Archive for January 31, 2008

Posted: January 31, 2008
Comments: 0

Thought I was kidding? Genome scanning for health and relationships already a commercial reality.

doctor.jpgSo, who thought I was kidding when I suggested last month that we’d soon be judged by our genes?  Well, I have news for you guys – its already happening!

The obvious initial application for genome scanning I guess would always be for health reasons and sure enough there are now at least four commercial set-ups ready to scan and analyse your genes to tell you what nasty diseases you are likely to suffer from in the future (that’s assuming that you haven’t already).

The aptly named offers to scan you for eighteen known diseases at a special introductory price of $985!  There are even discounts for bulk purchases – no you don’t need more than one scan, but you could bring the family along – strange, I thought the point of all this was that these diseases were inherited, so the results would all be the same!

On their user-friendly web site the Decodeme folks point out that they will not only tell you what you are going to die of (my words), but where your ancestors came from.  Hmph, do I really want to know this? adopt a more clinical style with their limited offer to twenty people who they say for $350,000 (A bit more up-market than then) can help “pioneer an emerging science” and give the Knome people a nice retirement.  (I added that last bit!).  They are quite open about their motives.  “We are a for-profit, privately held genomics company …” You ain’t kiddin’!

The catchily-named ask “Do you have your Mother’s sense of taste” – shit, I hope not!  Now that might give me the incentive to sign up for this thing.  At least I could top myself at the first sign of floral patterns in my wardrobe!  The great thing about this is that its mail-order – yup, you heard me!  No pretence here about white coats and science, this is straight-from-the-hip, sure-fire genetics for the masses – and for only $999!

The fourth that I came across was whose “Navigenics Health Compass” comes in at a mainstream 2,500 bucks and you get your own website thrown in(?)  Hey, don’t ask me ask them!

Most of these organisations say that while they will scan you for the conditions that are recognisable with today’s knowledge, they will also update you as new discoveries come along.  Sort of puts a whole new slant on the old joke about the guy at the doctors who asks “OK doc so tell me how long have I got?” and the doctor says something like “don’t buy any long-playing records” (That’s a joke for those of us who remember vinyl).  I can see it now …

You are sitting in a meeting and you get an SMS that says “u hve 3 mins 2 get 2 hosptl.  Jst dscvrd u r going 2 die of …”.

Thankfully have put this science to really worthwhile use with a genetic dating service.  Yes, now you can be genetically compatible.  All your troubles are over – no more marital tiffs or divorces.  Of course when a “new discovery” prompts a change in diagnosis the SMS is a bit different – “sry marid rong wmn!”  I wonder if you could make them liable for the alimony?

Posted: January 29, 2008
Comments: 1

Is your customer service a sham?

Hear no evilI’m  having a bad IT day!  Its bad because, since I installed Adobe Reader 7.1.1, every time I open a PDF file my computer hangs, It might be a coincidence of course, but its particularly bad because the people who I think are responsible and who are certainly the only people who know for sure are in denial.

I have spent more hours that I can’t afford trying to get hold of customer support at Adobe.  They have the tab on their web site, but it leads to a treadmill of links that just keep you going round in a circle and getting absolutely nowhere. 

It can’t be that they have gotten their navigation a bit wrong by mistake – they are programming experts for Christ’s sake! – This happens for one simple reason.  They clearly don’t want to know. 

I suppose if they admitted that Reader had a flaw they’d be in trouble and I guess they don’t know how to fix it so the best thing (they think) is to pretend I am imagining it.  Their strategy is to get me into this loop and keep me there until I give up and go away. 

Adobe are not alone in adopting this strategy of course, there are many businesses out there doing the same thing, but is sucks.  Thirty minutes ago I felt it sucks because I needed them a) to admit that their programme has a glitch – there are enough people writing posts on the Internet about the same thing to reassure me that I am not alone in this assumption (Google “Adobe Acrobat hangs computers” and you get 53,500 entries) - and b) to fix it!

Now though I’m over it.  Why? Because Adobe are no longer a feature of my life.  I’ve taken out every Adobe file that I can find in my computer and I’m in the process of replacing them with perfectly good alternatives.  Here’s the one for Reader and its FREE! and my computer is working fine!

I was writing elsewhere yesterday that its possibe to turn problems like this into positives – like Hoover did with their Air Miles screw up – and you don’t even always need to call in the PR disaster recovery squad.  However, you first have to recognise that you have a problem!  If you don’t, of course, it will, eventually …   bite you on the arse!

Posted: January 29, 2008
Comments: 3

Consistency – the key to strong brandships

ConsistencyMy friend’s wife suffers from multiple personality disorder.  He says its fine – like sleeping with a different woman every night!  It doesn’t work that way with brands though.  Deviation from the personality your customers have come to know and trust could mean the end of a beautiful relationship!

You know how it is.  There’s a chap at work who you see every day.  You know him well enough, he’s the guy in the smart suit with the latest haircut and all his facial hair in the right places!  You like him, he’s reliable and you don’t really think twice about trusting him with a project or a task.

Then, one Saturday, you are pushing your shopping trolley around the local supermarket and you come across a couple of loud kids with some bloke in jeans an a baggy sweater, hair all over the place and stubble on his chin, who looks like their Dad and a woman in track pants tagging along.  It takes you a minute, but you think its that guy from the office.  You’re not sure, but he’s seen you and looks as though he knows you.  You make a sort of non-committed nod of acknowledgment and take half a step in his direction – yes its definitely him.  Blimey!  You would never have recognised him in a crowd, though now you do its OK and you strike up a conversation straight away, but its that moment of awkward hesitation that’s significant.

Now translate that to a brand scenario.  What if a brand that you know and trust, one that you had been married to for years, suddenly acts out of character – a corporate inconsistency, new packaging, a different advertising message, a disappointing experience?  It probably wouldn’t make you want a divorce, but there would be that moment of hesitation.  And that’s all that your competitors need to step in and introduce themselves, maybe with a little incentive to break the ice.  “Hello, I’m just the kind of friend you thought he was, but I come with an extra if you take me home today”.  That’s the way longstanding brand relationships can come to a sudden end.

Brand relationships (or “brandships”) are all about knowing and trusting and its vital that you maintain the core character traits that enabled you to establish the relationship in the first place.  Of course, brands have to make changes from time to time, its essential if you are going to evolve with your customer base, but there are risks.  Avoid them by remembering that its like seeing the guy in the office in a new suit for the first time, provided he hasn’t gone from Gucci to grunge, its just new and interesting, not a complete change of character.

Having said that, it comes down to sensitivity.  Changes can be more radical that you might expect – David Bowie (one of my favourite examples of a strong brand) lived characters like Ziggy Stardust that he created and changed music styles dramatically while maintaining a very loyal fan base for longer than most performers, because the key character trait that drew us all to him in the first place was his creativity and character creation, not necessarily a particular persona.  Product brands can be the same – Apple, automotive brands, sports teams (different players, same philosophy).  In fact I have written recently that brands often forget that they can and should be constantly re-inventing themselves.  Be edgy by all means but be so within the framework of your core character traits.

A smart marketer will be able to maintain the freshness of their brand, like the spark in any relationship, without losing the fundamental values upon which the relationship was originally founded, but it works both ways.  If you are looking to steal customers from a competitor, wait until you know they are going to make a few changes and make yourself conspicuous.

Posted: January 23, 2008
Comments: 0

To be the best!

Ramy Ashour and James WilstropAnybody who knows me will tell you that one of my big passions is squash – that’s the sport, not the fruit (No, its definitely not a vegetable because it has seeds).  They may also tell you that another way I get my kicks is by teasing Americans, usually about sport (well you are all so insecure – who could resist?) an extreme sport in itself you may think, but it’s all in good fun.  So last week, as Bear Stearns held their annual Tournament of Champions at New York’s Grand Central Station, I combined the two in a gratifying orgy.

Every year since 1995 America has played host to one of the few sports that they didn’t invent and keep to themselves so that only they could be “world champions” at it.  Well, at least we Brits share.  We even send you our old footballers (sorry, soccer players)! 

Actually, I’m surprised that after so many years the US hasn’t produced any noteworthy squash players.  After all, it’s generally agreed to be the toughest sport on the planet – just the kind of challenge Americans tend to rise to.  However, moves are afoot and I think that the US has finally got itself behind the game.   They have taken on John White an Aussie who plays out of Scotland and now lives in Pennsylvania where he is Director of Squash at Franklin and Marshall College and over the next few years I expect we’ll see Americans emerge among the world top twenty.  John is still ranked World No9 on the pro circuit aged 34 and although he’s had some great results on court, his biggest claim to fame might be that he hits the ball harder than anybody else – 172mph hard in fact – and if you have ever been on a squash court with a decent player you’ll have some idea of how fast you have to move to reach a ball travelling at that speed!  Anyway, I digress …

This year the big event provided another spectacle for the Big Apple’s daily rail commuters with 32 of the worlds top male players battling it out in a glass court in the foyer of Grand Central Station.  There were a couple of Americans in the draw, but they didn’t last long and the final on Sunday ended up being a dual between the English player James Wisltrop and the 20-year-old Egyptian Ramy Ashour, back from a two-month injury time-out.  Sadly, James lost, but Ramy is an amazing player with super-fast hands, so the final made for an exciting battle.  We could be looking at a very-soon-to-be World Champion there!

Jahangir Khan and Jansher KhanIn my day, the big battles were between Jahangir Khan and whoever managed to get a chance to tilt at his windmill, but for five years from the age of seventeen he remained unbeaten stringing an amazing 555 consecutive match wins together to set the record for unbroken wins in any sport.  He was World Champion six times and won the British Open (the Wimbledon of squash) ten times.  At that time North America was developing a similar game using a hard ball, so Jahangir nipped over the pond to play a dozen of their tournaments wining all but one (well he had to get acclimatised!) beating the champion of the game eleven times in the process.  Once, when asked how he approached a match he is supposed to have explained that he treated it as though he were locked in a cage for a fight to the death with a deadly enemy.  Something to do with his Peshawar warrior roots, I guess.  The thing that separated Jahangir from his opponents was the incredible fitness that he had developed at the hands of his brother and trainer Rehmat Khan.  He had that in common with the only other person who might challenge Jahangir for the title of squash’s greatest ever player Peter Nicol.  Both of them underwent training regimes so punishing that only dedication, of a kind that few of us could imagine, would enable.  Which brings me to my real point.

I admire people like these, I admire anybody who is so focused and determined nothing is too much to ask of them in exchange for realisation of their objective.  These guys wanted to be the best in the world and they succeeded – OK with some guile and skills, but mostly with bloody hard physical effort and sacrifice.  And that’s why I get so pissed off with people in organisations that I come across who want it all and want it now.  Maybe its my time of life, perhaps there’s just a rash of this particular malaise right now or maybe its just the circles that I have been mixing in lately, but I seem all too often to hear the excuse “this is too big an ask” in response to the simplest suggestions.  It appears that managers the world around think that real success is a matter of luck rather than graft, an idea maybe brought about by the notable recent successes of a few high-profile companies and now-wealthy individuals.  Sure there are lucky breaks and we all need them from time to time, but most successful businesses get there the hard way and I was reading the other day that barely any of the world’s most successful companies in the last twenty years have lasted more than a few years, so maybe there’s a sustainability factor there too.

If you want success, I mean really want it, not just fancy being successful, you are going to have to accept that it will hurt, for a while at least - just like the training regimes of Jahangir, Peter and the other great athletes who have made it to the top.

Posted: January 22, 2008
Comments: 0

Brands and architecture

The Dancing Building. PragueI’ve been working with architects and planners for the past few weeks and fascinating it has been too.  I have been trying to identify the key component of the perfect urban development, which sounds simple enough, until you try to find hard facts to support ideas and theories.  Then you quickly discover that once the buildings are up and the developers have made their money nobody is too bothered to find out if the development actually worked.

There was one worthwhile project that I uncovered though.  Its called the SHE Project - SHE being the abbreviation of Sustainable Housing in Europe.  So far it is the only project I have found that actually sets out to measure the benefits of various aspects of housing design.  Its just a pity there are no results yet (although the Italian government has changed it’s policy in response to the short-term results achieved by the SHE developments that are taking place in their country, so I guess the general indications are good).  I just wish that someone had done something similar for other aspects of planning and development – like a study of the optimal socio-economic mix for a new town, or the influence that integrating less well off and disadvantaged social groups with more affluent residents has on crime and social dissatisfaction!

I met some interesting characters on this project too.  Like an apparently well thought-of world authority on the subject who just seems to swear and rant a lot, but doesn’t appear actually contribute much and a developer in Eastern Europe who seems to be able to raise limitless funds (I’m talking hundreds of millions of Euros here!) for a development before he has a plan!  No, don’t ask!

Anyway, all this brought me around to the idea of Cities as brands again.  I say again because its something that I talk about often in my Brand Discovery Programme workshops and Full Effect Marketing seminars.  The particular prompt on this occasion came as I was reading through some stuff on the shenanigans surrounding a planned new development in Adelaide.  Don’t you just love Aussie politics?  It must be one of the few Western-style democracies where politics reach such a height of verbal and sometimes physical abuse that the real issues become secondary.

Anyway, I picked up on a debate about whether the design of the new centre was, or even should be, in keeping with the Victorian and mock Gothic architecture that the State Capital is known for.  Somebody had commented that the centre should be Victorian in style because that was what Adelaide is all about.  Now we’re talking branding and that’s my subject.

On one hand maybe the brand Adelaide is about faux Victorian architecture, in which case the Victorian style shopping centre would be right on.  However, if the existing mock Victorian architecture was in its day more about being off-the-wall architecturally, that’s a different promise altogether.

Living part the time as I do in Prague I have seen how a city renown for startling architecture across the centuries maintains this reputation today (despite a short interruption by the Commies).  Prague made the decision very quickly after the fall of Communism that its new buildings would match the promise of the First Republic and before – not reproductions of a classical style mind you, but bold contemporary statements as the old buildings certainly were in their time.  The city fathers started small this time, with a building on the river, known to everyone now as the “dancing building” and over the last twenty years they have expanded their vision and encouraged architects and planners from around the word to bring their wild ideas to the city, resulting in larger stunning projects that contrast with the old, but reflect the same bold architectural statement of their forefathers – its starting to work!

I have lost count of the number of brands I have come across that have failed to recognise that it was the fact they were different rather than what made them so, that created their success in the first place and this is the same thing.  Prague could have gone the way of many British town planners and created reproduction architecture that looked like reproduction antique furniture – and we all know how tasteful that can be – NOT!  Its a lesson a lot of brand’s could use.  Instead of setting up their business to deliver the promise – a constant flow of new and different concepts - too many organisations have invested all their effort in trying to perpetuate an old idea.  What happens every time is their least imaginative competitors catch up, do the same thing and between them they turn the sector into … well, Slough (and we all know what John Betjeman made of that) until the next lighthouse brand comes along and whips their boring butts!

Successful brands (I mean brands that hang around for a few years) continually re-invent themselves coming up with new ideas and trading concepts that match the evolution of consumers – you are only as good as your next good idea!  Of course, nobody would deny, there’s always a chance that you’ll get it wrong, but even if you did, the worst consequence isn’t going to be as bad as the ultimate oblivion that lies in store for those who are stuck in a rut.  Besides, you can always change again and try to get it right – so you might as well just get on with it.

My foray into the world of architecture also gave me another parallel and that too resonates with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.  It goes back to the establishment of Christianinity in the West and the way that Christian churches were built on pagan religeous sites.  The idea was to symbolise the authority of the new religion.  When the Communists were in charge further East they did the same thing. Ceausescu in Romania was a master.  He virtually wiped out all evidence of history in Bucharest, replacing classical buildings with massive concrete blocks and cheap pre-fabricated high rises, but he also created a palace that was the third biggest building on earth.  Like a King rising above his subjects this dominates a grid of other Communist buildings from its raised position.  When you see it you just know what it stood for – no doubt there!  Although Prague wasn’t vandalised by the Communists like some other cities, its present day story is one of the brand reaserting its promise – pulling down the panelaks and replacing them with contemporary manifestations of the promise it always made.  There are a few commercial brands that could do with the same treatment.

Sure its tough to keep comming up with ideas, but that’s what marketing is, for Christ’s sake!  Its also why we marketers get paid (so they tell me!) so well!

Posted: January 12, 2008
Comments: 3

The future of the Automotive industry?


In his Video blog this week Al Ries tosses us the thought that Automotive giants like Ford and Chevrolet might, in future, cut their wide model ranges down opting instead for a single model that they can focus their efforts on.  Unlikely, I think, but its clear that something has to change in the Auto world.

The reason that I think Al is wrong is really because the Automotive industry is full of emotion – emotional consumer buying decisions of course but emotional business decisions too.  Somehow I can’t see the guys at GM, Chevy or Ford accepting that they have been heading in the wrong direction for the last fifty years and winding down to a corner shop operation, whatever the commercials might say.  But that’s just my gut feel.

Ben Bacon suggests in a comment that Mini is a example of this in action, which it isn’t really, but I get his point.  The Mini idea though might suggest a pattern for the future.

There are a lot of issues to consider here, but just to take a few key ones – Environment, fuel consumption, cost of product development and staying in the game and decreasing car ownership (I think so).  One solution to this might be that the globals sell off brands or even some models like Stingray and Mustang that are really brands in their own right just like Mini, to marketing organisations, but offer a manufacturing resource to the new owners.  Design can be sub-contracted out by the new owners to specialists (It seems often to be anyway) and so even might distribution and other stuff.

What you get as a result is a kind of Mini scenario, with global distribution that avoids the environmental cost of shipping vehicles, or even parts, around the world.  The brand owners can choose what markets they go for and manufacture locally and develop models that they feel meet the demands of their segment.

OK, so that’s the Automotive industry sorted, what’s next?

Posted: January 10, 2008
Comments: 4

Hilary or Barack – a dilemma of brands

Before I start, I have to thank Michelle Miller who promises me that her new book “The Soccer Mom Myth” due out in March, (make mental note to add to my Amazon “aShop”) will bring all this into focus, for prompting me to have my say before she has the last word! 


I’ve never really understood the US voting process and occasionally when I take time to study it and finally think I have it sussed, immediately something comes out of left field just to prove to me that I don’t. 

One of the things that threw me a loop recently was the suggestion that part of the process, when there’s a close result, involves a bunch of people getting together (over cocktails I guess) to decide that if the voters knew a few things that the politicians knew, but were keeping secret, they would have voted differently, throwing the result out of the window and just deciding the winner themselves.  So I must have bad information there because were it true it would make Zimabwe a great democracy!

However, one thing I do know for sure is that the current Clinton, Obama tussle is a brilliant illustration of consumer dilemma and the role of brand.

Politicians are brands of course, have no doubt about it and like any other brand they have an inherent promise.  In fact, in the case of politicians the promise is rather more up-front that with most other brands, which really just serves to emphasise the importance of what is the challenge for most brands – delivering the promise.  I always emphasise to my clients that the key to business success is to make a brand promise that apart from being relevant to your market is also realistic.  In other words, something that you might actually be able to achieve.  I guess that doesn’t influence politicians that much, but, I’m sure we’d all agree, it should.

In the case of the Hilary and Barack show, both are making big promises, which, to most people are attractive.  The difference, as Hilary was at pains, between sobs, to point out the other day is that one of them (and it wasn’t her) didn’t have the experience to deliver.  The other side to this particular coin however is that while Obama doesn’t have a record of delivery failure, Hilary is part of an establishment (I’m not talking parties here just politics) that has delivered successive disappointments, without flinching and without apology for as long as I can remember.

In a land that probably needs change more than most, Hilary’s strength is that she has the experience and ring-craft that, if we believe her when she says that the rest of the stuff that has prevented her cohorts from delivering in the past isn’t going to deflect her, means she might just pull it off.  Barack’s is the fact that he hasn’t – which means he’s as likely to succeed as he is to fail.

If the two were two tins of beans standing on a supermarket shelf – a new unknown brand and an old, but not particularly notable one – which would you choose, the familiar one that you knew was average, or the unknown one that just might be the best you’ve ever tasted?  Personally I’d go for the new one, but I’m not sure the American electorate, when the chips are down, is really up for a leap of fate.  The problem with that conclusion is that it means its all down to the packaging designers!  I guess there’s no change there either then!

Posted: January 9, 2008
Comments: 2

What brand development is really all about – Part II. Community


A brand, like the district you choose to live in or the club that you join, is a community.  You feel comfortable there, it fits you like an old arm chair, it reflects your personality and values and when you give people your address or mention your club they make assumptions about you based on its location (“country bumpkin” or “city trendy”) or maybe the social level that it represents (“middle/upper/working class”) and more. 

I once advised a mobile phone company that had a reputation for being a bit cheap and basic.  Domestic subscribers loved them, their problem was that they couldn’t attract business users.  They could satisfy their practical demands, but their reputation for being cheap kept getting in the way.  In those days you couldn’t switch networks and take your number with you so the objection raised by business users was “if people can see from my number that I am on this network they will think I’m cheap and basic too”.  And, they were right!  Its about the community to which you belong.

Think of the way we sometimes describe people “… so and so is OK but he hangs out with a bad crowd …” – same for brands.  Another client of mine told me recently that because his business was ”number one” in their sector they made a point of only appointing suppliers and partners who were “number one” in theirs.  He felt that it underlined his own positioning.  So if your brand is sold alongside products or brands, or in outlets that don’t reflect your standards and values, you might find that your reputation is being tarnished.  Then again, if you need a bit of brand social climbing it can help just to hang out with the blue-chip boys.

Buy a product, join the community and you instantly have a badge to wear.  This is the old Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs coming into play – I am what I buy, own, eat etc …  A brand transforms customers’ lives by giving them both a sense of belonging and, ironically, at the same time a feeling of individual expression.  Remember, “American Express says more about you than cash ever can” or “I was just an accountant until I discovered Smirnoff”?

An interesting thing about a community is that its a two-way street.  While it influences its members they in turn also influence the community.  Its just like a new family moving into a residential neighbourhood.  They choose to be there because it reflects their vision of themselves, but their arrival changes the dynamic of the place – for better or worse depending on your viewpoint.  It works the same with brand communities.  

Marketers often complain that consumers are promiscuous and its true - sometimes they are (although there are two sides to every divorce case and often customers are enticed away from brand monogamy by the promise of a badge they are just happier to be seen with).  However, brand promiscuity is often misunderstood.  People are complex and individual, its rare that one brand will satisfy all the requirements for badges of recognition of any one customer.  That’s why, as consumers we adopt a portfolio of brands (sometimes more than one for a particular product sector), which between them cover all the things we want to represent.  I know a guy who wears Nike shoes to play his sport in because they are serious “tools” but chooses Puma when he’s hanging out because he feels they are cool.  With the choices we have available to us the permutations are almost limitless.  Certainly sufficient to represent a wide range of individual personalities.

This all means that as a brand guardian (Hey, I know you know, brands are not “owned” by the organisations that use them) you have to be sensitive to the needs and wants of your community and go with the flow.  It’s why interactive communications are important – things like blogs, chat rooms, “how are we doing?” cards, problem pages.  I just spent a frustrating few minutes trying to find contact information on the web site of a well known retailer.  I could find the address of my nearest store and I could “give feedback” that I know would end up being handled by some operator at a contact centre in India in a few days time.  This isn’t interactivity, this is an attempt to pass indifference off as genuine interest.  What I want is to “connect” with someone at the company who can do something … and I can’t even find a phone number for their switchboard! 

Like any other consumer, I want to know what people – other community members, just like me - are saying about my communities, the products, values, services it represents or even just stuff in general – like a couple of old wives gossiping over the garden fence.  I want a help line, live chat or at least an e-mail problem page, because that’s community and when I get to the point where I am tearing what’s left of my hair out, I want to know that there’s someone who cares enough to have left their number for me to call.  This retailer clearly just doesn’t get it.

The trouble with all of this is that its a mountain of work and we have to apply technology to get through it.  The pit that many organisations fall into with this is that the technology intrudes on the relationship, making it cold and impersonal, in effect neutralising the benefits that the interactivity is meant to create.  Smart people apply their technology sensitively – its not difficult, it just takes some thought.  In the next few years we’ll see massive development in this area.  Technologies that facilitate without intruding.  Recent developments in AVATARs support this prediction.  KMP in the UK are playing with some great programming that adds expression to AVATARS that really helps you look them in the eye, but my guess is that we’ll see integration of a far wider range of technologies and communications routes in the quest to make brand communities more supportive and involving.  My friend was relating to me recently that he was in the middle of buying theatre tickets when he was called away from his computer.  After a few minutes he received an SMS message on his phone saying something like “Don’t forget, you are in the middle of booking your theatre tickets”.  How’s that for community building?  However, if you think that’s cool, wait and see what turns up next.  Better still, don’t wait, build your brand community by applying technology creatively to situations like this.  All it takes is a little community spirit.

Posted: January 4, 2008
Comments: 1

CRM isn’t about technology.

tesco-check-out.jpgOn the Tom Peters web site Steve Yastrow challenges us to define “Customer Relationship Management” without using the words “software”, “application”, “system” or “database”. Harald Felgner pitches in with his response on Harald Felgner and the Red Fez, although I’m not too sure that he hasn’t deviated a little. Now, I may be being simplistic here, but personally I don’t have a problem with this challenge. However, I think I see where Steve is coming from.

We humans are a complex mess of contradiction. On one hand we thrive on community yet on another we avoid relationships. We want to belong, but we strive for individualism. Throughout our lives, as Kevin Roberts explores in his Lovemarks idea, we struggle with the dilemma of rational over emotional responses, left-brain/right-brain thinking and a common manifestation of this is the way we use technology as a means of avoiding relationships.

You’ve undoubtedly done it yourself. Want to pass on some bad news? Need to talk to someone you don’t particularly like? Use e-mail. In fact we use e-mail all the time to avoid making a phone call or even popping down the corridor to talk to somebody. We use the rational/left-brain excuse for doing so – its “less expensive than a phone call” or “I don’t have time to get up and schlep all the way down there”, but the truth is that our emotional/right-brain wins every time and we just can’t be bothered to “relate”.

It’s worth highlighting the fact that relationships aren’t always good or positive. A relationship is nothing more than a connection between things or people (or things and people) and it can be difficult or even downright bad – its just a connection after all!

cnharris24.jpgBusinesses do the same thing on a larger scale. One of my business heroes is Lord Harris of Peckham, known to most of us as Phil Harris the founder of Queensway Carpets (Once the UK’s biggest carpet store chain) and more latterly the man behind Carpetright, which I think is the biggest carpet retailer in Europe. I was lucky enough to work with Phil for a while and discovered, what I believe is the main reason for his success. Sure, he’s definitely one of the smartest businessmen I know, certainly he demonstrates what Jack Welch describs as “candour” (one of my top ten requirements of any manager), but above all, he makes contact with people on a personal level. He could send mails to his store managers to ask them what was the buzz in their town this week, but when I worked with him he would instead, get in his car and travel the length and breadth of the UK turning up unannounced, at stores on any day of the week (including Sundays) to get on the shop floor and sell! And sell he does! His explanation for this behaviour (if it isn’t obvious) was that it puts him in touch with both his store staff (He seems to know them all by first name) and his customers. In other words, an important reason I believe, for his success is that he builds relationships – and he does so on all levels not just these two.

Most organisations understand the need for building customer relationships – they are good for business! – but most managers lack real commitment and see the task as just part of the job. They merely pay lip-service to the notion of CRM and because they adopt this attitude its very easy for them to slip into the left-brain/rational mind-set and use technology to tick the Customer Relationship Management boxes for them. The fact is of course that this is barely a relationship let alone relationship building,which is about emotional stuff at least as much as rational, it is purely doing the minimum required to maintain a status quo.

Technology can’t build relationships, its just a tool that you can use, with great effect, to help you organise yourself. I believe, and I think its Steve’s point too, that far too many of us confuse the “process” with the “tools”, which is why when asked, most managers will define CRM in terms that lean heavily on the use of words like “software”, “application”, “system”, and “database”.

So, to get to the point, at last – My definition of Customer Relationship Management would be …

“the process of staying in touch with, anticipating and responding to your customers’ needs”.

What tools you choose is up to you!

Posted: January 3, 2008
Comments: 2

Expanding the “Genetic Marketing” idea

For those of you who might be interested in the concept I floated in my post last month ”So it looks like marketing might be science after all” you can download a short summary of my thoughts on this subject here.  Feel free to come back and add your own thoughts and comments or join the discussion on under “Genetic Marketing”.