Archive for May 28, 2010

Posted: May 28, 2010
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i-Pad. Your chance to be a real marketer.

Pic from digitaltrends.com

While the usual suspects are sitting back and waiting to see how the i-Pad develops, smart marketers have realised that they are part of the story.  If i-Pad doesn’t transform your business you only have yourself to blame.

Every organisation should have their i-Pad app in production right now, if not already released and be encouraging their customers to get tooled up with a tablet ASAP.  Anyone who takes the view “its Apple’s job to sell them and if they get penetration we’ll join in” is frankly an arse!  This isn’t about hardware and apps this is a choice that could be life-changing for your business if only you get involved.

It doesn’t matter that the tablets are limited in their capability right now.  Make it work for you and Apple and other developers will get to work on broadening the capability faster than you can say on-line marketing.  Just get your arse out of gear and work with what it can do right now and you’ll quickly realise just how much that is!  I can’t think of a consumer facing organisation that couldn’t boost and sometimes transform their business by adopting this new channel.

More than a year ago I was working with investors in Norway on an initiative for chain restaurateurs that relies on this technology.  I have since explored opportunities with retailers in a number of sectors for whom the i-Pad could be a real life-saver and I have even had a discussion with a business that believes it is viable to give i-Pads away to their customers.  There are some truly electrifying opportunites in this technology.

Marketing is about doing things and going places that nobody has done or gone to before.  It’s about taking risks, challenging the status quo.  If you think you are a real marketer this is your chance to prove it.  Apple have done all the hard work, but it will only fly if you get involved now.  Get those aps out there and watch your business take off.  If it doesn’t work out you can tell me “I told you so”, but at least we’ll have done some real marketing!


Posted: May 25, 2010
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Social Networking – a force for good

[ted id=852]

Liam Anderson just Tweeted a link to a TED talk on social networking by a very smart guy called Nicholas Christakis. You should take a look. His bottom line seems to be that, primally speaking, social networking drives the good in society.

This is a subject that I have pondered many times.  As you will probably know, I see brands as communities and this perspective drives all that I do as a marketer.  In the talks I deliver I often highlight the parallels between housing communities and brand communities.  You move into an area because you feel it reflects your standards and values, you aspire to fit in, or it is comfortable, which, by definition means that you have something in common with everyone else who lives there – even if that’s just that the place feels right.  However, every facet of your life is not replicated in every other local resident.  You have hobbies and interests, values and habits that are unique to you in that community and so in joining it you are also enriching it.

Take my son as an example.  He has an amazing network of friends.  Its a very close network of guys and their girlfriends who he has encountered at various points in his life in many different places.  Nicholas suggested in his talk that there are two distinct types of networks those where the “friends” are independent of each other and don’t know each other, their relationship being confined to the “host” and there are others where the friends are inter-connected, they know each other through the network.  The catalyst in both cases is the host who is either gregarious and introduces his friends to each other or is insular and protective of his relationships and keeps them separate.  Each type of network has its plusses and minuses as Nicholas points out and who is to say which, if either is right or wrong.  The important thing is that we recognise the difference.

It’s fair to say that my son’s friends’ lives have all been enriched by the network.  Each has shared their individual interests with the others and as a result there are sub-groups that go rock-walling, others play squash, a big group  hangs out in one guy’s big garden all summer grilling, drinking and playing volleyball.  The more they do together the stronger the community becomes and the broader its interests and the interests of the individuals.  From time to time members of the community have had a tough time and I’ve been amazed at the way the others, even the fringe members, have gathered around to offer support and practical help.  As Nicholas says, a force for good.

Because I see brand communities in the same way, its important to me that my clients provide opportunities for their community members to interact with each other and not just the host (my clients), but while most organisations these days do the social networking “talk”, very few indeed get around to the “walk”.  Brands have to be gregarious to be successful, they have to stand out, be communicative and above all confident enough to introduce their community members to each other.  Organise events like Saturn the US car-maker who each year take their customers on a tour of the factory, Harley Davidson, or the cycle manufacturer Yeti (my favourite bikes in the world) who organise events around the world for their owners to come together race, chat and party.  I blogged last week about Apple’s new dating site, which is another example.

Brand guardians should always remember that their community members will also be members of other communities (buy other brands) where their other interests and values are better represented, but the the successful brands are those that are central to their members lives and achieve the balance between keeping themselves and their products front-and-centre while maintaining a broad church.  What are you doing to build Brandships in your brand community?


Posted: May 24, 2010
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Britain’s biggest ever internal marketing campaign

Image from BBC News. Click for full story.

As George Osborne announces the new government’s plan for its first £6billion tranche of public sector spending cuts, I am getting a distinctly uneasy feeling that there’s a spectre looming large in the shape of public sector employees, who could bring the county to its knees in an orgy of self-interest.

As one commentator put it this morning on the BBC, this isn’t just a plan to save £6billion+ is a plan to change the expectations we all have of government, in other words a re-branding and as with any other re-branding strategy, it has to start with the people delivering the promise.

I’ve worked with public sector organisations in the UK and elsewhere and I have to say that, certainly in the UK, despite their claims of having upped their game in recent years – and, to be honest, there’s a degree of truth to this – the sad fact is that the claim reveals the naiveté that is at the heart of the sector’s dire performance.  Frankly, most public sector employees, just don’t understand how out of kilter they are with their private sector counterparts.

I have sat at post-mortems for failed initiatives where the inadequacies of the people charged with the task at every level have been obvious.  I’ve heard people shrug-off any responsibility for watching colleagues fail or fall into pits that were perfectly obvious to all, but the person doing the falling, with comments like “that wasn’t my job”. I’ve witnessed total absence of any shared responsibility or common agenda, even seen people scramble over each other to assign blame to anyone who could be made to represent a target.  Worst of all, I have noted time and again the credence that managers give to this behaviour.  I’m not saying that stuff like this doesn’t happen in the private sector, but in the public sector its the prevailing culture.

I’m thinking of one regional public sector organisation in particular that is failing by a measure of two-thirds to meet its targets consistently, month after month.  It has employees at every level who may arguably have the ability to do their job, but simply don’t.  People who fill their day with an hour’s-worth of work and feel hard done by if they are ever questioned about their lack of progress.  Not only is the manager not managing the situation, there’s absolutely no consequences attached to the failure to deliver.  Each month he just turns up at a meeting and tells his bosses how much he’s missed his target by and they just nod and thank him.  I have first hand knowledge of a group of high-profile public sector organisations whose purpose is to provide specialist advice to the business sector whose “advisors” rarely have more than a grasp of the basics of their subject and certainly usually know far less than the people they are advising.  In the absence of expertise this organisation has fallen back on prescribed programmes, processes and practices executed by process-followers who force their “clients” into ill-fitting solutions, waste their time with totally unnecessary bureaucratic hoop-jumping and consider it a job well done.  The only real effort demonstrated by these and other public sector organisations I have encountered is in gathering tenuous data to support their continued existence.  This is what waste really looks like.

Apart from the blatant and intentional waste of time that goes on in these places there is inevitable consequential waste represented in the endless arse-scratching done by people who frequently just don’t have a clue what to do next.  But its the intentional waste, driven by the kind of self-interest we have seen demonstrated by Royal Mail, British Gas and now British Airways employees that will be the nail in Britain’s coffin.

I’m concerned that the public sector, being what it is, will put the usual knee-jerk interpretation on the message from Whitehall – reduced funds = reduced services – but that’s not necessarily the case.  Cut out the waste, the processes that waste time for all of us and do nothing, but keep people on the government payroll and, in percentage terms, the reduction in services will be nothing like the reduction in investment.  The public sector just has to stop putting itself first and start doing what’s sensible and right.

If the British people are to be persuaded to consider “government” in a new light, the Government must firstly define what their promise is and then undertake the massive task of getting the people responsible for delivering it committed to the task.  Only once they are confident that every employee is determined to play their part in delivering that promise to the full, can the promise be made with any credibility or any chance of success.  It’s a big ask, a massive challenge, its internal marketing on a scale that has probably never before been tackled.

Pitfalls lie on every side.  When the Labour party finally manage to get their act into any kind of togetherness their traditional support of trades unions like Unite might mean that they contribute to the obstacles facing any re-branding strategy.  Unions themselves are going to have to be realistic in their demands and employees at every level will need to be put straight on the need to contribute to a shared objective rather than perpetuate the self-interest that has been largely responsible for bringing us to this mess.  This requires transparency by the government regarding their agenda, sharing the brand vision and mission and the provision of the information that people need to understand for themselves why the strategy has been chosen and more importantly, what they must do to play their part in its delivery.

It’s about communication on every level embracing every media route – press relations, the internet and electronic media, direct marketing, corporate videos … you name it.  A fully integrated campaign the like of which we haven’t seen before, certainly in this country.  Maybe it’s an opportunity for the COI to really show us what they can do in terms of strategy and efficient project management, but more than that, its an opportunity for the best in every area of marketing and communications to contribute to a project that is really worthwhile.


Posted: May 23, 2010
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Nick Matthew – A model for the new Brand Britain.

I don’t go in for hero-worship, but if I did a definite contender would be Nick Matthew, our (the UK’s) latest world number one squash player and it’s not just because he’s number one.

I’ve had a thing for Nick for a few years … no, not like that!  I’ve haven’t even met him, although I’ve seen him play many times, both live and on SquashTV.com and to me, he defines the term “sporting hero”.  Firstly he plays a real sport.  The most gruelling of all racket sports by far in fact (Its been proven many times).  A sport where men get sweaty battling on a physical and mental level that few people can even comprehend.  Squash isn’t an armchair activity for retired people like curling or darts, nor is it a namby-pamby, designer sport like football (or soccer to any Americans who might be listening).  This is a sport that’s played by millions of people all over the world with a genuine passion that isn’t fuelled by the promise of an in-your-dreams payday should they ever reach professional levels.

The training that professional squash players put themselves through is enough to provoke a seizure in any mere mortal who just thinks about it.  Peter Nicol, our previous great world number one, described his training regime in terms of  inching his body each day past the point where his brain told him he was going to die, just so he could prove to it that it wouldn’t.  However, as if that wasn’t enough Nick recently came back from a shoulder injury that would have permanently sidelined many lesser sportsmen, enduring twelve months of surgery and rehabilitation to take the crown that is so rightfully his – Bloody brilliant Nick.  Thanks for showing us how its done.

Nothing in this world that’s truly worth having is ever achieved easily.  That’s one reason why I have no sympathy for folks who, even when the nation is on its arse, don’t want to put in those extra hours, take that salary cut or change the terms of their contract.  As for those who would rather actually withdraw their labour altogether than make a few business-prolonging changes, I’d rather they just leave the country, or better still the planet!

I meet businesses and people all over the world who get to a point of comfort and just sit back.  Businesses that are happy to make a profit, people who just want to do the bare minimum, neither being interested in being the best in town or even just the best they can be and it makes me sad.  I can’t see the point in getting out of bed each day unless it’s with the mantra “Today I’ll be the best!” and in the new economy even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll even survive because making it to the top of the heap, is by no means “job done!”.  For a real winner, it’s just the start of the race to leave your competitors eating your dust.

Because he’s the champion he is, Nick Matthew, I am sure, will be spending the next few off-season weeks, working out to what he has to do to up his game.  He’ll know that there are players our there who he has inspired to take him on next season.  Equally dedicated, highly skilled players for whom he is now the target.

Meanwhile, if I were David Cameron and Nick Clegg right now, mapping out the Brand Model for Brand Britain, I’d be focussing on people like Nick Matthew as the pillars of the brand promise and trying to work out how the same energy and commitment that has made them the winners they are, can be translated to Britain as a whole.  Looking at the check-out queue in Tesco yesterday, its clear that it might be as big a challenge as coming back from the sugeon’s table to become the world’s number one squash player.


Posted: May 12, 2010
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Branding your High Street Dreams.

There’s a new series on BBC television called High Street Dreams in which a couple of entrepreneurs, Jo Malone, who made a success of a fragrances and candle business and Nick Leslau, a property tycoon, work with would-be business owners to help them get off the ground.  I watched the first of these yesterday evening and although it confirmed one of my biggest beefs about “branding agencies” it also gave me a few reassuring surprises.

First the good news.  As one who is often expected to perform miracles on coffin-dodger companies, I always get a lift when I come across people who look as if they have the ability and passion to run a successful business and that was the case with all the candidates in last night’s programme.  The Singh family were hot to take their chilli sauce recipe to market, while newlyweds Roland and Miranda Ballard were already selling their Angus beef products at farmers markets, but wanted to “reinvent the beefburger” with a premium twist.

Both groups had worthy products and they were all hard-working, even well-organised to a point.  It’s good to know that there are fledgling businesses out there that might just keep Britain on the business map.  However, what really impressed me was the grasp that both groups had of the concept of brand.  I have to say their mentors were also plugged in to brands and branding to an extent that I have found rare even among so-called marketers and (and here comes the bad news) in stark contrast to the “branding agencies” they employed who were at best very average and, in the one case, probably a liability.

Of course, the programmes were edited (very well I thought) from what I guess were hours of recordings and for this reason I can’t say for sure what process these agencies had followed to arrive at their conclusion, but it seems that neither took either group through a clearly defined programme of discovery, prior to starting work on their design and as a consequence launched into the presentations of their final proposals by telling the groups what their brand was all about, which as any real marketer knows is rather arse-about-face – only the client knows this for sure and the best any agency could hope to come up with is a good guess.  Starting this way of course meant that neither agency was in a position to ease their client through the process of brand and strategy development that follows the creation of a brand model, but as they didn’t enter that territory anyway, they failed, by any definition, to qualify as “brand consultants”.  In this case the one solution was a whole lot better than the other, which should have been rejected and probably would have been had the brand model and the briefing and judgement criteria been in place, but neither were brand or branding solutions by any stretch of the imagination, they were logo and packaging designs – different planet!

As I have discovered over my years in the business, this isn’t unique in the world of marketing.  There are designers all over the place who have decided to call themselves “brand consultants” without having the first idea of what that is, just as there are advertising agencies that call themselves “marketing agencies” or “integrated marketing agencies”.  Frankly, most of them just talk bollocks, but the problem is, these guys are snake-oil salesmen who talk a good talk and if you are an SME looking for sound advice, the odds are you’ll not have the experience to spot the rogues among the smoke and mirrors.

The really sad thing about this is that for years we’ve worked with the knowledge that in the UK seven out of ten new businesses fail within three years and, post recession, that figure will undoubtedly rise.  The “new economy” is an even tougher battle ground with new rules emerging daily.  The last thing we need are idiots, passing themselves off as experts making the game even tougher for the guys who are enterprising enough to give business a go.

So as a service to would-be entrepreneurs everywhere here are three tips to kick-off your brand development process:

  1. Before you get to do any kind of logo design you need a Brand Model.  That’s a document that defines your brand and its character from as many parameters as you think is appropriate (My Brand Discovery Brand Models have eleven).  Either you must do this for yourself, which is tough if you have no experience of these things, or you should seek the help of a consultant.  A real brand agency will have a prescriptive process that they take you through to establish what your brand is all about and create your Brand Model BEFORE you even talk to a designer.  If they don’t, bid them a polite “good day” and make for the exit!
  2. Next you need to create individual briefs for your logo/package/literature designers.  These MUST be based on your brand model, which is why that comes first.  Among other things, your brief should explain to the designer how you want his work to reflect the important elements of your brand – its character, its promise and the pillars that support the promise.  Again, any brand consultancy worthy of the name will have a briefing format that works with the brand model to provide the designer with the important information he needs to do his job properly.  If they don’t and you are still in the room, think again!
  3. Then you need judgement criteria.  Its easy when you are inexperienced in working with designers to get carried away by the excitement of seeing their work and as a result accept proposals that aren’t spot on.  I can’t over-emphasise the importance of getting details like this right at this earliest stage of your business development.  Start off with the wrong logo or packaging and your business will be compromised until you change it – believe me, you don’t want to go there!  You need a set of criteria against which you will judge each proposal and these criteria will again relate back to your brand model and brief.  If the nice people at your brand consultancy don’t help you with this, its definitely time to take off the rose-tinted specs!

One of the issues that the Singh family were struggling with on the High Street Dreams, was the versatility of their chilli sauce.  They believed that it was good for cooking with, dipping and adding to food like a table condiment, but neither the “brand consultancy” nor their mentors seemed to really address this issue and it came back to haunt them when the category manager at Asda asked “where do you see this sitting in our store.  On condiments or cook-in sauces?”  The answer was both and more, but to make that credible they needed three packaging variation (they didn’t necessarily need three different recipes, although that would have been icing on the cake) A bottle to sit alongside Tabasco sauce, a wide pot to compete with salsa dip and a jar to match cook-in sauces.  Asda wouldn’t necessarily have taken all three, but it would have demonstrated the versatility of their product and given Asda the opportunity to try all three areas of the store to see which gave them the best results.

The Ballards on the other hand had a wholesome product that looked like a lot of things that are supposed to be “good for you” – pretty bloody unappetising!  Their early research had made this point quite decisively.  The agency’s answer was to put it in a box so you couldn’t see it, which is a bit of a nonsense for a product category where customers are particularly keen to see what they are buying.  It’s a dilemma and quite frankly, I don’t have the answer, but then again they haven’t paid me to come up with one, so I’m not at fault.  Unlike their “brand consultancy” who not only failed to resolve the issue, but came up with a package design that looked like a high-school project!

Again, a brand consultancy will sort things like these, because they know about in-store categories and how to work the merchandising.  They’ll also tell you what things you need to do in other areas of your business to bring everything in line with the “promise” that is made by the brand, the product and the packaging.

The new post recession economy is throwing up opportunities every day, but anybody who wants to catch one and run with it is going to have to be smarter and faster than businesses that made it in the old, pre-recession marketplace if they are going to make their High Street Dreams a reality.  If you have your eye on a place in the Top 100 Young Entrepreneurs this year you are going to have to do everything you do better than your competitors and that means hiring REAL experts to help you.  Hopefully I’ll have helped you spot a good brand consultant when you need one.


Posted: May 7, 2010
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Cupid goes Apple

If you have actually been reading my stuff for the past few years you’ll know how taken I am with the idea of brand “communities” and the scope they offer savvy marketers.  I’ve spent hours … nay, years … talking to rooms full of people about “brandships” – the relationship we have with brands and how they are similar in many ways to those we have with people.

For instance, I’ve long-held the belief that well-conceived strategic alliances between brands can play dividends for both parties, but that the wrong choice of partners can have an equally powerful negative effect on your brand equity.  It’s the same with personal relationships – “He must be OK, he’s a friend of so-and-so” or “I’m not sure about her, she hangs out with an odd crowd”.

I’ve quoted the experiences of Harley Davidson, Saturn Autos, EastWest Airlines and many more to illustrate how we use brands as badges of belonging that demonstrate our values and beliefs.  If that’s true of course, it stands to reason that our brandships could influence our personal relationships  – Love me, love my Harley, must be a phrase familiar to a few women, but it could well apply to any brand.    Well, now Apple have provided me with a new piece of evidence to support my proposition – Apple dating or, as they term it, Cupidtino, the exclusive dating site for Apple lovers.

Yes now you can be sure that your coding is compatible and your ports match before you make that big commitment and you’ll be in first-date heaven knowing that you’ll at least be able to talk about the latest i-Pad derivative.


Posted: May 6, 2010
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Keep it fresh – the recipe for restaurant brand success

I was chatting yesterday with a chap who runs a load of restaurants … and I mean A LOAD!  Among the topics of our conversation were the “good old days” when the sophistocated man-about-my-neck-of-the-woods, out to cut a dash, took his “bird” to a Berni Inn.  In those days of course there were, by today’s standards, limited options for the young stud out to impress  – Wimpy, Berni Inns, the local pub where you might get that French delicacy “chicken-in-a-basket”, one of the emerging Chinese restaurants, and independents from Joe’s Caf to the more aspirational, Gino or Carlo’s.

By comparison, today’s aspiring roue is spoilt for choice.  Not only has there been a proliferation of independent eateries of all palates and ethnicities, the number of restaurant chains is enough to set plates spinning and because each one is desperate to establish a point-of-difference, today’s eating experience has become as much an entertainment as the date – especially if you have my luck!

I used to frequent Alastair Little’s restaurant in Frith Street, Soho where the man himself once told me that the average restaurant had a life of around three years, after which you had to reinvent yourself.  These days that rule of thumb at least hasn’t changed.  If you watch Gordon Ramsey’s antics on TV, you’ll know that the key to restaurant success is to devise a unique theme and then exploit it to the full.  This lesson has been adopted by all the big chains since TGI Friday’s, who recognised that while a new restaurant format will always add novelty value to an entertaining theme, for the punter, even the most compelling theme is great for two, or maybe three visits.  After that, unless something changes, you’ll find them asking “so what now?”.  If the answer is “nothing” they’ll be beating a path to the next food entertainment experience.  The “novelty effect” may also compensate for a few deficiencies, which gives you a narrow window of opportunity to iron out those niggly operational issues, but “narrow” is the important word here.  Pretty soon, its back to reality.

What we are talking about here is brand development and I love the restaurant business because it offers one of the clearest demonstrations of the concept of “brand community” and “brandships”, which has been my personal cause celebre for many years.

For a restaurateur this isn’t just a case of introducing new things to the menu, although that plays its part, you have to continually tweak other elements too.  Data management comes into play here as you define your segments and start to manage them.  You’ll have customer-segments, day-segments and seasonal demands that will probably all be heading in different directions out from your central theme and the devices you use to manage your community will be as diverse as these segments.  Starbucks discovered early on that day-segments demand different music and its a no-brainer that restaurant day-segments require different food, but that’s not only to accommodate the traditional meal variations, but different customer types – for instance, pensioners and young moms in the morning and groups of youngsters in the evening.

Its also not enough just to make changes, you have to make sure everyone recognises them.  I was in a chain restaurant recently that had a number of USPs and had introduced new items to its list, but none of them were highlighted.  That’s an ommission no operator can afford to make, but the ways in which you publicise development are as many and varied as your segments.  I don’t belive that Face book and Twitter are the panacea that some marketers suggest they are, but we are talking social networking here and while grannies don’t Tweet much, (unless you squeeze them really hard!) if you have a “youth” segment you can use this medium intelligently to drive awareness of the changes and maintain the freshness of your brand.  Press Relations and grass roots events will play their part in heightening awareness of your brand and its freshness, as will viral, personal appearances, demonstrations and good, old-fashioned advertising and PoS, plus, don’t forget your floor staff – dif’rent folks, dif’rent strokes!

Like any brand community a restaurant brand is a constantly evolving thing with opportunities for maximum customer involvement and engagement at every level that no operator can afford to miss.  Who do you think is making the most of their community?