Archive for May 25, 2009

Posted: May 25, 2009
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Its time for us all to deliver our Brand Promise

gordon-brown1So, British parliament is learning about branding?  Or at least one of it’s fundamental principles.  With MP’s expenses becoming the subject of the worst scandal in British Parliamentary history, we should all take heed of the consequences of failing to deliver our promises.

Even in the current financial environment, most cases of poor brand performance and maybe most business failures, can still be attributed to failure to deliver Brand Promise.  Yet, if anything, the incidence of firms that I come across who focus on making their promise, regardless of their ability to deliver it, is increasing.  But in these difficult times this cavalier attitude is a recipe for disaster.  Current financial constraints mean gearing is very high indeed, there’s a hair’s breadth between astounding success and abject failure. If ever there was a time to review your brand and what it stands for, its now.

The position of British parliament has always been one of solid reliability, straightforwardness, behaving as one should.  Much of what is Britishness (or Brand Britain) has been the self-assurance that allowed us to poke fun at other nations whose corrupt governments and politicians made world headlines.  Now the joke is on us, our erstwhile trusted representatives have made us a laughing stock (even among nations that we have held to be fundamentally corrupt) and its no fun!  Now that we all now know for sure that Brand Britain has been a facade and the institution has been rife with self-interest and corrupt practices our management (Parliament) has been shaken to its foundations.

The most lilywhite of PM’s and the institution as a whole now face the daunting task of winning back the trust of voters, who, if last night’s BBC Question Time was anything to go by, are determined to strip the entire institution down to its foundations and start again with an entirely new build.  And who can blame us?  I for one believe that the system of PM’s expenses, should be devised by an independent body, employed by the people, with no input at all from MPs, who should be told what the system is and decide whether they want the job, based on these and other constraints.  At least this would reaffirm our position as the employer in contrast to the belief, apparently common among MPs, that the people are here to do their bidding.  So, how does an MP set about winning our support?

The answer is, of course, the same way that any brand is built and the first step in this process is to establish what you are capable of. Unsurprisingly, this is where my Brand Discovery programme kicks off.  We start by creating a Brand Model that pin-points the critical elements of any brand on eleven parameters and sum it all up in a Brand Promise that will be reflected in every action the organisation takes thereafter.  This is marketing operating where it should be, in the driving seat of a business.  Of course a brand model isn’t set in stone, it will change because any marketer worthy of the title will constantly review end-user needs and competitive positions and introduce initiatives designed to bridge between what customers need and what the organisation is able to deliver.  This might mean, among many other things, new products and services, a new pricing policy that will dictate manufacturing processes or new distribution routes.  As I said – marketing in the driving seat.

However, the big difference between Brand Discovery and what many people take to be brand development programmes is that once the Brand Model is established we introduce an ongoing corporate process, incorporating internal marketing and training elements, processes, brief formats and judgement tools, designed to ensure that the Brand Promise is represented consistently at every level of the organisation.  We go even further than this, in fact, by working with the organisation as it migrates from the old management paradigm to a marketing-centric approach.

It seems to me that this is just what British parliament needs right now, but as with many commercial organisations that I encounter, its hard to imagine how we will get ourselves on that track when the same self-interested politicians/managers who got us into this mess in the first place, are the ones who make the decisions about how we fix it.  On the other hand, if parliament does vote to re-invent itself, rather than just go through the motions, I suppose it will mean that by definition the majority of MPs are honourable and trustworthy, which is a rather better starting point than might appear to be the case right now.

While the politicians get on with their task, my advice to all managers is to take the opportunity to review the way you operate too.  A marketing-led business, with its consequential strong brand community, is by definition, more efficient than one that isn’t and the only real difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful one is efficiency.  What the recession has done is make the line between success and failure very narrow indeed, so its a no-brainer really.  You’ll only gain in the long-run and you certainly won’t lose short term either.

Posted: May 1, 2009
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Guerrilla marketing – Free muscle no marketer can afford to ignore

I have never been able to resist a bargain.  That is why I love guerrilla marketing – Hey its usually free or almost free, who could say no?  Especially when you can build it into any integrated strategy to such good effect.  I have never understood why so many organisations look down on guerrilla as though it was appropriate only to small businesses.  I was working with an on-line publisher last year and came up with a neat little initiative that demonstrates just what can be done.

Our target was English-speaking businessmen with an interest in Central European markets.  The problem was one of awareness and the need to increase subscriptions.  I’m not a great fan of trade shows normally, partly because the cost of running a stand that is professional enough to give the right impression, more often than not, makes the idea non-viable.  However, if you don’t need a stand …

There was no doubt about it, major Central European trade shows were the most likely places to find the people we were looking for in any numbers, so we identified those with the highest visitor numbers from the most appropriate sectors of industry and called the organisers with a simple proposition – We would run advertising for their event in exchange for a free go-anywhere pass for our group of promoters and the go-ahead to distribute a card promoting a free offer that was bound to enhance the value of the show (In fact we ended up with a whole lot more than that).  The offer was a free limited period subscription to our publication (providing local CE market intelligence), which, if people signed up to it, would give us a great database and the opportunity to up-sell to paid-for subscriptions or just add permanent free subscribers with limited access who would add value to our offer to advertisers and sponsors. The show organisers, to my surprise and delight, nearly snatched our hand off!

Another great thing about initiatives like this is their flexibility.  We had no idea how this would perform so we opted for a two-month test-phase with an extended programme set up and ready to go the first month looked good.  Buoyed by the enthusiasm of trade show organisers, we decided to test a secondary target – employees of international firms that congregate in the large office complexes that you see around major Central European cities – and approached the largest property management companies with an offer similar to that we had made to the trade show organisers – free advertising in exchange for access to the lobbies of their buildings at peak times.  Same result!

That gave us two full months of promoter activity, with the office complex element filling in between the trade shows, which made maximum use of the promoters that we hired and trained for the client specially for the campaign.  Of course, the design of the material that the promoters were handing out and their sensitivity in selecting targets from the thousands of visitors to these shows and offices were critical factors in the efficiency of the first level of the campaign, but from there by funnelling responses through a carefully constructed CRM programme, we could generate revenue from subscriptions, boost readership/site visits and therefore enhance our value to advertisers, as well as sell ongoing advertising  to show organisers and exhibitors.  Every card we handed out carried a unique promotion code designating where and when it was handed out,  respondents entered the code to sign up for their trial, which gave use useful data too and we used that to strengthen our argument to the trade show organisers and exhibitors when we sold them advertising.  We also included all respondents in our new “recommend a friend” promotion, which caused a snowball effect. We did the whole thing for the kind of cost you could cover from petty cash – literally and the payback was way beyond anything that marketers would expect from a traditional campaign.

Guerrilla marketing definitely isn’t the reserve of small businesses and I’ve used all forms in many different ways over the years.  Taken seriously and partnered with the capability in other areas that large organisations always have, the effect of any investment can be magnified many times over.  Elements such as those that we used on this initiative have such a high pay-back level anyway, that they can’t help but improve the average ROI of any marketing strategy.