Archive for March 31, 2010

Posted: March 31, 2010
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e-tailing has it Made.

If you ever doubted that there is a future for retailing on-line there’s a new kid on the block that might just convince you that retail clicks!

The thing that I have always enjoyed most about retailing is the involvement that exists in the “brandships” between stores and customers.  Retailers have, often inadvertently it must be said, always been avid brand builders and the fortunes of the most successful are set in a history of establishing and building relationships with customers that pre-dates the acronym CRM, which is now on everyone’s lips.

I have always felt that retail was the first sector to recognise the element of community in brand-building, but when you take the store or meeting-place out of the equation there’s always a danger that you could be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Not if Made.com have anything to do with it!

This isn’t a first by any means, but I really like the way they have used the scope of on-line to involve their customers.  This is real brand-building (in other words community).  Its a limited range, but I see no reason why that shouldn’t expand, which can only be good.  Customers, get a real sense of involvement in design and there’s a pioneering spirit about the individuality of the range that provides the essential community ingredient that is further enhanced by the opportunity customers have to vote for designs.  The people at Made.com clearly don’t need me to tell them where the opportunities lie, they are screaming at us all over this concept.  I particularly like the potential for a clicks and mortar model that’s similar to one I have in a bottom drawer right now.

Of course e-tailing isn’t the panacea that a lot of its evangelists make it out to be.  I’ve raised issues of customer service overheads in other posts and I’ll be interested to see how this essential element is handled by Made as time goes on, but Made is an idea, and we can’t have too many of them in the new economy.  Ideas are what will set the world spinning again and these people may just have it made!


Posted: March 30, 2010
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Carly Simon – A brand that’s not going anywhere?

Its always sad when a decent brand takes a wrong turn, but it happens and this week the arrival in one of my weekend papers of a free copy of the Carly Simon album Never Been Gone, first released in 2009, was one of those moments.

I’ve received a few free albums in the same way recently, but, though it’s always tempting to conclude that artists distribute their music this way only when it’s so bad they can’t sell it, it’s usually been an element of an integrated campaign to support a tour or event, which is how, in today’s music industry where the role of albums and concerts have been reversed, the real cash is made.  Until now that is.  This time I can’t help concluding that this is a bandwagon too far for Carly.

Performers are brands as much as anything else and therefore subject to the same rules.  Giving away things like CDs works to help strengthen the relationship – Brandship – with fans, but when the album is this bad it has to be wrong.  Never Been Gone is bad on a number of levels.  The songs are largely really bad, down-keyed arrangements of old material, the production isn’t very inspiring.  I’m also afraid, and this is probably the crunch, that Carly is definitely not the girl she was.  The cosmetic surgery is a bit of a give-away, but though many of her era are miraculously still hitting the high notes, sadly she isn’t, by a wide margin in some cases.  As a concert ticket sales tool this seems to me to be a shot in the foot, but worse than that, it could very easily herald the death of the Carly Simon brand, which surely had mileage left in the tank.

The disappointing thing is that faced with the need or opportunity to leverage the Carly Simon brand one more time, there are other better options that wouldn’t have resulted in such a dramatic failure to deliver the brand promise.  Never Been Gone sounds like a performer in an old folks home.  The arrangements are, at best, dreary and often just awful and the whole thing fails to showcase what has always been her strongest trait – writing.  It could have been so different.  Why not, for example present her work in new arrangements delivered in collaboration with contemporary artists?  At least this would demonstrate that good songs live longer than their composers and could have driven a promising touring show.


Posted: March 29, 2010
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When it comes to real sport, Brits rock!

We may be pants at tennis, the jury is out on rugby and there certainly won’t be many Brits breasting track and field tapes in 2012, but we can hold our heads high when it comes to one of the world’s most gruelling sports.  Now confirmed as the most demanding of racket sports (more strenuous that tennis and more dynamic than badminton, more tactical than racquetball), squash was once described by the great Jahangir Khan as being locked in a cage for a fight to the death with a mortal enemy and if you ever doubted this was so, last Thursday’s two-hour-plus battle between the two top English players, James Wilstrop and Nick Matthew (both of whom had scythed through the international field in the earlier rounds) in the ISS Canary Wharf Classic would have sealed the case.

The IOC may have conspired to keep us out of the medal tally in 2012 by including two new events (only one of which is a sport in my book) and rejecting squash’s bid for adoption, but with four of our men in the world top ten and three of our women (not to mention two who have defected to other countries) English squash is alive, well and kicking ass.  Australians like Hunt, the Martin Dynasty and the Grinham sisters, the Khans of Pakistan and Tierry Lincou and Greg Gaultier of France come and go, but Britain’s consistenc has been challenged only by Egypt and the like of Amr Shabana, Ramy and Hisham Ashour, Karim Dawish, Wael El Hindi and Ahmed Barada back to Mousa Helal, Ali Abdelaziz and Mo Asram in the seventies.

My idea of a sport is a titanic struggle between supremely fit athletes.  Forget golf, snooker, curling and all the pseudo-sports, real sport is combative and sweaty and takes everything the participants have physically and mentally, including a level of skill that is only possible as a result of years of total dedication.  If you want to know what it looks like take a look at www.psasquashtv.com, sign up for a day pass (Its only £3.00) and watch the replays (including the ISS Canary Wharf Classic, semi-final).

Despite having some very rich tournaments these days, mainly courtesy of investors from the Middle East, where the sport gets the recognition it deserves,  the sport’s plethora of governing bodies (the PSA, WSF, WISPA, England Squash and all the national associations) have, sadly struggled to develop their brand, which, having addressed the issue of the scoring system and un-TV-friendly courts remains the sport’s only obstacle to recognition by the IOC and other international sporting bodies.  Hopefully they’ll get their act together soon.


Posted: March 19, 2010
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Wearing your life on your sleeve, around your neck, on your feet, on your key ring ….

You may take it as an indicator of the depths to which our society’s values have sunk, but wearing the shirt of a football club you don’t support is now considered such hardship that people will compensate you financially for doing so.  The decision of a football fan on a BBC phone-in today, to  turn down an offer of twenty-thousand pounds to wear the shirt of an opposing team may have sealed the case for the video ref, but this is reality folks and this weekend football fans throughout the UK will be wearing the colours of opposing teams to raise money for Sport Relief.  What we are talking about here is intrinsic to the human psyche and very much a marketer’s primary responsibility – brand loyalty!

Football teams, like religions, and car marques and most everything else today, are brands and our relationships with them (Brandships) define us, our values and beliefs.  Football shirts, religious artifacts and Ferrari key fobs are the badges of belonging that Maslow told us about.  Which is why asking an Everton supporter to wear a Liverpool shirt is not asking him or her just to betray their club, but to betray him or herself.

The fact that this charity event will work is a measure of the potency of  brands today and the tremendous influence that smart marketers can and do have on society.  If you aren’t playing this game already, think again.  Nobody is free of the need to belong.  Maslow calls the liberation from the need to define ourselves in brands “self-actualisation”.  Few realise it.   Even if you don’t discriminate positively you will do so negatively.  For example, I may not go out of my way to buy a specific brand, but there are brands that I absolutely won’t dally with, because I don’t agree with their ethics or values.

So, if you see red at Goodison Park this weekend give a thought to what that means to you and the future of your business and start planning your brand strategy, because, in the post recession marketplace, if your brand community isn’t de rigueur you’ll probably lose your shirt.


Posted: March 18, 2010
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The future of publishing

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqO2fXukLJk&feature=player_embedded]

Graham Rust at Rust Klemperer in Prague just sent me a link to this film and I thought that it was worth highlighting.  Its just a nice, simple, inexpensive and clever solution with excellent copywriting that suits the character of the brand and  that makes you think.  There’s not enough of this kind of thing around a the moment.

The film was made by Khaki Films and, thanks to the producer Zoe Uffindell who has added the details to this post as a comment, we now know who contributed.


Posted: March 15, 2010
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Waitrose show us the shape of retailing in the new economy.

Its happening far less frequently recently, because most organisations appear to have slithered into a state of cerebral hibernation, while they wait for someone else to fix the world, but every now and again I come across an initiative that prompts a fist-pump and a big “YESSSS!”.  This time Its Waitrose with the masterclass in how to trade in the post-recession, economy.

In fact I first proposed this strategy to another retailer about ten years ago and I’ve put it to others since.  I even, on one occasion, met with prospective channel owners and gained their commitment to the idea.  All my client had to do was sign on the line and they’d have secured a new revenue stream ahead of the game, but each time the retailers in question chickened out.  I have never understood why retailers have been so slow to take this obvious step.

I’ve always considered retailing to be the last bastion of the entrepreneur.  Its certainly the only sector where you can trial new ideas at minimal cost and get direct feedback from customers in a weekend, so with revenue and more importantly, profit, so illusive these days, retailers should be launching new initiatives on a daily basis.  If ever there was a time to pull those proposals out from the bottom draw and dust them off its now and this one is begging for an airing.  I’m just chuffed to bits that its a smart, switched-on business like Waitrose that’s going to take up the challenge.  I’ve always liked John Lewis partnership.  If ever an organisation had their internal marketing and brand building sorted its them and, as I keep saying, when your brand community is strong you can do anything.

Its been decades since a retail brand was only a name over a door and if ever there was a real brand community anywhere its going to be in the retail sector.  The relationships we have (Brandships) with retailers are like no other and its going to take an act of spectacular incompetence for Waitrose to fail in this venture.

Now, let’s see if they leverage all the opportunities and which of their “me-too” competitors will have the balls to take them on.  Yes, retailing is alive and well after all and living in Bracknell!  Game on!


Posted: March 12, 2010
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Internal Marketing may be the key to post recession survival, but its tougher for ex-public sector organisations.

First it was the Post Office, then British Airways and now it appears that British Gas front-line employees are in revolt.  When your customer-facing staff are slagging of the organisation and/or it’s management you are well and truly buggered, but when is the penny going to drop here?  This isn’t about the evil hand of capitalism trying to squeeze the life out of dwindling customer base or white-knight customer service operatives standing ground on behalf of their customers.  Its  about one thing, pure and simple.  The failure of management to get employees behind the brand.  Brand Building is the fundamental of business today and it all starts with internal marketing – that’s where all of these organisations are failing.

I don’t want to make light of this.  For these organisations, each of which have among the worst industrial relations records in Britain, it’s a tough challenge.  Why these three in particular?  Well, there’s a clear common denominator here – they are all old public companies.  People who joined public sector organisations in the past and probably to some extent today, are motivated differently from those in the commercial sector.  They rarely think so, but it’s true however you cut it.  Order, rules that protect them from having to do absolutely anything that isn’t in their buttoned-down contracts of employment, endless holiday entitlement and decent money that turns up every month, regardless of how hard they work and how much they care – this is the world of the public sector employee.  Unless employees have a sense of belonging, commitment and shared responsibility, these organisations will never transform themselves into the lean commercial machines they simply have to be to survive, yet the employees who are at the centre of these rows are those with contracts that date from the pre-privatisation era and the self-interest that goes with them.

The reality is that while the world has moved on these organisations struggle to keep pace with a millstone around their necks.  That millstone being employees who are determined to stay right where they are.  It’s no coincidence that this is exactly what is happening in the former Communist countries.  Twenty years on from the Velvet Revolution it’s still a challenge to motivate Czech workers who spent fifty years just going through the motions while collecting the same money every month and commentators are now coming to the conclusion that it will take a few more generations before Czechs are attuned to commercial reality.

Once an organisation knows the scope of its resources, has a strategy and has defined their brand and its “promise”, the task is to get every stakeholder (and this isn’t just employees) fully committed to playing their part in the delivery of that promise.  That means telling them what that promise is, explaining why it has to be that way and helping every one of them understand what they can uniquely do on a day-by-day basis to help ensure the promise is delivered and, just as importantly, helping them fill the gaps in their skills base so that they can do it even better.  If you get this right there’s no argument and it will happen.  In the rare cases where a minority feel that they have some right to override the strategy that everyone else has signed up to, they’ll be neutralised by the commitment of the majority.  Apart from anything else, that’s one of the principles of change management.

It’s not surprising that businesses are only now waking up to what internal marketing is really about.  For years a remit of HR managers, internal marketing has only recently been handed to the people equipped to do the job – marketers – and we still have a lot of catching up to do.  One group who need to catch up most are marketing services organisations but this awakening could be the salvation of many, who, as we all know, are desperate for new ways to bond with clients and new sources of revenue.

A modern internal marketing campaign demands high levels of skills in all areas of communication.  I devised an internal marketing initiative for a retailer that involved teams of employees from each store competing in a national product and process knowledge quiz with regional heats, national finals and a grand finale in the capital.  Among other things, it involved event production, logistics, building a supporting web site and streaming videos of the contests, so we needed multimedia production skills and it also required that we bussed supporters to each event.  That’s what modern internal marketing looks like and if you want to get your employees on-side you need to start thinking about initiatives like this.

It may come as a surprise to the folks at the Post Office, BA and British Gas, but there are workforces in Britain and elsewhere who are taking wage cuts, accepting shorter working weeks, introducing new work practices and taking on extra responsibility because of their commitment to the brand community.  Internal marketing has always been the key to success.  In the new economy its the key to survival.


Posted: March 11, 2010
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A new talent worth listening to

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR742yOolmM]

Folks who know me will know that I am never far away from music and always excited to find new talent.  As with anything else I firmly belive that music is about progression.  Once something has been done I can’t see the point in doing the same thing again unless you take it to a new level and I don’t rate musicians who find a formula and just keep repeating it album after album, however good an idea it may have seemed the first time.

Its reassuring therefore to come across a musician who is doing something a bit different and a young lady who fits the bill is Lucinda Belle, a singer/songwriter and jazz harpist who has just won her first recording contract.  Lucinda appeared on the BBC’s Breakfast show this morning with her harp “Diana” and a cuple of tracks from her forthcoming album “My Voice and 45 Strings” and I just feel she’s worth a listen.  If you want more (apart from the YouTube post I’ve linked to above) I guess you’ll just have to wait ’til the album comes out like the rest of us, but you can pre-order on Amazon right now.


Posted: March 10, 2010
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Diversity in Redditch and the public sector challenge

One of the hottest buzz-words in the UK public sector right now appears to be “diversity” which, as I understand it, basically means celebrating the richness of the UK culture or getting on with your ethnic minority neighbours.  As the conquerors and oppressors of innumerable cultures in the past we Brits are falling over backwards to make up for our evil past by making the folks we have displaced feel “at home at our place”.  Just the kind of thing guaranteed to get lefties throwing public money around like confetti – which it seems is just what they are doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the diversity idea is fine.  It might not feature much above chip-and-pin wheely bins and installing badger tunnels under trunk roads on my “must do with taxpayers money” list in these hard times, but if was standing for election right now I wouldn’t be making a big thing about adding it to my list of proposed public sector spending cuts either.  However, initiatives like this do tend to reveal the yawning gulf that exists between well conceived national policy and local government naivety (or depending on how you see it “incompetence”).

Last week was Chinese New Year – the year of the tiger or something – and the town where I stay when I am in the UK staged a diversity event.  This was devised and has been run for the past few years by a husband-and-wife team who have some nice, if a little cutesy, ideas and, it seems, a simplistic and naive approach to management.  They told me that over the years the event has grown, although they didn’t seem to have access to any numbers other than a rough guess that visitors currently numbered around two-hundred, which it seems to me is more a bit of a get-together than an event – I’ve had bigger parties in my Prague apartment.  However, more power to their elbow.  If they are prepared to flog themselves to death for a year to entertain a couple of bus-loads of people then good luck to them.  But here’s the rub.

There wasn’t an ounce of commercialism in the venture at all.  Everything was a cost.  Every glaring revenue-generating opportunity, from the provision of chinese food by local restaurants to face painting and lantern-making for the kids, was duly ignored in the name of purity.  But purity has a price and in this case the taxpayer was footing the bill … not once, but twice!  Firstly the County Council were contributing taxpayers money from their “diversity” fund and then every visitor was paying for a ticket at the rate of £5 a head or £12 for a family of four, which, when you add it all up, isn’t cheap when most of the labour was voluntary.  But the real bummer was that the limited resources, skills and experience of the organisers resulted in a bit of a shot in the foot.

Firstly the publicity in the local paper quoted the price of family tickets at £5 insead of £12 so every family that turned up was instantly annoyed.  The price included a shambles of a children’s theatre production which the organisers seemed to think was just fine because the kids had only had two days to prepare for it (they didn’t seem to get it that people were paying, the organisers had had at least a year to work out how to prepare better and the kids were probably embarrassed to hell).  Tickets also included a “chinese meal” served in the Town Hall Council Chamber, which was organised on a sitting schedule, was an hour late and not very good and, to cap it all, by the time diners had extracted themselves from the lunch the volunteers who had set up and were supposed to be running the side-shows in another building, had decided that nobody was coming, so packed up and left, which meant that there were no activities.

I appreciate that there are folks out there who might think that I am being unsympathetic, but I do believe these things are a great idea, they just have to be viable and there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be.  I don’t think its the place of local government/taxpayers to pay for them – underwrite them by all means, but only if there is a business plan and a genuine attempt by the organisers to make them viable.  There was a film maker sent by the County Council to record the event, undoubtedly to “big” it and them up at Whitehall at some future date, but actually what was needed was for the council nobs to get their fat-cat Business Link buddies to give the organisers some free advice and support – make a contribution for a change.  I am sure that even Business Link could run a raffle (well, maybe not)!

Diversity is a great idea, but in the hands of do-gooding local councils, as in this case, ideas can produce the opposite to the intended response with visitors leaving feeling angry and disappointed and taxpayers feeling betrayed.  Wholesome events don’t have to cost money either.  The Prague Marathon – the third largest marathon franchise in the world – and in a developing economy to boot – runs on a team of six full-time employees.  All the rest are volunteers and sponsored activities and I would be embarrassed to tell you how much revenue that generates!

With the UK facing the prospect of unprecedented cutbacks in public spending our public sector needs to get real.  The easy option, and I’m certain that it will emerge, will be for local services to be cut back and events like this to fall victim to the axe, but if the folks at County Hall deserve to stay in their jobs this wouldn’t be the case.  That’s the challenge to the public sector, who, for the first time is going to have to demonstrate some commercial competence.  Running a country, a county or a town is a business.  Customers are looking for improved value.  If you can’t hack it, stand aside and let someone who can see the ball.

Meanwhile I genuinely do appreciate the effort and commitment that the organisers put into Chinese New Year in Redditch and I feel as bad as anyone about it not hitting the mark, but next time, I’d like to see the County Council support them with expert help and advice rather than cash, even if that advice is to bring in someone to show them how to make this the event it could be.


Posted: March 9, 2010
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Solve the mystery of disappearing Moscow

Brits who travel a lot on business won’t be strangers to the commercials of various national tourist bodies that appear on BBC World News, CNN and the like.  These examples of national branding are sometimes informative, often quite surprising and I suspect not always accurate, but so many have jumped on the (quite-rightly highly praised) Incedible India bandwaggon that they are now becoming wallpaper.  Time for India to “up” their game maybe.

Among the better look-alikes are the efforts of  Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, none of which quite match the Indian production for originality or execution, but has anybody seen the latest effort from Moscow?  I caught it once and, in many respects, that was enough.  I can’t remember the strap line, “Moscow – not just any city” or something, but the production did leave me with a deep yearning to be anywhere BUT Moscow.  It was absolutely terrible!

I haven’t seen it again, but I may just have been lucky.  I can’t even find a copy on the Internet to show you, its not on any show reels that I can access and its not even on the Moscow Tourism web site.  Perhaps the Kremlin have stepped in and erased all records?  I have been trying to discover who produced it, but it seems the offending agency are, quite understandably, keeping their heads down too.  If they are smart enough to have created an integrated campaign the matching mailshot would have to be body-parts or something in the post, but happily they clearly aren’t – smart enough that is – otherwise they wouldn’t have produced this dog!

I suppose you have to give them full marks for honesty at least.  They certainly couldn’t be acused of copying the Incredible India format or of making promises that they can’t deliver.  The references to night-life and historical buildings and the campaign strap-line are all almost apologetic and the overall presentation is excrutiatingly boring, bordering on intimidating.  Even the voice-over sounds like Vincent Price!  This is definitely the Moscow I know – a place where the seats on tourist coaches are fitted with manacles rather than seat-belts, to ensure that tourists don’t get off and run for the border!

I’ve been dealing with a Moscow agency recently who were bemoaning the lack of the skills of the planners and strategists they have access to.  Maybe, the problem is deeper than this?  I’m used to weak management, strange attitudes, poor skills and lack of experience of marketers in Central and Eastern Europe – its understandable to a point, but Moscow is trying to establish itself as a major world city with all that goes with it and I’m surprised that a flagship marketing campaign this awful would have made it to the screen.  Can you help solve the mystery of the disappearing TVC?  If you know where there is a copy post the URL so that we can all see it again and if you have the story behind this by all means dish the dirt.  We all want to hear.