Archive for October 28, 2008

Posted: October 28, 2008
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Well it bloody well happened at Tourism Australia, didn’t it?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQGMuxJ0vCc]

I just knew it when I wrote about this in February!  I’ve been waiting in trepidation for the outcome and now we have it. Australia, the land that we hold in great affection for its rough-edges – Crocodile Dundee, Home and Away and Sir Les Patterson, has decided that its a luxury destination for poser aesthetes in search of their real self – Strewth!  Pour me a Bundy and lets get real here!

There’s no doubt about it Baz Luhrmann makes great cinema, but everything about this production leaves me asking “So what the bloody hell happened to Australia” and not, by any means, in a good way.  What we are witnessing here isn’t anything to do with attracting tourism to Australia, its about a new government attempting to remove every trace of their forebears, but having nothing to replace them with.  Yes, by all means when you gain office establish your brand quickly and decisively by doing something different, but for Christ’s sake do something sensible.

This isn’t Baz’s fault, and it may not even be the agency’s (they are just being opportunistic), but it most certainly is the fault of whoever wrote the brief and approved the strategy and that, I guess, was a politician or civil servant because any half-wit marketing person would know that if you are going to make claims you firstly want to know both that anybody cares and that you can back them up.  However popular retreats may be these days, I absolutely cannot belive that anything more than a handful of tripped-out tree-huggers are going to fork-out thousands of pounds on a re-awakening walk-about.  The Australian outback is about four-wheel-drive, Bush-Tucker Man and the Crocodile Trophy (the toughest mountain bike race in the world!) not competition for yoga-punting Maharishis with Bentleys in their back yards.  And just because some asshole in Canberra decides that his future lies in distancing himself from what his predecessors stood for, it doesn’t make it right, or even wise, to present Australia, that we all know, and understand just fine already, as something that it isn’t!

It might be argued that this is aimed at Americans, most of whom don’t know where Australia is, or have a passport that will get them there.  I have to admit, when it comes to selling something “different” to Americans the extreme adventure element of traditional Australian positioning is a bit too close to home and the historical Aboriginal card starts to offer hope.  However, if this were so its, at best, a case of bad timing because the high-flying banker-type who might, a few weeks ago, have been fooled into embarking on a voyage of self-discovery in the Aussie outback is struggling to afford the bus ride home from the soup kitchen these days!

This absolutely has to be a case of a no-substance politician wallpapering over reality.  If you want to change a nation (and Aus looks just fine as it is these days to me) stick to your strengths.  Politic your way to change, don’t just tell everyone that its come about and hope they don’t notice its all bullshit.  Oh, and butt out of marketing, its definitely not your forte.

I really, really hope that everyone gets this situation for what it is and doesn’t end up hating brand Australia for trying (because, believe me it won’t succeed) to jump on what it perceives as a gravy train.  Remember, while it takes ten times as much to attract new customers to your brand than it does to repeat sell to existing ones, the cost of attracting someone you’ve already pissed off by not delivering or trying to scam (or maybe in this case by selling out) could be a hundred times that.


Posted: October 20, 2008
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Future-proofed brand consulting.

Earlier this week I caught an interview with the clinical psychologist and author Oliver James on BBC Radio 4.  Oliver James for those who have never heard of him (and I was one of you until this week) has written a number of books that focus on an affliction that he calls “affluenza” which, he claims is rife in the UK.  Now, I have never read any of his books and I haven’t studied his “teachings” but he made a few comments during the interview that struck a chord with me, especially in light of the current economic and environmental climate.

His basic premise is that people in the UK are especially unhappy and stressed because their values are shot. He claims that our lives revolve around the mission for affluence and ownership.  According to James we have entirely lost our sense of values, we confuse want with need, we see ourselves in terms of the stuff we own and indiscriminate ownership of anything and everything is our primary goal.  The more we own the more we need to acquire.  The process is perpetual and ultimately frustrating, to the point that we are unhealthy both pysiologically and psychologically.  He’s got us sussed then!

In the interview, he pointed out that people in other European countries are more content because they have more of a “make-do-and-mend” approach to life and he’s right.  My experience of Central European countries is that this is very much the case.  People there don’t throw things out when they break down, they fix them and if they can’t be fixed they are stripped of components that might serve to fix something else at some later date.  Prague’s local council periodically park a skip in the street where my part-time home is, for people to deposit larger throw-out items.  Things like broken TV’s and electrical equipment, furniture and other stuff that won’t fit in a bustbin.  (Councils in the UK should try this insead of making us trek to the not-so-local tip whenever we need to dispose of something or charging some exorbitant fee, on top of our local taxes, for collecting them).  The notable thing about this is that anybody (notably ex-pats) who throws anything into these skips is treated with rasied eyebrows and tut-tutting from their neighbours for being so frivolous and wasteful and you’ll often find as many people taking stuff out of the skips as you will folks depositing items there.  Now that’s re-cycling!

Depending on where you look in the Czech Republic you will find people who make-do-and-mend sometimes because they can’t afford to buy new things, but mostly, just because they just don’t see a reason to buy new stuff when old stuff continues to work.  The aesthetic is irrelevent.

The result of this disregard for how things look is a community where long “heavy metal” hairstyles and Iron Miaden T-shirts are still de-rigeur, homes are furnished with a mish-mash of hand-me-down furniture and where, until very recently, many cars were of questionable roadworthiness.  To this day its easy to spot the country people who come to Prague to visit their city-dewlling relatives by their dress and carrier-bag luggage.  As an English friend of mine commented – “Czechs just have no style”.  He was right, and, mostly, they don’t care, but does it matter?  The answer has to be “no”.

Oliver James would, I guess, argue that this is how things should be and I’m sure that Maslow would agree with him on the basis that his “self-actualisation” (the highest point in his hierarchy of personal evolution) leaves brands and acquisition behind.  Remove the need to justify your existance by ownership of stuff and life is much simpler.  We would all be happier and more fulfilled.  You might even find time to do something truly worthwhile.  Its not easy to get a Czech to work overtime at weekends even if you pay them double time.  They just don’t see why they should give up their free time to get more money that they don’t need.  

A friend of mine is convinced that within twenty years we’ll all be getting around on horses and growing our lunch in our own back yards and with the world economy patched up, but clearly in a long term decline, oil resources drying up with no viable alternative on the horizon and the US and Australia set to run out of water any day now, its a scene that’s easy to visualise.

The irony is that while Central Europeans may have a healthier perspective than we do right now, that’s all set to change,  There’s a growing clammour among the young in these countries to be like their counterparts in the West.  In fact their acquisitiveness is frighteneing at times.  They are desperate to have everything that we have, even though they earn less and branded products are largely significantly more expensive than in the UK.  It makes you wonder how they’ll deal with the resultant stress, given that they arean’t really aclimatised to the condition.

If my friend with the horsey theory is right, our mobility in future will be limited by our capacity to walk and we will revert to a world of tribes.  Communities, each with its own personality, values, style, dependent for success on membership – brands in fact.  I have to say that I’m somewhat relieved to know that, worst-case scenario, I’m still in a growth industry!


Posted: October 13, 2008
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Why the recession could be good for business

Today the UK government has called time on the excesses, self interest and downright bad management of the financial services sector, by taking control of British banks.  Whether it will have the desired effect remains to be seen, but frankly, its about time.  I lost patience with the sector a while back, when a leading FS manager told me that it wasn’t in his interest to “put customers first” and now we are witnessing the product of this mind-set.

I’m not a fan of this government, but it does seem that they’ve got this right and for once I feel the Britain is looking bold and decisive.  UK Gov’s move may not produce a level playing field, but hopefully it will create a more sensible game, however the fall-out is sure to continue with customers far from relaxed about choosing financial patners. And that’s where the potential is.  Ultimately, the banks and financial institutions that are first to persuade consumers and businesses that they can be trusted will triumph.

Trust, is the very basis of any Brandship – the relationships between brands and their stakeholders – so its easy to see that, given the revelations of the last few weeks, the brand equity of banks is as low as a limbo-dancing gnome.  For now they are all tarred with the same brush.  We all know now that for years banks have been tricking us into believing that they were on our side while craftily lining their own pockets with our cash, so for any financial services business to dig themselves out of this one is a big ask.  However, that’s the challenge they all face and its clear that the same old, same old just isn’t going to cut it.  This time they have to be transparent and build brands with real integrity.  Attempting this feat with their existing management in place would be like a paedophile applying for a job as a kids’ swimming instructor, and that’s why the government stepping into the management shoes will, at least, give a few of them a chance.  Now its a case of a massive change management process and that can only be good for business.  Who’ll be first to the tape.

While the banks are working on this one, the rest of the commercial world are considering how they can survive the after shock.  There’s no doubt about it, a lot of businesses are going to tumble in the next few months, but amid the rubble there’s a real opportunity for the bold.

As we’ve seen with banks in the US and UK, there are always bigger vultures to pick over the bones of the those that fail and in this vein a good many short-term wins will be had by organisations with strong and inviting brand communities that can offer shelter to the customers of their deceased competitors.  This will come about in two ways – pro-active, acquisition by competitors and investors of organisations and brands on the verge of a crash and reactive, mopping up by strong brands of the displaced customers of their weaker competitors.

But moreso than in the normal process of acquisition the challenge doesn’t end acquisition.  Its one thing to provide a consumer with temporary shelter, but although the cost of acquisition could be modest compared to the recent past, the real test will be whether these brands can persuade their new customers to make a home with them.  This is where I see the real potential.  I foresee a period of floating customers, like deserted wives, reluctant to commit to long-term relationships and suitor brands falling over themselves to reel them in and turn them into life-partners.  And I predict, honesty will prevail.  If nothing else worthwhile comes of this situation I be live it will convince a few more brands to stop making empty-promises and a shift to genuineness, transparency and a genuine commitment to customer satisfaction.  Another reason why the recession will be good for business.

Because brand communities are a product of their members – significantly their customers – any acquisitive organisations will also have to be wary of the risk of alienating their existing customers as the dynamic of their brand is changed by a large influx of new members, but, if they are sufficiently sorted to have created a strong enough brand community to pull off the acquisition trick in the first place the chances are they’ll have this under control too.

Its common practice in recessionary times for organisations to tighten their belts and sit it out, but the record clearly shows that this is not the path to success and it definitely isn’t the way to go now.  If you want to to make the most of the opportunities that the recession is providing you need to be pro-active, take a close look at your brand and your organisation.  Are you in shape to meet the challenge?  If not get to work.  At the end of this recession the organisations that deserve success will have it and there’ll be some gaps in the line up too.  But then again, I’ve always felt that Darwin nailed it with the process of natural selection.   I think we’ll all be better off for the clear out.


Posted: October 2, 2008
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Where the growth is.

Listen! Hear that? Its the sound of the penny dropping in thousands of boardrooms around the globe. Actually, I didn’t hear it either, but its like a black hole, you might not see it, but there’s increasing evidence of it having happened. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have had a few interesting discussions lately with organisations that were looking to leverage their brand community and all of a sudden it seems I am falling over organisations that are doing the same. I was in  Stavanger early this week, talking to investors, business managers and marketing services businesses and the theme emerged there and yesterday in Prague I met a marketer from a leading mobile operator who had this issue clearly in view too.  

At last businesses are realising that its not viable to rely on acquisition to generate your growth – its far too expensive and the return is modest, mainly because most markets are fully subscribed and everyone is buttoning down and tying-in their customers.  The only untethered targets are in emerging economies where you’ll be climbing over your competitors to reach the same customers.  You have to do this of course for the sake of your long-term health, but its more important than ever to do it efficiently and if you visit this post frequently you’ll know that I think we still have some way to go in developing efficient marketing.  However, that’s another subject.

There aren’t a lot of folks around right now who are looking for stuff to spend their cash on, most are struggling with the commitments they already have and those that aren’t are quickly becoming as rare as hen’s teeth.  Other than the poor inundated souls in these new territories there just aren’t going to be any new customers to chase so your growth has to come from your existing customers.  This is nothing new.  Way back in 2005 the State of Marketing Survey that was conducted by IDG for Prophet revealed that 62% of business growth was already comming from existing customers and that organisations were looking to the same segment for 72% of their growth in 2006 (it doesn’t seem that Prophet have followed up on that report so I can’t say that they were right although its a believable figure).

So, there’s still no doubt that the emphasis has to be on growth from existing customers (in fact it might be moreso) but factors like the arrival of recession mean that even this cash cow is about to become tougher to milk.  So where is the easy growth going to come from?  The answer to that question takes us straight back to The Brand As A Medium, one of my long time causes, but, of course, to to be in this game you first have to have a strong brand community. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, I’ve been promoting the need for brand development for years.  If you weren’t listening and didn’t get your brand in shape you are in trouble because you don’t build the kind of brand strength you will need to make this work, overnight.  In the past I’ve managed to deliver measurable results from brand-building programmes over a twelve month time-span, but, everything is tougher now and if your brand isn’t sorted already, you need to be thinking in terms of a three-year development phase before your community offers third parties any real value.  Sorry, but these are the facts!

Before you jump from your executive balcony though …  If you start now, and I mean this minute, today, and run a brand development programme in parrallel with an operational efficiency drive you might just emerge from the recession fit for battle.  Note please, I’m not saying you’ll achieve growth to match that of the businesses that did their prep.  You might get something short term, but for you payback will come when trading conditions improve.  Never before has Full Effect Marketing and programmes like Brand Discovery been more relevant.