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.

Google to Alphabet: smart move but not radical at all

First published in Marketing Magazine 11th August 2015

The move from Google to Alphabet is far from radical; it’s well trodden as a business model by FMCG giants like P&G and Unilever, argues Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore.

With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever

The blog post announcing the rebranding of the Google into Alphabet this morning has taken everyone a bit by surprise. The markets have generally reacted positively with a 5% rise in the stock with the normal commentary both good and bad. We should admire Larry, Sergey and Eric that for once, in our world of obsessive management of investor expectations they have actually managed to steal a march on the millions of eyes watching Google.

Tradtional and well proven model

Many commentators have hailed this as a “radical” restructure adopting a model akin to Berkshire Hathaway. However, from a brand management perspective the move is treading a traditional and well proven model. With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever: that is a holding company with a wide portfolio of businesses and brand assets. The manifest benefits of this approach that has served the packaged good behemoths for over 100 years will deliver undoubted benefit to Google going forward.

Nobody likes companies that are too powerful, witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control

There are consumer benefits. Nobody likes companies that are too powerful. Witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control. Imagine if the brands we buy from P&G were not Ariel, Fairy, Pantene, Pampers, Gilette, Max Factor, Oral-B, Duracell, Lenor, Clearblue, Vicks but all of them called Procter & Gamble? We would start to freak out that one company could be so pervasive and dominant in our lives. As Google has broadened their offerings from search to email, to office apps, to mobile phones, to laptops, to household control, to cars; all of these being linked very clearly to the Google name creates the same concerns and worries. Moving to a house of brands under Alphabet will help manage some of these risks and drive growth.

Privacy concerns will manifest at Alphabet

The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going

Next, whilst taking the brand benefit, the establishment of a central infrastructure for Alphabet with central management and resources will allow assets to be shared across the different businesses. It is in this sharing that I think the most concerns may arise. Collection and manipulation of data, often playing close to privacy concerns, is hard-wired into Google and will therefore manifest itself at Alphabet. The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going. If I use Google search is this going to be shared with my separately branded self-driving car or my central home control unit?

Google has struggled with transparency

I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months

Brand trust is built through transparency and openness. Google has struggled with this in the past and many people don’t trust the brand. This potentially becomes much more complex in a holding company structure. For perspective, the consumer packaged goods companies have wrestled with this as well. They know a huge amount about their consumers across different brands and have experimented with cross promotion by using this understanding at a holding brand level, exploring whether consumers want a direct relationship with the P&G or Unilever brand. Results have been very patchy – people tend to be more suspicious and wary, rather than welcoming. In our hearts we like products and brands that do one thing well, rather than interacting with huge mega-corporations that know rather too much about our habits for comfort.

Alphabet is an engineering company, not an ad business

The last reason why this strategic change shouldn’t surprise is that it is a natural fulfilment of the vision that Sergey Brin and Larry Page outlined 11 years ago when they founded the Google. They have always wanted Google to be an engineering company in the broadest sense. Google is now an information and advertising business. The move to establishing Alphabet allows them to build different competencies and leverage different structures to solve a broader set of problems. Given the astonishing rise of Google and the undoubted benefit that it has brought to the world and all of us in such a short space of time this could be really exciting.

I predict that the move to Alphabet will be successful and create value for shareholders, and hopefully the world. I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months!

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.

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.


Apple Rumors: The iPhone 6, the iWatch and the Apple innovation engine

What and when will the next iPhone appear and will it be the iPhone 6? I blogged back in October 2011 at the disappointing launch of the iPhone 4S which was Apple's first major product launch post Steve Jobs that I thought that there were signs that the world's greatest industrial innovation engine was slowing. This has undoubtedly turned out to be true and Apple are now under serious pressure with their stock falling consistently. I am an avid watcher of Apple rumors mostly because I think they are a fascinating organisation that is going through huge change right now.

What is going on at Apple (I think)…

The press and markets are in a frenzy at the moment as hedge funds and investors drop Apple. They say that Apple are losing the war against Samsung in the high end mobile phone market, have no cheap iPhone option for developing markets and haven't released a breakthrough innovation in years. Here is what I think is going on……

The truth is that Apple have only started to come to grips with the loss of Steve Jobs in the past few months and what's more we shouldn't be surprised.

Steve Jobs was the tech-genius of his generation – a unique and irreplaceable leader. His loss will be felt in Apple and the world for many, many years. From the many people who I have talked to who have worked at Apple – it is an egotistical, difficult and political place to work. Remove the king pin from this type of corporate culture and a power vacuum results. This creates in-fighting and a land grab. Tim Cook has only recently started to come to terms with this with his sacking of Scott Forstall in October after the maps debacle and the appointment of Jonny Ive as a Steve Jobs replacement responsible for both hardware and software.

I think the top team at Apple are only now coming to terms with the absence of Jobs and in a place where they can get back to the tough process of innovation. They have some key challenges which they need to overcome in order to deliver a series of launches and products which will either underline Apple's dominance as an innovator or start the Microsoft style slow steady decline to mediocrity. With the up and coming changes to the iPhone franchise, the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 or iWatch Apple need to prove their innovation capability in a post Jobs world. 

The most pressing problem for i-devices is software not hardware

iOS which spans iPhone, iPad is increasingly becoming THE operating system for Apple but it is not just looking old and tired but is behind on key usability features. The core strengths of iOS were always its functionality, usability, ease, consistency and reliability. It is still easy to use, consistent and reliable but it is now lagging in core features to make life and communications more functional. Android and Blackberry 10, even Windows 8 Phone, now have a significant advantage in really useful features that bring information, communication and organisation to my day. For example Blackberry with it's Personal and Office modes, or Windows 8 Phone with live tiles that tell me the weather, or Android with it's more integrated message centre. All these developments have left iOS lagging. Witness the wild success of the Evasion Jailbreak on iOS devices: 8,000,000 downloads so far to see how much demand there is for more functionality and flexibility. 

Here I am hopeful that the integration of software under Jonny Ive will deliver major benefit and improvements in functionality.

I think iOS 7 is going to be a big deal and it needs to be.

It needs to take the elegance and robustness of iOS and combine it with a more integrated and seamless communication feature set. Email needs to be overhauled, messaging needs to become integrated, communications from contacts integrated across channels, there are many improvements that can be made. It will also have a facelift I think. All this needs to be delivered in the next iPhone device which leads me onto my next thought on Apple rumors….

iPhone 5S will be next around April 2013, then the iPhone 6 in late November

Apple iphone 6 iphone 5SWhen is the next iPhone due? There is no doubt in my mind that Apple are convinced that the iPhone 5 is a good product and a worthy competitor to the Samsung SIII – Apple still believes in high end design principles based on consumer usability rather than fancy feature packing. And shipments back them up! The iPhone 5 continues to sell in huge numbers it was the No. 1 selling smartphone in Q4 2012. Yes the momentum in the market is for bigger smart phones. Samsung will reportedly launch their SiV in March and are manufacturing 100 million units. However I think that the next iPhone release that Apple will launch is a iPhone 5S with better specs, new iOS 7, a better camera, fingerprint reader (based on their acquisition of Authentec) and possibly NFC in April 2013. This next-generation iPhone would constitute a really good package that would sell on a par with the Samsung SiV. Pundits need to remember that there are millions of people locked into iOS, apps and music that can't easily change to Android or another system. This lock in keeps them loyal – with new hardware they stop being frustrated. 

However I do think that Apple will launch a larger screened (up to 5 inches) iPhone by late in the year. I think it will be longer not wider but will contain an IGZO screen that are stunning, thinner and better on battery life. This would represent a very strong new iPhone 6. It could be thinner, higher resolution, with longer battery life and with continued improvements in iOS 7 would again represent or be on parity with the best hardware in the market.

I also think that the cutting edge latest iPhones will continue to be premium priced. I cannot see any logic in Apple starting to launch cheaper products made out of worse materials. The only substantive difference between Apple hardware and others is it's feel, durability and premium quality. A Google Nexus 4 or a Samsung SIII just feel cheap compared to an iPhone. That's not to say that Apple won't refresh the iPhone 3 or 4 with updated specs and possibly cheaper, easier to manufacture changes that would mean the price point can drop to suit Chinese and developing market consumers.

The big test of the Apple innovation engine is coming 

With Google Glass, various start ups pushing wearable technology and the continued copying of Apple ideas and design ethos – Apple face a stern test. The strength of Apple as a company is that they take ideas which are breaking through and design them brilliantly so that they stand the test of time, and are so far ahead of the market that they retain a price premium for years. That's what the iPhone and MacBook Air have done. 

Let's be clear Google Glass is still a concept – they cost $1500 for goodness sake – hardly a mass consumer price point. What Apple are working on, from what I hear are technologies that create new mass markets. Wearable technologies are undoubtedly the next big battle ground. Whether it is an iWatch or an arm based iPad or indeed glasses Apple need to deliver a product which is truly functional, useful, elegant and able to capture the imagination and wallet of the mass consumer market. My personal take is that Apple will launch an iWatch either towards the end of this year or in Q1 2014. I doubt it will be before then because they will need to overcome the significant manufacturing, durability and functionality issues that will come with wearing the hardware on the wrist so close to the skin.

But let me underline that Apple needs to do something big.

They are a secretive company, they don't show off early stage products like Google have done with Glass. Jonny Ive says that the iPhone took nearly a decade of pushing and development to get to launch. Apple don't have a decade but given they are still the only fully integrated hardware and software company in the world they have some time to get their next big innovation ready – but, as they know, the clock is ticking not just on them creating an innovation but underlining that they have finally moved into a post-Steve Jobs innovation engine. 

What's your view on Apple rumors, the iPhone 6, the iWatch and Apple's innovation capability – why not leave a commnent?

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!


The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser – video book review

Review summary of The Filter Bubble: A fantastically interesting and easy to grasp book that explores an important consequence of the personalisation revolution. A must read. 

The Filter Bubble is a thought provoking read by Eli Pariser. Mr Pariser is a veteran online campaigner who Avaaz.org one of the world's largest citizen's organisations. I've followed his writings and thinking over the past few years especially in the context of my business ALLOW. The Filter Bubble is easy to read with some really great examples and stories contained within it's pages. He talks about the obvious companies such as Google and Facebook but also those that are in the background such as Experian and Axciom. If you interested in the internet, privacy, marketing, society, or just curious about how Google makes the decisions it does on what to show you then this is a good book to read.

If you like The Filter Bubble and this review then please buy the book by clicking here or on one of the Amazon buttons.

See more of my reviews.


Freedom – I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Last weekend, Remembrance Sunday in the UK, was a timely and sobering reminder that millions have sacrificed their lives to protect freedom for us and still do. But what are these freedoms that need to be so preciously protected? It seems to me that freedom is inextricably linked to choice. Our freedom is proved when we make the choices we do.


We live today in a world empowered by technology which as well as offering us many new choices also limits our choices in ways that are harder to discover but no less important to discuss. As a result of our hyper-connected and hyper-transparent world we are simultaneously both liberated and shackled. We are liberated to share more freely, interact more diversely and access new and instant knowledge. These benefits however come with downsides, more of our time and attention is demanded leaving us more tired, more overwrought, more stressed than ever before. The choice to switch off from work is made harder by constant availability and speed; connections between people become looser and less meaningful as time spent together is replaced with more frequent, less direct contact; commercial communication and advertising bombards us at every turn cementing the consumer values of our society rather than citizenship. Beneath these more obvious negative impacts are also more sinister and more opaque influences on our freedoms. We now live in a world where almost everything we do and see is a consequence of our past behavior and decisions. This limits access to information, to services and removes the freedom that is to choose to change. See my review of the Filter Bubble – a great book exploring this.


For example no longer do I see the same output from a Google search that you do. The Google algorithm uses everything it knows about me to give me the results it thinks I want to see and will click on. A computer is blindly making choices for me, filtering and changing my view of what is available in the world. If I am right-leaning in my political views I will see more positive results for David Cameron, if I am left-leaning then more negative. It makes it harder to determine the truth and make informed decision. Computers filter based on our digital footprints in the name of convenience, which of course we appreciate all the more so, because we are so overwhelmed. Extrapolate and you can imagine a world where the choice to access many products and services or be influenced or challenged with diverse viewpoints is largely reduced as it is filtered away either because they are unprofitable or just simply annoying. The available inputs that go into this customization of the world around us are gathering pace everyday. Almost every step of our lives is now recorded in some way. Our identities are virtual and our actions recorded. CCTV on the street, in shops and on public transport watch us. The internet records our every click and view, our email services record who we communicate with and what we say. Our mobile phones record where we are and what we are doing. And these bit of data are becoming more connected and aggregated with each other everyday. The industries that make money from all this surveillance progress three stock defenses: firstly that all this tracking is “blind” as to who we actually are, secondly it is more convenient and lastly that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. These defenses are facile and disingenuous. Whether the identity is a number or address or even an anonymous click stream it takes very little effort to match it to a real individual and this is an increasingly important aspect of the industries that seek to exploit, aggregate and integrate information to make money. It only takes a few variations in the information, such as browser, screen resolution, location, and operating system to identity a specific computer or person and these are available to every website that exists. Convenience is also not a good enough reason to remove freedom to choose – life is diverse and whilst undoubtedly atomizing is still collective and community based. Our well-being and the social good is promoted by creating diverse interactions, information and experience. How much more sustainable would our banking model have been had it maintained contact with ordinary people and it’s social purpose rather than becoming myopic and mono-dimensional. The concept that this level of surveillance is not a problem unless you have something to hide is also dangerous and divisive. It appeals to our sense of right and wrong, or perhaps more accurately, it appeals to the self-righteous. We would do well to remember that centralized intrusion and collection of intelligence on what an individual’s views were and what this could mean about their intentions was crucial for the Nazis in 1930s Germany, the Stasi in communist Russia and the fear and obsession of McCarthyism in 1950s America.


On a less macro level our digital footprints also lead to security and identity risks. It’s these macro and micro risks that led the European Convention of Human Rights to enshrine the human right to privacy. It should worry us deeply that the ability to track and record en mass has proved too tempting for the UK Government who are trying to ensure that up to three years worth of internet, email and other electronic footprints are stored on the whole population “just in case”. They claim that this intrusion is justified in the fight to protect freedom. It isn’t. It seems to me that freedom is to be in control, to be empowered with time and knowledge, and so be able to make the right choices for ourselves. The technologies we have today help connect us broadly with each other and provide access to thin convenient slices of knowledge, the growing opportunity is to help us control these technologies and the fears they create, thus allowing us to gain more freedom over how we choose to spend our time and energy.

Tell me what this blog should focus on in 2013

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What content would You like to see on basini.com. This year I'm asking for help in prioritising my thinking and writing. PLEASE FILL IN THIS SHORT SURVEY. Thanks for your help and if you leave your email one lucky respond will get a free copy of my book – Why Should Anyone Buy From You? worth £19.99. 

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