Archive for June 24, 2008

Posted: June 24, 2008
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Is your customer satisfaction holed beneath the surface? It’s that Icberg Imperative again!

I just landed on a great little blog that I visit from time to time called Customers Rock. In particular a new post entitled Airline Customer Service Makes All The Difference. Its not that we don’t all know this already, but that it relates to my previous post on internal marketing and provides a platform to reintroduce one of my old favourites – The Iceberg Imperative.

The Iceberg Imperative states (and I should know because I invented it!) that nine-tenths of an organisation’s communications go on below the surface. The things that combine to create your customers impression of your brand, the attitudes, values and standards that are inherent in the customer experience and cause either delight or disappointment (and too often outright alienation) are, whatever you may believe, rarely controlled by the boardroom. All too often the management approach is to seek to maintain brand integrity by legislating for every point-of-delivery eventuality, but that just produces a two-foot high process manual that nobody can read, runs up a massive process training commitment and is inevitably a waste of time and effort, because a is the nature of these things, you’ll never, ever accommodate every possible scenario.

The better practice is to bring your front-line employees (in fact every employee) into the loop. Make them as intimate with your Brand Model, its values, standards, objectives and above all its inherent “promise” as you are, so that whatever situation they encounter their response will be reflective of the brand and in line with customer expectation. This way you deliver your Brand Promise and don’t have disappointed customers.

Of course this doesn’t just happen by telepathy you have to invest as much time and effort in bringing your stakeholders behind the brand as you do in the sexy media routes that you use to make your promise to end-users. And there’s the rub. Have you studied the marketing budget breakdown in your organisation lately? My bet is that you’ll find the balance between external promise-making investment and internal promise-delivering investment is way out of line.

Given that most organisations don’t get this internal marketing thing at all and massively under-invest in it anyway, its logical that a comparatively small shift in the balance of marketing investment in favour of internal marketing will bring a disproportionately high return (provided you invest wisely in a serious strategy). There’s no set proportion, its an empirical process so you’ll have to play around with it, but it has worked for my clients.

Interestingly, and I’m at a loss to understand why they haven’t spotted this years ago, it works too for marketing services organisations who are all bleating about their share of the pie being eroded, because internal marketing demands the same skills and largely the same media as an external marketing campaign, so its a great opportunity for them to strengthen relationships with their clients and increase revenue. A no-brainer really.

Posted: June 23, 2008
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Bridging the chasm between your boardroom and the front line

I recently spent a few days at home in the UK and discovered UK morning TV. In particular a BBC programme called “Don’t Get Done Get Dom” where a consumer’s champion called Dominic Little (hence the “Dom”) tackles companies on behalf of customers who in one way or another feel they have been let down by them. I don’t know how typical the episodes that I caught were, but there was a very obvious common theme to the main cases.

One company that stands out was called SafeStyle Windows, a replacement window company that dramatically screwed up an installation. Another was a holiday company that had let down a couple who booked an expensive holiday. The common theme with these and others was that the customers (who were all more tenacious to start with than most I’ve come across ) all spent weeks and in some cases months trying to deal with Customer Service representatives to no avail.

Coincidentally I was having the same kind of experience with the Auto and Cycle store chain Halfords who might be the market leader in the UK by a long way, but still (or maybe because of that fact) run their show like amateur hour. My issue with them concerned a product listed on their web site that involved a product description, price and photograph that appeared to refer to three different products. I e-mailed Halfords customer service who redefined themselves as “customer abusers” by sending me an auto response that undertook to reply within SEVEN DAYS!!! In the even they exceeded that deadline by a further day by which time I’d bought the product elsewhere anyway. Well Mr Halfords, them’s the breaks!

In fact, I am sure that the folks sitting around the boardroom tables at Halfords, SafeStyle Windows and the holiday company (whose name escapes me) would be horrified if they realised how their Brand Promise was being massacred by front-line troops, but I’m equally prepared to accept that these same front-line troops are sure that they are doing what is expected of them. I realise that the picture is skewed by the directors, who I know are out there, of organisations who are happy to abuse customers as they hide behind their customer services people, but who are all sweetness and light and conciliatory once someone like Dominic Little gets past the razor-wire. However, assuming that the majority of managers are smart enough to realise that the trick to growing a business is to always delight your customers, the clear issue here is the gulf between the boardroom and the front line.

This is what internal marketing is all about, of course, but its a subject that I know most organisations fail to understand and vastly underestimate the importance of. It takes a special effort and a shift in attitude of senior managers to set up an internal marketing programme from scratch, but there’s no avoiding it if you want to stay in business these days. I often hear from directors that such an initiative would be too disruptive for their organisation and its true it can be if the concept is as alien to you as it is to some of the businesses I come across. That’s why I developed Brand Discovery, a programme of internal marketing that takes logical steps to ensure that all stakeholders are signed up and fully committed to playing their role in the delivery of the Brand Promise. What’s different about Brand Discovery is that it is an ongoing programme that becomes part of an organisation’s DNA and brings about change more by osmosis than revolution. There’s no longer a need to put the brakes on a business in order to change direction. Sure the benefits of Brand Discovery take time to filter through to your bottom line, but its not that long and I would argue that taking a more radical approach slows the momentum of a business short-term and therefore would never challenge the overall commercial benefit of Brand Discovery.

Whichever approach you take, if you are not already focussing on bridging that chasm between your boardroom and your front line with internal marketing you need to get moving. Unless, of course you want your ten minutes of fame on Don’t Get Done Get Dom!

Posted: June 22, 2008
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Jerry Springer nails National Branding

I was watching Question Time on the BBC in the UK yesterday evening and one of the topics of conversation was the recent Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I don’t want to get into the details of the treaty here, but basically it opens the door to the expansion of the EU.

The debate last night turned to the different attitudes of people in different countries to the EU or more specifically a central government. One of the points made was that while some people at least were happy with the idea of a central management system of some kind they maintained that the right of government as such and in particular law making should remain with the individual member states. The main reason seemed to be the belief that laws define a community and in particular nations, and I tend to agree.

Jerry Springer (I can’t imagine how he got there, but he did) who I’m being uncharacteristically generous when I say, was just about holding his own among far more eloquent and knowledgable speakers said that the individual states in the US had from many perspectives lost their identity and that the general move there and elsewhere around the world is toward a far less state-aware attitude, a point that other delegates were quick to point out to him did not apply to countries/states outside of the US. However, he was shrewd enough to identify that the real subject here is not so much national pride, but pride in community (my word not his) and “community” is equally likely to apply to any belief system, set of values or brand (again his viewpoint, my word).

Jerry was somewhat hampered by his limited vocabulary, but those who took the time, as I did, to try to work out what he was trying to say would have realised that he actually hit the nail on the head. Sadly it seemed that the rest of the forum didn’t take the time and the point was missed in one of those short embarrassed pauses that could be replaced by the phrase “what the **** is he whittering on about?”.

Jerry’s point was that though there are people who still retain pride in their nationality, this is but one of an infinite array of communities to which we as individuals may choose to belong. Communities are encapsulations of a common interest, values or opinions. Most traverse national boundaries. We can be British by birth but European, a treckie or anything else for that matter, by adoption. Lord knows, if our identities were compulsorily identified by nationality, nominated or natural, I’d be hard pushed to elect a country, I’ve lived in so many. I only remember that I started out in the UK because that’s where my mother hangs out and she’s not moved in all this time!

Happily, we don’t have to define ourselves by nationality, which defines the challenge that I frequently refer to in my on-going debate about “National Branding” and one to which the UK is sadly failing to rise. Its OK for some, but others prefer to hang their hat on a sport, or other special interest. There are communities like FaceBook or World of Warcraft, the mythical world that keeps millions of sad bastards worldwide glued to their computers for days and nights on end. For these people this is their world and how they want to be identified. This perspective is the playing field where brand communities compete for members with nations, interests, movies, music and many more delineators. You don’t even have to be an exclusive member of any one community, you might feel it takes a few communities to accurately represent your personality, interests or values and while one of these that you choose might be a country, your national brand doesn’t have to be your primary definition. We also migrate between communities as we age, as we fall victim to outside influences, as fashions change or brand change or disappoint us.

An example of this in action is the current European football championships (no its not “soccer” its European so its definitely “football) from which we Brits, because we are pants at the game, are excluded. Having paid up-front for the rights to televise the event well before England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were sent back to their changing room, the networks had to set about garnering some interest from us. It seems it wasn’t much of a challenge. Brits have adopted competing nations and supported them through the campaign because they represent something that we can relate to – Croatia because we admire their grit in rebuilding their nation after their war, Turkey because some guy offered you fifty camels for your girlfriend last time you were on holiday there, Portugal because its where Manchester United’s Ronaldo comes from, or the Netherlands … well … because you like orange!

Once again its all about brands. Brands are present in every aspect of our lives and smart marketers (and Jerry Springer) understand that and use it to their advantage. Its called brand-building.

Posted: June 19, 2008
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When a spoonfull of Sugar could turn your brand sour

I’m not really sure how well known Alan Sugar was to Joe Soap before his re-birth on the UK version of The Apprentice. I remember him and his Amstrad computers back in the seventies, but while it worked for him for a while he was sort of left out when the computer boom really took off just after that and today Amstrad computers tend to be bracketed with eight-track audio and Betamax video. I think he also supplied TVs and Sky set-top boxes. However, while I tend to think of him as a trader rather than an innovator there’s no doubt he has made a few bob and the Apprentice thing has certainly launched him into the public eye.

By and large, he seems to be handling his exposure pretty well. He always “dresses nice” and remains polite while managing to be blunt enough to maintain his barrow-boy cred. However, he may just have taken a wrong turn down Ratner Road with his support of an Apprentice candidate who lied on his CV.

Gerald Ratner, by the way, was a client of mine and owner of Europe’s largest retail jewellery business until one day at a dinner or something he “jokingly” admitted that his stores sold a lot of “crap”. Not a good move as it turned out because it hit the press and within six months Gerald was sans-business and bidding for a stall an Petticoat Lane market! As the man said – “Be sure your sins will find you out”.

The Sugar thing is about the guy who won the Apprentice this year a rough looking diamond called Lee who one of the more anal interviewers pointed out had made numerous spelling errors on his CV and included two years at college that he hadn’t done. A bit of a blow in the real world, you might say, but in the world of TV nothing to write home about it seems, seeing as he got the $100,000 job! Apart from the fact that even a recruitment consultant (You may surmise from this that I don’t hold them in high regard) could find him a candidate who can spell, what’s this say to Mr Sugar’s Investors, employees, customers and partners? Nothing more or less than “I condone lying” which is only a very small side-step from “I am likely to be lying to you”. He even said as much when the issue was raised “I’ve done it myself”. Case closed!

I’m not one of these people who place salesmen at the top of the heap and it has to be acknowledged that organisations worldwide are having a rough time these days overcoming the reputation that salesmen have as liars and cheats. Well earned reputation you may think and I’d tend to agree, especially now that Mr Sugar who is a lord (actually he’s a KBE) of salesmen tells us that lying is OK.

What’s it say to his employees though? I am sure that there are many far better equipped candidates for the Apprentice job already working at Sugar Towers for a fraction of the wage packet joker Lee is about to land. Now they know what they are doing wrong! And if I were an investor in his business I’d be having visions of Robert Maxwell next time I received my financial reports.

Having managed to accrue a fortune while largely staying out of the public eye this could be a lesson for Sugar in what happens when you thrust yourself into the spotlight (or TV lights). Everything gets magnified and scrutinised and it all reflects on your brand.

Altogether not Sir Allan’s finest brand-building hour.

Posted: June 6, 2008
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How five Nazi hookers and a gastric band will screw your brand.

I woke up one morning earlier this week to these news stories.

  • Daytime TV presenter and fat womens’ icon Fern Britten’s gastric ring
  • Formula one’s Max Moseley and his frolic with five hookers and a Nazi uniform
  • A debate on whether we should allow people to own dangerous dogs (and what constitutes a dangerous dog anyway?)
  • The so far pathetic attempts of all concerned to combat knife crime in Britain.

(I think the last one was slipped in to add levity to the news schedule but it didn’t get as much airtime!)

I guess it won’t surprise anybody to learn that I hold views on all of these, but the two that strike me as being relevant to this blog are the first two. I’m not suggesting that Fern Britten was involved with Max’s big night out (now there’s a thought!), but the two are closely connected.

The thing is, there are different factions that would, for differing reasons, have these two high-profile personalities lynched, or at last removed from their positions. But why?

The argument for firing Fern is that she made a big show of her weight loss, explaining at every opportunity that she managed to reduce her dress size from elephantine (even though she got down only to “shire horse”) by studious exercise and healthy living and, it has been claimed, even added to her income by endorsing a diet club. On that basis, so the accusers say, she is a fraud.

Max, on the other hand denies nothing, apart from the Nazi uniform (It was probably just an old number of his Dad’s that was hanging in the wardrobe!). However, he is the senior representative of a brand (Formula-one) that is trying to maximise appeal by attracting families and new member countries and cultures where Nazis, not to mention sex, may be taboo.

The case that a few people are trying to make against both of them is that they are unable, or a least less able than before, to fulfil their professional roles now that the cats are out of their respective bags. My feeling is that if Fern wants to tie a knot in her gut or Max likes getting his rocks off with the entire Womens’ Fascist Movement good luck to them. However, there is a point here.

Both of them represent powerful brands Fern, if not a brand herself, certainly represents the brand that is the daytime TV show she co-hosts. Max, as I have already said is definitely the face, or a face of Formula-one. As we all know any organisation, be it a TV show or a motor racing franchise, depends for its success, largely upon its brand and the biggest antidote to brand development is inconsistency. So ask yourself, are the now well-publicised activities of these two consistent with the Brand Models they represent. I guess the answer has to be “No”.

Here’s the real dilemma though. Brand managers are paid to be obsessive about eliminating inconsistencies in their brand communications, but its clear that in these cases it isn’t quite that straight-forward. I can visualise the analysts right now comparing models of the cost of removing these two from their posts against the cost of the damage their recent actions have wrought. It seems that on balance, Max has, for the time being at least (although when he comes up for re-election in a couple of years I don’t reckon much for his chances) pulled it off with a vote of confidence from representatives of the franchise. Fern seems to be holding on without acknowledging anything and it seems the dogs have run off to bark at something else. So, with damage limitation having done their stuff, its now down to the brand development folks to repair the damage.

Posted: June 5, 2008
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Specialised Specialized customer service

If ever I thought that I was wasting my time banging on about the the essential role of internal marketing in great customer service, I could count on a bike business to restore my faith. Yet again, a bike company (Specialized to be precise) has demonstrated how the kind of stakeholder commitment that can only be the result of great internal marketing, delivers customer service that fortunes are built on!

If you have been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I have reported a few times on the great customer service I have received from bike businesses like RockShox (Now part of Sram), WTB and Bradburn. What is it about these businesses that make their customer service so much better than most other businesses I encounter?

OK, so I probably have more contact with bike companies than a lot of people because I ride a lot, have bikes and break components from time to time (although I am usually pretty good with my stuff), but biking isn’t my life and there are a whole lot of other businesses that supply me with products and services that relate to other things that I do, so its not that my experience is narrow.

It’s not that they are particularly small businesses either. Specialized is a major global concern so they face the same internal communications issues as any other global and they are not alone among bike businesses in this – biking is big business! So it can’t be that they are compact enough for the brand message to be easily communicated to the people on the front line. It has to be something to do with the potency of the message itself, the passion and commitment that it raises in stakeholders and/or the way it is communicated.

I guess there are few people working in bike businesses who aren’t themselves bikers, so maybe they are just more committed to the ideals of the business. Bikers are a community and within that big community there are very powerful individual brands, each representing a community of its own (those I have mentioned included). A Specialized bike is probably something rather too commonplace for a Yeti rider for example, while if you are a Specialised convert you’ll appreciate their build-quality, innovation and engineering and maybe view Trek as cheap and mass-produced – that’s “positioning” at work. (Sorry but I’m not privy to the Brand Models so I’m not sure which boxes they are each trying to tick, but then again, if they were all perfect I would know wouldn’t I!).

So, a bike manufacturer, because its stakeholders mostly comprise bikers, is working with pretty fertile ground. There’s also already a propensity for bikers to sign up to brand communities, but you still have to have a peg to hang your hat on – that big idea – and the internal marketing communications, so the fact that they are doing so well with their customer service means that these guys clearly know their stuff. (Although I do think that the press advertising that’s part of most bike companies’ external marketing generally sucks. But that’s another post).

There is room for improvement though. For example, one of the biggest challenges for any manufacturer is to get their Brand Promise represented consistently at the point of sale and Specialized, like all businesses struggle there sometimes. I have come across many instances where a manufacturer’s Brand Promise isn’t evident at the local bike shop, the UK’s most dominant wholesaler/distributor for instance, appears to be universally despised by retailers, which can’t be good for anyone’s business, but Specialised do better than most with their customer service even at the sharp end of their sales chain and this has to be down to sound internal marketing. So, if anybody at Specialised is listening, I’d be interested to hear what you do and even more interested to help you reign in those local bike shop owners and staff a bit tighter.

Oh, and thanks to Duncan Cruxton at Specialized for sorting my cycle computer problem!

Posted: June 2, 2008
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Maintaining eyeball-to-eyeball retailing

The trouble with business success is that its like a computer game – you overcome one set of problems, arrive at a new level and then find that there’s a whole new set of problems to overcome. What’s more, because they are always new challenges, you encounter them with no experience upon which to base your response, so you are perpetually learning on the job. And its a treadmill that once you are on, you can’t get off – every level of success brings new challenges and every solution moves you to the next level.

Organisations in every sector will know what I am talking about and one of the major challenges that becomes bigger with every advance you make is that of just managing the day-to-day of your business. Those of you who know me or who take the time to read my stuff or turn up for my seminars and workshops will know that I’m no fan of routines or bureaucracy, but I’ll be the first to admit that you have to have a way of tackling the ever-growing challenge of the day-to-day. You’ll also know that one of my big things is the impact that apparently insignificant actions, that happen well away from the boardroom, will always have on your overall success.  This also highlights the demand for a way of passing information up and down the chain of command.

It’s a dilemma with a couple of possible solutions. The one favoured in the past and which is still, sadly, adopted by the head-in-the-sand school of management is dictatorship – basically you give nobody the space or the authority to do anything other than what you instruct them to do. The problem with this, as many organisations and a number of countries have spectacularly demonstrated, is that it involves a level of micro-management (and/or a degree of coercion) that no organisation can sustain and even if you succeed in controlling things you are going to miss out on a bunch of valuable and increasingly rare opportunities. The other route is delegation … Agaaaaaaaaaaaah! I can hear the muffled cries from below sand level in boardrooms around the world right now, but if you are one of those to whom this sounds like heracy, there’s no escaping it – its time you went cold turkey on those old habits, put down the stick and find yourself a carrot – yes, as the man said, your future is orange!

I spend a great deal of time in the retail world. One of the things that I have always loved about the sector is that its one of the last bastions of the entrepreneur, where you can actually get stuff done and try new ideas while they are still new. New stuff often represents less of a risk for a retailer than it does to other types of organisation because retailers have eyeball-to-eyeball contact with the customer and therefore understand them better and therefore have maximum scope for making a sale. That’s why when an fmcg company wants to understand customers one of the places they go for insight is the retailers who channel their products.

Retailers are big businesses these days. They have access to an unbelievable volume of data and partners who can analyse it inside-out and tell them the innermost secrets of consumer minds. However, its a two-edged sword. Because they are so big a retailer’s chain of command has lengthened. No longer can it be taken for granted that the folks on their front line have that retail blood, possess the corporate gene or really understand the objectives that you set for them – unless you tell them that is.

Did you ever play Chinese Whispers as a kid? You know, that game where you all stand in a line and the person at one end whispers a message into the ear of the second and the message is passed down the line from there, usually to arrive much changed at the other end? The famous example being “Send three and fourpence …” quoted from the first world war (so Google it!). The same applies to the instructions and customer feedback that is transmitted back and forth between the shop floor and the retail boardroom. Most organisations, retailers included, now acknowledge the need to give their sales people, at least, some discretion at the point of sale. The trouble is that in order to make the right choices the shop assistant needs a load of information and motivation and that’s where most organisations fail.

What I am talking about here is internal marketing. When I started my career in what was called the “Advertising, Marketing and Display Department” of a national retailer I tackled this by introducing a regular (weekly or monthly, I can’t remember) bulletin containing instructions and insights, which we mailed (can’t even imagine doing so now) to every manager of every one of our 100+ stores (that was a big retail chain then!). My contemporary take on this solution is a far more complex integration of things like Internet, direct mail, mobile training workshops and special events, based on my essential tool for all businesses the Full Effect Marketing Brand Model.

Internal marketing for today’s unwieldy companies, if tackled in this way, provides the essential two-way flow of information that’s the stuff of success and absolutely essential to retail and a few other sectors where entrepreneurship still lives. The Full Effect Marketing Brand Model establishes ten critical aspects of the brand, including the Brand Promise that will be an important basis of every decision in every corner of every business and the integrated communications routes that are Full Effect Marketing itself ensure consistency in message (in just the same way that your external communications should). If everybody in your business “gets it”, as they will if this is done properly, the decisions that they make in their every-day functions will be the right ones an you’ll get accurate reliable feedback from the shop floor that in turn will make the decisions you make than much easier.

It may well be that, given the number of employees involved, internal marketing is more complex for retailers than for other types of business, but we have the technology and its really just a matter of understanding how to use it. A typical retail integrated internal marketing campaign might incorporate in-store radio or TV, a LAN or WAN university and direct mail. I recently created a travelling circus for a retailer that took training to the shop floor in a way they had never seen it before and I created a plan for another retailer that involved a radical internal promotion/event that was never launched (due to unforeseen circumstances unconnected to the event) but which was exciting, colourful, competitive, contemporary and above all very educational.

I see signs all the time of retailers who are losing their grip. The ideas that are agreed on in the boardroom are not always being represented on the shop floor. Sure this happens in other sectors too, but for a retailer, building that up-close-and-personal relationship with customers is what its all about. So, get a grip. sort out your internal marketing and let’s not lose it!