Digital Marketing

Near the end of the year I was invited to attended the Grow Your Business With Digital Marketing event, arranged by the Northumbria Enterprise and Business Support (NEBS) and held at the Northern Design Centre. This event focussed on the effective use of Google‘s AdWords and Analytics products, as well as business support opportunities offered by NEBS, such as their graduate internship program.


Introduction to the event was handled by none other than my start-up mentor, Graham BatyEnterprise Manager at the Northumbria Business Start-up Hatchery. Also in attendance were Cissie Tsang, our Enterprise Officer – who I got to speak to briefly during the intermission – as well as Victor Ottaway, the Graduate Internship Manager at Northumbria University.

Victor gave a brief but interesting talk about the support NEBS had gave 126 small-medium enterprises (SMEs), by providing quality student interns and a salary subsidy of £4000 for up to 6 months (26 weeks) work. Impressively two-thirds of their graduates stay employed by the SMEs who choose to provide their internship, which proves the value and worth of such a scheme for both the employers and employees. Information on registering interest for the programme was given and I jumped at the chance to add my name to the list. While I don’t have full time employees at present I do feel strongly about the importance of acquiring new talent, and I definitely intend to use this option in future if the opportunity arises.


The main event was, of course, Chris Simpson, founder of Karma Computing, Northumbria University graduate and example of a successful startup from the same hatchery I currently inhabit.

For the first half of the evening Chris spoke about the importance of developing a measurable digital marketing strategy and setting up Google Analytics properly, so you can track your goals effectively. For example, if you make blog content to boost your exposure among potential clients, you can find out if the blog post you just spend hours crafting is bringing in any business for you.

The importance of targeted and measured campaigns was not new to me, as I had thoroughly enjoyed reading into this during the New Media Marketing module on my course. Memories of Gattiker, Jobber and Kotler, bubble in my mind. However, Chris added another, Aninashs Kaushik, author of the Digital Marketing Measure Model. Chris suggested reading it first to figure out your D.U.M.B. objectives; Doable; Understandable; Manageable;
Beneficial.)

Start with just one goal and focus on configuring it correctly said Chris, e.g. set a goal to track enquiry forms to completion. We do this by defining the goal in Google Analytics, setting a key performance indicator (KPI) for it and, most importantly, setting a target you can measure it against. Then, using the various tools, such as the live preview function or a plugin for Google Chrome, we can then test that the analytics are triggered when we visit the website ourselves. This means we can follow the customer journey and see how our analytics are collected as users browse our site.

For the second half of the evening Chris dug deep on tracking. He explained that by linking Analytics and AdWords together we can send our goals and conversion data from Analytics into AdWords automatically. This would be the crux to better estimating the types of customers Google is going to target in our AdWords campaign. You can even track online clicks and attach them to enquiries (leads generated, meetings setup, etc.) in order to account for offline conversions. Say for example you have a contact form to generate leads; when you meet this client you should update your Analytics data to reflect a successful conversion, giving you better data for your future campaign.

Chris also wanted to clear up any confusion over keywords and explain how to use them effectively. His first tip, be as descriptive and specific with your keywords.

  • SPECIFIC – exactly what you’re providing (service/product)
  • HELPFUL -e.g. prices from £12.99 (transparent pricing)
  • ACTION DRIVEN – e.g. “before they’re all gone” (scarcity principle)

Utilise the ‘Negative Keyword‘ list. This prevents AdWords from placing ads on keyword searches that you wish to avoid. The example he gave was rather amusing, involving a jewellery shop in Yorkshire that kept getting visitors who had been searching for Yorkshire cheeses. A quick look at the ‘Keyword Search Report’ and he figured out how people are wrongly arriving at the site. It only required him to add “cheese” to the negative keyword search for Google to know not to waste the advertising budget on the wrong audience.

He also stressed the importance of making sure you take the time to correctly target your audience through individual campaigns for each of your customer segments. Separate your business and consumer campaigns. Tie the call to action in your ad to the landing page for that campaign e.g. ads that state “contact us to find out”, should bring the customer straight to a contact us button or form. Don’t have a one size fits all advertisement. Be clear and concise.

At the end of the night Chris took questions and one of the best answers he gave was on budgeting. His final advice:

  • Budget at least £6 a day. By doing so you can call google associate to guide you through the setup, to give you pointers on your ad campaign.
  • Be conversion focused – bid for conversions, not clicks or bids on keywords.
  • Plan, budget, forecast and drive down the cost of acquisition over time.

As I mentioned, this event really got me thinking about digital marketing once again. It was good to see the powerful tools that were available to help me measure my goals, and all of it was free of charge! So the first thing I got to doing when I got home was following Chris’ advice.

I opened up accounts for both Analytics and AdWords. I drafted an ad, just to get the feel for it and then took to implementing the analytics tool for my domain.

What was immediately apparent was how powerful these tools really were. Immediately I was overwhelmed with options, jargon and a list of other, compatible Google services that I should deploy to improve my Analytics account.

In honesty, I struggled at points, trying to wrap my head around utilising Google Tag Manager in conjunction with Analytics, in order to track the custom goals I had created using Kaushik’s measurement model.

A completed example from Kaushik.net

However, I persisted with figuring it out and made decent progress the next day. This wasn’t something I alone had experienced. As I discussed this with others from the hatchery who had attended the event, it became apparent that most people opt to get someone to do this for them.


After a day’s work reading the documentation, following Chris Mercer‘s guide – over at Digital Marketer – and using the Tag Manager tools, I reached a point where I was near giving up. The tags I had created to measure my goals were firing, but no data was reaching my Analytics account. So, I left it. Two days later I checked the account and there it was. Data!

Attending this event and implementing Chris’s advice proved invaluable. It helped me understand how to implement these tools to my benefit and guided me to a digital marketing strategy that I can control. As a result my understanding of SEO improved and I have a clearer understanding of online marketing techniques that are relevant to me.

Despite the time and effort required to get to grips with it all, this was easily one of the most immediate results I have gotten from a conference.

VRy Merry Christmas

A few days ago I got to attend another VRTGO Labs event, VRy Merry Christmas. Hosted by Carri Cunliffe from Secret Sauce, this free event was a chance for the clusters associates to meetup and look at the future events and activities coming up in 2017, as well as hear from a guest speaker while wearing their best Christmas jumper and enjoying mulled wine and mince pies.


Carri started the afternoon by discussing some of the key events they were planning for the new year. Each month they are looking to host an event would focus on a particular sector or industry, including:

  • January – VR in Education and Training
  • February – VR in Architectural Visualisat@vrtgolabsion and Design
  • March – VR Developer Conference; plus, VR Film and Audio at Tyneside Cinema
  • May – VR and Games
  • June – VR in Manufacturing (e.g. Automotive, Process Industry)

She went on to explain how VRTGO Labs will also be developing their online presence and network connections, through having their own FaceBook page (separate to VRTGO, the conference) and reaching out to other virtual, augmented and mixed reality networks (e.g. Immerse UK, Digital Catapult) to share data, knowledge and funding opportunities; to further bolster the strength of the UK developer community.

I am particularly interested in the January and May events, after developing a service around VR in Education while developing my own VR game.


Next up was guest speaker and Developer Evangelist, Mike Taulty. Mike works in the developer group at Microsoft UK where he has spent the past decade helping developers to understand and get the best from the Microsoft platform.

His presentation, Developing with HoloLens: The Path to Mixed Reality, was an interesting but brief exploration of Microsoft’s exciting hybrid reality product, that lets users see and interact with ‘holograms‘ in their environment. Though, as mentioned on his blog, Mike is not privy to any other information on the Hololens than what is available to the public. However, his knowledge and insights proved quite informative and useful to a less experienced developer like myself, all the same.

Mike gave us a rundown of the tech being used, dispelling any misconceptions we had about the device. He explained that the device is a portable PC, with an array of advanced sensors that record depth, light, inertia (6DoF) and a video feed. All of this information is handled by a holographic processing unit (HPU), which is a performant, low latency x86 device. The processed information is rapidly combined in real-time, to be available to the universal windows apps that run on the devices Windows 10 platform.

Included in the package are a pair of spatial sound speakers, located above the ears, as well as wi-fi and a battery which gives around 3 hours of useage. Most impressively the unit uses custom built transparent holographic lenses, which use waveguides to project the image into your eyes. Mike stressed that the lenses themselves are often mistaken as a form of LCD, which isn’t true. This aspect of the display can be confusing, so if you’re interested I suggest reading the article by James Ashley, over on his blog, The Imaginative Universal.

What does all this mean for developers? It means you can do some pretty cool things that you can’t on VR headsets.

The headset utilises inside-out tracking and the use of transparent lenses mean users vision is not completely occluded. So, for example, you could develop a 2D projection of your app and then let the user control it with voice commands, gesture controls or even their gaze.  Alternatively, you could build a holographic app that harnesses the full power of the sensor array. 3D avatars can walk around the room and sitting on your living room couch. All this because the software can use the real-time information from the sensors to recognise obstacles and boundaries or flat surfaces of a certain height.

Developers can use this environment scanning ability to map a room and then share it with their colleagues. They could then take this data into Unity or the Hololens emulator and start programming an app using C#, C++, DirectX or VB.net. Mike confirmed that the device is constantly scanning, updating it’s model of the environment to get an up-to-date representation. However, at this point the system cannot recognise people or animals specifically.

Earlier in the day of our event (8th December) Microsoft also held their annual WinHEC keynote, where they announced that Windows holographic would extend to other devices, beyond the HoloLens. This means that Windows holographic devices would be available in many different form-factors at multiple price points, all with inside-out tracking capabilities. I definitely feel like an interesting future for mixed reality lies ahead.


For the final talk of the day we had Marissa Brindley, Technology Sector Specialist from Gateshead Council. She was there to discuss the Northern Centre for Emerging Tech. A working title for a new development which will comprise of office accommodation, a research and development testing facility and access to specialist emerging technologies equipment.

The centre is going to combine the existing Open University building located in the Baltic Business Quarter, with a new construction in the parking lot that would act as a research and development facility.

Renovation of the existing structure will allow businesses to access to office, startup and move-on spaces from September 2017. Open access to the RnD building with its specialist equipment and modular is planned to be completed by the end of 2017. Eight million pound of European Regional Development Funding, as well as private investor funding has been secured in order to allow the council to build and support the centre for the next fifteen years.

Marissa, along with an as of yet unappointed Business Engagement Officer, would be working with cluster to develop and maintain strategic relationships with businesses in the region. She was also able to show us some of the development plans for the building and was looking for input on the types of equipment and facilities companies would need to help them succeed.


The event was smaller than other VRTGO events I had attended, but I felt it was relevant to my future in building an emerging technology business in the area. I liked the mix of news, technical talk and business, which kept my interest and introduced a lot of new opportunities that I can explore going forward.

VR & Games in Education

A fortnight ago I got to spend time teaching two groups at Gateshead College. I had arranged with the staff an opportunity to present a lesson on computer and video games, VR and how they relate, which included activities and talks with their Level 2 Games students. The key objective behind the session was to provide the students with insights and perspectives on an emerging technology and how that relates to their current studies and future career options.

I arrived at the idea, of providing a service to education institutions, after noticing that there is a significant difference in the current usage and direction of VR development against the expectations and experience of the general public. It seems as though the enthusiasm and excitement of VR among developers – those in the realm of video and computer games specifically – is off kilter with the reality that most people in the street have experienced or imagined. This was no more evident to myself than when I held a public VR demo last month. During that time I interacted with a lot of people, some of whom had a very jaded or fanciful impressions of what the new wave of VR tech was capable of, before trying an experience for themselves on a high-end Oculus Rift setup.

So how is educating students on games courses going to help? Surely they are already in the know, right?

Not exactly as you may expect. Being a student myself I simply looked to my peers, who have been watching VR, have even tried it, own it or even develop for it themselves. It was slightly surprising to find that even the future developers of VR content sometimes have little familiarity with the applications, possibilities and limitations of the tech, beyond the idea of it replacing traditional displays as an output device.


Since I had gained knowledge of – and experience developing for – VR, I decided to give the students a non-technical crash course in the subject. Something that wasn’t going to be patronisingly basic, but also something that was technically and verbally orientated to their level of comprehension. My aim was to get them to start thinking more broadly about the potential of what is essentially a new medium through which to experience, learn and play. I want to try and use this approach to begin bridging the gap of expectation and reality that I had witnessed. After all, the students are making their first steps at crossing that bridge, between the public and industry.

I arrived early to setup and test my equipment, which proved crucial as I had to work with the staff to overcome some technical difficulties that would have ruined the presentation I had planned. These moments of worry were trivial however, as by arriving early and coming prepared I even had time for some speaking exercises after working around the issues.

I kept the talk dynamic and alive by constantly asking the students to explain what they know about the different aspects of VR, then challenging their expectations and explaining away any misconceptions around where the tech is currently at. It was great to have a snappy and literate conversation and I found that as the students became more comfortable and interested, that they would frequently ask questions and start exploring their own ideas. This was a great outcome, as the students started explaining things to each other, reinforcing their own knowledge while expanding that of their peers.

I hadn’t any formal training in teaching to a class, so I had prepared for the event by seeking advice from experienced tutors I knew as well as reading around the matter. For instance, to keep the students tuned in I followed some advice on varying the activities every 7-10 minutes, encouraging the students to stay active with group activities that aided the transition between segments of my presentation. This worked really well and I noticed that I managed to keep most of the class engaged at almost every point. However, getting a class to shout out suggestions didn’t work quite as well when the vibe in the room was more conservative or there was a single dominant voice. This is something I look to address in my approach in future but overall was acceptable in this first attempt.

The most successful activity I felt, was the inclusion of the Marshmallow Challenge, created by Tom Wujec. I decided to try and inspire the students to improve their attitude towards their study of games and VR, by adopting a leaner, iterative approach towards the development of their personal and academic projects. My reasoning behind this was to show the students that they should not be afraid to fail, that they should test their assumptions early and be ready to adapt their plan to overcome any difficulties they face. At the same time I wanted them to experience working together in unfamiliar teams, to a tight deadline with shifting expectations and sometimes less than optimal tools. This would hopefully show them that failure is not the end but simply a stepping stone on the route to a true and worthwhile success.

I tied the presentation up by reflecting on how I went from where they are now to where I am today. I made sure to provide the students with a step-by-step approach on how to progress and backed it up with inspiring examples of success, stories of dedicated people such as Yang Bing. An open Q&A to round off the lesson was a chance for me to clear up any burning questions and became the chance for me to really enthuse students with that can-do feeling that we all need to keep us moving forward in life.


Feedback on the day was positive, from the students and the staff. I feel I have learned just as much as the students and it was great to see a younger generation that can be just as, if not more, effervescent and imaginative as those I see working in the VR industry today.

Gateshead College games department have invited me back for more sessions with their students, as well as involving me with the deployment of a live brief that includes feedback and ongoing support for their higher education level students.

This is an exciting time and I am looking at how I can expand this service into more institutions across the region. I have created a page dedicated to promoting this service, which I call VR for Education.

Public VR Demo

Recently I seized the opportunity to hold a public VR demonstration at my local Grainger Games store.

publicvrdemo5

This was a chance for me to test the viability of a business idea I had arrived at, while exploring the possible VR services I could provide to businesses, using my current knowledge of the industry and the business model canvas.


I had spent the week before preparing for the event by check-listing all of the tasks I would need to complete, such as: costing the equipment and consumables I would need; planning all of the processes I would need to follow; creating notices, posters and flyers; promoting the event on social media channels, etc. I also reached out to all of the hardware and software vendors, asking for any support or guidance they could provide for the event but unfortunately I did not hear back from any of them. However, I knew I had all of the equipment, knowledge, experience and even a small budget from my personal finances which I was able to utilise. I used this to purchase the extra equipment, software and consumables (e.g. treats and refreshments) for the event, making sure that the items I chose could be useful again in some manner, even if the event was not repeated.

publicvrdemo1

I want to make special thanks Suzanne Leibrick who posted a helpful article which I used to inform my health and safety approach and which I also adapted into safety notices for the event. I also followed the advice of Geoffrey James and Robert Falcone, who both gave excellent pointers on performing a successful product demo; as this is something I hadn’t done for the general public before.

The only significant problem I had was the acquisition of hygienic face masks that could be used with the Oculus Rift. I did purchase some online which – while very expensive for what they were – stated they were compatible with the Rift. When they arrived I found that they were simply the wrong shape and size. Even after some fiddling it was apparent that I would have to have them fit uncomfortably across the person’s mouth, which exposed the foam seal and effectively made them unhygienic. Alternatively I could fit them across the nose which meant they would either slide up into the mask and obscure the person’s vision, or tilt upwards causing air expired from the nose to fog the lenses. This could have killed my ability to demo effectively to a large audience so I decided to get a little creative with some non-porous tape.

publicvrdemo2

After some time and patience I had created a very effective seal that was comfortable, unobtrusive and could easily be cleaned, without compromising the function of the foam. I tested this the night before the event with a couple of people who hadn’t tried VR before and the feedback I got was reassuringly positive. I will remember next time to test all of my critical equipment sooner, as this problem nearly grounded my efforts just a day before the main event.


The day went smoothly though, thanks in part to my planning but mostly through the helpful efforts of my partner, who acted as my cheerful assistant and promotional cheer-leading champion. We had setup, tested the setup and had breakfast before the event began, which gave us a confident start that continued throughout the day.

publicvrdemo3

Running this event was a great way for me to see first hand how VR sampled across a wide audience. It was interesting to talk to people and see what they thought about VR going in, as almost everyone I approached had not tried any kind of VR before, while those that had experienced it had only used smartphone VR platforms, such as Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.

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For the first hour people were a bit wary of us at first and I found that I had to pro-actively approach people to get them to agree to a demo. However, after the first hour we had a large swell of people of all ages crowding round, their attention fixed on the demo’s in progress. I knew going in that forming a queue would be difficult and maybe off-putting if the demo was a success, so between myself and my partner we tried our best to get as many people through at least one demo as efficiently as possible. The hours started falling off the clock before we knew it and interest remained high throughout the day, with some customers travelling from the opposite sides of the region to get their first taste.

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The day was filled with many awesome interactions which challenged my expectations, as the – in my mind – most unlikely people embraced the technology on display, and sprung to life in childlike curiosity and awe. Though there were some exceptions. One person didn’t like the feeling of being inside the headset, while another couldn’t get a clear image with or without his glasses, then one further still had to stop as a sudden motion had caused him to feel simulation sickness creeping in. Despite these unfortunate experiences there were generally positive vibes and the moments of amazement and reverence not only made it worthwhile but also managed to get my client a significant boost in orders for VR equipment.


In reflection the day was an outstanding success, which I attribute to the preparation activities as well as the quality of the technology that is now available. I also think I should thank my first customer, who was very patient with me and that helped a lot.

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By providing this service I also learnt a lot for myself, as people gave lots of useful feedback on the games and experiences they were shown and this in turn revealed a lot about how different aspects of VR can be perceived, both positively and negatively. I will next be looking at improving upon and extending this service to local retailers in the future, with a view to take my knowledge of VR and it’s audience to a deeper level of comprehension.

I have created a page for this service, which I’m calling VR for Retail.