Archive for December 26, 2007

Posted: December 26, 2007
Comments: 2

So, it looks like marketing might be science after all!


With most of the human genome now discovered there are people in some quarters who would have us believe that genes drive pretty much any decision we make.  Folks have suspected for some time that things like aggression, happiness and depression could be genetic and inherited, now there’s speculation that there is a gene that determines conformity – yes, there are definitely people who like to be part of groups and those who like to express their individualism by owning niche products, apparently, its genetic! 

Maybe this makes the case for genetic testing as a part of the recruitment process?  You could identify people who think outside the box, or those who are natural leaders for management positions and others who are routine orientated who would be best suited to transactional roles.  Business success in the future could be guaranteed by the genetic make-up of your board, or even your work-force.

Just think, educational achievements could be of secondary importance on our CVs in years to come (I’ve been suggesting that for years) being relegated by your certificate of genetics, that would automatically qualify you for the top jobs regardless of what you have learned, simply because leadership is literally in your nature.

The potential is way beyond that though.  We know that brands are about membership to communities – large or niche.  Perhaps future marketers will be studying media data that identifies the genetics of their audience and planning media investment, message etc on the basis of a genuine biological propensity to purchase.  It’s well within the bounds of reason that we could identify groups of people who like to fit in and those that like to stand out and pitch brands accordingly.  Just think, there could be a gene or combination of genes that accounts for the kind of unshakable brand loyalty that we see with Harley Davidson or Apple computer purchasers or even religious zeal.

What really intrigues me though is the notion that we could implant genes to change behaviour.  In fact, its more than a notion, scientists are doing that kind of thing already.  OK so implanting genes is tricky to get right, but so was flight once and now its all too common. 

Apparently its not just about single genes, but combinations of genes.  The multitude of unique formulae that are possible with the estimated 20-25,000 genes in the human genome is represented by the different character traits we see among humankind and once you have the basics provided by the genes there’s still further scope for individualism, you can fine-tune them with social influences.  

So far I’ve only mentioned naturally occurring genes, but I’m sure someone somewhere is already working on creating entirely synthetic genes from scratch.  Just think what we can do with that idea.  A manufacturer could commission a gene that drives a tendency to purchase their product.  Then all you have to do is find a way to introduce that into a worthwhile section of the community and you are away! 

Where’s all this heading?  Well maybe the marketing consultancy of the future will be identifying markets for their clients by genetic analysis.  Brand strategies would be less about ensuring that your brand appealed to a worthwhile consumer segment and more about introducing genes into food products to create loyalty among those who ate them.  You would only have to organise tastings in supermarkets and it would just be a matter of sampling enough people to represent a worthwhile market – once they had tasted they would be hooked!  Sales would be assured!  Once that’s possible, food products will become the media with food manufacturers providing the opportunity to producers of non-food items and luxury goods to introduce their “buy” gene via the food chain.  Hey, you could polish off a plate of fish-fingers and immediately develop an irresistible desire to own a Ferrari, financed by some financial services group whose gene you had also consumed as a part of the media package!

When you consider the plan that the UK government had to add folic acid to bread to reduce spina bifida you have at least some of the ingredients for a society where the introduction of genes in this way is socially acceptable.  It would probably start with governments introducing behaviour modifying genes to control law and order, the next step might be religious groups working to convert non-believers and from there its just a small step to full-blown commercialisation!  And if you think that people wouldn’t stand for it, don’t forget that resistance could be reduced or eradicated by adding compliant genes to the water supply!

Then again, maybe it would just take the fun out of marketing!?

Posted: December 17, 2007
Comments: 0

You are only as good as your NEXT big idea!

ideaedit.jpgIs yours an “ideas organisation”?  If not you’d better get it together quick, because this is the era of innovation!

More than ever before, ideas are the currency of business.  You know that smart, latest thing, all-singing-all-dancing, electronic doo-dah you just carried home from the store? – Its obsolete!  Yes that’s right – dead, old hat, done, finished with, give it to your granny.  Meet son-of-your-doo-dah.  Yes, he’s there on the production line in all his gleaming glory, just in front of, hey … can it be … it sure is … son-of-son-of-your doo-dah!  In fact products in competitive sectors have no end of descendants in various stages of development heading for the stores, but the phenomenon isn’t exclusive to electronics or even consumer goods.  Product development is the future for any business and if you want to have a future at all you are going to have to liberate some of the ideas that are in your organisation.  Yes, that’s right, they are there already … well, some anyway.

A few years back I was having a conversation with a junior secretary in an advertising agency whose role it was to gather and collate local competitive activity for a major retail chain in towns where they were planning expansion.  Out of that conversation grew an entirely new, breakthrough product/service called Store Report that not only assessed the competition, but provided national retailers with local campaign flexibility and a range of plug-in promotions to supplement their national activity.  The thing was, it wasn’t my idea it was the secretary’s and it wouldn’t have seen the light of day if I hadn’t, by chance, been chatting with her.  Store Report spawned its own business unit and generated revenue for years to come, but most of all it demonstrated to me and, I guess the management of the agency that ideas are locked inside the heads of employees in organisations everywhere – an ideas organisation just liberates them!

So how do you become an ideas organisation?  Well, I’m afraid its back to brand development and internal marketing again.  There’s no getting away from it your brand is the source of every success and failure you have had or will have.  Being an ideas organisation is in your DNA … or not, as the case may be.  Unfortunately for a great many organisations it is usually not, but it is a strand that you can grow back if the people at the top of your organisation are truly committed and you take an organised approach that starts with a brand model (See “Brand Discovery” tab above).

Posted: December 17, 2007
Comments: 0

WPP and DELL – Absolutely the most exciting thing I’ve heard from the marketing services sector this year!

dell-logo.jpg I’ve just been reading Ed Moed’s piece about WPP and DELL on his blog Measuring Up.  His position is that nobody has so far been able to deliver an integrated solution on this scale from one source and that in particular, WPP’s da Vinci solution – 1000 people from a range of different disciplines working together under one roof – is guaranteed to fail not only because of the sector history, but also because the WPP culture is the wrong environment in which to give birth to the solution.


wpp_logo_image01.jpgwpp_logo_image01.jpgFair enough, but its a rather defeatist attitude and completely at odds with what I believe marketing is all about.  Marketing is about optimism – doing things and going places that nobody has done or gone to before – simple!  The marketing department in any organisation should be the innovation driver (among other things) so I am absolutely delighted that Casey Jones (didn’t he drive a train?) has taken this obvious, but so easy-to-ignore opportunity to do something worthwhile in the name (as he says it and I absolutely agree) of efficiency.  Efficiency is, after all, both the only thing that separates successful from unsuccessful organisations and exactly what integrated marketing is all about!  More power to your bloody elbow Casey – pity there aren’t more of you around! (and I’m really glad you made the switch from train driving although I’m not sure your new profession is any less hazardous!).

If Casey fails, then it will be the worse for all of us, but he has chosen as a partner, a marketing services group whose top brass at least, understand what integrated marketing really is and are probably most likely of all the contenders to be able to make it happen … as long as they get the focus right.  Sure they’ve trodden this path before and failed, but risk is what business is all about.  Failure is fine if you learn from your mistakes and they are definitely heading in the right direction.

So what is that focus?  I believe its about internal marketing.  Its where WPP and others  have failed before and its the only thing that is going to overcome the issues that Ed Moed raises and channel the behaviour and leverage the enormous cache of skills and experience of the people charged with delivering the da Vinci brand promise.  It has to start at the very top.  It has to be the very first brick set in the wall of this new enterprise.  I sincerely hope the guys in charge have already developed their plan for getting every single employee behind the promise and the strategy.  This will only work if there is a powerful sense of community not just at the start, but going forward.  Every recruit simply has to go through an induction process, and the internal marketing, which must itself be innovative and part of the da Vinci DNA should guarantee that the culture grows and strengthens.  

I have no axe to grind, I’m not a particular fan of WPP or DELL, but for the sake of the profession that we are in, I really and truly hope that this partnership realises its objective and that WPP and DELL drive a train through a few conventions.  I for one will be watching the story unfold and learning from any mistakes I spot.

 Good luck!

Posted: December 14, 2007
Comments: 3

If Maslow was right, maybe we’re all wasting our time?

maslowpic.jpgWhenever I take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs it’s presented differently.  The reason for this, I am told, is that while Maslow did the original work, at different times since, others have taken up the theme and contemporised it.  However, as I understand the basic premise goes something like this …

As individuals, communities and the human species we have a set of needs with different levels of importance.  At the bottom end we are talking stuff like food and air, level two are security issues like having a roof over your head.  Level three are things like love and belonging and four is what are termed “self esteem”, that’s recognition and fame.  Finally right up there at number five is a higher level of self esteem that’s about total confidence of the kind that only Jeremy Clarkson seems to have acquired to date.

Apparently we are moving up this hierarchy and as we achieve a new level the previous one loses importance to us (it seems a bit shallow to me but … OK).  I’m told that currently, as the human species we have clawed our way up to  somewhere around levels three and four – that’s belonging and self esteem (although if you could see some of my neighbours …). 


I can dig it.  Its how brands work.  We express ourselves in the things we own.  “I am what I wear, eat, drive or where I go on holiday”.  Our personal brands are an amalgamation of commercial brands each with its own expensively defined personality representing the different facets of our “self” that we aren’t able to verbalise.  I’m not saying that commercial brands mould our personalities, although they might help some people bring facets of their personality into self-focus and as the old Kinks number “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” reminded us there are a few fashion victims, but there might be a few other old crones around who will remember how, a few years back, it was de rigueur to wear loads of button badges promoting a plethora of causes – same thing!

Now, I have to say that I’m not totally sold on old Mas and his ideas, but I can go with the flow to a point.  Where I start to question is where all this is heading.  I mean, according to Mas, eventually were all going to end up being totally up ourselves (like Jeremy Clarkson) not caring what anybody thinks about us, never giving a fig for whether our jeans have all their holes in the right places and perfectly happy going to Bognor for our hols, completely self-sufficient and self-contained.  So, what do Nike do then?

I mean, we – that’s you and me Buddy – will have dedicated our lives to satisfying the needs of the era of conspicuous consumption and for what?  Nobody will care, nobody will remember us for our achievements.  What kind of a contribution to human evolution is that?  And what then?  Do we all just stop evolving or disappear in a puff of smoke?  Or will we all just carry on indefinitely, living perfect lives in our hand-me-downs, and pre-fab homes?  Maybe we’ll go all utilitarian, wearing Chairman Mao uniforms and driving Ladas.  No, sorry, I can’t live with this thought, there has to be more!  Help me, I need a psychologist, quick! 

Posted: December 11, 2007
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Comments: 0

What brand development is really all about – Part I. Efficiency

I came across a couple of companies in the last few weeks (they will remain anonymous to protect the innocent) that had a great product and great ideas, but neither were going anywhere.  Worse than that in fact, while one of them is highly successful (I’m talking world top five here) the future for both of them looks decidedly threatening.

Its not the first time that I have come across this situation, there have been many.  In fact, the nature of my work means that I probably encounter far more businesses like this than most people.

The reason that these and other companies with great ideas and good products struggle is often (maybe even usually) because the vision, ideas and the means of developing the business is locked in the minds of the most senior managers.  Its a phenomenon not exclusive to SMEs and entrepreneurships, the sharing of insights and ideas is something that businesses of all types and sizes can be bad at.

This failure manifests itself in a number of different ways.  Typically it creates a monarchical culture – one where the bosses give instructions and the workers carry them out without question.  This model is common in Central Europe where Communism, bred people whose approach to work and eventually life was “don’t ask why, just do it, however stupid it sounds” and organisations of every type, right up to government, involved intense micro-management as people relinquished their right to think, let alone protest, on every level. 

If there is an up-side to this approach, as the Commie leaders discovered, its for the guy or guys in charge – only they know what’s going on so there’s far less chance of being threatened and though the root of this is commonly managers who just don’t know what ”facilitatory management” is, its equally likely to be a sign of personal insecurity among those people at the top.  The BIG weakness of this system is that it does involve a high degree of management time and effort and it under-utilises the organisations greatest asset – its employees.  This means that managers are required to be far more hands on than they should be, so once the volume of work gets to a certain level, bandwidth dictates that the business stops developing and, thus, will ultimately crash.

A monarchical business, once it reaches a certain point, will typically be slow to develop ideas, will make a lot of mistakes and waste a lot of time.  As I said, its not a phenomena reserved for SMEs, a classic case was ABB Brown-Boveri, one of the world’s largest conglomerates who were rescued from disaster by an enlightened Chairman who introduced a high degree of autonomy to cut product development time and costs and so increased profit dramatically.

What we are talking about here is “efficiency” or the lack of it – the single difference between a successful organisation and an unsuccessful one.  So what has branding to do with this?  Well, everything!

A strong brand will increase the efficiency of an organisation by increasing your chances of delivering customer expectations every time and minimising cost-per-sale.  The first point is covered because a strong brand will give investors confidence, suppliers understand the game they are in and employees understand and commit to their role in the delivery of the promise.  On the other hand, costs are minimised because customers will (literally and figuratively) walk past a competitor to reach a brand they know, they will readily buy new products from brands that they know and trust, they will pay more for their favourite brand and the level of marketing communication required to drive sales is minimised.  A strong brand relinquishes the need for monarchical management freeing managers to get on with … well, management stuff like creating and developing opportunities for growth, confident in the knowledge that they can leave the day-to-day to their employees, suppliers, distributors and partners. 

I’m not the only person to have recognised this of course, in fact most people get it, the problem comes in turning that understanding into action.  Unless you are building an organisation from scratch (and even then its tricky) the change in perspective, structure and management practises that are necessary to create and leverage a strong brand require a far bigger step than most organisations care to contemplate.  That’s why most organisations struggle along in the twilight zone of Sellotape solutions and so-so branding.

For the past few years I have been wrestling with this issue and evolving an approach that helps organisations of all types and sizes make the necessary changes in a way that’s more metamorphosis than instant transformation.  That’s Full Effect Marketing!

Full Effect Marketing places the brand at the centre of the organisation and marketing firmly in the driving seat.  It integrates business and marketing (including marcoms and sales)elements in an holistic strategy that waves goodbye to situations where customers are disappointed.  This is good because while it may take ten times as much to sell to a new customer as it does an existing one (hence the vast sums organisations are investing in CRM) it would probably cost you a hundred times as much to entice a disappointed customer back to your brand.

Now doesn’t that sound efficient?

Posted: December 11, 2007
Comments: 0

Vlasta Redl rocks!

redl2.jpgMusic has always featured large in my life, but never so much as it has in the lives of Czechs who fought a revolution partly through art, dance, Vaclav Havel, the playwright who led the country to the Velvet Revolution that saw the back of the Commies and in particular music, with the Plastic People of the Universe who, to the Czechs, were so way beyond the counter-culture that the likes of Bob Dylan represented to us Westerners that we couldn’t even imagine it.

There has always been a strong classical musical culture too, delivering the likes of Dvorak and Smetana from a catchment of so few people, although my friends who are involved in the classical scene bemoan the fact that even today, while the conservatory continues to be held up as a shining example of the country’s commitment to music, it remains fiercely defended by the elite from intrusion by ordinary folk.  Its odd though that the quality of music here is – let’s be tactful – pretty bad.  Their Pop Idol franchise (called Superstar) usually ends up with finalists that we in the UK would be watching on the out-takes!  There isn’t a great deal of originality in any of the arts – understandable for a lot of reasons – and music is no exception.  During Communism the pop songs of the day were often melodies stolen directly from Western records with new Party line lyrics added.  Its still cool for a guy to look like Ginger Baker did in the sixties and Heavy Metal remains the weapon of choice for a large number of musos.

I was surprised therefore to catch a concert last week by a guy called Vlasta Redl and come away feeling as though I had found Czech music I could listen to.  Kinda “Jethro Tull meets James Taylor” this folk rock band demonstrated originality in composition, great harmonies and kicking musicianship across a range of tempos and styles within the folk-rock range.  The bloke still looked like a hippie, but, hey, you can’t have it all.  The audience, who weren’t by any means teenies, knew the lyrics to pretty much everything he gave them.  My Czech wife though, who is a bit of a hippie herself, had never heard of him despite the fact that he has been around since 1990. 

I decided to check him out on the Web and discovered that he hasn’t learnt the secret of branding – consistency across all communications.  While the archive of down-loadable free stuff was typical of the Czech “all for art” approach the content didn’t live up to the concert.  Disappointing, but I’m going to add a Redl CD to my Santa list, if only to discover if he can do it in the studio.  I also want to get hold of one the T-shirts with the daisy across the front that half the audience were wearing when they arrived – obviously an icon of the Redl community.  Anyhow, despite the downloads not being up to scratch he’s worth a listen, if only to hear what the Czechs are doing these days.  Drop in and hear for yourself.

Posted: December 11, 2007
Comments: 0

Brands – Today’s religions

I’ve been having a little rant elsewhere lately about the trend in the UK and a few other “developed” countries towards social anaesthetisation.  What I mean by this is intrusion of rules and laws that, while they may be intended to keep those who haven’t quite grasped the principles of responsible citizenship on the straight and narrow, actually create a straight-jacket that prevents us from living real, genuine and valuable lives. 

Living part of the time in Prague with my Czech wife I get to see what life would be like without these rules.  Its a hark back to my own childhood, without the kind of stupid restriction that would have you on the paedophile register if you suggested starting a kids football team, but where modern affluence offers far greater opportunity to experience a wider range of things.

My six-year-old came back from a school trip (Czech school with Czech lessons, in Czech language, not a poncy ex-pat’s boutique) a couple of Friday’s ago with a smile as broad as the English Channel and a suitcase full of disgusting dirty washing.  This hadn’t been a trip to the local Shopping Centre, which is as far as my nephew in England travelled on his school’s idea of a trip, it was eight days that pretty much any parent could afford with twenty-odd of her five and six year old school mates and five teachers in a cabin in the mountains.

They played in 50cm of snow (yes folks its here already!) visited a goat farm, a bead factory and walked miles through the forest, and along the way they learnt something more than the cost of Little Pets at the local toy-store.  This is their second such trip, the first was in the spring and they are invaluable in introducing kids to real life things like, what the changes in seasons mean to the flora and fauna.  They get a bit of commercial reality from the factory and farm trips and get to see what animals are like in their natural habitat, plus they learn how to live together. 

Now call me sceptical old sod if you like, but somehow, what with insurance issues (In the Czech Republic if you fall down a hole on a trip like this and break your leg, you look where you are going in future not look for someone to litigate against!), laws on kids and adults mixing, touching and photographing each other, the insistence on ratios of kids to each teacher and the special training teachers and helpers need, all driving cost up and likelihood down, plus the influence of brain-washed, precocious, neurotic parents and lazy teachers I can’t see any of this happening in Blighty.  I can’t begin to tell you the host of things that went on there that individually would have ruled out anything approaching this kind of trip in the UK, but it was great, and they loved it, they are better off for it and, by any measure that I can think of, their English counterparts are worse of for not experiencing such things.

However, the reason that I have brought this up here is that it kinda reflects the evolution of community.  Communities are places of trust, where folks feel safe, surrounded by friends.  However, the streets we live in, the places we visit, the schools we go to are each far less of a community than they used to be.  One example of the decline of these traditional communities is vandalism.  People don’t feel “involved” in these communities any longer, they have no relevance for them and therefore they hold no value either.  So, it’s seen as being of no consequence if they paint on them, pull them apart or blow them up. In fact, just as Christians in England built their early churches on the sites of older religious buildings, today’s generation degrade old institutions and underline the superiority of their own by overwriting the old with the new in just this way.

Brands are communities too.  We join them because we feel they are representative of our ideas, values and standards.  Buying the product is a ticket to ride, the badge of belonging – we are what we buy/wear/eat/drive …

In fact, brands hold the position in many people’s lives that religions used to – a community of people with shared values and beliefs, that they can influence (because a brand these days has to be interactive) as well as participate in?  So, is the decline of the old communities and the emergence of new ones just a sign of evolution, new values? 

The power of modern media has enables new brand communities, to grow at a rate that early religions could never have dreamt of.  Its isn’t all change though, there are new religions in the traditional sense too – Christian science, Scientology, Latter Day Saints.  We also have new residential communities with Florida being “The second most popular place in the world to live” – well according to an American survey anyway!

I believe that what we are seeing is a widening range of communities, sometimes they are exclusive like my current favourite place to stay Pension Rut (which doesn’t even have a web site), others like Nike, the word on everybody’s feet.  They are not mutually exclusive, we can and do join any number, which satisfies different aspects of our personalities in greater depth than a one-for-all solution and they aren’t for life – only for as long as they are relevant.

As a marketer this means that you can create brand conurbations with others.  It also means that you have to be ever attentive to the needs of your community, otherwise folks just move on.  If as a consumer, your priority is for a good wholesome life with values such as the Czechs have, you do what I do and go and live there.  Likewise if you think all of that is crap and want a plastic, disposable desensitised lifestyle you can opt for high-rise living in a city where legislation removes the need for you to think.

It may be oversimplifying things to describe brands as the new religions, but they probably operate at the same level.  They are just components of a wider range of lifestyle options.  If you are the guardian of a brand though (and we can only be guardians, because nobody owns brands any longer) you need to understand how it all works and the role that you play in today’s society. 

Posted: December 11, 2007
Comments: 2

Getting to the point with PowerPoint

I have always encouraged my clients to pay more attention to their presentation – as witnessed by my workshops on the subject and my ActionMails adventure of a few years back.  Along the way, I’ve dabbled in mailable PowerPoint presentations and more sophsticated Flash presentations, mailed, streamed and downloaded from e-mailed links.  However, I’ve been getting back to basics with my clients lately and focssing on the use of PowerPoint in the office environment – simply because, despite the likes of Simon Morton and me batting on about it since time began, I still keep finding people who just don’t get it!Life was breathed into my current state of peek when, the other day someone handed me a “proposal” that was a print-out of a deck of PowerPoint slides.  “Great!” I said, “do you have a document to support this?” to which they replied with a truly baffled expression “That’s it”.  Well I have news for you my friend – it isn’t it!  Not by a long way, and if you think you can make your point with a bunch of printed out slides you a) haven’t grasped the basics of selling an idea, b) don’t understand how to present c) certainly don’t understand what PP is for and d) you’re probably lazy into the bagain!

In case you aren’t getting my drift yet let me explain.  The essential for making a business case – that’s any kind of case from inceasing the budget for boardroom biscuits to investing in an new franchise – is a document.  That’s pages of close text, maybe supported by diagrams or charts, that explain every detail of your proposal and its business merits.  If its a face-to-face presentation or video conferencing a smidgen of personality is also useful, but, hey, that hasn’t held Bill Gates back, so if you are a genuine boring fart you’ll have learned to live with it by now and so will everyone else, so don’t embarrass yourself by trying to be Jeremy Clarkson!  If you are presenting this to a room of more than six or eight people you’ll maybe find a PowerPoint presentation useful.  If there are fewer there’s absolutely no need.

A PowerPoint presentation is a set of slides, each with a chart, a single short statement or an absolute maximum of six bullet points and a heading.  That’s one or the other, not all three (Why do so many people see a PP project as a challenge to cram War and Peace onto twenty slides?).  Its dual purpose is to remind you of what you are supposed to be saying and to emphasise key points to your audience.  If you know your stuff (and there’s the rub for a lot of people) you’ll use the bullet points to launch your dialogue, elaborating with the details that your audience will read later in the document.  And that’s the way it works.  PowerPoint will never be a replacement for a document, although I do sometimes throw hard copies of my slides into the appendices at the back of a document.

The bad news for freeloaders, is that every presentation requires a document and for many you’ll need both a document and a PowerPoint presentation, but believe me, the situation will never arise where you only need PowerPoint.  Sure, its more work – that’s the job, get used to it!  Besides, when I have a “PowerPoint Document” dumped on me, I tend to take the view, if the person isn’t smart or committed enough to sell the idea properly they are hardly likely to be smart or committed enough to have come up with a worthwhile idea in the first place!  Mostly I don’t look at them.

While we are on the subject, don’t you also just love these people who add cartoon characters and jokey animations too!  I used to know a German head of an organisation who thought that he was being really kick-ass by adding all this crap.  He used to press the button on his Bluetooth remote with a flurish and swell with self congratulation as he revealed his first animated giff or sound effect of the meeting.  Apart from the fact that his lack of imagination in sourcing of material instantly destroyed his street cred, you have to remember that humour is subjective.  What may have made his Bavarian drinking buddies split their sides down the BierKeller, in the boardroom usually made him look a bit of a pratt!

Posted: December 11, 2007
Comments: 0

Delivering the promise is about management will not employee ability.

Don‘t you just love Kevin Robert’s review of his American Airlines experience?  It takes me back to a similar, though far less protracted, experience I had on a flight from London to LA when I was diverted to Sacramento because of a storm. 

Because the airport was closed for the night (!) I spent four hours sitting on the tarmac with two-hundred flatulent Americans in an aluminium tube with no refreshments and no working toilets while they searched for a truck with an integral generator that they “knew they had somewhere”, which they needed to start the plane up again.  It turns out someone from maintenance had used it to take himself home at the end of his shift!

However, what this is really about is the commitment of employees to their role in delivering the promise … or not, as the case may be.  Failure to deliver is the single most damaging omission an organisation can make and getting it right is a simple matter of communication.  Communicating a promise that is realistic and then communicating to the people who are going to make it happen so they know what they have to do.  So what is AA’s promise?  Well, as far as I can see they don’t really have one.  Their strap line is “Why you fly” which is bollocks – I fly because I have to to get from A to B and frankly, the pain that air travel represents these days makes me increasingly doubtful of its worth.  AA’s web site says:

“American Airlines and American Eagle are in business to provide safe, dependable, and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services. We are dedicated to making every flight you take with us something special …

Well they certainly scored on that one!  It goes on …

… Your safety, comfort, and convenience are our most important concerns. In June of this year American Airlines and other members of the Air Transport Association agreed to prepare and submit to the Department of Transportation (DOT) service plans addressing particular issues of consumer interest. American Airlines and American Eagle submitted their joint Customer Service Plan to the DOT on September 15, 1999″.

1999? – they are on to it then!  There’s more …

“We are constantly reevaluating our customer service goals, and we intend to update this Customer Service Plan when appropriate”.

Obviously they haven’t seen any reason to “update” their customer service goals in the past eight years.

“Our goal is to be a service and product leader in the airline industry”.

As I said, its about the delivery not the promise.

I can visualise the executives at AA sitting around their boardroom crying over Kevin’s letter of complaint – not!   But if they were they’d probably be bemoaning the fact that their employees don’t support them in their efforts to deliver – well in my experience that’s usually the way it goes.  What these people don’t get is that if employees aren’t delivering, its management commitment that is in question not employees. Failure to communicate, failure to motivate, failure to develop a culture of community, that’s about management deficit.

As a consultant I see plenty of organisations like this, most of which see employing me as an opportunity to relinquish responsibility for the “management” of their business.  Its amazing that the country responsible for AA is also the home of Southwest Airlines who wrote the book on internal marketing (which is what we are talking about) its called “Nuts”, well actually Kevin Freiberg wrote it about them. And they are still doing it.  On 15th November they announced their 125th consecutive quarterly share dividend!  Now if that doesn’t persuade you that internal marketing pays I guess nothing will!