The latest Destination Digital event, part of a series from Wigan Council in support of the digital sector, took place in Wigan's Town Hall, an ornate red brick building full of sweeping staircases, art deco architectural features and a rather impressive atrium space used for the event. Although it has to mentioned that the modern glass roof added to create the atrium did a more than adequate job of demonstrating the green house effect.
The building started its life in 1903 as the Mining and Technical College and in its hey day provided thousands of graduates for the town's principal industry - coal mining. The mines, and the jobs, are of course all long gone and the town has had to transform itself, an ongoing process that has a potentially sunnier horizon with the impending arrival of HS2 and the opportunities this brings. The Council has also recognised the importance of the digital sector to the economy and put various initiatives, such as Destination Digital, in place to support local businesses.
Just as an aside; before it was adapted into the Town Hall, the Mining College became part of Wigan and Leigh College and was used primarily for Arts based courses and is where, coincidentally, I spent a fairly tortuous year on the old Art and Design Foundation Course prior to going to University.
Following a brief introduction from Emma Barton, the event formally kicked off with a welcome address from Council Leader David Molyneux, who recently succeeded the now retired Lord Peter Smith. David is passionate about Wigan and the opportunities for digital in the Borough. He was followed by Alison McKenzie-Folan who, as part of the reshuffle, is now Deputy Chief Executive and leads the Council's digital strategy, so is similarly enthused about the potential of digital and technology.
Three local businesses then recounted their experiences of 'digital' which ranged from what might be best described as entry level use of Facebook and a website to market a Community Centre; onto a more sophisticated digital marketing and online presence for a health and safety training business; before an example of a full digital transformation within a logistics business. All of them enthused about the help and support they'd received from Jonathan Print, the Business Growth Hub Digital Advisor based in Wigan.
At this point I feel I should declare an interest as 3P Logistics, the third case study, are a bd2 client. Owner and MD Ian Walker delivered a compelling presentation in his own inimitable and very passionate style. Ian has transformed his business through digital, firstly by identifying the opportunities within e-commerce and then refocusing his customer base from larger businesses, such as John Lewis who typically contracted with 3P for over-spill or additional outsourced warehousing and logistics but often with very tight margins, to smaller businesses who often don't have their own supply chain solutions. Ian's customer base is now made up primarily of lots of smaller businesses, using more services, with higher margins.
The second change Ian made was in technology itself. He recognised that the costs of servicing these clients would make them unprofitable if handled with the traditional account managers and customer support call centres. He began the process of developing a self-service portal, an online tool to allow customers to manage their stock, orders, returns and data themselves with minimal manual intervention which is, consequently, much more cost effective. And this is where we first became involved with 3PL as Ian had initially recruited a developer to start writing code. We helped Ian with a little bit of 'let's go backwards to go forwards' advice and undertook a retrospective Product Canvas Workshop to scope out the solution in more detail and, most importantly, identify the MVP - Minimum Viable Product - so that he could get the product launched as a version one and then enhance from there. The new solution is now playing a key part in his business's growth, along with various other initiatives and numerous added value services. We've been delighted to support them in other areas such as branding and website development - we've recently designed and built a new 3PL website which is currently being populated with content including some new videos we're creating.
The morning was wrapped up by Warren Knight, one of the new breed of 'digital gurus' spawned by the internet and all the resultant new technologies such as search, pay per click advertising, email marketing and social media it's brought with it. His career began, somewhat randomly, in hip hop dancing, before moving into sales and then the emerging digital world with his own online business, securing significant investment. Whilst this business ultimately failed, the experience gained from it and a growing knowledge of the power of social media has led Warren to become a self-taught expert with a large online following and a self-published book 'Think #Digital First' which outlines his theories. In his presentation, Warren summarised his 'RENSA" business model from the book, which as an acronym for 'Relevant, Engagement, Nurture, Sale and Advocate', and is essentially a content marketing approach combined with customer relationship management. The model, the book and his advice provides a common sense approach to digital marketing along with many practical tips and techniques to support business growth.