The Levels move to The Cowshed

ImageAfter the last 3 years enjoying the Georgian splendour of Bath, the bars, the restaurants and the vibrant digital community we thought it was time to have an office all of our own. So, we’ve ditched beautiful Bath and taken up residence in The Cowshed at Castle Farm.  We’ve now got the best of both worlds with the rolling Somerset countryside on our doorstep, the M5 only 10 minutes away and London just 90 minutes on the train.

We’ve also set ourselves up with a new training and seminar room with space to hold courses for up to 20 people – more of that to come in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime we thought we’d make all you city dwellers very jealous with the view from our office window. If you fancy a visit then remember to pack to your wellies!

Our new contact details are:

Postal Address: The Levels, The Cowshed, Castle Farm, Enmore, Somerset, TA5 2DU.

Telephone: 01278 671 082

Has Android killed the video games star?

As sales of Android powered smartphones soar across the globe, Nintendo announces drastic cuts to it’s profit outlook and slash the cost of the new 3DS by up to 40%.   Has the Google effect finally hit the video gaming mark?Image of Nintendo 3DS

In a striking reversal of fortune for the world’s largest video game maker, Nintendo drastically cut its annual profit outlook on Thursday and said it would deeply discount its new 3DS hand-held device as it struggles to stem a flow of users to casual gaming across other platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

On August the 12th , Nintendo will cut the price of the 3DS, introduced in March, by 40 percent in yen and 32 percent in dollars, a remarkable drop so soon after a game system’s debut.

Nintendo said it lost 25.5 billion yen  in the three months that ended June 30, the first quarter of its fiscal year, as sales plunged 50 percent from a year earlier. The loss prompted Nintendo to lower its annual profit forecast 82 percent, to 20 billion yen ($257 million) for the year ending in March, down from a previous estimate of 110 billion yen. The company also slashed its annual sales forecast by 18 percent, to 900 billion yen.

The gaming giant had been looking to the 3DS, its first major innovation since the launch of the revolutionary Wii home console, to propel them back to the heady days of the success they achieved with the console so memorably advertised by Jamie Redknapp!  This hand-held machine lets users play games that appear in 3-D, without the need for the weird geek-boy glasses that accompany most current 3-D technology.

But sales of the 3DS — which went on sale in February in Japan and in March in other parts of the world — have fallen short of expectations, hurt partly by the device’s worldwide release date, just after the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in March.  However, this isn’t the root of the problems.

Nintendo have been badly hit by the huge up turn in sales of the Android powered smartphones that are being purchased in such large numbers that Samsung overtook Apple in terms of sales in Q2 of this year.

Smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system are the perfect platform for causal gamers to play instantly downloadable games and critically don’t require gamers to carry multiple devises as they travel.     Smartphones also allow users access to games played within social networks like the now ubiquitous Farmville.

Yes, the 3D technology is amazing and Nintendo have produced another revolutionary product but unlike the Wii this handheld is facing massive competition on multiple fronts.  Will casual gamers invest in this technology when smartphones are delivering a good (if not great) experience but critically a massive choice of available games, many of them free?    So with cost, portability and gaming choice already stacking up against the 3DS, do Nintendo have any choice but to slash prices?

Nintendo has dominated the last generation of consoles with the Wii  but for now, players complain of a lack of games for the 3DS, a problem that plagues most new systems. Nintendo said Thursday that two flagship titles for the 3DS — Super Mario 3DLand and Mario Kart 7 — would go on sale in November and December. The releases are expected to improve sales of the device.

But unless more consumers start buying the 3DS soon, third-party developers could be discouraged from making games for it, leading to a vicious cycle of fewer games released and fewer 3DS units sold.

Nintendo is hoping that the steep price cut will help drive sales. From August the 3DS will cost 15,000 yen in Japan, down 40 % from the original price of 25,000 yen.

In a letter posted online, Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president and chief executive, offered a profuse apology to Nintendo users, saying that lowering prices so soon after a game machine’s release was a painful move.

“Never in Nintendo’s history have we lowered prices to such an extent, less than half a year since the product launch,” Mr. Iwata said. “But we have judged that unless we move decisively now, there is a high possibility that we will not see many of our customers enjoying a Nintendo 3DS.”

Say hello to the new Leveller!

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve just appointed a new Leveller, Matthew Winwood who joins us as Managing Partner.  Matthew has launched some of the biggest and best websites in Europe including Techradar.com and joins us as we move into helping businesses across the UK and Europe improve their digital content offering.

Matthew has extensive experience in the web analytics and digital publishing industries  and will be working with clients to ensure that the content they are deploying works across multiple digital channels to drive maximum engagement, conversation and most importantly conversion.

You can get in touch with Matthew at matthew@the-levels.com.

Welcome to The Levels Matthew!

ITV left standing as Google’s UK ad revenue soars

Thames TV logo ITV is left standing as Google’s UK ad revenues soars, but what is the relationship between TV and search and does the health of one mean the failure of the other?

It was only going to be a matter of time, but if research from the Guardian is to be believed this is the year when Google will take more advertising revenue from the UK market than ITV currently billed as our biggest advertising earner.

The number boffins have done their work and come up with some nifty calculations that track Google’s current growth rate (of about 25% per quarter) and made deductions for traffic acquisition costs.  This brings them to the conclusion that 2012 will see the search giant acheive advertising revenues of “between £2.4bn and £2.55bn”.  This compares to the “£1.7bn ITV will manage if it achieves a 15% rebound during 2011” according to these left leaning men of numbers.

So what does this say about the relative health of these two businesses and the advertising channels they represent?   Does the old maxim of “you never get fired for buying TV” still ring true?

Google appears to be going from strength to strength, but this does mean that there’s something rotten at ITV?  The short answer is no – they seem to be bouncing back after a torrid few years that saw ad revenues plummet but there’s been a decent recovery since 2010 and their advertising revenues are expected to rise again by 15% this year in part boosted by the Royal Wedding.

What Google have managed to deliver is both the democratisation of advertising coupled with transparency of reporting.  Now anyone who owns or manages a business large or small can reach a local, national and international audience and be confident that their money isn’t being wasted.   You don’t need to employ a fancy Soho creative agency to “translate your vision” to TV and you can set up an ad campaign from your sofa.

However, we should all be mindful that the most successful companies employ a “mixed media” approach to their marketing activities. They understand that our response to their message will be different while we’re searching than while we’re being entertained or reading a magazine.  To capture and hold our attention and to build a brand that is liked and recognised needs more investment than a few lines on a Google page.

There have been multiple studies that show the direct link between a new ad campaign on TV and the number of associated searches at Google.   Studies show that this uplift depreciates over time but that for the first few days and weeks of a campaign hitting our screens our search behaviour is altered.

A fascinating peice of reasearch from Matthew Chesnes and Ginger Zhe Jin in the US looks at the effect of above the line advertising on the number of searches made for prescription drugs.  They conclude that  “Overall, offline advertising increases not only the likelihood that a user searches for a drug, but also the intensity of search within a search session”

This study seems to back up the view that a mixed media approach will deliver a better outcome in the long run,  so big or small companies need to recognise this and try to diversify their spend and effort to incorporate  more than just search.

To read Chesnes and Zhe Jin’s research paper on “Direct-to-Consumer Advertising and Online Search” go to http://bit.ly/glPDQu

To read the Guardian article in full  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/apr/15/google-uk-ad-revenue-itv

Google to launch payment system on Android phones with Mastercard

Mobile phone payment systemHave you ever wanted to pay for your coffee with your mobile phone?  No, we don’t mean pawning your phone for a Starbucks (!); rather letting your Android phone do the work.

We at The Levels believed it was only a matter of time before Google moved into the mobile payment market and it looks as if the time is nigh, at least for our American cousins.   Google have partnered up with CitiBank and Mastercard to embed technology in Android mobile devices that would allow consumers to make purchases by waving their smartphones in front of a small reader at the checkout counter.

It’s been reported that Google won’t be taking a cut of the transactions, rather that this is being done to boost the effectiveness of their advertising platform to local businesses and retailers.

Imagine if you will.  You’re walking down the street in a city you’re visiting on business, you’re feeling a bit hungry so you grab your phone and search Google for nearby lunch deals.  In the results a deal pops up with a voucher code and you take your phone + the voucher into the store.  You pay for your sandwich by waving your mobile in front of the scanner, activating the discount as you do.   Clever hey!

So Google helps you find a deal and lets you pay for it too, you’re a happy consumer.  The retailer wins as he/she gains a new customer and see the effectiveness of their Google ads in action.

But, as with all “free” Google products there is a downside and that downside is your privacy.  Google are doing this to make their ads more efffective and demonstrate their worth to retailers.  How do they do this?  By mining your data of course!

In addition to getting new customers through the doors the system will allow retailers access to data about customers so they would be able to market future offers to their devices, it’s claimed.  Google, is also getting a massive insight into just how we all spend our money, a gold mine of information when you sell advertising.

This technology is being developed with the people over at VeriFone Systems who already have a mobile micro payment system developed and it looks like it could be ready to roll out to the US later this year.

So, will we use Google Payments when they hit the UK?  Of course we will, at least for novelty value if nothing else.  This is a smart application of search technology and one that might just be a game changer in terms of electronic payment.

 

 

An app to please the music moguls. Welcome to FanTrail.

Fantrail logoSome may argue that the music industry only has itself to blame for it’s current ill health and lack of sustainable revenues. Clinging on to a past of the Sunday night Top 40 and the promise of wealth from the sale of singles to adoring teenage fans did nothing to future proof this industry that is now almost extinct on the high street at least.

Social networking sites have played a huge part in the discovery of new talent and the promotion of signed artists but the majority of labels still feel very uncomfortable about an environment that they can’t control and can’t directly commoditize.  So, when news of the launch of FanTrail (www.fantrail.com) hit our screens we knew that this would make a lot of moguls very happy indeed.

FanTrail is an iPhone app that allows artists / bands and their fans to connect but crucially provides a space their management to track and understand fans behaviour, purchase patterns and demographic profiles.  It’s free for both the artist / band and their fans.

FanTrail’s being launched at US music & entertainment gathering SXSW in Austin Texas next week and is a lovely piece of work.  It allows bands and artists to control and better still, start making money from their social networking space.  There are loads of cute innovations inside the app, but in short bands and their management can start of segment their fans by location, dedication and activism.

So what does this mean?  If an artist is up and running on FanTrail and they have some new material to test out they can send out an invite for a private gig to only their most active fans (the ones that buy the most music say) in a specific location, rewarding these guys with a money can’t buy opportunity.

The app also has the ability to release short sound bites, interview, samples of tracks etc to fans and once again this can be targeted by activism or location.   Fans score points by buying music through the app (& iTunes) and by checking in at gigs and concerts.

We think that there’s a rosy future for FanTrail.  The labels will love it as it has the ability to make them money, the management will love it because it makes their life just a little bit easier and the artists themselves will love it as it’s a lovely little app that allows them creativity.

So all you wannabe rock stars get yourself over to FanTrail and tell us what you think. (www.fantrail.com)

“This time it’s different” say Facebook as they acquire Beluga

Beluga corporate logoNormally when Faceboook acquire a start up they make you can offer you can’t refuse, shut you down and strip you of all your intellectual assets.  Highly effective but just a tad on the brutal side.

So, when news of their acquisition of Beluga (belugapods.com) was broken by the boys over at TechCrunch we assumed it would be just another slash and burn job.  But we were wrong.  Facebook have explicitly stated that this won’t be the case and in an open letter on the Belgua website state. “Beluga and Facebook are committed to create new and better ways to communicate and share group experiences.”

Beluga is a free mobile group messaging service so a little bit like Foursquare in that you can share your location, but just (& only) with your friends.   You can also share photos, updates etc with the group but again, completely privately.  It’s made up of a team of three bright young things who learnt their craft at Google and created a bit of a feeding frenzy when they went out into the market looking for angel funding but as we now know Facebook got there first.

So, what’s the future for Beluga?   The privacy of their users, which is so closely guarded seems a little at odds with the Facebook mantra of give us your data and we’ll sell it, but other than that this seems like a perfect fit.

Could it be that this is Facebook tacitly admitting that there are some users out there who aren’t prepared to share their life with the world?  Could this be their first move in building an alternative service where privacy is key?  We’ll wait to find out.

To read the original TechCrunch article http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/01/facebook-beluga/

50% off social media and search training courses for Bath business

City of BathIn celebration of the summer The Levels are offering all of our neighbours here in the city of Bath  50% off all social media and search training courses booked in August.

A summary of the courses included in this offer is listed below, but we try and make sure every training course we deliver is tailored exactly to your needs (no sausage factory here!) so get in contact and we can discuss what will suit you best.

  1. An introduction to social media.  Getting up and running on Facebook and Twitter and making it pay for you. (1 Day course. Cost £500)
  2. The role of social media in your organisation.  An advanced course for businesses already using social media channels but wanting to better unite their on and offline activity and harmonise social media activity. (1Day course. Cost £750)
  3. An introduction to search engine marketing. How to use search engines to boost traffic and sales to your website and business.     (1 Day course.  Cost £500)
  4. How to write for search. A half day course that teaches you how to write content for your website that is super search friendly and will attract the maximum number of new customers to your website and business.  (1/2 day course. Cost £300)

Welcome to The Levels

Stop or I'll Tweet image Well, welcome to our blog. It’s taken us a month since we launched the business back in January to get ourselves up and running but here we are.

And what a month it’s been. We’ve seen social media take centre stage at the very heart of national revolutions.

Clay Shirky wrote “No one claims that social media makes people angry enough to act.  But it does help angry people coordinate their actions.”  He couldn’t have been any more correct when it came to the events that unfolded in Egypt.

We promise that we’ll up updating the blog on a much more regular basis but for now have a quick flick through and let us know what you think.