sector in the UK. These companies also prove that we are creating an environment in the UK where finally entrepreneurial ventures aren’t something the mad or American do but it’s a mainstream choice in the UK. The media has a lot to do with this: Dragons Den, The Apprentice and more generalised positive coverage of entrepreneurs for over a decade now means being an entrepreneur is cool. If I look at my kids they are always talking and thinking about setting up new businesses.

I shared the stage with a wizard of tech in Dan Cobley, CEO of BrightBridge Ventures one of my investors at ClearScore  at the LDNTechWeek conference on Tuesday. Dan was talking about his venture building approach which has really helped to turbo charge the speed to market of ClearScore and is a model of investment which is certainly worth considering if you are looking for investment that also comes with added value.

On Wednesday I took part in a fascinating session at @TechUK with the newly established National College for Digital Skills. This college is launching next September and hopes to bridge the digital skills gap in the UK. They are now in business outreach mode and wanted the views of startup/scale up community as they put together their curriculum and engagement strategy. The most shocking stat shared was the collapse in sixth form students taking ICT / Computing since 2001 to 2013 the numbers have halved. This at a time over which computers and technology have become entirely ubiquitous and all consuming for the same age group. This is a problem.

IMG_0782
It was great to see so many companies attend and share their views. It was also interesting that many of the companies around the table had successfully used apprenticeship schemes. At ClearScore we have a Level 4 apprentice on the team and it’s proving a valuable programme both to her and our company.

Finally yesterday afternoon I took part in a webinar (recording here) organised by Fospha on creating personalised digital experiences. The Fospha technology allows site owners to tailor content and experiences to a specific users mindset in real time. For example if someone is in wish-listing mode then showing them lots of options is great, if someone has take the time to choose items and are about to check out offering that pair of shoes in green could give them a moment to reconsider and you might lose the sale. I was talking about trust and how important it is to create trust and rapport if you are to drive conversion based on my book “Why should anyone buy from you?” which is available on Why Should Anyone Buy From You? on Amazon.

The key point was that technologies exist today that allow you to “de-average” the digital customer experience and the process of de-averaging almost always creates value but I’m going to blog about that next week.

Thanks for reading, leave comments if you liked this blog.

Justin

BBC Interview about identity theft and ALLOW’s advice

 

Towards the end of last year my company ALLOW commissioned Professor of Ciminology Martin Gill to research how criminals use online information to gani our trust in order to scam people. Martin and I were on various radio stations up and down the land talking about this interesting and worrying research. 

Perpetuity Research, Professor Gill's research group has posted the interview from BBC Radio Leicester.

Perpetuity Research, Professor Gill's research group has posted the interview from BBC Radio Leicester.

We alos created a video of a criminal speaking about his technqiues which you can see below. 

If you are interested in these issues then check out ALLOW www.i-allow.com, the UK's leading privacy and information privacy company. 

Thanks

Justin

BUSINESS VISION – LEARNING FROM SUCCESSES & FAILURES (Screencast)

Business Vision: I was recently asked by a major corporation to prepare a talk on "Business vision" and how to create them. I told two stories one of Citigroup a massive bank and it's flawed vision and one about a much smaller clothing business Patagonia and it's inspirational leader. 

This screencast is a 20 minute version of the hour presentation buts gives you the key points of the stories. 

The key points illustrated by these compelling stories of success and failure around setting a business vision are: 

  • Business Vision requires leadership that listens and learns but can also lead from the front
  • Business Vision requires head and heart to be compelling
  • Business Vision needs to be creative but also pragmatic to be effective 

Here is a great article from inc.com about creating business vision that is well worth reading. 

What do you think of business vision?

What do you think about business and brand visions? Do they inspire you to feel great about the business you work in or run and it's business vision? Leave a comment!

If you want to see the full presentation including the videos then visit the presentation on Prezi.com.

You can also see me speaking here.

Want me to speak at your business or team event? I regularly speak about trust, business vision, brands, marketing or a wide range of topics tailored to your event – please get in touch.

Thanks

Justin

Thesis 2.0 review for non-web expert marketers and bloggers

Thesis 2.0: running a website or want to? This could help you

 

Thesis 2.0 is something I've based my refresh of basini.com on and so I wanted to review it. It's a bit of a departure for me but I wanted to share my views because this new theme system for WordPress seems to have really polarised people – some love it and some hate it!

Let's start with some background. Many people run their websites using WordPress – which started as a blogging platform (and of course still is) but many of us use it as a quite sophisticated fully capable content management system for a website. If you are thinking of setting up a site or a blog then I would highly recommend WordPress. Now on top of WordPress if you want your design to be non-standard rather than the default you need a theme. There are thousands of themes for free that can make your site look great at the click of a button. For those that want even more customising then you can either buy a premium theme or a theme system. I've run my websites including Basini.com and for a while in the early days we ran ALLOW on WordPress and the Thesis 2.0 theme system.

The previous version of Thesis 1.84 was a very easy and fast way to customise your site without needing any code understanding. As many of my regular readers will know I am an entrepreneur and marketer rather than a techie but I've developed and run many websites over the last 10 years (if you want to join my regular readers then sign up here). Whilst I have some level of understanding I don't like messing with code and when I have to it takes me loads of time which takes away from my content development. So I like systems like WordPress and Thesis which help me get a design and functionality I like easily. If you have a blog or website or are thinking of setting one up then go do it! It's great fun, you learn a lot and it doesn't cost very much money. It's a great way to build your personal brand and reputation, share your views and contribute knowledge to others.

The brave new world of Thesis 2.0

So what do I think of Thesis 2.0? Well at first I absolutely hated it! The previous version of Thesis was much, much easier to get your head around. Lots of options, easy to understand decision and simple layout. You could customise your site in a few minutes. The team over at DIYthemes and the genius Chris Pearson behind it promised an upgrade for years – I remember logging into the support forum and seeing loads of people asking time and time again for the next version for months and months – the consistent answer was, "it's coming".

Thesis 2.0 didn't start well for me

Then Thesis 2.0 launched in October. I eagerly installed it and it completely broke my site. I equally quickly uninstalled it and thought, "what a disappointment". However I have wanted for a long time to refresh Basini.com and so I looked again and installed Thesis 2.0 on a fresh version of WordPress and started to play. What is promised by Thesis 2.0 is that you get complete control of your site design and layout without having to know any code – powerful and simple. Unfortunately this isn't true – at least for someone of my level of web skills! Wrapping your head around how Thesis 2.0 works takes time and effort so the question becomes is it worth it?

Nothing is ever as "simple and easy" as promised

Well for perspective almost everything on the web promises to be "simple and easy" and in my experience rarely is – and Thesis 2.0 is no different. Of course some things are easier than others but all require you to understand, read, learn and experiment which takes time. In my opinion Thesis 2.0 is the same. It took me a month of playing – totalling probably 12 hours – to only start to get comfortable. I nearly gave up several times. I looked at competitor theme systems. Then the mist started to clear and I started to understand the way the new Thesis 2.0 works and it really is as powerful and customisable as Chris Pearson and the team at Thesis say it is. If you come at it from the perspective of an upgrade to Thesis 1.8 then this is probably misleading and I think makes it more difficult. Thesis 2.0 is completely new and different and, yes, better. 

Thesis 2.0 completely new, different, and, yes, better

Thesis 2.0 reviewThesis 2.0 works through a drag and drop interface of boxes that make layout much easier once you understand how the theme works. It is more effort to set up the templates for your pages but it is much easier to set up the page you want and then apply styling to those boxes without having to understand HTML and CSS that much. Note however that as with everything on the web if you really want to get exactly what you want rather than a compromise then you will need to spend time learning about how things work and how to make the system work for you. For example I wanted to use some Google Fonts rather than the rather limited set of web-standard fonts, this requires you to add a line of custom code in the styling for each of the boxes that you want to use that font in – luckily this was covered in a blog post on the DIYThemes website and wasn't hard to do but you still needed to read and learn how to do it. 

Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community

You need to make some effort to understand how HTML and CSS work in order to get to grips with Thesis 2.0. This is where expert web developers (which Chris and his team clearly are) go wrong! They just don't understand how clueless the average person is – including me! For example the boxes in the template designer and the CSS editor require you to enter classes or IDs for these different boxes. Now its the most basic of concepts of HTML and CSS that you assign a class or ID and that then looks at the CSS for a style (i.e. formatting) to apply to the particular element – that's not hard to grasp but if you have never heard of classes and IDs then it can be confusing. As with anything new you need quite a lot of trial and error to understand and get it right but remember you are learning new skills all the time that you learn and play!

This review of Thesis 2.0 is a big thumbs up

If this review of Thesis 2.0 is making you think you'd like to have a go then I'm glad to say that there is more and more advice and support building all the time. When Thesis 2.0 launched in October there was very little advice but I've watched the great videos on Build Your Own Business Website, various videos on YouTube and the support forum over at DIYThemes has grown and grown with advice on Thesis 2.0. Now there is certainly enough to get you going as a non-expert web newbie.  

So does this review recommend Thesis 2.0 for non-web expert marketers and bloggers? Absolutely it does. It isn't as easy as promised but once you get the principles and have played around with it for a while then it is very powerful and allows you achieve a level of finish to your site that is really excellent. I'm really proud of the new basini.com – I hope you like it too! – it was achieved in about 20 hours of fiddling and experimenting with my site and Thesis 2.0 which isn't bad and allowed me to relaunch basini.com with a new design in about a month. 

If you have a WordPress blog or site why not have a look at Thesis 2.0?

NOTE: I am an affiliate of Thesis and so the links here are affiliate links. I recommend Thesis 2.0 because I have been a customer of DIYThemes for over 4 years and run my site on Thesis 2.0 and genuinely think it is a good product. 

Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community

Best Books for Christmas

Books for Christmas?

Well it's the 1st December so time to offer some help in the run up to Christmas! If you are looking for some Christmas Book inspiration for friends, family, colleagues or your team what better than to give a top business or marketing book to give them something to think about when they aren't passing the port or munching on a mince pie. These are the best books that I've read recently and I've sorted them into four sections: digital and internet, brand & marketing, economics & business, personal & entrepreneurship. Each one would make a great book for Christmas either because they are beautiful or packed full of fascinating and useful ideas.

Digital & Internet Books for Christmas

The Revolution will be Digitised by Heather Brooke

This book is sub-headed: "Dispatches from the information war." And opens with a powerful quote from Thomas Jefferson about the value of ideas spreading being like the air in which we breathe. 

What is so compelling about this book is that it is a series of vignettes from Iraq to Washington to Berlin all about how information and ideas are changing our beliefs and understanding of the world both for good and ill. 

The premise for the book is that we are in an extraordinary age – akin to a new enlightenment where information and knowledge flows freely. However there is also huge negative forces at work – the gulf in information equality, the power of the state and big business, and how our privacy is under threat and no longer valued.  

This is a well written, punchy, easy to read and engaging dip into the war for information that is surrounding us. 

 

The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser

I've done a video review of this book in a previous post
 

Information is Beautiful by David McCandless

What with infographics everywhere around us today and the Guardian-style of information communication becoming more and more prevalent this coffee-table book presents a set of fantastic examples of how to bring information and data alive through graphics. 

All of us may have been taught at school with ruler, pencil and graph paper how to draw a table, or chart, and may have even got quite good at graphs in Powerpoint but if you really want to see how information can be beautifully rendered and represented then this book is a must have. 

Information is Beautiful would make a wonderful Christmas Book for the right person interested in data and analysis not just in business but across the spectrum. 

 

Marketing & Brand Books for Christmas

Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom

Brandwashed has got a mixed press but I enjoyed it. Like many books of its like it tries to make a huge amount of fuss over what is pretty standard marketing and brand practise. 

We all know that marketing surrounds us all and uses psychology to try and trick us into letting our buying barriers down. Martin Lindstrom's examples are good and the book is easy to read. 

You don't need to be in marketing to enjoy this book just a consumer, victim to some of the £16bn spent on trying to BrandWash us in the UK every year. 

 

Priceless: the hidden psychology of value by William Poundstone

No-one knows the price of anything anymore. Everything is deep discounted or on offer from GroupOn! With DFS shouting about 75% of that sofa how do we actually know what the actual thing costs. 

Pricing is a very modern game from "free" models on the internet to the psychology of the sale this book explores how we think about value and what we use to assess it. This book is packed with examples and experiments into price that expose why we react, for example to £9.99 vs £10 and why. 

A well researched and yet still entertaining book for any business or marketing person. 

 

LogoDesignLove by David Airey

As Christmas Books go for brand and marketing folks this is a winner. Again it is of the coffee table variety but is a beautifully produced object in it's own right. The graphics, typography and illustrations are wonderful. 

This book goes through all the elements of what makes up an iconic logo from Kellogs to Nokia to Google breaking them down into elements, process and the representation of a product that connects with consumers. 

This would make an amazing Christmas Book for someone with a brand design bent. 
 

 

Business & Economics Books for Christmas  

The Economics Book by Dorling Kindersley

Don't let the Dorling Kindersley tag put you off and make you think this is a noddy economics book. Whilst it might not satisfy Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes, for the rest of us it would make a great Christmas book. 

It is beautifully laid out and designed and gives a very satisfying dip-in, dip-out approach to economic history from the earliest forms of economic exchange to one page summaries on the key economic thinkers over time.

A wonderful looking book this would be a great book to give this Christmas. 

 

The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Perhaps a little heavy for Christmas but what better time to think about equality, or rather inequality, than at a time of traditional opulence. Reading this book will make that yearly viewing of Scrooge even more filled with meaning. 

I found this book full of optimism and hope suggesting a powerful diagnosis of why inequality is such a cancer in society and what we, and businesses especially can do to tackle it. Packed full of anecdote and examples Spirit Level is a well written and easy to understand book about an important subject. I also read Will Hutton's Them and Us about similar themes but this book is much lighter and digestible.  

 

Personal & Entrepreneurship Books for Christmas 

The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries

A modern classic and absolutely required reading if you are going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg! This book is packed full of practical and pragmatic advice, which is largely well founded and even when it isn't still makes you think about the way you are approaching building and scaling your business. 

The book is well structured and methodological without being too boring which many in this genre of books are. 

A great Christmas book for any budding or mid way through business and brand builders out there. 

 

Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

I absolutely loved this book and it would be a great Christmas book for any budding entrepreneurs. The book presents a 9 block approach to creating a business model from the value proposition to the value chain. It is easy to engage with and written in a very accessible way. 

The rather bland and academic title is perhaps slightly off putting because the book itself is an absolute joy and uses pencil illustrations and clever visual metaphors to deliver a very visually stimulating experience. 

 

And of course if you are still looking for a great book for any business leader or marketer then please consider my book: Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU? which is packed full of great research, frameworks, case studies and interviews about trust and how businesses and brands can build it with their customers. It's now available on Kindle as well. 

 

I hope December is a great month for you – and that your shopping is now a little easier!

Justin

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ALREADY DESTROYING VALUE? THE CADBURY-KRAFT MERGER

 



This morning Cadbury, the UK multi-national confectionery manufacturer, and Kraft, the US based multi-national food conglomerate, announced they had agreed the much contested takeover bid for £11.5bn. I am a consumer and shareholder of Cadbury.

Food brands are all about trust, and chocolate even more so because it is an emotional category. Cadbury is an iconic British brand with a rich and socially aware history. In its early days Cadbury was a major employer of women and had a paternalistic attitude to its employees (in a good sense) investing in their welfare. Cadbury is one of the most trusted brands especially in the UK regularly coming in the top 10 of brand trust surveys. Even this morning on it's website the headline graphic was "values led, performance driven". 


Is Cadbury's history of commercial success in a social context important or relevant anymore? 


@urbanfly tweeted this morning "There's a romantic idea that Cadbury is a Birmingham company. They're a global corporation who buy out other companies". 


Whilst Cadbury is a global corporation I believe that history is an important part of the embedded value of any company. Brands are created by people and their actions. And the mythology of a company is important as an implicit guide for those making decisions, providing a different perspective or a pause for thought. 


Of course there is another side of Cadbury. They benefited hugely from the British Empire, but more recently have been a huge buyer of FairTrade commodities especially in West Africa.

A descendent of Cadbury's founder called the takeover "a horror story" according to the BBC. Felicity Loudon, George Cadbury's great-granddaughter said, "Every single iconic brand is going – we sell out everything." Of course this isn't important in of itself but I think it is the attitude that many will feel as we see this great British company consumed.

The takeover has been justified because the companies want to secure growth and save cost with now warm words between the parties saying how the best of Cadbury will be retained. But I doubt this will happen. I've worked on both sides of the fence being acquired and acquiring in my corporate career. Cultures rarely merge well. The company taking over inevitably dominates and imposes its values and decision making processes.

What all this means is a challenge to the very logic and price paid for the takeover by Kraft of Cadbury. Another reload of the Cadbury website this morning proclaimed "creating brands people love".

And here is the rub….of the £11.5bn paid a major part of this will be goodwill. A major part of this goodwill will be the intangible value of the Cadbury brands. From the reaction on Twitter and in the press the destruction of this goodwill has been palpable already. The provenance and corporate background of brands is increasingly important to people. In our transparent society information on the companies that make the brands "we love" is so much easier, we know their stories and a sense of where they come from. The fact that Cadbury has been promoting its use of FairTrade in advertising is all about proving they are true to being led by their values.

Given the arguments over the deal, the context of the UK economy and the shameful collapse in manufacturing in the UK's manufacturing base over the past 20 years this takeover will get a huge amount of coverage both now and in the future. The result for consumers will be the perception, even slight, that their bar of Dairy Milk is less satisfying than it was before. Even if the taste of the chocolate stays the same (a big topic on Twitter!), the "taste" of the brands will be tainted for ever.

There is no doubt that a great British company and brand died this morning.

What's your view? Do you think the takeover will destroy or create value? Comment now!

Thanks

Justin

Mail me: justin@basini.com
My website and blog: http://www.basini.com/
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