Martha Lane Fox: Why brands have a crucial role in Race Online 2012

Martha Lane Fox: Why brands have a crucial role in Race Online 2012
Martha Lane Fox: Why brands have a crucial role in Race Online 2012

As her campaign to enable everyone in the UK to use the web hits its 1000th partner milestone, UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox reveals how brands are playing a crucial role in Race Online 2012.

Setting out to bring online the 9m people in the UK who have never used the internet, on a budget that barely stretches to a staff of 10 and some desk space in Soho, may go down as the craziest challenge I have embarked on yet.

Nonetheless, necessity - or, in this case, real resource constraint - is the mother of invention and our limited funds certainly forced my tiny team and me to think innovatively about how we applied ourselves to the task.

We were clearly going to need help to make a dent in the numbers of people in the UK failing to use the web.

There are many great organisations, from charities and housing associations to libraries and adult education and community centres up and down the country, that have for years been dedicated to delivering a more networked nation here in the UK.

We sought to build on the brilliant work of these organisations - such as Learn Direct, UK Online and our libraries network - and to throw some new commercial ones into the mix.

We launched Race Online 2012 to act as the vehicle for this work last spring. It is a business-to-business campaign that invites anyone who feels - as we do - that the UK's digital divide is an opportunity both for social change and for business growth to sign up and make a pledge to inspire, encourage or support more people online.

Our partners range from individuals passing their IT skills on to others in their community, to big organisations opening up their physical estate to host outreach or training events, tweaking their marketing messages or bringing new products or services to market, especially low-cost technology devices. It has been less than a year and we have just recruited Mumsnet as our 1000th partner.

Media has played an important part in recruiting those partners: coverage, everywhere from the Financial Times and the BBC to Trinity Mirror Group's regional papers, generated millions of pounds' worth of advertising media value in 2010. Thanks to pro bono support from the brand communications agency 23red, we have also made it incredibly easy for partner brands to promote the benefits of the internet in their communications via the 'Go ON' badge and messaging - a great banner under which we can unify all partner activity.

However, the most important thing we have done, I hope, is to shift the terms of the debate - recasting the digital divide from being a 'problem' for the government or charities to solve, to presenting it as an opportunity for all sectors, especially by building the case to businesses that our offline population represents a new customer base.

I am convinced that without help from the private sector we will not achieve this. Not that we have asked businesses to write us a blank cheque: instead, the pitch to our partners is about the potential to grow their business by reaching these 9m new online customers.

Multichannel engagement

From the early days of Lastminute.com to the boardroom of Marks & Spencer, I have seen how valuable it is for companies to engage with customers through as many channels as possible. It makes for cheaper marketing and more fully engaged customers - both of which have an impact on the bottom line.

With generous support from marketing communications group Engine, we have been able to dig into the demographic data about offline groups to make a copper-bottomed case for companies to invest in growing this market. With broadband, for example, we have demonstrated that only 7% of existing customers switch their ISP annually (according to analysis from Ofcom via Enders), so targeting existing subscribers with messages about price and speed could, at best, net providers an estimated £148m a year. Whereas aiming your marketing at the 7.9m people who are over 55 years old and offline, most of whom say the internet is simply 'not for me', is worth an estimated £643m.

Our role now is to make sure that we are bringing together creative partnerships. We work closely with top partners such as Sky, BT, Microsoft, TalkTalk, the Post Office, BBC and Three as well as local authorities like Liverpool City Council.

We can spot areas where their work could overlap with other partners to have even greater impact. These bold and creative cross-sector partnerships are the things I think will make the biggest difference to the issue.

By putting Microsoft together with Age UK, for example, we are creating demand and supply for a refurbished-PC market, allowing us to reach those previously considered too expensive to serve.

The relationships we have helped forge will also, I hope, ensure our work has a life span that lasts well beyond the time our funding runs out in 2012.

In 2000, 45% of the population were online. In 2009 this had increased to 79%. The final surge toward 100% will allow us to unleash the full potential of the UK.

Now, more than ever, we need to build as many skills as possible across all age groups and all demographics. The internet is clearly the defining tool of our age and spreading its use to all our citizens will make us better able to face some of the challenges ahead.

UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox is the founder of Race Online 2012 and a non-executive director of Channel 4 and Marks & Spencer.

- NICKIE SMITH, UK marketing director, Microsoft Advertising

No one organisation can meet the challenge of getting 9.2m people in the UK online by 2012 - it involves collaboration and partnership. Microsoft Advertising led a Race Online campaign working with 14 partners who pooled their resources, technology, talent and time free of charge to make the 'Go ON: Give Someone Their First Time Online' Christmas campaign a success. Microsoft Advertising donated media space across its online properties including MSN, Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Xbox, while 3 Monkeys Communications provided free public relations services to promote the campaign. Campaign creative was developed by VCCP; testimonial videos were produced by Seevue; a Facebook game was designed by DoT Load Movie; and a microsite built by Kieon. Reduced internet access packages were provided by Three, Plusnet and B1 Connect, while Europc, eBuyer and Zoostorm provided affordable, web-ready PCs. Age UK made its 475-plus charity shops available as donation centres for old computers, which were then refurbished, with the profits going toward helping older people to get online. It was true partnership in action.

- PETER WANLESS, Chief executive, Big Lottery Fund

Race Online 2012 has challenged the Big Lottery Fund and other UK funding bodies to encourage better use of technology among charities. As demand for Big Lottery Fund money intensifies it is becoming more important to make the very best use of every pound. Good use of technology helps us, the charities we fund and the people they support to achieve vital efficiency and effectiveness. We are now taking these conversations further alongside the likes of the Association of Charitable Foundations and Comic Relief, looking particularly at 'full cost recovery' and raising awareness of charitable hardware and software schemes such as the Charity Technology Exchange.

We are shifting a lot of our operations online, too, helping applicants to help themselves through intelligent forms - reducing errors and the associated costs to charities along the way. We have also added our story to Race Online 2012's Survive & Thrive - a casebook of charities using technology that shows sceptics just how powerful technology use can be.

- LIZ WILLIAMS, Head of consumer affairs and CSR, BT Retail

When we launched our 'Get IT Together' campaign in October, our focus was all about encouraging those who are already internet-savvy to support and encourage others to get online. It was based on the insight that, for most people who are not online yet, the barriers are such that close friends and family will be most effective at helping them to take those first steps into the world wide web.

We asked Gabby Logan to support our campaign as she had helped her mum get online. Gabby helped us appeal for more people to turn from 'surrogate surfers' - surfing the internet on someone else's behalf - into 'surfer supporters', coaching someone how to use it for themselves. Within three months of the campaign launch, more than 1200 people registered at bt.com/getittogether to undergo an Online Basics course with UK Online Centres, with which we are partnered.

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