Archive for February 29, 2008

Posted: February 29, 2008
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Data, strategy and tactics

We’re all very hot on strategy these days.  It seems everyone is suddenly a strategist.  There’s also a lot of talk about data collection.  However, a problem I find on my travels around organisations is that too few organisations put the two concepts together. 

Every business needs a data strategy, if you don’t have one you’ll be wasting time and money.  The spectrum of data abusing businesses that I come across ranges from those that are drowning under a deluge of data that they can’t organise or analyse (trying to drink from the fire hose) or those which have big holes in their insights where they forgot to ask some of the key questions. 

The sobering thought is, if you are in the drowning category you will have paid for data that you can’t use.  If you have holes you’ll have paid for half the picture when the full picture would usually have cost you the same – either way, its inefficient and as we all know, these days you are either efficient or on the slippery slope to the trash bin.  Yet many organisation still just collect data piecemeal, as and when they feel they can, with no particular rhyme or reason.

There’s a third category of data abusers too, which is probably the biggest in terms their data use and that’s businesses that have data and have managed to turn it into insights, but are unable to act upon them.  Mostly this is because organisations that are heavily into data, like financial services groups, are using it for direct marketing and a lot of that is systematised and/or automated to such a degree that their structures and even their culture is bound up in the system.  Once you have a system like this its hard to change.  The bottom line there is that your scope for improvemrent is confined to, as a well-known data marketer friend of mine is renown for repeating, “polishing turds”.

Next time you get a presentation from a data management consultancy or analyst, stop them at the slide that lists the savings that they claim they helped their clients achieve.  There is always a slide like this and the wording if they are honest at all is a dead give-away.  Usually its something like “we showed so-and-so how they could save £20million on their DM investment”.  The weasels there are “showed” and “could” because the bane of most data consultancies lives is the fact that very little of the potential savings that they identify are ever achieved.

I spent a good part of last year working with one of our biggest data management consultancies to develop an end-to-end process for collecting analysing and acting on data and I can assure you that data takes on almost magical properties if its managed like this.  Rather than “polish turds”, or to put it more elegantly “refine tactical activity”, we created a model that applied carefully gathered and analysed data at both strategic and tactical level.  The end result was a data driven approach to marketing where marketing was where it should be, firmly in the driving seat of the business and the entire business was built around a brand community with a heart that beat in time to that of its customers.  The data drove the brand development, which in turn drove the internal marketing and therefore the “promise” delivery (including product and offer development), right through to the tactical communications and promotional initiatives.  And this is the way it works, from the top not as the in the case of the tactical application model, with the tail wagging the dog!

This kind of thing is only possible when you start with a clear vision of what you need to know, how data will contribute to that knowledge and how you are going to get that data - in other words a data strategy.  You’ll need the right tools for the job too of course.  I still see quite large firms who keep their data on an Excel spread sheet – it doesn’t work, get real!  You’ll also need to get used to the idea that you should collect data at every touch-point, which is perfectly feasible if you apply a little ingenuity.  Once you get your head around that things get a bit easier.  Then all you have to do is convince your marketing services partners that their initiatives need to contribute to data collection and that the data they collect will in turn influence their future initiatives (or as one agency bright-spark put it “anything it says may be used against them!”).  Too bloody right and about time I say!


Posted: February 29, 2008
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How big is a “big idea”?

dreamstime_1859101.jpgI talk a lot about “the big idea” to clients and the delegates to my seminars, in fact anybody who will listen. The fashion in marketing these days seems to be to focus on the delivery of the message rather more than the message itself and while I think its right that we should all be striving to make delivery more efficient, the danger is that some of us are ignoring an equally important issue. You might have the best delivery system in the business, but if you don’t have anything worth saying you may as well not bother!

Maybe it harks back to my creative roots, but I am passionate about “the big idea”. Its a principle that applies equally to all areas of business not just marketing communications, but I can’t help having that “Yes!” reaction when I see some of the great creative solutions that have come from marketing services firms like Lowe and Droga5 (some of their recent stuff blows me away).

I was talking to the VP Marketing of a global telco a couple of weeks ago and he was expressing his frustration at not being able to find a marketing services firm that genuinely embraced the “big idea”. The point he was making was that if he briefed an advertising agency they would come back with a response that worked on TV and maybe some other media, but didn’t really have legs in the context of the far greater communications arena that we acknowledge today. The same applied if he briefed a promotions company or an experiential agency. He felt that nobody was capable of separating the “idea” from the media – nothing changes then!

There’s another aspect to this that was brought home to me recently in a dialogue I was having on another blog. The subject there was “trade shows” and most contributors were commenting that as new methods of measurement were becoming available and practical they were revealing that trade shows weren’t viable. My angle on this was that, as with any other communications route, the bar has been raised considerably and like TV, and press there was no point investing in a trade show unless you had a “big dea” that would cut through and get you noticed. One contributor responded with the statement that he had found that even with a “big idea” he was struggling and he posted photos of a recent trade show exhibit. Once I saw these I realise that it isn’t about acceptance of the need for a big idea, but having the discernment to recognise how big a “big idea” had to be. His example was positively pants! Definitely grounds for firing his agency.

There’s a parallel here with the delegates to my Brand Discovery workshops, who when it comes to the point where they have to nominate their “point of difference” always come up with stuff that is mundane and very ordinary. Of course, that’s why we marketing folks are here, but I think that even in our world genuine creativity is rare. I see far too many so-so agencies who think they have cracked it – its self delusional.

Going back to Droga5, In response to a brief to tackle in-school use of mobile phones that was disrupting lessons, they did a deal with Motorola and gave away a million mobile phones to students in New York schools as the focal point of their “Million” project (take a look at their case study here). These phones were on a discrete network that delivered only educational content during school hours, but reverted to a normal phone network outside of those hours. Students earned credits to spend on phone calls and other stuff by accessing the educational content. The cost of the exercise was covered in full by advertising, which means that anybody could have done this … if they had the imagination. Now that’s a big idea!


Posted: February 29, 2008
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So, what makes you so different?

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Strong personalities appeal to me and I don’t think I’m alone in that. In fact I was reading research last week that suggested that most of us find people with strong characters more attractive than people who were just “nice”. Of course, it’s great, if you can be both – “nice” and “interesting” – but if its an either/or give me “interesting” every time. It adds up to some difficult relationships, but hey! … it makes life colourful and most importantly for us marketers – its engaging!.

This factor influences us in more ways than we might at first appreciate. For instance, it influences the brands that we buy. Think about it. Its how Apple (full of character) scored over Big Blue (full of … boringness?) or how Mark Ecko, the T-shirt guy made his rhinoceros the thing to have on your chest or back pocket (who saw that Air Force One stunt? – Wild!). Talking of aircraft, I don’t know anybody who would consider Ryan Air’s Michael O’Leary to be Mr Nice Guy, but he has become one of those people you love to hate and his airline is a runaway success. Conversely, you don’t see any cool people wearing T-shirts with “Boots the chemist” printed on them because Boots are boring!

This is not some kind of new radical thinking of course. Adam Morgan explained how it works in his book Eating The Big Fish(still one of my favourites) way back in 1998. Its “lighthouse branding” and its the basis of challenger brand marketing. If you are a market leader you might think you can afford to be boring (that’s why so many market leaders are) and of course, once you are there, in the top slot its easy to fall into the trap of believing you don’t have to put yourself out too much thinking of new stuff to make yourself interesting, but while you are kicking back, give a thought to some of the big organisations who had their business snuck away from them while they were resting on their laurels. I can think of a few who are heading that way now.

I’m no advocate of superficial branding, but it’s certainly true that if you want to be successful you have to be the best at what you do and if you can’t be the best being different will certainly buy you the first rung on the ladder. One of the nine elements (the nine P’s) in the brand models we create in my Brand Discovery workshops defines the brand’s “Point of difference”. It still surprises me how few of the delegates to my workshops really appreciate what “different” really means. Rarely is anybody extreme enough at the first pass around the table and its clear that most organisations delude themselves by believing that their very ordinary traits make them distinctive. I usually find that the best way to identify a potential point of difference is to ask customers. For instance, some years ago I worked on this with a mobile phone company whose subscribers told us that they were sick of the complicated tariffs that mobile operators offered. They felt that they were making them confusing on purpose to disguise high costs. We replied with a real point of difference – one tariff for all, wrapped up in a “champions of the people” brand character, and it worked.

Most places that you see a real success story you will find a distinctive brand character – Starbucks, Harley Davidson, Virgin – and they’ll almost always be a response to a consumer need. Modern media makes it simple to gather consumer feedback at pretty much every point of contact so there’s no excuse for not knowing what your customers want, think or believe is interesting and as I always say – every communication in any communication strategy should be two-way. I find there are people who don’t think that’s possible, but you can usually get feedback if you really want it with a little applied ingenuity.

Of course, you still have to deliver your promise and in part that’s about maintaining your point of difference, but that’s the another chapter in my Full Effect Marketing story.


Posted: February 27, 2008
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Delivering the customer service promise … or not!

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I’m on a customer service kick again having just wasted the best part of a day battling with O2′s customer support.

In the Czech Republic Telefonica O2 recently acquired the once state-owned Czech Telecom and their mobile counterpart Eurotel and with them what was probably the worst customer service in the developed world.  Somehow the arrogance of public ownership had combined with a Communist appreciation of what customer service is all about, absolutely no consumer insights and zero training to create a customer service resource that had infinite flexibility to be able NOT to deliver whatever you needed.  Yes, I am sure they actually went out of their way to make life impossible!

Luckily the boys at Telefonica have risen to the challenge and in a reasonably short period have begun to respond to  current needs, anticipate future ones and even create processes for resolving them.

My problem was that as a self-confessed media junkie (integration was invented just for me) I travel the world with my lap-top set up to deliver English language TV, movies, news etc. wherever I may be.  I’m not usually at my Prague base for long periods of time but this month I appear to have outstayed my welcome (at least with Telefonica/O2) by downloading more than they think I should have (Maybe something to do with watching the entire first series of Lost!?).  The result being that I received a hefty slap on the wrist in the form of a download speed restriction that reduced my bandwidth from 4mb to 88kbps – very friendly!

Now, I could launch into one of my pet subjects here with a piece entitled “When is unlimited download not unlimited?” and turn this whole thing around into a case for revealing the “fair user policy” that some ISPs adopt for the miss-sell that it represents – to my mind if you buy unlimited download you should get unlimited download and anything short of that should be considered breach of contract.  However, I’m determined to keep to the point here, which is … why having gone to all the trouble of training and devising programmes for the resolution of customer issues anybody – and Telefonica are not alone here – should hand it over to web site developers to completely bugger up.

Why, when everyone seems to be talking about and nodding to the suggestion that you should never be more than a couple of clicks away from satisfaction on any web site, do so many organisations that I believe genuinely understand customers and want to solve their problems, have web sites with customer support that you need GPS and a native guide to find your way around? (My old English teacher would love that sentence/paragraph!)

All I wanted to do was buy a quid’s worth of extra bandwidth to see me through the week and it took four phone calls and more time on the O2 web site that I would care to recall (or add-up the cost of).  The reasons for this were firstly that this service is not available via the telephone customer service, only on line.  Secondly, web site navigation was unending, but my biggest issue is that, for some reason that I can’t fathom, Telefonica O2 insist on giving things cute names that you are supposed to instinctively relate.

Pardon me for being simple, but if I want to buy extra bandwidth I’m looking for a menu item that says something like “buy extra bandwidth”.  Unfortunately T/O2 don’t see it that way.  They think that its far more appropriate to list “Data Klik” among a never ending menu of similarly cute names at the end of a navigation challenge that goes like this.

Home>Private>Customer Care>On-line Services and applications>Log-in (this is great because you are supposed to have at your fingertips a sixteen character login and password that you won’t have used since the day you set up your modem)>My services>Data Klik (if you knew it was call this)>order>send.  Sorted!

Maybe I’m slow, but it took me conversations with four different customer service representatives to fathom that route.  Yes, I couldn’t buy the service on the phone but I had to use the phone service to find out how to use the on-line service – does that make sense? – No, of course not!  Only the last guy gave me the impression that he had ever seen the web site himself or knew that what I was looking for was “data klik”.  One thought I could buy it from a colleague over the phone, but having transferred me the colleague was as confused as I was, another cut me off and didn’t call back (I assume they have number recognition at the telephone company?) the third gave me completely the wrong instructions – Oh, and I got through to a recorded message that told me that there were no operators available, but if I left a message they would call me back, which I did.  That was two days ago now and I’m still waiting!

So, I guess at least some of the morals of this story are:

  • Never trust a web developer to create a customer service web site
  • Keep marketing speak out of it - call a spade a spade and everyone will understand.
  • If your mechanism doesn’t deliver your customer service, you have no customer service.

Actually, this experience actually had a negative influence on my opinion of Telefonica/O2 and it is a really good example of where the inefficiencies lie in organisations like this.  They could significant and directly reduce their need for investment by fixing this problem, but it will be a drop in the ocean compared to the savings they would make if they just stopped pissing customers off by putting them through this mill. 

As the market leader by a long way they may be less driven than their competitors on issues like this and rather less concerned than they should be about achieving efficiencies and increasing ROI, but as one of their competitors has pledged to take their leadership position within two years I hardly think they can afford to hang around. 

Of course this is my old subject Integrated Marketing again and how it applies to the delivery of the brand promise – in this case the promise is “customer service”!


Posted: February 7, 2008
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What the bloody hell’s happening at Tourism Australia?

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I just received my daily digest from B&T, the advertising trade organ of Australia and I see that the Aussie Tourist Board business is up for grabs again.  Initially I thought it was just a case of a government department, bureaucracy and a fixed-term contract up for renewal, but reading down the text its clear that all is not well.

I have to say, I have no data on this client or the campaign.  The last time that I worked on Aussie Tourism business was too long ago for my insights to be relevant, but I liked this campaign when it broke.  In fact, I was beginning to think that the Aussie Tourism Johnnies (or Waynes) had a real winner on their hands.  However, the figures show that while tourism to Australia is up slightly overall, from the UK and Japan it is actually down.  Nevertheless, this is a very simplistic measurement and too many questions remain unanswered for it to be conclusive evidence that the campaign failed.

The reason that I liked the campaign is that it was consistent with my perceptions of the brand – irreverent, laid back.  The fact that the commercials were briefly banned in the UK and Australia (for using the phrase “bloody hell”) only served to endorse that.  I actually suspected that the ban was a set-up anyway.  So the campaign was controversial, which to my mind is good especially when the objections were seen to be raised by a bunch of sad puritans objecting to the language – more of it I say!  The Australian government of the time endorsed it too, but I guess they had to as they were indirectly responsible. 

Sadly the new Premier has seen fit to add his pearls of wisdom on the matter.  It seems that he objects to the negativity of the strap-line “So where the bloody hell are you?” which makes me feel that somehow he has missed the point.  His suggestion was “Thanks for visiting, see you next time” – yes, clearly an differentiator there!

If the campaign was approved and run then I guess it must have been considered to have answered the brief, which immediately places the brief (or whoever wrote it) in the hot seat.  I often discover that problems like this arise from poor briefing and usually that is a symptom of the commissioning organisation not having a brand model.  However, as I have said, the campaign seemed pretty well on the button as far as my perceptions of Brand Australia is concerned.  I may not be typical of the Aussie target market though and the thing is, if the campaign was representative of the brand and it didn’t appeal to the kind of people who are most likely to travel to Aus then the problem is much deeper that the advertising.

S0, is there a robust enough Brand Model in place?  Is there a clear and efficient process for transferring that model to the brief?  Is the Aussie “promise” accurately represented by the campaign?

If the answer to the last of these questions is “yes” then its clearly a case of having to change the reality of the brand, which will take a long time and a lot of internal marketing.  Before the baby and bathwater scenario comes into play though, it may be that the strategic elements of the campaign were right, but either the tactical messages were off target or that the media was wrong.

I’d be fascinated if somebody could fill in a few of the blanks for me, so if you know anybody who is involved in this debacle, feel free to pass on a link to this blog and hopefully they’ll post a comment.  Meanwhile, the biggest fear that I have is that someone is going to try to make Aussie Tourism’s external communications convey a promise that the brand isn’t able to deliver – and we all know where that ends up  - or that a lack of commitment to being “remarkable” ends up with the brand being undersold by communications that could be about anywhere.  Looking a little deeper into the current result and making tactical rather than strategic changes might be all that it needs.  Although, I have a feeling there’s more politics to this than might be healthy.

Anyway, I’m hooked and looking forward to the next installment.


Posted: February 6, 2008
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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – fraud or a real Brand Guru?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

I’ve never been one for activities that involved so much sitting still, but there’s no doubt there are people around who believe that transcendental meditation is where its at.  However, with the death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who I guess has been its greatest promoter, we are back to the old debate of whether he was a money-grabbing fraud or the genuine article.

There is definitely a rich vein of “hard line realists” whose scepticism is fueled by their secret resentment of anybody who could build such a viable business, and apparently achieve total fulfillment, simply by sitting and talking (over simplification, but you get my idea), while they are killing themselves for the same result.  So, I’m immediately dismissive of these sceptics.

I’ve also yet to come across anybody who has met the Maharishi or participated in any of his ashrams and now falls into the sceptic camp.  Given the circles that I tend to find myself in (mainly hard-line realists) the fact that I have come across more people who are enthusiastic about the man than who are critical I guess points to a strong vote in his favour.

I have no axe to grind on the spiritual aspects of this debate – whatever floats your boat and  I think if someone can make a bucketful of money with a flawed proposition, then its fine by me, although in my experience its a business approach that isn’t sustainable.  What I like about this whole transcendental meditation thing though, is that it represents a really neat brand model. 

The way I see it is that the brand community that the Mahareshi created ticked all the boxes.  It was/is remarkable in the true sense of the word and completely fulfilled all the requisites of a lighthouse brand, which indeed it was, compared to its competitive brands/communities/beliefs in the sixties. 

His target market has always been vividly defined and the brand promise has evolved, but has remained uncompromising throughout.  As a result he achieved either complete buy-in or outright rejection, which, in a world where wishy-washiness just doesn’t cut it any more is exactly how every brand should be.  Because of this his community was extremely evangelistic and he is unlikely to have had hostages, as many brands do.  The evidence suggests that while on first glance you might view the dialogue within this community as rather one-way, in fact, given that the product was teaching, the community members (disciples) were extremely influential in its development and evolution.

The truly great thing about the promise though is that it was relevant, realistic and achievable and as far as I can see from the customer feedback he’s getting in the obituaries and threads today he delivered.  So, while I may not have been at the front of the queue to get into an ashram he would definitely get my vote for the “Brand Guru Hall of Fame”.