Archive for June 23, 2010

Posted: June 23, 2010
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Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKSl0oEfdYE]

I’m endebted to Jerry Daykin and WantandBlog for Tweeting me the link to this masterful example of integrated social communications.  Its opportunities for creating stuff like this that gets me out of bed each morning!  For once there’s nothing I can add!

Don’t just watch the video I have embedded though, go to the site itself and get involved. Enjoy!


Posted: June 21, 2010
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Blue may be the new green, but does it suit your business?

So, the debate is pretty well done and dusted – the Green movement is dead. A victim of the same monarchical culture that has buried so many other great ideas and business over the years.  Adam Werbach pointed all this out to us in his speech “Eulogy for the Green Movement” at the Commonwealth Institute in San Francisco way back in 2004.  The mistake he made then was not to offer an alternative and as a result he was vilified by old Greenies, the press and a bunch of other people with no imagination or brains to work it out for themselves.  As he said, people don’t like being called “dead”!  So, he returned to the same venue in 2009 with the missing pieces, which he has called “The Birth of Blue“. Yes, without a doubt, Blue is the new Green, so start adapting your wardrobe.

In fact, Blue isn’t anything new.  Just as the demise of Green followed the familiar path beaten by Communism, a few religions and other movements that relied on compliance under threat rather than a voluntary embrace.  Adam isn’t alone in what has done, but where he scores the bonus is in introducing an imaginative and practical solution, in this case, by adapting a proven approach to a different problem.  I say proven with the certainly of first-hand knowledge, because along with all the other initiatives, cultures and institutions that have successfully adopted this kind of strategy, I have been following it for years with my programme of brand transformation that I call Brand Discovery.

History couldn’t possibly give us more conclusive proof that a culture based on strict rules will fail, yet its not surprising that governments worldwide have adopted a heavy-handed approach to getting us all in line behind the sustainability thing.  When you throw old ladies in jail for putting paper in her rubbish, or stick tracking devices and chips in wheely-bins you really can’t expect anything, but resistance from folks.  The same applies to any community, brand or organisation.  If you make a community welcoming, comfortable and rewarding enough people will want to be a part of it.  Conversely, if you want to drive people away from a place you make it threatening and unpleasant.  Maybe if we gave less thought to prisoner’s rights and conditions incarceration might represent more of a disincentive to criminals?  However, I digress.

Green failed because it didn’t welcome people to its community and brands fail for the same reason.  What constitutes “welcoming” is another discussion and will vary from one brand or community to another, but what I want to do now is focus on the process involved. Its simple really.  You firstly need to lay out all the facts and associated issues in a clear and unbiased way (something that governments just don’t seem capable of).  You then fuel debate and discussion and LISTEN (something that few organisations of any kind find natural). People will work out their own relationships with the problem or issue at hand and if you really are listening, you’ll discover that they are writing your strategy for you.

Sustainability, affects us all.  It influences communication, travel, jobs, in fact pretty well everything in everybody’s life.  As our schoolkids are learing (and these future customers are way ahead of us on this see Graeme Codrington’s Hanna’s Rules) nobody can avoid it, so its really just a matter of helping people understand how it affects them individually.  Then you can start to offer them suggestions of things that they can do to help, if not themselves, their kids, avoid a future that’s far less inviting than that which we have today.

Brand Discovery encourages brand stakeholders to nominate things that they can each do to ensure that they are contributing to a bigger shared objective – the delivery of a brand promise.  Blue takes the same approach by asking people to nominate a DOT – Do One Thing – that will bring them closer to living a sustainable life.  What Blue also realises is that entire national populations are too large to work with successfully, so it relies on dividing nations into smaller work-groups.  They, cleverly chose businesses … large ones.  Their first candidate was Wal-mart, a community of almost two-million employees, not to mention partners and suppliers (I’ve visited countries with smaller populations!) where the approach has proven to be a great success.  More including Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in the UK are following their lead.

The issue isn’t going to disappear by itself and the emerging generations of customers and consumers place sustainable living far higher on their list of priorities than we or our forbears have so its not difficult to see the attraction for a corporation of engaging in sustainability.  In fact, businesses that don’t embrace the cause are going to suffer big-time in the future.

However, if you think it’s just a case of flying a sustainability flag outside your corporate HQ you are wrong.  Apart from their understanding of the importance of sustainability, emerging consumers have inherited a realisation from our generation and they just mistrust pretty well anything that the corporate world tells them, so you are seriously going to have to walk the talk.  What we are talking about here represents a significant change for most organisations.  You are going to need a strategy and there are few organisations around with the perspective and in-house resources to tackle this alone, but before you even find your partner to help you with this you need to understand that blue really is your colour and be ready to trust in your chosen Gok Wan.

In the coming months I will be working on this with my clients, testing out, ideas, introducing initiatives and all the time doing all I can to live sustainably.  Next week I’m off to Marketing Week Live in London and, as I try always to do, I’ll be minimising my carbon footprint by travelling by train.  I’ll be tweeting as I go and hopefully producing a bit of audio on Twaud.io or Cinch.com from the show.  Among the questions I’ll be asking of the people I meet there will be how their organisations are rising to this challenge.  So follow me on Twitter @thefulltweet and make your own contribution.


Posted: June 19, 2010
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Vuvuzela, diversity and what it could mean to your business

I have heard a lot of bellowing this week about the vuvuzela and while I can’t help wondering if people would have noticed it at all if the England team were performing better, these objections do carry a whiff of xenophobia.  These instruments originated as the horns of wild animals and their tin successors have been a feature of South African celebration for years before the mass produced plastic version we have seen (and heard) this week came on the scene. Why can’t folks just celebrate the richness of diverse cultures?  Until we do, I can’t help thinking that we may be missing out on a few business opportunities.

The world is shrinking.  The Internet, transport and popular media have seen to that and if any of us are going to be able to afford to fly anywhere in the coming years, it is ultimately destined to become one big melting pot.  For years I have been building project teams, virtual and real, comprising all kinds of people with all kinds of insights and attitudes from all around the world.  There’s no doubt about it that Western experts have contributed disproportionately to the work I have done in the Middle East and the developing markets of Central and Eastern Europe, but that doesn’t mean the traffic has been all one-way.  I’ve found the contributions of locals to be invaluable.  In countries where budgets are tight and social conditions are such that people habitually fix rather than replace things I discovered unmatched determination to deliver complex solutions with the most basic materials and equipment and people who will learn new technical skills on-the-job, sitting up all night with text books when students in the UK would be falling in and out of pubs.

I’ve also learned more about sustainability that I thought possible from people like my Central European wife who was brought up in an education and social system that lived in far-closer harmony with the land that few Westerners of my generation have.  I have a son of thirty, who, brought up entirely in the West, lives in a disposable world, and a daughter of eight, most of whose life has been spent in Prague and to me the contrasts are stark.  My daughter takes my son walking in the forest, explains the medicinal properties of wild flowers and shows him where the wild edible mushrooms, strawberries and garlic hide, just like her mother and grandmother.  She’s keen to teach him to ski too, the expensive Western pastime that is cheap and accessible to Central Europeans and at which she’s been expert since she was three years old.  In return, he’s introduced her to all the cool things on the internet and contributed greatly to her fearlessness of technology.  Oh, and he’s taught her a few rude words that have horrified her teachers and fascinated the chums in her school English class in Prague (Did you know there are no really rude words in the Czech language)!  So much for cultural exchange!

Together they have achieved a synergy and a balance that has benefited them both.  Businesses in these developing markets have been in no position to resist the infiltration of skills and concepts and they have undoubtedly all benefitted as a result.  I can’t help wondering if a few of the Western organisations I have come across over the years wouldn’t be much better off now had they chosen to embrace and learn from other cultures rather than look for opportunities to oppress them or belittle their differences.

I was talking to a recruiter last week who told me that because there are so many candidates for jobs these days, hirers are increasingly selecting only their look-alikes for interview.  Now we all know that every business is only as good as its next big idea, that innovation is a product of diversity in every area and at every level of the organisation and that with all the rules of business having dramatically changed in the last few months, innovation is more critical than ever to the survival of any business.  So, as recession lifts and hiring starts again, maybe we are in danger of rebuilding our businesses to a model that excludes the very thing our survival depends on?

So while the South African people are largely welcoming their visitors from around the world and benefitting in no small measure from what the influx is bringing, you might like to give a thought to your own reaction to the vuvuzela.  If your knee-jerk reaction is to jump on the ban the vuvuzela bandwagon you should ask yourself if you take this attitude to work with you and if so whether its working against the success of your business.  It’s not just a matter of embracing other ethnic types and different cultures, but appreciating different perspectives and being open to the alternatives that these can offer you both at work and at home.


Posted: June 17, 2010
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Everything you do is part of touching the customer with the brand

In an interview with Forbes today Horace Luke, Chief  Innovation Office at HTC said “Everything from a sneaker eyelet to a brochure to a trade exhibition is part of touching the customer with the brand”.  Great!  A nerd who gets it!  But why stop there?

What Horace is telling us is that the strength of a brand is in its consistency.  To be credible a brand has to achieve consistency, represent the same values and opinions at every touch point. Organisations can no longer get away with paying lip-service to a brand promise, customers are too savvy, too well-informed and too suspicious and if you slip up at any point in your relationship with them they’ll be on to you like a cheated wife!  You simply have to walk the talk, deliver that promise.  Its a simple and logical concept that’s not so difficult to make happen.  You just have to realise that it isn’t done by legislation.  Only by listening and sharing information will you get everyone in your organisation on the same page and from there consistent delivery is an easy road.  Horace is clearly a department head who you can rely on to pass the message down the line and my bet is that everyone in his group share his perspective and clarity of purpose.

This is my passion and it’s why I created Brand Discovery, the means by which organisations can represent their brand consistently at every level.  But if you are still asking why brand is so important you should take time out to read another of today’s rich veins of wisdom, this time from Graham Codrington (That man again! I promise we don’t have any kind of relationship, but he definitely gets it!)


Posted: June 16, 2010
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Your future is bright young things. So invest in your brand community.

I hate to be repetitive, but for the second time this week I find myself shouting “hear, hear!” to a piece by Graeme Codrington.  This time he’s talking on the subject of employee relations.  In particular the challenge of holding on to the bright young things that represent the future for all of us.  But, while I agree with what Graeme says, I see this from another perspective – the perspective of “brand community”.

Graeme, as usual, is right (don’t you just hate folks who are always right?).  Too few organisations focus on creating an environment where employees feel they really belong – a community.  In this article he talks about the old days of outback mining companies that established towns and provided all the facilities their employees needed to live with their families, because they knew that without this infrastructure they simply wouldn’t have any employees.  He also points to the fact that initiatives like these were early victims of the bean-counters, looking through distorted spectacles for ways of squeezing more profit from a business.

So, what has an outback mining community to do with a modern business?  Well, it’s not as different as you may think because whether they are rock-face workers or the smart graduates that an international business needs to build its future on, when there’s a shortage, there’s a shortage, and belive me, there are definitely not enough bright young things to go around.  If you doubt that, just give a thought to the last time you marvelled at some meaningless procedure a business that you were dealing with insisted on taking you through – smart people don’t waste your time (or theirs) with stuff like this!

Graeme talks about investing in the things that make work a great place to be.  A while back, I visited an organisation whose offices were so much better and more comfortable that the homes where the employees lived, that they socialised there too.  In fact it was sometimes difficult to persuade them to go home at all!  However, it isn’t quite as simple as office bars, sofas and a few pot-plants.  My real interest in this subject comes from my passion for brands and my belief that while, as Graeme says, there’s a cost involved in making yourself the employer of choice for smart people, it doesn’t have to be as big an investment as many might think.  I see this as a part of the marketing function and in most organisations there a budget for this and, if you do it right, it is guaranteed to bring a handsome reward.  What’s more I know that with the technology we have at our fingertips today, you can measure anything and that includes the return you get on investment in your “brand community”, so the proof that this kind of investment pays-back is there.

In fact, one of the founding principles of my Full Effect Marketing is that a small proportion of your total marketing investment re-directed to internal marketing will bring a disproportionately high return.  And, have no doubt, what we are talking about here is “marketing”; specifically building a brand community where all stakeholders (investors, partners, suppliers, customers AND employees) feel a sense of belonging and ownership.  It works like this:  great brand community = happy and dedicated employees = consistency over time because they stick around = improved return on training investment = better decisions = smarter (and more efficient) execution = happy customers = job satisfaction … you get the idea.  Its called “Brandship” and yes, you have individual Brandships with every one of your “stakeholders” (I hate the word “stakeholder” too so let’s just talk about “community”).

The chance of you being a lighthouse organisation in the future (or even being around at all, given the competition we are all going to face) is very much based on the desirability of your “Brand Community”, not just for customers, but for employees.  But there’s another aspect to this.  A brand community isn’t something that’s dictated from the boardroom.  Employees aren’t going to respond to a community that YOU think they should like.  It has to be a place where they genuinely feel “at home”.  A place that they have created.  In fact, the organisation doesn’t even own the brand community.  You just get to be caretaker or janitor.  A powerful brand community is a product of and owned by its members so if you want to create the real thing (and I suggest this should be your objective) you are going to have to engage another Full Effect Marketing idea, which is that all your communications should be two-way, because you are only going to get it right by listening.

Who has come across a large organisation where all the employees get a free pair of Replay jeans?  I have, because we did it at Oskar Mobile in the Czech Republic that not only became the world’s most successful third operator ever, but, against awesome odds, were nominated World’s Best Mobile Operator; success that was driven entirely by their brand community.  This and many other initiatives like it were prompted by employees themselves, who also made a movie themselves about what a great place Oskar was to work.  The movie in turn was distributed to recruiters and shown at conferences and job fairs as well as posted in the Internet and as a result they were getting thousands of unsolicited job applications every week.  The original Saatchi & Saatchi was a community that worked and played together and it was this that drove our international growth.  I remember walking into a recently acquired agency in Helsinki and being bombarded with questions from everyone about the people and happenings in our London Charlotte Street offices.  Our London softball team had shirt with “Official softball team of the biggest advertising agency in the world” printed across the back and people in our offices around the world wore it with pride.

This is what I mean when I talk about Brand Communities and it’s why I created my Brand Discovery programme.  Every day the idea of the central role of “brand” in any business is gaining more credence.  If you aren’t focussing on this already you should be.


Posted: June 14, 2010
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Consistency – or how to avoid your business going to hell on the back of a truck!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uva4Bwbw1S4&feature=player_embedded]

The founding principle of Full Effect Marketing is that efficient organisations are always more successful that inefficient ones.  That’s never changed and I can’t imagine it ever will.  Most of you, I know will think its an obvious thing to say and few people argue with me when I say it.  However, what I mean when  talk about efficiency is often different to what other visualise it as.

When I do presentations on Full Effect Marketing a key topic is always consistency.  It’s simple.  If you are aiming for efficiency the last thing you want is waste and inconsistency creates waste.  I talk a lot about the way organisations view their marketing communications.  They invest large sums in sexy media that reach large audiences in impactful ways and devote inordinate man-hours and effort to honing these communications to make them bring miniscule increments of return on investment – efficiency.  And its tough.  Everyone is getting more efficient, your media dollar buys less every year and production costs go up.  The truth is that we are all so good at communications these days that we are all fighting over that last ten percent of the scope of the media.  But are we so smart?  Because, while we are all beating each other to death over decreasing return with big budget advertising campaigns, most of us are ignoring the fact that the hard-won benefit is leaking out of  a side door.  It’s a little like filling a bucket with a hole in the bottom from a tap.  You perhaps don’t care that much that there’s a small amount of water spilling out.  After all, you are filling from a big tap, dealing with big volume, a trickle isn’t going to make that much difference.  However, it is making a difference and if you ignore the leak for long enough, it will get worse until you’ve probably leaked away the equivalent of a bucketful of water – or, a year’s advertising budget.  Even in its early stages, a leak is making some difference and it could be the difference between what you have in your budget to invest and the extra that your competitor down the road is investing that’s making life tough for you.  Either way, its inefficient.

I talk a lot about consistency in communications and most organisations have a lot of communications.  Usually far more than they at first realise and certainly more than any one person in that organisation can manage.  I don’t just mean consistency between different communications, but consistency between what you say and what you do.  Get any of this out of kilter and you are being inefficient.  That’s the reason for my Brand Discovery programme and it’s why one of the rules of  Full Effect Marketing is “refocus on internal marketing”, because if you have got all this communication going on and no one person can manage it all, the only way you can achieve a level of efficiency that’s appropriate in today’s competitive marketplace is to ensure that everyone in your organisation is saying the same thing and behaving consistently.  And the only way that you can be confident that this is happening is to get all your stakeholders on the same page and committed to playing their part in the big picture.  That’s about sharing information and its the job of internal marketing.  Pretty well every business I have come across could improve their return on communications and marketing investment by switching focus towards internal marketing.  Ten percent of investment, switched from external communications (making a promise) to internal communications (delivering the promise) will almost always deliver a level of return that an organisation could only dream of achieving from external investment.

So, against this backdrop I discovered this short clip from a presentation by a very smart guy called Graeme Codrington who I can’t seem to find anything to argue with on any subject that he covers.  What Graeme does here is illustrate better than I ever could, how an apparently minor leak by a leading brand, that could have been fixed, had they focussed a bit more on internal marketing, significantly reduced their marketing efficiency and points to dire consequences for the sustainability of the business.

Thanks you Graeme!


Posted: June 14, 2010
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England’s disappointing sporting performances – Anthem to blame?

You have probably heard me rant on about the power of music in marketing in the past, but having watched a weekend of sport starting with the England v. USA World Cup match and winding up with the Montreal Grand Prix the other shoe finally fell.

So for you analysts out there.  Plot this – England do just great at Formula One – English teams with English drivers, followed by English teams with foreign drivers and then foreign teams with English technicians.  We also lead the world at squash.  When it comes to football and rugby however we are patchy at best.  So, what’s the difference?  Well, one difference is that in the first two sports the national anthem is played at the end when everyone is winding down, whereas in the second two it’s at the beginning when vigor and high energy should be the order of the day.  Now listen to our national anthem – dreary in the extreme.  Certainly not in the least inspiring – slow, boring lyric and a melody that other countries use for hymns at Sunday school!  It just doesn’t compare with the hot-blooded, “vanquishing our foes” or “facing the challenge together” themes of many other nations.  Cold it be that when it’s played before a competition, our national anthem is actually demotivating our sportsmen and women?

I’m sure some enterprising data analyst could tell us whether this is so.  Maybe we could make a case for a new national anthem or at best a supplementary Haka like the Kiwi’s?  While the number crunchers get on to this maybe those of us who aren’t busy with spreadsheets already could suggest whose national anthem  is the most inspiring?


Posted: June 10, 2010
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The disappointing reality of Twitter

Twitter is a great tool when used creatively, but, don’t forget, it’s just medium like any other and the same rules apply.  There are a few brands that really work social networking and a few celebrities who bolster their brand by entertaining us in this new media space, but I find the majority of tweeters, in reality (because I think Twitter brings out the “real” in everybody) a bit of a let-down.  So, while we marketers push our clients into social networking, I can’t help wondering whether this isn’t a bit like giving a firearm to a toddler.

Quite smart people fail to fully understand what they are doing with Twitter.  For instance, I decided to follow the dragons from the TV series Dragons Den.  After all, they are accomplished business people so my expectation – reasonable I think – was that I might pick up a few business insights and maybe the inside track of a few Dragon’s Den stories.  How wrong could  I have been?  I can live with the fact that Deborah Meaden hasn’t used her profile.  At least she isn’t wasting my time or contradicting her on-screen brand persona.  Theo Paphitis started Tweeting, but gave up after a week.  Probably too busy counting his money – fair enough!  While James Caan seems to have grasped the golden rule of Twitter – If you haven’t got anything to say, shut up! Peter  Jones and Duncan Bannatyne, in contrast, must have done untold damage to their personal brands (although my guess is that Peter Jones’s brand equity had already been drastically diminished by his appearance on that ghastly TV commercial for insurance or something) by resorting to a drawn-out and vulgar public game of  one-upmanship – a constant barrage of claims and counter claims about whose holiday was most lavish and who had the most money.  A mistake on so many levels and very much in the realm of failing to deliver their brand promise, which, as any marketer knows, is the number one no-no for any brand.

You might argue that Stephen Fry, raconteur, wit and professional twit, has less to lose.  I’d expected a few one-liners maybe, clever use of 140 characters and elegant satire from him, but instead when opening my Twitter home page I was greeted each day with a torrent of meaningless and undecipherable text-speak, all from him.  I quickly “unfollowed”.

The BBC newsreader, presenter and journalist Susanna Reid might fall toward the “homely” end of the newsperson scale, but for heaven’s sake, a morning TV presenter is supposed to be smart.  On Twitter she appears decidedly dippy and spent three days last week canvassing advice on how to set up her i-Pad – hardly the place to get into a long forum-type discussion and definitely not one where a serious newsperson should be seen struggling with household appliances.  Very much out-classed by her co-presenter Sian Williams, who, at least, sticks to business.

Apart from shattering a few of my illusions, these Tweets, I have also just discovered, are having another more significant impact on my own brand.  Because my Tweet history is linked to my LinkedIn profile where they appear for everyone to see, I find I am inadvertently breaking one of my own basic rules for brands – “beware the company you keep”.  As I have said many times, consistency is the secret of a strong brand and the company it keeps, which means other brands, distributors, retailers, famous people and more, are taken as stong indicators of your values and beliefs.  The same applies to personal brands.  I should waste no time in acting on my instinct to unfollow the Tweeters that I have ben unimpressed by.

If I was disappointed by individual Tweeters corporate users have proven no better.  There are no brand communities more potent than those of retailers, but so few really get the Twitter and FaceBook thing.  I was talking about this to the head of marketing for one of the UK’s biggest restaurant chains a few weeks back and I’ve been sensitive to the way the sub-sector uses social networking ever since.  There are quite a few retail food chains that include Twitter and FaceBook in their communications portfolio, but the way they use the medium is very mixed.  For instance I have always considered Nandos to be a fun brand, ideally suited to Twitter, but a couple of weeks ago a bunch of international sportsmen were larging up Nandos on Twitter and there was no reaction from the company itself – an opportunity missed.  Similarly Taybarns had a load of  Tweets about a Carling promotion they were running and failed to leverage the opportunity.  This smacks of the old one-way communications habit that I thought had died out a few years ago and is the antithesis of what social networking is all about.  Twitter is for listening as well as talking.

Half using social networking is about as realistic as being a bit gay.  The fact is, either you are in or you are out and leveraging just some elements of Twitter doesn’t mean that the remaining elements aren’t working, it’s just that you aren’t controlling them. This applies to businesses and celebrities.  Maybe a Twitter account should come with a health warning “WARNING. TWITTER CAN SERIOUSLY JEPARDISE YOUR CREDIBILITY” or an induction course on how to, at least, avoid committing on-line hara-kiri.  The BBC at least seem to have spotted the dangers here and have sent Susanna Reid to it.  I know because she’s Tweeting the entire content live as I write this!  Probably the most interesting Tweets she’s sent so far in her Twitter experience.  I hope the first of many.

Oh, the power of the media and the innocence of those who don’t appreciate that the principles of branding apply to all of us!


Posted: June 7, 2010
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The things your mother doesn’t tell you

There are a suprising number of quite sizeable businesses out there that, when they are under-performing call in a consultant to tell them that its anybody’s fault but theirs.  I’ve always told potential clients “don’t call me if all you want to hear is how great you are”.  For one thing life ain’t like that and for another that isn’t my job, go ask your Mother!

I’m quite clear about my business role.  I’ll introduce you to the good and bad in your business, help you work out what you need to do to fix the bad and make the good even better. If you don’t want to put the work in, I’ll settle, with a little frustration (because I hate to see anything that could be fixed, not working) for watching your business go down with all hands, but if you are up for the challenge I’ll be there with you every step of the way as you put your plan into action.

The business environment is highly geared.  If you are not focused on being the best in your class, history leaves us in no doubt that you are on a short road to nowhere.  Sadly I’ve encountered two businesses in the last couple of weeks who think they can beat the odds.  Of course, they won’t.

The first was a sports equipment challenger brand with an inflated opinion of itself and the second a digital content company that behaved like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis – what they needed to do to fix their problem was against their religion.

The sports company was like a lot of mid-sized businesses stuck in their original, small business mindset.  I organised a “meet the end-user day” where sporty people tested their products, wrote reviews and entered them in a prize draw.  The feedback was clear.  The products were far from cutting edge, weren’t exciting, weren’t what customers really wanted (although at the right price they might consider some of them) and the prices were too high.  The company’s principals decided the customers didn’t know what they were talking about.  At the price points that customers were talking about the business would operate at a loss.  My conclusion: this isn’t a business, it’s a hobby!

The content company was one of a group of businesses that had been acquired over time by a larger group.  They are good at what they do, but are finding themselves in the same position as a lot of other marketing services businesses in recent years – doing a lot of one-off jobs on low margins for medium-sized businesses and not making a lot of money out of it.  Although for many marketing services firms much can be achieved by the introduction of a decent management information system, what this lot need is to get out of the commodity-supplier rut, which, for a marketing services firm, means putting their offer in a  broader context, leading with and owning their clients’ strategy.  These days, positioning your marketing services business as a production facility is like putting your own head in the noose.  The problem for this business was that other businesses in the group owned the strategic mantle and strategy was seen as “out of bounds”.  A case of woolly thinking, maybe both at group and business unit level, which until that was sorted out was going to continue to condemn them to the treadmill – a lot of hard work for little return.

SMEs that I encounter often don’t deserve to be anything more.  The confusion between hobby and business mind-set is a common malaise, but, more fundamentally, the people running these businesses frequently aren’t being honest with themselves.  A consultant like me isn’t in the business of being destructive, but we are there to  deliver home truths.  If you can’t take it on the chin then perhaps you shouldn’t be in business.  The important thing though is for consultants to always present the reality with a clear and practical solution to the problems it represents.  If the solution is still rejected, we sadly have to accept that these organisations are the runts in Britain’s new business litter.