Archive for February 20, 2009

Posted: February 20, 2009
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Hang the data, get the basics right!

abcI’ve lost count of the number of times over the years that I’ve come across businesses that have allowed data and analysis to get in the way of their business development, but in the last few weeks I’ve come across two. 

Don’t get me wrong, data is my friend, but I have a great deal of experience too, which, if the data should tell me to jump of a high building, will warn me that it will hurt!  Way back when I started in this business a wise old advertising sage introduced me to the principles of research with the words “This is a light to guide your way, not a lamppost to lean on”.  He was right and the same applies to any form of data, yet I’m increasingly finding people who won’t take a pee unless the data tells them to.

There are simple reasons for this of course.  The stakes are often high and there’s big money and jobs on the line, so its easy to see why we have become risk-averse.  Its made worse though, by inexperienced managers, both in SMEs and in the large corporates.  Its a fact that today’s managers are younger and less experienced than they were twenty years ago, and experience is the key to success.  To make things worse, there’s even more to know now.  Its no wonder managers look for data to support their decisions.  But supporting decisions is fine, its when it makes the decisions you are in trouble!

I liken it to the debate over teaching schoolkids basic skills like how to do sums and write.  The purists argue that they’ll need this stuff when … wait for it … we don’t have computers anymore!  Now there’s thought!

Its important to recognise that the law of diminishing returns applies to any investment in data and analysis.  The more you do, the greater the investment required and the fewer point-gains you’ll get from it.  If you are Proctor and Gamble or Unilever the optimal point is much higher up the investment scale than it would be for your local corner shop.  That’s simply because 0.001% improvement on a gazillion dollars turnover will pay for the investment (probably a few times over) while if your turnover is that of the vast majority of businesses, that kind of improvement wouldn’t buy you a decent lunch, so there’s no point.

While large and unwieldy organisations tend to lose the advantage that data (potentially) gives them when the time comes to turn insights into action, at the small and medium enterprise (SME) end of the scale, there is no shortage of modest, easily implementable initiatives you can introduce to great effect without data and analysis, if you have experience.  But that’s a problem too, because, by definition, SMEs have less experience and a narrower skills base.   While someone like me will help a larger concern to interpret data and plan appropriate responses, when I am consulting for SMEs is more likely to involve filling in the gaps in their basic skills and experience.

When I first started my business, as an introductory offer, I promised any prospect a bottle of champagne if I couldn’t find ten ways to increase their ROI, but I never had to make that trip to the off-license.  Every business makes mistakes and its too easy for someone with broad enough experience to spot them and come up with a remedy.  I guarantee I can make significant improvements to the performance of any enterprise, large or small, and in the case of SMEs, usually without spending months wading through data and setting up programmes and analysis processes.  All that comes later and will undoubtedly help magnify the results, but the gearing is such that if you are running on three cylinders, getting the fourth to fire makes a hell of a lot of difference.  The introduction of simple sound practice, based on experience and observation, can bring a significant improvement in the bottom line for most SMEs in no time at all.  The expense is in the fine-tuning that’ll have you humming like a Ferrari. 

I have developed Full Effect Marketing to the point where any business, of any size, in any sector, anywhere in the world can plug in and play it.  I purposely stripped away the mystique that some of the big consultancies seem to like, so that it makes perfect sense to anybody and before somebody from a big organisation says, if its designed for SMEs (which it isn’t) its too basic for them – bollocks!  Marketing is basic, Full Effect Marketing just strips away the frills that have been added over the years by insecure marketing people who have thought that by dressing it up, it’ll appear that they are extra smart!

The two examples I encountered recently were both businesses sitting on the recession time bomb.  As I have said before, the game now is all about survival of the fittest – Business Darwinism – and if you aren’t fit you won’t survive.  Neither of these businesses had the basics right, yet they were fixated on data and research and locked into a kind of commercial catalepsy, waiting for the data to tell them what to do.  The answer was obvious to anybody with the right experience.  I don’t blame them for not knowing, it wasn’t their area of expertise, but what was frustrating was when they had the answers they still couldn’t bring themselves to take action, because they were stuck in the data-habit and didn’t have any to support the actions.  As a result, the one has sadly and quite avoidably, bitten the dust already, simply because it didn’t move quickly enough and other is teetering.

Maybe the fact that I have seen two such cases so close together is a symptom of the current business climate.  As I said, things right now, happen fast to businesses that aren’t in shape and there are a lot of them around.  Why is this?  Well apart from the experience quotient (which if you read the research is lower these days than twenty years ago because managers are younger) its because increased entrepreneurship and a boom market have resulted in a lot of businesses getting this far even though they were half-cocked.  Its just a build-up of failures waiting to happen.

I can’t pretend to be sorry to see a few businesses disappear – recession is cathartic, but I still think that there are tremendous opportunities in this recession for smaller businesses and challenger brands and I’m really excited at the prospect of seeing new names and ideas emerge.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to working with businesses that are made of the right stuff, getting the basics right, making things happen and then adding the data analysis that will scale those things.


Posted: February 9, 2009
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Can you spot a “big idea”?

magnifying-glassI’ve spoken long and often over the years about “the big idea”, and with everyone fighting for survival right now we all need a big idea more than ever.  So how do we recognise one when it pops up?

The popular marketers’ interpretation of  ”the big idea” focuses on communication – the creative solution that cuts through the noise of the marketplace and carries your message, to the willing ears of a grateful marketplace.  A big idea in this context can enhance a great product, service or brand and even put a less than great one in the frame.  Big communications ideas come in the shape of Lowe’s “You’ve Been Tangoed” or the old Allen Brandy and Marsh campaign “Milk Has Got a Lotta Bottle” or Cokes “Real Thing”.  You’ll have a few favourites of your own I am sure.

Level two is about the tactical offer.  I had the latest US campaign for Hyundai brought to my attention by Kathy Sharpe at Sharpe Partners.  This is a brilliant example of the big idea in action – talk about a bold response to consumer need!  This it my kind of marketing.  It uses a short term tactical offer as evidence of the brand promise.  Apart from providing a very compelling reason to buy, it says, “you are understood and protected when you are part of the Hyundai community”.  Exactly as it should be done!

On another level entirely the big idea is about the product itself.  We’ve been getting sloppy over the last few years and awarding the big ideas rosette to things that were far to low down on the “really necessary” scale, but all that is changing.  Today’s evidence points to the emergence of a new more critical consumer with a clearly more practical and rational agenda.  I’m not sure that X-box and Wii would be the success they have been if they arrived on the scene in the next couple of years, but a device that allows you to travel further on a litre of fuel or a means of prolonging the life of fresh food (without chemicals of course) now, there’s a big idea.

Then there’s the level where the big idea is the one upon which a brand culture is based.  My belief is that if you get this one right, all the rest just happens.  One of my personal favourites in this respect is SouthWest Airlines,  but you could add FaceBook, Google, Apple and many more.

The fact is that the BIG IDEA has to be big on all of these levels, but whichever level you are focusing on, there is a judgement criteria that I was introduced to by a colleague at the start of my career and which has stayed with me to this day.  Its based, not by accident,  on the acronym SIMPLE because, of course, all the best ideas are just that.  As well as interrogating your briefs and concepts with your Brand Model criteria try asking these questions to decide whether your idea is worth pursuing.

Is it Striking? The big idea always stands out.  You can’t walk past one, it sort of smacks you in the face its so outstanding.

Is it Ingenious? Its always a really neat solution.  One of those things that leave you asking “why didn’t I think of that?”

Is it going to be Memorable?  If people aren’t going to be talking about it long after you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, forget it now.

Is it Pertinent? Is it an idea looking for a reason or a genuine solution to a need?

Is it Long-lasting? Especially now that nobody wants credit, who will part with hard-earned cash for something that they’ll have to replace soon? And you can definitely knock it on the head if its influenced by fashion. 

Finally, it just has to be Envied by the competition.  I mean the CEO of your competitor is going to be so green that he’ll fire his marketers and product development people and sent them off with a flea in their ear and a picture of your big idea to remind them what one looks like!

Sadly I’m seeing evidence that the current economic climate is causing some businesses to cut back on the development of new ideas and concepts.  Its a pity, because if you study your history, you’ll quickly realise that this is just when the development of new ideas plays biggest dividends.  Ideas don’t have to cost a fortune to develop and every business has hundreds of  ideas and concepts that it doesn’t even tap into.  My advice to any organisations is launch an internal campaign right now to unlock the potential that already exists within your workforce.  You might finds ways of increasing efficiency that will save you from the bankruptcy courts and you are bound to come up with something that you can spend this fallow period preparing for launch when the economy improves.  Ralph Halpern who brought the Burton Group from within days of bankruptcy to become one of Europe’s most successful retailers, made a policy of always having twenty or so pilot concepts on test.  The philosophy is that if only one is successful it pays many times over for the cost of those that fail.  Business is about ideas.  Striving for new, bigger and better products, processes, concepts and offers. 

I have worked with organisations around the world, helping them to leverage their brand communities, by adopting new ideas and a different perspective on their business.  It works.  I’ve seen organisations in the depths of  recession, create new business units that have become businesses in their own right, in some cases out-lasting the original trading concept.  So I know it can be done.  And the starting point is understanding what  big idea looks like and not wasting time on ideas that don’t measure up. 

So, make sure you have your Brand Model up-to-date and in shape, create your own equivalent to the SIMPLE judgement criteria and go to work on building your business, even during recession.