Archive for November 18, 2009

Posted: November 18, 2009
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Passion in the workplace – the key to success!

I had a conversation last week with a woman who is a partner in a SME and during our chat she commented on her relationship with her business saying “This is just something I do to earn the money I need to do the things that I’m interested in”.  She didn’t recognise how signficant this comment was, against a backdrop of her company’s disappointing performance, but worse still, she seemed to think that this was a normal kind of relationship to have with your business.  It makes me wonder how many other businesses out there are failing because their management lack passion.

The thing is that while organisations like this may have managed to scrape by for the last twenty years, in the last two the rules have completely changed.  A business, wherever it is and whatever it does, that has ambled on with no real dynamic, for however many years, just isn’t going to survive in the new business environment – its that simple!  My argument has always been that success is a product of passion, which is why I have always emphasised the importance of harnessing internal marketing to build brand communities where all the stakeholders share the passion and are committed to delivering the brand’s promise.  This is the approach that has driven organisations like Southwest Airlines, Harley Davidson and others to great heights and it will make the difference between success and failure for many more.

Coincidentally my attention was drawn to a piece by Martyn Drake on B-Net today where he reports on the responses Bill Gates and Warren Buffett gave to questions from students at a CNBC event at Columbia University.  The questions, in essence amounted to “what is the secret to success in business?”  The two were consistent in their advice “Do what you would do if … the money meant nothing to you… You’ll have more fun and be more successful” and “Find a thing that you’re passionate about, and that you’re good at”.

Personally, I don’t know how you get to start a business that doesn’t hold some interest for you.  Neither do I understand how boards of large organisations appoint managers who aren’t passionate about what they do.  Surely this is a “no-brainer”?  But if you have any doubt about why this is so Martyn sums it up in three advantages that passion for your business brings and I can think of many more.

Posted: November 16, 2009
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Branding – This is it!


I have to admit I was more curious than excited about the idea of taking my daughter to see the Michael Jackson movie “This Is It” yesterday but, on a number of levels, I’m so glad I did.

As a musician I was blown away by the quality of the talent that he had gathered around him for this project, as a project manager I was fascinated to see how a project so complex was manged, as someone who has heard Jackson’s music for what seems like most of my life it was fascinating to gain a glimpse of what can only be described as the genius of the man and as a human being maybe I also came  little closer to understanding the phenomenon that was Michael Jackson.  Job done I guess as far as the film makers are concerned.

If one thing stands out in this movie for me, it’s the absolute minute attention this guy gave to every detail, which underlines one of my long-held beliefs, that one man’s attention to detail is another man’s half-arsed attempt.  This is extreme!  I also realised that however hard I might try, I will never appreciate how Jackson’s mind worked.  For example, he appeared to carry around a recording of digital accuracy of everything he had ever done in his mind and more impressive still, he clearly possessed a clarity of hearing and interpretation that in my experience, even with musicians, was unique.  This was highlighted in a conversation he had with his musical director Michael Bearden (himself no small deal) when they were sketching out the intro for one of the numbers in the show.  “How do you want this to sound?” he asked.  “I want it to sound just like the record” replied Jackson matter-of-factly.  “But MJ, we don’t hear it like you do, tell me how we should play it”.  This also hinted at some of the frustrations mere mortals should expect when working with genius, as well as explaining the utter respect the musicians, technicians and managers around him clearly held for the guy.

If this event had made it to the stage it would have been the greatest stage show ever staged in the name of music, there can be no doubt of that.  In raising this movie from the ashes, the producers have performed a “save” of monumental significance and possibly even given us something of value that we wouldn’t have had if things had gone to plan.

There’s no doubt in my mind that freak, weirdo, genius, messiah or just plain nutter, we are unlikely ever to see another musician/performer like Michael Jackson and that’s what a truly great brand is all about.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, great brands stand out and that’s the point.  Its their differences that forge the impenetrable bonds with sections of society that are valuable beyond the appreciation of many businesses.  Worldwide Jackson’s followers are as devoted as human emotions will allow – in my Full Effect Marketing terminology a real “brandship” – and this movie can only strengthen this bond and extend the Jackson brand community still further.

Posted: November 15, 2009
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Czech celebrations – a boost to their national brand

The Czechs aren’t very good at brand development in any context and the development of their national brand is no exception.  Its probably on a par with the efforts of the UK, which in my opinion are pitiful.

An important trick in the national branding arsenal is to big-up national events that support the character of the brand.  The Czechs kinda manage to raise a pulse or two when it comes to their national ice hockey team (who apparently are a bit good) and conjur up a little enthusiasm for their national football (soccer for you Americans out there) team, when they reach the finals of the World Cup, which isn’t the case this time around (he, he!).  However, they haven’t missed the opportunity to milk the lump-in-the-throat, emotional potential of the velvet revolution.  What Czech wouldn’t swell with pride at the memory of their David to the Russian Goliath (well maybe a few old Commies!) which, being twenty years ago this week provided a timely fillip to their national brand development campaign.

Their take on a celebratory TV spectacular was a characteristically high-brow celebration for Vaclav Havel (The figurehead of the revolution and the first post-Communist President) with live (well, I think there was a pulse in most cases) performances by a load of American esoteric like Suzanne Vega, Joan Baez and Lou Reed who, apart from being old muckers of Havel were, I guess, bang on the spirit of a nation whose escape from tyranny was led by a playwright.  British support came in the shape of a series of arms-length video messages from the likes of Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel and … surprise, surprise … Bono – always good for a sound-bite in the cause of liberty, but still can’t pronounce his old mate Vaclav’s name correctly!  The event was probably sufficiently high-brow to pass well over the heads of the majority of those Czechs who would otherwise have been waving football scarves and definitely inaccessible to the average ice hockey supporter, but I hope that’s not all the celebrations this nation can muster.  Well, let’s see.  Meanwhile, maybe what we need to get brand development going in Blighty is a revolution?  Don’t be too quick to discount that idea!

Posted: November 14, 2009
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Tesco raise the bar for Czech retailers

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We Brits may not have invented the department store (that was the French of course) but we can pat ourselves on the back when it comes to developing exciting new variations on the theme.

Somewhere on my list of “neat formats worth a look-see” would be the new “My” store in the centre of Prague that was developed by Tesco with a little help from Fitch.  A couple of years ago the owners of the only Czech department store operator worthy of the description Kotva were planning to breathe new life into the corpse of their central Prague store by turning it into a showcase for Czech retail franchisees – a challenge in itself when you consider the dominance of foreign retailers in the Czech marketplace.  They had a stab at it, but it really didn’t come off too well and I’m sure they are still scratching around for “plan B”.  Tesco, on the other hand, have achieved a spectacular away win with My by delivering the promise Kotva made and some.

Tesco have brought their full retail might into play with a model that extends well beyond the creation of a showcase for local retailers.  In assembling this store using available Czech retailing components they have contributed massively to the understanding of the participating local operators of what retailing is all about.  This is more than a store, its an education from which I am sure the Czech retailers who participated will benefit and hopefully never look back.  Talk about raise the bar!  OK, so they supplemented local resources by bringing in a few mates like the long-awaited (as far as I am concerned anyway) Costa coffee people (until now Czechs thought the height of coffee art was Starbucks – heaven help them!) to get the mood going, but it all adds to the formula.  Every little helps and this is no small contribution to Czech retailing.  Congratulations Tesco!

Posted: November 2, 2009
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Experiential – Giving a consumer-facing business, business cred

There’s increasing emphasis lately on what’s called “experiential marketing”, but like many things in our marketing world there’s nothing new about it – apart from the name.  These things just used to be referred to as “promotions” and looking through my archive of case studies that fall readily into the “experiential” category, I’m reassured to see that there have always been clients who recognise the value of this kind of initiative and are good them.

Take a client of mine from 2002/3.  A telco from Central Europe, now absorbed by a global operator, that had made headlines for having built a powerful and successful (by any measure) consumer-based brand and was trying to build on the values that had made them so successful with private subscribers and repeat that success in the business sector.

Our target was successful, entrepreneurial businesses, which in a developing market meant SME’s and Sole Traders.  We found a dozen (who we nicknamed “The Daring Dozen”) that had already succeeded and produced a book of case studies and a series of ten-minute TV programmes profiling each.  National TV, eager for local content were happy to run these in pre-evening-news slots.  We then launched a national campaign called “The Thirteenth Chair” throwing down the gauntlet to would-be entrepreneurs to take their place alongside these successful small businesses.

The red swivel-chair that we used throughout, photographed empty and in a spot-light, became the campaign icon and the key competition and the book was promoted through trade associations, on the telco’s web site, in their stores, using viral and press media with  links at the end of the TV segments, and in the book, to the campaign web site where candidates could register and subscribe to the campaign pack.  The mechanic was straightforward enough.  Candidates completed a business plan using a template that we provided and each submission went through a short-listing process, culminating in a chosen few being invited to a “show and tell” like “Dragon’s Den” where a panel, made up from the twelve original entrepreneurs and representatives of my client, voted to contribute to financing to one of the plans.

From there the winning candidate was filmed as their business evolved throughout the next twelve months.  Press coverage was phenomenal during the run-up and after the award was announced and we were almost fighting applications off with a stick (although, as you might expect from a developing market, there were rather a lot of “spoiled applications”).

Was it one of those “big ideas” that I tend to ramble on about? – Well, yes, I guess it might qualify.  Could you repeat this event in a more mature market? – Probably not, certainly at the level of investment we were making back then, but with the new mobile technologies that are now available, there would be a whole lot of additional elements and valuable mileage to be gained if you could.  It just goes to show that “experiential marketing” isn’t something that was just invented and I’m sure that it will be with us, whatever its called, for a long time yet.